Last Saturday saw me take on my first ever ‘Ultra’ ..The High Peak 40 Mile Challenge, something I’d had an ambition to do since helping on one of the check points (CP) back in 2014. Here’s my review of this arduous race…
I arrived at the registration/finish way earlier than I should have done, got my number, tally card and then had to wait for more than an hour before the race started. Trembling (not from the chilly air) and feeling physically sick. Amazingly, so were a few of the other runners I talked to, which made me feel a little less out of my depth.
Teamed up with Helen and Rachel from Belper Harriers and set off from the Pavilion Gardens at 8am. Dead steady pace all the way up St Johns Road and Bishops Lane, before taking a nice little walk break as we stumbled upon a bit of a bottle neck at the steps which would lead over the hillside to the Goyt Valley…once over the top though there’s a nice little downhill bit and then a steady plod along the disused railway towards CP1 where a refreshing drink of squash awaits, then a lovely trip all the way down the Bunsall Incline.
Nice flat trail for a while along Fernilee Reservoir then a diversion up and over a few fields before following the woodland path to CP2..gosh, already? Across the road up a track and onto Shallcross Road before going over the fields towards Eccles Pike, the first quite significant climb..time to walk (well, speed march with Rachel leading us here) and enjoy the stunning views across Combs Moss and Chapel-en-le-Frith. CP3 arrives once over the summit and they had freshly brewed tea available here, which was an absolute delight!
A very welcome downhill section as we head along Charley Lane towards Chinley before going up Beet Lane behind what was once the Crown & Mitre pub. This is quite a challenging climb but you do pass CP4 here, which is the one manned by Buxton AC members. Continuing uphill and eventually reaching the Pennine Bridleway. I’d described this section to my running companions for the day as a shitty bit but it was great…stunning vistas on such a lovely clear day and a wonderful section down to a shallow ford and then back uphill for what proved to be a very toilsome climb up to the next CP..quick stop for squash and to take on some fuel before turning left for another climb up along Rushup Edge (worth it for the amazing views across the Edale Valley) drop down (and up again) to the summit of Mam Tor. 17 or 18 miles done here and I still felt pretty awesome! Quick stop for a photo, along to Hollins Cross and then a steep, tricky descent towards CP6 and into Castelton.
Now, having reached the halfway point we are presented with Cave Dale..and endless steep climb up what seems like a waterfall across slippery limestone, though (eventually) when you get to the top there’s a nice grassy section across the fields at Bradwell Moor on towards CP7 and then downhill on the roads for a few miles into Tideweswell and CP8 at exactly 26 miles! Wow, I’d completed a marathon distance and felt quite pleased with myself here with only 14 more miles to go..how difficult could that be???
The next section was probably once of my favourite parts down towards and along a good section of the river Wye. I’d lost touch with Helen and Rachel at Tideswell, so ran much of this alone but took great satisfaction in passing quite a few runners who’d perhaps been a little too enthusiastic in the first half of the race I eventually caught up with Helen and Rachel as we approached the Monsal Viaduct and CP9..running together once again as we passed through fields and woods before emerging onto the A6, opposite Deep Dale.
Deep Dale is pretty much like Cave Dale and by now I was feeling well and truly fucked, but I knew this was the last of the horrible climbs along the route and sauntered up to the top, basking in the warm afternoon sunshine, towards CP10.
CP10, the gateway to hell! Honestly, everyone had warned me about this 3 mile section of road into Chelmorton. Monotonous, never-ending, soul-destroying and cruel! A road which meanders off into the distance and then, when you get there, does exactly the same again. I really was losing the will to carry on here! Helen had by now sped off but thankfully Rachel hung around to offer some much need moral support.
Anyway, once you think you’re through the worst and having been left completely wrecked, you’re directed through the village of Chelmorton, along a track, some grassy fields and over endless stiles until you eventually stumble upon what I can only describe as a cruel prank from those who organise the challenge; Deep Dale 2 ..a FUCKING HUGE limestone ravine!!!! You can actually see the penultimate checkpoint over the other side..it’s just a very steep drop into the ravine and then back out again to get there. Oh, and another stile at the top! Thankfully, a cup of tea was on hand here..the first one since way back at CP3.
With CP11 behind us, Rachel and I shuffled our way through farmers fields, Cowdale, more fields and then the last section towards Buxton…a route I’m familiar with and a brilliant downhill bit towards the Viaduct on Dukes Drive. Once up the hill past Cottage Hospital my legs suddenly felt okay and I actually managed quite a decent pace across Temple Fields and down College Road…amazingly some of my running buddies had stuck around to cheer me across the finish line, some of their kids running alongside me made for an awesome finish to an epic race. Even better, one of my running buddies had a nice, cool beer ready for me..which was very much appreciated.
32 miles of heaven on earth, 8 miles of hell on earth. Job done. I’d hoped to complete the race in around nine hours or so but it took me just over ten, but this wasn’t at all a disappointment as it was my first attempt at anything like this sort of distance…and who knows? I’m really tempted to try it all again in 2017, see if I can do it quicker!