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the "joys" of running 100 miles: "My Peak District Ultra Millstone 100"

- An account of the 2022 Millstone 100, written by Helen Joy.

I think it’s safe to say that there were a couple of points throughout the Millstone 100 where it could have gone one of two ways and on both occasions, through sheer stubbornness or drive (I’m not sure which!) I turned it around in my favour.

My nerves on the couple of days leading up the event were like nothing I’d been expecting. I knew I was going to be nervous ahead of my first 100, but they seemed to consume me, and I got to the point where I just wanted to start the event to stop feeling nervous!

At check-in on the Friday night, there was a thorough kit check, the handing out of timing bands and numbers, taping of trackers on to our packs and friendly reassuring last minute advice. After the race briefing, a cup of tea and a banana and I was off.

My starting strategy was to go steady and stay at my own pace. Very quickly the pace of the majority meant that I was on my own, but I expected that, and it gave me headspace to try and settle into the run from Edale, across the Pennine Way to Jacobs ladder. It took until the first checkpoint to feel comfortable, for the first few miles the nerves were still floating around my stomach. I switched from navigating in the light to the dark, telling myself not to worry as head-torches in the distance disappeared across Kinder and my trusty cheese wraps - that had fuelled me through every long run prior - were suddenly uncomfortable to swallow and I realised were not going to work for me on this particular run.

After reaching the first checkpoint at Snake Pass, having some coke (which was to be my checkpoint staple for the next 36 hours!) something else to eat, refilling my flasks and adding an extra layer for the night, I set off across Bleaklow feeling much more relaxed. The next section was steady, interrupted only by my first head-torch battery deciding to give up after 4h of what should have been a 10h charge. Quick change of my headtorch battery at checkpoint 2 and Steve, one of the checkpoint marshals at Ironbower, very kindly lent me his spare headtorch as a backup for the first night which was reassuring to have in my pack as I ploughed through the fog across the moors towards checkpoint 3 at Howden. The fog in the dark was the hardest navigation point and I was very aware that I was solely reliant on my hand-held GPS keeping me on track, I attempted a one-pole running style at this point to focus more on my GPS route only to slip over and hit my elbow on a nearby rock so quickly abandoned that and was relieved when the fog finally cleared.

After chatting to the checkpoint marshals at Howden and finding out a few people had got lost in the fog I left quietly congratulating myself that I’d got through that bit ok, albeit with a throbbing elbow!

The next stage to checkpoint 4 was a steady trek across Derwent edge leaving Howden reservoir and heading towards Derwent and Ladybower, seeing the sunrise just before 6am and realising I needed to re-think my wild wee stops now I was going to be more conspicuous without the cover of darkness! The night had been really mild weather wise and luckily without the earlier forecast rain.

I got into the Ladybower check point just before 9am and felt comfortable that I would reach Castleton with enough time to change, eat and head back out before the cut off time. I was feeling ok, and I also knew what was ahead of me now, Win Hill and Lose Hill – two tough climbs, so I got my head down and got on with it. As I started my decent on Lose Hill, I started to feel a niggle in my left shin. I’d rolled on my ankle a few days earlier and was fully prepared for it to flare up at some point, I was a bit surprised it was affecting my shin but put it aside and carried on towards checkpoint 5, the halfway point at Castleton.

I received such a lovely welcome at Castleton and after coffee, porridge, a complete change of kit and shoes - even cleaning my teeth! - and a repack of my bag (without cheese wraps this time) I set off again.

A recent decent into Castleton of course now meant a climb back out for the second 50-mile section in the white peak and as I descended into Bradwell my shin was really starting to bother me and slow me down. I had a word with myself, I had 2 choices; stop or carry on and run through the pain. I chose the latter, with an added clause that I had to run normally and not develop some sort of "half lolloping" style and so I carried on. As I got closer to checkpoint 6 at Leadmill I realised that with my slower pace I was getting very close to the cut-off time, I had a brief moment of panic and then re-affirmed to myself that there was no way I was going to be timed out, so I pushed on trying to block out my shin. I got into the checkpoint with shouts from the crew that I had 9 minutes to check in and check out, I refilled my flasks, ate some pork pies, drank some coke, and set off again.

That was my first dicey moment, I knew now that I really was going to have to focus to get to each checkpoint on time, I stopped to take some paracetamol to take the edge off the pain in my leg and worked out the miles I needed to cover over the next 2 hours to get to Baslow with a bit more breathing space. I knew this part of the route pretty well, so I was confident with the navigation, and I was also looking forward to seeing Helen Treece - a good friend! - at the next checkpoint... I just needed to keep the pace going.

After the climb through Haywood, I was onto the flatter sections of Froggat, Curbar and Baslow Edge before dropping down into Baslow. As I descended into Baslow I could see Helen waving at me. I’d made up some time and after a freshly made humous sandwich (thanks Helen) and coke (of course) I left Baslow having made up 15 minutes of time.

The next stretch which started through Chatsworth was 7 miles and had the lowest amunt of elevation on the route. I was meeting Phil and the boys at Checkpoint 8 and also Claire, who would buddy run with me for the rest of the way so that gave me a huge lift in spirits. A couple of miles from Darley Dale I found myself in front of cows heading along the path towards the field, so I stopped briefly to avoid having to walk through them. As I set off, I saw someone running towards me who looked fairly familiar... it was my husband! They’d been driving to the checkpoint and realised on the tracker that I was nearby so stopped and I’m glad they did as Phil was then able to guide me through another load of cows who were blocking the gate!

Claire and I carried on for the last couple of miles to Darley Dale and Phil and the boys went on ahead to meet us at the checkpoint as planned. It was so nice to have company and after a few minutes Chris Duro appeared too and ran with us for a short while through the woods, it was a real boost to have people come out to meet me and very much appreciated.

We arrived at Darley Dale in time and after another re-fuel and a quick chat with the boys we set off on the route to checkpoint 9 at Monyash. My leg was really hurting at this point. Claire checked it for me and told me I was just going to have to keep running through the pain! I took some more paracetamol, and we headed up through Clough Wood picking up the Limestone way towards Youlgreave. Headtorches went back on during this stretch and despite having covered this part of the route a few times in the daylight, the navigation started to get tricky in the dark which wasn’t helped by me being a bit disorientated from the lack of sleep.

With the checkpoint time getting closer and closer, we met up with another runner and the three of us navigated our way through Lathkill Dale. We now knew we were very close to being timed out and as soon as we got onto the road there was no choice but to pick up the pace and run... as fast as I could with 85 miles in my legs and going uphill!

My timing band touched the check-in device with 3 minutes to spare. That was my second dicey moment.

After a hug at Monyash (thanks Julie!) and being supplied with a bag of pork pies, we set off to Millers Dale to the next and final checkpoint. This stretch took us through the dales and up to Monsal Head, with a steady plod along the Monsal trail, which I’d always thought was flat but after 32 hours on my feet, I now know is actually uphill!

After an eternal 3 miles along the Monsal trail, with me repeatedly asking Claire how long we had left to go and would we make it on time, we reached checkpoint 10 at Millers Dale.

We were met by Nick, who ran us in the last few metres and after a final refill of flasks, we left for the last 10 miles of the Millstone 100.

The final stage took us through more dales – Dam dale being very aptly named at this point! - over countless more stone stiles and up one more climb that would take us onto the moor before the final descent to Castleton.

At the top we caught up with a few other Millstone 100 runners which was a nice surprise as we thought everyone else had finished so we all tackled the descent together with many groans about legs, ankles and general all-over hurting!

One last push through the village and I was heading up the sloped path to the Peveril centre and crossed the finish line at 5.50am to lots of smiling faces, whispered cheers and silent clapping!
What an adventure!

Would I recommend it? A definite yes.

What learning would I share?

1) Be prepared, not just for the distance, the elevation or even mentally getting yourself in the right place but so you can also be flexible if things don’t quite go to plan. Flexible to quickly change your strategy and keep a level head.

2) Having a buddy runner after 24 hours was amazing

3) Don’t underestimate the white peak checkpoint timings!

- Written by Helen Joy, March 2023

If you'd like to tackle the Millstone 100 or find out more about this epic adventure across the Peak District, click HERE.

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