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Long Tour of Bradwell 2017 – updated 19 August

Approaching Hollins Cross

Approaching Hollins Cross

The race

By my reckoning this was the 9th running of the Long Tour of Bradwell, and in my view it’s one of the best ultras in the country – I’ll try to explain why I think so in my race report below.  Numbers were up this year, which was good news, with 106 finishers.  We started off in drizzle, but gradually the weather improved, and in the later stages we had some of the best weather you could hope for: clear, sunny, but not hot.  It was much wetter underfoot than usual though.  First home was Lee Kemp of Waverley Harriers, in 5:03:51, the fastest time since Stuart Walker ran 4:53:10 in 2013 ( when conditions were perfect for fast running).  Second was Duncan Coombs (Hunters Bog Trotters) in 5:06:26, and 3rd was our own Ken Sutor, winner in 2015 & 2016, in 5:27:23.  11th home in 6:23:12 was Anthony Bethell of Raidlight (1st MV50), and 12th was Barney Nikolich (first U23) 5 seconds behind – I guess they finished together, but they’re probably both daft enough to have  given it a sprint finish!  20 seconds behind them was Nicky Spinks (DPFR), first woman home again.  16th & 2nd woman was Hazel Farnell of Totley AC in 6:34:57, 19th & 3rd woman was Despina Berdeni, also of Totley.  In the absence of Chris Davies, Alwyn Nixon was first MV60 in 7:06:52.  Special mention for Hannah Thom (Keighley & Craven AC), first FU23 in 7:48:46.  Bob Nash & Dick Scroop (both MV70) set off an hour before everyone else (with official approval), and Bob’s time in the results is currently incorrect as a consequence.  He finished though.  Dick unfortunately had to retire as he didn’t think he’d finish in daylight.  Full results are on the race website here.

Barney Nikolich & Andy Robinson before the start

Barney Nikolich & Andy Robinson before the start

I’ve no idea whether Karen will have time to get anything up on her blog before she and Bob head off for the Pyrenees, but I suspect not.  Karen’s running the Grand Raid des Pyrenees (23-27 August) – good luck Karen!  Nick’s photos are up on Flickr, & as usual I’ve pinched some for this post.

Runfurther Championship standings

Karen Nash improved her points score at Bradwell, even though she had a pretty slow run by her own high standards.  Being realistic she can only be caught by Nicky Spinks this year for the women’s title.  Debbie Cooper will probably be second or third, assuming she finishes at Jedburgh.

Kevin Hoult, Ken Sutor and Rory Harris are the most obvious candidates for the men’s title.  They have all run 3 races, and Kevin is slightly ahead at the moment.  David Chetta has run 4 already, but can only win if none of the above 3 run a fourth race.  And he’s still got Stewart Bellamy and Daniel Page at his heels, with 3 races each and about the same points per race.

Chris Davies will be first MV60 again, and Alwyn Nixon will probably be second.  Martin Terry will probably be first MV50: he just needs to run a 4th race in any category.

Nick Ham and Bob Nash are both still in the running for a Grand Slam.

The full leaderboard is here – let me know if you spot any problems with it.  The usual issue is where someone’s name is spelt wrongly or differently in the race results from in the Runfurther membership record.  And occasionally there are two runners with the same name.  And sometimes I cock the spreadsheet up of course…

Andy Robinson & Ken Sutor, both looking pretty gormless

Andy Robinson & Ken Sutor, both looking pretty gormless.  Apologies for including 2 photos of me this time!

Andy’s race report

The control at the top of Cave Dale

The control at the top of Cave Dale

A bit of background first.  Last year I was attempting to run the Runfurther Grand Slam, as well as other ultras, and I bit off more than I could chew.  My legs started giving way on me during races, I started feeling faint while running, & nearly collapsed a couple of times.  I got to the point by the end of the summer that I was dreading the next race.  I had to stop for a while. I stopped training, and my last race was the Warrington Way Ultra last November.  Before last weekend I hadn’t run further than 7 miles in a day since November apart from a slow 33 miles in early May, and had run under 80 miles in total in 9 months.

The only event I had coming up was the Across Wales Walk on 2 September: a 45-mile walking event that I’ve run every year since 2007.  This year, because I’m not running much, I rashly committed to “doubling” the AWW, i.e. doing it in reverse unsupported through the night in order to arrive at the English/Welsh border at 5am to turn round and join the rest of the walkers and runners as they start.  My rationale was that since I didn’t have to worry about how fast I was going to run – it would be slow or a walk – then it was the obvious year to have a go at the double, which has been a traditional part of the AWW for many years.  Well, 2 September was creeping up on me, and I had to decide whether I was going to walk the whole thing or try to run some of it.  Early last week I decided to try to run part of it, and to get the first leg over in 12 hours.  That meant getting some running into my legs asap, so I ran 7 miles at my club training night on Wednesday, the first time for a couple of months, then decided to run the LTOB on the back of that intensive training programme.  I’d no idea whether I’d finish or not, but I was determined to give it my best shot.  It was never going to be fast!  My PB is 6:25, from 2013, and last year I took 7:56.  I though 9 hours was probably a reasonable target for 2017 in the circumstances.

We set off just after 9 from the grassy triangle in Bradwell.  It was drizzling: there had been showers for the previous couple of hours.  It wasn’t cold though, & unlike most of the runners I took my waterproof off before we started.  It’s a long slow climb at the start of the LTOB, and I knew I’d be getting warm enough.  As was to be expected I struggled up that hill, walking most of it, near the back of the field.  With the state of my fitness there was no point in pushing too hard and wrecking myself even earlier than I had to.  This meant I actually had enough left to do a bit of chatting to other runners – not something I usually have the breath for.  I suspect that’s when I first met Dan, although at that point I had no idea I’d be running most of the race with him.

The first climb is probably the least scenic of the whole race, but once you reach the control at the head of Cave Dale the beauty starts.  A grassy descent over the lip of a classic Peak limestone valley, which becomes deeper and rockier as you descend.  Steep sides, with the grass being perfect to run on, but the wet greasy limestone soon taking over.  This is treacherous stuff to run on, but the environment is brilliant, and the difficult stuff was soon over.  Out at the bottom and we were in the middle of Castleton at the first manned checkpoint.  OK, Castleton is busy with visitors and cars, but it’s a pretty village, and anyway in about 3 minutes we were out of it again, and jogging up the quiet tarmac lane leading to the climb over Hollins Cross to Edale.  Again the views here are great, with Mam Tor ahead on the left, and Back Tor ahead on the right.  Eventually we turned off the tarmac for the steep climb up to the col – 4 of us more or less together by this point, and from here I was with Dan the rest of the way to Bradwell.

When you get to Hollins Cross the view ahead is another classic, across the Edale valley to Kinder Scout.  The next climb up Ringing Roger is only too obvious ahead, looking even steeper than it really is, if that’s possible.  The run down to the valley is a bit technical to start with: a steep eroded path slanting down the hill.  It soon eases off though, and the rest of the way down is a great run.  A pleasant path across the valley fields and we were soon at the second manned checkpoint at Edale Church.  So far so good – I was feeling good still.  We headed off up the road to the field where the Edale Skyline race starts and started the long plod up Ringing Roger.  This is where Dan and I started talking: we didn’t really stop until we got to Bradwell.  Dan emigrated to British Columbia (Canada) 12 years ago and was back for a family visit.  It was his first LTOB and he was happy enough to rely on me for navigation and run at my speed.  As for me I was glad of the company.  I’ve always done most of my running alone, as I’m only really comfortable at my own pace rather than adapting to that of others.

We reached the summit plateau in more drizzle and then we had to get to the Druid’s Stone control.  This is the only bit of the LTOB I’ve never got right: I know where the stone is, but never find the best trod between the lower and upper paths on the ascent.  Usually I don’t find a trod at all and waste a lot of time and energy flailing in the heather.  I know there’s a trod somewhere near where you reach the lower path in the first place, but as usual there was nobody just in front to follow.  For once I did the sensible thing and followed the lower path along until we could see the Stone, and join the trod that descends from it: it may not be the optimal line, but it can’t be far off it.

One of the many good things about the design of the LTOB route is that although it climbs high in places, apart from Stanage Edge it doesn’t stay high. Your exposure to bad weather is thus limited.  So we headed back down into the valley we’d just left, on a great descent run, with the Back Tor/Lose Hill ridge looming large ahead.  That climb can be awful sometimes, particularly in hot weather, and I really wasn’t looking forward to it. Dan and I crossed the valley and took advantage of the new official drinks station at Backtor Farm: last year it was unofficial, the residents having taken pity on us poor runners in the hot weather.  That’s where the steep climb starts.  Dan and I were chatting so much we hardly noticed the climb, and I got to the ridge without even thinking I could be near it – thanks Dan!  Left turn, and we plugged up the rest of the climb to the summit of Lose Hill via the control on the stile (see Nick’s photo).

 

The ascent of Lose Hill

The ascent of Lose Hill: Karen Nash on the stile

There’s another great run down from Lose Hill to Hope, easy descent in meadows with great views.  We took on more water at the checkpoint and headed off towards Win Hill.  This bit’s OK on track and quiet road, but soon we were back in great scenery with the short steep climb up over the heathery shoulder of Win Hill.

 

Climbing to the shoulder of Win Hill

Climbing to the shoulder of Win Hill

The route soon heads into forestry plantation on a good path above Ladybower Reservoir to a control by the path, at which point you turn sharp right and descend to the dam.  The first time I ran the LTOB the control was almost invisible, as was the descent path, and I lost about 45  minutes here.  These days all the controls are well marked, and anyway I know where they all are!  We bombed down the descent track, overtaking a couple of other runners on the way.  Two minutes later and we were on the old railway line, with the weather now looking up.  I find railway tracks difficult to run on: too flat and monotonous for me.  Still, we soon reached the checkpoint, 40 minutes before the cut-off, and soon after that we were off across the fields to Bamford Mills, with the sun out (no sun in Nick’s photo: he was there a bit earlier).  My favourite control of all races is the one in the middle of the footbridge by the mills.

 

Bamford Mills

Bamford Mills

By now I was starting to tire, the lack of training meaning my legs weren’t really capable of much more, particularly uphill.  We overtook Dick Scroop along Hurstclough Lane, then for the first time other runners overtook us, on the climb to Stanage Edge.  I had to take it easy along the Edge, with the risk of tripping being pretty high given the state of my legs.  It’s such a beautiful area though, both the immediate surroundings and the wider views.  The climbers were out as well, although I’m sure there are fewer than there were in my climbing days.

 

The climb to Stanage Edge

The climb to Stanage Edge

 

I’m always greatly relieved to reach the checkpoint at Upper Burbage Bridge.  It’s the end of the difficult footwork, you’ve finished the big climbs, and you’ve finished the high moors.  We ran happily along the Burbage Boulders track down to the Toad’s Mouth, taking the log way round to avoid the boggy bit approaching the road, since we still had dry feet.  The next bit is always enjoyable, as long as you know the way.  A pretty descent along the valley among the daytrippers, then the trod along the top edge of a wood to the next control.  The descent from here to the valley through the wood on Bole Hill could be a nightmare if not waymarked, but is a delight with the race markers there.

Descending Bole Hill

Descending Bole Hill

 

The run up the Derwent valley to Leadmill Bridge should be easy, but I think I’ve only ever run it all the way once.  It’s flat, it’s easy underfoot, but I’m always absolutely knackered by this point, and I’m usually reduced to walking some of it.  This time was no different.  Dan was clearly a stronger runner than me on the day, but he too was past running the whole way.  Still, I was actually feeling better than I had been last year at the point.  As usual I took a short rest on one of the marshals’ chairs at the checkpoint, but this year it was only a very short rest.  The it was off up the road for the last 4 miles: 4 miles that always feels like about 8.

Again this is a very pretty part of the Peak District.  And it’s yet another type of scenery: following a wooded stream, sometimes above the stream, sometimes along it, sometimes in the trees, sometimes above them.  Like so much of the route, it’s somewhere you’d like to linger, but of course there’s no time.  We reached the last control, by the footbridge, then passed Bob Nash, who had made pretty good time – I’d expected to have passed him a bit earlier.  We walked through Abney, then chatted our way up the last climb.  Once again the climb seemed much easier than usual thanks to Dan’s company.  We staggered round the track at the top, across the two fields and headed down to Bradwell through the gorse.

The final descent into Bradwell

The final descent into Bradwell

We finished in 8:33, 36 minutes slower than my time last year, when I was supposedly a lot fitter.  I was in a much better state than I finished in last year.  And I enjoyed it so much more.  Thanks for your company and support, Dan!  The Long Tour of Bradwell is such a great race.  It’s organised very well, but in my view the key reasons its such a great race are:

(1) It’s very challenging.  There’s a lot of climbing, and some of it is difficult underfoot.

(2) It’s designed for a good run.  The difficult sections don’t go on for too long.  The hard climbs aren’t too near the end of the race.  There’s such a lot of runnable ground.

(3) It’s so varied, with so many different running environments.  Limestone valley, hill climbs, gritstone edge, summit ridge, river bank, hill stream, woodland, forestry, wooded railway bed, tracks, trods.  Everything the Peak has to offer is included.

(4) The views are just amazing.

I’ll be back, for as long as I can keep running.

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