Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Runfurther series race 11 of 12. High Peak 40mi. 20/09/2010.

High Peak 40mile Challenge
Once again a Runfurther series race gets to enjoy a large, quality turnout, and it seemed a very sizeable turnout by HP40 standards. There were loads of first-timers, unlike this ultra-plodder, who was about to enjoy his 11th completion, surely in a faster time than last year’s illness-wracked drag, but how much faster? Foreign business travel in the week leading up to it, which is never the best training I find, would probably preclude a PB.

In the registration hall I was spoilt for choice for chin-wag targets – so many friendly people, so many running acquaintances new and old. I fear I might have neglected a few. If you felt neglected it wasn't personal. I arrived with over an hour to spare but it seemed no time before we were asked to make our way down to the starting area on Broadwalk, parkland down to our left and B&B mansions up to our right. I had my clapped-out camera with me again and I intended to use it more this time. I clocked a couple of Vibram Fivefingers wearers, who were going to run the race in them. Respect!

I went to the front of the group to take pictures and listen to the strident tones of the speech-Meister, words to the effect of:
“Is this your first time?” (More than 50% hands go up.) “Then try a Hundred one day. You might like it.” The poor man didn't consider some HP40 first-timers might already have done several Hundreds, tough Hundreds, very fast Hundreds, and won them.
“Thank the marshals or else”. As if we wouldn't ;-)

I was feeling slightly star-struck as I rubbed shoulders with the serious speedsters at the front: winner of this year's Lakeland 100, winner of this year's Fellsman, UK 2010 100k champion, ….. Of course I was an outright imposter being there but I didn't care. I'd stood in that position many times before, and if these real athletes wanted to come and join me, it would have seemed churlish and unfriendly to withdraw to the back, what?

Chinese timing by means of hand-held wall clock with precision quartz movement was used to count us down to the 8am start, and so began the familiar torture of a route that is just a bit too runnable, with too few walking breaks, so the legs get trashed just a little. The course is always well marked, and particularly well so this year. The checkpoints for refuelling are frequent and welcoming, while the countryside and the views are beautiful, if a little touristy at times. The weather was quite a bit cooler than it's been for a good few years, which would have aided fast times. At least the rain just about held off, which is more than can be said for Saturday night and Sunday. We were so lucky.

The Errwood and Fernilee reservoirs in the Goyt Valley, viewed nicely from the top of the Bonsal Incline, were well down, which I found surprising after the return to normality of our climate at the end of June (i.e. the rain came back after its 7-month absence). Here's what it looked like from the overflow end:

My camera became even more clapped-out after it fell, corner first, onto a stone early on, after which the screen failed mostly to light up and the sounds failed mostly to sound. I continued to snap away blind, not knowing what I was taking or if it was working.

We got to enjoy once more that giant, green rhubarb-like vegetation on the diversion around Cadster Farm, though somehow this year it seemed to be more battered and less rampant than in previous years. (I look forward to the time when that short stretch of lane gets returned to public use.) On the road climb that followed, Andy Butler was sitting outside his house, brew in hand, to cheer us on. He joined me for the power walk to the top to exchange a few words. Needless to say I slowed down to fit more words in, overenthusiastic gasbag that I am.

As we skirted Eccles Pike along the road, the reservoir down below in the distance (Combs Reservoir?) looked even more depleted. How come? It's rained plenty in recent months, hasn't it?

The mostly road and track route brought us to Rushup Edge, then left up the ridge, down that nice new trail to cross the road before the climb to the top of Mam Tor (we received awestruck and admiring comments from a woman as we powered to the top), then gently down to Hollins Cross before turning down towards Castleton a la Bullock Smithy Hike. I tottered down the eroded path as fast as my knee allowed. My legs, descending muscles less strong than they used to be, were already getting shaky.

The climb up Cave Dale provided a welcome walking break. The tourists commented on my race number – Number 1. I didn't bother explaining to them that it was a reflection of keenness (to enter the event), not athletic ability.

The next checkpoint at Bushy Heath heralded a long, consistently downhill road stretch through Tideswell, past the piano showroom on the right (I've never heard the ivories being tickled since 1998 when I first passed that way) to Checkpoint 8 at Tideswell Dale. The shuffle was sustained, but it always strikes me how slow it is at that stage, despite the easy downhill.

The next stretch through Litton and Cressbrook Dale to the Monsal Trail is truly beautiful and one of my favourite parts. It was good to see Checkpoint 9 moved down to the viaduct, where we leave the disused railway line and where they warned in the pre-race briefing that the waymarker is always tampered with. There would be no chance of anyone being led astray this year. I hope they keep the new location.

The survival 'run' brought me to the A6 crossing and Deep Dale 1. I failed to run all of the climb up to High Low, even though I have been able to in a previous 'superhuman' year (for me). Other runners, many of them familiar faces, had been overtaking me for hours. They continued to trickle by, one-by-one.

I had another kneel down at Checkpoint 10 (High Low) to kill two birds with one stone – decant my third and final half-litre of Coke into one of my hand-held bottles while squeezing the lactic acid out of my complaining leg muscles. The Coke, periodic kneeling (not necessarily at checkpoints or while decanting Coke) and the two Ibuprofen tablets I had already taken had exhausted my repertoire of things to keep me going. I set off along that 'yellow brick road' that undulated and twisted its way to the horizon and beyond. I 'ran' every step at a pace that probably equalled a healthy walking pace. I could do no more. I switched my mind off as I writhed my very being towards Chelmorton and the relief of a bit of downhill.

The traverse of the fields among the frisky, inquisitive cows to that cleft in the planet known as Deep Dale 2 involves the climbing of several stone stiles. Legs turned to jelly by so many miles of enforced 'running' are on the verge of giving way, while calves that teeter on the brink of spasm are nearly switched on for good by every slip and stumble on the precipitous zigzag descent to the bottom. The climb up the other side proved to be a breath of fresh air and an opportunity for recovery. I finished the Marathon ('Sniggers') bar that I had already half eaten to get more needed fuel into the system as I enjoyed the power climb. As soon as it began to level out on the fields on the other side, I actually wanted to run now. The respite from the trudge on tarmac on the (almost) flat had restored power to the legs. I ran through the final checkpoint at King Sterndale, pausing just long enough to get my tally clipped. In previous years I have usually stopped for a cup of sweet tea but I had my Coke to keep me going this year.

Now it was my turn to do a spot of catching up and overtaking as I pushed myself to the finish. I hadn't run this fast for a few hours. I felt rejuvenated. I had long given up on a PB (sub 7:38). My next target was sub 8 hours. I could see it slipping through my fingers as the viaduct came into view and I headed towards the terraced footpath underneath its leftmost arch. Despite my (relatively) strong finish I could only manage 8:04, which is fourth best out of 11 finishes. I was 67th out of 164 finishers. I hate to think what my time would have been had I not consumed 1.5 litres of Coke. My legs have not felt so battered with DOMS in a long time.

I enjoyed a post-race massage followed by more chatting over a cuppa and a couple of sausage rolls. The Vibram Fivefingers reappeared, somewhat more muddy than before. Their wearers – Liam Sheils and Garry Steel, had actually completed the event without obvious damage to feet or calf muscles. I'm even more impressed.

The winner was Duncan Harris in 5:20:15 (he won The Fellsman in May this year). Second was Brian Cole in 5:39:55 (he is the 2010 UK 100k champion). I heard a rumour that he might not have been at his best on the day. Third was Ian Bishop in 5:48:50.

First female was Cat Lawson in 6:56:48, followed by Karen Nash in 6:59:15 and Siobhan Evans in 7:05:47.

I took more pictures than I dreamed possible, given the lamentable state of my equipment.


  1. well done nick..good effort
    pity i decided to miss it..sounds ideal conditions

  2. Cracking report, Nick. Bet the Fivefingers wearers got a few funny looks!


  3. Well done. A great report as always Nick. Particularly like the arty B&W shot.
    I went off way too fast and was always waiting for you to overtake me, was expecting it to happen at around tideswell(i can't run on roads for toffee) but it never happened. You came in 1 minute behind me and thats a PB for me.
    Just out of interest. How do you carry that much coke on you. I had just the one 500ml bottle and waited till mile 30 to consume. It really does help. Should start a campaign to stock cola at all checkpoints past half way.
    Good luck at RR50 if your doing it. I am doing Longmynd instead as its my local(ish). Cheers

  4. Good report Nick, good photo's considering how you described the camera's functionality. I think that ones a keeper!

  5. Thanks all.

    uc, It was a bit cool for me. I had to keep my arm warmers on.

    Paul, I bet they did too. There were plenty of people out there to give them.

    Well done Simon, that's a cracking effort. It feels good, doesn't it?
    For the Coke I had two half-litre bottles in the front pouches on my backpack shoulder straps and set off with the other half in one of my handheld bottles.
    Yes, I'm doing the RRR, Good luck to you too on the LMH.

  6. Hi Roger,
    It seems to be working normally again, strangely enough, but the optics are too contaminated.

    Hi again Simon,
    The Bonsal Incline picture was so hazy and washed out I had to do something with it. The grey scale added just the right atmosphere to the light conditions and haze. I thought with everyone wrapped up against the chill it looked quite effective.

  7. Well done Nick, You are banging the race miles in this year. Nice write up.

  8. Hi Nick

    A very enjoyable report, with loads of expression and humour. Makes my race report, which I have just loaded up on UltraStu, seem very bland and boring. I have included within my report two photos showing where I went off course, since you asked. It wasn't at any 'tricky' points, I just simply missed an arrow, and wasn't following my map!

    See you a race or two next year.


  9. That's why I'm never that fast, Steve.

    Stuart, that hurts! It's quite a bit of extra distance.

  10. I can't believe I passed up the opportunity to run a 'runable' ultra! Oh well must chalk it in for next year. Good effort Nick. interesting about what you say about the popularity of the event. Ultra running is becoming the ' in thing ' it seems. I guess for you it's encouraging to see so many more coming through and showing interest in ultras but at the same time do you hanker for how it use to be...?

  11. Well done Nick, a strong finish even with the DOMS. Have you earned a rest after the recent weekends challenges?

  12. Hi Drunken,
    A rest sort of. I supported a BGR attempt - only one stage, but I put in a shameful performance because I can't do steep fells anymore, thanks to the blasted knee.

    Stu, the only hankering I have is to be able to run the downhills properly again and maintain half-decent quadriceps strength.

  13. Your usual high standard of report which makes it very enjoyable reading.

    Seems that "coke" is becoming your stealth (supplement) weapon in your arsenal!

  14. Not very stealthy Jan, since I'm blabbing the fact to all and sundry ;-) Anyway, Coke alone is not enough. A fresh pair of legs helps as well.