Mud, mayhem, and (s)miles

Last weekend three intrepid explorers and myself headed up to the Dark Peak for a couple of days of the aforementioned mud and adventures. The only firm plan we had was Wolf’s Pit fell race on the Sunday morning, but it made sense for me to crack on with a recce of part of the Ultra Tour of the Peaks route too, as I only have limited opportunities to get up to the Peaks between now and the race in August.

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Win Hill

After a Friday evening spent poring over maps in front of the fire at our lovely B&B, we had a plan; Lee and I would recce the 20ish (very ‘ish’ as it turned out) miles from Yorksire Bridge at the base of Win Hill, up along one edge of the Kinder Plateau, down into Edale, over Hollins Cross into Castleton, up Cavedale, down into Bradwell, up onto Bradwell Edge and finally down along the river to Hathersage. Katie and Rich would join us for the first half into Edale, pick up Katie’s car from there and meet us in Hathersage in time to eat ALL THE FOOD in the pub.

On a good day this would have a been a nicely challenging long run with plenty of up hill and down dale.


As it was, we had 45mph+ winds and periods of driving rain, with temperatures getting on for 0 degrees in the wind. The kind of day that justifies having all the kit with you, and you end up using everything shy of the emergency bag and the first aid kit. Katie and Rich really got the arse end of the weather, with the wind being in our faces for pretty much all the section they ran, but once we were down off Kinder Lee and I had a much kinder (ahem) time of it.

Despite all that, we had a great time. The trails were relatively quiet for first half and we were treated to some nice views along the top. Lee’s fingers were still working well enough to take pictures, so I have stolen them for here (thanks Lee!)

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Ladybower and a rainbow from Win Hill

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Moody and mizzly

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The girls showing how it should be done


A valiant attempt at type 1 enjoyment

The descent down The Nab came just in time to circumvent hypothermia and catastrophic sense of humour failure, and we all perked up a bit on getting out of the chilling wind. Lee and I said goodbye to R and K with strict instruction to get into warm clothes and a cafe ASAP, and we headed onwards towards Hollins Cross and Castleton.

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Did I mention it was a bit muddy? Up towards Bradwell Edge

There proved to be far too many humans for either of us between Rushup Edge and the top of Cavedale, including a fair few extremely unimpressed looking teenagers in school groups – some huddled down like sheep in the shelter of ‘dry’ stone walls, trying to eat their lunch. I expect the weather was enough to put many of them off, but I’d like to think there would have been one or two who were mainly exhilarated by it. After the Mecca of Castleton it quietened down a bit and we were into less familiar territory. From the top of Bradwell Edge we spied the mast that was to be a feature of the following day’s fell race, and from here we were very much on the home stretch.


Trainers less than 24 hrs old and fully baptised 🙂

Upon arrival in Hathersage we located (a somewhat warmer and drier) Katie and Rich and immediately retired to The Bull in Castleton for lots of food and some rugby, and from thence to our B&B for kit drying, warm baths and an evening in front of the fire.

All in all an extremely useful day for me, that allowed for a few navigational errors that I hopefully won’t be making between miles 30 and 50 in August!



Out of the frying pan, and into the Wolf’s Pit…

The following morning dawned drier, but it was still blowing a hoolie. We had a relatively leisurely breakfast and then decamped to ‘the second field on the right’ in the wonderfully named village of Shatton to register for the Wolf’s Pit fell race. Not ever having done a fell race before, I’ll admit I was more than a little bit apprehensive. Not because I was overly worried about managing the terrain or navigation, but more because I was sure I’d make some fell racing faux pas that would mark me out as a softie southerner with no place out on the hill.


Abney Moor from the start area

In the end I needn’t have worried – registration was a super slick affair, despite the popularity of the race, and the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. Not a soul mentioned the weather, which, had we been back at home, would no doubt have elicited many complaints about the strength of the wind or the depth of the mud; we were all there to enjoy a 5.7 mile/1500ft romp round Abney Moor whatever the elements decided to throw at us. The route consisted of a ford crossing, a climb straight up to the mast, an undulating loop round the top of the moor, and a sharp descent that retraced our original steps back through the ford to the finish.

The race briefing consisted of the calling out of two random race numbers to have their mandatory kit checked in front of everybody, and one not-so-random number who had to have his kit checked and then had to endure enjoy a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the assembled 🙂 Then it was time for the off, and nearly 300 crazy people legged it to the bottom of the field, through the ford and up away to the moor.


Crossing the ford (picture by Elizabeth Williams-Duncan)


I’m not going to lie – my legs were like lead after the previous day’s exertions, and I just wanted to get round in one piece. I was extremely pleased to find that I held my own, even gained many places, on the ascents, but my already-tired quads were completely trashed on the downhills where my technique leaves quite a bit to be desired. By the final descent I couldn’t trust my legs any more and lost quite a few places. I cruised comfortably along round the top of the moor, but found it frustrating being in a procession of so many other runners – not able to look ahead to nip round runners in front because I was unable to to take my eyes off the narrow single track immediately before me, the rest of which was hidden from view by other runners and a good ground covering of heather.

The highlight of the race was being graced by one of the clearest and most spectacular rainbows I’ve ever seen, but I must admit that I like my forays into the hills a little (a lot) less crowded. I loved the experience; no frills, £7 turn up and race, grab a hot drink, go home… but I’m not up for sharing with hundreds of others, no matter how like-minded they are. In the car on the way home we came to the conclusion that all I really needed was a longer fell race 😀

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Flatlanders do the fells!

So there we have it – I’m a bona fide fell runner now! The DOMS at the start of the week was severe, but it’s all little stepping stones on the journey towards bigger races in the Lakes (KMF 50k and SLMM with Katie) and the Peaks (UPTD in August). Hooray for the Hills!

Taper-time and other tantrums

It’s SVP-4 days and I have to admit that I’ve been putting off writing my pre-race blog post for nearly a week now, because even just thinking about race day sends my heart rate through the roof and makes me feel ever-so-slightly sick.

I’ve no idea why I’m so anxious about it; training since North Downs Way has gone well, very well in fact – I’m not sure I’ve had such a consistent block in the 2 1/2 years I’ve been running. I’m feeling organised with my usual lists of Race kit, Crew kit, and Recovery kit. The former encompassing everything I’ll need on me on race day, from the mandatory kit in my bag, right down to my underwear, as though I’m worried that in the pre-race excitement I might actually forget to put my pants on, despite this NEVER having happened before. Maybe it’s something about ensuring I’ve got all the bases covered. Ahem. I’ve recce’d the course (and made tonnes of mistakes in the process in the hope that I won’t actually make the same ones on Saturday), and I’ve got a super-duper crew lined up. So what could possibly go wrong? I expect I’m about to find out.

Yes, so I’m anxious. I think it started with the first recce, which was one of my least enjoyable runs ever. The other two were better, but not by much, and I guess I’m worried about it not being enjoyable. I’m not worried that I can’t cover the distance, despite it being my longest event to date, so (as I keep asking myself) what’s the problem? I think I just need to chill out.

As well as obsessing about SVP100, I’ve also been on a gorgeous recce of the Ladybower50 route in preparation for September. This was absolutely the perfect antidote to the SVP recce runs, where nettles, brambles, ankle-turning ploughed fields, and rubbish waymarking were the order of the day. The route round the Ladybower and Derwent reservoirs up in the Peaks was stunning and peaceful. I don’t mind telling you that I cannot wait for that race! The campsite where we stayed for a couple of days after was pretty special too…


I’m not a big fan of this pre-race period. It’s very much like hanging around on the runway before take-off; mulling over the things you’ve forgotten to pack, and all the irrational thoughts about what might lie ahead, without being able to disembark and sort any of it out. There’s still plenty of time for me to oscillate from anxious, to wildly excited to be racing, and back again, before I can really get my teeth stuck into it. I’ve got another couple of runs planned this week, to keep the legs ticking over, and an appointment with Magic Megan at the brilliant Fit Again Sports Therapy this evening, but mainly I’m trying to focus on getting as much sleep as possible, feeding both myself and my list-writing compulsion, and checking the weather forecast every 30 mins to see if it is still favourable!

Despite all the above, I really am looking forward to it, and come Saturday at 9am I will be ready to go. I have only the vaguest of ideas of long it’s going to take me, and no idea how I might do, but I’ll be giving my absolute best shot on the day. For those of you that know me, I’m sure my crew will give updates on facebook along the way (if they can get signal, that is), and I’ll see you back here next week for the blow-by-blow account!


Come hell or high water

On Saturday I made a start on the first of three course recces of the Stour Valley Path 100 route. This will be my next big race and I had been really looking forward to running it; the start of the race is only a thirty minute drive away, and the finish is a couple of miles (as the crow flies) from where my brother and his family live; it seemed rude not to give it a go, really.

Having spent last week combatting a throat infection and feeling thoroughly sorry for myself, I knew early on that the plan for Saturday would be somewhat kill-or-cure… at the outset it looked something like this:

  1. Load bikes onto newly-purchased (second-hand) bike carrier (£10 on Gumtree – massive bargain!)
  2. Drive to Clare and dump my bike at Clare Castle country park (CP2 on race day)
  3. Drive back to Newmarket, park up, and head to the start of the route (taking leave of Wingman Rich who was wending his way to Clare by bike)
  4. Enjoy a leisurely, Summer’s day long run from Newmarket to Clare (23 and bit miles)
  5. Eat all the food in the Pub
  6. Cycle back to Newmarket in the late evening sunshine (17 miles)
  7. Drive home

Optimistic? Possibly. What actually happened went more like this:

  1. Spend the best part of an hour swearing as we tried to work out how do fix the bloody bike carrier to the car.
  2. Shut little finger in the boot of the car – more swearing and A LOT of pain. Didn’t cry though.
  3. Set off for Clare only a couple of hours later than we meant to.
  4. Stop on the side of the A14 to re-fix parts of the bike carrier to the car
  5. Arrive at Clare country park and dump my bike
  6. Drive to Newmarket and find a parking space, but only after some t***er stole the one I was waiting for whilst Rich was taking his bike off the carrier; more Shouting and Swearing.
  7. Find the start of the route
  8. Say bye to Rich and start running
  9. The first mile and a half out of Newmarket is a bit boring, being mainly along the side of the main road. Somewhere along here it starts raining
  10. Turn off the main road onto the Stour Valley Path proper (but only after missing the turning because it was so overgrown) and begin what would would turn out to be a four-and-a-half hour battle with brambles and stinging nettles. I kid you not. That path is an absolute joke. Of the 23+ miles that I ran I would say that roughly 35% of it is virtually impassable, with many other parts not runnable. Stinging nettles up to my armpits (and sometimes taller than me) knit together across the path with no end in sight, brambles catching my ankles, long wet grass flaying the skin from my legs… and the bits that were clear of the aforementioned were either submerged (completely) in water, or across the middle of fields where the clay topsoil clung to the bottoms of my trainers for dear life and added a couple of kilos of resistance to the running. I think the low point came at about mile 14, where I stood in front of [yet another] wall of nettles, drenched to the skin (had I mentioned the biblical rain? It hadn’t stopped since I left), in the middle of a thunder storm, and swore some more and had a bit of a cry because I didn’t want to get stung any more. I had to find a tree branch to fight my way through in the end. At 15 miles I came across a similar looking stretch of nettles and lost the will to live, but here there was a churchyard I could cut through instead – so I climbed the gate, sheltered in the church porch (which turned out to be Kedington church) and rang Rich for an extended whinge to his answerphone about how cold/wet/stung/miserable I was, the fact that It had taken me 3 hours to ‘run’ 15 miles, and that I would probably be a bit later than expected to Clare… Feeling considerably better for having shared my misery, I gave myself a stern talking to, shouldered my pack, and set off again. Mercifully, there were only a two or three really bad patches of nettles in the remaining 8 miles, although the rain and mud never abated, and I arrived at Clare to find Rich sheltering under a tree, similarly drenched, and we walked in the final half a mile together.
  11. We ate ALL THE FOOD in the pub. And drank all the warm drinks. I was unreasonably pleased to find that we’d picked a pub posh enough to have *actual little towels* in the bathrooms… so I used a couple to wipe the mud off and generally get dry (apologies, Swan Inn, but you do have very nice bathrooms, very nice staff, and extremely nice food!). Fortunately we’d had the foresight to bring warm dry clothes to change into for the cycle home.
  12. At some point during dinner we decided that the cycle back could eff-off to the far side of somewhere very far away
  13. Get a taxi back to Newmarket
  14. Drive back to Clare to collect the bikes
  15. Drive home through some really bad flooding that nearly saw us stranded
  16. Eat more food
  17. Bath
  18. Collapse in bed

My legs that evening:

And the following day:


Not pretty, and very, VERY itchy. I would add a picture of the belly-button chafing too… but maybe not.

Things wot I learnt:

  • Always take a warm/waterproof layer; it is possible to get very very cold even in the summer – I would have been stuffed if anything had happened to stop me moving
  • Don’t forget your silver blanket (see above)
  • That path is a bitch
  • The navigation function on my Suunto is the mutts nuts (but I should have had a hard map too)
  • I can run 23 miles on no fuel and 500ml water and still be ok at the end, so my fat metabolism must be pretty decent
  • The elevation profile lies – there are no hills
  • Never, EVER, put magnesium oil on legs that have been stung to buggery by stingers. It BURNS us. Gollum.

I was seriously questioning whether this was a race that I wanted to run for large parts of Saturday, but now I feel like the course itself has thrown down a challenge to me and there’s no way I’m going to let it go now. I’ll run the other sections of the route over the next month and see if they’re any more inspiring! And please, please, no more nettles.