By Iain Denby
It all started with a simple facebook post in September 2023 from Rob Harrison: ‘Entries to the infamous Rombalds Stride are now open. Very popular local event. Come on Dragons, we can do this!’
Rombalds Stride is a 22-mile winter event for walkers and runners organised to raise money for the scouting community.
The route starts in Guiseley and traverses Baildon Moor, Ilkley Moor, Burley Moor (known collectively as Rombalds Moor) and Otley Chevin.
Rob’s ‘infamous’ description is fitting because it’s a tough event. The terrain is difficult, it’s hilly, with boggy and rocky sections and much of it is on exposed moorland. It’s held in February too, when weather conditions are often harsh.
I’ve completed Rombalds Stride several times, in all weathers, and I can attest that it always demands respect. Those unprepared often have a bad experience.
For several years now only a few from Dragons have taken part, probably explained by the fact that it’s a niche event. However, this year was different. 18 runners, many first-timers, signed up. Not wanting to miss out, I signed up too.
Before race day, three dropped out due to lack of training resulting from work commitments or injuries. A fourth also dropped out due to the realisation, after a recce run, that it wasn’t an event they’d enjoy.
The 22-mile course includes 12 checkpoints that participants must reach, to have their number recorded and card clipped. This ensures participants haven’t taken shortcuts and confirms their location along the route for tracking purposes.
Some checkpoints are self-clip, some are manned and some have aid stations stacked with goodies, such as biscuits, cakes, sweets and even onion bhajis!
The route is not marshaled, which means you have to self navigate. You can choose to recce the route in advance, follow a map, use a GPS device, or just follow everyone else (on the assumption they know where they’re going!) The latter is never advisable because beyond 8 miles, the field spreads out so thin you could find yourself on your own. Add to this the possibility of fog reducing visibility and you might be in trouble!
Fortunately for us, the weather forecast for race day was favourable, for a change. We set off with 500 other participants and some Dragons ran in groups or pairs for a safer and more enjoyable shared experience. Personally, on a long distance event, I prefer to go solo. I don’t want the pressure of having to keep up with others when I’m struggling, or the burden of waiting for others when I’m feeling good and want to push on.
This event is rarely without incident. Previous years have seen Dragons plunge waist deep in peat bogs, having bad falls requiring medical treatment, and getting lost in the fog, missing the checkpoint cut-off time. This year was no exception. Two Dragons succumbed to a peat bog plunge and I tripped and fell three times too. Fortunately, we all made it back in one piece.
There are many ways to tackle this event – choose to race it with minimal time spent at checkpoints, walk it and take in the incredible views whilst enjoying a cuppa at each aid station, or do anything in between. Whichever way you choose, it’s energy sapping.
Whether you’re a veteran of the event or a first timer, nothing quite prepares you for the killer climb up the Chevin from the bottom of West Chevin Road! It’s long, it’s very steep and it’s often covered in slippery mud. This is hard enough on fresh legs but at mile 19 of the route, when you’re really really tired, you have to dig deep. It seems to take forever to get to the final checkpoint at the top.
From the top of the Chevin there’s the final 1.5-mile downhill section back to the finish, where pie, peas, waxy tinned potatoes and copious amounts of stewed tea, along with a great sense of pride await to replenish your energy levels.
The atmosphere at this event is always relaxed and friendly and the support amongst participants and volunteer helpers is fantastic. It guarantees a memorable experience. The range of finishing times from 2h.38 to 9h.43 shows it’s an adventure endured by runners and walkers with varying abilities, and judging by these comments from two of our Dragons, it’s clear that everyone’s experience is different:
‘That was actually great fun!’ – Sarah Clementis
‘I’m broken and off to bed.’ – Darren Mawson