The Peak District offers such a lot to runners. There is a bit of everything on a clear, sunny day. That is exactly what we got this year as we lined up by the start line of the Dig Deep – Ultra Tour of the Peak District at 8am with the sun beaming down generously.
This was a 60 mile race up and down Peak District terrain around Sheffield. This meant hills. Lots of hills.
The course starts off quite gently, on some pleasant undulating trail footpaths; before unleashing its vertical fury a bit later on. Similarly, we were also eased in navigationally. We were all handed maps of the course on registration, including the locations of the 20 checkpoints spread evenly along the course. However, the first 12 miles or so were nicely way-marked before my “legendary” sense of direction should be tested.
I absolutely love it in the Peak District. I do a lot of my training around the Buxton area of it, and I can’t begin to explain how truly awesome the scenery is around here. Predominantly off-road, we ran through forests, moorland, over rocky landscapes and down to the lakes at the bottom. When you run for 60 miles in one area, you really get a feel of the place.
The company was superb as well. Runners always seem to make for pleasant people (although I have to say that), also conversation always seems to flow so much easier for some reason when running. It’s a phenomenon I’m still trying to get my head around; I guess you don’t really worry about the silences as much as you normally would. The first 20 miles disappeared before I realized what was going on. I was incredibly lucky I feel, that a lot of the runners I was with here were either local, or had run this event before. This meant I was not running with my head in a map as much as I thought I would be.
This event, like many others would not be complete without me exhibiting at least a little of my gymnastics skills; or as people may (more accurately) put it – spectacular falling over. Early on, in a brave attempt to look ahead to the route as I vaulted enthusiastically over a styal; my foot did not quite elevate the required distance to fully clear it. The result was an inadvertent head first dive and roll to the other side, where of course, an entire family of walkers were there to witness it. I think they gave me a 7.0 for the landing. Later on, I would be running full pelt down a rocky hill, before noticing the checkpoint as I ran past it. The result here would be just as comical. I put the brakes on much like a Flintstones character in the car, before my second unscheduled trip to the ground.
20 miles soon turned into 30 miles, and 30 miles slowly became 40. At this point our little band of 4 or 5 runners dispersed slightly, as we all descended and spread out into our varying levels of tiredness and exhaustion pace. The hills did not relent as the miles progressed either. This certainly was not an event you could expect to run for the duration; with a couple of 16 minute miles as you trudged up sheer faces with your hands on your knees for support. It was hard to tell whether walking was a relief or actually more effort! I would frequently reach the top, gasping for breath with lungs on fire. The reward was always the view.
As we hit 45 miles, my body went into new territory. Up to this point, 43 miles was the longest I had run in one go. My subconscious mind was VERY aware of this and it made me suffer!
I’ve done enough of these long races now to know that it’s mostly just in the mind; I’d be fine as soon as I finished. The trouble is, I’d still got another 15 miles to contend with, including some nasty hills before that happened.
When you’re THIS tired, your brain has this horrible ability to point out things/discomforts you hadn’t noticed before. I’d got a slight stich in my side and what felt like a tweaked muscle right by my diaphragm, which was making breathing very difficult. My feet were aching and I all of a sudden realized just how thirsty I was.
45 miles slowly became 46, and 46 then moved to 46.5; that’s when you mind goes into maths mode. Despite trying not to, you can’t help formulating little count downs in your head, and crude calculations of miles to go at current pace. I couldn’t help but notice that there would be at least another 2 hours of pain to go before I could stop.
As well as the negative thoughts that fly through your head like angry wasps, there are also plenty of positive ones that keep you going. It’s a real skill to concentrate on these as much as possible – I wasn’t injured, I wasn’t lost, I was well inside the top ten, plus every step I took now was a new distance PB!
I’ve become reasonably well known over the last year or so for getting a bit lost in races and although my map reading and navigational skills have improved a lot since taking up long distance trail running; the real reason I wasn’t lost on this occasion I am fairly certain, was because of the runners around me.
I ran most of this race, and pretty much ALL of the final, uncomfortable 20 miles with a guy I met called Chris Rainbow, who not only had the quality of an iridescent name; he also had an unbelievable memory of the course from the previous year. This meant that I was not stressing over what direction I was running in constantly. I really can’t explain how much more enjoyable this made the run for me! Also we spent a lot of time chatting about ultra-running and other things most people don’t give me the time of day for, which was great.
I like to think that we helped each other a fair bit by pulling each other along as one started to struggle (although truth be told, I think I did a LOT more struggling than he did). I was very happy to hear that he had run a PB at the end, and of course mine was a PB; I’d never raced that far before.
True to form, the finish line appeared and my brain gave me back the energy it took from me at 45 miles. People commented that I looked fairly fresh at the finish and quite strong. I wasn’t.
Overall, it was a great day. The organisers ‘Dig Deep’ put on a great race and well organised, with interesting speakers on at the end of the day for entertainment. This was also a part of an entire weekend of races, so people were making a full weekend of it.
I think there were two battles won in completing the course; one was a physical battle of putting one foot in front of the other, repeatedly for the whole duration. The other was an even bigger mental battle that allows you to complete a new distance. Thanks to the organisers, the volunteers and all the people and runners I met while I was there! I can now look forward to trying my first 100 miler in August….