It’s been a busy few weeks since Dragon’s Back which has included an LDWA marathon, the 54-mile Wenlock Olympian Walk, marshalling at the Lakeland 100, the 30-mile Peak Skyrace and a 45 mile recce of the second half of The Ridgeway Challenge route. I’d enjoyed the Peak Skyrace near Buxton so much that I decided at the last-minute to enter the Dig Deep Ultra Tour of the Peak District – a 60-mile romp around the Peak District with 2,722m, (9,000′) of ascent.
The event HQ was just outside Sheffield and with registration on the friday evening it meant a long drive up from Cardiff after work which took about 4 hours. It did get me there in time to enjoy a talk from Nicky Spinks and grab a quick beer before retiring to my tent for an early(ish) night.
The race briefing was at 05:45 and around 60-70 typical ultra-runner types assembled in the barn, the weather was looking decent so with very little ceremony we lined-up on the start line and were on our way a few minutes before 06:00, possibly the first time I’ve ever done a race that started early.
I’d looked at the maps, there’s nothing massively steep or high in the Peak District – well not compared to Snowdonia, Transylvania or the big 5,000′ climbs in the USA. And after Dragon’s Back I see hills and navigation in a different light – everything I’ve done since is easy compared to Days 1 & 2. My plan was to have a nice, easy day out – it’s about the same distance and climbing as Fellsman but a lot easier terrain and navigation – I’d told myself if I finished under 15 hours I’d consider that a good day, especially considering how tired my legs were.
So off we went, through woodland and soon climbed out of the valley, across some moorland, through the first Checkpoint and onwards towards the high ground. Just after hitting the top of the first big rocky climb up to Stanage Edge I came across a group of people in green robes standing around some of the rocks and chanting, it was obviously too early for hallucinations and not wanting to end up as a human sacrifice I gave them a wide berth and carried on. I managed to find a photo of them so definitely wasn’t seeing things, who were those guys?
My legs were definitely tired right from the start so I was taking it really easy and just enjoying the views, trying not to trip-up on the rocky terrain. After 10 miles there was no-one in sight in front or behind, the course was only marked for the first 7 and last 5 miles – the rest was all navigation using maps but it’s all on well-marked, recognised trails so pretty obvious and easy. With 20 checkpoints along the route you were never far away from knowing you were still on course.
The first major Checkpoint was at 16 miles, drop bags were allowed here but I wasn’t using any so just filled up water and headed out on a big loop. Heading up a long climb up onto Derwent Edge the familiar Peak District terrain and rock formations kept me amused as I watched my thumb move across the OS Map, “Wheel Stones”, “Salt Cellar” and “Cakes of Bread” before heading over “Lost Lad” then down to Ladybower before climbing back up to Derwent Edge and back to the Checkpoint. I think the people at the CP said I was the 44th person through, but it was still very early days, we weren’t even halfway through yet.
Another long climb back up to Stanage Edge, (there’s a lot of “Edges” in the Peak District) followed and the weather closed-in a bit, I had to stop for a while to re-adjust everything and put on a few layers during which a few people passed me. A long descent on the road took us to the next big Checkpoint, just under the imposing Win Hill which you could see ahead, it looked pretty steep to me so I stopped for a while at the Checkpoint and grabbed as many calories as I could for the climb.
I was right, it was steep! Starting with a really tough climb through a forest section called Parkin Clough with rutted tree routes the trail kept going up. Somebody tried to tell me a story about why it was called “Win Hill”, but I think my response was something like, “It’s a stupid name for a stupid hill”. But, eventually I got to the top and then started the next section which was over the Edale Skyline before dropping down to Edale village itself. I passed a few runners and caught-up with another chap who I had a bit of a chat with before carrying on ahead down in to Edale, just before the water stop I caught up with another lad and we shared a bit of banter up the next climb before I moved on again.
The final major Checkpoint was at Bradwell and the food there looked amazing, but by now the end was in sight, well – about 15 miles away and over another bloody “Edge” – the creatively named “Bradwell Edge” which wasn’t too bad, then a nice, long, flat run along the river Derwent before the last big climb across the moors to the final manned Checkpoint. I was looking at my watch and sub-15 hours was still possible if I didn’t stop at a pub, or for ice cream which was cruel as I’d just passed a pub which looked very inviting.
Hitting the last manned Checkpoint at Carls Wark, (seriously – who comes up with these names?) it was about 8pm and 5 miles to go. Just a final little climb and then downhill all the way to the finish by which time I think I had about 15 minutes to make it in under 15 hours. Now it really was all downhill through forestry, an absolutely fantastic blast through the darkening woodland as the light faded. With about 400 yards to the finish I missed a left turn off the trail and carried on downhill only realising my mistake after 30-seconds so had to backtrack to find the trail again during which time 2 ladies who I’d passed earlier overtook me. Looking at my watch I had about 3 minutes to get in so put in a bit of effort, a short while later I heard applause as the two ladies finished and trotted-in to finish in 14h 58m 29s and 23rd place, job done!
It was a brilliantly organised race, I can find very little to fault. £1/mile, a decent T-Shirt, Medal and good support along the route. I’m used to being fairly self-sufficient and rarely use drop bags – it’s unusual to see the option in a <100-mile race. There were three main Checkpoints with food in addition to water, the food until the last main Checkpoint was Cliff Bars, Shot Blocks and Coke – but that wasn’t an issue for me. The addition of extra water stations was well spaced and running out of water wasn’t a problem. I used Tailwind throughout – 200 cals/hour with 500ml water which worked perfectly, supplemented with an occasional Percy Pig of course.
My Garmin Fenix made it 61.8 miles and nearly 11,000′ of ascent – that’s almost exactly what I make Fellsman and I shambled round over 2 hours quicker than my best Fellsman time. It’s a challenging course no-doubt but navigation is easy, the trails are good, (if a bit rocky in places) and it’s the right time of year. I’ll admit we were lucky with the weather and the ground was hard and dry which makes things easier.
The whole weekend involved a series of races including a 30-mile “Intro Ultra” and a 12.12 mile and 10k race. There’s something for everyone here – whether you’re looking for your first ultra, a step-up beyond the 40-50 mile races or even just a fast, short race, recommended for a great weekend away.
All photos courtesy of Dig Deep Races