It Takes 2 to Tandem

[Sat 8th Jan] 

What's that noise?  Alarm clock!  What time is it?  4:00am!  Yes, today was the day that Dave (Bradley) and myself had entered the Tandem, a two person team event centred on the village of Goathland - better known as Aidensfield in the TV show "Heartbeat" - in the North York Moors.  Driving through the dark at 5 am. with the sleet thrashing against the windscreen on route to the Yorkshire Moors, we were starting to have doubts about the wisdom of entering the 27th running of The Tandem.  This event, organised by Cleveland Long Distance Walkers Association, is run in pairs but with the twist that you set off in opposite directions, meet up at the 20 mile mark, before completing the last 8 miles together.  There are a few checkpoints on route, some with basic refreshments, so the need to carry large amounts of food and drink was not necessary - this is one of the advantages of LDWA events. 

Obviously to avoid a lonely wait at the ‘joining up’ checkpoint, a cunning plan is needed and so we agreed to aim for what we thought was a conservative 12 minute miling pace so as to allow for the inevitable walking sections - little did we know!  Start time approached - 8 am. and still dark - so with cries of 'see you at Stape in 4 hours time' - off we set.

West Route (Dave)

It was immediately apparent that our plan was a typical Baldrick ‘cunning plan’ – the first mile was downhill but took 14 minutes to complete. Dancing on Ice arrived early and I was soon slip sliding down the old railway line from Goathland to Grosmont. Within ˝ mile, one of the other runners was already returning to the start cradling what we believe to be a broken arm. The underfoot conditions didn’t get any better, with only the road sections runnable. The route was either on sheet ice or ankle deep snow. Runners going down like 9 pins and, yes, I was one of them having managed to fall over in a very deep and very cold pool of water. Soon went the wrong way and, after completing an extra ˝ mile and 300 feet of climbing, it was out onto the moors into the teeth of a bitingly cold wind and lots of serious upping and downing. The last 3 miles was through a forest – surely that would be okay but no, it was probably the most difficult part of the route – either trudging through snow or struggling to stay on your feet. At last the reunion at Stape was reached, much later than planned but with minimal sarcasm from the waiting Steve (he couldn’t say too much, I’d got the car keys and it’s a long walk from Goathland).

East Route (Steve)

The first major obstacle on the East route was a ford after half a mile, fortunately there were stepping stones, unfortunately these were under 10 cm of fast flowing water - great soaking wet, cold feet after only a few minutes - I thought this was to be the theme of the day, how wrong could I be!  As it turned out, very, this was one of the few wet parts of the route, the rest was either sheet ice or frozen snow, often 15-20 cm deep.

After climbing onto the moors for a few miles there came a steep downhill section that took us to the small, picturesque hamlet of Littlebeck.  According to the map, the next section was a riverside path through some woods, this should be better conditions I thought, but wrong again, more sheet ice with the added interest of fallen trees to navigate.  Another climb onto the moors and a section beside RAF Fylingdales, once famous for its "Golf Balls" Early Warning System, alas the golf balls are no more - replaced by a more modern structure.  This section, the highest stretch of my route was also the coldest, with a penetrating cold wind and atrocious underfoot conditions.

By this time I realised that there was no way I was going to reach the "meet up" checkpoint at Stape in the desired time, a fact made even more obvious by my final climb, a half mile, 1 in 5 hill on a forestry track covered in ice - if anyone has seen Ice Road Truckers on TV, this was worse.  Final couple of hundred meters to the village hall, hope Dave hasn't been waiting too long.

The Finish

The last 8 miles gave a bit of opportunity to run but again there was a continuous struggle to stay on 2 feet.  After what seemed an eternity, Goathland came into sight and a sprint finish (in our dreams!) brought us back to the sanctuary of the village hall, where after a hot meal and a few cups of tea the next adventure was being planned.  The general opinion from people who had done the event before was that the underfoot conditions were the worst ever, with times well over a hour down.  Last we heard there were 2 broken ankles to go with the broken arm – definitely not a safe run to do given the conditions.

Dave Bradley / Steve Walker