This was to be a very busy weekend for me, consisting of this and the 100km Manchester-to-Blackpool bike ride tomorrow. Both had to be booked a long time in advance. A close call and back-to-back weekend was the result.
This event is never advertised. We get to find out about it by word of mouth. Such is its popularity the 300 limit is filled months in advance so entries have to be sent in very early to avoid disappointment. I usually apply for the following year within a couple of weeks of running it.
Predominantly aimed at and occupied by walkers (12 hours are allowed for completion), runners are discovering the delights of this event. The word is spreading. This year saw more runners than I have ever known. As a result, despite getting a P.B. my 14th place finish was my lowest ever ranking. That's good news because it confirms the increasing popularity of trail running in this country. There is no healthy pastime that is more enjoyable, in my humble opinion.
The event consists of 26 self-navigated miles between checkpoints in the gorgeous limestone country of Derbyshire (did you ever get the impression I like Derbyshire?). It starts in Monyash at 10am, which seems quite late considering it is a sedate walk for most, with perhaps a pub stop somewhere along the way for lunch and a tipple or three.
After registration in the Village Hall, we gathered on the village green to await the start. Geoff Holburt had already activated his levitation device, such was his eagerness to burn up the course.
The route takes us via eight checkpoints at the Waterloo Hotel, Brushfield, Bakewell, Calton Lees, Rowsley, Birchover, Harthill Moor and Long Rake. We go through Flagg, along the disused railway line now the Monsal Trail, past Monsal Head and Bakewell, Bradford Dale, Youlgrave and Cales Dale back to Monyash.
I ran for a few miles mid-race with good running friends Vaughan and Anne Wade, which was welcome, since these events are usually solitary affairs when everyone's own pace always seems to ensure isolation. Our conversation soon found its way to stomach issues as Anne and I compared similar experiences. My stomach was complaining from the assault meted upon it two weeks earlier in California.
The day was warm and humid again and the forecast rain was showing no signs of appearing (thank goodness). At the last checkpoint with just over three miles still to go, I had barely half an hour left to equal my previous best time of 4:58. I thought sub 5 hours was out of the question but I pushed ahead as fast as I could go (it was barely a shuffle at times, but it was all I could muster). I caught up with 'Big' Dave Smith, who was plugging away valiantly (Big Dave and heat do not mix), then Colin Travis. Colin reckoned I might get a PB. “Impossible” I retorted. Nonetheless I ran down the irregular steps into Cales Dale as fast as I dared and walked up the other side. I plodded on up the track oh so terribly slowly with Colin close behind (he could easily have gone on ahead but all he wanted was a sub-5-hour finish), over the secret stile on the right then finally downhill across the fields towards Monyash Church with my heart rate hitting 183 beats per minute. I might have been slow but it was eyeballs out dash for my life as far as my body was concerned. I was soon out onto the road then it was a quick right-left to the Village Hall and the finish. I was amazed to have finished in 4:55 – a PB of just 3 minutes over my 2006 effort. Time might be marching on but there's life in the old dog yet (how much longer can this continue?).
An hour or so later on the way back to the car with a belly full of tea and food provided by the excellently organised White Peak Walk, I joined Big Dave for a pint outside the pub. Half an hour's lively conversation ensued with a thoroughly sound bloke. Another brilliant day, but tomorrow looms with its journey into the unknown.....
Photos are here.