Swaledale Marathon – 10th June 2023

by Gerry Hehir

Saturday morning saw me and Jane head off to Reeth for 2023 Swaledale marathon. Nothing new about that I suppose until we rewind to about 6 weeks ago, someone asked Jane if she was running it this year 🤔.

Unlike other years where we had put in lots of time and effort to train for this tough run. So we started (sort of) our training runs. I managed 3 and Jane a couple more, all of them in cold wet weather.

At 8 am on Saturday it was already 18° and getting hotter by the minute. Although Swaledale is advertised as a marathon its ONLY 23.5 miles off road and around 4500’ of long steep climbing. It’s very congested at the start which is also the 1st of the climbing 1 mile and 1500’ the only way to start a race.

Anyway, at 6 miles we have the first checkpoint at Stang Bridge and that’s followed by the only real road section, 2 miles up and over to Whaw. The temperature was rising fast and we were getting through loads of water (those who know me I normally get by on a thimble full) there were lots of runners walking up the biggest hills, including me, trying to conserve as much energy as possible.

Punchard Gill (3 mile climb) came and went still the temperature rising. Jane was running well but the heat was affecting everyone, at Level House checkpoint it was a case of refills for water and for me a piece of cake 🎂 yummy. Gunnerside Gill is another mega hill and I ended up walking, the heat was draining everything out of me. Jane was still there and also feeling the heat. So into Gunnerside and another checkpoint.

The sun was now unrelenting but only 6 miles to go and we were still making good time, 3 and half hours to here I was happy with that considering the conditions. Only one more hill (sort of) the B***ard, those who know it know what I mean. Again I ended up having to walk parts of it as my whole body was suffering with the heat. 5 miles to go and the cramps which had been threatening struck first right calf then the left one then the quads. More fluids and salt sticks and walking was more painful than a hop along jog.

Jane was still there and moving, popped blisters and broken toenails but she’s not going to let that stop her. At this point just above Surrender Bridge I was seriously considering retirement from the race. Then my inner self came out and onwards to the ravine haha my calfs wouldn’t let me step down the very steep side. I nearly fell from top to bottom, thankfully I didn’t,

Jane at this point again went down and up the other side with some difficulty to continue her fantastic run. Walk time again with about 3 miles to go. Jane pushing on and me hanging on walk and jog (Jane could power walk faster than I could jog) Jane went past me again as I was struggling down the last cobbled track. Jane was away and out of sight. As I hit the last little stretch to the finish my legs decided to just completely go into cramp . Haha I must have looked like the tinman try to run.

This year’s marathon is probably the most difficult one we’ve ever done out of the 5. Last year was hard because of the very strong headwind. This year there was a record number of people dropping out or retiring from Whah to Surrender Bridge, more than over the past 42 times it’s been staged. I was very pleased and proud of Jane who managed 5:14 and myself at 5:15 . As I write this my legs are still seized up, but considering the lack of training and the very hot temperatures around 29° we did fantastic. Roll on next year.