Monday, 13 February 2012

Anglezarke Amble-ulance

“Be careful as some bits may be a bit slippy”. In retrospect, that may be been somewhat of an understatement from the friendly announcer at the Anglezarke Amble last weekend. I think if anyone had been over the course in the few days before the race, as they may have issued a stiffer warning, or at least changed some of the route. As it was, it was a chilly morning start from Rivington, so everyone was well wrapped up, but there was an unfortunate lack of crampons and ice axes in evidence as we all set off blissfully unaware that around 17 of the 24 miles had been carefully crafted by an extreme weather system into the world’s most unwelcome ice rink. The route is below. I’ve shaded the icy bits in blue, to put it into context!

I had travelled up with my girlfriend. There we’d met James, a friend of ours, at the start. A couple of years ago I’d completed the course in a fairly respectable 4.5 hours, and even though my current fitness is not quite at the same level that I was, I didn’t really expect it to take me more than 5 hours. There is both a short (16 mile) route and a long (24 mile) route, and the event is for walkers as well as runners. Both distances set off at 8am, and we moved fairly quickly to get ahead of the walking group. The first taste of some ice started after probably only half a mile. We had to step off the path as the whole of it was covered in a thick layer of sheet ice. No problem, just a quick clamber up and run on the verge. However, as we ran there were more and more sections of ice. Maybe this was just a bad path we thought?

There is a fairly stiff climb up Rivington Pike to a small tower. The steps up to it were totally frozen over. Some people chose to walk up them, very carefully, whilst others like me, chose to use the grass to the side. However, the grass was also frozen solid and more or less just as hazardous. My girlfriend fell over at the top by the castle, which was again covered in sheet ice. It was the first time of many that one of us would end up on the floor.  I think pretty much everyone doing the event will have lost their footing at some points.

Me and James made a much slower descent of the pike than normal, which was covered in ice, and then turned to see what my girlfriend was a way behind. We stopped and waited, she’d fallen over again. “I’m like Bambi” she said, nursing the latest painful bruises. We then began the climb up to Winter Hill, to the TV masts. The top half of the climb is a gradual ascent on a tarmac road. This road we assume had been gritted, as at least half of it was good to run on, so we picked up the pace and ran on to the masts where the marshals were clipping our tallys. I did feel sorry for those guys up there freezing in the cold. We had just completed a climb at least, and were fairly warm. The marshals definitely deserve a lot of thanks for getting themselves to the CP’s, and then waiting around in the cold for all the competitors to pass through.  

That brief little section of ice free running had got our hopes but, only to be dashed a couple of hundred metres later after we crossed a "glassy" stile that begins a long 2 mile descent. Normally this path is a superb high speed run down the hill. Today it was totally glassed over, impossible to even walk on quickly, let alone run on. Everyone walked carefully at the side of the path trying to gain some purchase. Despite being careful, I fell over suddenly and heavily. I landed on my forearm and I think I was lucky not to break something. If I’d have been quick enough to put out my hand I could well have taken my wrist out. So, a heavily bruised arm, and arse, later I got back up, and moved into the frozen marshland to the side of the path and walked down through that. People were like dominoes all around, everyone falling over left right and centre. I got down to the bottom of the hill first, James a few minutes later, but my girlfriend was nowhere in sight. We almost started back up the hill after her, but then she came slowly down after 5 minutes later. She was looking clearly distressed, and had taken a few more tumbles. She looks like a criminally battered woman she’s got so many bruises, oh dear.

We crossed the next stile and again the whole path was 2 inch thick sheet of glass. There was no avoiding it this time, we just had to slide along it grabbing branches as we walked and fell. Then onto marshland just before the refreshment stop at 5.5 miles. We didn’t stop and just crossed into more deeply frozen marshland. From there right through to CP1 at mile 10 was all the same terrain. The bogs had frozen a foot or more deep with ice, and every single blade of grass and reed was coated in thick icicle. I wish I would have taken my camera to show you the phenomenon. What we didn’t know was that the whole course from there to mile 19 was the same. How each piece of grass had gained its own pencil thick icicle covering its whole length I have no idea. The snowfall that there had been earlier in the week had also frozen solid on the ground, so even the grassland had turned to sheet ice in most places. The route split for the short and long route was at 6.5 miles. Had we had any idea that the course was going to get progressively worse we would have all taken the short route option I think.

What would have been a slog, running through some muddy bogs, turned into a slow walk and slide. I fell over a few more times, even being as careful as I could. I saw 2 people with those pull-on spikes that go over shoes and they were doing considerably better. I wonder if they were from the local area and knew what it might be like? They could have walked the course and finished an hour faster than we were going to. A mile before CP1, me and James emerged onto a road. James said he’d go ahead, as we didn’t realise my girlfriend had slipped back (excuse the pun) so far. I waited for almost 10 mins, but ate a little food, and walked up and down to stay warm. She was having a pretty miserable time staying upright. We then skated together along the next section, until there was a 200m section of ice free road across the Turton and Entwhiste Reservoir. We ran for 200m; luxury. There were lots of welcoming marshals at CP1, who encouraged us to get some hot tea and refreshments, all of which were very welcome. They were all doing a great job.  James ahd waited there for us.
After a few minutes we set off up the tarmac road hill which had completely turned to glass. We really struggled just to get the 100m to the top of the hill. One guy fell over badly ahead of us, got up and said he’d had enough, and it wasn’t worth breaking a bone over. He went back down to the CP and retired. If anything, the conditions got even worse, so he made a good decision for himself probably. My girlfriend fell over heavily again, as we all walked up the gutter holding onto the wall to get to the top of the small hill. At the road alongside all the houses was again totally iced over. There was no avoiding it, we just had to take small steps and slide along slowly. Another group of 4 guys who were nearby then stopped and we think they must have called it a day and returned to CP1 too.

We turned onto a heavily iced farmtrack up Edge hill and lowe hill, which we made slow progress up. We’d not strung together any running of more than a hundred yards since before the top of Winter Hill at mile 3! We were now at mile 12, emerging onto an ice-free main road at Cadshaw. There had gathered loosely together a group of about a dozen of us 'runners' as we exited the welcome 200m of road, and got back onto the ice to begin the gentle ascent of Turton Moor. I really wasn’t enjoying it at all, and even considered short-routing the next section, but given the conditions it was probably safer to stay with a group of people. If you fell over and injured youself, while on your own up on the moor in those cold conditions, you’d be in trouble pretty fast. So, we all plodded on carefully up the hill, running the small bits we were able. The path widened just before a sharp right turn onto Darwen Moor. I directed the group off the right, and lead the way, remembering this section from before. The path for perhaps a mile was runnable, and enjoyable.

However, it didn’t last long as the narrow path into Duckshaw Clough was iced over. Both legs went sideways, to theright underneath me, with a series of unpleasant cracks. I sat on the ground for 10 seconds assessing if all the cracks were as bad as they sounded, or I’d just saved some money on my next Chiropractic treatment. James and another guy helped me up. I think I stayed up for about the next 50m and then did an almost identical fall. It really wasn’t funny. I clambered up onto the deep heather and waded through that, as did everyone else. I reached a small cattle grid and did a few pirouettes on some concrete just before it. It was so slippy that I stood and waited for all of the loosely strung out 10 people behind to reach it. Even with warning a few people almost fell on it. One guys foot went down the cattle grid and he thought he was lucky not to break it. We then all began a short climb up to the CP at Darwen tower, the last 300m of which was runable. A big thank you to the volunteers staffing that CP in the cold weather. We had got to mile 16 now. The group of us started out along the wide path and though it was slower progress in the ice, we managed to run slowly at the edge of the path. We slowly gained height before crossing another stile. Ah yes, I almost forgot, every single stile was coated in ice. Where you put your feet and the post where you put your hands. Crossing each stile was a task in itself, and there are no shortage of them on the course. One of the girls nearby went crashing to the ground after just getting over one, and stayed on the ground for a while. I think running through the mental check “Can I fall that hard and not break anything? Am I ok?...errrm Yes I think so, ok I’ll try and get up”. We all stopped, backtracked and picked her up.

From there we had a 1 mile run, which should have been down the wide winding track, but we all opted to cross straight over the heath as it headed downhill as the path was not really safe. I crossed the road at headed into the mile 18 CP, which was where the short and long routes re-converged, and was as such very busy. I have no idea what the short route conditions were like for them, but given they were travelling through relative lowlands, I hope they had a better time of it that we did. At the very least they had 8 miles less of it to struggle through!

I said to James and my girlfriend that I didn’t want to waste much time here and just to carry straight on. I just added a few hundred mil of orange juice to my bottle and we headed out and down the next icy path to the road. There was just the three of us now, as we crossed the road and into more heavily iced bogs. James who despite a few near misses had managed to stay on his feet took a couple of hard tumbles in a few minutes just to balance it out. No one was getting off bruise free today. We got to the top of Great Hill, the last climb of the day at mile 19. Then the strangest thing. The other side of the hill descending back down to the lowland was almost frost an ice free. Just a couple of hundred metres earlier, we were skating and all the grass was icicles, and then now we were in an apparently different season’s climate? And really, from mile 19 that was more or less the end of the ice. We met a roaming marshal not from the CP at Mile 21 who said “welcome back to the tropics!” So from the top of Great Hill we all descended with speed and vigour all the way to CP3 at the cricket pavillion. We all suddenly started enjoying it, and could even believe it was the same day.

We grabbed a few things to eat and said our thanks to the CP3 staff and then ran the last 3 miles back to the finish. The last 3 miles were frost and ice free. I’d removed my coat and gloves before the CP as it was so much warmer too. We’d normally be flagging a little at this stage of a 24 mile run, but due to all the walking we were full of energy and ticked off the last 3 miles in no time at all. We got to the finish; it had taken us 6.5 hours (almost 4000ft of ascent)! A full 2 hours longer, at least, than it normally would have done.   You can see below the recording made by my GPS.  Everything below the red line (which is 5mph) you can assume is walking.  You can see that all of a sudden we became runners for the last 6 miles.  The red dots are the CP locations.  As you can see, we didn't get to run very much, and you can see that we went down some of the early hills slower than we climbed them!

We had a welcome meal provided by the organisers, and a couple of cups of tea.  We then sat and exchanged ice-skating stories with the people who were already finished from both the long and short routes. A couple opposite told us that two people had broken their wrists. I could believe it, but didn’t independently verify that with the organisers. However, a poor chap called Charlie then came in, who had dislocated his shoulder. He was well looked after by people there until an ambulance turned up, and the paramedics came in to take him away just as we were getting ready to leave.

Thanks to the staff and volunteers who were at the CP’s and the finish today, many of whom I’m sure were shivering in the cold for many hours longer than they expected! Today was one of those days that did your fitness very little good at all, but it did your willpower wonders. As most of you probably know, willpower is equally as valuable in long distance races to fitness, if not more so. What was the phrase I read in Marhsall Ulrich's book? “These races are 90% mental, and the rest of it is all in your head.” Something like that anyway. My willpower certainly feels a lot fitter this morning than it did last week!

I hope it’s a bit warmer kinder underfoot next year, as this is normally a really enjoyable event that I really look forward to.

Have a good week!


  1. Yes, that sounds about right, Rich. Sorry we didn't get to meet (again) even though we were in the same place at the same time. I'm so pleased for you regarding your recovery after the eventual diagnosis and operation.

  2. Thanks Nick. I saw you attending to that dislocated shoulder chap while we were there, so didn't trouble you. I'm sure we'll catch up again somewhere!

  3. Good read there mate! I was on the hell runner and a 10k that weekend or I would have been up there too!

  4. Hi Rich, It's not fun when conditions are like that! I think you all did really well to finish!