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PART TWO:"The Blind date that led to a true love of bumpy ultras" - a Series

Written by Geraldine Minshall, November 2022 . Psst... You can read PART ONE here.


So as you may have gathered by the title, the story continues…

On a day between Christmas and New Year, I was invited for a run around Matlock with my previously mentioned ultra-running good friend, Becky, and a few others from her club. They were all talking about upcoming races and asked me what I was doing. I mentioned I’d been contemplating the Peak District 70th Birthday Bash, and was egged on to sign up for it as my first ‘real’ ultra. ‘Real’ in the fact that at this point I’d done a couple of 50km distances, not races, but just to see if I could.

To be honest, the Bash had been on my mind since Andy had mentioned it, so that evening I read through the details for the umpteenth time, and this time I actually signed up for the race.

Back in Denmark, the first part of 2022 involved lots of training, including running up and down my favourite ski slope, and a mini backyard ultra to raise money for Ukraine. The max was 10 rounds which I completed (67km), so I knew I could cover the distance. What an interesting experience it was too. I honestly thought I wouldn’t like it but I actually really did, and I learnt a lot about pacing myself and fuelling. What’s more, I completed it with a fellow Brit, Matthew Griffiths. A valuable lesson of good camaraderie left a mark too. A cliché it may be, but team work really can make the dream work.

The elevation was still going to be a tough one, even after lots of time spent with my ‘best friend’ the ski slope. I’d got an idea of the terrain this time but the idea of self-navigation was a worry. It wasn’t easy to get over for recces, and quite honestly, I’m the type that if you spin me round a few times in an unknown location, I struggle to find the way home.

I told Andy about my concerns and asked if he knew anyone who might be happy to run with me, suggesting he could give me a good reference from our Edale Skyline blind date. He hooked me up with one of the famous Peak Running bunch, Ian Patheyjohns. We started to follow one another on Strava (as you do) and had a chat over FaceTime, both with our reading glasses on. Something else to love about this ultra-running lark - being of middle age is pretty standard. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be as Ian got hit by Covid a few weeks before the race. Last minute and in a bit of a desperate flap, I posted a message in the Peak Running group on Facebook. Two lovely female runners said I could join them and another male runner offered his company too. Not knowing what to do for the best, I decided to go with the female company. The last race I’d entered was the Berlin Marathon, some years ago. So the morning of the Bash was a bit of a big deal. I’d agreed to an early start with the ladies, and arrived in good time for coffee and to faff around one last time with my newly acquired vest and its contents (yes, another not tested piece of brand-new kit for a long run!). May I just add here that if you are new to all the bits ‘n’ pieces (officially known as mandatory kit) you need for your first ultra, Harrier do an excellent starter bundle.

Registration in the Peveril Centre was odd, it felt strangely ‘familiar’. To suddenly meet a lot of the main faces of the group in person after only really being connected to Peak Running through Facebook was a bit surreal. After a thorough kit check, a good coffee and a few photos with the ladies (Helen Treece and Helen Joy), we got on our way. ‘Team Helen’ were very experienced runners, so I felt in good hands.

It was a glorious sunny morning albeit a bit on the chilly side. We made good progress and got to know each other a little better along the way. Apparently having a team wee is a great way to do this.

Just after Checkpoint 2, I happened to recognise the male runner from Facebook who had also offered to run with me (Mark Page). I asked if it would be okay if I ran the rest of the way with him and he welcomed the idea. The ladies didn’t mind me leaving them, so off I trotted with Mark.

Yay! Another blind date! Mark and I got to know each other a little better over the following miles, lumps and bumps. Mark had sold himself as chatty paced runner. That was indeed spot on but his excellent company and navigational skills were also second to none.

We chatted about everything from running, work and family life, to McDonalds crème egg McFlurrys.

On a particularly ‘special’ incline, Bamford Clough, (a chair lift would have been nice here!) just after the Bamford Checkpoint, we met a couple of other runners, John Hopkins and his cousin Jack, who were equally as entertained by the vertical challenge at such a point in the race. None of us were going anywhere in a hurry which allowed for new dynamics and new conversation to take place. A bit of a laugh and a joke were just what we all needed. We didn’t know it then but all four of us were to finish the race together.

This is where I just have to mention the checkpoints. Wow. They were all incredibly well stocked with fabulous snacks. It was like walking into a different party buffet every time. Run by the most wonderful volunteers, nothing was too much trouble. They helped refill bottles, asked you how you were feeling, and offered friendly words of encouragement. I was really quite overwhelmed by this. It turned out that most of them were runners themselves, so they could put themselves in your shoes. Let’s just say they ‘hit the spot’ every time.

The lemon drizzle cake and cup of tea at the last check point was the perfect final boost needed to finish the job.

“Nearly there!”, we were told, “Just another 10km”. We were soon to discover that a Peak Running 10km might not measure up to 10km on your watch…

Darkness started to fall but the banter continued. The endless stiles and the unforgiving terrain were starting to take their toll. John was a natural entertainer and talked nonstop. He was also making a GoPro video, so he was the perfect company to make the miles fly by. We also felt somewhat obliged to smile for the camera, and when you smile, everything feels a bit easier.

On our final, and incredibly tough descent into Castleton, the end was near and we all got our second wind. Spirits lifted and once all four of us were down and back on the flat we picked up the pace back to the Peveril Centre. Headlamps bobbing away and mutterings about the extra 5km that had been thrown our way (apparently the ‘70km’ Birthday Bash was what you call poetic license), we arrived back like the four Musketeers (yes, there were four) and ran up the path to the doors to dab in for the final time! Woohoo! What a feeling!

We all congratulated one another and were welcomed so warmly, yet again, by the amazing Peak Running crew. We were presented with our souvenir coasters and sat down to the best ever veggie chilli.

So, my first ‘real’ ultra was in the bag. I couldn’t quite believe it. All the training had paid off but I couldn’t have done it without Team Helen or the amazing Mark Page. An absolutely epic day out. I was shattered but elated all at the same time, and that feeling was there again - more of the same please!! I’d promised myself, if the Bash went well, I’d sign up for the Limestone 50 in September, so that’s exactly what I did.

PART THREE coming soon.

- The event this blog focusses on is the Peak District 70th Birthday Bash. To find out more about this hugely successful event - which is back for 2023! - click here.

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