30 Mar

Edale Skyline Fell Race with Alex Hinchcliffe

Alex’s original blog: https://alexhinchcliffe.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/edale-skyline-fell-race/

The Edale Skyline fell race: 21 miles of the Peak District’s finest trails, bogs, bracken, views and hills. I had excitedly entered the race back in February as soon as the entries opened, with the idea that it would be a good early longer run at race pace in prep for my main challenge of 2017, the Vegan Welsh 3,000’s (V3K) in June. Previous to this, I have run two category AL races (fell races that are not just ridiculously hilly, but also ridiculously long). My first was the Ras Pedol Cwm Pennant fell race in Wales last year, as part of the British Championship, where I got my first (but not last…more on that later!) taste of fell running induced cramping, and managed to place 3rd u23. My 2nd attempt was not nearly as successful as I struggled around the Borrowdale fell race last August, which was an English Championship counter. I placed 98th and couldn’t walk without the accompaniment of a heavy hobble for a good few days after. Edale should be fun then!

I felt better prepared for this than the last two AL races, and it was a good job; this would not only be my longest race by 7km, but also my second longest run EVER! Whilst training for this classic race I have incorporated regular Sunday long runs in the Porter, Limb and Rivelin valleys of Sheffield. Rivelin is an ideal location for getting in some steep climbing, and this alongside with a few hill sessions left me feeling relatively fit and raring to go! I had a good run out the previous weekend at Hallam parkrun, clocking 17:25, however I was also very aware that the last fell race I did was nothing to write home about; a disappointing run at the Auld Lang Syne race on New Year’s Eve.

With this in mind I was unsure of what to expect, and was a mixed bag of nerves, excitement and abject terror on the morning of the race. For breakfast I opted for a 4-banana smoothie with some oats, water and a bit of almond milk, with lots more water to drink as well. The weather gods had blessed us with an absolutely beautiful spring day, and a dry few days preceding the race, meaning that by Peak District standards the route was pretty dry underfoot! A clear forecast also meant my chances of getting lost were significantly reduced, which had been perhaps my biggest worry leading up to the race. As both a geography student and fell runner it is inexcusable how terrible I am at navigation, and frankly quite startling as to how I have STILL not mastered the basic skills; something to work on. With the forecast as it was I opted to run in just my Vegan Runners UK vest, and am now the owner of a rather sporting vest tan. The fact that I got sun-burnt in this year’s race whilst in previous editions runners have been forced to pull out due to hypothermia highlights the unpredictable nature of fell running. But don’t let that put you off!

After a few words from the race organiser, essentially telling us to remember that part of the route was new for 2017 and to not get lost, we were off up the ascent of Ringing Roger. Climbing 160m in the first kilometre was a nice way to warm up, and I reached the top in the first 25 or so feeling good after a rocky scramble to the summit. A nice grassy descent towards the woods at the base of Win Hill followed, and I ticked along comfortably in a nice group of 6 of us. There is a lot to be said for the ‘group effect’ in racing, whereby the effort feels a hell of a lot easier if it is done when running with others, and going along the roman road towards Win Hill tucked in behind other runners I was feeling strong. Next up was the new part of the course for 2017, down into the woods towards Ladybower reservoir and the bottom of the hill. The sun shimmering through the branches of the trees was a magical sight to behold, and I felt truly blessed to be able to enjoy the sensation of running in such a special place. When we are injured or unable to get out to the trails we often dream of just enjoying moving through these beautiful places on our own feet, so when we are able to we should appreciate it and not take it for granted!

Cruising along the roman road (Photo: Mossie Net Photography)

After a bit of uncertainty about whether we were on the right track, we soon reached a marshal who directed us up through the woods to start the long drag up to the summit of Win Hill. I did a bit of self -management here and ate a date that I had prepared earlier by gouging out the stone, and also took on a gel and some water. I use High5 gels because they are fully vegan, are the best tasting gels I have come across so far and have a good range of flavours (not sponsored!!!). Fed and watered, I plodded up the hill whilst dripping with sweat. Once at the top I nearly ended up going the wrong way off the top and descending Parkin Clough, which is the complete OPPOSITE direction to the way I should have been going, hooray for navigation! After being pointed the right way by a bemused marshal, and some much needed encouragement from fellow vegans Corin and Ruth (thanks!), I ambled my way over to Hope Brink, the steep descent from Win Hill down towards the first aid station. I knew this was probably the steepest descent on the route. I have not yet mastered the proper steep, -40% gradients of fell running; from falling over 5 times whilst descending Steel Fell in the Lake District on a BG leg 2 recce, to sliding down Winder in the Yorkshire Dales and acquiring a rather nifty scar on my wrist that is still present a year on, my past history of steep descents is anything but successful. This being said, I surprised myself by a) not falling over once(!!!), b) OVERTAKING SOMEONE and c) actually being relatively speedy, coming in at 12th/288 on the wonderfully named strava segment “once more unto hope brink”. Ace.

The strava segment profile, average -41%!


12th/288, not bad!

Getting ready for the overtake (Photo: Mossie Net Photography)

Into the first water station I downed a cup and poured some on my head to cool down a bit, and set out tackling the climb up Lose Hill. I was in a bit of no man’s land here, with a group of 5 a little too far in front to realistically catch, and a few runners strung out behind me. The climb up Lose Hill was a bit of a lonely affair, and I attempted to do the “10 walk, 10 run” technique, a Helm Hill secret weapon tactic for rapid hill climbing. This soon became “10 walk, attempt to run then lose count and start walking again” but I reached the summit in relatively good shape having held my position since the aid station. Once on the ridge the views were spectacular, and I made sure to take them in as I made my way to Mam Tor. Turning off on a trod from Back Tor to Hollin’s Cross, a keen walker told me I was in 13th place. Yikes! I was not expecting that, and energised with this news I pushed on up the flagstones to Mam Tor, climbing surprisingly well after having already got a lot of climb in the legs. Off the top of Mam Tor I did my best to go the wrong way again, before realising my mistake and joining the right path, by which time the runners behind me had caught up. I entered the second water station in a group of 6. Seeing my friends Mikk , Alex (and his friend Andrew) and Nic B here was a boost, and I took on some more water before the last section back home to Edale. Thanks to Mikk for marshalling and for the photos too!

Descending into the second water station (Photo: Mikk Murray)

Great support from Alex Forrest (far left)! (Photo: Mikk Murray)

At this point I had run 20k, and knew most of the climb was over but that these next 14km would be anything but easy. I had been warned the path to Brown Knoll was a long drag, and the edge path on Kinder was renowned for being boggy, boulder-filled and broken up. Fortunately I got into a good groove going over to Brown Knoll trig on the newly installed footpath, running in a group with 2 other runners. Running in a group over this long, lonely section was brilliant, and I know I would not have run this section as fast if I had been on my own. Working together, we ran this section at a fast pace, coming in at 5th/377 on the 4.2km strava segment. We overtook a Dark Peaker just before reaching the summit of Brown Knoll, and in my head I calculated that I was now in 13th place with 11th and 12th just in front in our little group. From here, my goal was simply to maintain this position and not blow up and go backwards through the field. But at 26km in, my legs were beginning to grumble and I could feel hints of cramp coming on. I finished off the rest of my gels and water, and settled in for a painful final 8km to the finish.

We reached Edale Cross checkpoint and the lovely marshals here had some water which I gladly took, desperate to stave off the impending cramp. By this point our motley crew of 3 runners had dropped to 2, with a Pennine runner falling off the back. I soon was dropped by the other runner, but kept him in sight as we circumnavigated the edge path along Kinder Scout. By now my legs were in a bad way, with twinges of cramp in my inner thighs and calves becoming ever more regular. All I wanted was to be at the finish and not running, yet when I began to walk up some gentle inclines the cramp got worse so I was forced to at least attempt to keep running. What a nightmare. I was soon reeled in by a Dark Peaker who was moving well, and I followed him as best I could to the final checkpoint at Ringing Roger. Dib in, then to tackle the final descent down to the finish.

Descending down the scramble onto the path wasn’t the nicest thing to do on battered legs, and running down the rocky, stepped path wasn’t much of an improvement. The race rules stipulated that we had to stick to the zig-zags of the path on our way back down, and as I hobbled down at a snail’s pace I caught sight of the Pennine runner from earlier, who had been slowly reeling me in for the past kilometre. Bugger. There is nothing worse than being chased into the finish, especially after 3 hours and 20 minutes of hard running in the legs, but on the final turn into the finishing field I was overtaken. The race was on! The final descent to the finish is down a nice grassy field, where one can let the legs go completely and run at top speed. We were side by side, centimetres separating us, bombing down the hill at ridiculous pace. I managed to pull away and open up a small gap, running through the finish chute and dibbing in for the final time to finish in 13th place and 1st u23. Phew! What an exciting end to the race, and also what a great way to ensure my legs were completely and utterly useless immediately after I stopped running! After chatting with other finishers for a while, I did a cool down waddle back down the road to registration. I ate some satsumas, dates and mushy peas and drank a load of water. The spread put on by the race organisers was very extensive, but unfortunately neither of the pies were vegan and the cakes all had cow’s milk or chicken’s eggs in them too! So in the end I settled for a whole plate of mushy peas (yum), which I later learnt on twitter was much to the amusement of a fellow runner. Haha!

Famous!

I stuck around for the presentation as I had been told there was a prize for first u23, however after my name was read out as the winner of the women’s u23 prize before an abrupt correction, the race organiser then forgot to read out the men’s u23 result at all! Oh well. After that it was a hobble to the train station, and back to Sheffield. Overall I am over the moon with how the race went; the effort I put in, how I fuelled my body along the way and the position I ended up finishing. With lots of stretching, yoga and foam rolling on Monday, and a fantastic sports massage from Amy Beard from Amy’ s Body Clinic on Tuesday, my legs are also beginning to feel normal again, which is nice. Here is to more fell racing in the Peak District!

A big thanks to Mossie Net Photography (https://www.flickr.com/photos/mossienetphotography/) for the excellent race photos, which are taken to raise money for Malaria No More, a charity that distributes mosquito nets to needy communities. I have donated a fiver, and would encourage anyone else snapped by Mossie Net Photography during a race to do the same!

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