EVERY year in June my club takes part in the Barnsley Boundary relay race. This is a 72 mile(ish) race of ten legs in beautiful countryside around the Barnsley boundary.
It’s a fantastic event. We love taking part. This year Chris is running leg nine, a ten and a half mile run from Winscar reservoir to Upper Denby. He’s already done one recce, but thought it best to do another to reduce the chances of getting lost on race day.
‘I’ll recce it with you.’ Winscar to Upper Denby is a popular leg. I was actually looking forward to running it.
We had a plan. We would drive to Upper Denby early on Sunday, leave my car there, drive to Winscar in Chris’ car, run to Upper Denby, then drive back to Winscar to collect Chris’ car. It sounded straight forward enough, and as I said I was looking forward to it. We both were.
Sunday arrived. We parked at Upper Denby, drove to Winscar. It was early and very cold. I was dressed for summer – shorts, vest, sunglasses. ‘Do you think I need my jacket?’ I got out of the car. There was an icy breeze. Maybe I’d need a coat. I put the coat on. I took it off again.
‘It’ll probably warm up.’ Chris was ready to run, and without a jacket.
I wasn’t sure. The jacket went back on, then off. ‘I’ll manage without.’ I put the jacket in the car and off we went. I spent the first mile regretting that I’d not put my coat on. I was freezing.
‘Do you want to go back for it?’ Chris asked.
For a second I thought about going back. I was chilly. I needed a coat but we’d already run about 400m, and I didn’t want to turn back just for a coat. It was bound to warm up. We left Winscar and headed up the hill. I was huffing and puffing while Chris glided along not out of breath at all.
Chris turned right onto what I can only describe as a wilderness. ‘It’s a bit boggy here,’ he said.
A bit boggy! As soon as I stepped onto it, I started sinking. I’d need a wet suite to get to the other side. My feet were wet and cold, not a great start to a ten-mile run. ‘I’m glad I’m not racing this leg.’ I kept saying this over and over, because after the bog it got worse.
There was the grass path that was far more dangerous than any grass path I’ve ever run on before. This grass path had ten-foot nettles, a crevice and a huge mountain of rubble.
‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ I climbed over the rocks. Then I saw a road. A lovely stretch of road. Being a road runner, I felt better.
‘We’re only on it for a few minutes.’ Chris shouted over his shoulder.
We turned and headed across some more fields, then through a lovely little village with a pub. We both clocked the pub.
‘We have to go down here.’ Chris wasn’t pointing to the pub, but down a steep field, with an electric fence on one side and two beautiful horses on the other. I stopped to say hello to the horses. I love horses.
‘Anytime today!’ Chris was trotting down the field. I followed.
The ground was saturated. My feet got even wetter. I may have complained about this. At the bottom Chris was pointing up. ‘This is the hilly part.’ He had a smile on his face. I certainly didn’t. It was a beast. We were on the road, which I was happy about, but the road kept turning and going higher and higher and higher. I was gasping. Chris wasn’t out of breath at all, and this really annoyed me. ‘You’ll be gasping on race day. Imagine racing up this.’
Once at the top of the road I thought that was it for climbing, but there’s also a field or two to cross. Ropes and crampons were almost necessary. I struggled to the summit. At the top the view was amazing.
‘It’s mainly road now,’ Chris said. ‘Towards Upper Denby.’
It was. We were back on the road. I started running quicker. I started smiling. A nice run back to the car. Then I realised. ‘The keys!’ I stopped dead in my tracks. We were seven miles into a ten-mile run and I’d left my car keys in my jacket pocket. ‘The keys!’
Chris turned. ‘You’re joking?’
‘No. They’re in your car!’
Chris’ face clouded over, then slowly he turned and started running back the way we’d come.
‘What’re you doing?’ There was no way I could brave the wilderness for a second time.
‘We’ll have to run back.’ Chris said.
‘No. No way. No.’ I thought about what to do. ‘We’ll call someone.’
‘Who?’ Chris was his usual calm and unphased self. ‘Your mum and dad are in Derbyshire, Sarah’s in the Lake District, and Zoe and Fiona will be doing bank holiday things with their kids.’
‘Mark! Call Mark.’
‘Mark’s in Gloucestershire.’
It was dawning on me that perhaps I’d have to run back. I wanted to sit down on the grass verge and weep, but instead I turned and followed Chris. For a few minutes, neither of us spoke.
‘I can’t believe I’ve done that.’ I said. ‘You should have reminded me.’
What Chris should have said is, ‘Yes, I should have reminded you,’ but he didn’t. He said something else that couldn’t possibly be repeated here! He no longer seemed his usual calm and unphased self.
Once I knew I’d have to do it, I felt fine. We stayed on the road as much as possible, missing the horse field and the bog.
We still had to go up the field, through the wilderness, over the crevice and climb the rocks. We got nettled, but we did it. We climbed 1600 feet over fourteen miles. It took us a long time, but that didn’t matter because by the end of the run, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. I didn’t need a coat after all.