Since this annual event started in 2012 I’ve heard nothing but great things about it so this year I just had to check it out for myself. It’s held in the beautiful peak district and offers a unique knockout stage race format on what is described as one of the most grilling courses the UK has to offer.
375 males start the race in Castleton with only 30 earning the right to finish back in the village 21 miles later. The leading 250 racers through to the first church steeples in Bamford at the 8 mile point continue on with the remaining 125 being eliminated. The field is then halved at the second steeple in Hope village at mile 12 with only the first 125 runners allowed to continue to the final knockout point as they reach mile 18 and the church steeple in Edale where the race is over for a further 75 racers meaning only the first 30 taking on the final 3 miles to the finish line.
I had seen some photos and heard some stories of the infamous first hill in this event shortly after the start so I when off steady up the first 300m of steady winding road but nothing could have prepared me for this. It was over 170m of vertical climb and although the race had only just begun running up it was impossible. The entire field clambered up on all fours desperately grabbing any tuft of the long grass in front of them in order to make each step a little easier to bare.
Although I had never encountered a slope anything like this before and I was struggling as much as anyone else, in my head I was holding on to the thought that as hard a I find hill running I usually find that once I come off the top I recover quickly. It was a solid 10 minutes of shear thigh burning pain before I reached the summit where although only 700m into a 21 mile race it already felt like I had achieved a victory of sorts.
What followed was a slightly shorter and much less steep decent before another climb, this time on rocky terrain and once at the top of that I experienced the full truth in the saying “what goes up must come down” as I was faced with a grassy downhill section I wouldn’t normally even consider walking down let alone running. Quite surprisingly I made it down without my bottom hitting the floor at any point but before I could catch a breath another large hill was waiting.
I had no idea where I was writhing the race at this point but I felt I was well within the first 250 but was hoping to stay within the first 125 so I would have a good chance if at least making it to the third stage. As I reached the top of this hill it marked roughly 4 miles so the half way point of the first knockout stage of the race. I was greeted with a huge board then was counting positions and I was relieved to see that I was in 88th place. This galvanised my energies and I pushed on really picking up the pace as I have happy to be well within my targeted positioning but I knew if I wanted to have any chance of finishing the entire 21 mile course I still had a lot of runners to catch.
I began to catch and overtake people thick and fast and count them off one by one as I went up another smaller hill (which was probably much larger than most hills in any normal race I do but by now seemed small in comparison with what I had already faced) then entered a section of woodland. My position soon moved into the 70’s and then 60’s as I reached another steep down hill incline. This was very treacherous with loose soil underfoot and rocks and tree roots pointing out if the ground from all directions. I did my best to avoid them but it wasn’t long before my toes hit a rock and I tumbled over.
My right knee hit the ground first as I stretched my arms out in front of me in an attempt to cushion the fall. This resulted in a hard knock to my left hand as I managed to roll over and back up onto my feet all in one swift succession of movements and I carried on running.
My hand was throbbing but this wasn’t going to effect my running ability and although a little sore and slightly cut, neither was my knee so I continued to move forwards at a good pace and was relieved to see the first bit of flat, even ground on the course. I had a slight pain in my ankle but it wasn’t stopping me as I moved past runners like they weren’t there and put myself in the top 50.
I reached the first check point at 8 miles in 45 position feeling very strong. I was confident that whatever this course had to throw at me I would be able to catch several move runners in front of me and thought it would be a close call weather or not I could get into the top 30 before mile 18.
I ran round the grassy field after the check point and managed to catch another couple of runners at the bottom of what was another large hill climb to follow. Again it was too steep to run so I used the hands on thighs technique that had served me well so far but slowing down after a few miles of faster running had began to make the pain in my ankle worsen. It began to seize up as I worked hard to reach the top and within a couple of minute it had gone from a slight pain to one that meant I was struggling to put any weight on at all.
By now I was at mile 10 and in 43rd position but I knew my race was almost over. The second check point was at mile 12 so I concentrated on trying to make it there as, for the first time in the race, people started to overtake me. Another board counter showed I was now in 70th place with another rocky hill climb to negotiate before a downhill mile and a half which a almost hopped for its entirety. I was surprised with the lack of people overtaking me which just showed how much distance I had put between myself and most of the field behind me when I was in full flew.
At last the 12 mile check point was in sight and I came through it in 82nd place meaning I was still comfortably in position to carry on the mile 18 but physically my ankle couldn’t take anymore and I was forced to call it a day. I received my top quality event hoody and medal and had a much needed sit down. Although I was disappointed that I was forced to stop I was pleased that it had been my own decision as I watched many runners desperately trying to make to to the check point within the 125th position cut off but missing out and therefore being knocked out of the race.
As I got our of the car after the short drive back to the finish it was clear that I had made the right decision not to go on as my ankle was now extremely painful and I could hardly walk the 200m from the car park to the pub but I’m glad I did as there was an awesome free lunch put on for all runners and spectators with two hog roasts, a BBQ and a free bar.
Although this race had a bad ending for me it is still up there with the best events I’ve ever done and I will take away so experiences that I will never forget. I have fell in love with the a Peak District and will certainly be back to the area and to this race aiming for a top 30 finish.