The sting in the nettle

ON the day of the Barnsley Boundary 72-mile relay race, there was one thing on everyone’s mind. Nettles! Nasty, stinging, ten-foot high nettles.


With all the rain in the last week, the nettles had shot up and out. They blocked paths and trails, made stiles impossible to climb. They were everywhere, dominating each of the ten stages of the race. No one could escape.

I had a double dose of nettles, but this is my own fault for not being organised. The night before the race, Chris and I had to do a last-minute recce of my leg. You have to know the route when you race the Barnsley Boundary. There are no signposts. If you don’t plan and prepare, there’s a good chance you could get lost.

I’d planned to do a recce on Tuesday, but went to the Handmade Burger Company for cheeseburger and chips instead (celebrating the end of exams). Friday was the only other day I had free. Running six miles the night before a race is not the best race preparation. It was actually six miles in torrential rain on a route full of nettles, definitely not the best race preparation.

It was awful. Rain, mud and nettles. We didn’t recognise some parts of the route. They’d been taken over by nettles.

‘It’s this way.’ Chris pointed to a bush full of nettles.

‘It’s not,’ I said. ‘There must be another path.’

We jogged on. There was no path. We turned back and ran through the nettles.

‘Actually, it’s the wrong way.’ Chris stopped and looked around. ‘Yes, we need to go back.’

We went back through the nettles, and tried to find the path we needed. ‘It is that path!’ I said. We turned and went back through the nettles for a third time. This was incredibly painful. I had nettle stings on my nettle stings on my nettle stings. I was also wet and muddy, and thoroughly fed up.

‘I don’t want to do it.’ I looked at Chris. ‘I don’t want to race.’

‘Don’t then.’

‘I’ll have to. The team!’ I would never let the team down. I decided to run, but I would cover myself head to toe, so that the evil nettles would not touch my skin. If my attire slowed me down, so be it.

The nettle stings kept me awake all night. They were still stinging on the morning of the race. This spurred me on. I put on my shorts and vest, and went downstairs.

‘You’re in shorts.’ Chris was eating his porridge. ‘What happened to the nettle protection outfit?’

‘It’s a race. I’m going to have those nettles. They’re not going to stop me.’ Something had happened to me overnight. I was excited for the race. I wanted to run as well as I could. The nettles were nothing.

At the race start, other runners had taken nettle protection measures – sprays, long socks, long leggings.

‘Liz is being brave,’ Chris said.

‘I am. They’re not stopping me.’ I’m not sure where my bravery had come from.

We set off, single-file along the canal, nettles and weeds either side of us.

boundary leg 5 start

Julia from Penistone Footpath Runners was with me. We soon discovered that I was in the mixed race. Julia was in the women’s race. It made sense to work together. We crossed the roads together, navigated a few tricky gates, ran through the woods, through a field. When I started to slow, Julia shouted encouragement. It was wonderful camaraderie, and really sums up the atmosphere of the Barnsley Boundary.

It was a tough race. I was working hard. Ahead I could see the nettle path. I charged, running at them as fast as I could. The nettles tried to stop me. They cut into my skin, wrapped themselves around my legs. One even got my finger. I came out the other side, slightly redder, but out.

There was only one more nasty nettle section to navigate. Here I had options. I could run round, adding on a few seconds, or I could go straight through them. This was a race. I charged again. This time they went for my knees, stinging me as hard as they could. I ran harder, trying to take my mind off the pain.

The final section of leg five is up a very big hill. The pain from this definitely took my mind off the stinging. The supporters stand at the top of the hill cheering, which is wonderful, but they also have cameras at the ready. Unfortunately, after five miles of hell, I never look my best. You can even see the red nettle rash on my legs.

boundary with dawn taking pics

boundary 2016

I soon discovered that nettle stings are also incredibly itchy. Really itchy! I don’t think I’m fully recovered from the stings yet, but it was worth it. We won the mixed team race! I also ran two minutes (ish) faster than last year.

The Barnsley Boundary is always a fantastic day. We love taking part. Yes, the nettles made this year’s event particularly challenging, but it was worth it to be part of such a great day. Well done everyone who took part!

You can read last year’s race report here. My problem last year was the dodgy photos!


  1. 15th June 2016 / 5:13 pm

    Wow! Ouch. We don’t have nettles where I live (at least I don’t think so). But I can remember the stings that I got when I was a child. Hope you’re feeling better now.

    • 16th June 2016 / 6:33 am

      Thanks Rebecca – the itching has just about stopped! 🙂

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