Written by Geraldine Minshall, November 2022 . Psst... You can read PART TWO here.
September seemed like a long time off but my name was on the start list. If I’d just done 70km with all that elevation then 80km with a bit less should definitely be doable with 4 months to train for it, after a bit of recovery of course. That said, I decided it might be a good idea to be a bit more structured with my training this time. I committed to a plan and followed it to a tee. Except for when I was on holiday. No, I didn’t do less, I actually took the opportunity to do more, and worked my way round 125km of coastal path on my favourite Danish island, Bornholm. I did this in four parts with a view to taking it all in one go at some point in the future. Personal goals aside, the varied terrain, from rocks to sand, was definitely good training ground. We had a fair bit of hot weather over the summer months. Running in the heat can give me headaches, so I got up as early as necessary to beat the heat on long run days. I also did this during our family holiday, so as not to encroach on family time. They aren’t bothered but I am, and there’s nothing like mummy-guilt to make a run feel uncomfortable.
I’ve lost count of how many weekends I’ve gotten up early enough to fit my mileage in, in order to be back making pancakes before anyone has even noticed I was gone.
So the weeks went by and the Limestone 50 was approaching. I was feeling strong both physically, and mentally but the one thing bothering me, just like for the Bash, was my lack of navigation experience. The fabulous Mark came to mind and I wondered if I could be cheeky enough to message him and ask if he’d fancy teaming up. I stuck my neck out and sent a jokey yet serious message via messenger. When a positive response came winging its way back, it absolutely made my day and made me feel like everything was in place. Since my first run in the Peak District, I’d really wished I was more local and could join in the wayfarer runs. Especially the relevant recces for the ultras. I wanted to join one whilst over celebrating my husband’s birthday with his family in May but circumstances didn’t allow and it wasn’t to be. I was so frustrated by this that I signed up for the Dark Dark Peak night recce. It had absolutely nothing to do with the Limestone 50 route, as it was for the Millstone and the 100 milers. It did however scratch a very big itch for me.
I flew in on the Saturday morning and out again on the Sunday. A summer’s evening well spent with a great bunch of experienced runners and being looked after so well by the fabulous Deborah Short, who acted as a mobile checkpoint for us. Warm drinks and Katie’s famous cake, just when things were getting chilly and a bit of a pick me up was needed. This was definitely one of my best training runs to date. 28 expertly planned and guided miles in the best company. From watching the sun go down from Kinder, to surviving my left leg being snatched by the bog monster in the dark of night, it couldn’t have been more worth the trip.
When the morning of the Peak District Ultras arrived, I felt a little more at ease than I did on the morning of the Birthday Bash. I was also a bit more familiar with all the loot in my vest this time.
I’d been messaging with Mark and agreed to meet him after registration. On entering the Peveril Centre on this occasion, I recognised some friendly faces and immediately felt at home.
When I was done pinning my number on my shorts, Mark was waiting for me outside. My hubby took a few photos of us and off we went to dab in and join the others at the starting area. Such a fabulous atmosphere with people chatting to each other left, right and centre. Andy arrived to start the race and we were off. A short-lived speedy getaway followed by a power hike into the first climb of the day’s 50 miles that were coming our way. It was a muggy day, so it was looking like single layers all the way and extra hydration was going to be a must. Wow I even felt a little like I knew what I was doing this time. Well, I knew what I was in for at least.
Mark and I trotted along, chatting and joking with other runners, some doing the Peveril 33, and some doing the same race as us. The first checkpoint was a welcome sight. We filled up bottles and munched on goodies. Passed a few words with the wonderful Peak Running volunteers and moved on quite swiftly. If I’m totally honest, at this point, despite my apparent enthusiasm, I was half wishing I was doing the Peveril. Not sure if it was the weather or what but those first 10 miles had felt like a lot more. I was going to have to straighten myself up before the next checkpoint or it was going to be tougher than tough.
Chatting with Mark and focusing on the beautiful surroundings, I reminded myself of how much I had wanted to be there that day, the training I’d put in, and how lucky I was to be able to be doing what I was doing. We had been promised a challenging but beautiful route, and that’s exactly what had started to unfold.
As the miles whizzed by we were soon at the second checkpoint, Baslow. Greeted by a disco party and more fabulous service. With disco balls, bright pink rara skirts, and Madonna playing, it wasn’t actually easy to leave! Outside we were met with the grounds of Chatsworth House and a hub of activity. ‘British summer at its best’ I thought to myself. It’s amazing the things you can feel a little emotional about when you become an expat. We followed our little diversion and were soon back in the peace and quiet of the countryside.
A few miles later, I remember remarking that we were very alone until a very bubbly female runner joined us. We all introduced ourselves and the three of us ran together. She was clearly of experience and a joy to chat to. We got as far as Checkpoint 3 together, then the lovely Lauren Johnson, who turned out to be the female winner and course record holder for the Summer Spine Challenger, politely left us and said she was going to eat on the run.
Mark and I weren’t in a rush. We filled our boots again with fabulous snacks, refilled our bottles, had a tiddle and shared a bit of banter with some more lovely volunteers.
Ready to roll again, we cracked on and made sure to take some photos along the way.
At one point we came across a herd of dairy cows starting to line up for milking. They were wandering towards their farm and had started to crowd under a small bridge just before the gate to the farm. Unfortunately this was exactly where we needed to run through and we couldn’t see an alternative. I could sense Mark wasn’t overly impressed with the situation. Neither was I to be honest but he had been such a hero agreeing to run with me that I could see this was going to be my opportunity to give something back. Now, my only experience of cows is the fact my father-in-law has a dairy farm. I’ve seen a lot of them over the years but I usually do my very best to keep away from them. I’d heard and watched how they usher them along at milking time, so I decided it couldn’t be too difficult, and thought it was time to try out my skills. In my best farmer voice, I walked purposely towards the back end of the cows, “Go on! Go on!”. I was slightly nervous to say the least but was tickled pink to discover it was working!! They shifted enough for us to make our way through. Holding our breath with our hearts in our throats we made it through the gate. The young farmer waiting on the other side of the gate was somewhat amused, to say the least. I think we were both a little proud of my efforts and relieved to be running off down the path, as the moos faded behind us.
Now you’d think you’d be happy about a bit of flat running with such a lumpy bumpy ultra. Well, not true, and if I don’t see the Monsal Trail again, it’ll be too soon. So monotonous.
What made it all better though was our final checkpoint. As we approached they rang cattle bells, and getting closer we could see they had chosen a spooky theme. Absolutely brilliant. Once again, the Peak Running volunteers had successfully taken our minds off our tired legs and feet. Mark and I had been discussing what might help from a fuel point of view at this point, and he’d told me about salted potatoes working wonders. Well! Guess what? There were salted potatoes a plenty and I can now confirm their magical properties!
With headlamps at the ready we were off to storm our final miles. Mutterings of how it was always a bit longer than expected with Andy’s races, reminded me of the Birthday Bash 🥳 At that point, I came to think about that final descent into Castleton and hoped it wasn’t going to be quite the same. It wasn’t. Well not quite. We were led down by markers, traversing our way back and forth across a steep bank down into the village. I honestly felt like I’d got one leg longer than the other when I’d done. Wasn’t sure which one though! I ran like a cowboy back to the final dab-in at the Peveril Centre.
Greeted by familiar faces and a bit of a cheer on our arrival, I could smell the famous chilli. I exchanged my wristband for a finisher’s coaster and popped to the loo to wash my face and swap my salt-soaked top for the nice dry ‘extra layer‘ from my mandatory kit.
When I came back upstairs, I was asked if I’d like a podium place!? What on earth? I thought I’d heard wrong but the same question was repeated. In absolute shock I was told I was 3rd Female! I jumped so high and very nearly cried but I saved myself from that by cracking a joke about swapping my coaster for a fabulous piece of artwork. I’d seen them in the Facebook group a few days ago, and thought how lovely they were. It seemed so far-fetched. All I had wanted to do was finish the race and enjoy the day. I had no idea of who was in front or behind me along the way. Needless to say I was delighted with my podium place and a very nice piece of artwork it was too! I couldn’t thank my partner in crime, Mark, enough, and was so happy to hear that he had also achieved a PB for the course. Things couldn’t have worked out better for the both of us! So that’s my story so far. Have to say, I’ve felt a bit self-absorbed whilst writing this but it’s a blog from a personal perspective at the end of the day, and naturally I star a lot in that. Throwing the focus onto any busy people out there, I’d like to say that I’ve written this blog over a few weeks, fitting it in where I can, around a busy life, as a mum and full-time teacher with a young family. It’s a bit like my training, I had to make it fit. Work for me. Work around my family and my job. Sometimes it felt like it wasn’t going to be possible but I think the commitment and discipline to follow a training plan is so transferable into other areas of your life that it makes it possible. What’s more, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it all. The goal-oriented training - and the blog writing!
Famous last words? Let’s see. All I know is, I’m hooked and truly in love with lumpy bumpy ultras. Hoping Andy might have space for another coachee in the new year, and I can start training for the Millstone 100, 2023. ‘Not so easy to find a running buddy to help with the nav on that one’, I hear you say. No, and that’s why I’ll be doing a navigation course with Peak Running at the soonest opportunity. If Andy can suffer me. I might well be the one he just can’t help. Unless Mark is at a loose end that day?
We hope you've enjoyed the "Blind Date" series written by the fabulous Geraldine. This blog focusses on is the Peak Dsitrict Ultras, which you can find out more about here.