I recently completed the Long Tour of Bradwell, a 33 mile race in and around the Hope Valley. This was my second race in the RunFurther series of races, and was in the "Short" category. It is odd to think that I have gotten to the stage where 33 miles is considered a short run, but it is funny to see that my friends have become completely desensitized to these things. When informed that I was "off up a mountain running a 33 mile race" by my fiancee Jen, her friend responded "oh right, so just a quick run then?". However, whilst the distance was short, the elevation most definitely wasn't. Whilst only a third of the length of the South Downs Way from a few weeks ago, the elevation was almost half that of SDW (~7,000 feet). And SDW was pretty darn hilly. I guess that's why they call it the Peak District...
Whilst I live in Cambridge (sooooo flat!), I was quite surprised at how close the Peak District actually was. I headed up on the Friday evening and crashed at a friend's house who, fortuitously, lives only 20 minutes away from the start of the race. My friend, Colin, was unfortunately away but was kind enough to hide a key for me to use. I hope that my fumbling around in the back garden under the cover of darkness didn't attract too much attention from the neighbours...
I woke up early on Saturday morning and headed towards Bradwell Sports Pavillion, where the organisers from Dark and White were in the process of setting up. The weather was not looking favourable. A heavy downpour had hit on the short journey, so heavy that it was difficult to see the road. When I arrived, I seemed to have outrun the rain, but the clouds were not looking promising. The forecast was suggesting that the rain would hit at about 9am and would last through the day until about 4pm - pretty much exactly the time that I was likely to be running. Things were looking like they were going to get wet! To avoid carrying too much equipment, I decided to wear a warmer top and a winter hat so that I could stay warm whilst up the hills.
Since I had arrived in plenty of time for the start, I was able to chat to some of the other racers, many of whom had run the race previously and were able to give me some tips on the more difficult sections of the race. This is the third year for this race, and the consensus that I got from the people that I spoke to was that it was a fantastic race with some stunning views. However, a few message boards had suggested that there had been some issues with checkpoints running out of water last year. I'd best not be last then... Equipment-wise, I was trying to keep things simple. I have been guilty in the past of carrying way too much equipment. This time I tried to keep things simple; 1.5 L water bladder in my Salamon pack, a couple of 500ml bottles of electrolyte/carb drink, a few gels and some salted peanuts, and a lightweight waterproof. I was supplied with a map of the course, and kept a compass with me just in case.
At 9am, we all lined up on the road ready for the off. There were a few Wayne's World moments, as cars came down the road surprised to see a group of 100 lycra-clad runners. The horn went and we were off. I was at somewhat of a disadvantage for not really knowing the course, and as we all know my navigation skills are not so great, so my plan was to stick with the front pack and hope that I could follow someone who knows where they are going. We climbed out of Bradwell, past the cement factory that is quite a prominent feature of the valley, and up and over Pindale. I fell in at the back of the front pack, and settled into a comfortable pace. In planning my tactics for this race, I was a little in the dark as I didn't know how much the hills would affect things. I figured heading for a 7 hour race was a sensible shout, and if I came in faster that would be lovely. I seemed to cope well with the hills, and I would say that I seemed to be quite good at the downs (just let go and fly seems to be the best technique - essentially a controlled fall). I was able to happily keep pace with the group of runners that I was chatting with up Ringing Roger towards checkpoint 5 at Druid's Stone. Many people, I had heard, went wrong at this stage last year, and it's easy to see why. The clear bridle paths gave way to offroad bracken and heather and, after dropping behind slightly before the checkpoint, I began the steep decent with only a vague path of trodden vegetation to guide the way.
When we hit the road, I realised that I had lost sight of the other runners, and was left to navigate on my own, which of course put me further behind and I never managed to catch up again. As we ascended Back Tor I could see the other runners ahead, but was now conscious of ensuring that I was aware of my position on the map. It was here that things went slightly wrong for the first time. I seemed to be on the right track as I ran through the farmers field at the base of Back Tor whose fields we had been given permission to run through. A marshall in the middle of the field pointing me in the right direction helped to cement this theory, and I continued to follow the path through the fields down towards the road. I eventually hit the road (after what seemed like a longer time than I would have expected, and turned left expecting to find the next checkpoint on the exit from the small village. What I found instead was that I seemed to be coming INTO the village rather than out of it. Bugger. In fairness, I was quickly able to work out where I was and how best to orientate myself back onto the track.
When I came into checkpoint 7 I had run an 2 miles or so, and had well and truly lost the runners ahead. I still seemed to be out on my own, but I had no doubt that the runners behind were catching up fast. I tried not to get too disheartened, refilled my water, and headed off again. The forecast rain still hadn't shown up, and in fact it was starting to get very warm. I began to regret my decision to dress for the worst as I realised quite how warm I was getting, but carried on regardless. Almost halfway now.
I headed off up past the cemetery and headed up for the ascent up Win Hill. The path wound along below the peak, and below I could see a number of runners approaching fast. I continued on regardless, and followed the path round to the next marker by a very sudden right hand turn that would be very easy to miss if I weren't paying attention. Another runner caught up and we chatted for a while on the path towards Ladybower Reservoir. It was around this point that the rain hit, but it wasn't anywhere near as severe as I had been expecting. A pleasant shower that served to cool me down, and wasn't bad enough to make me pull out the waterproof.
We ran through checkpoint 10 and continued along the path for a nice easy run with little navigation needed. Or so I thought. I began pulling away from the other runner on the flat, and soon saw that he was not visible behind me. At first I was a little worried that perhaps I had missed a turning, but then I saw ahead a piece of red and white tape on the trail which had been marking the route along the way. I continued along, expecting to eventually come to a bridge over the River Derwent ahead where I would find the next checkpoint. I eventually came to a bridge marked with tape, but no checkpoint. Hmm.
After wondering around trying to find the marker, I decided that I would have to head back the way I had come to catch up with another runner to find out what had gone wrong. However, as I was about to head back, I heard a shout behind me of "Hey, are you part of today's race?". It was a couple out with their dog, and they quickly informed me that I was in the wrong place. They had seen the marker earlier that day up along the stream. Also, the guy (whose name I never thought to ask) said that I had accidentally ended up on the route of another race that had been on the week before which also used tape to mark out the course. Which actually made me feel a little better to be honest! They kindly agreed to show me where the marker was, and even offered to run along with me (much to the dog's delight). Whilst we were jogging along, I found out that they had just moved up from St. Neots, which is only a stone's throw from my place in St. Ives. Small world! After we reached the bridge, bid farewell to my saviours (who even kindly offered to refill my water, although I decided to just crack on), and headed off up Bamford Clough. This was a very steep climb, so was really much more of a hike than a run. By this point, I had lost a lot of time and had dropped pretty far behind the front pack. I had put any thoughts of finishing in a good time out of my head, and just enjoyed the rest of the route. The sun was shining again, and I once again wished I wasn't dressed so warmly...
I followed the lane around Stanage Edge along the rocky outcrops which was actually a lot of fun, and couldn't help noticing the large number of climbers out and about in the afternoon sun. I enjoy climbing, and would have to come back up here another time with my gear. But for now, I was concentrating on catching up to some of the people ahead of me. I overtook a group of runners and headed down the descent towards checkpoint 12. By this point, the heat was starting to have an affect and I realised I was getting quite dehydrated. I spent a bit more time than I wanted to in the checkpoint, refuelling and making sure that I had enough supplies to last me, and in that time most of the other runners headed off ahead of me. I came out at the other side of the valley with a couple of other runners, and after a little searching eventually found the next checkpoint marker dangling precariously over Burbage Brook.
The next section was a bit of a navigational nightmare. There was no obvious path, but a rough sense that we should be heading in a particular direction through the overgrown bracken. The occasional red and white tape was encouraging, despite my earlier issues. I came through the quarry and followed the route past many walkers, who were all very nice and let me pass with no hold-ups. One couple insisted that I stop and look at the ant hills. I'm glad I did - they were huge! One came up to my stomach and was teeming with activity.
This section was actually very pleasant, and had I been dressed for it the weather was lovely! I pulled in to checkpoint 15 feeling a little sick, so had a brief respite to have a snack and drink some orange juice. The sugar was definitely welcome, but I was starting to feel surprisingly tired. I'm not sure if it was the hills, going out too fast, or whether I was still not quite 100 % after the SDW, but I was feeling sluggish and things were starting to feel difficult. After checkpoint 16 at Stoke Ford, I made my way up towards Abney. This next section seemed to be one non-stop uphill. Not particularly steep, but enough to prevent me from really taking off. I walked a lot more than I should have done and was feeling very hungry. I had been unable to have my usual porridge for breakfast in the morning due to the lack of a microwave which probably didn't help. As I reached the top of the climb, I could see the cement factory at the bottom of the valley, and Bradwell stretched out before me. This was it, the final descent. I willed my legs into action, and let her rip. The descent was great, and I felt like I was flying again. When I hit the bottom (all too quickly considering how long it had taken me to get to the top), I had made up some time on the runner ahead of me. I passed him running through the town center, and came in with a final time of 7:24:59.
Overall I came 40th out of almost 100 runners which wasn't terrible, but I made a lot of mistakes without which I could have done a lot better. I took way too long in the last section, taking about 50 minutes to cover about 3.5 miles. When I look back it annoys me that I didn't just suck it up and get running, but at the time I just couldn't get things going. But navigation is the top one, but I think that that comes with experience. I made a couple of mistakes, but neither of them were stupid mistakes. I was able to readjust myself, and when I come back next year I will have a much better idea of the route. It's all a learning curve. But the main thing is that I really enjoyed this run. The views were indeed stunning, and looking out over the valleys at the top of Back Tor I couldn't help but feel jealous of the people that get to run here on a regular basis. It was a great event, and the people that I chatted to were all incredibly friendly and were quick to offer advice and encouragement. I look forward to coming back for another crack next year, and I have two more races in the Runfurther series (High Peaks 40 and Round Rotherham) which are in the same area, along with a whole host of other short races. Apologies for the lack of photos in this post, but I will try and get some for the next few races. Roll on September!