Saturday 12th to Wednesday 16th May: The Northern Traverse

Saturday 12th to Wednesday 16th May: The Northern Traverse

Report from Sarah Fuller

The northern traverse is a 192 mile race along wainwrights coast to coast route- starting in St bees and finishing in Robin Hoods bay. It is a continuous format (so although you can stop and sleep, rest or eat as long as you like the clock is always ticking. The 111 hour (4 days 15 hours) cut off is generous but doesn’t allow for too much much faffing about! I entered this race thinking it would be an easier, shorter version of the spine race with better weather and more daylight- turns out I was very wrong about the ‘easier’ part!…

I picked up a pebble from the beach in St Bees as is customary and we got underway at 9am on Saturday morning under cloudless skies and the promise of a hot day ahead. I decided to run in 3/4 thin tights rather than shorts to save faffing about changing into longs overnight. It was a real roaster but the trails were still wet in places from the heavy overnight rain. The first half of the day was mostly straightforward and relatively easy running (apart from the steep up and down dent hill that is!!!) and I spent time jogging along chatting to folks and catching up with people I had met before. It was all very relaxed and I was relieved to be keeping up with the mid pack. After nearly 4 hours most people (me included!) piled into the cafe at Ennerdale bridge for water and or sustenance.  A beautiful run along Ennerdale followed and I kept the pace super steady but was pleased to be doing a lot more running than walking (well on the flats and downs anyway anything that smelled of uphill was a walker!). The running was put on hold as the proper hills started with the drag up loft beck from black sail hostel it was boiling but my ‘slow and steady don’t trash your legs’ approach to climbing was working and soon enough we were jogging across to top. It was here I first started running with Jesse who I’d actually met on the train on the way up to st bees ! We were going at the same pace and kind of just started sticking together- initially with an aim to see how it went by the first checkpoint at Patterdale. We had another chap join us too called Simon who I had been with since dent hill. Our little trio happily dropped into Rosthwaite where there was a food and drink checkpoint mainly for the shorter lakes traverse runners but we were allowed to get food there as well. We had a brief stop there, ate our own bodyweight in sandwiches and caught up with mr Hardmoors, Jon Steele who was suffering a bit in the heat. We then pushed on to Grasmere via a huge hill and annoyingly boggy decent but the view from the top was outstanding such an amazing panorama in the evening light. It got dark climbing towards Grisedale tarn and Simon was flagging so we took it steady and enjoyed the long shuffle around the tarn and down into Patterdale as the clock chimed midnight. 15 hours for a tough 46 miles in the heat carrying a pack very happy with that.

We stayed 1.5 hours at Patterdale refuelling and sorting kit for the leg ahead. I also had a bit of foot care to take care of as the hot day, soggy patches and rocky trails had surprisingly already taken their toll. Jon Steele came in shortly after and looked in a terrible state I was a bit worried but he went to sleep and hoped to feel better for the next day. Simon also wanted to sleep but Jesse was going to push on and we agreed to leave together. The climb out of Patterdale up and over Kidsy pike is the longest on the route and can be confusing in the dark but it went fine with a few checks on the GPS for reassurance and Jesse’s colourful stories of his career as a mental health nurse we were soon dropped down to Haweswater. The only issue was it was tipping down with rain so the descent was slippery and tricky so took a while and meant my poor feet got an all night soaking! Daylight came along Haweswater ‘fondly’ remembered by anyone who has done the Lakeland 100, which goes along there in the other direction! We had caught up with Lucie coming over kidsy who we had chatted to coming into Patterdale- Lucie was doing the 60 mile race so had a shorter stop at Patterdale as she was worried about the cut offs (don’t know why she was well ahead!) – we all shuffled into Shap together with Basil who we also kept seeing, where Lucie was delighted to find she was third lady to finish. We once again took advantage of the great food at the Shap checkpoint but didn’t have our drop bags here as it was a lakes traverse checkpoint. Still the feed break and sit down was welcome and we set off in good spirits and sunshine heading for Kirkby Stephen.

It got very hot again and my feet were now getting very sore from the perfect storm of spending most of 24 hours on them, the heat, being wet and now the pounding on dry hard packed ground, they were nicely macerated and a few troublesome blisters joined the party, which was frustrating as I don’t normally have too many issues with blisters. I found this 20 mile section tough despite the easy terrain and few long climbs I was struggling mentally and the foot issues were looming large in my mind. Still we tried to stay positive and it was another boiling hot day. The small field had really thinned out now (even more so as we no longer had the lakes traverse runners mixed in!) but we yo-yo’d with Basil again for the leg and eventually rolled into Kirkby Stephen mid afternoon. More eating and faffing with feet and lots of chatting and I tried to get some sleep as the missed night was catching up with me. But it was hot and the sleeping tents were noisy so I found it impossible to get to sleep and only managed to doze a bit. What I should have done is got up and got on with it but I laid there for 2 1/2 hours getting annoyed! Still the break was good for my poor feet at least. I had yet more food and we set off hoping to get the climb up nine standards rigg done before it got dark. It was impeccable timing really as we saw the sunset from high on the long climb which was an incredible sight and I was gutted I didn’t have a camera with me! This was truly one of those ‘this is why we do it’ moments. Darkness closed in on the long and incredibly boggy descent but with a bit more reassurance from the ‘magic box’ (aka gps!) we made it down ok. With the clear night the temperature really dropped and it was freezing we stopped in a little shooting hut to layer up and Trotted on. By Keld the sleep monsters had totally got me and Jesse was also flagging I was worried about committing to the long exposed section over to Reeth as there was no shelter anywhere and it was too cold for ‘trail naps’. So we decided to drop into Keld and have a power nap, we found an unlocked toilet block and sat on the floor for a while to rest and recoup. This was just enough to get us going and confident to tackle the high ground. So off we trudged dutifully retracing our steps to rejoin the route where we left it and marched onwards and upwards.

The rest of the leg into Reeth went on a bit but mostly without incident apart from surprising a knackered Frenchman in crackpot hall and emerging a little too far left when we climbed out through the mines adding a small bit of extra but the night passed eventually and we got into Reeth about 7am not far off my plan. Too early for the cafe so we laid on a bench on the village green and had a half hour snooze in the rapidly warming sunshine – bliss! Onward to Richmond and lunchtime was calling !

Richmond was full of increasing broken runners and the usual yummy food and lovely checkpoint staff (I felt like lady muck sitting there having things brought to me !) – I repeated the folly of trying and failing to sleep but just lying there anyway for ages (Ill never learn!). Jon Steele came in and was a man on a mission , he left again pretty quick having not slept here or at Kirkby Stephen (he didn’t sleep at Lion either we found out and went to the end on just a sleep at Patterdale and a few trail naps – legend!!). My feet were still falling apart but not getting any worse but by now it was clear my sub 90 hour ‘plan’ was going to have to be ripped up – I wasn’t that far off timings but the extended Richmond stop had wasted time and with my feet in bits it was likely I would only lose time on it from now on. So new goal was to finish in 4 days and more importantly just finish actually! Eventually I gave up ‘sleeping’ and we left about 5:30 for the long ‘boring bit’ across the vale of York. The first few miles were actually lovely apart from a field of cows who came a bit close for comfort I tried to be brave but failed and hid behind Jesse! The rest of the way was well, boring we had a stop for a cuppa in the weird pub in Danby wiske and then in the endless fields we caught up with Chris an American who had come over with his friend just to do this race. Chris said he was suffering a bit with being on his own so we invited him to join our merry band and we became a trio. We had all had enough by the time we got to the petrol station at the A19 and went in to buy coffee and pies (the ultra runner food of dreams!) – the chap behind the counter was lovely and let us sit on the floor at the back of the shop to drink our coffee and he even heated our pasties up what a star. We made that coffee last to enjoy warmth for a bit and I even dozed off. God knows what the lorry drivers thought who were the only customers at that time of night ! Eventually we left and staggered on to start the long drag up onto the north York moors our third national park.

We experienced another stunning sunrise as we hit the Cleveland way and very familiar ground to me, on the steep descent to Lordstones Angela came passed (quickly leaving us for dust – very impressive!), the first racer we had seen since Richmond. We had a short stop at Lordstones to fill up water and check on feet but again way too early for the cafe (we really weren’t timing this well!), We crawled across the three sisters in the now building heat (unusually for me the descents were now slower than the ups!) and up towards Blowarth where it was getting furnace like so we had a 20 min trail snooze in the sunshine before pushing on the final 6 miles to the lion inn. Running was now out of the question due to our feet so we tried to keep a 3mph march going best we could. The heat got the better of me about half a mile from the pub and I suddenly felt dizzy and weird- the others went on and I crawled into the checkpoint a bit worse for wear. I didn’t plan to stop very long here but I needed to sort myself out that was clear and that meant cooling down and refuelling properly. So we took a long stop and re dressed our battered feet, ate food tried to sleep again and ate yet more food! Angela left as I was half dying in a corner and ran up the road out of the checkpoint – she looked incredibly refreshed! I was surprised to see John kynaston was also there as I expected him to be hours and hours ahead of me but he left looking strong and like he was really enjoying himself!

We eventually dragged ourselves out of the checkpoint about 6pm (another way longer than intended or possible needed stop!) and ran off up the road (actually no that’s a lie we hobbled and wobbled like crippled pensioners who had done 160 miles!). The last leg is the shortest at 30 miles (I’m sure it was more like 33 but anyway!) but I found it the hardest mentally. It was all ok to Glaisedale where we started to lose the light and I started to mentally lose the plot a bit I was in so much pain and every mile seemed to take hours and it genuinely felt like we would never finish another 20 miles just felt impossible. I’ll admit to a few tears at this point but pulled myself together eventually! We were told there was a heated toilets at Grosmont station but we couldn’t find them and wasted 10 minutes wandering around the station at 11pm looking like we were ‘up to no good’ oops!! We gave up and just sat on the pavement for 20 minutes before tackling the worlds steepest longest road!  Neil and Chris passed us whilst we were lounging about and we would re pass Neil further on but Chris went on to finish strongly.

Anyway onwards and most definitely upwards! I really liked littlebeck woods but boy it seemed to go on forever we stopped again for a 20 min rest in the hermitage but got cold so pressed on. The moors after were horrid really boggy and churned up agony on my feet and I got a bit fed up with the whole thing, which manifested itself in a string of expletives and a promise that I was never running again ever! The final miles took ages the pain was ridiculous and all I could manage was a pathetic slow hobble and the guys weren’t in much better state. Still these things do end (eventually!) and finally there was RHB and Ellie with her camera so had to get a jog on ha ha (must have looked ridiculous because the footage thankfully never made the update video!!). We ‘ran’ (shuffled like zombies) through the town and down the steep hill to finish by the sea. Tradition says this was the point I threw my pebble in the sea but we had been through so much together and I got unreasonably emotional at the thought of chucking it so I kept it mumbling something about ‘my precious’! I must admit I didn’t feel euphoric to finish I just felt empty and numb just too tired and in pain to process any of it that would have to come later. The cruel twist was the finish was by the sea but our stuff and food was up at the village hall back up the stupid steep hill we had just run down! There was a timed ‘stage’ for this but I couldn’t be arsed so wandered up slowly to collapse in a chair and eat pizza for breakfast (as you do!!).

So that was the northern traverse in some ways harder than the spine but just as rewarding and a much nicer route! I finished in 93 hours 45 minutes (3 days 21 hours 45 minutes) more than 17 hours ahead of the cut off and delighted to get under 4 days on manky feet! I was 5th lady (out of 6 and the 6th lady was ‘on holiday’ taking it easy!!) and 27th overall (44 finished and 52 started) so not bad for me!! Interestingly in the history of this race there have been no female DNF’s so I was pleased not to let the side down! Go girls!

Have I really given up running? Watch this space ….!


2 thoughts on “Saturday 12th to Wednesday 16th May: The Northern Traverse

  1. Walked this route (basically, with some detours) many years ago, and remember several points that would make running near impossible (bogs on Nine Standards Rig were particularly traumatic), and we spoke to a guy at the end who’d covered it in 4 days; he was properly in pieces and had hated every moment of it, so an absolutely brilliant achievement!

  2. I agree with John D. about that Sarah has done an absolutely brilliant achievement . The report from the Northern Traverse is about the hard life of an ultra distance runner , an awesome writing . To cross the finishing line after 192 miles in 93 hours it is an extraordinary performance and to finish 25th overall it is a superb and unique Traverse . Well done to Sarah Fuller .

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