Digdeep Peak District 30 miles

I finally managed to spend a weekend in the Peak District. I am a big fan of the English mountains, even if I come from places where we would call them hills. I meant to visit the district for a long time, finally taking part in a race gave me the opportunity to go there.

I was looking for a longer run to do in August between Davide‘s NDW100 (post coming soon about that) and my September’s CW50. The Digdeep Intro Ultra 30 miles was perfect. It is part of a whole weekend of races so I was also tempted by the social aspect.

I left on Friday after lunch thinking I had plenty of time to get there, set up camp and see the talks that were in the program. Unfortunately the M1 was a continuous single traffic jam and took me over six hours to drive there (instead of three). The weather got worse and worse and when I finally arrived it was raining, I missed the talks and it was getting dark already.


I built the tent in the field near the Whirlow Hall Farm (the race headquarter). The first impact with camping life was not the best. The tent my good friend (and vegan apparel designer) Petr lent me was smaller then I expected. The field was muddy and full of cow poo but most of all it was not flat. I built the tent, had some food at the farm and then since it looked like nothing social was going to happen I went to try and sleep. It took me ages to fall asleep. Once I had to get up and take a walk as I felt too cramped inside the tent but that gave me the chance to see the sky at night with an almost full moon. There was quite a lot of wind so the day ahead was going to be interesting.

At 5am I was woken up by the noise of people getting ready to race the longer 60 mile race that was starting 2 hours before mine. It did not look like it was worth trying to fall asleep again so I got ready for my race too. The air was freezing cold and when we finally started running I was glad.

The course is a 30 mile loop around some of the best looking hills on the side of the Peak District near Sheffield and from the get go it was clear it was going to be a very good looking scenery.
After the painful final I had on the last two races I decided to take it relatively easy at the start. After a bit of fields and woods we arrived at the top of a beautiful hilly area full of Houndkirk Moor.

 

I felt a lot better and started accelerating a bit and at the first check point at Fiddler’s Elbow I was probably going too fast and that made me forget to check were I was going. I had the gpx file on my watch but I kept ignoring it and looking at markers and following people. We took the road and then realised we should have been on the path above. We went back and got on the right track. Good thing we did as that trail was the one following the top of Stanage Edge where it would have been impossible to get to if we had stayed on the road unless we were in for some rock climbing.

At the end of the ridge there was the unmanned checkpoint 2. We dibbed in and kept going. Less than 800 meters later we saw another dibber. I thought it was a checkpoint for the 60 mile race and kept going. That was a mistake. It was our checkpoint 3 too. Time penalty number one.

We ran down up and down a road for some more kms and then reached the checkpoint at the base of Win Hill. Going up the hill was a tough climb. The gnarliest of the race. Not a chance to run that one (the photo below does not do it justice).

Once at the top the view was amazing. The wind was crazy too and I did not envy the marshal waiting for the runners all day long at the top. This was just a bit after 20k and I was feeling relatively well. The climbs were harder than I am used to, but I was doing ok. Eating one gel every thirty minutes (even if I hated them, I will go back to my usual make) and drinking regularly. I made the mistake of not filling up the water bottle at any station yet but I thought I had enough to get to the next.

This is were disaster struck. Coming down from the other side of Win Hill the wind was so strong my eyes were watering and I had to use my hands not to fall on the steep rocks. At that point I might have missed an important sign and kept following the markers and a couple of guys ahead. After a while I saw that everyone stopped and looked at the map. I instantly looked at my watch gpx and realised what an idiot I had been not to look at it earlier. We had been following the 60 mile race markers for at least 3km.

We run back trying to cut down the hill and avoid going back up. We were going to miss checkpoint 6 at Aston but the time penalty (second one for me) was nothing compared to the time it would have taken us to go back. For fear of being lost alone I ran with those guys and not at my pace. By the time we joined the correct route at Hope village I had run 30k, 25k were still to be ran and I was feeling dead already. Mentally I was also a bit down as I hated myself for having run 5k more than needed. I was also out of water! I felt the gels stuck in my throat as if they had clogged my insides and basically felt a bit crap.

I put some music on (as always I waited until I was halfway through the race) which helped and continued running (I also managed to smile for this selfie).

The trail around a massive cement factory felt like lasting for ages but I finally reached the big aid station at Bradwell. I was so depressed to think I lost so much time. I had some real food, filled the water bottle and went out.

A long bit uphill was quite welcome as I had a chance to walk it and talk with other competitors. I ran down the other side feeling like I could not stop even if I had wanted to.

From then on it was an alternating of walk the hill, run a bit, walk again.

Then an endless bit along the river Derwent felt like it lasted an eternity. It was a very nice part of the trail, with the river down on the side, but it was flat and at that stage I would have preferred a bit of walking uphill and running downhill.

My wishes were soon granted and the final 10k of the race arrived, with a very long climb. I never felt so low in energy. I could not eat anything and my head felt light and my legs like made of wood. It lasted forever.

I finally recognised where I was as we got back from the same trail the race started on and when I realised it was actually skipping some parts we did in the morning I finally got out of the low point I was in. I even managed to run the full last 2kms and crossed the finish line completely knackered. Here is the Strava file if you are interested.

It was a beautiful place. The weather had been variable, sun, rain, mostly windy, but it was beautiful being out there. I am not too happy for having taken the wrong path and even less happy for having crawled the last bits. It was definitely a good lesson. I need to do a lot more long runs. The injury from last November really affected my fitness. Last year at this time I was so much stronger. Next month I will do my second 50 miler ever but I don’t think I will have much time to improve my fitness so I will have to be very rigorous in taking it easy and eating regularly. I cannot wait.

After the race I had a sort of shower with a water bottle in the middle of the field under the rain and in the wind. It was even more painful than the race.

Then I waited to see the first people finishing the 60 miler and then went in my tent. Spent the time from 7pm to 7am sleeping. I only woke up at 1:30am to watch Mo Farah win gold at Rio’s 5k race. Amazing stuff.

The day after the weather was slightly better and I went for a hike. I saw from far away places I had been the day before and I was amazed in realising how much terrain we covered.

I then drove back home to finally have a real shower.

I enjoyed the weekend in the Peak District a lot. Shame there was not much social interaction happening at the farm. I guess the weather did not help much. I will definitely go back and do it right next time!

High Weald Challenge 50k Ultra Trail

Sunday morning the alarm clock went off at 4:20am. My second ultra was waiting for me, exciting. After the usual breakfast I drove to pick up @craigjmcelroy and together we went down in Kent for the High Weald Challenge 50k Ultra Trail.

I have been preparing for this race quite well with a lot of climbs while on holiday and quite a bit of long runs the month before. So I felt pretty confident and was aiming for 4:30 (ah ah ah!). Once we arrived at the beautiful Groombridge Place we picked up our bibs and in the freezing morning prepared for the challenge (with a visit to the portaloos).

At 8am the race director walked us to the start line and we were off.

We ran most of it together. Took it relatively easy at the beginning. Walked most of the uphills, speeded up a bit in the middle part, but in general we were trying to save some energy for the end.

I did not eat anything strange this time at the aid stations. Only drank water and ate my own gels. The day got warmer and we got into a nice rhythm. We even managed to chat a bit.

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The course was really nice. Not too hilly, something like 700mt of elevation in the whole 50k, so not too bad. The trail was muddy here and there, but nothing compared to the last time I was there (see my first marathon), but it was still quite a tiring terrain with very few fast runnable bits. Most of it was on uneven tiny trails on fields or in woods with plenty of roots and branches. A lot of fun.

Even if it was not marked particularly well (still better than expected) we managed not to get lost too much, either following someone else or looking at the navigation tool on the watch. Which is great by the way, the Fenix 3 is proving to be the best piece of kit I could buy. Luckily we did not need to look at the 20 page long road book given to us at the start.

Check out this video to see how wonderful the course and the day was. You can see me and Craig at 4:55 in one of the best downhill bits.

In the last 12k I struggled quite a bit but did not crawl, I just ran slower. Craig went ahead as he wanted to do it in 5 hours (and managed to do it). I went as fast as I could. The stomach was fine, the legs too, but they felt like they were coming off the hips. Every time I got into a rhythm I had to stop and climb over a stile. There were probably 25 stiles in the whole race and after a while they were really a pain!

I finally got to the end in 5 hours and 9 minutes, 24th place. My target of 4:30 (as always) was a bit too optimistic. Check out the Strava stats here.

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Overall I loved the race. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a nice 50k, especially on a sunny day like last Sunday. The scenery from the hills is beautiful, the forests are fun to run and you get to cross Winnie The Pooh bridge too.

I felt good for most of it and even the bits I suffered were nothing compared to previous races. I just regret not pushing a bit more at the end, but I think it was a good test for the Druids Challenge.

The only negatives, as far as I am concerned, are that the course could be marked a bit better and that there were no refreshment at the end. No bananas! Nothing, just some water. Strange as the aid stations were very well stocked, plenty of water melons, my favourite ultra distance fruit! The ceramic mug received with the medal was quite nice actually.

We went to the pub for a quick beer and pie and then drove back home. It was a good day and going to a race with someone you know is definitely more fun than going alone.

The days after I felt fine, no pain anywhere, which is also a good indication that I should be able to run the second Druids day. Not sure about the third!

I decided not to go to the Cardiff Half Marathon next Sunday as I have not heard from Brooks about the bib I was supposed to get for free. Plus it is a bit too far and I would need to dedicate the whole weekend to it. I will instead do the Kingston 10 mile race that is just outside my door. I can do it and get back home as if I just went for a training run. I am aiming for a 10 miles PB. We’ll see.

Have fun!

Pre-50k race post

In the last two weeks I have tapered to get ready for my second ultra, the High Weald Challenge 50k.

Am I ready? Yes I am!

Last week I ran a total of 87k. Still a bit, but no speed work. I ran 10k on Tuesday (5:11 m/km) to recover from the previous hard weekend. Then I did 12k on Wednesday (4:37 m/km, felt good) and then Thursday and Friday I ran the same 15k route. I wanted to try out the navigation tools of my watch as the High Weald race looks like it is not going to be well marked. The website provides a big pdf with instruction to navigate the course but knowing me I will get lost in the first 5k. Luckily they provide the gpx file of the course. So I tried my own gpx file from Thursday and told the watch to make me run that route again on Friday. It seems to work quite well. I don’t think it will make me not take the wrong turns as the map is quite tiny and the arrow that indicates the direction is only changing when it’s too late, but at least it will tell me straight away if I am off course.
On Saturday I did an easy 13k run (4:34 m/km) as I did not have much time. My hero of a wife was graduating that day!
Sunday I ran 21.1k in my trail shoes, so Bushy and Richmond Park as usual. I felt good, ran a new trail I had never tried and saw the biggest deer ever. After almost 4 years of running in Richmond Park I still find new places to explore, amazing.

This week I took it even easier. I don’t want to do the mistake I always do and get to race day already tired. So I only ran three times. I wanted to do Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, but on Tuesday it was raining so much that I decided to go back to bed. After all it was not a training week and I wanted to take it easy and avoid getting a cold. So I ran Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (today). 10k, 8k and 5k respectively. Going very slowly. It is fun to do that sometimes, arrive home when it is still dark, not tired at all, no heavy breathing etc.

So, I feel ready. I have never tapered so well. I tried to sleep more (not always succeeding), I drank more (water), ate pasta and pizza, foam rolled every evening etc. I also feel the last 2 months of training, with loads of trail and uphill running, have been very good.

I will be going to the race with Craig and I am looking forward to running with someone for a change. Hopefully he will not run away and leave me behind straight away.

I think it will be an interesting race, it is my first 50k after all. The place looks amazing. The race director is a kick ass ultra runner so I am sure the route will be a lot of fun. Let’s just hope we do not get lost and the gpx file in the watch does the trick.

I’ll update this blog with news on the race as soon as possible.

See you!