I read that book, The Chimp Paradox, and it irritated me. Who wants to think about an internal, annoying primate underestimating you at every turn? Recently, I’ve discovered my inner wolf and she’s far more fearless and a pack of fun!
I like to say that I want to be fit enough to do stupid stuff for fun. The Howling Chase Race fell smack, bang under this directive. It was evade and capture stuff, (like the tv show Hunted,) in the dark; on the moors; whilst being chased down by faster runners. The kind of bonkers, mad running that was way beyond my abilities…
The Howling Trail Chase…
…but I had a secret weapon. I knew someone who was more than capable of this, who knew the lay of the land, could nav like a pro and loves night running. Someone as slow as me and as determined to tactically outwit the speedsters.
Mrs O and I started our recces back in August. Mr O, our fell Yoda, had devised a route that promised to take us off the beaten track, and hopefully, away from the alphas. It was the start of months of wanderings on the West Pennine Moors. Yoda has a nack of sending us out to find paths that exist only on OS maps and in the distant memories of hoary, gnarled-knee fell runners. There was a fair bit of head scratching, map checking, doubling back and wading through waist high grass following barely distinguishable boundaries.
Our recces became a regular thing. We dissected the route and covered each section by day and night. Our first ascent of Darwen was done in clag so dense we almost ran headlong into the Jubilee Tower! We spent another evening checking the timing of our first few miles and settling on a decoy path through the gloomy terraces behind the Pigeon Tower.
We were wary of the many cars we came across on our evening gambols with steamy windows and our relationship deepened to a bladder and bowel emptying new companionship. We had a post-run lock-in drink at an isolated country pub and waded through more bogs in the interminable drizzle than I care to remember.
We are both slow. Slower than turtles wading through treacle. We fully expected to be caught by the alphas but wanted to make sure we were a respectable distance into the race before this happened. As a novice night runner, I learnt about hand-railing and noting landmarks to keep my bearings. I snuck out for evenings on my own till I became happy in my own little bubble of light in the darkness of the moors.
Here was the plan… (for those who are interested.)
- Race to the Rivington Pike as fast as our joggler legs would carry us, by the most direct route.
- Instead of following the obvious road down from the Pike, duck immediately behind the Pigeon Tower. Here there were numerous paths which were well hidden from above and we could regain our composure, (and have a wee,) by the time we emerged from this detour we should be BEHIND the alphas and could progress at our own pace with caution.
- Ignore the lovely metalled track and follow a muddy, smaller path over towards Sheep House Lane. At the road, drop down the verge and run along the wall side, obscured from view. Drop off down a muddy, almost indiscernable path and head for Great Hill.
- Follow the exposed flagstone footpath to the summit of Great Hill and then suck up the gooey descent.
- Zip through the woods from Piccadily and then amble to Darwen Tower before rolling down the hill to the finish.
We had a route we were confident with and both knew like the back of our hands. I started to think we might, just, pull this off. We were ready!
Then the gods intervened.
Rain. Snow. Ice. Even Mrs O was having a wobble. Most husbands would be wary of sending their wives out on the moors in such conditions, day or night. Yoda had no such qualms. His advice as he drove us to the start? Turn your head torches off. We would have the benefit of moonlight, clearly visible on the clear cold night, reflecting off the snow covered ground. And they never wore head torches back in t’day, apparently. We had already planned to use small hand-held lights where possible; now we were going ninja!
So, Saturday night saw two middle-aged mothers bimbling around the West Pennine Moors like a pair of SAS recruits. We had moments of fear, hilarity and exhaustion. We made revisions to our route as the conditions closed in around us, (there’s nothing like a roll of thunder, as you’re scouting for a path in the falling snow, that you’ve overshot twice, to make you decide quickly to double back to the road!) And we did 80% in the darkness because head torches are for wimps.
Great Hill proved to be our nemesis. The climb to the top was longer than either of us remembered, perhaps the sideways hail and snow gave us a false perspective. Finally, relieved at the summit, we couldn’t easily make out the path down. We knew to head for the faint lights of a house and the road, to keep the vague outline of Darwen Tower and the woodland in the foreground in line. The path, however, remained elusive.
We rolled, slipped and trudged our way down the not-so-great hillside. Our feet were sodden as we sloshed through various icy cold streams and our fingers had gone numb miles back. We spoke only to warn each other of the impediments ahead. The ground was saturated as expected and we each took frequent plunges into biting cold bogs.
It was with relief that we finally said goodbye to Great Hill. Buoyed by fresh gloves, and an energy gel we fairly skipped across Darwen Moor. With not a head torch in sight we knew we had executed our perfect tortoise vs the hare plan.
We were fairly euphoric and a tad giddy at the finish, collecting both our medals and pins for bagging both towers, no wooden spoon of shame either. We expected to be caught and to be last; we were neither. This was a victory of tactics over speed. A victory we dedicate to all the contended jogglers out there.
I have been accused of taking this race too seriously. In my defence, I say, this race forced me to run in conditions and terrain, I have never faced before and all in the dark. It is not a race for sensible, normal people, who were all at home with a take away, a glass of wine and Strictly on the box. With the help of Mrs O and Yoda; I have learned new skills and discovered my inner wolf, she is determined and fearless and does this stuff for laughs.