Digested read: Dig Deep prep continues blah de blah. Hard today, did a circular route from Burbage taking in Stanage., Win Hill, Rebellion Knoll, Clamber up hill to Hathersage. It was really, really hard. I think I temporarily forgot this is supposed to be fun. So I did it, but not with much grace. However, still got to see unexpected wonders, and gained royal approval for doing so. Day not wasted then. Good to know. Didn’t get lost, didn’t get hurt, didn’t bonk. So that’s all good then. Hurrah! I’m sure this will console me hugely when neither of my legs appear to be working in the morning.
I’m not much of a royalist truth to tell, but even so, our current monarch did go up in my estimation when I discovered that so keen is she to support the Dig Deep Ultra events taking place over the bank holiday weekend that she’s already bagsied her spot to watch it from in Bradwell. That shows a not insignificant commitment to supporting the endeavour. I didn’t stop to talk to her – too busy running really fast (cough) but she did wave at me in her inimitable as I sped past. (Not really inimitable though is it, really very imitable I meant to say). It did make me think if I was Australian I’d definitely be in touch with my MP for a free portrait of the Queen though, maybe I’d go wild and blag one of the Duke of Edinburgh as well. Freebies always welcome!
I’ve not had my assumptions so challenged since I found out Theresa May regularly marshals at her local annual Maidenhead Easter 10 charity race, a 10-mile course – has been doing so for years. I know, messes with your head doesn’t it. She’s actually very good at directional pointing, and that’s not as easy as it looks.
Anyway, Theresa wasn’t out and about today, not on the section I was yomping round anyway. Perhaps she favours hanging out near Whirlow – or somewhere on the 60 mile route perhaps, I wouldn’t know.
I really had to psyche myself up for today – which might be why I struggled to be honest. I think it made more of a big deal of it than it should have been. When all’s said and done I’m just putting one foot in front of another, admittedly a lot, but nobody will really care whether I stop or not. However, I am really unsure how I’ll cope with so much elevation over that many miles. Distance per se doesn’t particularly phase me, but have you ever been up Win Hill? The thought of tackling that when I’m already knackered and then having to do loads more going up unnecessary slopes is more than a little daunting. I decided I really don’t want to have to face that challenge for the first time on race day.
Oh for goodness sake. Do you seriously not know what I’m on about? Have you not been concentrating? Edited version, I’ve accidentally (long story, long way) signed up to do a 30 mile ultra ‘run’ this August bank holiday. It’s one of the Dig Deep run series – the Dig Deep 30 now renamed as Peak Trails 30 Challenge (annoying isn’t it, like with those chocolate bars which will always be marathons for me). Apart from it being an awfully long way, I’ve been angst ridden about finding my way, and horrified now I’ve been doing recces at how much undulation it embraces along the way. I think I may have over-reached myself. Not hard, as I do have quite unusually short limbs. No really, I was told this at a gym induction once, when I explained I couldn’t reach some contraptions gadgetry. The 12-year-old introducing me to the equipment explained it was because it hadn’t been adjusted properly for me yet, and then tactfully (not), exclaimed ‘oh my god, you have got really , really short arms and legs. They are so short! That’s really odd! Do you know how odd that is. Seriously, it’s on the most extreme settings for short people already! I can’t believe it‘. I wonder why I don’t like gyms? It’s a mystery. Point of information, this was a different adolescent youth to the one who believed me when I said I had a biological disorder which meant I didn’t have any stomach muscles and who told me therefore to just skip the crunches when prescribing a personally tailored get fit regime! Different gym too. It’s not my natural habitat. The trouble is, I’m not sure that the wild peaks are either, though I can but dream…
Where was I? Oh yes, so I decided enough of this out and bad shenanigans, time I went for a circuit. I decided to start at Burbage car park, head over Stanage and to Yorkshire bridge. Up Win Hill. Gulp. Down to Hope. Pause, reset and then onwards through Bradwell up Rebellion Knoll (hate that climb too) down to Shatton, up to Gritstone pub and back to car park circling base of Higger Tor. This would take in a few of the most dreaded climbs, and be a reasonable marker of where I’m at fitness wise. This was the theory at least.
First the good news. It was a lot cooler than it has been. Hurrah! So cool, I’d even go so far as to say it was a bit nippy out first thing. I had to wear my waterproof to begin with. Note to self, maybe don’t store it all squished up in its own pocket. It was a bit stale smelling and claggy, not actually rank, but less than fragrant. Oh well, I’ve experienced worse. Doing a circular walk is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than out and back. I know running is inherently pointless, but out and back emphasises this especially. Circular routes bring adventures and feel like you are out exploring. Some things though were epic fail, specifically, I wasn’t organised about ‘nutrition’, I just stuffed a couple of the ‘not very nice’ oat and honey biscuity things in my back pack, filled my arctyrex bladder with electrolyte water and was ‘good to go’ only I wasn’t really. Hadn’t considered properly how long I was going to be out for, probably I was in denial. Just not organised really. I planned on stopping in Hope for something, which I did, but wasn’t best strategy for optimum performance. Also planned to turn off tomtom in Hope whilst I took sustenance, in the hope it might extend the battery life a bit longer. Oh and I took these with me too, because I had an idea… cowrie shells, obviously.
Arriving at Burbage car, there was no-one about, practically had the place to myself. The skies were a bit moody and there was a chill in the air. It surely wasn’t actually going to rain? Wasn’t sure how I felt about that. We need rain desperately, and I do want it to bucket down for days now, but honestly, I’d prefer it not to rain down on me mid-trudge. I put on my jacket, yep, bit whiffy, but hey, who’d know. It’s not as if anyone will ever know. Note to self, how should I clean it without losing waterproofing. I had all my maps with me, but wasn’t reckoning on needing them, so strode off with purpose.
Part one of the route was from Burbage car park to Hope, taking in my Nemesis which is Win Hill, but motivated to keep putting one foot in front of the other partly by necessity, and partly by the reward of a pit stop at the Adventure Cafe in Hope. It felt like a marathon, but Strava, which never lies, tells me it was only 8.3 miles (seriously, that can’t be true) and 1,313 ft which is weird, because it’s a lot less elevation than I did for the second half, but felt like a lot more. Psychologically, Win Hill is the top I need to summit, after that, for me at least, the worst is behind me. That ascent feels near vertical.
Off I went.
A few sheep blinked at me, the rocks looked awesome against the grey skies. The bees were silent. I wondered if I might find a body out today. It was the sort of day when you’d imagine if there were a cadaver about that you’d find it. Alone, and probably when you were without a phone signal. How annoying it would be to have to retrace my steps to get emergency services to sort that, and I wondered if that were to happen, would I be able to motivate myself to carry on and do the rest of my loop? I figured though, realistically, an earlier dog-walker would be more likely to have already made any such discovery, so I’d be in the clear. Actually, the first person I saw was quite a way along Stanage Edge, a solitary guy with a load of climbing gear. Blimey, that seems high risk activity. (Not sorry). Quite relieved I’d trotted on by before I witnessed any dangling off the edge on a thread and, as the sole witness, was obligated to intervene and save the day. I was running so hard I even had to take my jacket off. On and off with the waterproof was very much a theme of the day. incidentally, it’s not that I’m against helping as such, is just that I’m not first aid qualified and wouldn’t fancy my chances trying to haul someone back from a precipice, not least on account of my unexpected oddly short limbs as already referenced. I did even trot by the way, I feel I ought to try a bit harder with the running aspect, now I’ve got the route sorted. I’m not exactly storming round, but with it being a lot cooler I was pleasantly surprised how much easier it felt. I wasn’t even thirsty. Paused for a few views, and to swap stares with some sheep.
Maybe because it was overcast and cooler I made reasonably progress, but I didn’t see a soul. The long tarmac trudge down off Stanage and on New Road was mentally tough. I just felt like I had such a long way still to go, and was dreading the climbs. This is the downside of now being reasonably familiar with the route. Instead of just enjoying the scenery and sights in the moment, I was stressing about what lay ahead. I need to calm those demons. They don’t help. They don’t make the climbs any easier when they come and fretting spoils the moments you are in. I decided to distract myself with a bit more of a job as it was a downhill bit. By some miracle, it was at exactly this moment a car came alongside, driven by a fellow Smiley. She was off for a walk with a friend round Fairholmes. I was so excited to have been spotted actually running(ish), this makes a change, normally people see me only when I’m stopped by the side of the road blowing my nose, or lying in a ditch in a foetal position as other race participants stream by. I was offered a lift to the base of Win Hill, tempting, but would rather defeat the object of getting miles on my legs.
Eventually, I was there, at the base of Win Hill. Why so many locks on that gate I wonder. I braced myself and then began my ascent. It was loads better than I’d feared, it made such a difference that it was cooler, I wasn’t even thirsty! I think also weirdly doing it on my own removed my angst that I always get when comparing myself unfavourably with others. I did pause for the view and did struggle a bit. Can it really be true that the Dark Peak runners do training sessions involving going up and down Win Hill 6 times consecutively? I mean, it could have passed into folklore with some exaggeration, but it wouldn’t surprise me, they are hardcore those guys. Definitely not beyond belief. It was a bit stop start. One thing I still find messes with my head though is that Win Hill is like watching The Lord of the Rings. Not only because of the hobbit-esque landscape with gnarled tree roots and a tangle of ferns, but also because you constantly think you’ve reached the end (dear god surely this time?) and then find there is yet another bit to
endure enjoy. Then, to add to the trauma of the whole thing, when you finally finally are at the end of the thing, you discover there are a whole load of sequels still to come, and will be for all eternity. Not good for morale.
I found it hard. Hard, but not impossible, and once you do make it to the top, there are some fantastic views. It was actually quite crowded up there, which was weird as I’d not seen anyone very much up til this point. I took some photos of various people posing by the trig, declining their offer to return the favour. I’d already taken a glamorous selfie coming up Win Hill, that would suffice.
Sadly, and worryingly too, the heather is almost over, scorched off. That was a short-lived display. Maybe there’ll be a second bloom if there is a really significant downfall, but I doubt it. It’s hard to remember now how cold and wet it was in spring, let alone the snow and ice of winter. It seems like another world.
The bit coming off Win Hill was quite fun, gentle slope, runnable, if you are careful with the scree bits, and pretty soon you are in Hope. Hurray! Lunch stop.
I stopped my watch as I headed into the Adventure Cafe or cafe adventure more accurately, for lunch. I realised I’d not really drunk or eaten anything, and although I wasn’t consciously hungry, or even thirsty I knew I needed something. I went for a large glass of water, a latte and some soup. An enormous bowl of carrot and something soup came with a pint glass of water and a mug of coffee. All of which I consumed. Hmm, maybe I was thirstier than I thought. Now this was ‘fine’ in that I enjoyed it, and didn’t get an upset stomach or anything, but it isn’t optimum as a strategy for feeling bouncy and light when you have to get going again afterwards. I really do need to up my game. Naked bars are boring me, I should maybe take some peanut butter and Marmite sandwiches along with me, nice and salty to consume en route. Little and often would be better than inhaling 3 pints of liquid all in one go at the half way point. Then again, good to know that in principle, I could do exactly that on race day if I’m feeling overcome…
Off again. Marching purposefully off. Feeling confident, watch set off and stage two here we go. Part two of the route was from Hope back to Burbage, 10.49 miles… until my watch battery died, I reckon I had maybe another mile to go, probably a bit less, but can we compromise and call it 11 miles please? That would make my mileage for day 19.3. The elevation is interesting, because it was a respectable 1,965 ft, but it didn’t feel as brutal as the near vertical ascent of Win Hill. I’m not saying there wasn’t a lot of inward hurrumphing and outward muttering of curses at times, but I didn’t feel a need to stop, lie down and die at any point, which is progress, believe me.
I say I started purposefully, but maybe a bit too purposefully, I had a mental block. Hang on, was I supposed to go straight down this road, or should I have taken that turn off to the left. I’m sure I’m right, wont give in to looking… then I decided even though I was pretty confident I was going the right way, it would be very demoralising to go too far the wrong way, so I stopped, emptied out my running vest, checked on the map and… yep, I was right. Everything back in, off I went. Hang on. Where’s my hat? Curses. I had to backtrack to retrieve it, this was a low point, I still had a long way to go and didn’t want to be doing any more doubling back than I had to. The animals I passed in fields were all lying down. Was that a spot of rain I felt? I wasn’t sure, it’s been promised before. I saw an abandoned walking stick by a bench at one point just outside Hope, that was tempting, but I left it where it was, hope the owner came back for it ok.
Onwards, down the path to the cement works. Recent activity had covered the site with a thick layer of grey dust, it made it seem even more other worldly than usual, like ash debris that had fallen post a nuclear attack. Maybe a mushroom cloud over Sheffield had sent ash out this far. It’s possible. A van with a red flag on a long pole attached to it was driving round the site, but peculiarities of the undergrowth and the location of the road meant I couldn’t see the driver. It felt weird. Unsettling even. It is a strange place. Lights were flashing on a sigh somewhere, don’t know if that was because of some earth works in progress or if it was a Geiger counter of some sort, screaming a warning that the place was rife with radiation. Maybe I should get myself my own advice to check I didn’t pick up any contamination en route. I found a 100% reliable portable radiation detection device on eBay for £29.99, I’m sure there’s absolutely no reason not to have complete confidence that that will be an accurate and potentially life saving purchase. I might be tempted were I not currently saving up for my new long-life strava watch.
Out of the cement works passing by the teletubby residences on the right. Teletubby or hobbit, not sure, probably cater for both. It was definitely starting to spit now. I wasn’t sure if it absolutely constituted rain, heaven knows it’s been so long since we had any I can’t quite recall what it looks and feels like. Even so, I began the first of many on, off dances with the waterproof. Blimey it’s a faff, taking it on and off again. How people cope with the faff of kit changes in triathlons I can’t imagine Such a pain. On the other hand, what a boon to have a waterproof running vest. Yay! Everything nice and dry within. Result.
The next notably exciting thing was the community orchard:
I didn’t drop by today, because I was too excited about my next stop. The rock shop. This is where the cowrie shells came in. I had in mind it would be fun to leave something in the tin like hidden treasure. I was pleased to see the enterprise was still in business:
I was less pleased to see that other people had beaten me too it with the interaction with the hidden sales team. I wanted to be the person who had the grand idea. On the plus side, what a tin of bounties would await the young entrepreneurs when they next inspected their stall, that was more important I suppose. Bit of an anti-climax though, I had been looking forward to implementing my plan all morning. I added my shells to the tin, noting the pile of coins left by the Duke of Edinburgh group earlier on did look much more appealing. Oh well, I’ll have to think of something else for race day. I do have a back up plan, but not ready to reveal it just yet…
I hope they don’t shake the tin vigorously to see whether there’s anything in it, on picking it up, or they’ll just get dust and coins, like the ash debris from the fallout has travelled further afield. It’s getting sinister now… I ambled on, bit downcast. Disappointed by the thwarting of my plan, also bit miffed, that the DoE group will probably get the credit for the cowrie shells as well. I wanted it to be an anonymous mysterious offering. Thwarted indeed.
Into Bradwell. More taking coat on and off. As I approached, bunting was everywhere! Like those Tibetan prayer flags you see photos of, against a dramatic leaden sky. What’s this all about? Am I hallucinating? Have I entered some parallel universe?
Whatever, definitely lifted my spirits. More so, when I happened upon the green with a sort of petal picture, which turned out to be part of the recent Bradwell well-dressing festival which must have just taken place. Well dressings are a bit of a Derbyshire Peaks thing, but I’ve never been proactive enough to seek them out before. Check this out – they’ve used sheeps’ wool for the hair of the people in the audience, horse hair too I think, or just scalped an unwary visitor by sitting behind them on the bus and cutting off their ponytail. Whatever it takes, I imagine it gets pretty competitive. The detail was really impressive. I wasn’t tired anymore I was enchanted!
I scampered on through the village, ignoring the bus that was there to tempt me to take a shortcut home, in favour of exploring the village in search of other well dressing offerings. It was a veritable smorgasbord of delights dear reader. No wonder our monarch has chosen to place herself here to watch the Dig Deep Races come the august bank holiday weekend. As said before, I didn’t linger to chat, but nodded an acknowledgement to her wave. I know what it’s like cheering on runners from the sidelines. You don’t expect to be seen or acknowledged as they have other priorities, but a bit of interaction is always fun. It’s all happening here! Bradwell is quite the hub it seems. Be amazed, be very amazed and look on in wonder at the visions of creativity that unfolded before me:
These wondrous sites were a welcome distraction. I forgot my weariness, and how over this whole running idea I was and approached the base of Rebellion Knoll with a bit more, well if not exactly enthusiasm, pragmatism. Is that rain, or is that not rain. More waterproof on off malarkeys before heading on up the slope. I decided to stick to the path to the right throughout this time, in case that is the ‘official route’ wouldn’t want to do it for the first time on race day and get confused. Actually, there wasn’t much to it, it takes you out and up to exactly the same point as I’ve come out at all the other recces. However, I did get to see what looked like a head on a spike, which turned out to just be a baseball cap without a head in it on a fence post, not the same thing at all. Also saw a big stone which looked like it had a face on it. That would be super creepy to view by headtorch at night. Better hope I’m not doing this section in the dark then… Nice views too, those clouds are most atmospheric.
Weirdly, it was much quicker today. Maybe I went a more direct route, maybe it’s being familiar with it, maybe it was being cooler, but it really wasn’t that bad. Progress. Out onto Brough Road (I think that’s what it is, can’t be bothered to check on map) and even braved a little downhill scamper. It started spitting as I ran. I was trying to get to turn down the tree-lined path that leads into Shatton before the rain proper came. It wasn’t cold, but I didn’t want to get too soaked as still a few hours out left.
Made it to the track, evidence of both rainfall and solitary leaf cutter bee activity. Isn’t it amazing, how they do those perfectly round holes? I think it is.
And yes, those are actual water droplets on the leaves.
Through Shatton, out the other side. The drag along the riverbank was rather a lot further than I remembered. The troll proof bridge is still quite fun – it has chicken wire across the bottom to stop trolls from being able to rush out and grab you or any of the other billy goats gruff that may be passing. I noticed the fallen tree that was blocking the stepping-stones – how have I missed that before. You can tell that the rain was a bit of a novelty. I don’t normally stop to take photos of water droplets on five bar gates. The path was more uneven than I remembered, I didn’t feel like running at all. I felt like giving up. I honestly don’t know quite why. I wasn’t injured, my legs and lungs worked, it’s just it had been a long day, and I wasn’t enamoured of many more hours still to do. There was that steep bit up past the railway line still to go, that’s practically a crawl and what if the cows are there, only lying down this time. How will I get past them then? What is it with those really narrow wall gaps, bit of a squeeze with my vest at times. Was a relief to get to the bridge and the river point in Hathersage all the same…
Just up the hill and to Ringinglow, then I’m practically home. Battery was waning though… how VERY ANNOYING. I’m telling myself it will be good for me to do some naked running, just take it all in, not obsess about pace and time, run by feel blah de blah, but that’s all just white noise in my head. I’d actually quite like to get this run on Strava to be honest, I am shallow I want evidence and who knows, maybe even recognition of where I’ve been.
Up the hill. That was hard. It was sticky again. The views though. Wow, those dark skies that promised rain did give the scenery a stunning light.
or do you like this photo better dear reader? I’m not sure. It was dramatic though, fair took my mind off the unpleasant business of having a lot more ground to cover before tea time.
Soon I was back onto Little Moor and back onto a stretch of heather. the moody skies were impressive. Oh, meant to say, one of the gardens coming up from the railway tracks had this amazing plant growing out of the wall. Keep meaning to find out what it is, would love to try to grow it in my garden wall. Looks impressive en masse I think.
This last bit for today is fortunately, a stretch I like. It’s beautiful, and quiet. I was ready to finish off, but I do believe if I can get to this point I will get to the end. I got to where I think the dibbing point will be between Higger Tor and Carl Wark and then took a more direct line back to the carpark. Inevitably my watch packed up, despite my best efforts in stopping it earlier on. Yep, it’s definitely not going to last the course.
Eventually, I was back at the car. Maybe my energy supplies were a bit depleted, because I didn’t feel relief or anything other than exhaustion. I could feel my legs seizing up and I was really ready for some sort of comfort food. Oh for someone to have handed me a baked potato and veggie stew right there and then, or a proper mug of yorkshire tea (unsweetened soya milk for preference please) that would have gone done a storm. Inexplicably, noone was on hand to offer this service, so I had to make do with relief that I was able to locate my carkeys and so didn’t have to retrace my steps to find them. Maybe Lizzie would have picked them up and kept them for safe keeping? Anyway, didn’t arise, so I just made my way home.
So what of today? I think I’m going to go with ‘good in parts’. It just seemed a long time out there and very slow progress. I’m doubting why I’m trying to do this, what am I tryng to achieve? Nobody will care one way or the other, and even if I do get round it will be at such a crawl that might call into question whether its worth all the effort and drama queen dramatics of doing recces and agonising over kit. This endeavour is supposed to be fun, and it still can be. I think I just want to get to know the peaks and see if I can. It’s that’s simple and that hard. I’m just over complicating it with all the existential angst. It comes down to the same thing I’m finding. It is mentally challenging, more so than the London Marathon, because I am expecting it to be a solitary endeavour and it turns out, its quite hard being out for hours alone with your thoughts in them there hills. It’s maybe not got very much to with running at all. Just like the ultra runners in the know keep saying. Trouble is, some things you have to discover for yourself.
Maybe I need to channel my inner dunnock. No really. Hear me out. For the first time this year, I’ve had my own garden. I’ve been feeding the birds and love watching them. There are goldfinches and blue tits, and coal tits and magpies and crows and wood pigeons and sparrows and blackbirds – a solitary green finch, occasional robin and yes, dunnocks. I’ve only recently noticed them as distinct from the noisy sparrows. The dunnocks are ground feeders, always busy fossicking around in the undergrowth, and surprisingly tame, or at least not bothered by human activity. Not quite up there with robins but unconcerned by my comings and goings. A couple of days ago though, one of the dunnocks appeared really injured. Bloody cats. It’s clearly broken its leg, hobbling about sticking one wing out for balance, and (this is a bit gross) it looks like one of its eyes has literally popped out, either that or it has a massive haematoma on the side of it’s head. I didn’t rate its chances. Not much you can do is there. Trying to catch it would be impossible and traumatic, best let nature take its course. Though I did make a point of putting out a shallow bowl of water for it, and putting more seed on the ground than normal. I didn’t really expect for it to survive. But you know what, four days on, it’s still eating and drinking, it even had a go at a bath. It can fly and it seems to be using its leg a bit more. I have no idea how it’s doing it, but that is one feisty little bird. If it can keep going in those circumstances, I need to get a grip and get on with it. Of course it will be demoralising if I now find its little sad corpse on the floor between now and the race, but I think it’s got a sporting chance, as long as it doesn’t get an infection. Amazing.
So, thinking more positively, my successes for today: I didn’t bail, I did get round and I do know the route. I might even decide not to wear my prescription glasses and instead wear my tomtom sunnies on the day, they stay put whatever I do, and are much more comfortable for running in as they stand proud of your face. They look stupid, but I can do that anyway without them, so would be unfair to rule them out on that account.. That could knock whole minutes off my finish time. The sights were stunning, I met the queen and marvelled at the well dressings. The soup was good too.
Not so good, it was blooming hard, and I can’t lie I was mightily unenthusiastic at points. It’s the going up hill, and down hill and the bits in between that are especially hard. The gazing around parts looking at the view and discovering new things are fine.
Learning points, I’m faster when I don’t stop and take loads of photos, when I try and put a little jog on and it’s cooler running when it’s cool (though the latter is not in my control).
Today’s total around 19.5 miles (yes, I’ve upped it a bit, I think that’s fair. Elevation 3,278 ft. The requirement on Dig Deep Day and the Peak Trails 30 is a crappity, crap crap 30 miles and 1388 metres of ascent, which is 4,553.8 feet. Hmm. Not quite a walk in the park then. Oh well, a Smiley Ultra Runner who has been an unofficial mentor for me with this dig deep endeavour told me ‘remember – in the words of Ernest Hemingway – “only those who are prepared to go too far can possibly know how far we can go”’ She said Hemingway, but it might have been TS Eliot according to Google, doesn’t really matter though does it, it’s the sentiment that counts.
Let’s find out then shall we?
Oh, and for future reference, I’ve been googling How to wash your running kit – really? It says follow manufacturers instructions! Who knew, life is so easy if you google it. I’m now going to eat everything in the house that isn’t nailed down and google ‘how to complete your first ultra’ and all will be well with the world.
Done that. And dear reader, I now have ultra running sorted. Why didn’t I think of doing that before! Too knackered to share more ideas right now, but will do in due course. You’re welcome. 🙂
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