At the end of October I was feeling a bit fed up. I had taken the sensible decision to ease back on the mileage for a bit after a very busy seven months and to work on my speed in an attempt to improve my running. I quite enjoyed the speedwork in training, but I didn’t enjoy the half marathon I ran towards the end of October and I was really missing the hilly races that I love competing in. My last hilly event had been the Lakeland 50 in July and with no more races planned until the New Year I was feeling stuck in a rut. When an ultra running friend pointed out the Dark Peaks Trail Marathon it re-ignited the excitement about my running again (thanks Jo!). Although it required a bit of juggling with the commitments of non-running life and a very long day trip to the Peak District, I knew that this was a race I really wanted to do.
A 4am start had me up at Langsett in the Peak District with plenty of time to spare and after a very efficient registration and kit check from the Peakrunners team I was ready to go. The weather forecast was for rain all day, so we were all well wrapped up against the elements as we lined up at the start ready to follow the easy track around Langsett Reservoir. Although a relatively small field (around 100 runners), it contained some top ultra runners and so everyone set off at quite a pace on the good track! I was relieved when we hit the first climb after about a mile and the field thinned out as everyone settled into their own rhythm.
The start of the climb was stunning as we headed up towards Margery Hill, but it wasn’t long before we were enveloped by the low clouds and drizzle. I felt so happy to be out in this environment again despite the weather and I had a big smile on my face as I met the marshal at the top of the climb and began the glorious long descent down towards Derwent and Ladybower Reservoirs. I emerged from the cloud to see stunning views down the gulleys of Bull and Cranberry Cloughs.
The route then followed the surfaced track along almost the full length of the reservoirs. This was the only section of the route that I didn’t particularly enjoy; it was easy but very boring running on the wide track. Fortunately after about a mile this section was punctuated by the only checkpoint on the route (which we passed twice), with cheerful marshals and a fantastic selection of goodies including some delicious fruit cake! This helped keep my spirits up for the remaining 3 miles along the reservoir; I plodded on and was rewarded by the interesting sight of the flooded village of Derwent, currently visible because the water levels in the reservoir are so low.
Here I was very pleased to leave the reservoir for the steep climb up onto Derwent Edge. I had climbed up here in the Ultra Tour of the Peak District in 2015 and was interested to note that I found it much easier this time. As I reached the top of the climb I was back into the clouds, the interesting tors and standing stone formations all looking rather eerie as they emerged from the murk. As I made my way along Derwent Edge the persistent drizzle turned to heavy rain and I was grateful that I had my back to the worst of the weather. I popped my hood up and jogged along in my own little bubble; I was actually enjoying the weather conditions and the wildness of the Peak District moorland!
Although this was a self navigated race, the organisers had flagged and marshalled a couple of the trickier sections, which was a big help given the low visibility. Two marshals guided me onto the correct trod to descend from Derwent Edge via Abbey Brook, following a stunning single track path along the edge of the gulley. It was by now rather slippery in the conditions and I picked my way down carefully, passing several tired looking runners on the way down.
The path gradually widened and became easier before leading back down to join the track around Derwent Reservoir. Thankfully we only had to re-trace a short section of our earlier route as far as the checkpoint before climbing once again to head for home over Margery Hill. The track became progressively boggier as we climbed and at one point I nearly became properly stuck while attempting to cross a particularly wide and stinky bog. I ended up covered in foul smelling mud up to my shins and gave off a revolting odour for the rest of the race!
Soon after I passed another helpful marshal, wrapped up in a sleeping bag in a shooting butt, as he directed us onto another faint trod towards the top of Margery Hill. The flags were again useful in the poor visibility and I was able to get my head down and just concentrate on moving at a good pace. I then re-joined the outward route for a couple of miles, before turning onto a different route to the finish around the other side of Langsett Reservoir.
I was running well as I descended towards the reservoir, but as I got lower down the path deteriorated and became extremely bouldery and difficult to run on. Even when I reached the path around the reservoir it was very uneven and hard going. I quickly started to feel tired and my legs seemed to have lost all their energy, so it was a relief to reach the road for the last mile back to the event centre. My legs gradually began to loosen up again and I was feeling good as I reached the marshals directing me towards the finish. There was one last sting in the tail with a short sharp climb to the finish line, but I made myself run all the way up and crossed the line with a big grin on my face!
It was a stunning route and an event I would definitely do again, despite being a long round trip! The organisation was excellent and struck a perfect balance between allowing a feeling of self sufficiency in the hills and ensuring safety in the conditions. My only minor criticism was that I would have liked some hot food at the finish (or maybe some more of that fabulous fruit cake!). I had a great day out though and I’m still smiling a few days later! It was a great reminder of all that I love about running and why I do this – nothing beats that feeling of using running to explore new places and immersing myself in that wild environment.