Dig Deep Races – Ultra Tour Of The Peak District
60 50 Miles // 10000ft 8500ft Elevation
Signed up for and started the 60 mile event, dropped down to the 50 mile event, suffered, looking forward to doing it again.
I signed up for this event on a whim about 4 months ago. It was to be the first time traveling on my feet more than 30 miles and when I did that it was 15 years ago, during military training and I was a hell of a lot fitter.
I began running again in February, heavily overweight and from a negative baseline of fitness after listening to David Goggins on Joe Rogan.
I’d heard of Goggins a few years previously after watching a video where he talked about running 150 mile weeks, whilst holding down a full time job as a Navy Seal.
Pretty inspiring bloke, definitely worth listening to some podcasts he’s been on. Anyway I digress.
Running in the beginning was difficult, I eventually reached 10km and that was a good achievement. I think my first 10km was something like a 1:08 which I’ve just recently got down to 0:53. After that I started adding distance. I read a few books and got to a point where running a training half marathon in 2:10 was fairly comfortable.
I was always drawn back to the mental aspect of completing a distance that seemed unfathomable as a bit of a test for myself. This, plus the fact I love walking in places like the Lake District inevitably drew me to trail / hill / fell / whatever you want to call it running.
Googling a few races I found the Ultra Tour Of The Peak District which is a 60 miler across the Peak District with about 3000m of total elevation on the course. I’d never been to the area but looking at OS maps it seemed similar to the lakes and that was good enough for me.
I ramped up the distance, ultimately hitting a 19 miler but it was slow and painful. Anxiety was setting in but with a bit of naive math for min/mile splits I knew I could hit the cutoffs if I just kept moving.
The UTPD starts just south of Sheffield at a place called Whirlow Hall Farm. Over the weekend there are various events as follows:
- Ultra Tour – 60 Miler
- Peak Trails – 50 and 30 Miler
(I think this is a half-marathon, didn’t look into it.)
The Ultra and Peak Trails follow a similar loop, starting and finishing at Whirlow with additions at various areas based on the distance.
Luckily for me, the 60 and the 50 shared an almost identical route save for an additional 10 miles over the high peaks after a town called Edale.
We set off from Whirlow Farm at 6am and a decent pace was being set from the start by the frontrunners. I’d promised myself I’d start slow and carry on slowly, I had a personal goal of sub 16 hours but would be happy to complete as it was my first ultra and first anything on foot over 30 miles.
The course has 21 checkpoints, some manned, some unmanned, some with water and 3 of them being main aid stations separated basically 15 miles apart. Aid station 1 (CP5) is at Moscar. I’d set a goal to reach this at around 3 hours, I was feeling good here and strolled in and out on time after topping up food, water and having a handful the things provided (mainly the best kind of carbs, Haribo)
I set off feeling good, checked my phone and had a bit of craic with my mates and missus via Whatsapp. The next checkpoint is at Edale and the main obstacle in the way of that is Win Hill.
Win Hill has to really be seen to be believed but it’s steep, there’s a checkpoint at the base and the trig at the top 0.8 miles away but it took me something like 30 minutes to summit. That I think, was the beginning of the end. I hit the top and set off on a long downhill section but my legs weren’t working (I’ve since learned that my eating on ultras needs a lot of work, I’m also shit at hydrating properly) and I felt sluggish and weak.
At this point we’re 24 miles in, I’m climbing Nether Tor just before the descent into Edale and checkpoint 2 and I lost my mind. I was struggling and looked west towards the high peaks which are where the additional ten miles for the 60 miler go and I broke.
At Edale the route for the 60 and the 50 split. 60s head west over the high peaks and the 50s continue through Edale towards the Limestone Way and Bradwell. The thought of adding an extra ten miles to what was slowly becoming a torturous experience was not happening and I called Ian, the Race Director and asked if I could drop onto the 50 route. This was kindly allowed and I trotted into the Edale aid station after a knee bashing descent, pissed off with myself and the inherent weakness I’d shown.
Looking back I believe it’s the right decision but it doesn’t make it sting any less. I definitely have unfinished business with the route and will be going back next year, well trained, to right a wrong.
Edale onwards will make very boring reading but ultimately it reads like this, I walked the remaining 20 miles.
The Bradwell aid station was a welcome site and I had a cup of tea, lots of savoury food and felt a whole lot better as I left there. This was shortlived as the climb out of Bradwell is a grim experience when walking on flat ground is a chore.
Every step was painful but oddly it wasn’t until the final 4 miles when I considered fully quitting. I knew I wouldn’t quit but it was a recurring thought where I did a whole lot of mental gymnastics of how it would all be ok, I’d be fine, I could come back next year etc etc. No. I wasn’t going to allow it and kept on plodding.
The final 2 miles were never ending but my mind was distracted from that by a runner from the 60 catching me up on the last straight, dropping slightly ahead and then just talking. She talked a lot and it was very welcome after 20 miles of loneliness to have someone just talk at you with no frustration that my only replies were grunts and the odd snippet about being excited (read: relieved) to see my wife at the finish line. Lorraine, you got me through those last 2 miles and it is very much appreciated.
Kelly, my wife, had completed a full day at work in Newcastle at 5pm, got on a train to Sheffield and then a taxi to the farm only to have to wait around in the cold for me to finish. I knew this was happening and reckon it’s a massive factor in how I actually managed to finish. Quitting and then having to face Kelly after she’d done that would have been a pretty shit time.
You’re an absolute legend and I thank you a lot.
I crossed that line in 15:05:27 and surprisingly second last, I firmly believed the whole way round that all of the other 50 milers had finished hours before and were all sitting around laughing heartily at the fact I was still out there.
My main failure I think coming into this was a lack of the 3 main factors for ultra-running. Training, Food, and Hydration. Oh, and time on feet. I ran well in training but I didn’t run for long enough, I did next to no elevation training and I did zero experimenting with food and water or how I’d feel over distance.
All of this will be rectified for 2019 when I’m not only going to complete the 60 miler but also in a time of sub 12:30.
Main assistance will come on the dietary side via help from David Stache, popular sports nutritionist from Sheffield who I’ll be enlisting to help with keeping energy levels as high as possible throughout future ultras.
Thanks for reading, Darren.