How the day went by Matt Taylor:
"I'd love to tell you a story of love and passion for this great sport we adore. But I'm afraid that won't be happening today. This is a story of grit, determination, heartache and emotion from some of our wonderful Fartlek Family, me included.
The weather forecast was bleak. Highs of 4-6°, gale force winds with 100% chance of rain. But it didn't deter us from turning up at the Pendle Heritage Centre on a cold Saturday morning in February.
The day started with us each having our kit checked by the marshals. I presented my kit along with a compass fit for a Christmas cracker prize. All present and correct I packed up my backpack and clipped on my compass to my bag straps. I was given a tick on my wrist and proceeded to collect my race number and a route map which was harder to read than Latin algebra.
As the 6 of us walked over for a Fartlek Family photo shoot I pictured the slow motion hanger scene of armageddon. Only this disaster movie is much more suspenseful. Vogue shoot completed the nerves of what we were going to attempt to do started to show on my face as we all lined up for the mammoth task of 45 miles along the Pendle Way.
The race director wished us luck and we were on our way.
JP, Jack and I set off at a steady pace with Alex and Waine not too far behind. The first 1k gave us false promises of firm ground and easy to follow country paths. Boy did that change. We hit the first field and the newly bought Inov8 mudclaws (#notgifted) were being sucked into the ground. The first ascent came, thankfully it wasn't the Everest base climb part of the run just yet but as we agreed we walked the hills from the off. Looking behind we saw Waine and Alex not too far back and decided we needed a team picture on the course. We ran together for a little while and then drifted off along the route each taking a step closer to our Pendle way fate.
Several fields and a few kilometres later we found ourselves at the first climb. Lines of runners scrambling up the hill, akin to lemmings using whatever tools necessary to reach that final goal. By the time we reached the top the crowds thinned and the clouds rolled in. The wind picked up and a slight drizzle began. It was time to put on the waterproof coat. I unclipped my rucksack straps, dove in and pulled out my jacket. Clipped back up and we were back on our way.
“F&#k!” My compass I clipped safely on my bag straps slipped off when I unclipped to get my jacket. Brilliant!
Shaun West was one of the fartlek family that came to support along the route and seeing him on route to checkpoint 1 was a welcome sight. CP1 at Thornton came and JP decided to ditch his other shoes in favour of the aforementioned mudclaws. Decision well made. After a brief stop aided by the Pendle prick support crew Sammy, Rob and Polly, we set off towards CP2, seeing Lou as we went. A quick hug and we were off.
More fields, which resembled more like marshlands, were the norm for much of this race and CP1 to 2 was no exception. And have I mentioned the wind and rain yet? Horizontal rain that felt like pin pricks brought our first rendition of backstreet boys’ "Everybody" to liven our mood. Even getting a clap from another runner as we passed. A revelation occurred in this section too, when JP asked Siri to phone Keith Pickup. Keith being John's dad. My dad is also called Keith! What a coincidence... Was that the revelation? Nope! It didn't stop there. Jack exclaimed his middle name is Keith to which me and JP both said together "my middle name is Keith!" Can you believe it. The 3 of us unknowingly rambling along Pendle Way and finding out all our middle names are Keith.
It's amazing what you find out on a 45 mile ultra run with friends.
Keith³ headed towards Wycoller for CP2 in good spirits hoping for "real" food and a warm drink. Unfortunately our support crew informed us it was just sweets and biscuits. This was demoralising and took its toll mentally. Rob and the gang took control and told us they would bring sandwiches to the next aid station at mile 26. This gave us something to aim for and we pushed on.
The wind and rain continued to batter us from above and the marshlands sapped the life from our soles/souls. Continuing on route with JP's gpx file on his phone. We ventured up and back down the side of a hill only to find out from a fellow runner that we had just done the old route and didn't need to go all the way up there. Great!
I'm not sure if it's been mentioned but the wind and rain was persistent throughout and the route to Colwell & CP3 was the straw on the camel's back for one plucky Fartleker. On many occasions in this section we were left to ponder our life choices. Berated with side wind that felt like a maraca constantly turning at the side of your ear for up to 45 mins at a time. Respite came 2k before CP3 when we found a barn to hide behind for a brief few minutes to relieve the onslaught of the elements. Jack was dithering and started to feel cold. Even saying he'd even wear leggings if he had some, which is frowned upon "int norf". The 3 Keith's trudged on and seeing the familiar face of Rob, dry robed to the nines was a welcome sight.
Checkpoint 3 brought sandwiches, shelter and a warm brew.
This is where Jack's journey ended though. The cold, wind and the lonely miles in your own head took its toll and he made the brave decision to withdraw. Emotions were high from us all and a hug almost brought me to tears. Well done Jack.
It was also here we heard of Waine and Alex's decision to stop and become part of our amazing support for the rest of the race. Be proud of what you attempted and how far you got. You did amazing!
CP3 was the lowest point for many of the runners. Seasoned ultra runners waiting for taxis after their courageous decision to finish their race.
JP and I sat inside, cold, wet, delirious & shivering like a vibrating foam roller on speed 11. A change of clothes was needed. I changed my base layer and shared an intimate moment with Rob, drying down my feet and helping me with fresh socks. Keith2 then donned the What the Fartlek Podcast Tees, game changer waterproof trousers, finished our sandwiches and headed off out the door for CP4.
The first few steps were tough after resting and getting warm for some time but we soon eased into it and got back into our stride. Instantly appreciating the waterproof trousers we were adamant we were never going to wear. More wind, rain, and mud was on the menu for this section as we tagged along with a few other runners doing the distance. One being the lady we serenaded between CP1 & 2. Luckily for her though the next 90’s boy band track wasn't due for several kilometres. Luckily for us, those kilometres went by pretty quickly and we found ourselves at the side of the high flowing Pendle water river. This was close to bursting its banks im sure. The path by the side of it was none existent and the wooden platforms to cross the inflowing rain waters were pointless. Finding our feet deep in water before planning our next step. Cue 90’s 5ive hit, keep on movin’. This time not receiving the same appreciation from our adoring fan. We trudged on, over the m65, along the river Calder and into CP4 at Higham looking and feeling a lot better than we did at the previous stop.
Meeting Karin for the first time and seeing her in her warm clothes I knew her day was over too. Another valiant effort from one of our amazing friends. She didn't appreciate the cold wet hug from a drowned tiny dancer though. Later in the race we found that this was the end of the line for Kate too. Running in circles for an hour and having no navigation due to phone battery loss, she decided to call it a day. Another fallen Fartleker summoned by the Pendle witches. But nonetheless courageous. Great work ladies.
Hotdogs, tea, sweets and alcoholic spirits greeted us as we entered Higham village hall. We refrained from sampling the latter, knowing our victory beers were waiting for us at the finish. JP changed, we finished our warm drinks and put on our head torches knowing this next segment was all that stood in our way to finishing. The hardest part. Pendle Hill. Overcome that and reach CP5 and there's only 4k left to the finish. I high fived Lily and Archie, hugged every last one of the Pendle pricks, fist bumped JP and we headed unknowingly into the dark.
The temperature had dropped dramatically since we entered the village hall. If I still had my trusty compass with a built in thermometer I would have known how cold, but I digress.
Still windy with a slight rain. We headed along more boggy fields, up hills and down a brick track you could easily break your ankles on in the daylight. But running by torchlight felt different. Exciting perhaps. The penultimate climb before Pendle hill was upon us. Deviating off route slightly due to the lack of visibility we headed up towards Fell woods. On a bright sunny day I can imagine this place being a beautiful scene looking through the trees up on to Pendle. But we could only see as far as our torches would shine. Our 250 lumens soon picked out the huge felled trees from the onslaught these woods have had over the past months. Hearing the wind howling through the tall upright trees and crawling under the ones that didn't make it.
The excitement of rambling by head torch changed. Apprehension ensued as we reached a torrent of water flowing down from Pendle. A 10ft wide river rapid that in hindsight probably should have been swerved. But we had to pass this to stay on track. So with the 2 other runners we helped each other out, waded through the freezing water and made sure we all got over in one piece. JP and another gpx user then analysed their respective routes and we went on in search of the Pendle Hill trig point. Climbing up on our hands and knees until we reached some sort of trail path. Fog rolled in and the rain grew stronger, pelting our faces like a sandblaster weathering old limestone. I hoped it would smooth out my wrinkles. But I'm sure it made them worse. The wind whipping around you and having to hold a further step and hunker down before moving forward to take your next. Then through the fog it was there. The Pendle trig point. JP and I stopped to try and get the obligatory selfie and the 2 others ventured off through the fog to get out of the awful conditions.
Doesn’t nature call at some of the worst times too. Both JP and I needed to pee. Assessing the wind direction and making sure we were far enough away from each other to not have a golden shower we relieved ourselves and went on our way. JP informed me the steps were coming soon. I thought he was going to start singing tragedy or 5,6,7,8 but he meant the steps down off Pendle and the welcome relief from the horrific weather. We turned right by a wall and right again down some steps and …. Silence.
The hike down from Pendle meant we knew we would be finishing this race. But I was concerned for the other runners behind not making it up and over. Down the steps we met up with the 2 ladies that passed us at the trig point and ventured down together. Getting to CP5 safe and in one piece, We learned of concern for us from our Pendle prick support crew after runners were being diverted off route to miss out the climb due to the conditions.
Standing in Barley Village hall with his trousers around his ankles, JP looked fresh. Settle down, he was only drying his legs for the victory lap. Lou waited on me hand and foot and brought me tea and toast, it was the best tasting food since my hotdog at CP4. JP pulled up his trousers, we took our accolades, hugged everyone and set off for the final jaunt through the Lancashire countryside.
We set off in search of the finish line and quickly bumped into a huge group of head torch wielding “runners”. They turned out to be ghost hunters that thought we were spirits emerging through the trees. Each to their own. More muddy fields rain and another river crossing came. This time through Pendle water and not over it. Stepping stones across was the next obstacle on this never ending ultra. Unfortunately the rise in river levels made the stones submerged and hard to see. We were not calling it a day now after all this time. We linked arms to aid us in case of a misplaced step and I stepped to where the stones should be. Occasionally missing and having to adjust and try again. Once on the next step I shimmied along to give JP room to step across. We moved carefully and methodically like that until we reached the other side. We got over and emptied our waterproof water balloon trousers and trudged on.
Quickly realising this was the final climb before our big finish. Our calves and ligaments in our knees aching from climbing all day. We reached the summit and started our descent. As we reached an old abandoned building I needed to pee again. I went against the old building and the eerie sound of wind chimes rang from inside that the ghost hunters we passed earlier would have wet themselves over. JP and I on the other hand, were not interested and soon scarpered. Finally off the fields and trails we were greeted by a group of walkers that diverted around the stepping stones after calling the heritage centre to say they were impassable. Another stupid decision by us or determination from 2 stubborn Northern lads? You decide.
With 200m to go JP and I stopped for a brief moment. Turned to each other, embraced, fist bumped and set off to cross that finish line.
Cold, wet, and exhausted we stepped back into the heritage centre we started from all those hours ago to claim our well earned beers… or 2! This time exhilarated and proud of what we had just achieved. After another hug between us, we entered the hall. JP shouting "get innn" as we entered. Seeing the results of a top 50 finish, we touched glasses, congratulated each other and took a big swig of that fine ale. "Cheers JP"
We then looked down at what we received for that tough day out on the Pendle way.
All that for a f*cking swimming badge!"