It’s been a while since I’ve felt compelled to spend a Sunday evening sat at a laptop, trying to recall what took place the day before. Probably around two years or so – [ actually just last year! ^DN] the website seems to show nothing from me since November 2015 [<cough!> Paul Evans ^DN]. However, a return to racing with a rejoinder from our webmaster means that what happened must be relayed, for the ever-developing archive of north-eastern running that is our website. Here goes…
0712hrs at Sheffield railway station for a 25 minute ride on a rattling little train, older than I, to Hope. The journey is spent checking bumbag contents, unpacking and adjusting. The only other passengers seem similarly absorbed in their kit, and I assume both are heading for the tour, either long or half, also. We walk the mile or so the Bradwell in amiable silence. The fact that the western edge of the valley is obscured by cloud bodes ill. I consider switching to the half tour, a 17-miler that cuts out the more punchy climbs, then remember I’m returning with a ultra so I don’t HAVE to race it.
0810hrs. Check-in for the race is slick (impressively, EOD are taken as well), laminated maps are issued and a demo is given of the new electronic timing system. Hot brews are offered and received, and the portaloos portable toilets provision is adequate. Kit is re-checked, re-assembled and then adjusted once more, nipples taped and anything that might chafe greased to fairy obscene levels. A decision is made to add to the bumbag a half dozen mini pork pies, on the basis that I’m not really racing, but instead here for a nice day’s running.
0900hrs. Assembly at the village green, in a light rain with overcast skies promising more. No kit check. We set off at an easy pace for the gentle undulation of the first mile or so along a damp, overhung lane, the rumble of the enormous cement works a background note. I’m not impressed to note that my Mudclaws are showing themselves to be awful on wet concrete, having switched to Inov8 after four successive pairs of Walshes disintegrated early in their lives [same here, sadly. ; a gentle downhill sees me skid to one side and hug the fence. Control 1 is found easily (ie. at the point you leave the lane – truly idiot-proof) though it later turns out that my timing gear does not register, despite flashing and beeping. From here a steady run, with occasional walking on the steeper parts, takes us through the quarries that feed the plant below, along a track to CP2 and then down some grassy fields…
…to the abomination that is Cave Dale. For those of you who have not visited Cave Dale, it is a picturesque descent through limestone crags and lush greenery. For tourists, it is delightful. For farmers, it’s a nice place to graze sheep. For runners, it is a steep downhill over loose limestone, polished by water for centuries, today in the rain. It is an axiom of ultra-runner to ‘walk the ups, run the downs.’ I did the opposite, and lost a good number of places to those with a little more poise and balance, only falling twice, which I think a result of sorts. This led into Castleton, pretty as ever, along a minor road to the climb up to Hollins Cross, then straight down a good track, under the railway line and into Edale.
1030hrs. Edale gained, with two of the big climbs over with. Banana and a few peanuts offered along with water, and a small group of us trotted out past the Nag’s Head/Pennine Way start, over the footbridge and up the zig-zags that mark the start and finish of the Edale Skyline fell race; walking only here. About two-thirds of the way up the climb flattens and the ground becomes soggier, helped by the rain that’s picked up a bit. Reaching the plateau I hit my stride, unfortunately making the mistake of enjoying the running too much to notice the trod that leads to CP5, the Druid’s Stone. Heather-bashing needed, then more of the same to regain the edge, followed by what someone following me informs me I’ve ‘picked a great line’ through the rocks and heather tussocks that take us down to runnable fields (I don’t tell him that I descended earlier than intended then made the best of it/pretended I had a plan). A fast downhill mile brings us under the railway again, then it’s over the road and straight up the other side of the valley to Lose Hill, walking pace resumed. I crack open the mini pork pies. I eat one slowly, then realise it is not sitting well; in retrospect, this lack of hunger should have been a warning. Nevertheless, Lose Hill CP6 is gained with a stiff tab to the steps and then a run along the tops, legs feeling less stiff than earlier. The descent is a grassy delight, halted only to call back a handful ahead of me who’ve taken a bad line and are liable to end up a mile or so west of where they need to be. Hope, CP7, is another food/drink station and by this point we’re well-mixed with runners doing the half tour, so it is harder to ascertain who the competition is. If I were being competitive, which I’m not.
The next few legs are fairly easy running, bar a cheeky climb up Whin Hill, with views of Ladybower reservoir, some very enjoyable forest trails and a bit of flat converted railway line taking us to CP9, the cut off for the full tour.
1230hrs. The two races separate, the half tour runners having broken the back of their race and heading home. It feels lonely again. I change pace again to drop down from the line through a couple of fields onto CP10, situated halfway along Bamford Weir, admire the serenity of the ducks paddling through the lilies, then accept I cannot change the fact that a couple of miles of climbing, on road then rocky track, lies between Stanage Edge and I. Strangely, I make up a few places here, my ability to sustain an uphill plod serving me well, gain CP11 and then shuffle-run along Stanage Edge to Burbage Bridge, the sun now out and the views superlative, miles of purple heather to the left and lush valley to the right. CP12 at the roadside sees us fed again, though I’m really not hungry by now, and we descend steadily to Toad’s Mouth, 2 miles of largely downhill easy running…or would be if my left foot were not now hurting with every step. CPs 13, 14 and 15 feature no big climbs, some pretty woodland and Burbage Brook, which is this afternoon rammed with children paddling, fishing and enjoying themselves. How dare they, when some of us are suffering? Some even have snacks they appear to relish eating, rather than 5 uneaten pork pies they cannot face but must carry.
1430hrs. CP15 reached, a lot of water and 4 peanuts forced down and the rest shoved into a pocket. From here, I know I’ve got about 6 miles, an hour, one big, but steady climb and, in the immediate future, one short road climb to go. I and two others who appear also a bit on the tired side climb to the farm track, descend into the woods and then walk-run through terrain that seems more uneven than the map suggests to CP16, at a brook I refill my water bottle from. We then climb slowly to Abney hamlet, take a right up an interminably-long track (the map says only 3/4m, but it feels worse) and then skirt another quarry before dropping down through gorse and mud into Bradwell, for a final half-mile trot along the road. Our threesome has split by now, after all checking that we’re fine, and I come in last of the three after another involuntary trip down the hillside on my bottom.
1545hrs. It is done. Hot brews and soup. Flapjack that takes 15 minutes a square to eat as my mouth does not have sufficient moisture to masticate adequately. Lying on my back in the warm grass, the moist soil fragrant. A walk back to the station and half an hour sat waiting in the sun, finally able to eat again, content, knowing it is all done and that, hurting feet and all, it has been a run to remember. And I might have, despite all good intentions, actually raced the thing. Maybe a little.