My first ultra and definitely the toughest run I’ve done so far. Great event; well organised, with friendly marshals and competitors. Blisteringly hot summer’s day but with a steady breeze throughout.
My wife, Michelle, pointed out on the start line that this was the first event she’d ever been to where everyone looked super-fit. It was a little intimidating to be lining up with all these lean, mean fellrunners, listening to them swap impressive tales and looking at the many 100+mile race t-shirts on display. I got myself on the back row of the 74 starters ready for the 9am start.
The pace was a little quick from the off but not too bad and I enjoyed the trek past the cement works and up Pin Dale. We managed to run most of the long run up to CP2, enjoying the stunning views all around then dropped quickly down Cave Dale into Castleton. Next came the first of the big ups, climbing out of the valley and up to Hollins Cross. At this point I could see I had about 10 runners behind me and was keen not to loose position so pushed as hard as I could up the hill. By now I was in a bubble of about 6 runners and there was lots of banter and encouragement.
Great relief to reach Hollins Cross and I enjoyed the steep run down to Edale. Once in Edale we hit the next (and most serious) climb of the course, up to the Druid’s Stone (on the back of Kinder). Everyone in front of me went the wrong way at the top, climbing up onto the Ringing Roger. I went the correct way, and the two people behind me followed. I gained back the 5 places I had lost on the climb.
At the top of the hill I started running again and both thighs locked with cramp. I was only 8 miles in and still had a marathon to go. In the far distance I could see Stanage and knew that when I reached that point I would still have hours of running left. It was very intimidating and the idea that I might not finish started to come into my head. I knew the cramp was set in now and I would just have to put up with it for the rest of the race.
I got behind two guys on the steep decent back into the valley and we had a good chat as we worked our way down. I really enjoyed the run down past the YHA to the marshal station, where I stopped for the first time and took on more water.
The steep climb up to Lose hill was a killer. My legs were cramping even when walking at a slow pace and I had to stop and stretch several times to stretch out when they locked up completely. I was passed by quite a few people and felt quite despondent. I couldn’t imagine how I would possibly finish the race. However, the long gentle downhill section to CP7 in Hope was just what I needed and I managed to run all the way, in discomfort but without too much pain.
When I arrived at the water station in Hope I couldn’t see any runners in front or behind and was convinced I was in last place. I was told there were 11 behind me, which lifted me. I took on more water and began the long drag up through Aston to the hills above Ladybower. This was my lowest point in the race. I really struggled up the hill, fighting cramp all the way and moving slowly.
The long section through the woods above Ladybower was brilliant, though, and it felt great to get running again and loosen my legs. I ran down to the dam and met Mich, Alex, Malc and Ruth on the other side, which was lovely. Walked the 50m to the water station with Mich and Alex and had a sit down for 5 mins. Ladybower was the 2pm cut off point and I made it by 1:25pm. I must admit that part of me was kind of hoping I would be too late and pulled from the event. It was also the half way point and I was familiar with most of the remaining course so felt positive about completing it. I knew that if I could make it to Ladybower then I’d make it to the end.
Walked up the long road section to High Neb then on the causeway to Stanage. I wasted a little time trying to find CP13 (never did find it but lots of competitors couldn’t find this one so they let us off) then onto the edge. I had been really looking forward to running across Stanage but the cramp was so bad that I had to run/walk to keep stretching the thighs out. I arrived at Burbage in quite a bit of pain and collapsed for a while at the water station. I got chatting to another competitor called Iain here and we hooked up for most of the rest of the race.
I took on enough water to see me to the end of the race and headed off down the Burbage valley. We ran the vast majority of the next few miles, until it flattened out at the river, then had to run/walk to fight off cramp. It was a relief to reach CP17 and see Mich and Alex again, and the two guys I had run off Kinder with. We all set off on the final push together but the two guys quickly left up as the hill steepened. The last 5 miles was a real sting in the tail. There were some flat sections which offered lovely running through woodland but mostly it was one long grind uphill. At this point I couldn’t run anything sloping uphill without severe cramps so there was lots of walking but I knew I was going to finish and would make the 7pm cut-off time so felt positive. It was wonderful to finally see Bradwell. I managed to run the steep down in to the village but had to walk a couple of times in the last mile, even through it was flat and I could almost smell the finish…I just had nothing left.
Nine people dropped out. Of the 65 finishers I came 64th; very glad to have made it around in once piece and able to finally stop running.
Don't get dragged along at the pace of other competitors in the first half of the race, even if it means getting left behind. Push too hard early on and you'll pay for it later.
Keep eating, no matter how sick you feel.
Enter more ultras! I've never run in a more friendly atmosphere than I experienced during this race. There was a real sense of all being in it together.