My running story is a relatively short one really, I started in 2021 after slipping on a patch of ice and breaking my elbow, not the best thing for a rock and ice climber!
Whilst sitting on the sofa one night in pain I decided I needed a new focus, what could I achieve with a broken elbow. Why not run an ultra?? Before I started climbing in my mid 30’s I had always played sport mainly hockey up to county level with some football and squash just to for fun. Then at 31 I was diagnosed with stage 4 testicular cancer.
So back to the sofa, I signed up for two races, first the Peak District Birthday Bash 30, a 70 year celebration of the Kinder trespass and the Dukeries 40 around Sherwood. I had my doubts that someone in there early 50”s could just do this but I had to try.
I completed both of the races and fell in love with running and the whole world of ultras, but I had little idea of what I was doing other than reading as much material as I could. I think this what has drawn me in, is that no two days or weeks or races are ever the same, as well as I think I’ve prepared or solved an issue until that event or session it can change in a few moments like the weather, fuelling, sickness or just getting lost!
The more I read and learned the realisation that I need help and guidance with some structure was really needed if I was going to get any better and keep at this for a few years so I reached out to Jon.
I had signed up for two races this autumn as I am not really a hot weather runner, I prefer the cooler days and would even say I love the cold and wet for running! Jon and I started working together a month before my this race the Dig Deep 30 in the Peak District. It is a classic route around the Peak trails starting just outside Sheffield at Longshaw taking in the grit edges of Burbage and Stanage before dropping into Barford with the classic climb of Winhill, before moving into the light Peak of Castleton on to Bradwell then Hathersage and back up to Burbage and home to the startA great lumpy route with over 5000 ft of ascent and descent. Jon put together a plan I I worked on getting my pacing sorted as I do have a habit of going out to fast and just building up the miles and going out with the race kit and nutrition.
The week or so before the race the headlines on the news mentioned a heatwave to hit the U.K. that week so I thought at least the weather is going to be good but as it came closer to race day the weather was predicted to be the hottest day of the year! I adjusted be fuelling to allow more hydration and the lightest clothes I had.
I had hydrated well for the previous days leading up on Jon’s advice. I felt great and ready. The morning was not to hot and bit of cloud cover made it feel perfect, the course was completely dry that should have made for a fast race. It started a 9am.
My plan was to pace myself at the start as I knew the first 10 miles well and the terrain was great to run on. This all went to plan, it was a stunning morning and the Peak District was looking beautiful with the purple heather in full bloom.
I resupplied at the aid station at the bottom of Winhill as planned as started the step climb up Winhill this is when I noticed the humidity building as we were in a gully with so tree cover, as we came out onto the slopes towards the top the cloud cover had gone and it was starting to get warm. The run down Winhill and on toward Castleton was nice but the heat was starting to build and the fluids were going down quicker than normal. I was roughly on my estimated schedule of just over 3 hours at the half way point.
The next aid station an Castleton was a relief to see I the bottles were empty, I spent sometime cooling down, soaking my hat and bandana, getting a drink and filling my bottles. Heading back out again through Castleton town and climbing up Cave Dale, the cloud cover had returned and the climb was a good steady slog but hitting the top the sun came out again and the heat just seemed to build, it was just past midday. The long descent into Bradwell on the road started taking its toll the heat had built so fast and the humidity was really high, there was not a breath of wind, you could not escape the heat. This descent I slowed to start conserving my energy as I felt it sapping. The Bradwell aid station came up quicker than I expected so it was great to fill up again, get a good soaking and head out. There were a few folk starting to suffer at the aid station, the temp here read 36C, the guys at the aid station were hurriedly trying to build a shelter to make some shade.
As I headed out of Bradwell I knew there was another big climb coming so I made a stop at the Co-op and stood in the doorway under the air-con, I did get some strange looks!! but it was like heaven.
Again another long ascent and then descent down to the Hathersage valley, it was so hot, and there was just no escaping the heat, the sun just seemed to beat down. It was now just keeping the fluids flowing, I had made the decision to mix my gels into the water bottles to keep the fuel going in as well, I had tested this prior and found a cherry gel that worked really well. I was not running now but was moving really well at a good march, as soon as I tried to run I felt to hot, it was now just keep moving forward. On this descent I noticed both hands had started to swell, I had never had this happen before but speaking to some others it seemed not out of place, so just kept an eye on them. This section seemed to be going on, I spent most of it with two others as we walked and talked that helped keep each other going, as we hit the valley we had all run out of fluid and were looking for an aid station near Hathersage but we couldn’t see it, our hopes were raised but it was a group of Dof E having a lunch break beside the road around their van! Luckily we came across some support crews for some other runners that were offering ice cold water ( it was like nectar)as the next aid station was still at least 5 miles away and the organisers we trying to set up a intermediate one as everyone was running out of water and there was one last climb up to the final aid station. I found the temporary aid station that was such a relief as I was back on my own and the heat still seemed to be building.
I was now back on ground I knew out the final aid station with only 6 miles to go I managed to break back into a jog, I was determined to finish in under 8 hours!
This race was a great experience that truly tested me in many ways than I had been before in my limited time running ultras. As the race went on the conditions were hotter than I had raced in before and it became as much of a mental battle as well as a physical one.
Take aways from the race…
Learn to adapt to the conditions, I slowed down the 2nd half and drank more ( in total nearly 8litres) over 20% pulled out of the race
I need to train more whole body strength and fitness rather than just run
Mentally I was pleased with the way it went even though I had some real mental battles
Completing and competing are two different ways to look at the race, I had initially hoped I could be competitive in my age group but had to adjust my goal on the day and finishing became the target but in the end I think I achieved both although I wasn’t competitive in the results I was still competing to complete the course