DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SETS!
It feels like a very long time since I typed the words “race review”. At least without having to preface it with “virtual”. It’s also the first race I’ve pinned a number on my shirt in over 2 years, I think the last one being NYE in 2019 for Wormstones Fell Race. But it nearly didn’t happen. Again!
2022 – another shaky start
I was supposed to take part in the Pendle Way in a Day (PWIAD) race a month ago, but a bizarre and inexplicable injury the day before put paid to those plans. It was inexplicable because I literally hadn’t done anything where I could conceivably pull a muscle in the gluteus region, yet somehow I managed it. And the reality of running 45 hilly miles with a dodgy glute is disappointment followed by months of rehab. I’ve been there and got the t-shirt several times before and I’d like to think I’m old enough now to know better. I’m not 20, I can’t get away with that sort of behaviour any more. Sob!
So roll on to March and I was really looking forward to Grindleford Gallop. It’s a race that, prior to last year, I’d never been able to get a place in, as it tends to sell out in minutes. But despite getting a place in the scrum that was the online entries, I had to sell my place due to the foot injury that has plagued me since January 2021.
But 3 days before the Gallop, I came down with a monstrous head cold. The sort that knocks you out totally and leaves you with a mouthful of ulcers as a parting gift. So even the day before the race, having cancelled everything that I could to give myself time to rest, it wasn’t clear whether I was going to be fit to run.
I got an early night (feeling terrible) but, aside from the ulcers, woke up feeling relatively cold-free on Saturday morning. Now there were two competing (and incompatible) issues that I had to resolve:
- I’ve had a nasty cold and the body probably isn’t in the best place for racing
- My mind is already struggling with one DNS this year and the thought of another could cause it to teeter into a depression
Now these two points are both extremely valid. Especially off the back of a lack of training on the terrain which made the whole racing aspect even further from reality. I wanted to do the race to see how my dodgy foot coped with being dragged up and down a few hills, given I’m supposedly doing a hilly ultra in a few months.
Essentially it came down to which option poses the lowest risk. And I figured that as the event catered for walkers as well as runners, it was one I could take my time at and just get around the course, rather than actually racing, which was never going to happen with all the lay-offs anyway. The risk to my mind by not going to the event was actually more concerning. So on balance, I decided that I would go to Grindleford, take my time and just get around what is a beautiful route on a day when the forecast was ‘better than it had been’!
Off to Grindleford
I got a few work jobs out of the way and headed over into the High Peak, some 45 minutes away from home. I arrived in more than plenty of time, to the point I even got a car parking space in the pub car park, and those were few and far between!
The marshals in the car park were really helpful as I genuinely hadn’t a clue where I was going and they put me right! I found registration, collected my number, faffed with safety pins before discovering I had my race number magnets in my pack, found the loos, bought a snood (to add to the collection) and caught up with a few running friends from the clubs I’m involved with!
At 9.45am, with all runners at registration (the walkers had all set off in the previous couple of hours) there was a briefing before we all trundled over the road to the starting field. The race is held annually by the PTA of the local primary school to raise funds, so it is a local race for a local cause. In the briefing it was interesting that they mentioned that not everyone sees the positives of a race going past, so to be mindful of that (and of course be nice to people). In practice, much of the race is well away from the general population, but there are sections which are popular with casual walkers / cyclists etc.
Grindleford to Longstone Moor
At 10am we were off, and although I pressed start on my watch, it didn’t actually start! As such my GPS track missed the first 11 minutes which is when I realised what wasn’t happening (it was the first time I’d set my watch to follow a route and whilst it said it was doing just that, it turned out I needed to hit start a second time!). Ooops.
The first couple of miles are on narrow trails with a number of narrow bridges over streams or stiles in walls. As such a lot of people went out at sprint pace to try to get ahead of the pack to avoid the delays at these pinch points. I wasn’t one of those. I had a plan which was to do my own thing and get round, and that didn’t include going out like a bat out of hell……
I dropped back from one group and ran briefly with one of the Stockport Harriers until we decided our paces were too different. Lesley and a couple of other Peak & Valley runners passed and I tried to keep up as we went up the first hill, but a shoe-lace stop left me out alone again for a bit until I gradually started closing the gap.
Our first checkpoint was only a couple of miles in, in Eyam. No food, just an electronic tagging check which was the timing system being used for the race. As we headed out of the village the trail was a rocky path, undulating fairly gently as the landscape opened up until the climb up to Longstone Moor. Another electronic tag point with bonus jelly babies!
I’d caught up with Lesley and we ran vaguely together for much of the race. Sometimes she’d run ahead and then I’d catch up after a while, occasionally I’d be ahead until she came past me. It was nice to be with someone who knew where they were going as, although I had the route on my watch, I wasn’t entirely confident that it would save me from taking a wrong turn (the route is pretty well marked but there were a few times where we’d swap to a different trail without there being anything to indicate a new direction of travel!) On the climb up we passed Andy, another P&V runner and could see glimpses of Pete (Lesley’s husband) in the distance from time to time.
Monsal Trail to Baslow
We dropped onto the Monsal Trail which is (I presume) an old railway route that has been reclaimed as a bridleway and had a couple of flat miles. We reached our first checkpoint which had a stock of individually wrapped home made cakes so I stopped to walk and consume my first Grindleford cake – and very nice it was too. Lesley had caught up with Pete and they ran ahead until we reached Hassop Station electronic checkpoint where we left the Monsal Trail and started the second big climb, up to Balls Cross Farm checkpoint.
The climb was not only steep but very muddy as well which meant progress was slow. Pete and Lesley both left me for dust as although I was wearing trail shoes, they really weren’t aggressive enough for this terrain. So it was a slow plod to the checkpoint before I could actually start making some sort of progress again. In fact once we got through New Piece Wood (I’m reading these place names from a map after the event!) we were treated to a number of grassy and non-technical descents as we dropped down into Edensor.
The next stretch was one I’d been vaguely looking forward to; running through the Chatsworth Estate, a National Trust property. It’s a place I’ve driven past many times but never actually stopped to go and look around. Pete had dropped back and I was running with Lesley, but I was beginning to struggle, my lack of fitness, plus the fact the day had warmed up and I’d not taken on enough fluids, all contributing to a lot of effort.
I’m genuinely impressed that the photo taken of me going through the Estate actually looked like I was running well, as I really didn’t feel like I was making any progress. We passed Jeremy, from Marple Runners as we followed what seemed to be an endless path across the estate; I think it was about 1.8 miles and predominantly flat looking at the GPS track but it was already a long day. I’d actively avoided looking at my watch throughout the race so that I didn’t obsess about how badly things were going or how far I hadn’t run; my mental game definitely needs to be sharpened back up! But then today was all about a day out in the hills with friends and with cake. It doesn’t have to just be about the time.
Curbar & Froggatt Edges to the finish
We popped out in Baslow where the final electronic checkpoint and second selection of cakes were presented. I had a kit rearrange, finally packing away rain jacket (which I’d worn all race so far), hat and gloves, then selected a piece of chocolate fudge cake and plonked myself on a wall to focus my attention on enjoying that cake. Which I did! I filled up one of my water bottles with Orange Squash (yes, that’s what we call it here!) before heading up the final big climb from the village up onto Curbar Edge.
I’ve run this section before, but in reverse when I was tail-running a section of the PD50 ultra-marathon in 2019. So I knew that this was a very long climb which I was happy to walk up. There were a few people running past me, but honestly the speed differential for the effort required just wasn’t worth it in my mind.
After what felt like an age, I was atop Curbar Edge. As I’ve always reminded my runners, the best thing about going up a big hill is the potential for a great view. And this was no exception. I’ve been along here in both stunning weather and in sideways rain. It’s definitely better in the sunshine, like it was for race day today! I passed a few people and was equally passed by other people as I made my way along the Edge before dropping down and climbing up onto Froggat Edge. I caught up with another runner who recognised my P&V shirt and it turns out I’d run with Jerry a couple of years ago on a Bullock Smithy recce. I’m not great with names and faces unless I’ve seen them a few times (even then bets are off!) but we chatted and picked our way through the undulating latter stages of the race together. Someone shouted “only 2 miles to go” which confused me as I thought I’d seen my watch say we were on 16 miles, which would be another 5, less however much I missed at the start of the race before I started my watch.
As we started the technical descent cramp got the better of Jerry and he stopped to try to get some life back into his legs. I was nursing the early stages of cramp and was hoping I’d done enough to avoid my legs seizing up, at least before the finish line!
I knew the descent through the woods would be slow for me. Staying upright is a challenge for me at the best of times, so steep muddy downhills I’m not willing to take the risk of skidding down nose-first. And so a few people hurtled past me. But that was fine. My plan was to get around intact (preferably before the last walker finished) and so slow and steady was the order of the day. Aside from that, the cramping in my legs was beginning to get more worrysome!
The technical steep bit gave way to a less technical rocky lane so I was at least able to get some speed back. Someone said “the finish is just around the corner!” which was a bit of a surprise, but suddenly I was back on the main road in Grindleford with signs stating “FINISH” with various arrows directing the runners in. Another runner decided to make a move to run past me as I got to the bridge. The reality was that my legs were too questionable with the cramp to respond, so I had to watch him run ahead, but I did at least try to pick up enough speed to look like I was running at the end.
And the final electronic checkpoint was the finish line, completed in 3:50:30.
In my head I was anticipating that the race was going to take me 4.5 hours so to be sub-4 was a real surprise, especially given the lack of fitness and preparation. The foot seems to have held out OK; it feels a bit “OK what just happened?” but no pain (as of 3 days later) so that’s promising. The next race I’m doing is the same elevation although about 15 miles longer, so at least I feel confident that the foot ought to be fine with it. However I need to do a lot more with my fitness if I’m going to be out for that extra time and distance. So that’s what I’ll be working on over the next 8 weeks.
So that was my first Grindleford Gallop. A lovely route, great scenery (weather dependent!), great cakes and great atmosphere. Definitely worth getting a place in if you get the opportunity.
Here’s the route from my Garmin (with the conspicuous gap at the start!):