Ranger Ultras Pennine Bridleway 270
I've both run and taken part in triathlons for many years now, with the latter falling by the wayside post kids. Too much time and money (for all the gear) needed to train for triathlons - stick to running.
It seemed like sensible reasoning at the time, when I dabbled in park runs or went for hour long trots in my local woods. I never ran too far and was never very speedy.
Fast forward a few years, a move from Surrey to Derbyshire, a diagnosis of a 2nd chronic lung disease (bronchiectasis on top of asthma), and the discovery of the Spine Race, and my quest to go further and further had begun! Oh and the time and money thing? I'd have been better off sticking to triathlons!
The timing wasn't great. Our youngest daughter started struggling massively with school, leading to a diagnosis of ASD and ADHD and, ultimately, a permanent exclusion from school.
Running became so important to me as a way of coping and getting headspace, the training and planning a nice distraction. My lungs were playing ball, with my condition well managed following a long period on permanent antibiotics. Maybe the timing was actually perfect?
I took part in, and completed, the Summer Spine Challenger in 2022. I struggled with sleep deprivation and stopped eating. The wheels almost fell off, I cried to my husband and told him to never let me enter anything like this ever again. Clearly I lied....
I'd been excited by the idea of the Ranger Ultras PB270 ever since I'd seen the inaugural race announced. It came too soon for me last year, though I was very jealous to see my now friend Lizzie, who I'd met at another Ranger Ultras event in 2021, tow the line at the start.
I loved the dot watching and the updates, including the photos of the checkpoint meals! The generous cut offs really appealed to me, as did the logistics of getting to and from the race.
After lots of deliberation between the PB270 and the PB137, I finally committed to the full race. I'd already recced a lot of the 1st half, plus Lizzie was entered and I knew we'd likely end up sharing at least some of the adventure together, as we had in the Spine Challenger last year.
Training was tough, with many hours on the turbo and cross trainer while my husband was working long hours. Days out on my feet. Failure to lose the weight I wanted to feel in better shape for the race. Not enough strength and conditioning. I also worried, as time went on, that the only women entered were myself and Lizzie. I really didn't want to be in a 'race' with her - we needed a faster lady to enter!
I had niggles in the run up to the race. Foot pain, knee pain and feeling like I was getting sick during the taper (I wasn't!).
On the morning of the race I was excited and a bit nervous. I knew it'd get really tough but I was ready to get going.
The bus ride to the start was fun. Lots of banter, chat about nutrition and pacing. With only 12 of us there was lots of talk about top ten finishes for the men, and top two for myself and Lizzie.
It was a relief to get moving. Straight away Lizzie and I set off together, getting back into the easy chat we'd shared countless other times now.
Spotted a camera = start running!
The 1st 15 or so miles were very flat and we even jogged a bit, having a brief chat with Alan shortly after the start.
At Parsley Hey actual toilets were a godsend on such an open section of the route, and I had a lovely home made scotch egg. Already I was enjoying real food! We saw Ian there, before he pushed on up the trail.
We chatted to John and Craig during a couple of stints where we ended up together, before they crept ahead, and the two of us reached CP1 at about 10pm, just after it got dark.
I could feel a 'springy' area on my heel in the last few miles. Not a blister this early surely?
Approaching Hayfield as the sun sets on day 1.
It was a blister - a pretty large one on the inside of my heel and others in the checkpoint were pretty shocked when they saw it. I was really worried - I've not had a 'proper' blister before, in much longer efforts. This could end my race!
I reached for my blister kit and, with some advice from John, who was eating his CP meal, set about sorting and dressing it. The blessing was that it wasn't painful but I knew it would be important to manage it well from now on.
I had a lovely plate of hot food and faffed a little too much with my kit, even at this early stage of the race! This was a relatively brief checkpoint, with no plans to sleep by mutual decision. While we were preparing to leave Ian asked if he could join us. He was worried about the navigation of the next section. We were happy to have additional company and had both covered part/all of stage 2 previously. We all got ourselves ready to head out into a cold, clear night.
This was the stage that worried me the most. It's the longest of the race and has plenty of elevation, with almost constant ascending and descending. I knew that I'd get progressively more tired as the stage went on. I just had to keep looking after myself as much as possible, with CP2, at Hebden Hey waiting with beds, food and kindness.
I was glad to have recced this section as some of the navigation was tricky, especially during the night. Any time we stopped we got cold pretty quickly.
As the world around us started waking up we came upon the Saddleworth Leisure Centre. It had vending machines, seats, toilets and really welcoming staff, who were only too happy for us to rest a while, especially when we told them what we were up to!
Leaving was tough but I was already looking up the Diggle Inn, which I knew was on route and the last eatery for a while. There was a long section of climbing up, down, and along reservoirs soon after Diggle, and I was dreading it. Some proper food would be well timed.
Unfortunately we arrived to discover no guests having breakfast and the kitchen therefore getting a deep clean. To our delight and appreciation, the lovely proprietors took pity on us and prepared sausage baps and drinks, plus some bonus free lemon drizzle cake!
Lizzie, Ian and myself after breakfast at the Diggle Inn.
Onwards we marched, with the next stop the friendly face of Sean, officially a RUSTie but also Lizzie's lovely husband, at the only water stop of this section.
Water bottles refilled, encouraging chat and hugs and we got going again.
The three of us were getting pretty tired by the time we reached Hollingworth Lake, near Littleborough. We stopped for a bit of food (I had a rehydrated meal), but it didn't really help and the sleep deprivation was becoming all consuming. We just needed to stop, eat and rest properly and I knew The Summit pub wasn't too far away now. Goggle confirmed it'd be open so we willed each other to keep going until then.
While waiting for my bowl of chips there I rested my head back against the wall and drifted off for a few blissful minutes. The chips and coke were nice but I couldn't finish either, my appetite already starting to dwindle just when I needed to keep the calories coming in.
Chips and coke at the Summit Inn with Ian and Lizzie
John appeared. Had we seen Craig? He'd gone off ahead to catch us up but probably went straight past the pub!
We set off as four, now that John has joined us. The last effort to Hebden Hey - so near yet so far, all struggling in one way or another and fighting our own battles. John was struggling with the beginnings of a chest infection and we started to worry, especially when he fell behind as we trudged up out of the steep sided Calder Valley.
It was getting cold and dark so on went the head torches and extra layers. At this point my mind and body were at war and my mind started losing the fight. "you don't need to finish, you have nothing to prove" "why are you putting yourself through this?" "Stick to marathons, they're easier (actually they hurt too)" are just some of the thoughts going through my mind. I just wanted to get to CP2, cry and sleep for a long time!
Finally we reached the bottom of the nasty descent to Hebden Hey and the smiling faces of the RUSTies - Sean, Tony and Peter. I was holding back the tears and told them I didn't know if I could carry on but they were amazing and instructed me to do what I had already promised myself pre-race - never quit before you've had a meal and a sleep.
Ian and John both decided to DNF at this point, each had been battling health problems that meant they didn't feel it would be safe to continue. Craig was already there and was ready to DNF, but asked if he could join Lizzie and I to give himself a chance to carry on. I still wondered if I'd be able to get back out there.
We had a meal, which was so delicious I nearly managed two portions, despite my reduced appetite, a shower and 3 hours of sleep.
I was holding back the tears while I nibbled at my breakfast, every fibre of my being wanting to stop. The RUSTies continued with just the right amount of encouragement. I somehow got out of the checkpoint with Lizzie and Craig, as the first light of a new day started to appear.
It was probably less than three miles in when I tearfully told the others that I didn't think I could continue and that my mind had given up the fight. My feet were sore, my legs were in bits, I was exhausted. I'd been internally battle with myself ever since my alarm had woken me from the deepest of sleeps. They were brilliant and talked me back into the game. In all honesty though, the thing that really stopped me returning to CP2 was the thought of that descent to Hebden Hey - if you know you know and I couldn't do it! I promised myself that I'd keep going to the 1st water stop, about 17km in. If I still wanted to stop at that point I would. It seemed a sensible plan so we got going again, with me forcing myself to nibble on small pieces of chocolate hobnob and stroopwaffles.
It was only a couple of miles or so later that I told Lizzie and Craig that I was going all the way to Settle (and beyond!). At that point I genuinely knew that, with my mind back in the game, and barring any disasters (injury/illness that stopped me) we'd reach Kirkby Stephen.
The sun rising on day three.
The wind on this 3rd day was the main feature. Strong headwinds and side winds across the moors were a real battle but it was at least dry and there was a bit of me that felt more alive for the wind. I found myself in a 'steady state', not really happy, not really down, just content putting one foot in front of the other and glad to be in the race, with good company and beautiful scenery.
We looked forward to seeing Sean again at the water stop and, after the next section of moorland, Wycoller, with its old bridges and, more importantly to us, toilets and picnic benches!
Our 'picnic' was lovely. I had a pot of instant mash and some custard, which I really enjoyed. Soon after we had some rain but fortunately it didn't last, intermittent with a bit of a downpour approaching Earby, where a friend came to meet Craig for some moral support. As he went off ahead for a bit, myself and Lizzie had a chat about racing each other. Neither of us felt we could. We'd come so far and we were a team - we would finish together. It was nice to actually put it into words though!
After Earby, before the canal and subsequent climb onto the moors again, I saw someone heading towards us with purpose. She looked familiar and then I realised it was Fi, a lovely lady I'd met the evening before the Spine Challenger. She was amazing. She'd been dot watching and was so supportive in her words. It was a real pick-me-up.
Soon afterwards we met with Craig again, after he'd stocked up with provisions just off the route.
Once over the moors, which were nice and dry compared to the bog and slop we encountered on our recce, the terrain was relatively flat until Long Preston. It was still tough going though, and Craig made sure we kept up a decent pace! We had our first view of the River Ribble, which we'd see a few times until we crossed it on our way to the Cam High Road. It started to rain again approaching the 2nd water stop of the stage, outside the Buck Inn in Paythorne.
The staff were really welcoming and allowed us to rest a short while in a marquee attached to the pub. They'd stopped selling food but a lady came out and offered toast or they could do some sticky toffee pudding or jam roly poly and custard if we wanted? My eyes lit up and I immediately ordered the sticky toffee pudding. The portion was massive, and I posted it on social media. I admitted defeat about three quarters of the way through it though, unusual for me and it showed my continuing reduced appetite!
An epic portion of sticky toffee pudding and custard at the Buck Inn, Paythorne.
We marched onwards, now back in darkness, though the rain had at least stopped, to Long Preston. This bit was tough. It was dark, flat and mainly fields and roads. On reaching Long Preston we stopped in a bus shelter and topped up pain killers, took the weight off our feet, snacked and put our heads back for a few minutes. Only a few miles to go until Settle, where we knew Eddie was waiting for us.
The weather on the hill before Settle really turned. Strong side winds with heavy, horizontal rain. It really was a case of heads down and keep going. We jogged down the road, which was becoming a river, into Settle, desperate to get into the dry.
We reached the CP at 1am. Martin and Eddie were great and so welcoming. We got our wet kit onto the caged radiators and put our food orders in. A large plate of jacket potatoes with beans, cheese and salad hit the spot. Craig, with his whole pizza, judged our salad but it felt good to get something 'fresh' in.
I had another small blister but my original one was holding its own. I'd worn waterproof socks with injinji liners on this section, with the threat of rain and muddy fields, but my feet had got pretty sweaty inside and caused discomfort, so I would revert back to standard injinji toe socks for the last stage.
Another shower, 3 hours of sleep, breakfast, tired kit faff and we were off again. Next stop the finish!
On leaving CP3 I was a different person to the broken one who'd left CP2. Yes I was very tired, with sore feet, but my quads hurt less and I could get down the steep steps to the road without much fuss!
Leaving CP3 at Settle.
It rained for most of the morning but we were now into my favourite section, based on my recces. Now we had the length of the Yorkshire Dales to walk through, South to North, a stunning part of the country.
Our next big target was Elaine's Tea Rooms in Feizor. It was only a few miles after CP3 but it came at a good time as it was very wet over the hills beforehand.
By the time we'd sat down our coats had left puddles everywhere but the staff couldn't have been more helpful. A massive full English breakfast later, which again I couldn't quite finish, and we set off again, though we were feeling a bit gippy after so much food!
Epic full English and hot chocolate at Elaine's Tearooms in Feizor.
At least the rain had eased off and the route was easy going for a bit until Austwick - a pretty walled path which was nice and level with bubbling streams and fords/bridges.
The section between Austwick and Long Scar was beautiful but relentless, along a stoney track, and we were all starting to struggle with tiredness. I started seeing objects out of every puddle shape I saw, to give me something else to think about, and spent a little too long following the feet of Lizzie and Craig.
A short bivvi on top of the hill, just past a large cairn, really helped freshen us up, with the sun making an appearance for the 1st time that day as we emerged from our bivvy bags, helping to raise spirits.
Heading away from Long Scar. Next target Cam High Road.
The next big step in our minds was getting to, and up, the Cam High Road. It was my 3rd time up there. The first time, in the Spine Challenger, was a truly awful experience with the sun beating down and my battery completely empty. The 2nd time was on a recce with Lizzie and we wondered what all the fuss was about as sleet blew in our faces!
This 3rd time was somewhere in between. It's a tough, never ending road but the scenery is gorgeous, the temperature was comfortable and we knew there was a planned waterstop at the top. Lizzie was starting to panic that they wouldn't be there but suddenly we heard loud banging of pans and there were Pete, Kodi and Martin. It was great to hug them, slightly cry and sit down. My poor feet were so sore just from being on them for so long! It's a pretty exposed spot and the cold started to set in after a while sitting on the side of the road (or on the actual road in Lizzie's case), so we wrapped up and got moving again.
The descent down to the road was rather pleasant in our recce, but this time it felt like torture. My feet protested at every rock and the winding path, though beautiful, was never ending. The grassy track taking us back uphill was much kinder.
Last of the light of day four, heading towards Garsdale Head station.
Our next mini stop was Garsdale Head Station, which boasts toilets and a heated waiting room that doesn't appear to get locked. We reached there at about 10pm, after darkness had fallen for the 4th and final time of the race. The steep road down to the station started causing stabbing pains on the outside of my thigh every time I tried to speed up, which added to the list of niggles I was now carrying. We ate and had another snooze in the waiting room. There were now about 13 miles left - so near yet so far! We waved a last goodbye to Sean, our superRUSTie. We were on our own now until Kirby Stephen.
Our last climb was fine, as was the pleasant trail along the side of the hill, which I bet is really pretty in daylight, but the descent off the hill brought about more stabby thigh pains.
We had a welcome bivvi at the bottom on a grass verge, just before we met the road. We all literally stopped, climbed into our bivvi bags and fell straight to sleep. I'm not sure if anyone set an alarm but Lizzie's son called about 10 minutes later. I've a feeling I'd still be sleeping now if he hadn't called!
The last section was mainly flat but it was the longest 10k of my life. The ground was a bit muddy and then dew soaked. I thought it might feel nice on my feet but it brought about a new level of foot pain. We started walking for 1km then stopping for a minute or so. Each time I sunk to my knees to take the weight off my feet, while we shared Jelly Babies.
Finally we were on a road and there was a headtorch up ahead. I looked at Lizzie and welled up. We'd done it. It was so bloody tough but we'd had an adventure and made it to Kirkby Stephen together. We also had 9 hours in hand of the race cutoff, which was lovely.
We linked arms as we entered the Kirkby Stephen Hostel, ensuring we finished together.
Myself with Craig and Lizzie - the Three Amigos happy to finish.
It was amazing to sit down, get some food and juice into me, and just revel in what we'd achieved. We'd done it. We'd both won (1st Women) and finished joint last, which did make us chuckle, but we got our finishers coasters and our First Ladies signpost winners prize. We'd agreed on the trail on paying for a 2nd one to be made but we were then told two people were clubbing together to pay for it. More tears - amazing people involved in ultras, especially in this race. I know who you are and you're amazing humans!
After our meal (delicious once again) and an interview it was time to get a shower and get my head down for a bit. I had the generous offer of a lift home from Pete, one of the RUSTies, so didn't want to keep him waiting. Problem is my feet and calves had swelled massively and were in agony. Lizzie was experiencing the same and we felt very sorry for ourselves now the excitement had faded a bit and our bodies reminded us of what we'd subjected them to!
It took a couple of days to get my appetite back, a few nights until my feet stopped throbbing in bed, and at least a week for the cankles to fade. A few weeks post race and I'm just starting to feel like I want to ease back into training again. I've other races this year to spur me on.
A massive thankyou to Stu, Peter and all the RUSTies for an amazing race. We were looked after so well, giving us every chance to reach the finish, and the cutoffs were so achievable.
I'm a bit slow and struggle to fit the training into my busy life, but they enabled me to achieve something special, something pretty extraordinary for someone like me and, quite frankly, something to be bloody proud of and brag about to anyone who will listen!
My winners prize will definitely take pride of place when it arrives.
My 1st (and last!) trophy. Got to be in it to win it!
I hope to join the team in a future PB270, bringing with me my experiences of the race.
I hope I've given people courage to go for races like this, as they are an amazing adventure. I also hope I haven't put people off - getting to the finish cancels out everything that has gone before and it's amazing what we can do if we really want something.
I've promised myself I'll not do anything as long again but we know where that got me last year and the memory of the most painful/tough bits has faded remarkably well! Saying that the PB137 is very much in my plans for 2024 as the 2nd half is my favourite and I'd like to experience it feeling a bit fresher if possible, though it's still a distance to be respected.
Finishing hugs from epic RUSTie Sean.