"This must be at least grade 3A technicalised trail we are talking here" I thought as I stumbled over huge rocks like a baby giraffe while trying not to re-open the gashed knee I suffered a few miles before.
However ask one of those others racing they would probably just describe it as "road". Or "rerd".
The previous night I had given a talk to some of these guys about my long long run on some tarmac a few years ago. It was nothing like this. Yes there was a part where some roadworks meant I got dust on my shoes and a bit where I nearly tripped over a dead armadillo but that is as technical as it got.
I was really pleased to be here though and enjoying a format that I don't think happens enough in the UK. The Dig Deep race series directed by Ian Coombe looked amazing on the website and even better in reality, especially given the great weather we had. My preference is for point to point races but I liked this loop as it invovled a weekend spend camping and enjoying the company of other runners, a feeling of being outdoors and living with nature and not to mention a few casks of local beer.
The format is simple enough, two runs, a 30 mile "intro" to ultras and a 60 mile version, both completely different routes. Camping is available and during the course of the weekend there are talks from various ultra running people (such as myself) and Marcus Scotney.
Here is a game to play. Whenever someone says the elevation of a race is say 9000m and then say it's the "equivalent" of climbing Everest, even though no oxygen masks were involved, no suffocating at high altitude, no freezing your nuts off on top of the world, no ice axes or sherpas, do this...
Think of other silly comparisons for gaining altitude by walk/running. for example, the elevation in this race was around 2000m, which I reckon is the equivalent of about 1277 games of hop-scotch. Or dancing to that "Jump Jump" song for about 42 minutes, or falling out of bed 3287 times, or 2017 burpees.
Anyhoo, I digress. I chatted to Chris Edwards before the race about what lay ahead and he basically said there were two big climbs and the rest was nothing much to worry about. I found the flat trail fairly hard going though as I am out of practice on bumpy track. I did manage to fall over after around 5 miles and gash my knee open, it looked impressive and got quite a few comments from people out walking about whether I needed first aid. I reckon they should just ban people who live within the M25 from coming out on these trails without a permit.
The first really big climb was Win Hill. It felt like more than a hill. There was a wonderful couple of miles of downhill road which always contains niggling anxiety that it means there will be a big uphill soon. It was spectacular though, really quite tough and steep and I recognised a fellow southerner (because he had walking poles) and we both suffered the humid warm steep climb to the top of a really quite beautiful hill.
I chatted a bit to a chap called Matt Burton who I met at the start. When gathered before the start I overheard him say to his friend "I really wish I had seen James Adams' talk". I didn't know what to do at that point, I thought about just stepping into the conversation and saying "well, helllooooooo" like some seedy pervert but decided against it. He did then spot me and we started chatting which was nice. It was great to hear he followed the blog as I ran across the States, now available in book version.
A BOOK?? I never even mentioned it.
I am still trying to sell a few more copies to fun a printing of the book so feel free to send it to someone who has not yet bought :)
So Win hill was a bastard but I really had missed the simple pleasures of ultra running, such as the wonderful feeling of a hill-top breeze cooling the sweat on your face after you have slogged vertically for 20 minutes. And pork pies.
There were about 5 aid stations of which the one in the middle was immense. After around 17 miles we had a huge spread in a pavillion that included among many other things spinach and pine nut falafel balls.
The next major climb was Rebellion Knob which did involve some map reading. There are trails all over the place here but we figured as long as we are heading upwards we are going the right way and we ended up finding the dibbing point. It was another amazing view of the peaks.
For future reference this race is quite accessible for those without a car. The race HQ was at Whirlow Farm, about 5 miles from Sheffield station and a bus will take you right there (or a taxi, or next year an Uber driver). For such a short distance outside a major city you really are out in the sticks pretty quickly. I was envious of those who live around here even though I have just moved to the country side myself. Well, Bedford. Anyone from around there want to show me some trails? Or pubs?
Chris later admitted that he was wrong about the "just two" climbs as there did seem to be a lot more, the last 10 miles of the race still had a fair few stings in. I was pleased that my new bit of kit was not annoying me. I finally bought what is known as a "race vest", a contraption that is supposed to be like running in a vest but that carries lots of stuff. It was called a "Ultimate Direction SJ vest" it was from last year so I got it half price. It has pockets everywhere but no where to put your phone so you can easily tweet and run. Didn't he write a book called tweet and run? He must have funny arms to be able to contort himself around like I had to to get a good shot of the hills.
I even wore my race number on my shorts like a proper runner, I thought I was guaranteed a win.
In the end this took me over 7 hours. I was originally hoping for around 5 but I think everyone underestimated this course. The winner was Marcus in just over 4 hours and the winner of the 60 miles came back after 10 hours which was pretty incredible on that course.
I can thoroughly recommend this race and there is a repeat of the format on 6/7th September in Suffolk (not as hilly) which you should check out. Thanks to Ian for putting on a great weekend and it was also great meeting Ellie West and Matt Greene of Summit Fever Photography who took lots of great photos of the event which can be seen here.