The Edale Skyline is a race I’ve intended to do since seeing it written about in the Fellrunner a decade ago, entranced by the scenery and history of the race, in awe of the challenge (Billy Bland rates it as being, along with the Three Peaks, one of his two toughest races) and wary of the fact that its early-year position in the calendar means it will never race the same in any two years – recent years have seen heat casualties, hypothermia, sunburn, retirements due to getting lost in thick mist and a full-scale blizzard; in one year, things were worse yet; so bad that the organisers simply cancelled and re-scheduled for the autumn.
So, I’m cautious and remain so despite knowing that I’ve run longer races and Ive run races with more climb; so nervous that today is a ‘half-dozen trips to the toilet before ten a.m.’ day. A slow jog from the village hall, over the brook on a narrow bridge where we’re all dibbed into the starting field, and the vista of the Kinder massif towers above us, the sky largely clear but the western edges swathed in thick grey cotton-wool.
We commence the race quickly, under strict instructions to stick to the flagged switchbacked path as far as it lasts before an element of route choice is permitted to Ringing Roger, the first control. The climb is hard but enjoyable, all but the frontrunner walking until the gradient slackens a little and we can open our legs out along the edge paths of damp peat and exposed gritstone boulder. Hitting Ringing Roger is done and the next few miles out to Whin Hill pass very quickly at a steady pace, passing a few on the way up the long, slow climb through the heather to the control at the top of the hill, a thick, aromatic pine plantation to our left only partially blocking the view down to Ladybower reservoir, full after the wet winter that has soaked the earth and nourished the occasional daffodils sighted in sheltered nooks.
Control dibbed, we descend gradually along track then rapidly through dead bracken, crossing the Hope Valley railway just before Hope village, through the stone cottages and up the flanks of Lose Hill, walking and running alternately to the top, Walshes gaining valuable traction as we climb upwards, the way marked by walkers on what is a fine, sunny morning in this part of the valley. From here, a relatively easy few miles commence, running the undulating ridgeline to Hollins Cross and Mam Tor, the Edale’s church spire glinting to the right hand side in the valley bottom, toy-like trains lazily easing along hundreds of feet below. More places are gained here and I leave the brief respite (tarmac, a cup of water and a jelly baby) of Mam Nick knowing that over half the race is done and I feel good. However, despite my legs still powering me forwards, the earth is getting softer and wetter, the trods less distinct and the fluff that I saw earlier enveloping the western peaks is now less abstract and very real, very wet and very sight-limiting.
Pleasingly I pick up the trod to Brown Knoll at the first attempt and am able to keep in sight a trio of runners ahead, one of whom is Sally Fawcett who will finish first lady. I plough through the bog, now often ankle-deep, sometimes above the knee, and catch them when they hit a particularly glutinous patch, the depth obscured by the falsely-reassuring green of the sphagnum moss that has been used as both food and dressing in the relatively-recent past. I help them out and we run on together, Brown Knoll conquered, a very slow run to Jacob’s ladder completed via a path that may have been an actual path or may have been a stream-bed, impossible to be clear given that it was firm-based but covered for half a mile in ankle-deep water, hidden from view by peat embankments eight feet high. At Jacob’s ladder, I begin to struggle; I have not eaten despite knowing I should, and I simply cannot maintain the pace, so I fall away from my companions for the final few miles back to Ringing Roger and then down. I will the end, hard; I now want this over as it hurts and I have little left to give – I paced myself better, I think, for the 18 mile race this is when measured in straight lines than the 22 mile race it is if one cannot fly. As it happens, I lose surprisingly few places on this stretch, though a handful of nimble types leap past on the last few hundred yards into the field, but then it is done, my number cut off and I am free to trudge back to the hall for warmth, dry clothes, pie, peas, gravy and Henderson’s; DPFR are, after all, a Sheffield club.
One plug, if I may – a chap called Steve Firth is raising, via donation-funded sports photography in often-grotty conditions, money to pay for mosquito nets for use in places where malaria is an endemic, life-culling reality. The photo, which I think conveys the day well, is from Mossie Net Photography on Facebook.
|1||Nicholas Barber||Pennine Fell Runners||M||02:52:51|
|42||Sally Fawcett||Dark Peat||L||03:37:54|
This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time a Strider has ever run this race. Unless you know different! It’s never too late to send in a report [Ed.]