Through 1983, the Leeds/Doncaster contingent of the NPC were doing quite a lot of running for fitness, and one or two folk had even run the odd half-marathon. Some bright spark came up with the idea of doing our own, full-length, marathon, and a bit of measuring with a car odometer driving round the Dales came up with a course which was close enough to 26.1 miles. People who had no intention of taking part, but thought it would be a good excuse for a pub crawl round the mountain, embraced the idea with enthusiasm, and a date was set for Saturday the 12th May 1984. Lots of people started training, some of them reasonably seriously and somehow, I was one of them. Our favoured run at weekends was from Greenclose, towards the Flying Horseshoe (Clapham station) and up the moor road towards Slaidburn. Then hang a right and along until we could head north, across the river and into Bentham, then back along the road to Greenclose. This was about eight miles, quite hilly, and we were getting times close to an hour. At home in West Cumbria, I had a local run through woods starting at my front door, and various longer runs mostly in Wasdale. Remarkably, by race day I was quite fit, and had done runs up to half-marathon distance with no real trouble.
We avoided heavy drinking on Friday night, and engaged in various “carbohydrate loading” games (yes, pasta, not beer) which were supposed be useful. We started mid-morning from Greenclose and headed for Clapham, with a total entry of seventeen runners. The spectator/supporter class were to be seen sitting outside the New Inn, waiting to grab a pint before following the race to the Helwith Bridge. With such a small field, we were soon spread out along the road of a thousand bends from Austwick towards the Helwith and few, if any, were running other than alone. Over the hill and down into Ribblesdale, it was a nice downhill, but as the pub is set back from the road, the cheery waves from those not exerting themselves overmuch were a bit distant. As we had no marshalls and hadn’t notified any authorities of our race, we were free to run as normal walkers would – on the right side of the road facing oncoming traffic. This suited me fine, since after my adventure in 1981, my left leg was a tad shorter than the right and the camber favoured me nicely. No-one was looking to break any records (the course had about a thousand feet of ascent) and the weather was pleasantly cool. Not everyone was ensconced in hostelries, and water was handed out at intervals to keep us all going. There were two pubs to choose from in Horton – I think the supporters chose the one next to the Craven Pothole Club, where members of our arch-rival organisation took the piss with a degree of respect as we passed. All went fairly well to Selside (where there is no pub…) but I recall finding it a bit of a slog for the two or three miles from there to the left turn at Ribblehead, where, not being the fastest of the field, I found that most of the drinkers had already moved on to the Hill Inn. Driving, one always feels that the downhill starts at the Station Hotel, but in reality, the road continues to rise a few metres for the next mile, which is a little demoralising. Then, passing the parking for Great Douk and the systems below Souther Scales Fell, the real downhill starts.
One result of this change to a favourable gradient was a feeling that it was getting on for all over, and the speed increase lulled some (including myself) into a false sense of confidence. The result was that I cheerfully turned down the offer of an electrolyte drink from the assembled supporters (particularly Doc. Walker who was slightly concerned for our welfare) at the Hill Inn. As our chosen route avoided going in to Ingleton itself by taking the old road towards Newby and Clapham, this was the last support point and everyone was getting ready to head back to Greenclose to see the first runners at the finish line. From Chapel-le-Dale to Skirwith Cave, the road gains, then loses about fifty feet over the two and half miles, then starts to drop again. The left turn within sight of the fleshpots of Ingleton starts gently downhill, but after crossing Jenkin Beck, leads to a sudden uphill and climbs over 300 feet to Cold Cotes. This is where the folly of not taking on electrolyte took its toll, as I developed cramp and really struggled. I must have lost a quarter hour on my previous pace, before recovering a little as the gradient eased past Crooklands and Newby Cote. From here it is steeply downhill and a familiar bit of road down through Newby, then a brief hiatus crossing the main A65 and the final few hundred yards to the finish. My time was 3 hours 27 minutes – not last but well behind the first to finish. Sixteen of the starters finished the course, and none of us refrained from the liquid form of carbohydrate loading that evening ! There must be lots of photos of this event, but as a runner I obviously wasn’t carrying a camera, so I don’t seem to have any.
Postscript. The idea was sold to the Cave Rescue Organisation, who ran a race to raise money over a modified course in 1985 starting and finishing in Clapham (this avoided the need to cross the A65) and visiting Stainforth which we had bypassed in 1984. I didn’t train anywhere near as seriously for this second race, which was marshalled, had far more entrants, and we were instructed to be “traffic” rather than “pedestrians” meaning that we were supposed to run on the left of the road, which didn’t suit me at all – the camber was really quite adverse. Although I didn’t get cramp this time, I was over an hour slower. It didn’t seem like “our” race any more (Steve Cram won:) and it wasn’t the nice personal don’t-take-it-too-seriously fun run of the previous year. The hill up from Stainforth Foss to the main road was a killer even though the height gain isn’t that much, especially as a fraction of the total – but it is distressingly steep a third of the way into the course.