Litton is a small and picturesque village in the Peak District, and this was the inaugural Christmas Cracker fell race. Runners registered in the tiny village hall and the start and finish line was on the perfect-looking village green, a triangle of grass overlooked by the post office, the village hall, and the traditional local pub, the Red Lion. This part of the Peak District has a gentler feel than the exposed brown moors of Kinder, it is greener with more rolling hills punctured by outcrops of white limestone. I wasn’t fooled though, this is a fell race and the route setters of the Litton Christmas Cracker weren’t thinking gentle thoughts when they chose 359m of ascent, one flooded river, and unlimited amounts of mud.
Having already run a couple of races in early December and completed a ten mile training run the day before, I wanted to treat this as a fun morning out rather than running it as a race. After the first brief uphill section, we queued for several minutes at a series of stiles and gates. If I’m honest I was grateful for the rest, but tactically I’d advise a fast start to get ahead of the crowd. Although I have never run in this area before, I have climbed, and the race went by some familiar places including Chee Dale, Raven Tor, Ravensdale, and Rubicon Wall at Water-cum-Jolly. It was nice to link all those places together by following the river Wye, it also meant that I knew what was coming as we approached Water-cum-Jolly. A fairly long stretch of what had been the path was now under water, and there was no way to avoid running through the flooded and icy cold river. It was so deep… so muddy… so fun!
The next section was mentally and physically the hardest for me, almost continuous uphill for a very long way, ending at an exposed trig point. This part of the race included an out and back section which actually made it really interesting. It was tough seeing how many people were ahead of me, shooting back down the hill and not looking like they were struggling at all. They were encouraging though, shouting to the up-hillers that we were nearly there and keep going. When I could finally see the trig point, for a long time it seemed to stay exactly the same distance away somewhere on the horizon. Finally I reached the top and as the wind buffeted me around the turning point I became one of those joyful people leaping with ease down the grassy slope. I was challenged again shortly afterwards with a steeper and more technical section, too scared of falling I picked my way down as more experienced runners bounded past. After one final uphill through some foot-sucking and very slippy mud, I was relieved to trot back down into Litton and be cheered by locals and runners onto the village green.
Overall I found this race tough, but I’m not a fell runner… yet. I now know I have to improve my endurance on long uphills, and my technique on steep downhills. The race was well organised, and the stewards were really encouraging. Tideswell Running Club are lucky to have such a beautiful and varied area to run in, thanks to them for organising this new race. I hope I get the chance to test how far I’ve come by running it again in 2015.
You can find out more about Tideswell Running Club at their website here http://tideswellrunningclub.uk/