At registration I was impressed by the number of runners present who'd done the Lakeland 50 or 100 two weeks earlier. One of them was Ian Symington who finished 4th in the L100. He went on to win this event. In my experience, the more you do the more you can do (as far as the inate ability with which you were born allows, of course). These L50-ers and L100-ers will have been fast and fit thanks to their recent Lakeland exertions.
[That has been my personal experience time and time again over the years. Last year after getting a PB on the Lakeland 100 I posted a second best time at LToB just one week later. Compare that with this year when I got a second worst time after no such extreme exertion beforehand. Now as I write this nearly two weeks later, I think I know why. It involves three lots of antibiotics (two strong, the last of which I'm still on), an improvement in my feeling of wellbeing and a heart rate back down to normal for the first time in months.]
We wandered up the road as usual to the starting area on the side road and dibbed our first Sportident dib to confirm our participation in the event. After the brief instructions we were set off running up the lane towards the limestone works and Pin Dale. Jon Steele was there taking pictures for a change instead of taking part (he had a tough L100 two weeks earlier, finishing against the odds). As we climbed Dirtlow Rake I knew I had to walk instead of jog my way up like I've been able to do in previous years. The sweat was pouring and the heart rate red-lining. I sensed that the max effort I always put into these events without pushing myself over the edge would result in a walk-jog today, with a nice blast down any available downhills (the weakness is never in the legs, it's in the engine that struggles with a duff cylinder).
The starting dib.
After slogging our way up to Edale Cross I enjoyed the run down the other side towards Edale and checkpoint 4. Great care was needed as I overtook others on the washed-out rocky path (which some of us will be climbing in the opposite direction very soon on the Bullock Smithy Hike).
The next climb up The Nab had us all plodding before the gradient eased across the base of Ringing Roger. Cutting across to the higher path that took us to checkpoint 5 tied around the Druid's Stone involved a lot of heather bashing. I wonder if there's a trod that cuts across? None of us found it if there is.
CP5 at the Druid's Stone.
The descent from the Druid's Stone all the way to Woodhouse Farm at the bottom is very steep and rough. I was in my element as I felt my knees and quads get exquisitely exercised, taking the strain without complaint. Time for some more overtaking again.
The sun in the valley was very warm, the air was still and humid, the sweat was flowing and I was already beginning to feel the burning soreness as my vest filed away at my nipples. I had packed a first aid kit (not in the kit requirements) to accompany the hat and gloves (that were) and sat down on the stile on the next climb to Back Tor to administer to myself. As I did so, Mandy Calvert then (bigger surprise) Stuart Walker powered past up the hill. By the time I realised it was him and that he shouldn't have been behind me, he was too far ahead for me to ask 'how' and 'why'. (The split times afterwards showed that he lost 35-40 minutes between Edale and the Druid's Stone. I wonder where he went?)
A nice leg stretch took us to the summit of Lose Hill before a right turn and run all the way down to checkpoint 7 at Killhill Bridge. (Jon Steele was just approaching the top from Killhill with his camera at the ready as I began my descent.) Is it just me or does anyone else feel spent by the time they arrive at CP7, which is only 14 miles in? Every time I've run this event (that's all four of them), CP7 is where the walking survival strategy has to commence even when running should be possible. It is where others go on ahead and I find myself alone. I'm used to it and don't worry too much. I might catch one or two of them later.
Checkpoint 8 in the woods above Ladybower Reservoir (atypically, almost full to the brim this year) marked the sharp right turn and descent to the railway bed that was used in the construction of the dam. I shuffled my way alone in the partial shade and stagnant humidity along the track to checkpoint 9 at the road crossing. Water was not short or rationed this year. More than that, there were jam sandwiches on offer, which is a first for this event. Enthusiastic volunteers who were keen to take on board suggestions for improvements next year was very encouraging. Things are looking up for this traditionally frugal event.
The River Derwent in Bamford was all sunlit tranquility (see top picture and below). I was still alone as I dibbed at checkpoint 10 on the bridge in the middle of the river. The peace was soon shattered by my pounding heart and pulse throbbing in my exploding head as I dragged myself up Leeside Road / Bamford Clough ('The Escalator'). As I ascended very slowly, some mountain bikers descended very quickly, leaving in their wake the smell of overheated disc brakes. Then came hoards of scramble motorbikers. They very wisely picked their way slowly and carefully.
Checkpoint 10 at Bamford Mills.
Reaching the top and right turn up the less steep road was a big relief. A rest stop was afforded by having to wait for a line of off-road vehicles coming down to squeeze past other cars going up. They just about made it. Rejuvenated by the rest and with another gel on its way down my gullet, I proceeded to give chase to some other runners on the road ahead.
Checkpoint 11 offset to the left seemed a long time coming this year before the final walk-shuffle up onto Stanage Edge. The views, warmth and sunshine were just like they've always been on this event - pure magic and like going back in time every year. Also the same every year - a combination of a body pushed to its limits and rocky terrain underfoot with multiple trip hazards meant that I mostly walked, and ran only when a frisson of extra energy leached its way into my being until it was used up 30 seconds later. Does this sound familiar to anyone else? It's what ultra running is all about for me.
As I shuffled my way along the edge I drew closer to a couple of other runners, one of whom was David Bethell. He was struggling with - you guessed it - cramp. This was his first Ultra and he was on a very steep learning curve. He hadn't heard about electrolytes until this day. I had just about emptied my bottle and was going to prepare a second nuun at the next checkpoint at Upper Burbage Bridge, which was drawing close now. I told him he needed to take a few gulps of that when it had finished effervescing, and not to worry about me because there would be far more than I would need for the remainder of the day.
We arrived at checkpoint 12 to restock and refuel. My recollection is that a major water refill is always required at this checkpoint because it's a long, tough slog all the way from the railway bed before Bamford. David took his fill and I left him recovering to run the easy track beneath Burbage Rocks down to Burbage Bridge.
David stretches cramped legs at CP12.
The descent from CP14 through the heavily wooded old quarry workings is always a delight (more steep downhills to enjoy, and shaded from the sun). We cross the railway line and descend to eventually join the River Derwent. It's always hot and I'm always in serious plod mode by this point. I get overtaken some more but I was past caring years ago. The flat drag to checkpoint 15 at Leadmill Bridge is never easy. Walking alternating with ultra-shuffling is the best I can ever manage by this point.
Like CP12, major water refill is always required at CP15 (organisers, are you taking note?). With 5.5 miles to go I set off shuffling my way up the road from CP15. From here is where I did some overtaking all the way to the finish, without getting overtaken myself. On the descent to the last checkpoint (CP16, 29.8 miles) at Stoke Ford, I crashed my head on an innocuous looking bunch of leaves that concealed a brutal club. I stood for 30 seconds rubbing the pain away. Post-race forum and blog reports suggested that many were victim to the hidden snare. At least one was hospitalised for stitches. Someone needs to return to cut it off. If I remember I'll take a saw with me next year.
Just before the final descent to Bradwell (there were no parascenders this year because the wind was in the wrong direction) I was caught and slightly overtaken...... until the descent came. Ah, back in my element again. The pained trudge was transformed into a gravity-assisted blast down the steep, technical single track. I re-overtook the recent overtaker, and a couple more for good measure on my way down to the lane. I ran down the lane, up and down to the steps on the right down to the main road. I expected to get overtaken again as I struggled to shuffle my way down the gentle descent. It didn't happen. My pursuers must have been tired. I thrutched my way to the finish in 7:57 for a second worst time, just like last week on Dovedale Dipper. Only one thing was different. I felt less trashed this time than I did a week earlier. I took that as a good sign.
The Dark and White volunteers provided the best support so far in this traditionally frugal event. The tea, soup and roll at the finish were just what the doctor ordered for rehydration and recovery. It was a grand day out, like it always is. Here are the pictures.