“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” – Theodore Roosevelt
About fifteen minutes before we are due to start the race, the heavens have opened. Rain pounds the ground around me as I stand, camera in hand, attempting to capture the scene. I’m in a waterproof jacket, shorts, and a luminous tabard that conspicuously identifies me as today’s race sweeper. The shorts have already drawn a lot of comments and questions.
Ten feet away a couple of hundred runners in various states of undress huddle together under a large white marquee tent seeking shelter, warmth and comfort from the canvas and each other. It seems like the sensible place to be. I take the picture and join them.
The clock ticks on and the runners are called in to the field to start. I’m not really sure what to do at this point, I’ve never swept a race before, so I stand at the back making idle conversation with likeminded strangers as we wait. We are not held long, and the crowd soon thins through the funnel of the track that takes us up towards Burbage Rocks as the race gets underway.
By the time we pass through the first checkpoint (worked, amongst others, by my wife and six month old son), the pack has settled in to a nice steady rhythm and I am alongside a group of four ladies, all from the same club. For three of them this is only their second fell race after cutting their teeth at Salt Cellar a few weeks ago. For the fourth, it is her first time doing this.
Once up on the rocks the rain gets even heavier, and a cold wind bites at anything exposed to the elements. The ladies are all wearing vests, and so I ask after them, whether they are warm enough. I am met with a with good natured communal brush off and friendly laughter. Despite the hostile weather and the soggy conditions underfoot, they are having a total blast.
The conversation between us is constant, a mixture of musings on running, wonder at the scenery, and a healthy dose of gentle teasing. Every sentence seems punctuated by an exclamation of joy at the backdrop of the Burbage Valley. I am by no means blind to it’s beauty, but this is essentially my training back yard and as such, familiar to the point of knowing every rock. I find myself taking great delight in their delight, new perspectives on old views.
The path keeps climbing, and there is not a word of discontent from my companions. We get a great view across the valley to the ‘Plummet’, a locally famous flank of Higger Tor and for today the steepest climb in the race. We can pick out through a light hanging fog the tiny colourful dots of the race leaders, already starting their hands on knees ascent. I point to what waits for us. There are a few amusing expletives but an overriding sense of acceptance and pleasure. They focus on each other’s company, the places we are running through, and the challenge of getting around this race. There is never the slightest hint of a question in my mind that any of them will not make it. They are acutely present in the moment.
I am really enjoying this run.
We work through checkpoints at a constant, steady pace. I wish I could pace my own races this evenly. All the other marshalls out and about on the course are overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. My arrival at each point signals the end of their duties and a return to race HQ, whilst here at the back of the pack the race continues, the cadence metronomical, the vibes high. I’ll be out here the longest of the officials today, but I’m willing to bet I’m having the most fun.