A week after rediscovering Kendal Mint Cake (KMC) due to having no gels left for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon, I discovered Grindle Fruit Cake (GFC). The £12 entry fee for the Grindleford Gallop (21 miles, 3,000 ft ascent or 34km, 925m ascent in new money) was easily recouped in the drinks, cakes and soup available both on the course and at the end.
This was my first attempt at this event. I was hoping to get somewhere between 3 hours and 3:30. It was also my first run in Goyt Valley Strider's club colours (including my club coloured shorts which have caused much mirth in the club due to their shortness). There were 28 club members in the event so we had a good turn out. There were over 300 runners as well as a similar number of walkers who'd set off 90 minutes earlier.
It was one of those strange days weatherwise where it was difficult to tell how it would turn out. I'd intended to run in just a t-shirt, club vest and shorts. While killing time before the start the weather changed several times from sunny to cold. (We were also entertained by an usually large number of blokes applying vaseline to places that I didn't realise had friction issues.) I then swapped the t-shirt for a long sleeved Helly-Hansen themal top. This proved to be a wise decision although I did get too warm in sheltered sections. I even had club coloured gloves (which I'd found on a KIMM a few years ago). On the shoe front I wore my Salomon Speedcross 2s hoping that they'd be OK over this distance as I'd not run more than 5 miles in them previously. I had hoped to use my new Salomon XT-Wings but they were late in being delivered. (They arrived over the weekend.) As it turned out the Speedcross were brilliant. To top it all off I carried a large bumbag containing waterproof jacket, 500ml drink, phone, energy bar and KMC.
To start we all gathered in a field with no start line to speak off. The starter made the usual inaudible instructions before a hooter had us off over the field. A stile and narrow track after the first hundred yards explained the mad dash from those in the know. I don't mind being held up a little bit at the beginning on a long run as it stops me dashing off too fast.
My strategy for the race after last week's reasonable half marathon was to treat it like a half with a bit (a mere 8 miles) tagged on the end, rather than a marathon with a little bit (5 miles) chopped off. So once I got the chance I started moving ahead overtaking a few runners. Then it was up the hill from Froggat to Eyam. This was quite steep but I managed to run a large chunk of it. I'm beginning to think that I've made a small breakthrough in hill running. I don't seem to be overtaken quite as much as I used to and seem to be able to run more hills. Still a lot of room for improvement but nice and early in the year.
As usual I managed to pass a few on the downhill section into Eyam and onto the first checkpoint. Then it was out the back of Eyam and into a green lane which was soon spoiled by a gang of X-cross motorbike riders making a right racket and smell. I can't be doing with motorised off road vehicles ripping up the countryside.
This section was quite poignant for me as it was where my dad died nearly exactly 32 years ago (7 March 1978). He was out walking on his own and had a massive heart attack aged 47 and here I was aged 51 running through the same area. I suppose a little part of me runs to get away from a heart attack.
After crossing the A632 Stoney Middleton to Peak Forest road it was up over a series of fields, past control 2 and onto control 3 overlooking Monsal Dale. I started to nibble the KMC at this point. This section was now downhill via a farm track and road to Great Longstone where I spotted a trio of grey haired ladies(cauliflower heads as my mother calls them, and she's one too) that I'd also seen in Eyam. They'd reappear every few miles during the race. I was almost on first name terms with them by the end of the race. Again I claimed a few scalps on the down hill section and a few more on the flat section along the Monsal Trail disused railway line to control 4. This was the first cake stop. A large table was creaking under the weight of a variety of cakes wrapped in clingfilm. So I grabbed a large chunk of fruit cake and a drink. I used the remainder of the trail to ease off a little and eat the cake.
Just above Bakewell we left the trail and up the steep hill to Ballcross Farm (control 5). On the way up we crossed a golf course and had to ring a bell to warn the golfers. I bet they were sick of the bell ringing so much that day. I managed to walk and run my way up the hill. At the top we set off over the smooth grassy Calton Pastures as the sun came out properly. It had turned into a cracking day.
By this stage I'd gotten into a pattern of being caught by the same few runners on the uphills then dropping them on the flats and downs. So it was down through Edensor, past Chatsworth and onto Baslow and the second cake stop where I stopped to refuel (another cake and topping up my bottle). My chasers caught me up here and disappeared off up the Bar Road hill while I was refueling. I thought I'd lost them here as they disappeared up the hill. On the tops they were a good half mile in front of me.
I wasn't making any ground on them until we finally started to descend off Froggat Edge. I slowly but surely pulled them all back in until I was back in the lead. After crossing the A625 the path split and there were no signs so I had to wait for them to tell me which way to go. So off I went again and managed to drop them on the fast downhill section to the finish.
I'd hired a cottage in Hathersage so that my family could come up for the weekend as I wasn't going home due to the race. Unfortunately my youngest daughter couldn't make it but everyone else was there. So, I had a fan club waiting for me at the finish. My wife spotted a Goyt Valley runner approaching the finish. "Look, there's one of your Dad's clubmates" she said to Vicky and Lucy. "It is Dad!" they replied. I must have looked bad for my wife not to recognise me!
I dabbed my dibber at the finish and was handed my printout according to which I'd finished 40th (out of 40, so far) in 3:08. Not bad for my first attempt. I was third in our club (and first M50) after the amazing Andy Pead had won in a new course record of 2:24 and Julian (ultra runner extrodinairre) in 3:04. Looking at the result splits I'd arrived just one minute behind Julian at Baslow. I certainly didn't expect to be that close but if I'd known I might have made an extra effort to try and finish with him. The results when published had me at 46th. I'm not sure how that happened.
Overall, I really enjoyed the run. The course is nice and varied and suits me with its long downhills and flat sections. The weather helped of course. The organisation was good (apart from that missing direction towards the end) and the cakes were especially welcome.
I'll probably do that one again. After all that 3 hour barrier needs to be broken. (I wish!)