Do not argue with coach!

Peakrunners Dark Peaks 30

Before I start... This is an awesome race! It wasn't really very well attended this year, but I'd urge anyone who wants to have a go at a well-organised, good value, tough, enjoyable and beautiful race to get over to the Peakrunners website and enter.


I wasn’t going to do the Dark Peaks 30 this year. In the week leading up to the race I had a cold and very twangy Achilles’, but it had always been there in the back of my mind. Despite telling lots of people I wasn’t going to do it, I couldn’t quite put it out of my mind, and on Thursday before the race I finally decided to go for it. If I didn’t race I’d sit at home and whinge about how I should’ve raced and would end up going for a long run anyway, so it seemed the best option. After all it is one of the finest long run routes in the Peak. I asked Dave Riley of Peakrunners if he would accept a late entry and he kindly did, so that was that.


2018 was the third edition of the race, and I’ve done both of the previous two. The route has changed slightly, though it has kept most of the same features (a sort of figure-of-eight taking in Win hill, Stanage, Kinder, Mam Tor and Lose Hill. In 2016 we started in Edale, but in 2017 moved to Hope and added a flatter section around the edge of Ladybower in place of the second ascent of Win Hill. I was pleased to see that this year’s edition was the return of the Win Hill double.

In 2016 this was my first race back from a year in the Alps, and I felt like I could go uphill pretty well. Coach wasn’t so sure though, he said my form was wrong and that I was running without using my hamstrings. At first I was a bit disappointed to hear this: I had spent months loving being in the mountains, getting out for a few hours most days and regularly climbing 2 or 3000 metres on a long run, so I felt I was the fittest I’d ever been. Anyway, that year the DP30 took me about 4:40.

Alpenme
At the 2017 race, that Scotney chap turned up and I was committed to second at best before we even started. He shot off at the start and I never kept up. I reasoned that the flatter section around Ladybower had quickened the course by 5 minutes or so, and I reckoned my 4:35 was equivalent to around the same time as the previous year. I put this down to less mountain time but did concede perhaps that coach had a point on the benefits of hamstrings, though I still valued my mountain fitness and felt much less fit than the previous year.

2016. Jen is thinking "Marcus will smash you next year..."
This year I completely messed up my argument by running the original course (albeit with a different start and finish point) in just over 4:30. The start of the race in Hope Village Hall was a jolly affair, with runners arriving from all over the UK and lots of faces I didn’t recognise. It was nice to see some friends from Accelerate Trail Runners too.

Atmospheric startline photo (Lee seems to be missing)
After a casual briefing from Dave and a few photos we were off! Dave’s races are well organised but have a good low-key feeling to them. This time there would be three checkpoints with food and water, a bit of taping on the way back into the village at the end (more on that soon), but that was it. Lovely.
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We set off and there were soon two of us at the front – Lee Parker and I. I don’t really know Lee but I’d spotted him before the start and thought he looked fast. We ran together out of the village, then took a wrong turn and ended up running down the drive of a B&B. I think we both knew it wasn’t right, but the friendly owner confirmed that this was the case and we turned around back to the road. It was nice to see all our friends from the start again, but eventually we were back towards the front. I think Lee stopped to take his jacket off so dropped back slightly, so I passed the leader on the lower slopes of Win Hill.

Lee Parker
It was great to see Dr Simon on the top, he was as cheerful as ever despite what can’t have been a particularly warm marshal spot! I was careful on the descent of Parkin Clough, then saw Lorna and Buddy at the bottom before crossing Yorkshire Bridge where I saw Dave and some other marshals. After all that socialising I was ready for some solo running, which is what I got for most of the rest of the race – from Yorkshire Bridge I climbed up Bamford Edge, onto Stanage (where Vicky from ATR was marshalling), then turned left to Moscar. I looked back on the descent and didn’t think I could see anyone, but it’s always a balance (literally!) to have a satisfactory look while keeping your feet on the ground and your face off it.

Anyway. Moscar, through the farm with the noisy gates, up the long climb towards Whinstone Lee Tor and my marshal point from the Lost Lad race the previous week, then down and along the edge of the reservoir for about the only flat section of the race this year! At the end of this section (near Ashopton) I saw Lorna and Buddy again which was lovely. I grabbed a piece of cake from Amanda’s checkpoint on the main road and set off on the road section. Peakrunners are an environmentally responsible organisation, so they don’t give out plastic cups. The kit list required us to carry one, which I was, but I found I am really not good at drinking out of it while running… After soaking myself again I gave up, there was probably enough in my bottles anyway!

Top checkpointing
Apparently Lee was not far behind me at this point but I had no idea. As I ran along the road and across the dam I couldn’t see anyone, but that could be 2 minutes or 20 minutes! I pressed on up Parkin Clough to see Simon again, then along the edge of the trees to Hope Cross and up onto Crookstone. Speaking to Lee later on he said he could see me on this climb, but I hadn’t spotted him (again probably due to concentrating on staying upright). I ran along the edge, to Ringing Roger and down the zigzags into Edale. At this point I remembered with slight sadness that we used to finish here, but also realised that I was running reasonably well. I had taken about 3:35 to this point, with only the Upper Booth checkpoint, the climb up Mam Tor and the descent from Lose Hill remaining. I wondered if 4:30 would be on and decided it should be.

2017 photo, but it's a nice one
I had only eaten a bit of cake and a gel to here so decided I should have some more. I’d brought plenty with me, so I declined the marshals generous bootful of delicious offerings and had something out of my pack. The road climb up to Mam Tor is strangely enjoyable, I like the way it winds up and the gradient is just about runnable. I was pleased that I kept going and grateful to the race medic for his support near the top. I passed a few people riding then carrying bikes to the summit, then headed along what seems to be called “The Great Ridge” nowadays to Back Tor (love that little climb!) and Lose Hill (less so).

Off the top of Lose Hill it should’ve been in the bag: Just a simple descent to Hope. However, someone had turned Dave’s sign over, so I assumed it was for a different race and continued down the front of the hill. I knew I could get to Hope this was and it seemed simpler than spending time trying to work out the intended route. After a few minutes I realised I was definitely not on Dave’s flagged route, and that I was extending my run in quite considerably. I decided to cut right after reaching the road near the Cheshire Cheese pub. This seemed sensible and I’ve done it before, but I managed to end up in a field with some horses, then lots of brambles, then a railway crossing! Finally I popped out on the track we’d run out of the hall on and rejoined the route for the last 100 metres in to the finish.

Hoping I haven't messed it all up in the last 5 minutes!
I wasn’t sure if Lee had nipped past me by going the right way so I didn’t risk an exuberant celebration as I crossed the line, but Amanda confirmed that I had been first, which was nice. The time was something like 4:30:20, so 4:30 would’ve definitely been possible without my detouring at the end!

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I learned a lot from this race… Firstly, you can’t always tell how a race is going to go and shouldn’t give up before you’ve started. Secondly, Stu Hale probably does know what he’s talking about, and hamstrings are apparently worth having. And finally, the start and end of races are key to overall navigational success!

With the main man (and a nice hat)
As well as some Raidlight kit which I will be donating as Runners against Rubbish prizes I won a great hat from Big Bobble Hats, some Mountain Fuel and some Accelerate vouchers. Dave soon arrived at the finish and it was great to be able to thank him and Amanda for organising a cracking race. Thanks also to all the marshals (including Simon up on Win Hill), and Lorna and Buddy, for your encouragement and for doing a great job on a bit of a cold day for standing around!

I wore my Supertrac Ultra RCs, which were perfect for the mixed terrain and are still going strong after what must be at least 500km of use. Apart from a bit of tread wear you’d hardly know - they are showing no signs of being close to the end of their life!

Oh yeah, and thanks Stu :-P

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