The Wadsworth Trog – a Beast of a race (by John Osborne)

No more than 2 miles into this 19.3 mile race and I’d fallen flat on my face three times on the very first steep and muddy descent to the first reservoir. The omens weren’t looking good as I knew there would be many treacherous descents to come. My feet were being sucked into the waterlogged peat and the tough heather scraped and scuffed at shins and running shoes. Roger and myself were the only Harriers doing this race and were now, slopping and stumbling about, trying to keep some sort of momentum going on the next section into a brutal headwind with driving rain. I wonder why I’d waited 18 years to return to the Trog since my first attempt in 2004, my only memory was the 5 mile second smaller loop with energy-sapping tussocks. It’s a pretty bleak and featureless landscape on a nice Summer’s day, but today was something else. I’m so glad I opted for thicker running gear, longer leggings and my extra warm mountain cap; only the top runners (or foolhardy) were wearing shorts on a day like today!

I must say the local cricket team clubhouse above Hebden Bridge in Calderdale, hadn’t had much money spent on it in the last eighteen years and was basic but functional. The weather forecast on the whiteboard didn’t help to lighten my spirits: rain, wind then becoming heavy rain and strong wind later. However, the fresh vegetables being prepared for the home-made soup afterwards was something worth looking forward to in our special 30th anniversary mugs. I ended up thinking of this soup most of the way round the course.

Today was a matter of getting your head down and surviving, getting the job done; this is good Haworth Hobble training; some of the route covered part of the Hobble course. I had no expectations for today’s race but was happy to treat it as a training run. The remote farmsteads with their solid and blackened gritstone walls were looking just as grim as the weather and featureless countryside, each with a collection of farmyard junk lying about. God who would choose to live out here? The friendly and rosy-cheeked face of Colin Valentine suddenly appeared to lighten the mood and shout encouragement. Some of you may know Colin, out walking his scruffy farm collie.

It felt like the weather was improving for a moment with the wind at my back, only for hopes to be dashed when turning into the wind again and into the relentless driving rain; my mountain cap was a wise choice and was working well with the little peak helping to keep the driving race off my face. Next familiar landmark was the remote ruins of Withins farmhouse high up on the moor.  We were on the Haworth Hobble route now and ten miles in. Then came a series of nasty, narrow step sections, typical of the area and made up of twisted miss-placed and eroded gritstone cobbles, thankfully this section was steeply uphill and could only be walked. Bang! What the hell……I’d headbutted a big low branch over the narrow ginnel. No damage done but bet I’m not the only one to hit this! I was waiting for a horrible descent and didn’t have to wait long but gingerly made my way to the bottom okay.

The second road crossing wasn’t far now and marked the end of the first 14 mile large lap but was the start of the second 5 mile small loop section I’d remembered from last time. This was really brutal now and battling into the head-wind and driving rain, Roger had caught me up. We were both surprised to see each other. Roger was moving fluently and I couldn’t be bothered to try to stick with him. Well done Roger, vet 60 record holders but wouldn’t beat his time on a day like today! A small flock of Golden plover flew past; hardy little birds, and they live up here, this weather is nothing to them. The thought of those already finished enjoying the lovely homemade soup kept me going; I would be enjoying the soup too very soon.

I wondered why a group of runners weren’t moving in the distance. It soon became clear as they were struggling to help one poor runner who was clearly suffering from hypothermia. I stopped to help him zip his jacket up and offer my foil survival bag; I noticed he was only wearing shorts and hadn’t managed to get his gloves on. There was no reaction from this poor soul, but I was relieved to see him later at the finish, having been helped off the moor to a marshal’s car. He was well wrapped up and being looked after at the clubhouse.

At last the little path started to drop away and off this evil place, and I was glad to be descending to humanity and the view of buildings, knowing that it couldn’t be too far to go, surely.  Another horrible descent down a very narrow ginnel with broken and miss-placed cobbles ready to trip the unwary followed, but was negotiated carefully. However, I knew that there would be a long uphill finish and this was a struggle, just hanging onto a small group of runners which seemed to take ages. I was glad I’d taken some salt tablets earlier, as the series of stiles near the end wouldn’t have helped if that horrible feeling of cramp was nagging at my calves.

I wasn’t going to sprint round the cricket pitch to catch the runner in front, and I was done. That lovely soup tasted so good in my shiny new mug! The top runners were all dressed and chatting away, just a stroll for them.

For the record, Roger finished in 3:43, and I finished in 3:50, but times didn’t matter on a day like today.

Would I do it again? Maybe just maybe……on a nice day.

Next race, the Hobble, only 13 miles further!

John Osborne