On Sunday 15 May 2016 Halifax Harriers held their annual Calderdale Way Relay fell race.

Andy had floated the idea a few times, that it would be really great to enter a Pumas team into the race.

Little did he know what a monster he would create with this suggestion!

The run up

The enthusiasm amongst the Pumas was overwhelming. Not only did we have enough runners sign up to create a team, we actually got enough willing (read crazy) volunteers to create two separate teams, a male and female team.

This in itself is amazing, given that we only became a proper affiliated running club 12 months ago.

Tracey “volunteered” herself to be our Team Manager. Without a shadow of a doubt, we would not have managed it without her!

She was that brilliant we got her flowers and everything

Tracey our awesome Team Manager
Tracey our awesome Team Manager

Not only did Tracey:

  • work out everyones running partners
  • supply us with updates and information about the event
  • co-ordinate kit checks
  • answer our endless, repetitive and sometimes daft questions (for example, does a Babybel count as emergency food?)
  • shuffle and change running partners to cope with injuries
  • collect money and signatures off us all

But she also got herself and Simon up at 5am on the morning of the event and they then made their way to the start of each and every leg to see off the leg runners and welcome home the runners of the previous leg.

We might not have been the fastest team to complete the event and we may never be superstar fell runners, but without a shadow of a doubt we had the best team atmosphere out there! And we have Simon and Tracey to thank for a lot of that. Without their cheering and sweets we wouldn’t have found it half as enjoyable.

Race Day

I think it’s safe to say that most of us were pretty nervous as race day approached. Most of the runners had been to complete recce’s of their routes (apart from one cavalier runner *cough* Neil *cough* who was just going to do it on the day) and I think we were all feeling a bit wary about the amount of hills we would be running up.

There were six legs in total, and we had four runners (2 runners in each team, so two male and two females Pumas) in each leg.

We thought the best way to give you an idea of how the day went is to let a runner from each leg explain it to you.

So over to Neil our ran leg one with Luke, Johanne and Kirsty

Leg 1 – Clay House to Hinchcliffe Arms

Rewind back to the 5th March 2016, there I was happily skiing  in the French Alps when I  saw a Facebook notification inviting me to take part in the CWR 2016.   Further reading of the notification I saw that my good now bad lady had confirmed (without discussion) that I would be taking part.   I had no idea what it entailed and thought it was some kind of orienteering event like that i took part of once on a outward bound course when I was 17.

I was already pretty fit and thought well it can’t be that difficult and I knew I had the will power if not fitness to complete what was expected of me. On return from skiing I realised that my good lady had only volunteered myself and not her! I also realised after a few runs off road that this was going to be completely different to any running that I had done before. As the event was approaching the enormity hit home,  and being part of a team of such fantastic runners I was nervous not to let anyone down. I was also running with Luke Cranfield who I know is a far better runner than myself and felt anxious at the thought of holding him back.

Leg 1 teams
Leg 1 teams

The day had arrived and it was an early start ( I even turned down a night out the day before). I  picked Luke up at 6:00am and met the other team leg 1 runners, Kirsty and Johanne.  I had to leave my car at the finish so I could get straight off, we all drove over to the start where Joanne informed us that she had tried to drink a lot of water to keep hydrated but had coughed and was sick all over her dashboard and steering wheel, maybe it was nerves  and she wasn’t by herself feeling the nerves!
We made our way over to the start  ….my heart was beating ten to the dozen.  We were let loose 8:00am.

The start of the race...spot the Puma
The start of the race…spot the Puma

My first memory was that for some reason we were filtered up some stairs and it was only wide enough for 2 persons and everyone seemed to be scrambling up a vertical wall and I thought this is only the start what awaits us, but Luke my relay partner had already done a recce of the route and seemed confident that I would get through it. We seemed to climb for around 2 miles into some waste land and I remember passing a runner who was getting medical treatment. As it leveled out we looked behind us and was hoping that our other team wouldn’t be far behind but they was no where to be seen.  Luke informed  me that they were taking it easy on the first assent.  By this time I was quite sweaty and knew I hadn’t any fluid in my ruck sack left and that I needed to cool down, but I was feeling strong so continued into Ripponden. As we were descending I remember  Luke saying to me that the worse climbs were still to come, thanks mate !!

As we started to climb out of Ripponden I was getting quite warm and sweaty again and felt a bit disorientated and knew I had to cool down as I was loosing too much fluid.  I knew I was holding Luke up, who was an excellent partner and never pushed too hard and was always close by.  As we got to the top of the second climb (approx 3 miles which I had to walk 30 percent of it to cool down) I looked back and saw our other team members approx 50m behind me and I shouted down to them. They soon caught us up and we were now a team of four,well 3 and Luke was our guide, LOL !  We walked, ran and talked to each other and supported each other but no one had any water left.

Approx 2 miles from completing our leg Luke whispered to me “come on we can’t let the other team beat us” I looked at him and thought mmm yes we best crack on or we would never live it down and we went for it.   We pushed hard to the finish and completed our leg in 1:54 with the other team a couple of minutes behind.

As I was approaching the finish I saw and heard familiar faces and voices which helped me to speed up .   I must say that this is one of the hardest BUT most satisfying events that I have taken part in.  I first joined Pumas to meet new like minded friends and improve on my fitness.  It was one of the best decisions that I have made!

Luke and Neil at the finish line
Luke and Neil at the finish line

I would like to thank all the people who was at the end to support.  Yes, even my good lady even though I hadn’t talked to her for a month beforehand for volunteering me in the first place. I would also like to thank my partner Luke for encouraging me throughout and my respect goes out to all the Pumas who completed a section.  Finally , I would like to thank Tracey Ann, who without her organising the event would never have taking place.
Proud to be a Puma 🙂

Jo and Kirsty at the finish line
Jo and Kirsty at the finish line

Leg 2 – Hinchcliffe Arms to Todmorden

Johnny’s perspective

When it was first suggested that Northowram Pumas take part in the Calderdale Way Relay, there was always the dilemma of whether of not a fledging club such as ours would be able to raise a team. That we managed two is testament to just what an enthusiastic bunch we are. The event has been staged for many years, but in all honesty, it had never been on my radar.

With no Vets team entered I was squad-listed for the Men’s/Mixed team. But of which leg to run. Well, being a Tod lad, there was the appeal of Leg 2 – Cragg Vale to Todmorden. But let me say, the thought of returning to my home town was the only thing that was appealing. Of how to get there; that was a different matter.

After much juggling of the team by our Tracey, my running buddy was Robert Shirlaw, with Ally and Liz running the same leg in the Ladies’ event. We’d met up two weeks prior to the Relay to recce the 8.4 mile route, so come the day, we knew what lay ahead.

Logistics meant our day started with a 7.00am meet-up at the club; this in itself necessitated for myself a 6.15 alarm, which is just what everybody loves to hear on a Sunday morning. We travelled in two cars to Tod, so well organised were we that we had the pick of the car park spaces at the High School where our leg would finish several hours hence. Then it was the journey back to the basin at Cragg Vale, where we registered outside, rather than inside, the Hinchcliffe Arms, and had our equipment checked, if you know what I mean, by keen marshals.

Other runners arrived, loads of ‘em. Many, in fact had to queue to register. I mean, what was all that about? We’d been there so early, we were close to having help set up the trestle table. It was all going so smoothly, plus there was the reassuring arrivals of Tracey, Simon and Matt (emergency cover, despite having Leg Six to run – oh, the irony!) to see us off.

The Leg One cut-off point was 9.45am, but we were all confident that Luke and Neil would comfortably beat this. The Leg Two runners started lining up, most in some sort of serious and nervous state. But amid the growing tension and apprehension, two of our party were calmly sipping warm drinks supplied by mine hosts at the Hinchcliffe Arms; Liz bought one for herself and Robert, a ‘coffee-while-u-wait’ type of thing.

Excitement began to mount as the first of the Leg One runners descended the hill towards the line, a supreme band of elite athletes. Surely Luke and Neil (or Johanne and Kirsty for that matter) would be among these? We hoped and we waited. They didn’t show and at 9.45 prompt the Leg Two runners were called to order. This was it, there was no turning back (that only added to the agony, because running the opposite direction seemed mightier easier than the hill we were about to face).

The countdown to zero began, and suddenly we were off, the more athletic among them jostling for prime positions, while the more sedate of us, such as myself, made headway in a preamble kind of manner. The thought of climbing towards Widdop Clough Reservoir and beyond, with a bulky backpack strapped to my back, did not sit easily on this runner’s mind. Robert had led the charge, and I wouldn’t meet up with him again until we reached Stoodley Pike; in the meantime, all I had to do was concentrate on my own effort, as painful as it was.

Past Widd0p Clough, we entered fields through a stile, and ventured upwards and over the tops. This terrain wasn’t particularly steep, but it was quite arduous, and boggy in places. The sight of Stoodley Pike appearing in the distance was comforting, and I got my head down knowing that our first descent was soon upon us. Robert was there waiting patiently, but there was no time to rest. It’s a magnificent view from Stoodley Pike, although I had no time to take it in. Nor did I have time to have a conversation with the marshal who clearly recognised me and shouted out my name as I approached. I took a quick glance backwards and yelled, “Who is it?” but no reply was forthcoming, and I wouldn’t find out his identity until the following day (Let me interject at this point to say that I can really vouch for the beauty of the views from the top of the hill; when I was a kid, my mum took us on a glorious picnic on a lovely warm afternoon, and I had more time to take it all in).

We careered down the Todmorden side of the Pike; Robert quicker than me once more, but between us, we did manage to make up some places. The descent wasn’t so straightforward, involving a tricky rock-filled path that could easily have caused harm. But we survived intact, and hit the road at Manckinholes, tuned left down a cobbled path that took us invitingly but frustratingly in front of the Top Brink Inn, before we began the drag up towards the Shepherd’s Rest. Legs were starting to hurt but with the town centre visible below, the thought that we were over halfway was of some relief.

Five-hundred yards or so beyond the pub, we began heading down towards Todmorden town centre. Very steep and sharp in places, Robert found the grass verges an easier option than tarmac, and we hurtled down past the Unitarian Church and soon enough found ourselves on the Rochdale Road where we were greeted by workmen road surfacing. Were the red lights for us to stop? It was a tempting thought. We veered right up Dobroyd Road towards the footbridge over the railway line. As we trudged down the steps on the far side, legs felt like jelly, which wasn’t a good sign given that we now had the most difficult part of the route to attempt. As a youngster, I’d often played on this road, but only the bottom section. I had no idea (until we’d checked it out) just how high it climbed. A stairway to heaven is an apt phrase. So steep, and never ending. Robert was brave enough to run the early section (and maybe more) but for myself and those around me, walking was the obvious and necessary option. We climbed and climbed, I took a wrong turning at one point before being shouted back, took a tumble, and just when we’d hit the top of the road, we were through a stile into another field which climbed even higher. Still knowing the area, I knew the finish was just down the other side of the hill, less than a mile as the crow flies. But no crows were flying this particular race; we crossed the fields, then headed left for a further section of uphill climbing on a road I always knew as Doghouse Lane (it actually runs into Parkin Lane, and that’s where were at). At last, we reached Todmorden Edge Farm, and the downhill charge to the finish. Oh that this was simple. The track through Buckley Wood was narrow, slippery in places, and very uneven, with one helluva drop to our left. Still, without a care for limb or life, me and Robert gained two more places, and when we hit Ewood Lane, there was no looking back. With my backpack continuing to slip from my shoulders (as it had all the way round – who designs these things?) we opened up and made for the finishing line just at the entrance to the school.

We were greeted by Tracey, Simon and Luke (fresh from running his leg!) but no Leg Three runners; our cut off time had been 11.00am, we’d missed it by just short of fifteen minutes, and they’d already gone. With Liz and Ally coming in around five minutes later, collectively, our job was done, and there was some sense of satisfaction and pride that we’d completed what we set out to do, and played our part in a great team effort.

The Calderdale Way certainly isn’t for the faint hearted, but I’d certainly recommend those willing enough to give it a go. I’m up for it again next year – if selected, of course!

Ally’s perspective

Our race day started at 7am (well technically earlier as we had to get up, changed and eat our respective and much discussed race day breakfasts, I always vote for porridge on a race day) when we met at the sports club in Northowram ready for our drive to the finish line.

After depositing a car at Todmorden, we drove back to Cragg Vale, parked on the main road and then walked down to the start area outside the Hinchcliffe Arms pub. Looking back, we probably didn’t need to be there an hour and 45 minutes before we actually set off…..but if you ask me it’s always better to be early to race. You don’t need to worry about being late on top of race day nerves!

And there were some big race day nerves, especially on my part.

We registered and had our kits checked. After all the discussions we’d had about kit and what to take or not to take, it was good to get this bit out of the way!

We then hung around and waited, getting slightly more nervous as more runners turned up. Especially as they all looked a lot more ‘fell racey’ than we did.

A real bonus was getting to use the pub toilets rather than the pretty whiffy portaloos. Simple things.

We were pretty excited at the start…..

The leg 2 team
The leg 2 team
Looking enthusiastic before the start....the smiles didn't last long
Looking enthusiastic before the start….the smiles didn’t last long

As the first runners started to come in we were astounded at the speed they were running. I mean I know the finish to that leg one is down a hill, but they were going fast. Really fast.

Unfortunately our leg one teams didn’t get to us in time to hand the baton over, so we started in the mass start. We reckoned that maybe about half the teams were left at this point.

At 9.45 off we went.

Leg 2. Ughhhhhh. It starts with an uphill. literally as soon as you set off you’re on a steep climb up to Withins Clough reservoir. This first bit of climbing lasts for about a mile. You then get a nice stretch of flat (if you’re not too knackered to appreciate it) as you go along the side of the reservoir. and then inevitably the climbing starts again.

Although this time it’s a bit nicer as we were on fields rather than road. We continued to climb until we reached Stoodley Pike. This is a great moment as you know you’ve got the first 3 miles out of the way, and that’s 3 miles of climbing done. Plus you get an awesome bit of downhill running to play with.

Although, in the back of your mind you know that when you’re at the bottom, it’ll be back to hills.

A lot of the hills are deceiving, Liz spent a lot of the race trying to convince me I was nearing the top of the hill only to find we were about half way up it (not that it should have been a surprise as we’d recce’d the route a few weeks before, but I think she’s a glass half full sort of person!).

But the final sting in leg 2’s tail was the climb from Todmorden up to, well I guess the top of Todmorden. It was really tough, but at least you knew it was the last hill and then it was all down to the finish. And look how happy we were to finish…

Ally and Liz at the finish line
Ally and Liz at the finish line

All in all a pretty gruelling leg. But I’d definitely do it again, mainly so I could improve on the 97th place we got (sorry Liz!)….

Leg 3 – Todmorden to Blackshaw Head

Helen Jackson, Alan Sykes, Jessica Edwards and I (Melissa Hall) took on the challenge.

The leg 3 team raring to go
The leg 3 team raring to go

This leg started at Todmorden Leisure centre and ended at Blackshaw Head. After the first 600m we began the climb which felt like forever.

Helen and Alan still going up hill....
Helen and Alan still going up hill….

It was like Howes Lane but 100 times longer. This part, I believe, even the elite walked part of it. At one point I thought we would need to get the climbing equipment out! Ha! At the top we joined a bridle path with a few styles it was more manageable terrain and only slight hills. Absolutely amazing views of Stoodley Pike and Mankinholes.

We passed through some farms with usual farm animals, Wallabies and Llamas! Some parts of the path were a bit boggy. As we got nearer the end the path seemed to disappear and we had to do a bit of scrambling before joining Davey Lane for the final climb towards the finish line.


Jess and Mel enjoying a bit of down

There were some welcome familiar faces cheering us on to the end. In total according to Strava the total elevation gain was 1,098ft! I will keep my Calderdale Way Relay coaster and show it with pride. I thoroughly enjoyable and well organised event.

Obligatory start line selfie
Obligatory start line selfie

Leg 4 – Blackshaw Head to Wainstalls

Stopping for a selfie during a run is not something we usually do; however with the sun shining down on the majestic Calder Valley, we couldn’t resist capturing the moment.

Can't beat a good race selfie....especially with those views
Can’t beat a good race selfie….especially with those views

I hasten to add this was on our recce of Leg 4 of the Calderdale Way Relay, one week prior to the actual race.

Our fellow team Puma CWR comrades would undoubtedly have frowned upon such frivolous activity during the event itself. Although me and partner Shaun would have welcomed the opportunity to stop and catch our breaths on the challenging (chuffing knackering!) course.

Doing the recce meant we had the advantage of knowing the route and not getting lost (something we realised had happened just after snapping the selfie above – which soon wiped those smug smiles off!).

Doing the recce meant we also had the disadvantage of knowing the route – and knowing just how arduous those inclines were that awaited us!

Being more of a road runner with little experience of fell running, I found the undulating countryside trail hard going. It demands total concentration to ensure you’re following the correct route (which is not always clear!) and also avoiding slipping on the rough terrain. The risk of twisting an ankle is pretty high and there were a couple of times we both lost our footing.

It was a relief that the weather was on our side with no threat of rain to make the route more treacherous, especially on those steep downhill stretches where I was struggling for traction in these dry conditions.

It would have been unnerving running on the tops of Hardcastle Crags if damp under foot. My aching feet were so close to the edge of the narrow track that sloped sharply down to that rather grand canyon with sweeping views across to Stoodley Pike over yonder, which our Puma pals passed by on Leg 2.

Before the race we were nervously checking out the pics posted on the Pumas Facebook page of the starting line-up. Noticing most of the runners appeared to have hardly any extra baggage for their equipment, I felt like an amateur fell runner adorning my gigantic rucksack weighed down with my bulky waterproofs, emergency food (jelly babies!), young son’s childish compass I’d stolen earlier and a family heirloom – a 1970’s police whistle (issued to my dad when he became a constable in Calderdale before I was even born).

After dropping Shaun’s car off at the finish near Mount Tabor, we headed over to the start in my car just beyond Hebden Bridge – it was only then that we realised that despite carefully ticking off the checklist for the essential, obligatory kitlist, one of us had forgotten a rather key piece of equipment – running trainers… Despite this minor mishap, we made it to the start with plenty of time to spare and it was good to see the familiar faces from the other Pumas team joining us for this leg, Holly and Nicola.

Leg 4 team - Adam, Shaun, Holly and Nicola
Leg 4 team – Adam, Shaun, Holly and Nicola

I really enjoyed the run and despite it being about a third of the distance of the London Marathon I’d completed the previous month, I found it just as challenging but in a different way – with the contrasting scenery and antithesis of the terrain – but was equally tired at the end after enduring those precipitous paths.

We were chuffed to reach the end, although miffed when the next mishap with our planning dawned on us – having built up a substantial appetite, the packed lunch we’d been dreaming of tucking into once passing that finish line was sadly not there – we’d unfortunately left it in the wrong car – the one that was almost 10 miles away back at Blackshaw Head!

Proper fell racing action shot!
Proper fell racing action shot!

However, you can see from the expressions on our faces as we jogged along together in the splendour of the Calderdale Way (in the pic of a splendid view ruined by the two grinning blokes) that we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

It was great to run an event as part of a team – like many of our club comrades commented on Facebook that evening, it did make us feel proper proud to be Pumas.

Leg 5 – Wainstalls to Shelf

…a tale of stripping, getting lost and solitary stones

Our story of the Calderdale Way Relay started two weeks before the race itself. Paula, Gabriella and myself (Chris was busy working and couldn’t make it) decided to do a recce. We set off, and the first half a mile or so was great. Gabriella’s inability to read a map or follow instructions quickly got us into trouble and before we knew it we were horribly lost.

We thought we had made it back on the correct route, but a good hour or so spent trying to find a “solitary stone” on the instructions was an absolute joy. It turns out that, come race day, we were looking for the bloody solitary stone in the wrong field!

Anyway, we were helped by a couple of runners from Keighley and Craven, and the five of us completed the course. We covered 10.5 miles on the recce, and leg 5 is only 7.5 miles! Oh, what fun.

Come race day, and we all congregated at Wainstalls, nervously awaiting the start. I think Paula and Gabriella thought the race was being run in its traditional date of mid-December. They were covered in head to toe gear, including hat and gloves. But more of that later.

Ready for their 'December' run
Ready for their ‘December’ run

The tension mounted as some of the first teams came in and handed over their batons. It was great to be part of such a fantastic event and the excitement and tension was starting to mount. 1pm arrived and our mass start set-off. Learning the lessons from the recce and my tactic was to get away from Gabriella and Paula as quickly as possible! Chris and I quickly picked up the pace and we were soon overtaking other teams, particularly on the early ascents.

A couple of miles in and the early pace was starting to tell. Chris and I took a little breather by slowing our pace a little. My mind wandered to our partners in crime, Gabriella and Paula, who I mused were probably looking for the solitary stone again!

We made good progress in the middle of the race and we were picking other teams off. It was great to overtake a couple of teams who had taken a wrong turning and before we knew it, we were climbing the big hill towards Queensbury. It’s a tough climb but we knew that once we reached the summit we would be in familiar territory and well into the final stages of our leg.

Paula and Gabriella were also making excellent progress. Their pre-race decision to wear winter gear was causing issues however. The sun was now out, and, feeling the heat Paula whipped her top off! What a delight for the other teams!!

We made up even more ground as we entered the familiar territory around Northowram. We were on home turf now and we were determined that no other teams would pass us. Gabriella and Paula (now with her top back on, I think) made slightly unorthodox progress down a muddy bank (on their backsides!) but they did a fantastic job.

Chris and I arrived in Shelf to be cheered on by fellow Pumas, finishing our leg in a respectable 1hr 15minutes. Gabriella and Paula were not very far behind and made it to the finish line fully dressed with big smiles on their faces!

Leg 6 – Shelf to Clay House

The sixth leg was described as the easiest leg, not sure our legs agreed with that descriptor. The waiting around did nothing for nerves but the cold we felt soon went once we started the scramble through the uneven paths in the woods.

The Leg 6 team. Andrew, Matt, Andrea and Julie
The Leg 6 team. Andrew, Matt, Andrea and Julie

Warning ‘sink holes’ is the declaration we heard. Cautiously we ran down the uneven path.   The young children sat in the beer garden give us a welcome cheer running through the village.

The country roads took us to the top of brighouse, the views were spectacular, not so much the smell of nature and the horses that had Misbehaved  on our recce watched us closely. This route took us to places you never realised were there.
Descending down into brighouse and along the canal the smell of fish and chips were tempting distraction for what was up ahead.

The hill that hill! We had started our ascent to Southowram, the uneven track made it difficult but we made it that was the first hill and the hardest so they say but the next hill took us through woods carpeted with bluebells, no time to take in the surroundings we had to get to the top. The boost from other runners and a lone runner certainly spurred us on .We started our descent an surprising and unwelcome sight having to pass an injured team member.

Matt and Andrew crossing the finish line
Matt and Andrew crossing the finish line

Our legs picked up speed and we finally made it to the canal. Final stretch one that we had done on many occasions on a Sunday morning. The legs were heavy for the final half mile but we did it we crossed the line together to the loudest cheers from our club #proud to be a puma

Julie and Andrea at the finish line
Julie and Andrea at the finish line