I returned to Biggin Village Hall for an 11th time to take part in one of my LDWA favourites. I was here in 1999 for the inaugural one and I never grow weary of the beautiful Derbyshire Dales.
As usual we runners saw the walkers off at 8am then registered and waited for our start at 9am. Paul Rushworth, spied only recently at Round Rotherham, was there to do his speed thing once again. He had arrived uncharacteristically early with two hours to spare, then he forgot to register so he started late anyway. (As we stood outside at 9am and listened to the informal brief, he looked at my tally and said “I’ve not got one of those” before running inside the hall like a scalded cat. Oh Paul! )
We knew from our route descriptions that we would once again be on the original clockwise route. (There were five years of anticlockwise from 2005 to 2009. Many people including me thought the gradients made it tougher but my three fastest times came from that reverse route.)
We set off up the road, right then left to reach the footpath down to Biggin Dale. It’s not worth taking the footpath across the muddy fields of deep hoof prints to cut the corner. I know because I’ve tried it several times in past years. Biggin Dale (1) is usually very muddy, wet, rocky and slippery. The polished limestone must be treated as if it were ice. It takes quite a lot out of you to keep a run going while constantly adjusting and scanning the ground with eagle eyes to place every footfall safely.
By the time we reach the bottom we turn right for the gentle ascent of Wolfscote Dale (2). I’ve usually blown up by this point from all the effort and have to settle back into a survival shuffle while I wait for my body to recover some composure. This is when I start to get overtaken. Geoff Holburt usually blasts past around now after struggling with the technical descent, but not this year. Where could he be? Injured? I began to worry a little.
Philip Gwilliam caught me up on the zigzag footbridge-crossing to Beresford Dale (3), followed by a barefoot shoe runner (I think he said his name was Ian). Philip soon pulled away on the gentle ascent beside the river while I struck up a brief conversation with Ian. He had been running like this – basically barefoot save for a thin sheet of rubber sole – for two years, so he was well practised in the technique and seemed to be running comfortably.
Waterlogged pastures were crossed, followed by fields that delivered us to CP1 at Hartington, but still no sign of Geoff. I worried some more. Had he injured himself and had to walk back up the first dale to the hall? I shuffled my way onwards with others up the road out of Hartington to the third footpath on the left over the stile. Darren Graham caught me up as we crossed the fields. He was none the worse for his beastly ‘666’ number assignment two weeks earlier at the Snowdonia Marathon. He updated me on Geoff’s predicament – fortunately not injured, just struggling with the underfoot conditions and losing his shoes in the mud.
Once we got onto the easy running of the Tissington Trail, that’s where Geoff finally overtook me. I just about kept him in sight as we cut down to the right off the smooth trail back onto his nemesis once again – lovely muddy fields – for the climb up to the Bull i’ th’ Thorn Hotel. A dogleg right and left across the main road brought us to the long descending track that would eventually bring us via more fields to Monyash and CP2 in the village hall. Geoff had wasted no time inside and was leaving as I arrived. I spent a little more time and searched out a small chunk of sausage roll, which I washed down with some of my Coke supply as I set off down the road in pursuit. Geoff was now out of sight.
At the right turn off the road I caught up with Christine Stratton, who had left on the 8am start and was motoring along very well. Christine is a long-time friendly face on the LDWA events who goes back to when I started in the ‘noughties’. I had already overtaken loads of the early starters and I congratulated her for being well up the field. I’m not sure she believed me.
A grassy, muddy, then rocky descent into Lathkill Dale (4) demanded more care and poise with foot placement. In the interests of personal safety I was forced to walk at times. The brief respite was welcome. Walkers on the path were still happy to stand aside, having surely done so countless times already for those ahead, while I bumbled my way through. I was always happy to offer my thanks in return. They don’t have to do it but they usually do. I think they like to stand and watch, perhaps in hope of a wipe-out, perhaps to watch an athletic little @ss disappearing down the path. Being averse to unnecessary pain I would always hope for the latter. ;-)
CP2 to CP3 is a long stage, most of which should be run but some of which becomes difficult to run as energy levels are getting well used up. On the long drag to Conksbury Bridge and beyond I was catching up with other runners again, two of whom I recognised as Geoff and ‘barefoot Ian’. Then I began to detect a slight drop in energy levels. I looked up and sure enough, they were beginning to pull away already. "Right, gel, right now, and make it snappy". It began to take effect and within a few minutes I was back to catching up. By Bradford Dale (5) I was back with Ian, who was experiencing similar energy issues. ‘It always happens by now’, I tried to reassure him.
[I was keeping myself fuelled with Coke and a gel every so often when I felt myself beginning to slow down. That was supplemented by a savoury morsel from checkpoints 2 and 3, washed down by Coke. I have found that too little food results in fuel starvation, while too much causes blood to be diverted away from the muscles to the stomach to digest. The end result is the same: seizing legs that won’t run. In extreme cases I seem to turn to lead from lower back downwards. To consume just enough easily absorbed fuel to keep me running at optimum efficiency is a fine balance that’s difficult to achieve, even after all these years.]
On the out-and-back climb to Middleton I met more Ultra stalwarts of the LDWA scene coming back down – early starters Marla and Christine. Guaranteed 'spots' on the annual Hundred, they are sometimes spied on shorter events too. Quick words of greeting were exchanged as we passed. Ian and I continued up to the top then right to CP3 in Middleton village hall. We'd caught up with Geoff once again. I grabbed a quick tuna sandwich, offered my thanks and returned outside to retrace my steps while trying to wash down the sandwich with Coke. Geoff joined me for the final leg but Ian needed to stop to recharge a little.
Back down the track to Bradford Dale we turned right to continue our journey back to Biggin. From here to the finish, Geoff did a sterling job 'helping me to a PB'. I reassured him of the impossibility of that notion, given that it would require us to run the last 6 miles in well under an hour on tired legs. Nevertheless I gave it all I had, my next mental target as usual being the road section past the Friden works.
Early on the climb through the field of cows I heard it for the first time. I have never heard it this early before. The breeze must have been in exactly the right direction to carry it to us. The characteristic whine of the Friden fan could plainly be heard. I used that steady tone to pull me along, waiting for it to grow louder as we drew closer. It would take a surprisingly long time.
We continued up to the top of the hill and right turn at the top of Long Dale (6). The next descent left was less muddy than in previous years, which seemed strange. At the bottom came the right turn into the linear meadow that would bring us to the road. We caught up with Marla and Christine, who were still looking strong.
Finally out onto the road we turned left up the hill, under the railway bridge and past the sinusoidal sound source. Next target the finish. “Come on Nick” said Geoff. “I'm trying” thought I, “very trying”. I was too far gone to reply audibly. We climbed to the main road and crossed to the final few fields. I welcomed the soft grassy fields after the road trudge and gained on Geoff once again. At the foot of the climb over the disused railway line I remarked to Geoff that I had a minute to equal last year's time. The general consensus was 'no chance'. I made the direct up-and-down crossing while Geoff took the more gentle left and right crossing. We arrived at the other side at the same time and my knees felt it more than his. We raced each other across the final fields and out onto the road back to the village hall.
4:43 was 3 minutes slower than last year and 20 minutes slower than my PB of 2007. Ian finished a little later after fuelling issues (I know he can be faster). What a perfect day. Thanks Geoff and Ian for your company.
Will I be back? Given my past record, what do you think? As long as I'm breathing an' all that......
Here are the pictures.