Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Long Tour of Bradwell, August 2010

Last year’s Long Tour of Bradwell was my first ultra. I completed it in 9hrs 30 and was really pleased to have made it around but I was a broken man at the finish. I was under no misconceptions about who was the victor that day…the route well and truly won. I was going back this year fitter, wiser and with a bone to pick with this race. My aim was to knock an hour and a half off last year’s time and finish in around eight hours.

I arrived an hour before the start and just about managed to queue for my dibber, queue for the loo and walk to the start line before the gun went off and 125 eager runners were unleashed on the hills of the Peak District. My goal was simple: take it easy. After struggling with cramp from early on in the race last year I wanted to protect my legs and get to the half way point feeling good.

The first few miles are a lovely warm up, running out up to Pin Dale before the steep technical descent into Cave Dale. 

I love this sort of rocky terrain and I flew down this last year. This year sensible me eased back and trotted down. I briefly saw my cheering family in Castleton before heading out to the climb up to Hollins Cross.

I had a steady walk up here, slowly loosing places all the time, which I took as positive sign as it meant I was taking it easy as planned! On reaching the top you instantly drop down the other side of the ridge and it’s tempting to go for it. I held my pace back but still felt some niggling warnings of cramp so started walking. I walked for a minute or two before tentatively going into a slow jog then gently building the pace. It worked and I ran slowly down the hill and kept my legs fresh.

Through Edale and onto the big climb of the day, up to the Druid Stone. This can be nasty if attacked but I kept at a comfortable walking pace and didn’t find it too bad. Some cunning navigation saw me keep on route and I climbed up into the clag to the next check point. 

More cunning navigation and I was on the steep descent back down into the valley. It was a bit of an effort to resist gravity and keep the speed down. All the time I was just thinking about looking after my quads.

I met up with a really nice chap from Brighton and we chatted as we climbed. I used the walking opportunity to eat a ham sandwich. I was in pieces on this hill last year, limping along with both legs locked in cramp. This year I felt fine. What a difference!

On reaching the top of Lose Hill you turn right and head down a fantastic, long, gentle down hill to Hope. It’s really good running and one of my favourite points of the course. 

We hit the next check point and I was off again. So far I hadn’t really stopped at the check points. I started with a full platypus and intended to fill up once more at the half way point. It’s much easier to gain time by stopping less than by running faster :-).

I went though Aston and climbed up to the woods above Ladybower. On this climb I got my first real stabs of pain in the quads. It was a big worry but I soon rounded the corner and started the fantastic gentle downhill section through the trees to the dam. I passed a few people, which was nice as I was just continually overtaken last year.

Here this year’s route deviated from last year’s. Instead of crossing the dam wall we continued on a lovely bridleway that dropped slowly down through woodland to CP9. I wanted to fill my platypus here but they were running low on water so I grabbed enough to see me through to Burbage and headed off. 

We crossed a beautiful bridge above a weir in Bamford then began the climb up Bamford Clough. What a little swine this was! It must have been 34-40 degrees in places and my quads were screaming at me when I reached the top. I tried to eat another sandwich but was feeling quite sick and just couldn’t stomach it. Not a good sign! It was a relief to finally make it to the top and onto the runnable road. I hadn’t gone far before a group of four runners breezed past me like I was standing still. They looked so fresh and I enviously watched them disappear into the distance.

Legs were feeling heavy and tender on the climb up to Stanage and I was glad to reach to top. I couldn’t see any runners in front or behind me as I started out across the edge. I had to walk a few times with cramp early on but it soon ran out and I was able to basically run across the whole thing J. As I dropped down into the Burbage checkpoint I was amazed to see I had caught the 4 speedsters so I must have done really well over that section.

At Burbage the marshals were desperately low on water so it was another case of just taking enough to see me through to the next marshalled checkpoint. This year you could choose your line down the Burbage valley. I chose the slightly longer but more runnable path under Burbage edge. Everyone around me chose this route too. 

Quick scramble down to the oddly placed checkpoint by the stream and then back to running again. I saw my first Fetch vest of the race and said hello to Phal, who was supporting another Fetchie who I thought was called Speed Cruiser (sorry, serious lack of blood to the brain by that point). It would have been nice to chat but I was in a positive place at that point so needed to keep pushing on while it lasted. 

And so down to the river. This should be a highlight of the run: it’s a stunning stretch of flat trail in woodland next to a beautiful river but I find it such a drag. You’ve been descending for several miles when you hit it so flat ground feels like hard work and you just want to get onto the final hill so you feel like you are heading for the finish. It was much better than last year but I still found it hard.

It was nice to leave the final manned checkpoint and walk up the road to the final section of the race. It’s pretty much a straight line to the finish from here so mentally it feels like you’re almost there. Unfortunately the vast majority of this is a gentle uphill slog. I walked most of it with both quads burning.

In the last few miles my quads would explode as soon as I tried any running. To make things worse I had run out of water and was parched in the hot sunshine. It was great to reach the final field before the steep descent into Bradwell.

After swapping positions several times I found myself at the top of the descent with the speedy team of four. I looked at my watch and I was on 7:50. It might just be possible to make 8hrs with one big effort. I went ahead and ran as quickly as possible down the hill. I reached the bottom at 7:57 and knew I’d blown it. There is still quite a way to go once you hit the village. I got my head down and tried to put in a big finish but my legs locked straight away and I had to walk out the cramp. I arrived at the finish area in 8:03 with a grimace on my face and was shocked that my family were nowhere in sight. As I came around the corner to the finishing dibber they all jumped out the car – they knew I was going for 8hrs but didn’t think I would do it and weren’t expecting me for another hour! How’s that for confidence :-D

This year's route was two miles longer and I finished an hour and a half faster than last year. Massively pleased with that :-). This is a very tough event but it is a superb route. Highly recommended!

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