Control. That was becoming my main mantra. Control. Keep the pace under control. Keep the effort under control. It’s a long race. Who will be running fastest at the end will more than likely have a much bigger impact than who is running fastest at the beginning.
So I ran down through Hawes village at a nice steady pace, despite knowing that somewhere in front of me Pavel was making a break for the lead and Eugeni was desperately trying to catch him so he could continue to follow Pavel’s navigation. No stressing the quads on the tarmac road descent… no stressing anything at all!
The Pennine way heads off the road and through floodplain parkland just after we exit the town. Much to my surprise I catch sight of Pavel and Eugeni a few hundred meters ahead. I would have expected them to be well out of site at this point. I stopped briefly for one or two more adjustments and then ran on. Again, surprisingly, I was closing the gap easily enough. By the start of the track which climbs up Great Shunner Fell I had overtaken Eugeni and was cruising up behind Pavel. So yet again we were back as a group.
We were losing daylight rapidly at this stage. I was very happy that I was lasting so far into the race without any sleep deprivation issues. The climb up Great Shunner Fell was a long slog, without much of significance from a racing point of view to note. The higher we climbed, the more the snow obscured the path, so that even the stone slabbed sections of the PW were getting harder and harder to find. I’m a pretty good instinctive pathfinder and I was happy to lead out the group and hunt out the track, now under head-torch light. Occasionally I’d lose it and work with the others to refind it.
It was a similar story for the long descent, except that at the higher speed of descent, track-hunting has to be done even more quickly. The potential to have a nasty fall by wandering off the underlying slabs into a hole, or taking a slide on an ice-covered slab section, was always lurking, ready to potentially take one of us out of the race. On a few occasions Eugeni called me back as Pavel had dropped off the back of the group out of sight. We were happy to wait for him to rejoin, given the potential dangers in the darkness.
Hitting the little village of Thwaite at the end of the descent we found ourselves in another lovely winter-wonderland vista. I waited a minute or two for the others to rejoin and be fully ready for the next section, and then off we went. My route memory was proving to be the most accurate means of navigation on the steep climb out of Thwaite. For some reason I find the next high section traversing the valley side to Keld to be a very entertaining run. It’s full of little technical sections and lots of undulations, but is still mostly runnable. Group running remained the order of the day.
After Keld we climbed back out and onto the open moorland of Stonesdale Moor. This was a lovely run in the daytime last year, complete with a low roaring flypast by a pair of F-15s. But at night it was a lot less interesting, especially without the USAF! Still, there was a lot of runnable sections, so we were maintaining our high speed.
We were now approaching The Tan Hill Inn, shining invitingly in the distance, an oasis of comfort and civilisation in a sea of snow smothered moorland. At this point I was starting to feel the very early effects of sleep deprivation. I knew that if I carried on from here to CP3 at middleton without stopping then it would most likely turn into a horrific battling sufferfest of sleep deprivation by the end. So I decided that at minimum I would try to take a 15 minute power-nap here. Depending on conditions inside I might expand that to a more substantial first major sleep of the race. Obviously I’d also see what the other 2 were going to do. Being a virtual CP, this was yet another likely spot for another outbreak fun and games… tactical race chess moves!
We arrived into a pub that was empty, apart from the Landlord and his wife, along with a small group from the race safety team. Pavel and Eugeni sat on stools right next to the open fire and started ordering food and drink. Language barriers seemed to be causing a few issues with the process. I tried to figure out what the lads were planning to do, but I wasn’t getting any clear answers. I wasn’t at all worried about getting in any food or drink and just went into the adjacent lounge, lay down on the couch and tried to grab a nap. I had asked one of the safety lads to get me up if anything happened, or in about half an hour.
About half an hour later I was awoken to find the 2 lad settling in for a sleep on the other couches in the room themselves. They were going to take about 2 hours. Grand. That’s the first big sleep so. I told the safety lads that I’d take the same sleep myself and went back to my number 1 task, returning to the land of nod.
I heard from someone after the race that the 2 lads were carefully watching each other as they were taking their outer layers off in preparation for getting some sleep, just in case one of them (it could only be Pavel) would make a break for it and leave the other behind. I’ve no idea how true this is, but I was happily oblivious to it all.
In what seemed like an instant we were woken again by the safety lads. I had very little to do to get out, as I hadn’t done much except take my rucksack and jacket off and lie on the couch. I took up the landlord’s offer of some soup, which was lovely and thick, full of big chunks of vegetables. He also gave me a great cheese plate and a piece of chocolate cake. I picked off as much as I felt I could, but I wasn’t massively hungry so left a lot behind. An orange juice went down nicely with this. I had an interesting discussion with the safety guys here too about the various personalities in the race, and the psychology of how being in the race bubble can affect people.
Of course, at this stage there was a live demonstration of race psychology taking place! The other 2 were slowly getting ready to leave. They had taken off a lot more of their layers, including their shoes. This was now slowing them down getting ready to head out again. The landlord came over to me and encouraged me to come back to the pub some time after the race, and I agreed that I’d love to, as it was a great pub in a great location. He gave me some good words of encouragement for the race as well.
By now I was impatient to get going. Pavel was having great difficulty getting his shoes back on, and was loudly uttering quite a few Czech words which I could probably guess the meaning of! There was a good reason why I didn’t take my shoes off… I didn’t want to get too comfortable only to have to face back into large levels of discomfort on restarting. I also knew that my feet would be more likely to swell if I removed my shoes. I was already wearing a pair one size too big, and knew that when I switched to my next pair they would be 2 sizes too big. Pavel appeared to be proving the disadvantages of the alternative approach. Little details!
So with that I walked out the door, telling the others that they would no doubt catch me down the trail, as had been the pattern so far in the race. But I reckoned there was an opportunity to break the pattern here. The trail out from the Tan Hill Inn is one of the more bleak sections of the Pennine way. It’s an unpaved track defined by the erosion of walkers over the years through waterlogged moorland. It is a gentle descent at first. It’s hard enough to follow in the daytime. At nighttime, with a snow dusting on top, it would really have to be hunted out. There were marker poles every few hundred metres for reassurance that you were on track. Given that I had lead out the track hunting up and down Great Shunner Fell, I reckoned I might have an edge in track hunting skills here.
I walked at first, giving the other 2 a chance to easily catch up, but then started back running. Enough of that, we’re in a race after all. Time to test my track hunting theories. So I picked up the pace to a steady cruisy run down the track. The trail was expectedly tricky to find, but I was enjoying the rush of finding it under these conditions. Here we go again! Another breakaway attempt. This time I reckon I have a good chance of making it stick for a while. At worst I can dangle out in front of them and maybe they’ll work a little harder to pull me back. Game on. There’s no chance of sleep deprivation kicking in now! Race mode fully engaged.