Wednesday, 19 September 2012

High Peak 40 Mile Challenge. 15/09/2012.

Race 10 of 12 in the 2012 Runfurther series.

Exquisite DOMS, that’s what the High Peak 40 gives you like few races can. That’s my conclusion after my 13th, and 155 Ultras in total. It’s all that runnability from High Low on already tired legs, with a steep descent to make the job a good ‘un (think deep, steep gash called Deep Dale 2 in the middle of a field of sheep).

We wandered down from the school onto Broadwalk for the 8am start. A cool breeze blew and it was overcast (for now). Duncan Harris was going for the win again this year. There go the blokes’ RF points then, but the women are immune.

We set off running through the park and up the road out of Buxton. I soon had to stop to remove my windproof top. By the time I got to the stile at the top of the first climb, the queue was longer than I ever remember. I had planned to set off more conservatively, so this was helping me in that aim.

We wound our way through checkpoints 1 (Long Rake) and 2 (Taxal layby) before taking the diversion around Cadster Farm for the last time (the footpath we always used to take should be reinstated next year). CP3 (Digleach Farm) and CP4 (Beet Farm) came and went. It was good to meet Simon Moorhouse marshalling at CP4.

Tally clip @ CP4.

The track – sometimes washed away and rocky – up to CP5 is always a bit of a slog with over 12 miles done and the inevitable slowdown setting in. This year it was marginally more bearable after my marginally slower start. The sun made its first appearance at CP5.

The HP40 route is very well marked these days by black arrows on pink background. However some black arrows on yellow background were also pointing our way. I assumed they were for us, until one pointed left down to Edale. Then I knew they weren’t ours. I feared for other runners who might not know. They might be led astray. They were. Oh dear.

The sun shone bright and warm as we ran along Rushup Edge and descended right to the road crossing. As I began to climb Mam Tor on the other side, Simon Green, aka 'Fellmonkey' came running down in the opposite direction on a training run of the Edale Skyline route. We chatted for a short while. It was good to catch up with a running friend not seen in a long while, and I did appreciate the breather before the final climb to the top of the Tor.

Along the picturesque ridge we ran (I’d been getting overtaken all along so far) to Hollins Cross to turn right down that well-used and familiar path towards Castleton and CP6 on the road. After a quick refill and refuel it was onwards, down and up to Cave Dale. I hiked up alone, save for a few tourists, and admired the towering cliffs to both sides and the castle perched on the edge on the right. As I climbed the rocky path at maximum effort, leaving just enough in reserve to remain conscious (I’m only half joking), a walker coming down, no doubt impressed by the display of supreme effort before his eyes, said “Good job” in an American accent. He might not have been from around these parts but I thanked him anyway ;-) I carried on past the cave entrance on the right with the sound of a distant air conditioner deep within that sometimes falls silent during rare periods of extended drought. It blows cool in summer and warm in winter. I have been known to stand beside it to cool down while reconnoitring the Bullock Smithy Hike in a heatwave, but that was before 'Global Warming'.

Things get easier as we eventually top out on Bradwell Moor and jog down to CP7 at Bushy Heath, but only as long as we keep just enough fuel trickling in. After CP7 it’s all easy downhill road-running across the A623 then through Tideswell. It seems interminable and requires a supreme effort to run every step of the way but I manage it most years, this year included. At the bottom we reach CP8 at Tideswell Dale, where more fuel must be taken on board to keep the engine firing on at least three and a half cylinders.

From CP8 comes a delightful run along the bottom of Tideswell Dale past the monster hedgehog then left into Miller’s Dale past Litton Mill, converted into desirable apartments. The tree cover provides welcome shade from the sun; it is very warm. Past the rock face (always with climbers precariously attached) we go before turning right over the weir and up onto the Monsal Trail, which is like a highway now that the tunnels have been opened to allow more cyclists and walkers to use it.

Water-cum-Jolly Dale.

CP9 at the beginning of the bridge signifies the right turn off the Trail down to the valley floor. Paul Hunt catches me as I refill my bottle with Coke (that’s 0.5kg of weight lost from my backpack). Paul leaves just before me and I set off in quick pursuit. I soon overtake him and leave him behind. This surprises me because he was much faster than I was two weeks earlier on the Bullock Smithy Hike. I am soon crossing the A6 and looking forward to Deep Dale 1. That path at the bottom was never so stream-like fifteen years ago. Fuelled mostly on Coke with the odd Jaffa Cake or dinky square of flapjack to soak it up, I walk-shuffle my way up waterlogged Deep Dale (it never used to be this bad) to CP10 at the top (High Low).

I was in reel-in mode now, having been overtaking one or two for a while after my earlier slowdown. I switched my mind off and set off running the road over the horizon. The warm afternoon sunshine combined with a gentle breeze made for perfect running conditions for shorts and vest. I’d made the right choice of attire. I was slowly catching up another couple of runners. I recognised one of them as Dick Scroop, a frequent V60 face at these Ultras. Dick has amazing speed and endurance. I use him as one of my 'targets'. I know the feeling is mutual. He’d disappeared ahead hours earlier and I never thought it would take me this long to catch him again. I know he was not best pleased to get caught because he’s competitive like I am, in that friendly, informal, ultra-running kind of way. We exchanged a few words before I shuffled on ahead. He remained not far behind for a good while. He wasn’t easing up on the effort one bit.

Finally the right turn to Chelmorton arrived, to offer a chance to pick the speed up on the downhill. The walk-shuffle recommenced on the track opposite that led eventually to the lovely green fields with the final checkpoint just ahead. There was just the small matter of the gash in the Earth’s crust to negotiate first. Deep Dale 2 was zigzagged downwards precariously on its wet limestone slipperiness to the bottom. Immediately the better vegetated and less slippery zigzag climb up the other side commenced. It’s over before we know it and we can crank up the jog once more up the fields to CP11 (King Sterndale). I had just finished my Coke supply to make room for the bottle of tea I always get at this checkpoint to see me through the final 3 miles.

Deep Dale 2 (you can't see the bottom from here) with CP11 just ahead.

I left three others (I think) at the checkpoint to set off in pursuit of my next quarries, the hot tea in the bottle gently burning my left hand. Fields, farms, mixed herd-cum-flock, downhill to viaduct then road, still forcing a shuffle out of increasingly traumatised leg muscles (though you don't realise at the time). The climb up the road past the hospital had to be walked but the shuffle recommenced as soon as the gradient began to ease. Left on the track and right across the grass to the footpath on the other side. Out onto the road, across and down to the school drive. Turn left uphill and glance behind. NO! There's another runner nearly caught me!! I try to speed up to not get overtaken and hit the finish desk in 8:22:43. Andrew Jackson finishes two seconds later.

I was two minutes slower than I was last year and 44 minutes slower than my PB of 2006.
2005, 2006 and 2007 are my only sub-8 finishes.
I can just about descend stairs normally again today (Wednesday).
Dick was not far behind, finishing in 8:31:55.
Duncan Harris did win as expected. His time was 5:40:20. Well done that man.
The difference in the innate running abilities of humans never ceases to astound me.

Thanks to organiser Bill Allan and all the volunteers for yet another excellent edition, not to mention arranging such good weather as well ;-)

Here are the pictures I took.


  1. deepdale 2..that optical illusion as you run down the field towards it..i asked bill if he could build a bridge across it

  2. I've fantasised about a footbridge over that crevasse for years ;-)

  3. Sounds great! This on on my hit list but I was too battered this year after the Lakeland 100. Maybe next year!

    1. Definitely next year, Steve. This is not one to be missed.