Sunday, 9 August 2015

Long Tour of Bradwell: my first ultra race

Organised by the Bradda Dads this race is my first time venturing into the world of 'ultra' racing. I say racing, but if you've talked to me you'll know that for me it's all about going out and having a lovely day in the hills.
The race website advertises this races as:
  • A very tough 33mile 6300’ ultra trail/fell run in the Peak District [53km / 1920m]
  • Challenging routes in the Dark & Peak which visit Bradwell Moor, Hollins Cross, Kinder Scout, Lose Hill, Win Hill Woods, Stanage Edge, Burbage and the Abney Valley
Over the past few months I've done a few recces of sections of the route. I'm really familiar with the area, and do know quite a bit of the route from having lived in the Hope Valley, but some sections were just not known to me at all. Recces are always incredibly valuable. While you can glean a lot of information from a map, satellite images and talking to others who have run the route in the past, there is nothing like getting your of feet and head around the route. That way, I know for sure what is coming up, where it's good to know when a tough section will end, and where the check points will be. 
Ready to go

I was reminded by someone recently of the 6 'Ps' - a valuable lesson for anyone I think "Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance".  Obviously not a guarantee of a successful run, but planning and preparation are never going to be wasted.

What you can't plan for is the weather, and on the day we had virtually no wind and bright shining sunshine with 20degrees forecast. Intermittent cloud cover came in the afternoon bringing some relief to the searing heat, but it was to be a day of seeing how much you could drink vs how much you sweat. Pretty sure the balance was tipped the wrong way for a lot of people, me included. 

Tim and I drove over to Bradwell with Martin (brother-in-law doing the half tour), arriving early enough to faff and not be bothered by queues for the toilets. My very good friends husband is one of the organisers with Bradda Dads and he was on registration. Thanks for the good wishes and pre-race chat John. 

final map checks with Caity and Jude
Without too much nervous build up we were gathered for the pre-race briefing - nice and short but to the point - and then set off on our merry way. The RO had mentioned gates at the top of the field so I'd shuffled myself to the nearside - no point having to queue through a gate after 100m!  I then leeched places as faster runners came past me all the way to the first check point at Pindale.

From here to the next CP it was a steady uphill of mostly walking interspersed with short runs. My place in the pack hadn't settled down, but it felt like I was in the back third as I glanced back down the hill. The sun was already hot, beating down and causing me to sweat considerably. I took regular sips of water until the descent down the slippy rocks in Cave Dale. This section had been praying on my mind a lot. Essentially most of the route is on good paths and trails, but this bit is a steep descent down a limestone gorge strewn with loose rocks, and topped off with a permanent trickle of a stream making all the rocks super slippy. I was following Nick Ham down here, having been pretty much with him since the climb up Pindale. He's a much better runner than me and seemed to be picking his way down nicely. I have a tendency to stiffen up and really slow down but I was determined to keep him close and push myself. I did, and we reached the check point close together.

A drink of water, topped up my bottle and grabbed some salted peanuts and a chunk of banana, then off through Castleton and the slog up to Hollins Cross. I was determined to keep moving on the ascents and I did just that. Topping out at Hollins Cross I was greeted by the smiley face of Matt, there to cheer me on!  I gathered he'd not been there long and hadn't seen Tim.
Beautiful shot of me with Mam Tor behind as I approach Hollins Cross
Thanks for the photo Matt
Approaching Hollins Cross with
Winnats Pass behind
Thanks for the photo Matt

Descending down the grassy side of the rutted path was slower than I'd have liked but on an odd camber I didn't want to go over on my ankle. Reaching the bottom I'd been behind another lady but she had map out and was checking where to go. I just went straight through, over the road and through the gates and fields without any issue thanks to a recce across here. I ate some food and finished my drink as I approached the Edale CP and to my surprise there was John who'd quickly got himself from Bradwell and over to man this post. Brilliant to see him and have a quick chat as I filled my bottle. In hindsight I should have filled my soft flask too, and perhaps this contributed to the onset of dehydration (more on that later). 

On my vague time projections I wanted to be at Druids Stone by 11am. It was now about 10:25am...John reckoned I'd do it, and off I went with no real expectation of how long it would take, just to keep putting one foot in front of the other and aim not to stop on the ascent. Across the footbridge, up the field, through the gate then the long climb up the zig-zags towards Ringing Roger. Part of my nutrition included a couple of chocolate bars - they work for me - but with the sun bearing down I knew they were already turning into liquid that would get super messy if I tried to eat them. I chatted to a couple of walkers and gave them a donation of chocolate. I think they were a bit confused, but thank you whoever you are. 

Standing on Druids Stone on a recce run
Across the moorland, up the grough and a bit of heather bashing to pick up the path to Druids Stone, dibbed, then down to find the path off. I must have gone a little early as I had a nice and proper heather bash across the steep bank to pick up the wall down. A bit of time lost there, one to recce better for next time (did I just say that?!).  Now comes a steep descent down a trod alongside the wall that seemingly gets steeper and steeper until you hit a fence....not quite literally but I was trying not to hold back too much. My quads weren't happy so I told them to shut up and relax. It may have worked. Round the field and down the track to the road....another runner in the middle of the road with map out...I confirmed he was going the right way but rightfully he studied the map further before moving off.
Approaching Lose Hill with Mam Tor now a little further behind!
Thanks for the photo Matt
I am very thankful to the owners of Backtor Farm who had a bucket of water for us - really really appreciate the extra there. Onwards and upwards to Back Tor and the stony path that I didn't stop on all the way to the top. Another climb notched off and now a little running along a familiar ridge path to Lose Hill. I could see Matt had repositioned himself at the top of Lose Hill and with a bit of encouragement I ran the last bit to the trig which I touched before starting the descent to Hope. 

I know this path really well so got on the grassy trod to the left of the steps and relaxed into the descent. Across a stile, down to the farm, beyond and over a couple of stiles to the fields before the railway be greeted most cheerily by Sue waving her Glossopdale vest and shouting superb encouragement to me. Brilliant to see her....I knew she was out with husband Chris so was spurred on knowing he could be round any corner soon. 
Dropping off Lose Hill towards Hope
Thanks for the photo Sue
Onwards to Hope
Thanks for the photo Sue
Waiting my turn to have my bottle filled at Hope
Thanks for the photo mum
Their tactics of splitting up was great, and before too long I pulled into the check point in Hope to be greeted by Chris....and then noticed my mum was there too!!! Brilliant.  I'm not sure if my mum expected to chat much but I was keen to get moving again so with the bottle full and a bit of food grabbed I moved off and ran out of sight down the green lanes.

I think the last time I walked down this lane was at Christmas with family....with massive snow flakes falling and crunchy snow underfoot. Oh to have some snow to eat right now. The heat was intense, even under the shade of the trees. Next up was Aston along the road....but Nick H took me on the path guaranteeing we'd cut the corner a little. Cheers Nick, it must have shaved a little height gain and was actually really straight forward to navigate. All the years I lived in Hope and I was going down a path I'd never been on. Turning up to gain fields on the flanks of Win Hill we were back in the sun. Then at a stile we could see a herd of cows....and calves. Bugger. 

No way. My heart racing. The herd were right after the stile and Nick jumped straight in to try and shoo them off to no avail. One cow decided to scratch hooves and look menacing and the rest of the herd almost joined in. After a while they calmed down enough for me and another runner to get in and through them as quickly as possible - quite difficult given the uphill gradient. I stuck to the wall as much as possible expecting to have to climb it but thankfully got above the herd without incident.  It prayed on my mind for a while afterwards, hoping other runners would pass without any problem. 

Lis pointing to the forest turn on our recce run
The next section was lovely, running through the cool forest. I took my cap off and relaxed, soaking in the peacefulness and sounds of the birds around me. Dibbing at the forest turn, and down to the tarmac and Ladybower dam before picking up the trail to the next check point and more water. I don't think I did anything different anywhere, but somewhere around here I started to feel gut-trouble. Oh no. I ignored it through Bamford (after dibbing on the bridge and enjoying a head soak in the weir and being amused by one runner having a full body dunking in the river!). Climbing out of Bamford I started to feel sick. Like proper I'm going to throw up sick. Sipping water. Eating a bit. More water. Still feeling generally rough. I was maintaining pace (walk/run/run/walk where I could) and not losing the runners around me. I asked another runner if it was better to throw up or not, and was told it's better to try and sort it with food/water. I agreed, thinking it better to keep as much fluid in as I could. 

Approaching Stanage I took advantage of the bracken for a toilet stop....the liquid was really dark. Bugger. I'm proper dehydrated. And it is still a long way to Burbage with no heat. I had about 200ml water left. Not enough but would have to suffice. I pushed up the causeway, determined to stick with the runners near me. I could still see Nick H way, that shocked me as I presumed he'd pulled away a long time back. He looked off the main path and as I approached the check point it was indeed a short climb up to the left - how odd? Anyway, I dibbed and continued now thinking I could keep Nick in sight. The urge to drink was quite strong now. I kept a little water back for the last bit before Burbage, knowing it's not a good idea to gulp it down in one.

I'd got my soft flask stashed so on the approach to Burbage check point it was pulled out ready to be filled. I needed to desperately rehydrate. My plan was to sip on that down Burbage and run the whole walking allowed as it is a gradual downhill all the way to Toad's Mouth. I started to feel a little better as the fluid went in. 
Footbridge just after Toads Mouth
Thanks for the photo Sue
Crossing the marshy bit it was lovely to have feel cool water on my toes. Across the road and there's the dibber....not quite where me and Tim had it placed on our recce run but what the hey, it was the easiest line. Down through the trees and to the footbridge and WOOHOO there's shouts of "Lynne Lynne" from Chris and Sue - brilliant, massive smile on my face and I forget the pain growing in my right toes and the tightness in my quads. Shouting my thanks to them I feel a little lightfooted as I move down towards Padley. I'm glad I recced the next section - the tiny bits of tape were visible, but then I knew where to look up the rise to the right of the trees. 

The path across to Lawrencefield is lovely, moving through silver birch and ducking under low branches made me smile. Dibbing at the wall corner I'm now 43km in and running into the furthest distance I've ever done. I know the way down the quarry, no other runners around and it feels like I've been along for ages. The trees hid the fact that there are others there, and as we leave the trees at the bottom, cross the railway line and into the fields the other runners emerge. Some come from odd directions clearly having overshot the right turn one field after the railway.

I get to Coppice Woods first and feel strong enough to run down through the forest. My guts seem to have sorted themselves out. I'm about 6hrs 30 into running and not feeling hungry but shove some food in. Not long until my next water stop. I plan to fill bottle plus soft flask and sip the flask constantly but steadily until it's gone. Run-walking along the path by the river is really hard going. Like so hard the ground looked inviting to sit on and never get up. The other runners around are catching and a few overtake as I walk. I catch as I run, they pull away as I walk. We all reach the penultimate check point around the same time. My bottles are out and lids loose ready to fill so I grab the water, lids on, stash and grab the tasty banana+salted peanut combo and move on quickly. 
Heading towards Stoke Ford on a recce run
I know the final section, it's really fresh in my mind from the recce I did only 8 days prior. So far the only time I've got the map out was the diversion section in Bamford to double check (runners ahead turned right but I knew it was left....I was correct but always double-checking saves time and energy). Taking the second right after Leadmill Bridge I'm sipping and munching. About 6hrs 50 have elapse and I reckon I need 1hr15 to get in under 8 hours. Not that I'm truly bothered what the time is, but it would be amazing to finish in that time. However. I can't push. No matter how hard I feel like I'm going it's like swimming backwards in treacle. But, I am putting one foot in front of the other constantly. I've been running for a while (probably since Bamford) with a few other runners and now on the approach to the final check point Alison is keeping me company. 

We climb up through Abney Clough together and I celebrate reaching my first ever 50km with a big high five with her. Nice to share that moment with someone and have a good chat to take my mind off my throbbing toes and general weariness that I'm ignoring. Near the top of Abney Clough we're greeted by a cow in the path....another runner attempts to shoo it off but it aint budging. We edge round it then put a bit of speed into our walk to distance ourselves. We're not far off the gate where I breathe a sigh of relief. I'm really not happy being so close to cows. 
Abney Clough on a recce run
Now all that remains is the left turn onto the road, right at the phone box and up the lane, round the contouring track, a few fields, down the steep twisty Bradwell edge path and the final kilometer through the village. I actually can't believe how far I've come and now start to believe I'll do it. There was a long time approaching and along Stanage to Burbage where I thought I'd have to bail. I'd given myself to Padley Gorge to feel better and had it in mind that if I could get there I would reach the end. Long runs really do take your head to some weird places....maybe more on that in a separate blog.

Start of the steep descent to Bradwell
on a recce run
So I manage a run-walk up the track from Abney and across to the final fields. I'm on my own now, the other runners I've shared some miles with are pulling away from me. In a way I'm glad, I knew my descent off Bradwell Edge wouldn't be pretty. My quads are screaming, they're not obeying the 'shut up legs' commands. My right toes are sore enough to make me wince and swear out loud. I reach the left turn near the bottom of the path to be greeted by others coming in from the right...they'd gone wrong again...but soon put distance on me again as we drop into Bradwell. 
Dropping down the steps to Bradwells main road and the final kilometer (on recce run)
I wish I'd had a few coins as I passed the ice-cream shop. I actually would have nipped in to buy one. I had about six minutes to come in under 8:15....but no money = no ice-cream. As I pass the final few blocks of houses I take a short walk break, knowing I want to run into the finish field as Tim and others would (hopefully) be there waiting. I don't need to go that far....Tim, Lucy, Martin and Caity are walking towards me, spot me and then all break out into claps and cheers....oddly there's no signs for the finish so Tim runs behind directing me round the last 30m into the field and dib. Final Dib. My first ultra complete. Elation and pain all rush in at the same time. 
The last 100m to the finish
Thanks for the photo Caity
I clocked it at 55.5km in 8:12:57 averaging 8:53/km. My official time is 8:12:38 which accounts for the few seconds I started my watch before the "Go" was given at the start.
These feet got me round...and that's muck, not suntan!
Thanks for the photo Tim
Wow. Lots to consider, practice before I do another long one. Maybe more writing on that later.

I would like to thank lots of people for their support before, during and after the event. If I've missed anyone off I'm sorry - I'm still in the post-long-run-daze. Tim for being a rock, believing and encouraging in huge doses. Matt, Sue, Chris, mum, Jud, Becky for their super support before and during. Fellow runners including Glossopdale Harriers Nick, Jude, Caity and Paul plus many others who I chatted to along the way. RO Richard Patten and his band of super marshals - including my friend John Boyle - for all the organisation, excellent check point feed and water help. And Lis, wonderful running friend who one day I hope we can share a long run like this, chatting all the way as we do best :)


  1. Tough outing for a first ultrasound. Well done!

    1. cheers Derby Tup. It's not put me off...unless it's hot on the next one!