Massive thank you Jane for sharing this great adventure.

I am relatively new to running but not that new to endurance sport, racing and challenges. I predominantly come from a cycling background until I developed an itch to scratch in ultra-running. I have no clue where this came from, maybe lockdown madness or the fact I would like to do a 100 miler before I am 50 and time is marching on!

I have achieved an organised 50km and 100km foot race and though I made so many errors on my 50km, the subsequence 100km went like a dream. With the help of Jon, I truly believed in the work I had done in my training and the event was a 5-star fully way marked with phenomenal aid stations all I had to think about was putting one foot in front of the other the rest was done for me, and the marshals were a dream. The perfect event for my first dabble at an ultra-distance race but these events come at a huge financial and an environmental cost, driving somewhere with 1000s of other people. This got me thinking about challenging myself from my front door and attempting to be self-sufficient. The obvious choice was the Dales Way.

The Dales Way in a multi-day walking route that runs for 80 ish miles from Ilkley in West Yorkshire to Bowness-on-Windermere in Cumbria, following mostly riverside paths and passing through the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the gentle foothills of southern Lakeland to the shore of Windermere. It starts following the river Wharfe and I adore this river having been brought up and lived in Wharfedale for most of my life it made absolute sense to make this the perfect route to attempt.

I decided on September to aim for, and my wonderful friend Dan was to come along for the ride which I was thrilled about but equally worried I would let him down. Those who know Dan know what a force of nature he is and phenomenal athlete.

I normally work from aid station to aid station to break a challenge down in to manageable sized pieces and because it is multiday walk all the literature available breaks it down into days/legs so with this we worked from leg to leg.

Leg 1 Ilkley – Burnsall (13.5 miles), we set off from Ilkley just after lunch and after the obligatory start line photos and long hugs with Dans wife Jo, we trotted off in a Lake district direction. All was great the weather was perfect after all that training, planning, and faffing we were doing it. The first stretch was relatively flat beautiful singletrack along the riverbank until it opened at the stunning Bolton Priory. We were really enjoying ourselves chatting and moving well. Fuelling and Hydration were to plan, and I was having no issues carrying a heavier pack because we needed to carry sufficient food and water for longer distances, though there were a few shops and pubs on route. Before we knew it, we had reached Burnsall and completed leg 1 feeling amazing. My plan A was to get this done under 24 hours and at this pace we were well within that timeframe.

Leg 2 Burnsall – Buckden (15 miles) – I had no concerns with this leg as we were still well in my stomping ground, and I knew the route well following the wonderful river Wharfe. Dan and I were trotting along chatting away and everything was fantastic. Both Dan and I had bits of the route that were key points and for Dan we were approaching Hebden Suspension Bridge, and this was one of his highlights. What could possibly go wrong and a meandering riverside path, famous last words! Dan managed to trip over the tiniest bit of wood that send him flying straight onto his face, he went down so fast he didn’t get the opportunity to break his fall. Me being the good friend I am, I obviously doubled up in laugher and I mean hysterical (Dan I am sincerely sorry I couldn’t stop it.). In all seriousness Dan was rattled it was a hard fall and he had bashed his face, knee and had to squeeze the gravel out of his hands this could have been the end 13 miles in. Anyway, he picked himself up walked if off and we carried on with me still giggling and I swear I was in stiches for the next 10 miles, I think it was nervous energy and probably a waste of energy too! We made it to the wonderful bridge, stopped and got some resupply at Grassinton and carried on to Bukden. Still making fantastic progress, though I was getting a rumble of stomach issues which wasn’t a welcome sign.

Leg 3 Buckden – Dent Head 16.5 miles – This leg goes through Yockenthwaite and I swear in the spring when the meadows are in full bloom it is one of my favourite places on the planet, so many happy childhood memories, so yes I was comfortable with the navigation and the terrain we had to negotiate. As it was getting dark, we stopped at The George Pub at Hubberholme, the Landlord looked us over like we were totally mad! A pub this deep into the dales isn’t used to seeing two filthy, bloody, and slightly bedraggled individuals asking for a coke and a bag of nuts. Yet again giggling we ate our nuts and drank our drinks swiftly, used the facilities (all was not well!) donned our headtorches and left.

As it got dark the boggy trudge begin, we knew the going would get tougher and this was part of our thinking to do the unrunable bits at night. We were still moving but it was evident I was having issues with the brown caterpillar knocking and you cannot ignore the brown caterpillar. Yes, this wasn’t ideal or comfortable but being a bit feral I am happy to do what needs doing in the wild and I had or thought I had ample shit kit with me. I was managing the best I could, and progress was still being made. Also, the next highlight was coming up, Andy was waiting for us at Ribblehead Viaduct in our van with hot soup dry socks and anusol, the glamor of ultra sports! Joking aside this was a highlight and we were approximately halfway and still well ahead of schedule.

Leg 4 Dent Head – Sedbergh 15 miles. This leg was always going to be trudge leaving the comfort of the warm van, but we had bellies full of chicken soup and dry socks on our feet. Within a mile we once again we had wet feet as we navigated off camber boggy terrain and because my feet were twisting in my trainers, I could feel a blister on the bottom of my foot. I don’t normally get blisters but there wasn’t much I could do other than ignore it. More alarming was I was still going to the loo more often than was ideal, visibility was dreadful especially as we were in the night relying on our headtorches. We also got followed out of a remote farm, I presume by a farmer that was concerned why two idiots had come through his yard a 3 in the morning! Thankfully we avoided getting shot and marched on slowly. We were on the very edge of the Dales and as the morning started to break, we could see the rolling fells of the Howgills and what a beautiful morning it was, cold and crisp but with the promise of a nice day ahead.

Leg 5 Sedbergh – Burnside 17 miles. 60 miles into our adventure. Starting to believe we had broken the back of this route, however we still had 27 miles or so to go and this section was a slog of wet grass and fields that had been cut for hay or silage. Our shoes were heavy with the wet grass and growing as it wrapped round our ankles. Dan had a low point on this leg, and he even stopped talking for about half an hour, I missed him during this time. The next big landmark we both had in our minds was the rather ugly concrete footbridge that crossed the M6 motorway, this bridge would take us out of Yorkshire and into Cumbria and my word it took us ages to reached it! I have never been so happy to see something to unattractive in all my days. Our arrival into Cumbria was initially so disappointing as we landed into the scruffiest farm I think I have ever seen, but what did make us both chuckle is that everything from fences, trailers and even the cattle truck was made or repaired using motorway signs, they were everywhere. The things you see on your travels.

Leg 6 Burnside – Bowness 10 Miles. We were in touching distance of completing this challenge and I was feeling slightly better but still unable to run because of the urge to go to the loo. I had gone through mine and Dans shit kit and we were discussing what spare clothes I could use laughing once again! As grim as this was this can be the reality of ultra sports, so glamorous. We had also gone over our 24-hour window, and this hurt my soul, I had spent so much time going to the loo and unbale to move fast because I needed the loo. With this said there was no point being all melancholy about the situation we had almost finished, and it was a beautiful day. The end of the route did have a bit of a sting to it as it reached the foothills of the southern Lakes, with some steep climbs and descents. I had hoped to be able to see Windermere and the end of The Dales Way but we only caught sight of the lake though the trees as we made the final descent towards the stone bench that marked the end of the route. We were over the moon to have finished, it had taken us over 26 hours and I couldn’t help but be disappointed with this time and even after the dust had settled, I am still not over this.

I did get to spend a prolonged period with my wonderful friend Dan, and we were never even close to falling out even if I did laugh a lot at his expense and he was so patient with my many toilet stops. I also need to send a huge heartfelt thank you to Andy and Jo for helping Dan and I, it would be impossible without you both. Lastly, I have so much gratitude to Jon for helping me get fit enough to take on such a challenge and also helping me believe in my abilities. We did get it done together and I have learned so much through the process. The jury is currently out for a second attempt, though I know on a good day with good health and fitness I could shave off so much time so never say never!

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