Having had a stinking cold and a niggling ankle injury the prospect of running 40 miles / 5400ft ascent didn’t fill me with joy. However, I had the incentive of the first Old Hall Whitehough beer festival and being out of the house whilst my sister-in-law visited to spur me on. A 0530 alarm to allow me to get breakfast down was really uncivilised and I could understand the slight scowl on my long suffering wife’s face as she drove me to Buxton. After registering at just after 0630 I was then faced with the prospect of hanging around for 90 minutes in a cold and draughty school hall. Fortunately one of my club-mates, who’s parents lived just round the corner, turned up and we went round to theirs for pre-race “tea-loading”. At 0745 we tore ourselves away from the comfort of the sofa and joined the throng of runners making for the start in the Pavilion Gardens.
As the penultimate race in the Vasque Run Further Series www.runfurther.com the field looked strong and, as we headed out of the Gardens, the pace was definitely on the brisk side. I held myself back, let the front pack go and settled into my own personal plod. Prior to the cold, my original plan had been to run a seven hour schedule, but I was feeling decidedly underpowered so, although I still had the check-point timings on me, I planned to just see how things went. Hitting the first check-point at just over three miles though I was five minutes up and feeling ok so I decided to try and stick to the pace. After another flat 3.5 miles I came to check-point 2 and was now eight minutes up on schedule. I took my time to re-fill my bottle and get some food down and knew that the time would come in handy with some long climbs coming up over the next 14 or 15 miles.
Hitting my home village of Chinley 10 miles in, the temptation to pack-in and go back to bed was pretty strong but, with my legs turning over pretty easily, I banished the thought and dug in for the tough section to come. The climb via Beet Farm was the softener, before dropping right down into Roych Clough and then starting the long five mile slog to the summit of Mam Tor via Rushup Edge. The climb went surprisingly well and, after nursing my ankle down the rocky descent from Hollins Cross, I hit the next checkpoint just outside of Castleton still eight minutes up. The ascent of Cave Dale was the last significant climb of the race and I hoped, if I was still up at the top, that I’d be able to hang on for the second half of the race through the gently rolling White Peak. The climb seemed to go on for ever and I was starting to feel the first tingles of fatigue in my legs. However, I reached the 23-mile check-point seven minutes up on my 4:02 target and, although it was starting to get hot, everything was still firing ok.
Having recced the second half of the race a few weekends ago I knew that it contained a lot of road and a lot of fast and flat running. For me, this was a mixed blessing as, although I can churn out a reasonable pace on the flat, I’m certainly no road racer. I prefer the variety of truly rough and hilly terrain and hadn’t tested my speed endurance on the flat for a long while. Running through Tideswell and check-point 8, I was striding out well, gaining time and overtaking a few other runners. However my guts were starting to misbehave, my calves were tightening up and my hamstrings threatened to cramp at any moment. I joined another runner for the next stretch and managed to kick-on a bit. We reached the 29.2-mile Upper Dale check-point in 4:55, a full 11 minutes up but my body was now really starting to rebel against the punishment.
The slog out of the first Deep Dale was a muddy, rocky and rutted horror and, with every slight change in incline, my hamstrings griped ominously. I reached check-point 10 at 32.2 miles still 8 minutes up but by now feeling really ropey. I took my time at the check-point, sorting my kit out, trying to force food and fluids down and giving myself a bit of a talking to. The next three miles were the crux of the race and I’d been quietly dreading them for the last couple of hours. A dead straight, slightly uphill and seemingly never ending stretch of monotonous tarmac. I never normal run with music but had packed my Shuffle loaded with motivational tunes especially for this Road to Hell. I knew to break seven hours I had to run the stretch and, with head down and the Chilli Peppers blaring, I dug in a went for it. My brain was screaming at me to follow the lead of the runners ahead and walk but, as I wound them in and overtook, I just kept on piling on the coals simply wanting the road to end. Finally I reached the Chelmorton turn-off but, as I shakily started the descent into the village, I knew my push had taken its toll both mentally and physically. There was still 4.5 miles to go and, as I crawled over every stile and took any excuse to slow, runners I’d passed streamed by and I could see seven hours slipping through my fingers. I hobbled down the near vertical descent into the second Deep Dale and then crawled up the equally brutal ascent back out. Oddly, the steep climb seemed to refresh my legs and I managed to run reasonably strongly through the final check-point at 37.2 miles five minutes inside of schedule.
Even though my legs were behaving, my guts were still not playing ball. I called my wife to let her know I should be ready for pick up in about 30 minutes and, telling me she’d bought me a Cornish pasty and millionaires shortbread, I vomited spectacularly at the thought. This actually sorted my guts out and I managed a reasonable run for the last few miles and crossed the finish line in 6:57:27. The previous year this time would have put me knocking on the door of the top 10 but, with a stronger field this year, I placed 21st. I was pleased though, ready for the Beer Festival and, assuming my calves un-knotted, optimistic about breaking 10 hours for the 50 mile / 8000ft Longmynd Hike in two weeks time.
Author number 76 looking like a fool on the far right