Dusk ’til Dawn 50 miles (part 4)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Checkpoint 5 – the END:

The Cat & Fiddle pub at Checkpoint 5 had been at mile 27.6 miles, and chatting to someone new helped the next 1.4 miles to Checkpoint 6, a self checkpoint go really quickly.  We were headed uphill, through fields and over stiles, but at much less of an incline than previous hills had been at.

The sweeper (a different one) caught us up whilst the four of us were clipping here, wanting to remove the checkpoint and continue with the route.  This checkpoint spot came back to haunt me though…

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(Picture taken from DtD Facebook page).

As the Sweeper passed he told us unless we ran the whole way from there to the following checkpoint (approx 5 miles) we would not make it before cut-off as there was only just over an hour to make it there.  The boys took off almost immediately and Vicky and I also began to jog on, although soon slowed our jog as we came across large slabs laid onto the ground.  This was labelled as a ‘fast four mile section’ of the route.  The slabs were very uneven, wet and muddy though and by this point the wind had gotten up, blowing us both across the path repeatedly.  No more than 200 metres onto the slabs, the fog seemed to lower around us and we dropped to a power-walk, for large portions of the route not being able to see further than our feet.  I did not enjoy this section.  I’m not sure if it was knowing I was only going to make it as far as the next checkpoint or the not being able to see where I was going, or the utter isolation we both felt, despite travelling one behind the other for several miles – not being able to hear what the other was saying.  I lost all GPS signal on my handheld so my Garmin was useless by this point.  We guessed that they organisers wouldn’t lead us off from the path without obvious markings though.

Eventually we hit a road, and in the distance we could see a town lit up at the bottom of a hill.  This lifted our spirits and further down the hill ahead I thought I could spot the headtorches of the boys.  I headed right along the road to look for a path and Vicky headed left.  I spotted a footpath over a stile and shouted to Vicky who also shouted that she could see tape ahead.  The stile on her side of the road (the side we had just come from) clearly had the race tape wrapped all around it.  It must have been the right way, but it felt so wrong, climbing back up along the hill we had just come along slightly further round.  Vicky led off this time, although the fog was still horrific and after running into fences a few times I came across another large path of slabs so we lept onto this and I led the way again.  We ran for what felt like forever.  It was incredibly cold now and I was really looking forward to getting down out of the wind.  All we could do was follow the path infront of us.  It was too foggy to make out any landmarks and the Garmin was still not registering where we were.  We followed the path for about 70 minutes, attempting less and less to make conversation over the wind as we got colder and colder.  Eventually, the path stopped and we came into a clearing.  The fog had also lifted.  But I recognised the clearing.  It was where the last self-check point had been!  We had left there two hours ago!  My heart dropped but we quickly made a plan, knowing that we couldn’t keep still in the wind for very long.  We knew there was no chance of making the next checkpoint before cut-off now and if we attempted to head back across the windy slabs again there was a good chance we could get lost again.  We also knew that we were within two miles of the last manned checkpoint, the Cat & Fiddle pub.  Even if the marshals had packed up by the time we arrived (strong possiblity) we would be able to let the team know where we were.  Reluctantly we continued back the way we had come hours before.  All reflective tape had since been removed and we didn’t make it quite the same way back onto the road this time, instead coming out not far from what looked to be a large barn.  I ran nearer, hoping for a name on the barn so that we could get directions to the pub over the phone.  It turned out that it was a Tearoom, and when I rang Richard to say that we had gotten ourselves severely lost and returned in a circle, he told me that it was just 300-400 metres up hill on the road to reach the pub, where we would be more sheltered until a lift could pick us up.

It took us about 15 minutes (much further than 400 metres!) to reach the pub and crawl onto a step at the side.  The next 35 minutes we gradually got colder and colder, tireder and tireder and for the first time that night I could feel my stomach growling.  Eventually, after our heads shooting up every minute at every passing car, a minivan arrived and we both bundled into the back where I promptly fell asleep after a brief chat with the driver about the winning men who had just come in as she had left to collect us.  The winning time was 9 hours and 20 minutes.  An average of just over 10 minute miles!  Super speedy over that terrain!

We were about a 25minute drive from the hotel and I woke as we were were heading through the streets of Castleton again, to see the first lady and a couple of the lead men heading up towards the finish.  Still running strong!  As we got out of the minivan my legs crumpled underneath me and my walk up to the finish was incredibly slow – my legs had really stiffened up.  As we arrived two men ran through the finish and one promptly threw up on the floor infront of the line.  It was another 45 minutes until breakfast would be served and all I really wanted by that point was bed.  I had been shivering uncontrollably since sitting on the step by the pub.  Vicky had no where to stay after the race, so knowing that we had two spare top bunks in our room I offered one up for her.  We tried to not make any noise heading in but our lights woke a startled Sarah, who told us that she had had to pull out at Checkpoint one following waterproof issues with her coat.  I had intentions to shower, but at the end of the day we were both too tired so caught up on the race gossip from Sarah whilst changing into fresh hoodies and jeans and leaping under the covers of our beds making plans for breakfast the following morning.  It was already after 4:30am.  In my tired state I questionned if we would be allowed breakfast which the others found hilarious. They reassured me that we would not be denied breakfast just because we did not complete the race and I slept soundly through until just before 8am when the others stirred for food.

Walking was something I found I had to ease myself into but the breakfast was worth it when we arrived.

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When I checked out though, the large picture behind the desk I felt taunted me from the night before.  There were the slabs…going off into the distance…with no end in sight!

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The following day was a write-off.  I began my blogging extravaganza and Chris, the editor of Women’s Running rang me for a telephone interview about the race.  I also got this lovely email from the race organiser.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

I have the first 6.62 miles of Garmin data stored on my watch, but I must have hit the button whilst climbing over a stile at this point, as it wasn’t until 7-8 miles later when I realised my watch had stopped and I started it again to record another 22.76 miles of data.  Very frustrating.  Although not as frustrating as not finishing!  But I have already declared that I shall be back in 2014 to complete my unfinished business!

Dusk ’til Dawn 50 miles (part 3)

Part 1 | Part 2

Checkpoint 2 – Checkpoint 5:

I didn’t stay long with Mum, Dad and Dan at CP2 – not wanting to get cold and conscious of the time ticking away.  I was aware of others behind me at the checkpoint long after I left, and had heard one guy say he was retiring due to injury.

It was a little while before the sweeper caught back up with me again and he commented that I must have sped off.  Several sections of the route between CP2 and CP3 were on road and I wanted to make time up where I could.

I ran for a little way with a guy, Phil, and we were joined for a bit with another guy whose name I never caught.  He had come out in road shoes and told us that he hadn’t been aware of what the Dusk ’til Dawn event entailed.  He was really the only negative person I encountered the whole race and I did get a little frustrated stuck behind him along the narrow trail stomping along for a while until the path widened and I could pass.

There was a really steep hill section around mile 13steep where we were literally pulling ourselves along by the fence posts to our right.  I was determined not to stop, but to keep going at all times.  This, like many parts of the course was completely unrunnable!  I imagine for anyone that didn’t regularly work out parts of this would probably have been unwalkable at all!

We hit the second road marshal at 14.5 miles, who rushed out to tell Phil and I that we were only 2 minutes ahead of the cut-off time.  I knew there were still others behind us at this point, having overtaken a few struggling up the steep climb.  It put me into a bit of a panic though.  There was no way I wanted to be withdrawn this early into the race!  We picked up speed, and luckily, it was at a point where there was a lot of road sections.  Although we also chanced some more technical tracks – jogging over rocks and mud.  Phil slipped down in a large puddle, knocking his ankle which he said was already weak from previous injuries.  We continued on though – picking up pace where we could and just as we picked up a faster pace over a generally flat bridepath Phil’s ankle buckled and he went down again.  This time he couldn’t continue and was in a lot of pain.  We had to stop on the side of the road to make a plan.  I worked out roughly where we were on the map, knowing that we were about 30 minutes past the last road marshal and we called for help.  Apparentally we weren’t far from the Duke of York pub, where he could sit and wait for help, so I walked about 3/4m-1m alongside Phil as he hobbled along the road.  I wanted to push on, but felt guilty for thinking about it, knowing I couldn’t leave him.

Once I had dropped him off I managed to run for a good mile or so before coming to several fields.  I paused here to get my bearings and also pop on Dan’s gloves I’d borrowed for the event.  Gloves are the one thing I’ve never needed to run in before but the long pause in running from helping Phil had meant I had started to get cold.  I wore them the rest of the race.  I determined that I should go straight ahead, but the couple close behind beared through the field to the right.  Doubting myself I followed them, although when they paused and I caught up I mentioned that I thought we should be further over.  They pointed to about five headtorches in the distance bobbing away so I followed along behind.  However, when we caught up with those five headtorches, all five runners were bent over maps looking for a way out of the field!  Lesson: Don’t assume others know where they are going either!  In the end we all took it in turns to leap over a high wall onto a road and run down into the village where Checkpoint 3, Earl Sterndale School was.  The first indoor checkpoint.  I had pushed past all seven people and was first to reach the school, although was aided getting there when I ran straight past and dan lept out of the car to call me in!

Here I had my water bottle refilled for me whilst I pulled the checkpoint card from my chest and hurriedly asked the marshal how much inside the time I was.  Despite slowing to help Phil and following others over the wrong route I had made up time and was now 20 minutes ahead of the cut-off time.

I was surprised at just how many people there were in the school still.  The large crowd of seven came in behind me, but there were already several runners crowded around the food station, at which I grabbed a mini donut on my way out, and several were still getting changed into the clothes from their drop bags.  I didn’t intend on sticking around and headed back outside for a quick chat with my family before making off along the road again.  We weren’t on the road long and it soon turned off up another incredibly steep hill through a field.

Picture from DtD FB page, of a recce run earlier in the year.
Picture from DtD FB page, of a recce run earlier in the year.

This point of the course was really all about keeping my eyes open for the tiny sticks of reflective tape dotted every so often to keep us on the right path.  Some of the places they placed tape were really inventive, and they had even wrapped tape around some of the thicker grasses growing on the ground!  I ran much of the next section alone, although could see two headtorches not far infront of me.  It was really eerie glancing around with my headtorch to try and spot the tape, thinking I saw some, but when I moved closer realising it was just a pair of sheep eyes!

We came out in a small village just past midnight where I caught up with the two gentlemen infront and a woman popped out of her house to see where we were walking to.  When we told her we had come from Castleton and were raising money for MacMillan she pointed us in the right direction and we were off again.

There were so many stiles on route, and by now my leg was cramping each time I cocked it over a stile.  Still fit, uninjured and incredibly enthusiastic though, I bounded on.  Now knowing that I was ahead of several runners who had possibly set off too fast and faded as they got further into the course.  As I had run at the back with Charlie earlier on he had commented that I would pass all those that were bunched infront of me and do better than them.  I felt proud that this was now the case.

I started running with Vicky, somebody that had lost her running partner to injury, not confident with navigating on her own and was worried that she now wouldn’t make the cut-off times ahead.  We teamed up with the guys ahead of us and it wasn’t long before we saw the Cat & Fiddle sign of CP5 in the distance.

We rushed in to hear that we were on the borderline of the cutt-off so I grabbed two bourbon biscuits from the feeding table (these worked a treat – must remember for next time!), got my bottle filled, checkpoint card punched, we had our photo taken and were off again.

TBC…(Later today, I promise!)

Dusk ’til Dawn 50 miles (part 2)

If you missed part 1, it is here.

Checkpoint 1 – Checkpoint 2:

The self-checkpoint at Checkpoint 1 was just before the summit of Losehill, which my Garmin recorded as 1570ft.  Although I had caught up to a few others by this point, I was the last one through the gate alongside the checkpoint and I could see all the bobbing headtorches shooting off into the distance.

The whole of the steep uphill I had reminded myself that after the first two miles there would be three miles of downhill into the town, but the whole of those downhill miles I was looking forward to heading back up again!

wpid-IMAG1283.jpgI lost a lot of time on that first downhill section.  We were running back down 1000ft over the course of a mile but the track had now turned into large rocks, which were slippery from the past ten days of rainfall and the runners ahead of me having trapsed mud across them.  They were all at different heights, so there was no chance of getting into a rhythm going down them and I ended up picking my way down, scared of getting injured so early into the course.  About halfway down the large hill I glanced up to see the last of the headtorches infront of me disappear into the distance.  I knew I would run much of the race alone, but hadn’t expected to be alone quite so early on.  TIP: Don’t rely on being able to pick up speed just because it’s a downhill!

I had borrowed Kev’s Garmin etrex 30 for the event, so that I could see which way I should be headed with ease rather than have to pull my map out at each turning.  Not long after I realised I was alone I heard a little squeak from behind me which startled me and made me leap round.  There was nothing there.  This happened several times as I headed down the hill.  Initially I thought it was the strong wind catching my whistle which was tied to the top of my backpack, but eventually realised it was the Garmin beeping to let me know I’d passed through the next waypoint on the route, and the sound then became rather reassuring!

The steep rocks turned into a field and it was nice to be able to run again although I couldn’t see the exit.  As I held up the Garmin to point me in the right direction I saw a headtorch behind me.  I knew there couldn’t have been anyone else that was behind me.  I hadn’t passed anyone on the way down!  I suddenly realised it was the ‘Grim Sweeper’, the person sent out at 3.55mph pace to sweep any stragglers to the next checkpoint and leave them there.  I had a bit of a panic on, although knew that the race pack had said they would be lenient with speed until the first manned checkpoint.  He shouted out from behind that I should bear left.  I asked him if he was ahead of schedule and he told me that he was, by about 15 minutes still, so I was fine.  He had just wanted to run with people rather than on his own the whole way.

It was quite nice running with the Sweeper.  I found out his name was Charlie and that 150 miles was the longest distance he had run, but he had also run 41hours straight once with a lot of ascent to cover 140+ miles.  I was surprised to find out that he had only been running seriously for the past three years.  Even more so later on when I got home and discovered that he was the winner of last year’s Dusk ’til Dawn!  The field opened out onto a farm track and then a road, where we passed the first road marshal and Charlie handed over his findings from the path so far – a hat, gloves, a map, lots of tape…

Cave DaleOn the road I managed to pick up a bit of speed again and was really enjoying the challenge of running at night and navigating the route as I went along.  It was around this point that I remembered the Operation Ultra boys’ advice to keep eating throughout so I opened up the bag of Jelly Babies in my pocket and popped one into my mouth.  We weren’t on the road long though and soon turned off onto a narrow track that headed steeply uphill.  We had been warned about the track beforehand – if there had been much rain it would turn into a river that we would have to run up.  By this point it was raining and I was glad of my cap and waterproof.  I knew the best technique was to power on through and move as quickly as I could at all times, even though much of the route was unrunnable.

I could see headtorches in the distance! And soon caught up with a group of about seven others, who also panicked when they saw the Sweeper with me.  They all had maps out and were debating which way to go.  It made me very glad that I had borrowed the Garmin for the event and I led the way over the stile.  It wasn’t too long before I was at the back again, but it was reassuring to once more see headtorches infront of me.  It was still constantly raining and even hailed for a tiny little while.  I knew we were weren’t far now from CP2, the first manned checkpoint and we came out onto flat road again.  Charlie commented to the three or four of us that were at the back that the checkpoints were normally lit up like airfields and it was easy to spot the bright red lights from a distance when they came into view.  I picked up pace a little to get my water bottle filled and check for Dad, Mum and Dan.  There were a couple of cars parked behind the main checkpoint car and I soon spotted Dan heading towards me.  I drank about two inches out of the top of my water bottle before getting it filled again and rushed over to Dad’s car where I filled them in on the first 9.5 miles.  I blinded them several times with my headtorch whilst doing this!

I was really buzzing and upbeat and Dan later said that Mum had been getting worried as I was taking so long to get through the first manned checkpoint.  I purposefully hadn’t given her any predicted times for this reason!  Knowing that it would take me much longer than a road race!  Checking Facebook later on it turns out that I had my chip scanned at 20:18.  The race had begun at 17:46 so it had taken me two hours and thirty-two minutes to cover just 9.5 miles!

CP2TBC…

Dusk ’til Dawn 50 miles (part 1)

There is so much to write about, I don’t even know where to start!

…I think it’s best if I start at the beginning and split this epic race up into checkpoints…

Pre-start – Checkpoint 1:

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The first time I packed my bag was on Wednesday, then again on Thursday, again on Friday, and it had a complete overhaul on Saturday morning before leaving for the Peak District.  At one point, even containing Bella!

I’d planned on sleeping in as late as possible, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to nap for long in the afternoon before the race.  However, good luck texts started coming through to my phone from 6:30am, and heading back to bed was not an option!

Dad had offered, along with my Mum to pick up Dan and I on Saturday morning and drive us up to the race so that I wouldn’t have the worry of navigation whilst driving.  (Very much appreciated!)  Dan had offered to cook me a Full English for my breakfast!

cookedBreaky

About ten days earlier I had decided to eat my meals in reverse on race day – eating much more for my breakfast than I would do normally, and my usual pre-run breakfast before the race start at tea-time as I knew this suited my tummy for racing.

A last minute decision I made though was to remove the bladder from my backpack before the race began.  I am known for drinking a lot during races, but I have much preferred carrying a water bottle in the past.  The main manned checkpoints where I would be able to top up my bottle were roughly 10 miles apart, and I figured for the first half of the course at least I could always beg water from any houses or pubs I passed.  The removal of the bladder from my race bag meant that it was much easier for me to fit the items from my kit list into my bag and it was easier for me to grab them as required as well.

We arrived at Losehill Hall at 3pm so that I could check into my room, where I found I was sharing a room with Sarah Ledbury who has run the following in the past…Peak 40, Haworth Hobble, RAB MM, SLMM, GL3D, OMM, Scafell Marathon, UTPD.  Way to make me nervous before I’d even begun!  Although she was the first person to ask me ‘Are you the woman that won the place through the magazine?…I’ve been following you and your progress for the past few months!’

After being the first to arrive and bagging a bottom bunk (who would want to climb into the top bunk after running 50 miles?  Or even worse, climb back down again the following morning?!) I headed over the road to register.  Registration required collection wpid-IMAG1290.jpgof our numbers, a map and glow stick to tie to the back of our bags, as well as a rigourous check of our kit – maps were not issued until all kit had been approved!

At 4:45 the pre-race briefing began, which lasted approximately 45 minutes and covered in depth photos and illustrations of tricky parts of the course, and a brief talk-through of the route between each checkpoint.  I also got a mention, for being Women’s Running winner of Operation Ultra 2013!  And we got to check out the Grim Sweeper, who would be running the course at the 3.55mph cut-off pace (hopefully) behind us all!

Unfortunately I didn’t get a great pic of him as the lights were out at this point for effect, but he had a massive head!!!

I met up with my parents and Dan outside before we all walked down to the start line together.  (About a ten minute walk away.)  There were loads of families there to see us off – everybody having their pictures snapped and last minutes cuddles before the start.

Dan managed to get several of me before the start as the light hadn’t faded completely by this point yet.

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programming

padded

I looked incredibly padded, as every pocket was full with items – jelly babies, my phone, gloves, my hotel room card, the map, a spare Garmin…

My roommate had given me the tip of pinning the checkpoint card to me so this was pinned to the t-shirt I was wearing under my jacket.  I did NOT want to run 35 miles only to have the card blow off into the wind never to be seen again!

The race begun and we were off!  I began to get into a running rhythm relatively quickly, but it felt very weird to have the whole pack running at such a steady pace.  Having said that though, I was soon at the back.  I had expected to be based at the back for the majority of the race, knowing that I am not the quickest runner in the world!

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We could literally only run for approximately half a mile, before bottlenecking briefly through a small gate and heading up a steep and stony track.  We had been advised to walk the majority of this hill (which continued for nearly two miles) and I think most of us did.

Marked start

(Image from the DtD FB page).  The green X is Losehill Hall. The red line is the way out, climbing up and right to gain Losehill (far right). The blue line is the way back (Mam Tor is the summit on the left – Mile 48).

first hill

(Image also taken from the DtD FB page).  This was the peak of the first hill, before the track levelled out slightly and four self check-points came into sight for us to stamp our cards with.

TBC…