Sunday, 27 January 2013

Dusk 'til Dawn Ultra 2012 or a Tale of Five Head Torches

For some reason this mainly mad event had an appeal to the mainly mad members of Goyt Valley Striders. We entered this event in droves making the largest single group in the event by a long shot. The weather played its part resulting in competitors taking a variety of routes towards the end. To quote the event website:

"The race began at 17:42 on 27th October. 51 people finished the course before severe weather caused the race to be abandoned at 07:15am on 28th October. All those removed from the course at mile 45 onwards were advised it was for their own safety. Beyond Marathon credit them with a Daylight Finish award. Alternate routes to were offered to some participants during the event. These are detailed in the full results."

The overall route is shown below. The event centre was Castleton Youth Hostel (the new one in Lose Hill Hall) and the start was a few hundred yards away half way up the lane from Castleton to Hollins Cross.

Overview of Route
After a dash up Lose hill it goes down to Hope, along the river to Castleton and up through Cave Dale. The route then drops south to cross the A623 above Peak Forest then down the lane toward Millers Dale along the Bullock Smithy route (with Checkpoint 1 halfway along the lane). In Millers Dale it is straight across the river then up the steep south side of the dale to Priestcliffe then along the road to cross the A6 at the Waterloo pub (whose welcoming lights were to dutifully ignore). Along a track and a lane it picks up the Bullock Smithy route east of Chelmorton and follows this over the A515 to Earl Sterndale and Checkpoint 2. From Earl Sterndale it goes through someone's garden up onto the ridge above the quarries. A series of fields and lanes takes the route past the Buxton Raceway just beyond which it turns north across the firing range. A sharp left turn at Ladmanlow prevents the route from crashing into Buxton and take the runners over the A54 and eventually to the Cat & Fiddle (Checkpoint 3). It now enters true Goyt Valley Striders territory as it summits Shining Tor and drops down to Pym Chair, Windgather Rocks and Taxal Edge.

Windgather Rocks (c) Mick Wren 
In Taxal it drops down to the river then up over the Whaley - Buxton road to Shallcross. Across the fields to come out just east of Tunstead Milton on the Whaley - Chapel road the route then takes Milton Lane up to Eccles Road where it turns right towards the pike. Just after the top of Eccles Pike the route leaves the road and drops down via the paths and road to Whitehough. From Whitehough it takes the road west of Chinley then towards Chinley up to the railway footbridge. From here it's over the railway then up the appropriately named Over Hill Road to the Chinley Churn path (and Checkpoint 4). Up Chinley Churn to the 'big rock' then it's a drop down to cross the Hayfield road at the Lamb Inn and up onto the southbound Pennine Bridleway to come out on the Rushup Edge road. It's then over Rushup Edge, Mam Tor to Hollins Cross and then dropping down into Castleton village and along the road to the youth hostel and finish.

So that's the route, here's the tale of my Dusk 'til Dawn adventure. It started in way which could only get better. I had to drive up 150 miles from the South. I guess I set off too late as I arrived late. I'd not had a very substantial lunch but brought a big tupperware full of tuna and pesto pasta for my tea. I managed to find a parking place at the youth hostel and arrive at the registration just as the race briefing started. Across the briefing room from the registration desk there was a large herd of Striders resplendent in their black Goyt Valley Stranglers skeleton t-shirts made by Caz and Tony W.

Stranglers t-shirt
I had to miss the briefing (along with many route instructions and tips) as registration had decamped out into the corridor. I then went back to the car to get changed and eat but I was rapidly running out of time so didn't have much to eat. Not the best way to start an ultra. I caught the tail end of the competitors as they made their way to the start. Just as I got there I realised that I was still wearing my glasses so I ran back to the car to put in my contact lenses. I then ran back to the start and arrived with about 30 seconds to spare. Caz found me and gave me my Stranglers t-shirt which I then put on top of my other clothes.

The weather was very cool but dry (at the moment) and forecast to get much colder. The climb up Lose hill soon warmed me up. I could have done without that extra layer just then. I'd started at the back thanks to my rushing around and as I made my way through the bunch I started chatting to Karl only to realise it wasn't him! Embarrassing. I caught up with Paul H near the top and we dropped down into Hope together. On entering Hope we came across Phil just as she was sorting out a borrowed head torch after her's had failed to turn on. This was a theme to be repeated many times in the night. Although it was past sunset it was still just light enough to see at this point. I didn't turn on my head torch until approaching Castleton. Our supporters were out in Castleton with Tony in the square and Sarah B at the bottom of Cave Dale.

The next few miles we done in the company of Paul and Pete W (and his brother?). I pulled away on the decent into a dip just before the A623 and found myself on my own along the lane towards Millers Dale (apart from seeing Tony again and Checkpoint 1). We'd been provided with glow-sticks at registration. I found two en route along here so was well lit. As I approached Wheston I could see another runner in front. I immediately recognised the way the bumbag was swishing around. It was Phil. I think she was onto her third head torch by now. We ran together through Miller's Dale and over the A6. Paul and Pete had caught up by now and we were all together as we moved onto the limestone track past Chelmorton.

Somewhere near where the Bullock Smithy's Chelmorton checkpoint is sited I caught up with a runner and realised it was Dave B. He wasn't enjoying himself on the hard track. I eventually moved away and found myself alone again as I crossed the A515. Half a mile on down the track past the end of the quarries I was approaching another runner when I realised it was Peter D. He wasn't particularly chuffed with the run either. The weather had turned very cold by now. We ran together and were joined by Paul and Pete again as the route took to the fields towards Earl Sterndale. After a minor navigation error in the fields we found the road and trotted into Checkpoint 2 in the village school house where Mark W was waiting for us.

It was in Checkpoint 2 that I had my only complaint about what was a generally very well organised event, especially for the inaugural running. There was soup and tea on offer but we were pretty much left to it and things became very cramped and chaotic. I managed to lose my gloves and misplace my buff but fortunately found them again. This was probably made worse by the fact that I was freezing and tired. I put on a spare layer here (my fourth). As usual I took ages in here while Paul and the others, who arrived a couple of minutes after me, did their business and were off.

As I made my way onto the ridge above the village I was saved from a climb over the fence by Steve H who came up behind me and put me back on track to the stile. Somewhere along here we regrouped with Pete W. At least I think we did ( I was tired by then). Approaching the Buxton Raceway Steve and I took to the road rather than the parallel run through the fields. Steve received a few calls along here from Mark regarding more problems Phil was having with her head torch (her fourth of the night). She was just in front of us so we met her on the firing range. As we approached her I found her head torch in the grass. She'd accidently dropped it. Fortunately I was carrying a spare head torch so I gave her that. This one managed not to fail and the batteries just lasted until Phil finished. Ironically the head torch I was using (a Petzyl Myo) has since failed (but managed to survive this event).

I was very cold and weary by now and struggled up the climb to the Cat & Fiddle (Checkpoint 3) where I grabbed something to eat and Colin from Buxton who was out supporting us and the Buxton runners (Mark F and Simon M) kindly filled up my bottle. I didn't hang around here as it was in the open.

I'd joined up with Steve and Phil again as we set off again. Just as we took the track towards Shining Tor from the road there was a small white box in the middle of the track. A voice from the box said something (I don't remember what) as we approached. I assumed it was a walkie-talkie device and someone was in a car nearby watching us approach it but apparently it was a device, triggered by a proximity sensor, placed there by the race organisers as a little joke. There was another one in the woods after Windgather but we didn't see that one.

It was bitter as we ran over Shining Tor and down the track/paths to Windgather. After Windgather Steve and Phil decided to take an alternative route which the organiser had said was fine during a previous recce. Instead of dropping down through the woods and past the farm to Taxal, we went straight on over the field after Windgather and dropped down off Taxal Ridge past Terry's Tree to Taxal.

On the climb up the road from the river crossing my tank drained to empty. My lack of proper meals during the day finally caught up with me. Sarah and Mark were in the layby waiting for us. Paul turned up just behind us. I believe he was in front of us at the Cat & Fiddle so we must have passed him on our alternative route. Sarah had some hot Vimto which went down very well but did little to pick me up. I lost contact with Paul, Steve and Phil on the climb to Shallcross as I struggled along on my empty tank. If I was still staying in Whaley Bridge I'm not sure I would have continued at this point as I was bone tired and cold. A few of our clubmates did drop out at the Taxal crossing unable to resist the warm baths and beds just a few hundred yards away down the road.

At the bottom of the climb up to Eccles Pike I stopped and put on my final (and fifth) layer as I was getting even more cold due to going slower. I was passed by another runner as I was doing this. I then found him map reading at the top of the Eccles Pike road so we joined up and ended completing the run together. He went by the marvellous name of Madoc Batters.

For some reason I'd got it into my head that Steve B (Berry not Bull) would be at the top of the road complete with flask of hot drink.  (Possibly because he said he would be?) I was really looking forward to that.  Instead all I found was a navigationally challenged Madoc and a cold wet wind cutting through my five layers while Mr B was probably snoring under a nice cosy duvet.

When we reached the railway footbridge in Chinley, Madoc said he'd been told by the marshal at the Taxal crossing to take the bad weather route along the road. He then rang the organisers to double check and they confirmed this. So, instead of going up Chinley Churn we took to the road and dropped down to Wash then up the long drag to the Chestnut Wildlife Centre. We took the main road up to the marshal at the start of Rushup Edge. Looking at the map later, the bad weather route actually crosses the road at the Chestnut centre and takes the track parallel to the main road.

On reaching the marshal point we were greeted by Sarah and Karl (who had dropped out at Taxal) with more hot Vimto. The marshals also had samosas which went down very well. We reached this point before Paul, Steve and Phil (along with Julian B who they'd met up with at some point) who would have been out on the Pennine Bridleway. We were advise to stick to the road from here (but the other's ignored this and finished via the original route). Still feeling drained I wasn't going to argue with them so we walked and jogged along the road. I decided to take the old closed road past Blue John and Treak cliff caverns rather than the quad killing Winnats Pass down into Castleton. Madoc followed suit. In the dark and wet the shattered road was quite surreal, like a scene from a disaster movie. It took some finding in places as a section could be 20 feet above (or below) its neighbour. Eventually we reached the smoother tarmac and ran all the way into the youth hostel grounds. The slight incline up the hostel was too much for me so Madoc jogged off to finish 2 minutes in front of me. I finished in 11:12.

A cold. wet and tired Mick

The event centre was in a sort of lounge/dining/kitchen room in an annex to the main building. When I went in I was surprised that it was almost empty. There was the organiser (busily pouring tea and making jacket potatoes), our own Andy P (who'd come a marvellous 6th in 10:30), Charlie Sharpe (the winner in 8:57) and Madoc. I was amazed to learn that I was 8th finisher (albeit via the bad weather route). I'd assumed there were dozens in front of me. Julian and Paul came in (via the high route) at 11:56 closely followed by Phil and Steve.

Phil and Steve (note the bare legs)
Overall, because of the various routes taken, the results a little meaningless apart from the fact that we'd completed a tough course in gruelling circumstances. I'd been given a hard reminder lesson about the need to get nutrition right. While I'd been freezing in my five layers Paul sailed round in two layers (a Helly and a t-shirt!) and only put his jacket on at Cracken Edge and Phil went round in shorts!

You can find out what happened to various other club members on the club message board at:

The general consensus seems to be that while it was a 'good' experience no-one is in a rush to do it again any time soon. But then we always say that after a tough event don't we?

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