Tim Laney Finishes Third in Northern Traverse Race

Avid runner Tim Laney successfully completed the Northern Traverse Race recently, coming in third place on the epic Coast to Coast UK run. Here, he describes how he got on:

The idea is a simple one – pick a suitable route from the west coast to the east coast, set off and run it. The Coast to Coast walk, devised by Alfred Wainwright in 1973, is widely recognised to be one of the best walks around, and it is a small wonder that there hasn’t been an ultra race over the route before.

In May-June 2016, Open Adventure - headed by James Thurlow - put on the first race from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay.

ian corless 2.jpgImage by Ian Corless

With 60 other slightly nervous competitors, I was among the group who met up at the Seacote Hotel for the race briefing on the Monday morning, dropping off bags and grabbing a last cup of tea. It was something of a relief to start, as we set off along the coast path to St. Bees Head, easy running along the soft turf, with amazing views over the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man and the Galloway Hills. A leading group led by Eoin Keith quickly broke away through the rolling farmland towards Cleator Moor, but I decided to stick firmly to my coffee-and-cakes policy of stopping wherever I could buy something to eat and drink, and dropped off the pace to run by myself.

Up the first climb to Dent, hot in the sun, the views of the Lakeland Hills appeared in front of us, drawing us further on. Nannycatch Beck was a pleasant surprise, with a clear stream in a steep-sided little valley, beautiful in the sunlight; the well-made path leading on to Ennerdale Bridge (and another well-used coffee shop) and into the Lakes proper. Technical running along the south side of Ennerdale Water slowed the pace over the roots and boulders, so the field was well spread out by the time we reached the long track up the valley, and no other competitors were in sight by the time I reached the Black Sail hut. Signposting was now an issue – for such a popular route as this, there were few waymarks along much of the walk, and it was essential to make use of the map and (at times) compass to select the correct line. Once on the staircase up to Grey Knotts, the route was again evident. Cold and windy on top, it was good to get over the gap and down to Honister for another tea and cake stop at the café.

ian corless 2 (1).jpgImage by Ian Corless

The path led down into a leafy and well-used Borrowdale, and then up the long rocky climb over Greenup Edge to Grasmere. Some of the leading runners were feeling the pace now and dropping back in the heat of the early evening. Refreshments were again taken at Thorney Howe to prepare for the long grind up Middle Tongue to Grisedale Hause, and the stony run off down the long valley to Patterdale. The first feeding station was a welcome opportunity to rest and change, and choose from the array of hot food and snacks on offer. Hot tea, lasagne, fruit and custard had me well set up for the next long leg. Leaving the aid station for a dark, solitary climb up to Chapel Hause, cold after the heat of the long day, was a difficult thing to do, especially with a dense mist creeping down and obscuring the slopes of the Knott. The path was reasonably clear though, and I soon made it to Kidsty Pike, at 780 metres the high point of the Coast to Coast route. Chilly in the clammy mist, I was pleased be off quickly down the steep rocks to the rough track north of Haweswater.

The nature of the route changed now, with open fell replaced by farmland, bringing a challenge of following undefined paths across fields, locating each new stile and hoping it was the right one each time. Soon at Shap, definitely closed for business in the early hours, the route continued out over the limestone moors above Orton, to meet the new dawn. Beautiful in the early light, with skylarks singing and snipe drumming, following the path over field and open fell towards Kirkby Stephen. I’d run out of food by now, definitely running on empty, and looking forward to next feeding station at the rugby club. My feet were feeling pretty trashed by this stage, and it was great to be able to sit down and let them dry out for a while, and change into some larger shoes, all while eating a great cooked breakfast.

A long climb now up over Nine Standards Rigg, trying desperately to stay out of the bogs to keep my feet dry. With cloud coming in visibility was falling a little too, and it was cold in the wind over the moors as I descended the long rocky and dusty trail down towards Keld. Sharp climbs out of Swinnergill and Gunnerside mines were hard work, and the maze of paths made little or no sense to me in my sleep-deprived state, so I ended up relying entirely on the compass, hoping I was going the right direction and that it was actually Old Gang Beck I was following, towards the promise of tea and cake in Reeth.

A brief pause there made all the difference, and after getting in some good food I felt almost human over the final stretch into Richmond and the next aid station. Here I had an amazing chicken and vegetable stew, and two hours of deep sleep, waking feeling refreshed and ready for the final 70 miles of the challenge.

The wind had blown up as I slept, bringing in a misty rain. Setting off into the midnight darkness was a tough thing to do, but once under way, I made good time through the woods and fields out into the Vale of York. The route looked like a maze, but the Harvey Coast to Coast map proved excellent, marking every junction and turn, and I didn’t put a foot wrong through the long misty night. Dawn saw me at Ingleby Arncliffe where I managed to cadge an early-morning bacon roll through an open kitchen window. The hills of the North York Moors emerged steadily from the murk, and I layered-up as I began to climb.

Higher up the weather became extreme – a powerful north wind blowing shotgun bursts of rain, and dense mist, all making it hard to stay on track over the exposed rocky ridge of Carlton Bank. A brief respite at Lord Stones and then up again into the weather over Cringle Moor and White Hill. By now I’d been alone so long I’d forgotten I was in a race, so when I went through a gate to find Jamie Lawler hiding out of the wind, it was a massive surprise to both of us. Great to have his company though, as we climbed together from Clay Bank up onto Round Hill and onto the disused railway that runs across the moor. I’d been looking forward to easy running on this smooth, level surface, but the ferocious wind made it terribly hard to keep moving.

Eventually we made it around to the Lion Inn on Blakey Ridge, the next aid station. The wind ensured that there was no marquee to rest and relax, no tents to sleep in, just Joe Faulkner’s very-welcome van for refuge and hot food. I changed into dry clothing, had a bucket of hot tea and an amazing chilli, and then – very reluctantly – set off again into the wind. Heading directly north, into the teeth of the gale made it impossible to run even on a flat road. Turning east again onto saturated paths wasn’t greatly easier, but eventually, paths led to a long even descent into Glaisdale, out of the wind and murk into the wooded, muddy valleys below.

Following the Esk Valley was easy after the horrendous morning we’d had. An enforced pause due to the gates of the level crossing closing in Grosmont gave a chance to draw breath before a monstrous steep climb up the road to Sleights Moor, and the descent down to the muddy paths through the woods at Littlebeck. Jamie and I were both fed up by now, and weren’t giving route finding sufficient attention, so we manged to wander off course a few times, leaving the valley and crossing the final set of moors into Hawsker.

From here though, it was easy, with just a final few undulating miles along the Cleveland Way coast path into Robin Hood’s Bay, giving an appropriate closing bookend to this Northern Traverse. The final steep descent into the village was a nightmare for sore feet and aching legs, but we finally made it. Jamie and I were joint third, completing the 192 miles of the route in 58 hours and 41 minutes, seven hours behind the amazing Eoin Keith. Only the climb back up to the village hall lay between us and pizza….

The Northern Traverse was an excellent event – slickly organised without being over-managed, with attentive staff manning the aid stations providing everlasting tea and a wide choice of hot food and snacks. Very highly recommended – James Thurlow will be organising it again in 2018. I’m not sure I’ll be there to do it again, but I’m sure it’ll be a hit!

To learn more about the Northern Traverse Race, visit their website here: http://www.northerntraverse.com

Originally published 14/06/16

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