This time last year I went into this race not knowing what to expect. It was my first ever fell race, I didn’t know the course or anything about the standard of competition. I was quite surprised to finish in 11th place and happy with how I had coped with this new experience.
12 months on and with only one other fell race to my name since, in which I got injured and was forced to pull out, I made the late decision to return to Belper in Derbyshire for another crack at this fantastic and very challenging course.
With a rare race free week approaching I had planned to get some good hill work in as preparation for the Snowdonia marathon in October. As I was surfing the net for some hilly trail routes I remembered this event was around this time of year, I did a quick google search and found it was only days away and they were taking entry on the day. What better training than 2,312 feet of elevation?
A few days later I was up at 6.30am ready to make the 1 and a half hour drive to the Amber Valley with the aim of bettering last years performance. I haven’t felt too good on hills during races in the past few months so I knew this was going to be a real test but one I was looking forwards to.
I got myself registered and joined to 300 or so other competitors on the start line. I was a lot more confident than a year ago with my knowledge of the course that awaited me and made sure I got a good start as I knew it wasn’t long before the route became a single file track.
The first 1k of this race is by far the worst of what is otherwise a beautifully scenic and well planned out route. Starting in an industrial estate and heading out to run a U turn on a round-a-bout to come back on yourself all on tarmac luckily couldn’t be further away from what awaits in the next 29k.
Once over a bridge you take a sharp left turn and head down a steep drop as the single track trail commences. It’s not long before the first of many swinging metal gates needs to be negotiated but the running is all flat. I had settled into 7th place with the 6 in front of me all still in close order.
Then came the first hill. This starts with a steep climb and just as you think you’ve reached the top it gradually continues for what seems like an age. I was feeling pretty good and managed to gain 2 places moving myself into 5th place. This was a position I stayed in for the majority of the race as the hills just kept on coming.
The next climb of significant note came at the 6 mile mark and continued for just over a mile. It started with a sharp concrete stretch then proceeded into a footpath covered in rocks followed by woodland trail.
It wasn’t long after this that the landscape opened up as the inclines continued. By now the front runners has began to catch the walkers who set off an hour earlier. I used these as markers to tick off one by one to keep me pushing but for the first time I started to struggle a little as I dragged my feet through the thick grass. I began to notice I was been caught for the first time and within a mile my 5th place had turned into 6th.
I was passed on a long downhill section with lots of styles to jump, as did most of the course. There must have been 30 or so in total. This was an area where I took a wrong turn last year but like the rest of the route, it was marked much more clearly now with more tape and huge red boards with white arrows.
I knew there was only one more long hilly section to come which was in the stunning Shining Cliff woods, an ancient woodland full of natural beauty. This place is pretty awe inspiring and gave me one of those moments when I really appreciate just how lucky I am to have the pleasure of taking part in events like this in this amazing sport.
I was on a high and feeling really good considering I’d already ran a half marathon distance on such punishing profile. I could feel another competitor closing the gap behind me but I was strong enough up the hills that he didn’t overtake me. What seems to have been exploited as my weakness in this race though was the speed in which I’m able to run downhill as all my work going up seemed to be undone as I was left for dust on the descent.
Once out of the woodland more open countryside followed, most of it downhill resulting in one more runner passing me. I tried to hang on but he was flying and my extra effort used caused me to start feeling low on energy for the fist time.
The last few miles were back on the same single trail fields that we started on but it seemed like an age before I crossed the bridge again that lead me out into the industrial estate and back to the Rugby club where registration took place to finish.
With nobody close enough to catch and no one else closing ground on me in those final few miles I’d slowed slightly meaning that I just missed out on a faster time than last year but I’d managed to finish in 8th place so a improvement of 3 positions. I was satisfied with my performance and I’d got just what I wanted out of the day leaving me stronger for my efforts.