Taking place in the Peak District this was the second UK Sky race event. Though slightly shorter and with much less climbing than the inaugural V3K, at 30 miles with around 2500m ascent over some technical terrain, without knowing who anyone was or the level of competition, it promised to be a fast challenging race.
Being a fairly key event to me, the week leading up to this was not ideal: I felt pretty worn out from previous weeks hard training and symptoms of overdoing it had started to creep in. I was reluctant to taper as I wanted to maximize preparation time for the CCC, only chilling for a couple of days before and getting my mind in a good place – basically telling myself to “man up!”
I planned to practice some discipline and aimed to keep it really steady for the first half of the race. With lots of gates and turns across farm land and moor over the first 10 miles, I thought it would be fairly hard for anyone to go out too far ahead without putting in a big effort. The last 7/8 miles were fairly open with bigger climbs, so more suited to getting a good rhythm going and creating any gaps. Without really knowing the competition, thoughts of running my own race were in the back of my mind.
Off we all went, a little lap around a playing field before heading up a short climb to Solomon`s temple – the organizers had arranged a piper to play at the top, blasting out Scotland the brave!! Setting a really nice vibe to the race, we dropped off here and headed into some woods weaving around some really fun trails. With the initial spurt settling, I found myself out in front accompanied by James Ellis. Preferring to let some else take the lead at this point, I slowed my own pace down on the climb up to the open moorland, in the hope that someone else would take the lead, leaving me to think about running my own race, but no-one seemed to come. Glimpsing behind after a few miles, everyone seemed to have bunched back together, all lined up behind me! This felt a little strange, as though I was being stalked! But it was all good as I knew I was running comfortably and well within myself.
After a few miles of this I realized no one was going to make a move just yet, so settling down I really started to enjoy the run. It felt like we were just out on a training run with some friends, enjoying the flow of the course. I maybe got a little too relaxed as just before the first checkpoint I took a little trip and dive, no idea why, maybe just daydreaming or posing for the camera! James made sure I was ok and we cracked on.
Into the checkpoint at 11 miles, scanned and water topped up, I headed straight out. James and another guy Tim Pleijte from Salomon NL promptly followed and we pressed on, up and over the Ramshaw Rocks where the huge grippy grit stone boulders made for some great fun, a chance to have a play and mess around with a few little jumps!
The organizers had put a lot of effort into marking the course out, as well as clearing some of the long bracken and gorse bushes where it was particularly overgrown: putting tape in key places really helped the flow of the course and made it less of a disadvantage being out in front and having to navigate, where sometimes you end up stopping to check navigation.
We were soon heading up the notorious Roaches ridge which was pretty rocky and technical, but only so much as you needed to pick your lines to find the smooth bits. Aware we may be pushing the pace a little I backed off to try and get James to take the lead for a while and do some gate opening duties! Tim caught us up after he dropped a bit on the descents, so we were three again with James pushing on in front; he was really strong on the climbs and seemed to have good flat speed.
Hitting the bottom of Shutlingsloe – the steepest climb, getting steeper towards the top – Tim set off ahead, looking like he was determined to run all the way, but I settled more for a tactical walking approach. James dropped off a little here and I wondered if this was a sign he was tiring or just being sensible. I have to hand it to Tim though, he almost ran the whole hill, only resigning to walking/scrambling towards the summit, though I think this approach took its toll, allowing me to catch back up by the trig point. Heading back down ahead of the other two, I felt good on the descents, using the opportunity to come off Shutlingsloe and relax a bit, enjoying the thought that the others maybe working hard to catch up.
From here it was a long gradual 2 mile climb to the Cat and Fiddle with Shining Tor immediately afterwards, and we pretty much stayed together. Approaching the Cat and Fiddle checkpoint, James put a strong spurt on, not stopping other than to get scanned, Tim and I both topped up with water then headed out after him. By now James had a clear gap and I didn’t seem to have the legs on the flat to react, but it didn’t seem to be growing. With 6 miles, some cheeky climbs and a really fast rough descent remaining I tried not to panic, thinking there was still plenty of course left to close the gap. This was made a little easier when James didn’t seem sure which way to go off the top of Shining Tor and hesitated before heading back towards the Cat and Fiddle.
Having closed up again and with only 4 miles remaining, I felt it was time to start applying some real pressure. After 20 odd miles of relatively sociable running I didn’t want this to turn into a sprint finish through the streets of Buxton! I felt James was too dangerous on the flat and Tim was still running strong away from the technical trails. Dropping quickly down a really loose rocky descent, requiring full concentration, I used the opportunity to get firmly back in touch with James and start turning up the heat. Although Tim had been running extremely strong throughout, he dropped off by the bottom and seemed to be out of sight. We kept up the pace from here, along some sweeping tracks, before being guided up the last long ascent, heading up through some head high bracken, one of those where you can see the top way in the distance. James seemed to be going through a rough patch here and started to run/walk. I felt better running, so moved past him working hard to keep the running going, with the aim of putting some daylight between us before the top. I figured this was the last climb and it was all or nothing here, head down into that low gear and don’t look back! I did glimpse back at the top but couldn’t see anyone. Unsure if it was due to the high bracken, I kept the pressure on myself and let it all out on the descent into Buxton…
Still paranoid about being chased down in the last mile, I kept focused through the last few turns and streets of Buxton, only allowing the realization of victory to sink in when the finish line was in sight. A few organizers and supporters were waiting and welcomed me across the line with warm applause and cheers – fantastic! I really needed to sit down though! After a couple of minutes things started to sink in, and I let the elated feeling of finishing wash over me. It was an incredible race and superb atmosphere. Without getting too emotional, this result meant a lot, re-affirming the areas in my training I have been working on are taking good effect. After the frustration of the V3K, it was nice to have dipped into this emotion during the race and use it along with some other motivators to push through the challenges.
Kim was also running, though she had had a rough week with illness so intended on a more sociable effort. With us both thinking that she would be finished in around 6 hours, I swanned up to the finish area about 15 minutes before she was due in, only to find she had already finished! Not only that, but in second place too!! About 30 min earlier than planned! So an absolutely cracking bit of icing on the cake – go Kim!!
I am extremely pleased with 1st place, James and Tim were both really strong runners with their own strengths, making for some great racing, over a superb course and well organized event with a relaxed vibe. An interesting approach to the race for me, rather than heading out hard from the start and being an even (but still hard) effort throughout, it was more of a long run, interspersed with fartlek reps and a short sharp fell race at the end! My next few races will be even harder, both in distance and certainly in the standard of competition, so I will enjoy the victory for now but am under no illusions that the next few events will be more about just finishing than placing, all in new beautiful locations adding to the enjoyment levels!