Digested read: been there, done that, got the Dig Deep 30 T-shirt and bling. First ever ultra done.
Yes, well, I know I go on and on and on, but if you want to do an ultra, you’ve got to start building your endurance somehow, and it is all about mental strength. Test yourself right here right now. Or just watch Murder She Wrote, whatever, it’s up to you.
What happened there? It’s so surreal. I think they only give you the bling so afterwards you can feel its imprint on your forehead where you’ve slept on it by accident overnight and know that really happened. Like in Mr Benn, where he always got to keep some souvenir or other from whatever adventure he got up to in the fancy dress shop. For those of you that are too young to remember, this was a TV series from my childhood, in the age before the internet, and when we had to watch a test card with a scary clown on it waiting for tv to start. We also had to wait for the TV to warm up, an early foretaste of the subsequent frustration of watching the buffer symbol spiralling on a computer screen. It was another age, sigh, you don’t want to get me started on slide rules. Yes they were an actual thing.
Where was I, oh yes, Mr Benn. In it, our worthy protagonist, who presumably is wearing a suit and leaving the house each morning because he’s still pretending to hold down a job many months after being made redundant. To fill his time, he has to do something. Hence, Mr Benn, a man wearing a black suit and bowler hat, leaves his house at 52 Festive Road and visits a fancy-dress costume shop where he is invited by the moustachioed, fez-wearing shopkeeper to try on a particular outfit. He leaves the shop through a magic door at the back of the changing room and enters a world appropriate to his costume, where he has an adventure (which usually contains a moral) before the shopkeeper reappears to lead him back to the changing room, and the story comes to an end. Mr Benn returns to his normal life, but is left with a small souvenir of his magical adventure‘ without it he just wouldn’t be able to believe what he’d just experienced had really happened.
If you still don’t know what I mean, then you’ll have to get down to Frontrunner in Sheffield. They’ve just remodelled their shop based on Mr Benn. You choose your running shoes and kit, go and put them on in the changing room and when you emerge you find yourself on the actual terrain or at the actual event most suited to whatever tread of shoes you’ve gone for. Choose carefully, the reality of finding yourself at the marathon des sables might be more than you bargained for, but worth a punt to save on race day entries and the faff and getting yourself there all the same.
Anyway, why are you banging on about running shops and Mr Benn? You are distracting me. I need to tell you all about my adventures doing the Dig Deep 30/intro ultra/ Peak Trails 30 or whatever they are calling it now. In case you’ve not been concentrating, this was my first ever attempt at an ultra. Only just an ultra I know, at 30 miles, but with a lot of what we like to refer to affectionately as ‘undulation’. The blah de blah on the website says:
The Dig Deep Peak Trails 30 (formerly known as the ‘intro ultra’) covers some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK. At around 30 miles the route takes in some of the finest trails in the Peak District. The route has roughly 1388 metres of ascent and whilst there are no monster climbs the continued hilly nature of the course earmarks this race as a tough one to complete. However, the distance falls just within the ULTRA category – so if you are after your first ULTRA scalp – this could be the one!
These words, and the generous cut off times (you have the same length of time to get around as the 60 milers, because the last 15 miles of the route are the same), plus the inspirational Smiley trio who ran it last year, inspired me to sign up. After all, what’s the worst…
To be honest, I just need to get it off my chest as a way of processing it, so, if you feel your eyes glazing over or are just generally bored, tired and in no way interested I won’t notice you aren’t engaged so feel free to do your own thing. In fact, I’d really recommend it, other people’s run reports can be particularly tedious if they go overboard in detail even if you are holding out to find out whether or not they successfully evaded illicit-substance testing at the end. I won’t be offended, you won’t be bored, everyone’s a winner. Job done.
So where was I? Oh yes, had my traditional pre-event angst during the taper so by the time it got to the day before when I had to go and register I was relieved more than anything. Like getting to exam day, you can’t do any more, so no point in continuing to fret, you just have to get on with it
or die trying. I knew I hadn’t done enough in the way of preparation through initial naivety mainly, underestimating the challenge, no idea about kit, bit directionless in training – I put the hours in for sure, but probably could have trained smarter with the benefit of hindsight – upshot, I’d be winging it to a large extent. Though whether or not you can actually ‘wing it’ over that distance was still to be determined. Hence, I decided to step back a bit, treat it as a learning curve and just try to stay positive and cover the distance. Incidentally, I’ve just googled ‘wing it, ultra’ to try to find a suitable image to break up this endless text, and got bodyform pantliners! How pleasing, also, potentially apt, depending on the extent to which the whole endeavour triggers stress incontinence. Gotta love Google*, full of surprises.
I’ve read somewhere that one way to deal with event angst is to have different layered goals. The idea being, you can include an idealised aspiration/ best case scenario of course, but think of other secondary goals, that might be more achievable and would still be worth turning out for, so it doesn’t feel like you’ve totally bombed if you don’t hit the gold standard objective. For some, the gold standard might be to win, or to complete within a certain time scale, or possibly to get a flattering photo of themselves en route. Personally, I didn’t incorporated any ‘flattering photo’ objectives in my goal setting, as goals are supposed to be SMART, and that means ‘achievable’ amongst other things (Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic/ relevant, time bound). No point in going for goals like winning or being photogenic in my case therefore. Didn’t want to set myself up for failure.
Instead, in my case, my gold standard, number one objective was to finish without crying. Failing that, my number two, silver standard, lesser goal was to finish with crying and my worst case scenario was to at least start out, learn what I could and come back better prepared next year even if this time round it was destined to be a DNF (did not finish). That bronze standard would allow for full on sobbing with snot and everything and still be an acceptable outcome – a positive result even, since it was there on my unwritten staged goals in advance. Good to know. I wasn’t even going to think about times for this year, to just finish safely would be good. Daylight would be a bonus.
On the Friday I headed out to pick up my number the day before race day. After a long hot, too dry summer, there’d been torrential rain. I was so glad we weren’t out in that, although I wasn’t sure if it might make the surface slippery. Oh well, nothing to be done now other than get on with it. I jumped over the puddle on the way to register and got my T-shirt and number OK. I was delighted with my 202! It has a pleasing symmetry, it is also a palindrome, and who doesn’t like one of them? Also, it’s a bit like S.0.S, in my world anyway, and this also pleased me. ’twas a good omen! Granted 505 would have been better – it was the height of secret messaging to put the number 0.7734 into my Casio College fx-80 scientific calculator (which I still have and use by the way), turn it upside down and pass it to a school friend. The 202 reminded me of that. Putting 58008 in the calculator was considered incredibly risqué – I was so anarchic back in the day! My, we knew how to make our own entertainment. You may scoff, but bet you go try it again yourself in a bit, just for old times sake…. and you thought no-one would ever know, but in fact I can see right into your soul! I’m looking at you now, through your screen. Did you know you have spinach caught between your front teeth?
Not overly convinced by the violet and orange shirt colour combo, but at least it’s distinctive. I was also a bit overwhelmed by the responsibility of having to keep my dibber safe overnight. That’s probably why I couldn’t really sleep much the night before. No worries, insomnia enabled me to pack and repack my running vest a great many times, which I’m sure is a pretty much universal pre-event tradition for many runners.
It was hard for me to know what to include. There was a kit list, and although the organisers said they’d relax it a bit because the forecast was really good (for the Saturday, Sunday was another matter) I felt as I knew I’d be slow out there I should be sensible and not cut any corners. There was also the option of having drop bags delivered to two of the marshal points on the course, but again, this didn’t really help me as I haven’t got enough experience to know what I’d want when. Plus I realised at the last-minute I needed to include a cup for the water stations (they are cutting back on plastic, by not providing single use cups at the water stations – which I approve of, but this did create a need to carry something to use instead). I didn’t have a proper collapsible one so ended up basically putting in one of those reusable coffee ones. Not very minimalist, though it is very tasteful and robust. Matches the event shirt even. I may try to get round to taking a photo of it to show you if I can be bothered. It’s a fine cup, just most definitely not designed with ultra-running (get me) in mind. Hang on – here you go:
I ended up with:
Kit List (mandatory requirements)
Full body cover (windproof/waterproof)
Compass and full route map
Spare water and food
first aid kit including compeed and Vaseline
reusable coffee mug
stuff for the rock shop (more about this later)
couple of breeze blocks as ballast, to stop me falling over
Oh, and extra cash in case I bail and have to get a taxi home, and extra map because the official one is too small to be any help at all.
I would have added in the kitchen sink if I could have managed to wrench it off the wall, but it was too well plumbed in. In the morning I was hoping to include some sandwiches, but there was no room for my Tupperware set by the time I’d squished in everything else. It was heavier than I expected when I lifted it, but hey ho, I’d least I’d covered all eventualities even if I knew blister wise, the compeed and Vaseline rather cancel each other out as you can’t get a compeed to stick on a thoroughly greased foot. oh well, maybe I’d find another runner who needed them… If you are thinking my packing was excessive, well at least I didn’t add in a fibreglass statue of Jesus Christ to erect at the top of Win Hill. Some endurance runners apparently recently did exactly just that in Wales somewhere. Even I have some limits.
I set my alarm for 5.30 I think, but was awake all night anyway as far as I could tell. Thanks to the Smiley buddy who reminded me via Facebook messenger that a sleepless night was probably inevitable and it would still be ok. 🙂 It was a cool morning, which was fab. Heat is my enemy at the best of times, and I didn’t want a repeat of the London Marathon saga which was an exercise in being slowly scorched alive – from above by the sun and from below as heat came back up at you from the melting tarmac. However, this seeming boon, created more angst in my ‘what should I wear?’ decision making processes. It can get surprisingly cool up the tops, and if I wasn’t sure how my body’s temperature control would be as I got more and more tired, maybe a long-sleeved top would give me more protection? In the end pragmatism won the day, I couldn’t physically squish any more stuff in my arcteryx running vest, I already had a waterproof jacket just in case. I went with my parkrun volunteer 25 T-shirt, because it has good associations, and my Smiley Paces buff, because I wanted some smiley spirit along with me. However, I did put a fleece in my backpack for the finish, which paradoxically could be left at the start, so I would be able to warm up again if need be at the end. The forecast could not have been better, no rain forecast, some breeze and low double figures temperature all day.
I looked longingly at Geronimo Sky, my giraffe companion animal on so many running adventures. It would have been nice to have her along, but even I baulked at the idea of mountain rescue having to come out and get me and my African ungulate. I could see the incident report on Facebook later, about the ‘ill-prepared novice ultra runner who thought it was appropriate to take on 30 miles in the peaks in giraffe fancy dress’. Also, she might not fit in the helicopter. There is always next year… what do you think? I mean now I’ve done it, and see people are allowed to run in flip flops, I don’t see why not 🙂
So getting ready rituals. Lots of vaseline, changed my blistering life that. Actually, I have a three-tier approach to anti-chafing products. The expensive stuff, the lanacane anti-chafing gel – is for under boobs, I used body glide on my shoulders to stop the straps from my running vest and bra rubbing, and vaseline slathered on my feet like mulch, at least 4 inches thick to provide an effective barrier and stop weeds getting through. At the risk of giving out an early spoiler, I can report I had zero chafing after 12 hours out. That’s right dear reader ZERO!. Only one tiny blister on the side of my foot which I think was where I got a bit of sand in my shoe at some point, as it isn’t anywhere I’ve ever had a rub before. Not everyone will understand the significance of this statement, but anyone who has ever got into a shower after a run only to emerge screaming micro-seconds later as the water finds the raw patches on their skin in the most intimate of orifices, and hidden and awkward of places will 100% recognise the importance of this revelation and what an achievement in represents. Lanacane is amazing, my discovery of it has been almost life changing, running wise. Actually, possibly genuinely life-changing, chafing injuries have prevented me from running before. (Really hoping that’s not just me, if so, apologies for over-sharing). My only blistering was of my lips, can’t believe I dragged all that stuff round with me, but never thought of lip balm. Next time eh? I might see if I’m allowed either a pack mule or a Sherpa to help me round next year, it would make life so much easier. Can’t imagine why no-one else has thought of this. I can’t see anything explicitly stating you can’t, so….
This year then, up, dressed, fully lubricated, breakfasted (porridge with added seeds – is there any other suitable pre-gig feast I wonder) and off I went. As I’d already registered the day before I only needed to get there in time for the pre-event briefing at 7.40, but of course my fear of arriving late meant I got there just after 7.00. Yes, ridiculously early, but also yes, there was proper coffee available. There was event parking signposted up a little slope through the main car park. Don’t tell anyone, but I did have a look, but I was worried my car wouldn’t manage on the slope and wet grass, and I was worried about getting my car out in the dark later. It’s a senior, and not built for off-road. There were very, very few cars on the hard-standing area, so I snuck into that, feeling guilty, but not guilty enough to change my plan. The rule is to do just one thing that scares me every day, doing an ultra would tick that box, no need to traumtise myself the whole way round fretting about how I’d ever retrieve the car from a skiddy field without ricocheting into a dozen or so tents occupied by slumbering ultra-runners, probably now too stiff post-event to have any chance of making a speedy retreat to safety, even if they saw me coming.
Here I am, this is it! Oh. My. Gawd.
I ventured into the farm, left my backpack for the end behind the registration desk, and had my traditional annual talk to the organiser about being really slow and was that ok. Yes it was, someone has to be last. Yes they do, and that someone was going to be me. As surely as night follows day. I was going to own the final finisher slot, and not by sandbagging either. It was mine for the taking. Inexplicably, there doesn’t seem to be a trophy for that, but I do really like the awards for all the speedy folk. Aren’t they lovely? Not quite in the league of the finishers ashtray for Sheffield marathoners in years gone by (1981, according to runners’ legends), but not bad at all.
Pleasingly, I then almost immediately saw a familiar face. One of the original Dig Deep sign ups who’d had to pull out because of injury but was still turning out to volunteer as a marshal. What a hero! Thanks buddy! Not only did he sit and help calm my nerves with chit chat, but also he bought me a latte. I haven’t had a proper coffee for weeks, this was very fine. He was originally to be marshalling at check point one at Burbage, which would have meant I’d see him on the 30 mile route, but in fact he was now at Edale somewhere for the 50 and 60 milers, so I wouldn’t see him again. Nice boost though.
People began to arrive. I gulped a bit inwardly, as even though I know from bitter personal experience how unhelpful it is to compare yourself to other runners, I couldn’t help noticing they were all rather lither (is that an actual word) and more streamlined than me. Some didn’t even let out an involuntary noise when shifting from sitting to standing say. If you don’t know what I mean, lucky you, but you will find as you age, that stiffness does trigger such sighs and exclamations on movement. What have I done? They were all wearing compression socks and lean and hungry looks. Some of them were even wearing shorts! Lawks a lordy, they must be planning on actually running the whole darned thing! Is that even possible? I felt like a different species to them. A one lesser able to tackle an ultra. Gulp.
Another Smiley rocked up, with dog, not just any smiley, but a Dragonfly Smiley from Smiletastic days (long story, check out the Smiletastic posts if you wish). She was out to wave off her other half, but came over to give support, which was really appreciated.
There was a pre-race briefing, which was indeed very brief. An explanation of how to dib and what the dibbing points looked like, and a reminder that after Burbage there would be no signage so you’d be on your own. Don’t miss out the dibbing points – especially CP3 which loads of people missed last year apparently – if in doubt dib! And watch out for cows. So glad I’ve done all those recces, I was confident about the route I’d be taking if nothing else. Then, that was it, pee break and time to assemble at the start.
Then, good new and unexpected gloriousness, Dr Smiley! She’d made the trek out especially to wave me off! I was so touched. I had zero expectation of being waved off by anyone, it’s not a very enticing prospect really is it. Come and stand around in the cold at some ungodly hour on a Saturday morning so you can be the focus of my pre-race angstiness and then ignored as soon as I go off en route. Left desolate by the sidelines, probably in the rain. It made me really happy. The training for this had been on the whole more solitary and demoralising than I’d imagined at the outset, it was just fantastic to have support on the day, and even better for being unexpected. Also, this meet up necessitated a photo sequence, of course. So here you go, happy smiling smilies:
Whether or not I’d make the finish, at least it was now an established fact on record that I’d made the start! I chattered away about nothing, then Dr Smiley, because she’s medically qualified and also an experienced GB triathlete and mega runner in her own right asked if there was anything I needed to do, like go to the loo or something… Oh my gawd, of course I needed the loo! Everyone needs a last minute precautionary pee. I sped off to attend to that. Re-emerging into the scrum of the starting line up, I didn’t see her again, well not for a while. I did see other runner’s footwear though. Look at these;
Wow, surely they’d rub?
As I was milling, there was a race official doing spot checks on kit bags, he took one look at my bulging sack of paraphernalia and said ‘I’m guessing you’ll be fine‘ and moved on. I’m taking that as respect for my evident preparedness and not disbelief at the voluminous nature of my back pack. Maybe I should have gone for a squeeze down minimalist sleeping bag on reflection, but there’s always next time.
‘Suddenly’ we were in count down mode. Little beeps went off all around me as people fired out their watches. I tried to fire up mine. Nothing. It was just searching for a satellite. I was mildly annoyed, I knew it was going to abandon me en route anyway, so I suppose it wouldn’t make all that much difference if I didn’t get the start logged from the off. I slotted myself in pretty much at the back, and then before I knew it we were off, I was swept up in a bit of loping run too. I was scanning the sides of the start funnel for a familiar face – the Frontrunner media team was videoing the start – I gave a wave just as he stopped filming and seemingly fell over into a hedge (don’t think there was a cause and effect there, more just correlation of events). He didn’t see me straight away, but clocked me as I was sprinting (eh hem) off, and I heard him shout after me, I was determined to at least run until I was round the corner and out of sight. Didn’t see Dr Smiley, but then she didn’t see me either, never mind, we’d shared a moment! That was it, all the ultra runners through the funnel and underway, no turning back now. How desolate the start funnel must have looked once we’d all vacated it. Wonder what all the waver offers did next? Coffee and leisurely breakfast if they had their wits about them.
The course starts up an incline, I was a bit swept up with everyone else, so did jog along, though inevitably the few that were behind me overtook me in rapid succession. A little further on, I found a couple stopped. He was leaning against a fence, not good so early in proceedings. I asked if they needed help, but they said they were ok, he just needed to regulate his breathing. OK then, off I continued, vaguely aware of two couples still behind me, but just walking and adjusting their kit. The race vest equivalent of hoiking your tights and knickers straight after going to the loo. Blooming office wear, nightmare. Tights are possibly the most uncomfortable, least practical garment in the known universe, after sports bras, though that should really go without saying.
Soon I was on Ringinglow Road, and then turning off it, and over the style and up the hill. The weather was just stunning, and the views glorious, it was long after sunrise, but the sky was beautiful. There was a promise of warm sun and a gentle breeze. It felt good. I caught up with a couple ahead who were adjusting shoe laces, and they let me pass. I think that was the only overtake I did all day. I offered to wait and let them go ahead as I was just on a day out, but they declined, saying they too had the same game plan and would fight me for final finisher. I laughed politely, but knowing inwardly they had no chance, they might battle all they wish, but that target was mine!
This part of the route was fastidiously marked, there were even cheery marshals to point the way. After crossing the open fields (no cows, phew) then it was a steep descent into the woods. I’m a total coward on this bit, I just find it scary descending and I was worried about slipping on a surface recently wet after so many months of dry. I tentatively picked my way down, conscious of the couple I’d over taken now right on my tail. We chatted a little. I asked them if they’d done this ultra before, and then cringed, because my intonation was all wrong and it somehow came out implying ‘because I’ve done it loads of times and I can give you lots of top tips‘ whereas my intonation was supposed to be reverential, not patronising. Intoning in such a way as to imply ‘you’ve clearly done loads of ultras – how does this one compare?’ and then I couldn’t bring myself to explain I knew I’d got the sentence stress all discombobulated, because then I’d be a) drawing attention to it; b) delaying them even more on their run and c) demonstrate I was even odder than they’d probably already worked out for myself. It’s so hard being me, life is just one excruciating social encounter after another. You dear reader, can have no idea what this is like, being an appropriately socially-adjusted individual with recognisably effective communication skills. Just feel my pain, that’s all I ask. Anyway, they over-took me soon after that, so on the plus side I was again the main (only) contender for the coveted thirty mile final finisher position. Just 29 miles to get round safely and it would be mine for the taking! (Insert evil cackling laugh here).
Next stage, Limb Valley. This is the first time I’ve been up since they resurfaced the path. It is so much better. There were cattle on either side, so they would have been lying blocking the route for sure. A couple of walkers were watching a couple of the cattle that were wading into a bog for mud baths. I stopped to chat to them for a bit because it wasn’t as if I had anything else to do all day. They were the first of many to ask what the event was. I got stopped all day by interested spectators. Still, this first interaction was fine, and it was nice to see the cows having a good time. Normally, I’m too wary of them to pause and just appreciate them in all their bovine magnificence. They are lovely animals, particularly when viewed from the other side of a secure fence.
Onwards and upwards. Just as I was reaching the top I came across the asthmatic runner, now walking back down hill. We spoke briefly. He just couldn’t get his breathing right and so had made the difficult, but painfully gutting decision to withdraw. I really felt for him, that’s tough. He was trudging back to the start. One of the things I do to keep myself going on difficult runs is think of all the people who’d love to be able to be out there doing what I’m trying to do but really, absolutely can’t. I resolved to think of him when the going got tough as inevitably it would, and keep on putting one foot in front of another until I was actually definitively unable to do it anymore.
Emerging on to Sheephill road, past the hilariously named ‘cottage’, noticed a helicopter overhead. I saw it a few times during the day, I wonder what it was out and about for.
There was a marshal to point me in the right direction into Lady Cannings plantation, I wondered if that might be the last person I’d see all day. The other thirty-milers had long since vanished out of sight. Into the woods. I had a brief moment of confusion in here, wondering if I’d got the right turning as one sign was missing, but phew, I was OK. A good example though of the importance of recces for me at least, it just seems incredible I could lose my nerve re orientation even though I was on a really familiar patch. How people get around without recces I can’t imagine. I heard there was also a mix up with on the day map issues, some on the 30 mile route had a map for the 50 and 60 milers, that could have ended badly!
I was soon out of the woods, and alongside the heather. This landscape always lifts my spirits, even if, granted, this year the heather has been short-lived and less spectacular than usual. Even heather couldn’t hold out indefinitely in such extremes of dry and the rain came too late. I just hope it will recover next year.
Skipping along, across Houndkirk. I love this route. The views are amazing, the landscape seemingly deserted and the gradient is on your side after just a little bit of uphill. Glorious. The photos of course don’t do it justice. I found myself wondering if and when I’d be making the return route along the same paths, but tried not to dwell on it too much, better to just live in the moment.
On I trotted, a few walkers, one man sped past me with a fine working cocker spaniel sprinting along behind (that will be you soon Tilly, don’t fret).
He wished me well as he disappeared over the horizon. I emerged at Burbage at the same time as the Thai shed pulled up. This food stall is definitely enterprising, putting itself out there, but, much as I like good vegetarian Thai food, it does seem a bit of an anomaly out there in the Peak District. Not the sort of food I’d be thinking of mid run. Still, it must do a roaring trade as it’s out there a lot lately.
I didn’t wait for it to open, I had an event to run.
This was the first of the marshalled check points, check point one. I was so relieved they were still there, I had an anxious moment when it looked from afar like they guy was packing up, but he gave me a cheery welcome. I dug out my super-practical (not) cup for water and had a bit of a chat. I said I was pretty confident I was the last runner through, as I was, but didn’t want to claim 100% certainty in case someone had been hiding behind a tree when I passed, maybe on their own mission to bag final finisher without me knowing. The guy said he’d had one runner through who wasn’t expected and was missing another if that was the case. I explained about seeing a man withdraw earlier, which might account for it, he’d got a withdrawn down as female. I wondered if as they were running together maybe their dibbers had got mixed up or something, No worries, or at least no my worry, I felt I could relax now, this for me was the critical check point, if they got bored waiting for me here that would be run over, but now I had loads of time to get around. If I was outside the cut offs from hereon-in I’d be begging for someone to come rescue me!
Through the car park, along the road and heading up to Stanage. There were a few more people now, heading up to do bouldering, or maybe just for a lie down. Why didn’t I think to bring along a mattress for a power nap en route? Curses. Still, that’s what this event was all about, a learning experience, I’ll know for next year. If I have a collapsible cup, that will leave a bit more space in my running vest for other essentials, like this.
I got to the top, and again, the panorama opened up. It’s just gorgeous up there. It’s weird this 30 mile malarkey. It was definitely physically much, much tougher than the London Marathon say, for me anyway. But mentally, I think it really helps that you just look up and around you and your spirits soar. It is such a privilege to be out in this landscape, and were it not for having the Dig Deep series of races to aim for, I’d never have got out and explored if for myself. There were no bees on Stanage today, but there were views to explode your mind. I could just make out some runners in the far, far distance, I wondered how long it would be before I’d be where they were now.
This was type one fun. Lovely. I even ran bits. This might sound like stating the obvious, but I’d actually planned on only walking the first half in case I ran down my reserves too much early on, but I felt great, and it’s so rare for me to spontaneously feel like scampering I figured I might as well surrender to it, there would be plenty of time later when I’d be longing to put on the brakes.
Much excitement when I got to the first un-marshalled dibbing point. It was highly visible. I don’t know how it compares with last year, but there was no missing these as long as you were on the correct path. A short jog on, and there was the next one, at the junction where you take the path off Stanage. So far so good.
I was making better progress than on any of the recces. I wasn’t particularly pushing myself, but just trying to keep moving and minimise faffing. Even so, I had several people stop me asking what was going on. I must look either approachable or just unlikely – the presence of a number pinned to my front suggests I’m participating in something, but what? No-one else in sight, and I’m not immediately identifiable as any kind of an athlete from my outward physique. Still, those I spoke to were encouraging. Possibly my favourite encounter though was the couple just after the cattle grid on Quiet Road. (I think). After you’ve descended off Stanage Edge. They’d taken a ‘short cut’ which had led to the female half of the couple waist deep in a bog, completely stuck and crying with laughter. Her male companion was also unable to move on account of being doubled up with laughter himself. They were having a hoot. Being up to your midriff in bog is apparently brilliant fun, infectiously so. Those Bovines up the Limb valley were but early adopters of a trend that is sure to catch on. You heard it here first!
Shortly after I’d shared giggles with these two mud-hoppers, a bare-chested man ran by. I trotted on, dropping back to a walk as soon as I hit an incline. A bit later, he came past me again the other way. This was a bit sobering, as I imagine he’d sprinted up to Stanage and back in the time it had taken me to trot just a kilometre or so. He paused, and asked me what I was up to. I explained about the 30 mile challenge (I couldn’t bring myself to call it an ultra run because I was so self-evidently doing very little in the way of actual running) and he was really encouraging about the whole thing. I promise you dear reader, not a word of a lie, not one person I encountered during this whole endeavour laughed in my face when I told them what I was up to. Not. One. Amazing isn’t it. People are more encouraging and supportive than you might think. Whatever negative thoughts passed through my head later on, they were put there by me, sad, but true. He skipped off, probably doing his own 50 mile ultra run before breakfast, but hey, good for him, we were each pursing our own goals, and that dear reader is as it should be. Thank you random runner.
I left him running onwards whilst I turned up the road and up the hill, following on behind some horses
This road was a bit of a slog, though you do get some unexpectedly good views if you bother to stop and look at them. Some cyclist passed, some puffing, some calling greetings as they cruised by. After a bit, a few undulations and some twists and turns Win Hill started to come into view. My nemesis. Is it just me, or does it look a bit like Kilimanjaro from afar? Certainly feels like it when you make the ascent.
See? Practically indistinguishable! It’s Win Hill on the left by the way. Or maybe right, hard to say. I met someone who’d climbed Kilimanjaro once, I was dead impressed. ‘What was it like?’ I asked him excitedly. He shook his head ‘hell, it was like hell, in a Scottish mist, couldn’t see you hand in front of your face and couldn’t breathe‘ hmmm, not on my bucket list any more that one then. At least with Win Hill, even if you can’t breathe, there are fabulous views.
Though this stretch had elements of sameyness, it went quickly, and heading down New Road was unremarkable apart from rising fear at the prospect of Win HIll and the presence of a healthy looking but extremely dead mole. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mole up close before. It made me sad, but also, bizarrely, was reassuring because it must mean there are other living moles out there. So here is the next in my series of random dead animals/ road kill.
Whilst we are on depressing animal shots. This popped up in my Facebook feed today. A friend of mine is working in China, and came across people selling live baby turtles with painted shells. The may look beautiful, but how sad and cruel is that. I understand in some places you can even buy turtles sealed in plastic bubbles of water, used as ‘ornaments’ for key-rings. There seem to be no limits to what we’ll do to animals. Messes with my head…
This concludes the depressing animal strand of this blog post. Probably.
Moving on. ‘Suddenly’ I was at Yorkshire Bridge! Over the road down the hill and the check point and feed station was in sight! However, I was thwarted in my endeavours to get there. Another couple stopped me – whilst I was actually jogging this time – I felt a tad affronted. They then said ‘is there anything interesting down there‘ waving vaguely towards Win Hill. Erm, I didn’t really know how to respond. Surely that would require some deep philosophical discussion about what constitutes ‘interesting’ and could that ever be an objective standard as opposed to a subjective experience. I didn’t really want to have that debate right there and then. I said basically, ‘ well, there’s a stream and a footpath and a big hill which is a tough climb but great views‘. ‘Oh,’ they replied ‘what about the other routes?’ I got a bit exasperated at this point. I mean, I’m all for being helpful and educating the public about the sport of ultra-running (cough), but that doesn’t extend to be a roaming tourist information service! Couldn’t they see they were blocking the path of an ultra runner! I bet this doesn’t happen to Kilian Jornet when he’s out and about. I mumbled something vague and trotted off to be embraced by this vision of loveliness:
Now, I know you shouldn’t really have favourites, but between you and me, I think these were my favourite marshals of the day. They were funny and helpful. They were also a gateway to a mountain of calorific snacks. The two women helped me with faffing with my cup, and selection of snackery. They took time out now and again to give a running commentary on the guy who was eating a pot noodle with a twig, having failed to pack a spork apparently. There was some banter going on (don’t worry, he could hold his own) but I felt he should be celebrated for going for the biodegradable option. Also for holding out against the earlier suggestion that he improvise with two ballpoint pens. Anyway, this trio was friendly and funny and fed me – and you can’t ask for more from marshals at an event really can you? Oh, by the way, the stuff that looks like lost property is actually bags ‘proper’ ultra runners had left for use at various stages. Just so you know how it all works.
We were debating Win Hill ahead. I was apprehensive. I commented I’d still rather climb up it from Parkin Clough side than try to descend, I just don’t see how you can come down a slope that steep and uneven without falling. (Unless you are a member of the Dark Peak Running Club but they are surely a genetic anomaly, imbued as they are with super human skills on the hills.) At the very moment I was stating this, probably spitting crisps out between words as I did so, two women appeared as if from nowhere, mud covered and a bit shaky. Guess what dear reader? That’s right! They’d just fallen down Win Hill. They were in search of a sugar fix and a bit of TLC. Well, they’d stumbled into the right place. I left the marshals tending to them – they’d already put the top back on my cup for me, refilled my 2 litre bladder in my arcteryx and allowed me to eat my body weight in sugar loaded snacks after all, I loped on.
Finally I was there, at the base of Win Hill. This would be the real test of the day, tackling the hill with tired legs. Psychologically, I felt if I could get to the top, I’d finish the event.
Phew though, what a slog! There seemed to be quite a bit of traffic as well. I got overtaken by some walkers, which made me feel a bit inadequate as they weren’t even really dressed for trekking. Yes, they asked what was going on too. I wasn’t really feeling the love. At one point I suddenly felt a bit dizzy, like that sensation you get if you stand up too quickly after bending down for a while. I’ve never had that before out running. I took a moment to think. I’d just eaten loads, I couldn’t need fuel, but I was sweating buckets. I stopped and drank loads, and then, feeling better went on more slowly. I was a bit perturbed though. I feel the hardest bit for me for this has been nutrition, I’ve put on weight in training and just don’t know how to fuel properly. Maybe I was getting a bit dehydrated. I drank water from my cup at the stations, but had electrolytes in my running vest bladder. hard to know whether the difference is real or psychosomatic, but I definitely felt better afterwards. I gave way to others coming down. At one point, I hung on to a tree as I moved aside to let a group past. One of them lost her footing and practically landed on top of me, that goodness for that tree, without it we’d have both been lost in the crevasse alongside the path (well, it seems like a crevasse to me).
In other news, there was a photographer, lurking! Ooh, that was unexpected. I’m obviously not noticeably running at this point, but I am head down and trying my best. Until I am distracted by the sound of the camera shutter clicking and am quickly morphed into ‘seen the photographer’ pose! I can’t run, and I can’t hide either…
The photographer was friendly and we had a chat. Any excuse for a break by me quite frankly. Turns out he’d done an ultra run earlier in the year at Dartmoor. Gave encouragement, smiles and a useful top tip. If you do feel like quitting, never do so at a marshal point, make yourself walk away and then see how you feel after 5 minutes. Getting going again after a pause is the hardest challenge, if you can do that, you might be able to finish. Good advice. He also did a portrait shot of me, because I explained it was my first ultra, and I wanted a memento. I look happy, but cringe at my physique which can only be described as buxom, but you know what, I have to own it, this body got me round 30 miles so whatever it’s shortcomings in the aesthetic front, it works for me. I’m lucky. Plus, it is what I look like, and how lucky am I to be able to be in a beautiful part of the world, getting pep talks from other runners to help me round my first ultra. I therefore declare this to be a happy memory… you can see why I think there is a gap in the market for running vests that cater for the erm, ‘fuller form’ though can’t you? No denying it unfortunately.
Thank you lovely photographer. He said he’d see me again at Burbage/ Houndkirk, I was a bit doubtful he’d be out that long, but pathetically grateful he thought it was possible I’d make it round in daylight. I continued onward and upward. Puffing. Audibly. Oh the shame.
Once you emerge from the trees and start looking back, the views are amazing. The summit was very windy and quite crowded. I found out later in the day that Dr Smiley came up here to look for me en route, but we missed each other. To be fair, judging from this selfie, I think I might have an inkling why. The thought was very much appreciated though:
I took a moment to admire the views, rude not to, seeing as I was there. I knew I still had a long, long way to go, but that was the worst climb done. Hurrah.
The marshal was a little down from the trig point where seemingly coach loads of people were gathered for photos
Must have been nippy out. They are all hi-vis heroes for standing out in that. Even more so the next day for the 12.12 when rain and wind made it feel like hail apparently, up at Burbage. Brrrr. Ironically, doing 30 miles in perfect weather was probably the easier option compared to that!
Coming off the summit I was in good spirits. I met a lovely couple who again were asking what was going on. They seemed genuinely impressed by my endeavour, which made me feel a bit better. I don’t know what it takes to be a ‘proper’ ultra runner, but I was thinking perhaps doing some actual running during the course of the 30 mile route, and I’d done hardly any. However, this couple didn’t care at all about speed, they were wide smiling at my attempt at the distance. I’ll take that! Thank you nice people.
I left them wending their way upwards, whilst I wended (is that a word? Should be) downwards. The next person I meant was out walking some beautiful, but rather wayward dogs that had set some sheep stampeding ahead of him. I wasn’t sure if he could see and didn’t know quite what to do. Should I tell him? They had returned to him by the time I got to him. This walker is doing his first marathon in October, the Yorkshire Marathon so we were able to swap running training tales. He had pulled a hamstring on a long run only a couple of days before, headed out for 20 miles but had to stop at 14. Mind you, 20 miles seems to me to be an impressive distance this far out from marathon day, so if he does need to rest a week or so he still has time on his side. It was a nice interlude to chat, I didn’t say anything about the dogs…
There followed one of my top three encounters of the day. The next quartet of walkers seemed to be a family group, grown up children and their parents at a guess. Again they stopped me to ask what I was doing – you know what, next year I might just print out some fliers to explain, it might be a lot easier and save a bit of time. They were suitably encouraging, and impressed by how far I’d already come. So impressed, that one of the group offered me some of his dried mango slices. I hesitated for a moment, and then thought ‘you know what, sliced mango might be really nice‘. ‘Thank you I will‘, I said, taking a chunk. It was posh mango slices too, high moisture content, all squishy and delicious, not over dry and chewy. Went down very nicely. Just as I gulped, the elder man suddenly put out his arm in horror and exclaimed ‘oh no! Are you allowed to do that? Will you be disqualified for having had outside assistance?’ I thought a bit more. ‘I don’t think they can test for mango, so I’ll probably be OK. Also, between ourselves, I’m not going to be a top three finisher, I’ll chance it’. Waving, I skipped off, chuckling.
Hilarious, I honestly don’t know if he was joking or not. If joking, I applaud him for his deadpan delivery. Thank you lovely mango people, whoever you are. Mind you, the joke will be on me if I find they do test me positive for mango at the end… I’ll be smiling on the other side of my face then! Imagine the indignity in that. To get round, and to indeed be disqualified for something as seemingly as innocuous as dried tropical fruit. The perils of the event eh. I wonder if this is the sort of conflicted temptation those misfit children experienced touring Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, just waiting for the moment they might get offered the everlasting gobstopper the chocolate spies were prepared to pay highly for. Take it, and pass it on, and you will be rich, but your moral compass will have imploded and you can never show your face in public again. They didn’t know then it was but an entrapment device to test their ethical framework. So too with mango slices, it might fuel you to the end of the ultra, but at what cost if you are henceforth shunned by ultra-runners, and worse yet, disqualified from future events. Even if they didn’t know, I would, too high a price to pay. I’d have the rest of the route to ponder whether and when to ‘fess up… Surely if race officials were in the habit of using entrapment techniques to lure the weak – willed into ingesting illicit dried fruit slices I’d have picked it up on social media sometime before.
Too late now!
The next bit, trotting down to hope was pretty straight forward. I managed to avoid the dangerous geese.
Geese scare me. I’ve been attacked by a gander once and it blooming hurt. I did nearly get wiped out by a couple of cyclists. I saw loads of other cyclists who were courteous and left me loads of space, but there were two coming up heads down just not looking, then when they did clock me, one wobbled and just veered right into me. He was apologetic, but I wasn’t impressed. I hadn’t put that part of the route down as a dangerous section.
A scamper down into Hope. Going past the Adventure cafe without going in for some soup was a challenge, but I headed on to the cement works. I managed to locate all expected dibbing points, and also to avoid being hit by a train, because they are almost as dangerous as geese if the warning signs are anything to go by.
Actually, the face of the man on the warning sign, is not dissimilar to the expression of the man worried about my mango consumption. Doping is a serious issue!
The next section was alongside the cement works. I quite like the brutalist architecture of the place, it is a strange place. You hear noises coming from it, and might see machinery turning, but I’ve never seen a human form. All very mysterious, and highly suitable as the setting for a budget horror film or indeed an actual homicide. Just a thought. I sped up a bit…
By dint of looking both ways, I managed to avoid being crushed by any unexpected large plant crossings within the quarry, and excitedly exited towards Bradwell. This was another symbolic point for me, like I’d imagined myself at the top of Win Hill, I’d visualised myself here at the rock shop! Just to help you out here, this is what the rock shop looked like last time:
This is what it looked like today:
I can’t lie. I was a bit gutted. This is where the mental strength you’ve built up in training really kicks in. The thing is, I’d especially put together something to put in the honesty box for the children who’d set up the stall to find, but now I didn’t know if they ever would. I decided as I’d brought my little token for them, I’d leave it anyway. I carefully slipped my good luck bringing envelope and its mysterious contents under a wooden block and hoped for the best. I daresay someone would find it. Maybe even the dog walker who was picking up dog poo alongside me as I carried out this no doubt outwardly bizarre shenanigans. I will never know.
Oh well. On the plus side, not far to the fantasy feed station now. I’d been promised that this is practically a wedding buffet. I was now thinking that it might not be that exactly, it’s just that you’d be so delighted to find it you wouldn’t really care if they were offering cups of cold sick as long as they had added sufficient sugar and caffeine to reboot you.
Into Bradwell and off to the left, alongside the green and opposite the pub was a sign adorned with a Dig Deep t-shirt, which was fortunate as it wasn’t immediately obvious otherwise.
As I bumbled along, I was aware of other fleeter runners closing in on me. These were the first other runners I’d seen, since limb valley, and were 50 and 60 milers romping purposefully in. I felt like a different species. They were focused and looking strong. I was again doubting my right to be there as they ran ahead of me to the marshal point.
This was a pretty cool stopping off place. Great views, loos, friendly marshals and people sat outside in the sun supporting other runners or maybe waiting for their runner to come in. Inside the hall was indeed a buffet. It was like the weirdest village hall party ever. I stuffed salted crisps into my mouth whilst surveying what was on offer. There were no spinach and feta stuffed filo pastries, but there was a broad choice including falafels, sweet potato crisps, sweets, chia bars, naked bars, fresh fruit, mini cakes all sorts. One of the marshals produced a cup of coffee in a children in need christmas themed cup. I hovered round the buffet eyeing the serious runners outside on the grass who were taping up injuries and rummaging with kit. It emphasised how little I knew what to do, they had clear routines, whereas I was just hanging about really, contemplating whether if I sat down to drink my coffee I’d be able to get up again. I actually discussed this dilemma with one of the marshals and they said they could help haul me up again if need be, so I presume that level of outside assistance would be ok. It’s complicated.
My confidence was ebbing a bit here. I mean I was fine, physically fine, legs getting stiff but that was not unexpected, but just looking at everyone else I felt such a misfit. These runners had done up to 45 miles already I think and were still on fire. I’d done a fraction of that and was just pootling around in a fog of vague incomprehension. I hid by the buffet table (always a good place to hang out) and then realised there was another runner in the corner being debriefed by a St John’s Ambulance man. I don’t know what had happened, but I do know he had to withdraw after feeling unwell and was given a lift back to base. Again, it was a timely reminder that I was lucky to be able to do this, it didn’t matter (or shouldn’t anyway) what other people were up to, I just had to commit to putting one foot in front of another and see where it led. As he went off, I overheard the St John’s man say ‘it’s always a worry isn’t it, when people are taken ill, it doesn’t always end well‘. He was talking generally, not about that actual worry, but again, I thought I just need to realise I’m lucky, I’m not ill, I’m just over weight and demoralised, and I can very much still do this. It will be slow, and may not be pretty, can’t see myself as the poster girl for any ultra running event any time soon, but my hat is still in the proverbial ring and it ain’t over yet.
I slurped my coffee, had another pee, availing myself of the quality facilities. And off I went. I was consciously telling myself to stay positive. I’d made the cut off. The organisers would let me finish the course now, I just had to make sure I did.
It’s quite pretty going through Bradwell, but then the cloud of the climb up to Rebellion Knoll was still to come. Like in Lady Cannings plantation, I suddenly had a wobble about which way to go. Crazy, I’ve done this section loads of times now. Being fatigued from distance really does impact on cognition, well it does for me anyway. Fortunately, the conveniently parked blue van was still in place, not a guaranteed landmark for the future, but it had been there on every recce. Praise be!
Inevitably, I got to the base of Rebellion Knoll. It’s hard to explain why this haul is so hard. Partly because the head high bracken means you can’t see where you are going. It is very, very steep, and I’ve seen it referred to somewhere as the Jurassic section, which seems entirely appropriate. You do feel like a t-rex could come crashing through the undergrowth at any time. I didn’t see any today, but I was one of the later runners coming through, I imagine any out there would have already gorged their fill on leaner stock. I don’t know if dinosaurs have to worry about cholesterol clogging their arteries, but if they do, they’d have had fat-free feasting for some hours.
I was very, very happy to emerge at the top.
This was the only official bit of directional signage I saw on the course all day, but it was a good call to put it here, I got hopelessly lost recceing this section the first time and lost a lot of time.
A gentle romp across a field, and you emerge again onto a hard road. I had hoped to jog this, and I had little half-hearted bursts now and again, but then I realised my watch had bailed on me, and it was almost like a switch going off. I felt as I had no idea what pace I was going or how far I’d still to go I might as well just take it easy. One or two other runners past me, fleet of foot and calling encouragement as I did so. They are extraordinary athletes, all of them. On reflection, every one of them was on their own. I wonder if that’s how it usually is, or whether it’s because this was a relatively small field so participants got spread out. Anyway, all were friendly, and I said desperately ‘I’ll chase you now you’ve given a lead‘ or something similarly cheesy as they passed. Note to self, as well as the fliers to distribute to walkers explaining what I’m doing, I need some flash cards with motivational phrases to wave at passing runners in order that I come up with something maybe a tad less cringeworthy in future. Big ask though I know.
Downhill to Shatton. I was trying to calculate how far I still had to go, but I couldn’t fathom it at all. Oh well. It’ll be a surprise.
You come out of Shatton, and emerge on the river bank. It’s a narrow path, with little bridges, each of which has a resident troll underneath, that is why there is troll netting under many of them. At this stage I found ultra runners overtaking me at speed and at regular intervals. Many were asking ‘so are you 50 or 60 miles?’ and I had to sheepishly say ‘erm, 30‘, and they had to summon all their remaining mental strength to not look completely aghast that I was still out there. To their universal credit (not the benefit, but the sentiment) all of them said something encouraging in response. A couple even held gates open for me as I lumbered up behind them, which I felt a bit guilty about, impeding their progress as they were on a mission. A couple were saying they had had the odd wobble, mainly about being able to eat, but none needed any of the provisions I had to offer. It was quite humbling really, moving even, all this good will. I get the sense there is really a community of ultra runners out there, they may or may not know each other, but they will look out for one another out and about. I felt unworthy even to engage them in conversation, but everyone who I told it was my first ultra was supportive. ‘Good on you’, ‘everyone starts somewhere’, ‘keep going’. ‘you’ve got this‘ that kind of thing. yes, yes, they may be cliches, but it was really nice. I felt like they wanted me to succeed. Hard though it is to imagine, I guess they all started somewhere too. This is an endeavour where someone else getting round doesn’t diminish anyone else’s achievement. Plus, and I’m not being self-deprecating here, I’m just being honest, I think there was an element of cheering on the underdog. I’m not an obvious contender for this enterprise, and clearly I’d been out a long, long time, I think some were just saluting my dogged tenacity and I’ll take that.
My favourite comment though was a super speedy woman doing the 60 miler, who sped by shouting ‘you are amazing‘, and whether or not that was merited, it was most affirming. Dear reader, find some random person today, right now if you can, and sincerely tell them they are amazing, it will make them feel good and maybe you’ll feel the radiating feelgood emanating off them and feel extra good in return! I think she might have been the winner (first lady) of the Ultra too. What a star. Hard to say for sure though, as she was whizzing along. If it was you, you are a great ambassador for the sport.
Here are some shots of my ultra running compatriots speeding off into the distance. Thank you all, whoever you are 🙂 Oh, one of the photos is of a sheep, not an ultra runner, just to be clear.
I had one rather bizarre experience at this stage. I got a phone call from a builder about a fence, and had to discuss that with him mid run. It did rather spoil the sense of being out in the wilds, and I felt a bit ignorant when one runner came by and I was just walking along chatting into a phone, it didn’t really feel in the spirit of the occasion, then again, needs must. Also, and this is a useful top tip, there’s nothing like negotiating with a builder for taking your mind off a couple of miles on an ultra, I didn’t notice that bit at all, I also didn’t break out of a walk which was a bit of a missed opportunity as that was a good flat stretch. Oh well.
You emerge on a bridge on teh way to Hathersage. Here was another water station, and the same marshal who’d been at Yorkshire Bridge, only rather ignorantly I completey failed to recognise him. Then again, he was in disguise having ditched his pot noodle, hat and high-vis. He however, recognised me… best not ask why. There was suddenly a little rush on, as other runners descended on the boot full of snacks and replenished water. There was a team of three using poles, ploughing on together. I left the station a bit ahead of them and dragged myself up the hill that takes you up to the millstone pub. Blimey, that hill is steep. I was worried there’d be cows, but there weren’t today, thankfully. Big relief to get to the top. I felt like I’d definitely finish now, that was all the worst climbs behind me, there was still daylight and everything was still working – though I was a bit worried if I stopped everything would set fast into position and never move again, no worries, I just needed to keep moving. The earlier marshal had advised that from 8.30 they wouldn’t allow anyone to continue cross country, they’d have to go along Ringinglow Road instead. That isn’t such a disastrous scenario to be fair. Anyway, i was OK so hey, go me!
Following the signs to Ringinglow, and over the style onto the moors and that was it. Homeward bound. It is a hike up the hill, but the sun was dropping down in the sky, the light was absolutely beautiful, and the end in sight in a ‘about 6 miles to go’ sort of way. I was beyond running at this point and gave in to just walking for a bit, stopping to look at the views, and then walking a bit more. A few runners came past, some heather bashing to go a direct path to the top of Carl Wark, I decided to stick to the route I knew. Maybe they were on a short cut, but it wasn’t worth the risk of getting disorientated or going over on an ankle at this point. I pressed on.
Finally, I saw the flag of the marshal point at Carl Wark in the distance. Oh joy, it wsn’t at the top of the hill as expected, but at it’s base. A cheery and relaxed marshal was sat chilling in a chair, supervising the dibber, but also multi-tasking throwing a ball for his companion canine now and again. We had a brief chat. He’d been at this marshal point til one in the morning last year! This year though it seemed most runners were now through. He seemed relaxed about the whole thing. Last year the weather was horrendous, but he apparently just sat it out in a tent. Excellent. I dibbed, and yomped on.
Now, I can’t explain why, but coming down the slope to the stone bridge, I suddenly felt my legs really stiffen. A bit of a wobble even. Hmm, this was unexpected and unhelpful. I picked my way down quite gingerly. I didn’t get the best route and consequently had to boulder hop across a stream, but my legs weren’t really reliable. I decided best course was to get on my arse and use hands and legs to cross the stream. Sensible you might think, but once I was sitting down on a rock I had a moment of thinking that was pretty much it. I was set solid, and would now have to end my days on this rock, gazing skyward. The bracken was high so I’d never be found. It wouldn’t have been so bad to be fair, it wasn’t alarming or anything, just a bit inevitable. Somehow I managed to wrench myself upright again, but doubt set in. This wasn’t by any means in the bag just yet. Oh crappity, crap crap. So near and yet so far….
Fret not dear reader. There were still good times ahead and micro-adventures to come. As I trudged up across Houndkirk, passed some cows, there was my friendly photographer friend again. It was genuinely nice to see him. Plus, the sunset was providing a pleasingly flattering back light to my ultra struggle. Anyone would think I’d deliberately stayed out that long just to guarantee this very effect.
Sigh, thank you for waiting. Turns out the photographer normally does advertising shoots, so I expect I’ll be fighting off ad agencies now wanting me to pose for them. I’ll never forget my roots though.
He also took some good scenic shots and some others which are maybe a bit too close up for comfort, but nice to have. Indulge me. Actually, you don’t even need to. I imagine you gave up reading eons ago. If you are still here, wishing you weren’t, two words. Contributory negligence.
So that whole interaction was a nice distraction, and I continued on, not forgetting to marvel at the view.
Then, just as I was descending onto the Houndkirk/ roman road, like a mirage in the desert two figures materialised into view. What strange magic was this? It looked like… no, it couldn’t be. I must be hallucinating due to fatigue. I waved tentatively. The figures waved back! Oh. My. Gawd! It was a smiley outrider team, what were they doing there? Not just smilies but Dr Smiley and her Les Brutelles companion in arms. Triathlete elites, out there. ‘What are you doing here?’ I called out. Well, you’ll never believe this, but they said they’d come to find me! I was amazed! How fantastic is that. I started down the rocks towards them. Then stopped, reversed and, realising my quads were screaming in protest, came down a different route towards them. They laughed uproariously at my exploits, apparently undeterred by my protest that once they were experienced ultra runners such as myself they’d better understand the issue. I mean they only do epic triathlons over squillions of miles and mountain ranges in horizontal hail, what would they know? They both did the triathlon x earlier this year which has been voted the worlds toughest iron man, and they did it in the worst conditions imaginable. They are super hard core. Not to be messed with, and no way was I letting bragging rights by association to go to waste here. Of course I was going to stop to take their photos! Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and seize the moment.
Aren’t they lovely? You’d have been thrilled to see them too!
This is amazing people. Joking apart, it’s like being sponsored by Les Brutelles. Imagine if Paul Sinton-Hewitt travelled especially to cheer you down the final mile of your tenth parkrun. It was like that. Unexpected, and glorious. It nearly put paid to my gold standard goal of finishing without crying, as I felt quite emotional about them turning out for me. I said as I descended that I was really touched that Dr Smiley had turned out to see me off in the morning (that seemed like a lifetime ago). She told me how she lost me after I went off to the loo – which was something of a coincidence as I lost her too, what were the chances? She even filmed the start, but didn’t see me come through so went to find me thinking I must be hiding in the ladies loos. To be honest, it wouldn’t have been the first time, but not so on this occasion. Rewatching her footage of us thirty milers all sprinting off she glimpsed me at the far side of the mob. How lovely that she’d been looking for me ever since though!
I mean it turned out lots of Smilies had been trying to find me all day, to no avail, I had not the faintest idea not being in possession of a smart phone I didn’t see the smiley to and froing as people tried to work out where I might conceivably be. They probably did more miles and more elevation trying to track me than I did on the official route. It was amazing, and overwhelming even.
Obviously, this moment required selfies in all possible permutations, we are happy!
They filled me in with their adventures, and I shared my worry about maybe testing postive for mango. We jogged onwards together on the Houndkirk road. I was definitely seeing things now, I could have sworn I saw my name on the road at one point, but it couldn’t have been. The next mile flew by. Then there was another Smiley and offspring. They’d also been out for hours and the smiley herself conceded she’d have been ready to throw in the towel hours ago, but her son was most insistent they should hang on. There’s a lad that will go far! Thanks guys!
So we all jogged on together, pausing only to cry with laughter at intervals. I shamelessly used the moment to press my escorts on the little matter of them speaking about their own triathlete epic adventures at the next big running weekend in Ecclesall woods. There was one last year. There was some reluctance, so I suggested that maybe it would be less daunting if they used a different medium to communicate about it, like expressive dance say. I had a job at as a steward at an arts centre when there was a contemporary dance festival going on. One of the more memorable displays was an expressive dance performed by dancers naked apart from tightly wrapped cling film. I mean it could work. The Brutelles mad much protest about the unflattering nature of cling film – from their vehemence it was clear they were speaking from personal experience which is somewhat eyebrow raising – but didn’t particularly kick back so much as I expected at the nudity or expressive dance parts of the idea. As Mr Loaf says, two out of three ain’t bad. It could happen people, you heard it here first. I wonder if they need winged ultras at this point? I forgot to ask.
They left me at the top of Limb Valley, as they were taking a car back to Whirlow, I dropped down, through the cattle field, and then found myself at the top of the wooded section. Uh oh… Suddenly, it seemed pretty dark. I did have my headtorch with me, but sometimes a headtorch makes the dark worse and the ground even harder to see. Eek.
I stealed myself to go in. It could be worse. I have an American friend (don’t judge) who I met in Cambodia. She works as a sort of guide/ group leader in Californian woodland, camping out for weeks at a time, teaching young people how to survive in the wilderness. She wrote to me recently telling me that she’s just been given an official ranger issue knife, to defend herself in the event of mountain lion attacks. As if that wasn’t scary enough, she also told me how she got up in the night because she needed a pee, only to find herself accidentally face to face with a mature bear and its cubs. She somehow managed to evade it, through a combination of stealth movement, extreme shouting and last minute sprinting away, and reports that afterwards, back in her tent, shaking with fear she no longer needed the loo. So that’s the answer to night time incontinence people. Surround your place of slumber with wild bears and you’ll never feel the urge to pee in the night again. Don’t thank me.
The point is, there wouldn’t be bears. Probably not. I mean there were bears in Sheffield at one time weren’t there? Otherwise why have the poor creatures in the bear pits in the Botanical gardens. There could well be a feral population right here, I mean they would stay in hiding during the day wouldn’t they. But at dusk. Aargh!
I’m not really a scaredy cat, but I wasn’t over keen. I ventured in. It was dark, after a bit though, my eyes acclimatised and I started to see arrows on the ground, etched into the mud. ‘I wonder what they are for‘. Bit further on and – ‘I could swear that’s my name scraped into the mud‘ and a bit further on ‘go Lucy‘. No mistaking it. These arrows had got to be for me. It was glorious. It was like having a reassuring guiding hand. I mean I do know this part of the route, but it looked different in the dark, and I really, really didn’t want to miss the turn to Whirlow.
I didn’t know who’d put the messages there until I emerged from the woods onto the field just behind Whirlow farm. What a welcoming committee was there!
They’d found me, after chasing me around all day, and what’s more, these are the creative geniuses behind the motivational mud arrows idea and execution. Everyone out and about running should have a crack team to support them like that. It was amazing to see them. I just couldn’t believe I’d got all this support, and there was still more to come!
They jogged along with me to the back of the hall, and then left me to come through the finish funnel alone, I high-fived some random people at the corner as I passed them. Presumably they were waiting for others from the sixty miler still to come. They looked a little taken aback – obviously not junior parkrun regulars – but gamely reciprocated as I cornered, demanding my medal.
And then, the final surprise. Another familiar face to hang my medal round my neck as a marshal removed my dibber. A Graves junior RD no less, a hardcore runner and super supportive running mentor and enabler to boot. She of the Ladybower fifty still to come. I was astounded. I mean, she did say she’d try to come, but I’d been so vague about my finish times, and it had been a lot of hanging around, really a LOT. She’d come to register and got there around four. Eek. Spoiler, I was not back by five, or six, or seven or … look, you get the idea people, I don’t need to spell it out.
So can I just reiterate. Best welcoming committee ever.
Doctor Smiley and her GB Triathlon X compatriot had somehow magicked themselves into position as well, so I had quite a celebrity homecoming. There was even a live stream video of the finish. This was a bit awkward, as it was let slip that they’d already grassed me up to the organisers about mangogate and everything, so I was just going to have to come clean and hope for the best as it was after all just a first offence and through ignorance rather than intent. I was cockahoop at nailing the slowest ever 30 mile finish time, but there was an anxious moment when the finish marshals said I wasn’t last, because there were two more people out there. That may well have been true, but there’s no way they’d have been 30 milers, hilariously by dint of my slowness, I’d now been promoted to the sixty mile route as those officials remaining were assuming I must be on the longer course. Not all of them though, my medal definitely says thirty. The live streaming also gave me the chance to set the record straight that I hadn’t spent the entirety of the day hiding in the loo refusing to come out. Phew. You have to nip these rumours in the bud.
All done. Who’d have thought it? After the mandatory press briefings and a group hug, I was reunited with my bag and fleece and ushered into the barn for post run recuperation. It was like having an army of helpers dancing attendance on me. One got me a portion of veggie stew, another hung onto my running vest. Horror was expressed at the weight of thing. The aghastness of the assembled company at my stupidity in lugging so much around with me was finely counterbalanced by their admiration that I’d seemingly been able to do so.
We tucked in, whilst I shared pearls of wisdom based on my learning points and adventures from the day. They were all gripped!
As well as the feast of veggie stew in bread, which was freely available to anyone who wanted it at this stage as they’d over-catered and there was hardly anyone else to eat it; Regal Smiley and her offspring had brought a finishers gift. Chocolate, including a curly wurly and a bath bomb. I haven’t had one of those in years. They had to tell me what it was, and it was as well they did since it was fashioned into a miniature cup cake, and yes, did look good enough to eat. A posh one too. It was enough to incentivise me to take a bath before going to bed and enabled me to have a curly wurly for breakfast the next day, which I’m pretty sure is recommended recovery food, so that’s OK.
Sated, my brutelles buddies stood either side of me and we can-canned our way (sort of) back to the car. I’m so glad they did. It was pitch and I couldn’t work out how to unlock the darned thing as I kept pushing the wrong button. If after all that I was discovered collapsed by my car in the morning, dead from having laughingly ingested spice-infused mango earlier in the day – well, oh the irony. I clambered into the car and made it home. Even more amazingly, I managed to negotiate my way out of the car. Last time I did this after a long distance run – The inaugural Round Donny Run, a concerned neighbour came rushing across the road thinking I was in need of urgent medical assistance having just experienced some horrific accident or other. Granted it was dark so she perhaps couldn’t see me extricate myself from my vehicle, and being a shorter journey there was less time to set hard!
Weird being back in the flat, much to process. But I did it, and that was unexpected. I mean I know I’m
stubborn tenacious, but I’m not super human, I just didn’t know if my body would hold out, but it did. Hooray!
I think what really helped was Smiley support in advance, on the day, and especially at the end. It’s been a lonely old business, training for this, but the support in the last couple of miles made me really feel I had a support network rooting for me. I LOVE YOU GUYS! It was just extraordinary. The next day, I even got these on my doorstep, greater love has no Smiley for another Smiley than to leave post run unsolicited gifts on your front step.
I have lots learned and lots to think about. But am happy to confirm that Dig Deep races are my new favourite thing. It feels a bit sacrilegious to say it, but for me it certainly tops doing the London Marathon. Obviously they are very different beasts, but nothing can beat the support of familiar, hilarious and awesome running buddies taking on a challenge in a place as beautiful as the peaks. What do you mean am I still high on endorphins? You cynic dear reader, and must experience the phenomenon for yourself. Doesn’t have to be the ultra, the whole set up is like one big affirming running community hug, whichever event you do. Well, that’s my experience anyway. Plus, as a Sheffielder, there aren’t that many events you can rock up to, knowing if it’s all too much you can just wave down a bus and go home.
I have no official strava route map of my achievements as my TomTom bailed just after Bradwell, but I did find this super-cool toy on t’internet. https://www.plotaroute.com/route/153593 all interactive and everything. It’s from two years ago but looks accurate. Like that you can see the elevation all squished up so it makes it look even more hardcore. Result! For now. Job done.
Thank you lovely organisers, marshals, supporters, Smiley buddies, running buddies, walkers who chatted to me along the way (maybe not the one who wanted complete tourist review of the area quite so much), the photographer, fellow ultra runners (can I claim them as my tribe now or is that a tad tenuous) everyone who did a recce with me, gave advice or simply didn’t laugh in my face at the very idea of me embarking on the thing in the first place. It’s a paradox, training has felt solitary, but there is no way on earth I’d have made it round this course without all the help I’ve had from many, many others. I must be horrifically high maintenance, but I do appreciate it, I really do.
Next year? Bring it on! Also, bring on loads of extra Smilies, I am on a mission to if not get the Dig Deep 30 onto the Smiley Championship race list, to at least recruit the more pliable and suggestible of my smiley colleagues into signing up. We will be like cockroaches across a backpackers’ kitchen worktop as we swarm across them there hills. It will be EPIC!
For all my Dig Deep Series related posts click here, you can re-live my pre-event angst and multitudinous recces. You’ll have to scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you. You may have a life or something you should be out there living, or a long run pending, or tea to drink whatever – so chase that instead. Shoo, go on. Thanks for stopping by to hear my story en route though. Appreciated.
Oh you still want the results? How odd. Soooooo not the point. When you are an experienced ultra-runner(ish) like myself you’ll understand the nature of the challenge better, but I recognise your curiosity so, sigh, here you go, results from all the Dig Deep 2018 challenges for your amusement, enlightenment and edification. Enjoy.
And you want photos too? Blimey, some people are just all take, take take! Here you go, feast your eyes on these from the Dig Deep Facebook photo album page. If that doesn’t inspire you to sign up, nothing will.
*Gotta love Google* – I say you’ve ‘gotta love Google’ but clearly this is not true and besides it’s complicated. It can’t be good for one set of algorithms to get the monopoly of accessing portals into knowledge and yet, it’s still my default search engine, guilty as charged … So, be aware of irony dear reader, remember that.