The Rounds link a number of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust nature reserves in the Peak District to create a year-round challenge for walkers and runners.Wild Peak Rounds website
Wild Peak Round 120km Ultra Report
I heard an odd, low grunting sound coming from behind me, the ground was a little technical so I slowed down and looked back. It was a sheep. I was being chased by an angry sheep, not just followed, actually chased. Not what I needed 63 miles in! But before we get to that let me take you back a few weeks to the opening of the new inov8 shop in Bakewell, in the heart of the Peak District. The shop opened in October and I am the assistant manager. We have been working with the excellent guys at SUMMAT (a brilliant café and gym in Bakewell – who also serve the incredible coffee in our in-store café) and the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust in the creation of some new walking and running rounds in the Peak District – the Wild Peak Rounds.
There is the 15km mini, the 50km half, and the 120km full – all of which visit important nature reserves around Derbyshire, with the aim to raise awareness of these special places. The rounds were launched on the weekend of the 28th October. On the Saturday there was a social run group doing the 15km lead by SUMMAT, with inov8 athletes Jack Scott and Anna Hoogkamer coming along too.
On Sunday Jack Scott returned to do the Wild Peak Round 50k, as well as Sam and Nick (from the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and creators of the routes)… but no one had volunteered to do the biggie, the 120km – and probably with good reason, it’s a bloody long way! However, me not being a stranger to long old runs and challenges thought ‘why not, it’ll be a good day out’. It was only after I had agreed to do it that I realised two things… I hadn’t actually trained for it and at this time of year the weather will be at best, less than ideal and at worst, wet, boggy, very muddy, and miserable. A good day out, hey!
With a few days to go I got to planning this thing, call me nothing if not last minute. Helpfully my fellow inov8 Bakewell staff member, Lauren Wilson, kindly offered to follow me around in her van all day and help crew it for me – which if you’ve ever crewed a big race/challenge before, you know is almost as difficult as running the thing. I had a look at the route, I knew bits and bobs of it but not the whole thing. There were in fact quite a lot of sections I had never visited at all before, so I made sure to load the GPX file onto my watch (the files are available here).
The route has plenty of road crossings and visits lots of lovely little villages and towns along the way, so I knew there were lots of opportunity to meet Lauren and restock my snacks. I planned to meet her every few hours so I was never running for too long without seeing someone. The longest leg was going to be the one over Bleaklow, from Ladybower Bridge to Crowden, which I knew was going to live up to it’s name, bleak, but we’ll get to that shortly. With my meeting points sorted I popped to the shops to get my mountain of snacks, and I threw in some gels too for good measure. Now, what time to start?
My initial plan was to get a good night’s sleep and start at 5am on Sunday morning and aim to finish sometime Sunday evening. This would mean I had a few hours of darkness at the beginning and a few hours at the end but would run the majority of the round during day light hours, lovely. However, after a little thought this felt very lonely and lacklustre – setting off in the dark when no one is around, running the majority of the round by myself (I did mange to rope a few people in to run a few bits with me) and then finishing in the dark when no one is around didn’t conjure up too much excitement.
Celebrating being the first person to complete the round after a long day (and night) on the trails with actual people felt a lot nicer, so I changed my plans a bit. The new plan was to get a few hours sleep in a friend’s spare room in Bakewell, set off at midnight, and aim to finish before the INOV8 store closed on Sunday afternoon. This would mean the entire first half is in darkness but once the sun rose I wouldn’t need to don my head torch again (if all went well) and I could celebrate with friends afterwards.
Onto the exciting bit, the actual running of the round. On Saturday afternoon I finished work, went over to my friend Zac’s house (who handily lives just across the road form the store) and bedded down for a few hours sleep listening to the rain falling on the roof – perfect(!). My alarm went off at 11:15pm, a time no one should have an alarm set for! This gave me 45 minutes to get dressed, get some food in my belly, perform the necessary ablutions, pop my pack on, get outside, and take a few minutes to mentally prepare. The weather was actually ok by this time, a little drizzly but thankfully a far cry from the heavy rain of a few hours ago.
Midnight came, I gave myself a little countdown….3, 2, 1.. and away! Myself and Matt Nichols (a Bakewell local who agreed to run the first 12 miles with me) set off out of Bakewell and over some fields in the general direction of Eyam. As predicted the ground was wet and sloppy, which made for slow going from the get go. We chatted about races, our families and a whole manner of different things and it was a very pleasant start even though my feet were wet within the first 15 minutes! Before I knew it and after some lovely trails it was time to say goodbye to Matt and run by myself for a bit.
This next section of the route, heading out of Bradwell, takes you right past Breedon Hope Cement Works and it was wonderfully eerie running past these huge industrial machines and under walkways in the middle of the night. I could hear the faint chatter of workers on the night shift. Then comes the first little out and back to visit Hadfields Quarry nature reserve, my 2nd of 16 that I would be visiting throughout the course of the round.
On the approach into Hope I had a truly wonderful experience – I was able to turn my head torch off and run for about 10 minutes under the light of the full moon. The moon was so bright I was casting a shadow and I have never seen that happen before, it was incredible.
Running through Hope a few drunken revellers gave me a round of applause on their way home from the pub to bring me back into the moment and before long I was leaving civilisation again and hitting the trails. The route skirts around the side of Win Hill so avoids that big climb and then joins the Thornhill Trail for a little bit of flat running. After a surprisingly peaceful hour and a half of running by myself I caught up with Lauren again by Ladybower Bridge and snaffled down a few jam sandwiches.
Lauren’s partner Andy had kindly agreed to get up in the middle of the night and run the next section with me – across Bleaklow. I knew this section was going to be tough going, it’s very exposed and is notoriously boggy and wet, even without the mega rainfall we’d had in the last week, so having someone with me was a blessing. The first little bit, across a few fields, leads you into false sense of security as it’s pretty nice running but soon the fences, hedges, trees, and cows disappear and it feels a little like running into the abyss – well it did for us anyway, under the light of two head torches.
We settled into single file for a while as we followed the flagstones gently up hill before they, too, disappeared. It very quickly became a question of how to best avoid the plethora of bogs and swampy ground that surrounded us and, needless to say, we both fell several times. Despite this I was still having fun. After falling a few more times and wiggling our way across tricky ground we eventually found the trail that drops down to Woodhead Reservoir and met up with Lauren and the van again. Lauren had prepared a pot noodle for me which I graciously accepted. By this point I was just over 30 miles in and feeling generally alright.
After refilling my bottles I headed off again. I knew the next section (after visiting Brockholes Wood nature reserve near Crowden campsite) was a lot of flat running with not too much going on so I put my headphones in, something I don’t usually do. In between listening to some top tunes (mainly 00’s pop punk) I called my partner and spoke to her as she was having breakfast with our son, which was really lovely. On the run into and through Glossop I saw a few people out walking dogs and on their way to work and before long I was heading back uphill on excellent trails with a wonderful view of the town behind me and an earful of nature once again, having taken my headphones back out.
The route climbed up to a lovely edge path with excellent views, some of the trails were pretty thick with mud so, again, slow going. I met Lauren in the car park of a lovely little pub called the Pack Horse Inn and restocked and re-snacked. At just under 50 miles in my legs were feeling the effort of 9 hours running but all things considered I was still having a lovely time.
The next section ran through New Mills, Furness Vale, and Whaley Bridge and was a lovely change of scenery. Running along the Goyt Way as it followed the Peak Forest canal for a few kilometres was a particular highlight. Seeing smoke billowing out of all the house boats moored along the canal and waving to people having their morning coffee on the decks helped take my mind off the 20+ miles I still had left.
As the trail ran alongside the Fernilee Reservoir I sat on a bench for a few minutes to have a slice of pizza and some flapjack before setting sail again, oddly thankful for a few more hills after quite a bit of flat running. Soon I could see Buxton and started heading down hill into the town. By this point the sun was starting to peep out from behind the clouds and I saw people having a spot of brunch in the beer garden of the Wye Bridge Inn and I was very close to popping in for a swift pint, but I thought better and carried on. I was now starting to get back onto trails I knew and allowed myself to think I was nearly finished.
The route drops steeply down into a valley and then climbs back up again running along a precarious looking edge overlooking Topley Pike Quarry. It was here that the aforementioned angry sheep reared it’s head. 63 miles in, minding my own business, I suddenly found myself being chased by a furious ball of wool. I don’t know why it was so angry but I didn’t stop to find out, I just tried to speed up and keep moving. Unsurprisingly, it turned out a sheep who (presumably) hadn’t already ran over 100k was quicker over the relatively technical terrain than I was so I had to jump over a wall and wait for the animal to calm down and move on, which it eventually did.
Then came the last van stop as I entered the Wye Valley. Lauren had agreed to run the last 10 miles with me, which was amazing – running with someone else again was a welcome treat. Even with tired legs it’s hard not to appreciate the beauty of this area. After a little run along the Monsal Trail we dropped down and wiggled our way along the valley bottom following the river Wye through woodland, past the picturesque Litton Mill and across gorgeous stepping stones before eventually joining the trail into Bakewell that I was first on over 15 hours ago. I managed to pull little sprint finish from somewhere, although I am using the word sprint very liberally here, and ran back to the inov8 store to applause from a group of friends. I sat on the floor feeling tired but elated after a wonderful adventure. There is a quicker time out there but it sure feels nice being the first person to complete it.
RunUltra have teamed up with inov8 Bakewell to offer you a fabulous Christmas prize draw. The winner will get to choose a free pair of shoes from the brand new store in Bakewell, Derbyshire. All you have to do is share your opinion or comment on any review or article on RunUltra by 24th December. A winner will be picked at random and emailed by 31st December.
Chris on his finish and Chris with Nick and Sam who did the 55km route