When I entered the Burn Valley Half a few weeks ago it seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought a hilly half marathon would be great training for the Hardmoors Rosedale Marathon in August and, ultimately, the Snowdonia Marathon in October. Also, the race starts and finishes in the Yorkshire Dales market town of Masham, famed for its breweries, and we’d been promised beer at the finish. But that was before the heatwave! And then the woman who runs the nearby campsite where we stayed the night before cheerfully told us she believed Burn Valley to be the hardest road half marathon in the UK. So when the day came I was kind of dreading running up and down hills under a scorching sun on baking Tarmac. Oh well, what doesn’t kill you etc…
I travelled to the start with my friend Colin, an age group duathlete who didn’t seem unduly bothered at the prospect of the hills or the heat; but then he is currently training for Rat Race’s City to Summit and knocking out brick sessions all the time. Obviously in a different league to yours truly! I’d heard a few days previously that over 300 people had entered, but there were only 227 finishers on the day, so clearly some people had been put off by the weather forecast. I approached it as a training exercise and decided I’d be happy to plod as slowly as necessary to avoid keeling over with heatstroke. Signing on at Masham Town Hall was quick and efficient, with minimal toilet queues.
After a race briefing including the news that an extra water point had been put on (thank God) we set off bang on time. After a circuit of the market place we ran out of town and started climbing up to Swinton Castle. That one wasn’t too bad on fresh legs. After dropping down from the castle the route winds through the Burn Valley, taking in several decent climbs along the way. The biggest of these comes at about halfway, with a gradual climb of about a mile up to a war memorial to the Leeds Pals. I must admit I wasn’t feeling too good at this point. Apart from being hellishly hot and sweaty, my belly felt a bit weird. But fortunately we then turned left and began a gentle descent down Colsterdale with beautiful views.
I’m not sure whether the second half was easier than the first or whether I just felt a bit better! We climbed up and down through the villages of Healey and Fearby. I’m sure all the runners were really glad of the numerous water points laid on by the lovely marshals. I drank a bit and poured some water over my head at pretty much each point. Locals also turned out to support, some of them spraying hoses across the road. It was then back up to Swinton Castle again, where I inflicted a rather sweaty hug on my friend Phil, who was marshalling there. From the castle it was downhill for about the last mile and a half back to Masham. I was pretty glad to see the 13 mile marker, and a shout of “Come on Knavesmire” powered me round the square to the finish, where my husband had cycled out to meet me. At the end we received a banana, some Yorkshire tea, a can of beer and a t-shirt.
My finish time was 2:16:44, reflecting the tough route and the heat. I was 169th out of 227 overall, 53rd out of 92 women and 13th out of 24 in the W50 category. I was a bit narked that there were only large t-shirts left when I finished. I wasn’t fast, but I was a long way from last. It’s not much use for me to wear, but at least it has the course profile handily printed on the back for future reference!
Overall I’d really recommend this event. It’s really well organised with a fun, challenging and very scenic course. I’m really surprised more people didn’t sign up for it. Masham also has some great pubs and cafés for cooling post-race beer and/or ice cream. I’d love to do it again next year. Hopefully it will be a bit less hot!