Bullock Smithy race report

The first of the catch-up posts – Nick’s BSH write up from September:

All his photos of the event are here

Bullock Smithy Hike report by Nick Ham

A week out, the weather forecast was predicting an untimely end to the long dry spell right on cue. I wasn’t looking forward to having my ingrained memories of running the Bullock Smithy Hike in perfect conditions updated by something less clement. However, as the week progressed, the forecast improved and my memory banks would ultimately remain unsullied by anything connected with dampness (apart from what issues from within in the interests of cooling – good old-fashioned sweat).

I arrived at 3rd Hazel Grove Scouts HQ early to set up the Runfurther sponsors’ flags and banners, the display table with spot prizes and to hand over the winners’ prizes to Master of Ceremonies Steve Holt ready for the Sunday presentation (oh, and also return the Windgather Trophy for fastest team, which my club Glossopdale Harriers won last year – I was team 3rd but took the trophy because I was the only club-member at the presentation). At registration we were issued with trackers for the first time on this event. The organisers hoped to use them for timing through the checkpoints and at the finish. “Good luck with that” I thought if our experiences of the Trans-Pennine 100 were anything to go by. They can be wildly inaccurate at best, if they work at all. As for precise timing, forget about it.

Registration at 3rd Hazel Grove Scouts HQ.

As we were given our tallies at registration, we no longer had to queue in Devonshire Park to collect them. We just mingled and chatted as we waited for Steve’s send-off speech from atop his stepladder at the back of the park. Like last year, they had a powered loudspeaker so we could all hear without having to be within a few yards. Last year it worked very well, but this year the volume was set so low that we had to stand within a few yards, just like the old times. (Dear loudspeaker operator, next year, don’t be shy, give it some wick, be reckless and wind it up to 11 so we runners can be poised ready to make our quick exit along the forbidden way across the bypass to Towers Road. (Come to think of it, perhaps there was a reason for the whisper to force us to the back of the park near the rear exits and the long way round to Anson Road.)

Steve Holt’s send-off speech.

Upon the striking of the anvil, a sizeable group of runners takes the route to Towers Road. The bypass is crossed responsibly and without incident. The cut across the fields from Towers Road and under the incline to the golf course is bone dry like never before. Even more surprisingly, the stream to the left of Anson Road is dried up. This would set the scene for the event – dry and dusty. The air is very warm and humid with a big low pressure system parked sufficiently far to the west to not be wetting us yet. I knew I’d be putting my drink bottles to good use (gin in left hand, tonic in right 😉).

The slog up to Check Point 1 at Bow Stones is knocked off in 57 minutes, similar to last year. After Bow Stones I catch up with Julian Brown of Macclesfield Harriers, Lee Barratt of Stockport Harriers and Paul Rushworth. All three would normally be way ahead of me yet Lee speaks about having set off too fast. I always set off too fast as well but I knew I wasn’t THAT fast. Something didn’t seem right.

Lee – Paul – Julian.

We, all Bullock Smithy Hike veterans, run as a part-time foursome down to the A6 crossing at Furness Vale and up to CP2 at Chinley Churn (still on last year’s schedule), with Paul pulling away as nature intended. Julian catches back up with me at the drinks station after CP2 then again at the highest point of the event at CP3 (Edale Cross) before pulling ahead. I had lost track of Lee; I thought he had pulled ahead at the beginning of the long drag up to Edale Cross. I was now ~2 minutes behind last year’s schedule, which already was my slowest since 2000. “Just keep plugging away, take it as it comes”, I think to myself.

Julian grabs some jelly babies at Edale Cross.

The descent from Edale Cross is never pretty these days for me. Long-term knee tendon pain from over a quarter-century of hammering the ultras and fell races, loss of leg strength, reduced sense of balance (legacy of the Ménière’s Disease) and a loss of confidence result in a slow, tentative descent down anything steep and technical like Jacob’s Ladder. I get overtaken by those more nimble than I and must look like a teetering, tottering fraud, dressed as I am in my vest and shorts designed for unfettered speed.

I just about catch up with Julian at CP4 (Edale, 8 minutes down). I also catch a glimpse of fellow Glossopdale Harriers Joshua and Jake Southall. They are infinitely faster than I am; they must be taking it easy and enjoying a leisurely day and night out on their first BSH. Stockport Harrier Tony Audenshaw (Bob the barman from Emmerdale) had been following us around on his bicycle to give encouragement. This would be the furthest place he would meet us. He asked me if I’d seen Lee because he hadn’t turned up yet. I could not understand. I said I thought he’d left me for dead on the climb to Edale Cross. I worried what might have happened to him. (I found out after the finish that had had to retire.)

Fuelled by the traditional rice pudding and tinned fruit and with water bottle refilled, I set off on the next slog up and over Hollins Cross, which looks as barren as I’ve ever seen it. The same barren quality affects the descent of the sunny side towards Castleton.

The rocky sunken path descent to the road ALWAYS has some drainage water down it, but not this year; dry as a bone. I arrive at our small-town, bijou CP5 at Castleton to the sight of runners with numbers and a sense of urgency to their pace headed in a different direction to the church building across the road, which turns out to be the Peveril Centre. They have flags, banners, inflatables, the works. It is the finish to the Peak District Ultra 33, 50 and 100 milers. Although I know where our checkpoint is I have to stop myself from being led astray by their hoopla. I am now 11 minutes behind last year’s time.

The slog from Castleton up the grassy hill never ceases to shock by its never-ending qualities and always-unexpected hard leanings to the left needed to keep / get back on track to the leftmost lone tree and stile on the horizon. The good news is, once completed, the worst of the Bullock Smithy Hike climbing is behind us. Now it’s a case of hanging on to Peak Forest and pick up the pace from there through the undulating country. We had been seeing many Peak District Ultra runners heading towards their finish, then on the descent of Oxlow Rake the first runners I recognise come into view – Jacqueline and Mick Cooper. High Fives are exchanged (more like High Water-bottle-and-route-notes in my case).

I arrive at CP6 (Peak Forest) 7 minutes behind schedule. Can’t believe I’ve made up a few minutes. Joshua and Jake are there relaxing and refuelling. Kevin Smith is looking rather hot and flustered. There does seem to be a lot of suffering and slowing this year with the humidity. I forget where I lost Julian – probably on the final descent to Peak Forest. I waste minimum time in refilling my water bottle and sucking on some orange segments before I’m off trotting up that main road, luxuriating in a slightly cooling breeze in the overcast conditions. Earlier spots of rain had threatened a shower or two but nothing materialised, everything remaining dry. We are now into the undulating miles and this is where I always begin to feel like the hunter and hunted in my efforts to make up places and not get overtaken. Fuelling must be working because I maintain the jog for the most part to Miller’s Dale, still meeting a few PDU runners coming in the opposite direction.

Miller’s Dale.

I turn the corner into the barn at CP7 (Millers Dale) 6 minutes behind schedule; still holding my own. The first refill of my electrolyte is needed here, along with the obligatory water refill. I’m drinking litres but have had no urge to go to the toilet since Hazel Grove. I grab a slice of dry bread-to-go for the long slog up Blackwell Dale to the A6, crossing to the stile opposite. There are cows in the field and one starts bellowing repeatedly as I traverse to the next stile. I talk soothingly to them in an attempt to calm any tendencies to charge. They don’t and I pass through unthreatened. As I climb to Pillwell Gate where Pillwell Lane starts at its summit, I see Paul Rushworth. I try to catch up but he pulls away, never to be seen again until the finish. I do catch another male runner though just before CP8 (Chelmorton). I’m only 4 minutes down now. Woo-hoo! I grab a jam doughnut to go but don’t refill my water bottle. I then worry that I’ll run out before Earl Sterndale as it’s getting low. However I couldn’t waste any time because I needed to get to ES with daylight to spare to negotiate the expanding quarry and field paths, and it’s overcast with daylight fading earlier than usual.

I arrive at the right turn into the newly expanded quarry. What was an almost secret footpath across the field to a hidden stile on the other side is now a narrow, fenced-off raised grass strip through bedrock with all soil scoured off. The footpath is accessed through a gap in a new raised bank (bund) which will hide the quarry from the path.

Expanding Dowlow quarry.

At the other side of the ex-field I meet a new gravel path running along its perimeter and a new gate into the next field, which had cows. They are more frisky than the last lot. I have to stop a couple of times to face one that was agitating for a charge before I exit safely into the coppice. The remainder of the fields, some un-grazed and long-grassed, are negotiated successfully down to the lane into Earl Sterndale. (Next year that path will surely be gone and we will all be forced to take the long way round via track and road.)

I am 3 minutes down upon my arrival at CP9/ES. Time for a proper water refill and to put the headtorch on. I need no food as I’m still living off the doughnut recently scoffed and I have an appointment with a hotdog in an hour-or-so’s time with my own Mountain Fuel Jellies to tide me over until then. I am heartened to not be threatened with compulsory grouping by the checkpoint staff like happened last year and many before that. Instead I am asked if I’m OK to continue alone. Well THAT’s more like it. I reassure them of my veteran status / know where I’m going / could do it in my sleep, blah blah and I’m outa there.

Apart from catching a glimpse of Paul Rushworth and passing the chap into Chelmorton, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone since Peak Forest. The hunter and the hunted: let the games continue into the night. I trot on in the direction of Brand Top, overtaking a female runner as we approach Dowel Dale. Navigation goes like a dream around the intricate twists and turns to CP10 (Brand Top), where I place my hotdog order and refill the water bottle. I’m back to 5 minutes behind schedule but I’m not worried; I’m in the zone. I’m soon out the back door and finding my way to the track with hotdog in hand. It’s soon scoffed. This year it had been served in paper napkin, which is put to good use wiping up the excess ketchup from around my chops. In previous years I didn’t enjoy such luxury so just had to spread it around a bit with the back of my hand.

I climb the lane to Flash Stores and cross to the lane down to Knotbury. I can see Shutlingsloe silhouetted on the far horizon against the night sky. Near the foot of that is the location of the next checkpoint. I am now getting excited about navigating the alternative route via Cut-thorn which Julian Brown told me about at Open To Offas back in August. I had reconnoitred from Earl Sterndale to the finish a few weeks earlier so the new routing from here was ingrained in my memory. I was looking forward to racing it in earnest for the first time.

I descend the rocky path to Three Shires Head and turn left onto pastures new. Later towards the end of the moors I see a head torch bearing down upon me. I wait at the gate for him to catch up, assuming it to be Julian who had told me all about it. I ask but “Ian” comes back in reply. Hmm, someone else with this privileged knowledge! He seems to be running a bit more strongly than I am at this point and pulls away to reach CP11 (Clough House) just ahead of me. As usual we are met by cheering marshals in party mood. I ask if anyone else had come our way. I was the second, meaning I had been the first along most of it until I got overtaken. I am now just 1 minute behind schedule. Wow. I made up time. A few others arrive down Cumberland Clough, including anther BSH veteran Nigel Aston who had left me for dead near the beginning. I must have leapfrogged quite a few.

Party time at Clough House.

I refill my water bottle and deploy the <ahem> ‘special powder’ in the former electrolyte bottle to keep the fire burning in the closing miles, then set off walk-jogging the long road section to the new checkpoint in Rainow as fast as my body allows. The checkpoint change from Walker Barn to Rainow has added a mile to the event, making it 57. Another runner who I recognise from earlier catches up with me as I run down the A537 to the top of Bull Hill Lane. We run together down and up to CP12 (Rainow Institute). I’m feeling good and can’t wait to get back out there onto my chosen route through Bollington. I ask the other chap if he knows where he’s going, then prewarn him that I won’t be following the suggested GPX he’s following. Our ways soon part.

The new checkpoint at Rainow Institute.

I arrive at CP13 (Whiteley Green) and cannot believe that I am now 2 minutes ahead of schedule. Despite the extra mile I have made up 3 minutes since Clough House. The ‘special powder’ must be working. I’d finished the first bottle so I deploy a second sachet to keep me going to the finish. For the first time in I don’t know how many years I manage to jog most of the Middlewood Way to the twisty-turny right-left-right-left shortest line to the top of Towers Road. I had glanced at my watch and dreamed of a sub-14 finish but thought it a dream too far. Towers Road is interminable and I always walk far too much of it. By the time I reach the A523 I realise a sub-14 might just be on. I try to run up hill but, shamefully, walk again, telling myself I can wait until the gradient eases a bit. When it does I check the time and think it might just be on, so I run faster and faster all the way to the finish, certain that I just squeaked a 13:59 or something. It turned out to be 13:59:57, which rounds nicely to 14:00 in BSH timing. That was still 13 minutes ahead of last year. I’d gained 11 minutes on that last section. I was over the moon.

Iain Povey finished 5 minutes after me. He must have been the “Ian” who overtook me before Clough House. I have vague recollections of someone, probably Iain, asking me where I overtook him. I guess it must be route choice.

48 hours’ rehydration commenced right there (yes, it really took that long), and refuelling of multiple bacon and egg sandwiches and a full English. I even treated myself to my first toilet visit in 16 hours despite all the litres I’d drunk. It had been a very warm day (and night) with not a drop of dew to moisten our shoes.

Another dust tan in 2022.

The overall winner was Richard Kendall in 10:50. Second and first woman was Jayne Lawton of Stockport Harriers in 11:43. Third was Rick Steckles of Glossopdale Harriers in 12:54. Team prize once again went to Glossopdale Harriers with Rick Steckles in 12:54, Nick Ham (15th overall) in 14:00 and Joshua & Jake Southall (equal 22nd) in 14:33.

F1 Jayne Lawton (2nd overall).