By LISA JENKINS
The Ripon Round is organised by Ripon Runners and is open to solo or relay teams (up to 5 members). Described as ‘the perfect event for anyone looking to test their endurance over an ultra distance’, the route covers approximately 35 miles, starting and finishing in the pretty North Yorkshire village of Studley Roger. The undulating route follows the northern section of the Ripon Rowel and runners need to keep an eye out for the ‘Ripon Rowel’ signs, though there are sections that are not clearly marked.
The route is stunning and varied – a mix of path, tracks, hills, trails, woods, moors, fields, bogs (yes, I did have to be hauled out!) and this year there was mud galore! The route is made up of 5 legs with checkpoints in between, manned by Ripon Runner volunteers.
Leg 1: Studley Roger to Sleningford Watermill campsite (CP1, 7.5 miles)
Starting from Studley Village Hall, we headed out towards Ripon and then downhill to the River Ure. Paths turned to grassy, slightly muddy tracks and I ran though fields and past farms (and cows!). It didn’t seem long before we ran through North Stainley Village – the river was very close on my right and I was heading into the first checkpoint 1, Sleningford Watermill campsite. This leg is mostly flat with only one little hill, so apart from small amounts of slippy mud and nettles, is mostly runnable.
Although there is no cut off time at this checkpoint, I worked out that I needed to aim to get there between 1hr 30 mins and 1hr 50 mins in order to make the next cut off and was really pleased to get there in 1hr 38 mins.
Leg 2: Sleningford Watermill to Masham (CP2, 7.8 miles, 15.3 miles total)
The first few miles of this leg are flat and runnable and I left the campsite to get back on the trail, skirting a field/muddy track to come out on Tanfield bridge before crossing straight over the busy road, onto a quieter road that leads to another caravan site, through a field and over some grass before hitting Picallilly Wood.
This section is easy to go wrong and as I had done during a recce, the two ladies in front of me headed up the hill to the left when we needed to be right and staying closer to the river. This wood was mostly dry and runnable and we were soon through it and running over a rough, grassed field and onto the flat road through the little village of Mickley. After a short sharp road hill, we were back in the woods. Hackfall Woods was a complete mudfest!
Having recced this section twice, I had suspected that these woods don’t see a lot of sunshine and therefore don’t really ever dry out. I was back of the pack and well over a hundred runners had already passed through. I just about managed to slip slide my way through, staying upright and coming through the other end unscathed, bar a bruised knee from a bumping into a fallen tree.
The undulation of the woods, mud and tree roots really zapped my energy; the Checkpoint 2 cut off time was on my mind and I still had Hawkswell Wood to get through too. A beautiful viewpoint was the reward for our climbs and before long we were running alongside the river again on dry dirt tracks before turning right, over the bridge and onto the other side of the river where we had a short wood, a field to skirt and a little hill up to Masham Square.
This was torture as we ran past everyone enjoying the sunshine and the café I had stopped at previously on a recce for a toasted teacake. I had to crack on though, the checkpoint was still a few minutes run away and the clock was ticking! I ran down alleys, past the brewery and through a housing estate and made it. On the dot. 4 hours done.
Leg 3: Masham to Swinton Bivouac (CP3, 3.9 miles, 19.2 miles)
The marshals soon had us fed, watered and on our way and we ran a short distance along road before joining a track for about a mile until we came to another road. We descended for about 100m before getting on to a stony track.
The sweeper told me this is the least favourite part of the route for their club runners that take part in the relay. It was a bit boring and tricky to run on as the stones were of different sizes. Having hedges on both sides, I thought I might be protected from the wind but in reality, it was a like a wind tunnel. Throughout the day, my friend Michelle popped up to make sure I had everything I needed and it made me laugh to see her standing there with a sign saying ‘Run for thnacks’!
We turned left at the end, down-hill and over a bridge. The down-hill didn’t last for long though, as we then turned right up a steep hill and up, we climbed. Though this was the shortest leg, it seemed to last forever. I didn’t take many photos on the day but stopped to take one of a sign that said ‘Keep going – straight on – nearly there’ and eventually I got to the checkpoint at Swinton Bivouac where I ate their last jam sandwich, the best jam sandwich ever!
Leg 4: Swinton Bivouac to Skelding (8.3 miles, 27.5 miles total)
This leg started with a downhill through a field, thank goodness, but soon my feet were soaking wet from the bogs I was ploughing through. We ran along a footpath and turned right to start to steepest climb of the day – 1 mile up to the village of Ilton. Taking the alternative route to avoiding the boggy area, we ran through trees heading South East towards two large oak trees.
We passed through a wall, turning left then followed a path through a short section of heather. I fell into a bog and needed two people to haul me out; by this time, I just wanted to get finished and squelched along, thankful I hadn’t got my bum wet! We crossed tracks and grass moorland before coming to a road. 2 miles of road! Uphill then downhill, turning right at the junction and following the tarmac road for the second mile until we ran past some old ruins.
After climbing over a stile on the right, the track headed sharply downhill bearing left for a short time after the bridge before heading due South. An indistinct track crossed the heather moorland and we dropped steeply down to a beck. There was no other way, straight through the freezing cold water and wet feet again!
We ascended to a small field and ran between two walls, past a sighting tower and through a farm (with loads of dogs going berserk in their cages) to join track. Turning left, we descended to a bridge before climbing up the road for about 50m then down rocky track, across stream and up grass, up a hill to a road and then back on muddy moorland track until it joined the road and checkpoint 4, beating the cut off by 20 minutes.
Leg 5: Skelding to Studley Roger Village (7.5 miles, 35 miles total)
I’d only recced some of this section and, in hindsight, I think it might have been for the best… it was really tough and not what I was expecting at all.
We followed the road, past a farm and followed the sign as the footpath left the road through a gate, downhill to a stream. We crossed over the bridge, crossed the stile and ran uphill for two fields (one with cows) before descending again, past a small lake. We then ran through woodland; it was quite dark though it was still daylight at this point. We then descended steeply to Eavestone Lake. What a beautiful view – I was quite jealous of the blokes that were relaxing and fishing there!
There was no time to hang about though, and we crossed a bridge and ascended up very steep wooded bank. I think I found this the toughest hill of the day. My legs were tired and it was taking so long. I got to the top and ran across a field, over a stile to the road and through two farms, across three fields (one with very nosey cows) over a small bridge and downhill into the village of Sawley.
Michelle had ran out to join me for the last three and half miles or so and this really lifted my spirits. Most of it was downhill and we ran on roads, narrow footpath into woods and across a stream before meeting track and the road by Fountains Abbey. By now daylight was starting to fade and Michelle turned on her torch to guide the way as I couldn’t find the motivation to put mine on! After about half a mile, we came to the large metal gates of Studley Roger and I knew I was almost ‘home’.
I ran past the church and headed downhill. I really wanted to run all of this last section but my quads were so achy and I thought to myself that I wouldn’t tell the sweeper that I was seeing things in the park. It turns out that the things I was seeing were actually deer, including white Chinese ones! At the bottom I saw someone who looked like my Nephew, Jakob, and my eyes started leaking a bit when I realised then that my Sister, Juliette, was here to see me finish.
What a day! 10 hours and 28 mins and with the company of two other ladies and the sweepers, who were all amazing.
Would I do it again?
No. Not as a race again (I have no plans for another Ultra anytime soon) but I’d recommend it and would do recces with others or perhaps a leg of the relay as part of a team (though not leg 2 with all the mud!).