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"Climbs, snacks, views, (more snacks) and a prize - an adventure from the PD Birthday Bash"

Written by Ashok Gurung who completed the 70km course at the Peak District (70th) Birthday Bash in April 2022, placing third overall and second male.

Having moved to Stafford, I was already thinking of visiting the Peak District for running on the trails. Searching for running information on Facebook, I started following Peak Running, but due to work commitments and logistics, it meant that unfortunately I could not attend any of their races or training... or so it seemed.

Then, the 70th Birthday Bash flyer caught my eye – visiting the most iconic places the Peak District has to offer.

The Birthday Bash offered two distances – half (35km) and full (70km) distances with elevation gains of 1300m and 2600 respectively. The event was very "friendly" as there were different start timings – walkers and runners were allowed to start from 0530 while the competitive runners mass start was at 0830.

All smiles at the start of the 70km

Driving to the Castleton through the mesmerising Winnats Pass is always fascinating. Ample car parking was allocated and it was only 400m walk from the race HQ at the Peveril Centre on Buxton Road. It was great to catch up with the RD Andy Brooks – all smiles and the registration was swift and easy. Chatting with fellow participants and drinking tea was pleasant before we assembled at the Castleton Village Museum Car Park for the final instructions from Andy.

The first climb was that of Hollins Cross; gentle, but muddy and slippery with still some icy patches in places.

Arriving at the gate, the Edale Valley looked beautiful and with a good weather forecast, we were in for a treat to enjoy the Peak District National Park!

There were a group of people leading the pack and as we were chatting away, we were half way up the track to the Mam Tor trig before we realised that had missed the small track veering off to the right. Then we started taking the direct bearing to the track to join the actual route. I told myself ‘Don’t follow the crowd or get distracted by the beauty of the nature’.

The only way is up!

It was bit windy at the Rushup Edge ridge but when we joined the Pennine Bridleway, the trail was quiet and very runnable until we reached CP1 at Hayfield. Many front runners went straight through but I could not resist the savoury snacks available. I was taking my time choosing and picking the variety of snacks available whilst talking to the marshals who were very friendly and helpful. I knew the next section would not be as runnable.

Once I reached the Kinder Reservoir, I knew what was coming next – William Clough climb.

During Groovy Kinder Love fell race I loathed that climb and I was already thinking about it running past the reservoir and on to the high moor. I could see the front runners up ahead in the distance power hiking, hands on knees. I was with a couple of runners, following their footfalls rather than following my own – grimacing and puffing up the sandy gritstone trench of the climb.

Reaching the top was a relief but seeing the Pennine Way Climb on the right was soul-taking.

I walked for a bit enjoying the view from the Pennine Way before going up towards Kinder Downfall. The Pennine Way near kinder is full of rounded gritstone boulders, damp peat patches - which needed rock-hopping and skipping agility - and with rited quads after 13 odd miles, the pace was naturally slow, but an excuse to enjoy the spectacular view. After crossing Kinder Low - where couple of marshals cheered us through - it was a technical descent on narrow path towards Jacob’s ladder. Once past the ford, the flat Pennine Way trail brought us to the Edale Village Hall where CP2 was located. This was also the location where the 35k runners/walkers take the route towards the finish at Castleton via the Hollins Cross. I was glad that I did not take the easy option!

Again the Check point offered warm hospitality from the marshals and variety of snacks which I took big advantage of by eating plenty of fruits and sausage rolls.

Out of the CP and back up the road before turning right took me on a long stretch of trails via Vale of Edale before reaching the Edale YHA. A couple of weeks prior to the event, I recced the second part of the route, starting at the Castleton and joining the YHA route via Hollins cross so I knew what was coming next.

A gradual trail towards Hope Cross, this is where I met couple of runners, had a chat and moved forward aiming at Win Hill in the distance. The view of the Edale valley took away the fatigue and after traversing the footpath up Win Hill, I went to the trig and spent a good two minutes enjoying the mesmerising 360 panoramic view of the nature; Edale valley, Ladybower reservoir and Bamford Moor.

A week ago, during my recce the same scene was grim because of the bad weather but it was a different story on race day; the best moment of the day so far!

The next section to CP3 at Bamford was a downhill, very runnable single-track path. There was a diversion due to the damage done by the River Derwent at the mills. Another food frenzy at CP3, greeted by energetic marshals and volunteers. I took my time with the buffet and got some takeaways as the next CP wasn't until Hathersage. Straight after CP3, there is this big climb - Bamford Clough. I did not like this part during the recce and even hated it during the race as my legs were fatigued and tired.

I took my time, still having some nibbles and enjoying watching a cyclist go up the hill... there are event seats if one wishes to take a good breather. The road section up to the cattle grid was a slog until you get to the bottom of the Stanage Edge and follow it around again hopping and skipping the big boulders and rocks. Running past the busy Higger Tor, the next section is a nice downhill plod to CP4 at Hathersage, where a nice lady told me that I was the second male and third overall. I had not noticed that until she mentioned it, I was enjoying the scene and apparently running well too!

The next section was through woods with not much of a view but it was pleasant to run. Also, given the new information of my position in the race, I was more focussed on finishing strong. As I ran the route a week ago, I knew when to slow down and when to push on.

The Abney Moor section brought the view of Edale from the different angle and the great views back across the valley were fascinating before reaching the final and fifth checkpoint at Bradwell. Last week, I took the shortcut path to the Castleton, so I was not aware of this section. The long road hills and then the field section with strong headwind really tested me.

Once I reached the Limestone Way, I could sense the finish point and plodded along the path until I reached the Peveril Centre via a somewhat arduous and beautiful Cave Dale.

A warm welcome, lots of well-wishes and hot chilli nachos food welcomed me... in hindsight I had eaten too much on race day! I met the first two finishers who were changed and good to leave the location. RD Broosky presented me with the 2nd male prize before I went back to the car park after spending good 30 minutes chatting and talking to the runners and volunteers.

I have run few races and ultras but Birthday Bash has its own significance – well organised, a great atmosphere, fantastic panoramic views, plenty of food and encouragement, and all for an affordable price. Not often you get such an opportunity to visit all of those iconic places in a single day.

Written by Ashok Gurung in February 2023.

To find out more about the Peak District Birthday Bash, click here.

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