Grindleford is a small village in the Peak District. It has traditional stone cottages, gardens full of colourful summer flowers, and a cricket club with an immaculate green pitch bordered on one side by the River Derwent. Once a year by special permission, fell runners sprint, splash, or stumble through the river after a 4.5 mile dash up wooded hill and down rocky dale to arrive back where they started, outside the clubhouse. Continue reading
This weekend I planned to go away for a couple of nights to test my new ultra light tent and get some hill training in with Bo. The weather forecast was horrendous – wet and windy everywhere, so we decided a one night trip would be wiser. Short on time, our target was Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain at 1085m. We planned to camp in the Llanberis Pass and run to the summit via the Crib Goch ridge.
Arriving at lunch time we quickly put up our tents, the only ones camping in the extended garden of a farm in Nant Peris, a small village located at the bottom of the Llanberis Pass. From there we had a view up the pass to the ridge we would soon be on. Although it wasn’t raining in the valley and there was little wind, the top of the ridge was hidden by cloud.
The steep sides of the Pass host some of the UK’s most famous rock climbing routes, and from the bus window we took the opportunity to admire the scale of the landscape. Looking up to the familiar shape of the Cromlech, there were no climbers to be seen on the open-book Cenotaph Corner, just darker grey smears of wet rock.
Jumping off the bus we began running from the Pen-y-Pass car park. The well trodden trail trends steadily upwards over a mixture of polished rocks and sandy gravel, good running although not the easiest warm up. It wasn’t long until we reached the point that our route separated from the trail, the ground quickly got steeper and soon the only option was to scramble and climb.
The Rhyolite rock is almost crystalline in appearance, formed from a series of small angular blocks that create large handholds and decent footholds. Scrambling higher we entered the clouds and I felt very aware that I was clinging to a steep surface with no ropes. My view obscured in all directions I could see nothing but rock dropping steeply away below, while more rock rose to an unknown and invisible point above. With Bo leading, the only way was up.
Finally there was no more up, we had reached the ridge and there could be no worries about route finding. We scrambled happily along, keeping our hands high on the pointing tip of the ridge and our feet low on the blocky sides. I took a moment to enjoy the incredible position. Cloud cover was coming and going at this point, the steep drop on either side intermittently revealed, the lakes below scraps of tin foil reflecting the silver grey sky.
Reaching the end of the ridge we laughed as we realised that we had clocked some of the slowest kilometres ever. Pleased to run again we joined the trail that passed the marker at Crib y Ddysgl, the second highest summit, then followed the train tracks leading the way to the busy Snowdon summit and cafe.
After a quick dash to the actual summit of Snowdon we began a swift descent down the Pyg track which involved hurdling a few tourists. The terrain is perfect, stepped and rocky, not too steep, and a lovely long run down hill back to the Pen Y Pass car park.
If you are short on time but want maximum adventure, Crib Goch is one of the best days out you can have. You can find more information about the route on UK Hillwalking http://www.ukhillwalking.com/logbook/hill.php?id=2032.
This is the furthest that I have ever run, but not the furthest I hope to run! If you do want to increase your distance and try a longer race, the Gallop is a perfect choice. It’s a 21 mile trail race that starts and ends at Grindleford, passing through Eyam, Great Longstone, the Monsal Trail, Chatsworth, Baslow, and along Curbar and Froggatt Edges. On the morning of the race I was excited, after a winter of training and dreaming I couldn’t wait to get stuck in and see what the next 21 miles would bring.
I loved the atmosphere – I am more familiar with 10k races where people are concentrating, there is a sound of pounding feet and hard breathing and it’s over in a flash. This race was much different, although we were working hard everyone seemed more relaxed and I felt that we were in it together rather than competing against each other. You can enter as a runner or a walker and walkers start when they like, meaning that there are other people along the route as you run and there’s no pressure to race as hard as you can – just go at your own pace and enjoy.
As I start to run longer races, I worry that I’ll go the wrong way or get lost. It might not always be possible to recce a route in advance, but in training we covered the Gallop in four sessions. It helped to build my confidence and meant that I could really take the time to look around and enjoy being out in the Peak District. I can’t recommend the race route enough, if you don’t want to run it in one go it’s still worth breaking it up and running the different sections. There is a magic moment when you approach checkpoint three (Longstone Edge) over the crest of a hill, and a whole new side of the valley opens up in your view. My heart always melts when I run through herds of deer past Chatsworth House, and being a climber, Curbar and Froggatt edges feel like coming home. If you don’t recce in advance though, don’t worry, there will be other people around, and there are signs at vital turning points.
Since I had never run so far I didn’t feel any pressure to be fast. I wanted to find out whether I really could do it and enjoy it. I didn’t have any idea how long it would take, although I had a target time of 3 hours 30 mins in mind I just wanted to complete the distance and aim for under 4 hours. I was nervous about running too hard in case I exhausted myself and couldn’t carry on, and because of that I never ran hard enough to be uncomfortable. Time seemed to go so quickly, the six checkpoints almost flashed by, and I finished in 3:37. I’m pleased with the time, but motivated because I know there is room to go faster.
On reflection, I still have a lot to learn. I believe the distance was a little too far for me at this point and I need to keep increasing my distance slowly in training to avoid any long term injuries. I need to practice more uphill (always more uphill!), and I need to work on my confidence, both in navigation and in running a bit harder. I like to eat eat plenty while I’m running and need to find suitable non-solid food. I also need to take the recovery more seriously, respecting the impact of running long distances on my body by eating right and taking the right rest.
Although the race was over in a few hours, the whole experience was the result of months of training. Although each person runs it on their own effort, we all support each other and will each other on. At the end of the race I was so proud of us for making it, and so happy to share it with Bo (uber training partner), Elise, Steve, and Ben. All the effort was worth it, the distance really wasn’t anything to fear. I tried to imagine that I was having a little break, and then would be running another 15 miles… the thought didn’t horrify me, in fact I’m looking forward to being able to increase my distance, run further and see more…
Litton is a small and picturesque village in the Peak District, and this was the inaugural Christmas Cracker fell race. Runners registered in the tiny village hall and the start and finish line was on the perfect-looking village green, a triangle of grass overlooked by the post office, the village hall, and the traditional local pub, the Red Lion. This part of the Peak District has a gentler feel than the exposed brown moors of Kinder, it is greener with more rolling hills punctured by outcrops of white limestone. I wasn’t fooled though, this is a fell race and the route setters of the Litton Christmas Cracker weren’t thinking gentle thoughts when they chose 359m of ascent, one flooded river, and unlimited amounts of mud.
Having already run a couple of races in early December and completed a ten mile training run the day before, I wanted to treat this as a fun morning out rather than running it as a race. After the first brief uphill section, we queued for several minutes at a series of stiles and gates. If I’m honest I was grateful for the rest, but tactically I’d advise a fast start to get ahead of the crowd. Although I have never run in this area before, I have climbed, and the race went by some familiar places including Chee Dale, Raven Tor, Ravensdale, and Rubicon Wall at Water-cum-Jolly. It was nice to link all those places together by following the river Wye, it also meant that I knew what was coming as we approached Water-cum-Jolly. A fairly long stretch of what had been the path was now under water, and there was no way to avoid running through the flooded and icy cold river. It was so deep… so muddy… so fun!
The next section was mentally and physically the hardest for me, almost continuous uphill for a very long way, ending at an exposed trig point. This part of the race included an out and back section which actually made it really interesting. It was tough seeing how many people were ahead of me, shooting back down the hill and not looking like they were struggling at all. They were encouraging though, shouting to the up-hillers that we were nearly there and keep going. When I could finally see the trig point, for a long time it seemed to stay exactly the same distance away somewhere on the horizon. Finally I reached the top and as the wind buffeted me around the turning point I became one of those joyful people leaping with ease down the grassy slope. I was challenged again shortly afterwards with a steeper and more technical section, too scared of falling I picked my way down as more experienced runners bounded past. After one final uphill through some foot-sucking and very slippy mud, I was relieved to trot back down into Litton and be cheered by locals and runners onto the village green.
Overall I found this race tough, but I’m not a fell runner… yet. I now know I have to improve my endurance on long uphills, and my technique on steep downhills. The race was well organised, and the stewards were really encouraging. Tideswell Running Club are lucky to have such a beautiful and varied area to run in, thanks to them for organising this new race. I hope I get the chance to test how far I’ve come by running it again in 2015.
You can find out more about Tideswell Running Club at their website here http://tideswellrunningclub.uk/
Percy Pud 10k, 7 December 2014 – This was one of the first 10k races I ever entered, and I had mentally prepared myself for the long steep hill I remembered battling up to the finish line. In the usual rush of runners taking off at the start I decided to take it easy and run at a comfortable pace. I enjoy the thought process of 10k races, gauging how I feel and mentally ticking off each kilometre. They always seem to fly by and I’m just sad they’re over so fast. At the 5k turning point I was pleased with my time, and feeling very comfortable. After 7k, I realised that if I carried on at the same pace I would not only beat my PB, but I would also finish within the 45 minute 10k target that I had set myself for 2015. At 8.5k, with only the ‘big uphill’ remaining I found that in fact, there was no huge hill – I remembered it that way because I was a new runner when I first ran the race! I was very happy to finish with a time under 45 minutes, and collect my Percy Pudding. I’m sure my family will enjoy it on Christmas day, and I definitely feel that I earned it.
Percy Pud is a popular race, not just because the prize for all finishers is a Christmas pudding. It is a fast and spacious out-and-back course, all road, described as undulating but it feels mainly downhill on the way out, and finishes slightly uphill. I would recommend this race for all runners, it would be a perfect first 10k and is good for a potential PB for more experienced runners. Although there are 1800 places, you must apply early if you want to get a place as the race is very popular and sells out quickly every year. Car share if you can because the on-road parking gets overcrowded.
The event is organised by Steel City Striders running club, you can see their website and race information here http://www.steelcitystriders.co.uk/percy-pud-10k/
In the past I have found the winter months quite hard, often feeling low on energy and quite down. As darkness fell I just wanted to be in bed, and winter felt like a period of hibernation to be endured until lighter warmer days. This year is different. I feel energised and more motivated than ever. I know it isn’t always easy, but it is possible to actively create the right conditions to keep your motivation and energy up. Here are three ways to enjoy rather than endure this winter:
1 – Discover what you love, and do more of it. It’s important to me that I enjoy what I choose to do with my free time, and that it doesn’t feel like a pressure or a chore. At the moment it isn’t really practical to climb outdoors after work, but it is possible to run. I would like to get faster, I could go to the track and do speed sessions. But the thought of it doesn’t inspire me, and in the past I have found that the pressure of ‘having’ to stick to a training programme actually demotivates me. There have been many great moments, but one that particularly inspired me recently was pausing on a night time run at one of my favourite places at Stanage. Turning the headtorch off, looking across at the moonlit shapes of the hills on the horizon and the patterns of the lights in the Hope Valley I saw a totally new perspective on the familiar landscape that I love. When I finish work, even when it’s dark and the weather is wild, there is no part of me that doesn’t want to get out there and run through the Peaks because I know that each run will give me a unique experience. I don’t think of it as training, but as I have stopped putting pressure on myself to achieve and just enjoyed what I’m doing, I’m finding that improvements are coming naturally.
2 – Find a goal that inspires you, see yourself achieving it, and feel the real connection between that longer term vision and today’s training. I find it easy to set myself targets – for example to run a faster 10k, and it’s good to work towards them so that I can measure my progress. But targets can become a pressure, something else to beat myself up about if I don’t make progress fast enough, or if I ‘fail’ to live up to them. This winter I also have a vision – I want to go further so that I have the opportunity to see more. I want to visit remote places and learn how to be self sufficient and leave no trace. I want to acclimatise to alpine air and run up and down mountains. I want to smell warm pines and run on soft sandy trails. These goals are not quantifiable – there are no criteria to pass or fail. The only thing that will stop me is if I don’t go and do it. It has given me something to really work for, a reason to run further and faster. To be capable of achieving and enjoying them I have to train, and having such vivid goals means that I really feel like every step I train is a step that will enable me to live those dreams.
3 – Connect with people with similar attitudes and interests, stay in touch and support each other. It’s great to spend time with people who are enjoying what they’re doing. I have gained so much inspiration through meeting or reading about people that are passionate about what they do. I have fantastic training partners and friends that are always up for it, full of ideas and positivity. Through their attitudes and achievements they are proving to me what is possible. I have also found that reading magazines and following other runners, climbers, and hikers online has really made me feel part of a community and given me so many ideas for things I’d like to do. Whether we meet in person, or virtually, we are all part of a community that shares values, interests, passion, and energy. In whichever way works for you, give that support when you can, and take it when you need it.
It’s so important to make positive choices about how you spend your time and who you spend it with. Trust yourself, listen to how you feel, and make what you do work for you. I want to say again – I know that it isn’t always easy, and sometimes even small steps can feel tough. If you feel like you struggle through winter, don’t be overwhelmed by the journey ahead, focus on those first small steps and have confidence that you are already increasing your motivation and creating the conditions to beat the winter blues.
What motivates you, especially in the winter? What do you do if you start to feel low or in a rut? If you can identify with this subject I would invite you to comment and share…
I am standing in the middle of a bog somewhere south… or possibly west… of Grindslow Knoll blinking mist out of my eyelashes and peering hopelessly at the 10m circle of tussocks visible in the dense fog that has suffocated us all morning. There is a checkpoint somewhere close by – at a ‘fence/wall junction’ according to the scant description. I would love to be able to see a fence. Or a wall. Or anything other than this damp white blanket. This is the Rab Mini Mountain Marathon, my first Mountain Marathon experience…
If like me, you’re not familiar with the format of mini mountain marathons, on arrival entrants are given a map and have 4 hours to navigate to up to 25 checkpoints. Each one is worth a number of points that varies depending on the distance and degree of difficulty finding it. If you are back late, you lose those points. The checkpoints are tiny boxes deposited on crags, in gullys, and behind crumbling dry stone walls and are distributed in an area around 25 square kilometers. I have entered as a team of two with Bodil – we are regular trail runners and have high hopes of speedily picking up a respectable number of points. As entrants can choose what time to set off between 8.15am and 10am there is no rush of start line adrenaline, and no other runners to lead the way. Bo and I have a quick scan of the map, loosely agree a route and set off running.
In no time we arrive at the point where the little circle on the map indicates that the checkpoint should be. Locating it is not as easy as expected – we are in the right place but we just can’t see it, and suddenly the little circle feels a lot bigger. Three steep gullies join here and it’s somewhere in one of them, so we split up and search until we finally locate the checkpoint. It has taken half an hour, but we have 15 points! We decide to take the direct line to the next checkpoint and enthusiastically thrash our way up one of the gullies through running water, boggy black peat, and springily resistant heather. There is no trail, not even a sheep track, we are forging our own way and I realise that this is not going to be normal running or racing. At the top of the gully we join a path as expected, and feel pretty sure we know where we are. According to the map there is another checkpoint relatively close by, I can see a trail and I just want to run down it so I urge Bo to follow me. However, after about a kilometer of enjoyable but fruitless running, we are forced to admit we are not where we thought we were and there is no checkpoint here. We give up and retrace our steps, uphill.
Our next checkpoint is at Ringing Rodger and the clue says simply ‘top of rocky outcrop’. I know that this is a familiar landmark and on any other day would be easy to spot, but we can’t see any rocks at all, and definitely not an outcrop. Feeling slightly guilty about leading us astray down the previous trail, I decide it might be better to let Bo navigate, she has the compass and seems more confident about where we are and where we’re going. Following another well-defined trail, we sense we are close as figures begin to appear and disappear in the mist. The scene feels a little surreal as we press on until suddenly there is a steep drop to our left, and a checkpoint nestled in the rocks right in front of us. Another hour has gone by, but at last we have 20 more points.
We quickly eat fruit bars to keep our energy up, and now that we have located ourselves we are on a roll. On the edge of the Kinder Plateau Bo leads us to the next three checkpoints and we earn 65 points with relatively little trouble. The third is located at the bottom of Grindsbrook, one of my favourite hikes in the Peak District – to make it more interesting we follow the river itself rather than taking the less direct but easier footpath. I feel at home again, scrambling on rock in a small gorge, wintery water gushing past us as we descend maybe 125m back down the valley. From this point we decide to leave the comfort of the path and strike out south, to a checkpoint that I don’t realise is on the other side of the highest point around. Having just descended, we power up a steep hill, the top of which reveals another steeper hill. We climb rapidly and then then speedily descend, but in all of the striding up the hill and the wiggling down it, we have lost our bearings and find ourselves somewhere south… or possibly west… of Grindslow Knoll. After trotting around the tussocky field for a while, the fence/wall junction checkpoint is suddenly visible just ahead of us and we have 15 more points.
Now with about 25 minutes to go, we are almost back to Edale. It’s too soon to go home, but to attempt the next checkpoint is risky. We know that it is doable though it will be tight and it takes us just seconds to commit to it, knowing that it is uphill all the way there but downhill on the way back. At this stage, what would normally have been an easy run feels like crazily hard work. A stream of people finishing their race stroll happily past us in the opposite direction as we plough our way upwards through a series of exceptionally muddy fields of sheep poo. We finally see the checkpoint… at the top of a steep embankment. My legs are burning, my heart is pounding… but it is within my grasp and I am so determined to reach the top and those 10 points. Bo must feel the same as she seems to leap up the hill and is at the checkpoint well ahead of me. We shout to each other as she dashes back down, “Come On!!!” As I catch her up we have 8 minutes remaining… and I know we can make the final kilometer. This feels like my kind of racing again and although the road through Edale has never felt so long I am full of joy as we muster up a sprint finish after four hours and make it home with three minutes to spare!
In total we ran 10 miles including around 850m of ascent, and collected 125 points from 7 checkpoints. I’m so glad I entered with Bo, it felt great to put in a team effort and I would have felt a little lost on my own. It’s important to take this event seriously – it involves being out in all weather conditions on sometimes difficult terrain for several hours, but for me it was a safe and fun way to practice carrying the right gear and test my navigation skills and endurance. Four hours flew by, and I would definitely be up for a longer event next time. As I start to write my tick list of challenges for 2015, I feel good that the preparation has begun for next year’s endurance events…
If you fancy entering a mountain marathon next year, you can find the website for Dark and White events here http://www.darkandwhite.co.uk/mountain-marathons.asp
Does anyone else have shoes that they use as both approach shoes and trail shoes? Which shoes do you use for running on rocky terrain and why? Here’s my review of the best shoes I’ve found so far…
I had been searching for a while for multipurpose trainers that could be used as approach shoes and for trail running. I’m not sure there is a shoe designed for both, but I was finally recommended the Adidas Adizero XT4 by experts at my local running shop www.frontrunnersheffield.co.uk .
The first thing I notice when trying on shoes is the style – it’s not the most important factor and functionality always takes precedence for the final choice, but I still want to look and feel good in my gear! Women’s shoes generally aren’t made in my size, so in the past I have had to buy shoes in chunky masculine styles. The XT4’s orange white and black colours are gender-neutral, and I love orange so I was excited to wear them. They look enough like ‘normal’ trainers that I was happy to wear them with jeans in the day – this is important to me when I’m travelling and I need to take the smallest amount of luggage.
Adidas shoes generally have a slim fit, my AdiZeros are size 8.5 when I would usually wear size 8. I have long skinny feet, and have had problems in the past with shoes that are too wide, meaning that my feet slipped around inside them. The AdiZeros felt secure with enough space to be comfortable, but they didn’t come loose or rotate around my feet, even on rough terrain. The fit is perfect for me, but might not suit people with broader feet.
I really tested the AdiZero XT4’s performance on a month long trip to California – with only this one pair of shoes! Encountering a heat wave I covered around 10-15 miles a day hiking and trail running. They were comfortable from the start and didn’t need wearing in, I never had any blisters despite long hot days, and the mesh over the toes means they’re breathable and felt cool. They were perfect for hiking and running on the granite and sand trails, although the mesh uppers meant that on dusty sections the toes quickly filled with sand.
When the heat wave passed I managed to get on the rock and climb, and for cragging and longer days the XT4s were exactly what I wanted in my approach shoe. The Continental rubber soles are super sticky, and I felt confident even on smooth granite slabs and domes. They aren’t stiff enough to be perfect approach shoes, but they don’t claim to be. I prefer a lighter and tighter fitting shoe so that I can feel the rock under my feet, and I found them grippy enough to scramble where necessary.
One of my favourite features is that at 280g the shoes are really light, which is a bonus when travelling with luggage restrictions. After a long day I never felt that they were weighing me down, and they are perfect for attaching to a harness. I was concerned that the gear loops and stitching appear flimsy and may pull out over time, although it hasn’t been a problem so far.
Back in the UK, and the XT4s became my trail racing shoes.There is a section of sharp spikes in the centre of the sole which I really noticed in wet conditions when I knew that they were biting into mud and grass. I used them for routes over grass, woodland, and short bursts on the road – you can run on tarmac in them if you want to, although the rubber will wear faster and there isn’t much cushioning so it feels pretty harsh.
Now the clocks have gone back, I have been using them as fell/trail running shoes in the dark, rain and fog around the Peak District. In previous trail shoes I have slipped while running in the rain, but I have learned to trust the Adidas XT4s, and feel confident in them, even on wet rock. After running through streams and bogs my feet felt warm again quickly and there was no disgusting squelchy sensation. The light and airy construction of the shoe means that they dry quickly. My main gripe is that the laces come undone frequently, and perhaps textured laces or a different lacing system would be better.
The shoes have taken a hammering over the past few months but in spite of the light construction and several layers of dirt, there’s not too much wear yet. My favourite features are how light they are, the sticky rubber soles, and the look of the shoe. The slim fit won’t suit everyone’s feet, and you would want to buy more specialist shoes if you have a specific purpose, particularly for fell running. They are in the mid to upper price range (RRP is £80), but for me although they are sold as trail shoes, they have replaced separate pairs of approach shoes and trail shoes.
What shoes do you use and why? Please comment and let me know… I can always use an excuse for new gear…
Climbing has taken up the majority of my time and energy for the past couple of years, so I haven’t entered a 10k race for a long time. When an injured friend offered me his entry into the Sheffield Tententen, which starts five minutes from my front door, I grabbed the opportunity to get back into running.
I don’t find it easy to just potter round, when I run I want to run the fastest and hardest that I can, and since I hadn’t really been training I wasn’t sure how I’d perform. The Endcliffe Park 10k is not a race to aim for a PB, it involves two 5k loops with a short road section, a short but very steep (and muddy!) hill, and some fairly narrow undulating trails through the woods. I usually prefer to run on my own, so I was concerned about feeling crowded in the race. It really wasn’t a problem, I should have worried more about my lack of fitness on the hills, they were short but sharp and I really felt it!
Ideally, I wanted to finish in under 50 minutes, my final time was 50:06. I knew it was close, but I’m happy that I ran as hard as I could and just couldn’t have squeezed the extra 6 seconds from anywhere. It’s a great benchmark time for my first 10k in two years, and I’ll be aiming to bring that right down in 2015.
I have run this race in previous years, and it’s one of the best 10ks that I’ve entered. Endcliffe Park is ideal for friends and family to watch so there’s a great atmosphere, it’s really well organised by runners for runners… and the T shirts are the best designed with this year’s orange my favourite so far!
If you want to enter next year, or would like more information about the event, this is the website http://www.sheffield10k.com.