The Wadsworth Trog – 19 miles and 3650ft of climbing over rugged moorland and fells.
What makes this route so challenging is the terrain. The boggy ground saps your legs of energy and it’s a constant battle with the tussocks and the mud. The weather is usually inclement on race day and you have to be able to navigate as very little of the route is flagged. Not surprising then that many people refer to it as ‘The Beast’. Only tough, seasoned fell runners need apply. This is not a race for the pretty boy athlete.
3 years ago I made the mistake of tackling this animal unprepared, I clearly wasn’t ready for what I was about to face. I hadn’t reccied the route or done the necessary training that was required to perform over such a distance. So my game plan was simple (obviously like me at the time!) – to follow my good friend and record holder Karl Gray. As the most experienced ‘Trogger’ in our club there would be little chance of him going the wrong way. The only thing I hadn’t considered was the fact I’d have to keep up with him!!!
‘I WAS COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY SMITHIED’
It was never going to end well. The first few miles felt relatively easy but I was lured into a false sense of security. 13 miles in and it was a very different story. The wheels fell off and I was left to painfully watch Karl disappear into the distance. Less than a mile later and I inevitably lost my way. Now when I say lost, I mean REALLY lost. I was completely and utterly Smithied* – the absolute worse kind of getting lost. I’d love to explain where I ran that day between High Brown Knoll and Sheepstones but the truth is I have no idea. I was tired, disorientated, hungry and a pale shade of blue. I wandered the fells like a shivering ghost, desperately hoping I’d have enough strength to reach the finish. To put things into perspective it took me just over 21 minutes to run the last couple of miles. I’m just relieved that I’d not yet discovered Strava or my embarrassment and shame would be forever preserved within the pages of the internet.
In all honesty ‘The Beast’ had completely torn me apart. I swore blind I’d never do this bloody race again.
*Definition of being Smithied: ‘To do a Steve Smithies’ (Calder Valley) i.e. become completely and utterly lost beyond all hope of ever being found/OR without knowing where you are/OR recollect where you’ve been. This usually happens on local ground which should be only too familiar. An embarrassing incident which occurs frequently during fell races, especially if your name is Steve Smithies.
‘THIS TIME I’VE BEEN TRAINING HARD AND I FELT READY’
The pain of 2013 slowly subsided and my memory of the experience began to fade. So much so that a few weeks ago I finally decided to have another crack at trying to tame the beast.
I’ve been training very hard and I felt ready – I’m a completely different animal to 2013. Since then I’ve made some significant improvements in design – lighter body kit, more power, a bigger engine and a couple of extra gears for climbing. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but after winning the Hebden 22 a few weeks ago, I was confident my strength would hold out over the distance.
Pictured above: Enjoying the view with Karl Gray, en-route to a shared victory in the Hebden 22 (www.sportsunday.co.uk)
My game plan was simple – to follow Karl Gray.
Now I know what you’re thinking…and you’d be right, it was still a crap plan. But given I’ve had no time to recce, it was the best and only tactic I could think of. Plus I’m not a great multi-tasker, navigating at pace has never been my strong point. I did however have a secret handshake with Karl prior to the race and we both signed a gentleman’s agreement to form a secret alliance. We promised to work together to blow away any competition before running into the finish hand in hand.
‘MY GAME PLAN WAS SIMPLE – TO FOLLOW KARL GRAY’
The race began and I was instantly thankful for the merino baselayer
I was wearing under my vest. There was no chance of me repeating my mistake at the Lee Mill Relay in December, at least not if I could help it. This was clearly not vest weather and I knew we were buckling up for a tough afternoon on the fells. The cold, wet and windy conditions, added to the fact that the ground was already heavily saturated made it hard work from the word go.
I led out the field and relied on Karl to direct me from behind when the route became tricky to navigate. Tim Ellis joined us and the CVFR train was soon in full flow. After the first checkpoint, we climbed up steeply onto the moor. Any signs of self-doubt were quickly alleviated as I skipped effortlessly towards the summit. My recent obsession with Trooper Lane
hill reps has obviously served me well. I was feeling in seriously good shape.
Pictured above: Taming ‘The Beast’. The CVFR train in full flow heading towards Cock Hill with Karl Gray and Tim Ellis in tow (www.woodentops.org.uk)
We kept a solid pace for the next few miles and worked hard on the climbs. Although we were running as a band of brothers there was very little in the way of conversation. I’ll put that down to the fact that none of us could feel our faces or hands after the first 40 minutes. I remember attempting to eat an energy gel and it was an almost impossible task trying to guide it into my mouth. I’m not entirely sure if I even hit the target.
Despite the challenging conditions I felt surprisingly untroubled and comfortable for the entire race, in fact I’d go as far as saying I cruised round the majority of the route. About 3/4 of the way in we began to climb to Shackleton Knoll from Walshaw Dean. It was here we waved goodbye to Timbo and he urged us to push on without him. We worked hard on the climb, not because we were trying to break each other, it was only to keep warm! The last few miles were tough and it was purely down to the weather. By the end Karl was beginning to feel hypothermic. I was in a slightly better state but I was also struggling with the cold (I actually think wearing a race vest
instead of a bum bag to carry emergency kit helped me to stay warm).
I never let the pace drop over the last 4 miles as I could sense the finish fast approaching. When we finally descended from Sheepstones it was a fantastic feeling of relief, I knew we’d done it. Karl clung on for the final couple of miles and we finished together. I really savoured that moment. He’s one of my best friends but also my fell running hero and over the years we’ve shared some amazing experiences and achieved many great things together. I was very happy to add this race to our list of achievements.
Finally I’d managed to tame the beast and we’d done it in style.
Pictured above: Sharing the victory with the legend Karl Gray (courtesy of Mark O’Connor)
However, one thing I wasn’t as ecstatic about was the fact it took me about 30 minutes to take a shower after the race. In many ways it was more of a challenge than completing the Trog itself. Shivering uncontrollably whilst trying to untie my x-talons
with absolutely no feeling in my hands or feet was like a Krypton Factor challenge. Then to make matters worse the showers were freezing cold! We were the first to use them and they hadn’t had chance to warm up (I guess that’s the problem of being the first runner home!). All I could hear outside the changing room door was Tim laughing his head off because of the noises Karl and I were making in the shower. I’m just relieved he didn’t record it on his camera phone or it would’ve gone viral by now! Thank god Phil Winskill wasn’t there or we really would’ve been in trouble.
I love to push myself hard during races but as soon as I get home I’m 100% committed to doing as little as possible whilst eating as much as possible. I was looking forward to resting my ‘trog legs’ but unfortunately for me I couldn’t get too comfortable on the sofa.
‘IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT THE SPORT CAN DO FOR YOU – IT’S ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR THE SPORT’
A couple months ago I’d agreed to be the guest speaker at the Trawden AC
annual presentation awards. I was very flattered at being asked but also a little surprised. I’m just a regular guy from Yorkshire who likes to run. However, upon reflection I was able to see how my journey from good club runner to international athlete could be perceived as an inspirational story. I know I’m not the best in the world, but I always aspire to be the best that I can possibly be.
When you reach a certain level of sporting excellence I think it’s extremely important to encourage and help others to improve on their ability. In my mind it’s how a true champion should always behave and I will always try to help and inspire people in any way that I can. It’s not about what the sport can do for you, it’s what you can do for the sport. This was a perfect opportunity to share my journey with other like-minded people.
Pictured above: Doing my best as guest speaker to inspire the Trawden AC club members at their annual presentation awards.
My message was simple – to excel at anything it’s down to how hard you work to achieve your dreams and reach your goals. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to run a sub 50 minute 10K or compete in your first park run. In fact it’s not even about the running at all. What matters is that you enjoy what you’re doing and you do your absolute best to get there.
‘THERE IS NO TALENT HERE. THIS IS HARD WORK. THIS IS AN OBSESSION. TALENT DOES NOT EXIST. WE ARE ALL EQUALS AS HUMAN BEINGS. YOU COULD BE ANYONE IF YOU PUT IN THE TIME. YOU WILL REACH THE TOP AND THAT’S THAT. I AM NOT TALENTED. I AM OBSESSED.’ CONOR McGREGOR
This quote I used on the final slide says it all. I’d love to lay claim to these words but they are in fact those of the current UFC champion, Conor McGregor. It’s a fantastic message and one which I believe in wholeheartedly. If you adopt this mantra as your own then you’ll always achieve success.
The highlight of my night was helping to present the club trophies and listening to all the many reasons of how and why people had earned their respective awards. Trawden AC is a brilliant club and there is a real community spirit amongst it’s members. It’s easy to see why they won the award of England Athletics North West Club of the Year 2015. It was a pleasure to be a part of such an occasion and play a small part in helping them to celebrate all of their success. A huge thanks to Chris Singleton for the invite and to chairman Paul Brown for his kind words.
There is however just one question weighing heavy on my mind…who the hell puts beetroot on pie and peas?! When the food was served for the evening I thought that Heston Blumenthal must have been working in the kitchen. Full marks for the quality of the pie and peas but beetroot on top is like a bushtucker trial. Plus there wasn’t a single jar of mint sauce in sight!
Lancastrians take note. This is how we serve Pies and Peas in Yorkshire…
Pictured above: This is how pie and peas must always be served (the Yorkshire way) – WITH mint sauce and NOT beetroot. Live and learn Lancastrians.