This is the first time I have entered this unique race, and it’s already up there as one of my favourites. With a good variety of fell, rock and trail, the route is a perfect showcase for running in the Peak District. Continue reading
“Life is not a race. Neither is an ultramarathon, not really, even though it looks like one. There is no finish line. We strive toward a goal, and whether we achieve it or not is important, but it’s not what’s most important. What matters is how we move toward that goal. What’s crucial is the step we’re taking now, the step you’re taking now.” Scott Jurek, Eat and Run
On July 27 2015 I ran my first ultra marathon, the OCC (Orsieres-Champex-Chamonix). At 35miles (53km) and with 3,300m of ascent it is the shortest of the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc trail races, and I’ve never experienced a race like it. Continue reading
Grindleford is a small village in the Peak District. It has traditional stone cottages, gardens full of colourful summer flowers, and a cricket club with an immaculate green pitch bordered on one side by the River Derwent. Once a year by special permission, fell runners sprint, splash, or stumble through the river after a 4.5 mile dash up wooded hill and down rocky dale to arrive back where they started, outside the clubhouse. Continue reading
This weekend I planned to go away for a couple of nights to test my new ultra light tent and get some hill training in with Bo. The weather forecast was horrendous – wet and windy everywhere, so we decided a one night trip would be wiser. Short on time, our target was Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain at 1085m. We planned to camp in the Llanberis Pass and run to the summit via the Crib Goch ridge.
Arriving at lunch time we quickly put up our tents, the only ones camping in the extended garden of a farm in Nant Peris, a small village located at the bottom of the Llanberis Pass. From there we had a view up the pass to the ridge we would soon be on. Although it wasn’t raining in the valley and there was little wind, the top of the ridge was hidden by cloud.
The steep sides of the Pass host some of the UK’s most famous rock climbing routes, and from the bus window we took the opportunity to admire the scale of the landscape. Looking up to the familiar shape of the Cromlech, there were no climbers to be seen on the open-book Cenotaph Corner, just darker grey smears of wet rock.
Jumping off the bus we began running from the Pen-y-Pass car park. The well trodden trail trends steadily upwards over a mixture of polished rocks and sandy gravel, good running although not the easiest warm up. It wasn’t long until we reached the point that our route separated from the trail, the ground quickly got steeper and soon the only option was to scramble and climb.
The Rhyolite rock is almost crystalline in appearance, formed from a series of small angular blocks that create large handholds and decent footholds. Scrambling higher we entered the clouds and I felt very aware that I was clinging to a steep surface with no ropes. My view obscured in all directions I could see nothing but rock dropping steeply away below, while more rock rose to an unknown and invisible point above. With Bo leading, the only way was up.
Finally there was no more up, we had reached the ridge and there could be no worries about route finding. We scrambled happily along, keeping our hands high on the pointing tip of the ridge and our feet low on the blocky sides. I took a moment to enjoy the incredible position. Cloud cover was coming and going at this point, the steep drop on either side intermittently revealed, the lakes below scraps of tin foil reflecting the silver grey sky.
Reaching the end of the ridge we laughed as we realised that we had clocked some of the slowest kilometres ever. Pleased to run again we joined the trail that passed the marker at Crib y Ddysgl, the second highest summit, then followed the train tracks leading the way to the busy Snowdon summit and cafe.
After a quick dash to the actual summit of Snowdon we began a swift descent down the Pyg track which involved hurdling a few tourists. The terrain is perfect, stepped and rocky, not too steep, and a lovely long run down hill back to the Pen Y Pass car park.
If you are short on time but want maximum adventure, Crib Goch is one of the best days out you can have. You can find more information about the route on UK Hillwalking http://www.ukhillwalking.com/logbook/hill.php?id=2032.
This is the furthest that I have ever run, but not the furthest I hope to run! If you do want to increase your distance and try a longer race, the Gallop is a perfect choice. It’s a 21 mile trail race that starts and ends at Grindleford, passing through Eyam, Great Longstone, the Monsal Trail, Chatsworth, Baslow, and along Curbar and Froggatt Edges. On the morning of the race I was excited, after a winter of training and dreaming I couldn’t wait to get stuck in and see what the next 21 miles would bring.
I loved the atmosphere – I am more familiar with 10k races where people are concentrating, there is a sound of pounding feet and hard breathing and it’s over in a flash. This race was much different, although we were working hard everyone seemed more relaxed and I felt that we were in it together rather than competing against each other. You can enter as a runner or a walker and walkers start when they like, meaning that there are other people along the route as you run and there’s no pressure to race as hard as you can – just go at your own pace and enjoy.
As I start to run longer races, I worry that I’ll go the wrong way or get lost. It might not always be possible to recce a route in advance, but in training we covered the Gallop in four sessions. It helped to build my confidence and meant that I could really take the time to look around and enjoy being out in the Peak District. I can’t recommend the race route enough, if you don’t want to run it in one go it’s still worth breaking it up and running the different sections. There is a magic moment when you approach checkpoint three (Longstone Edge) over the crest of a hill, and a whole new side of the valley opens up in your view. My heart always melts when I run through herds of deer past Chatsworth House, and being a climber, Curbar and Froggatt edges feel like coming home. If you don’t recce in advance though, don’t worry, there will be other people around, and there are signs at vital turning points.
Since I had never run so far I didn’t feel any pressure to be fast. I wanted to find out whether I really could do it and enjoy it. I didn’t have any idea how long it would take, although I had a target time of 3 hours 30 mins in mind I just wanted to complete the distance and aim for under 4 hours. I was nervous about running too hard in case I exhausted myself and couldn’t carry on, and because of that I never ran hard enough to be uncomfortable. Time seemed to go so quickly, the six checkpoints almost flashed by, and I finished in 3:37. I’m pleased with the time, but motivated because I know there is room to go faster.
On reflection, I still have a lot to learn. I believe the distance was a little too far for me at this point and I need to keep increasing my distance slowly in training to avoid any long term injuries. I need to practice more uphill (always more uphill!), and I need to work on my confidence, both in navigation and in running a bit harder. I like to eat eat plenty while I’m running and need to find suitable non-solid food. I also need to take the recovery more seriously, respecting the impact of running long distances on my body by eating right and taking the right rest.
Although the race was over in a few hours, the whole experience was the result of months of training. Although each person runs it on their own effort, we all support each other and will each other on. At the end of the race I was so proud of us for making it, and so happy to share it with Bo (uber training partner), Elise, Steve, and Ben. All the effort was worth it, the distance really wasn’t anything to fear. I tried to imagine that I was having a little break, and then would be running another 15 miles… the thought didn’t horrify me, in fact I’m looking forward to being able to increase my distance, run further and see more…
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/