Over the weekend, I took part in one of my favourite events, the Ranger Ultras Peak District South and North. This race can be seen as a two-day, 93km stage race or as two standalone races (50km on Saturday and 43km on Sunday). If you run just the Saturday or just the Sunday, it is a standard fell race. If you run the Saturday and Sunday, your times for the two races are added together to give you your total time.
Both races use a circular route, starting and finishing at Edale in the Peak District. Saturday’s 50km is easier as it heads South and runs over a Limestone section of the Peak District. However, it does start with a climb up to Mam Nick and then Lord’s Seat. Sunday’s 43km starts by heading up the famous Pennine Way and the day is spent on the dark peak, with its gritstone rocks. Gritstone is a sedimentary rock and a coarse form of sandstone. You can see both routes in the images at the bottom of this post.
A social run
I have run this race several times before, treated it as a true race, and pushed to see how well I could do. However, this year, I knew I would be a bit slower because of where my training is and because I chose to carry a heavier pack than I needed to. I am taking part in the Spine Race in January, and that race will require me to carry a heavy pack for six days, so I need to train for that.
Quite early on day one of the race, I bumped into four runners I know from social running (Fiona, Clare, Kirsten and Emily). This group comprised faster and slower runners, but they all ran as a group. They welcomed me as a fifth group member, and I ran with them on both days.
Because we ran socially, we took quite a long time on both loops, 8.5 hours on day one and 9.3 hours on day 2. However, we all finished both days comfortably, chatting and enjoying two days on the fells. On day one, we stayed together for the whole route. On day two, we were joined by an additional runner, and we subdivided into two groups of three, about a third of the way around to better match people’s speeds.
Both days presented challenges because of the mud. Saturday was slippery, and we had to wade through mud at times. It is not unusual on a fell race to have sections of uphill too steep to run and sections of downhill that are too technical to run. But on Saturday we had a few flat sections which were too slippery to run, so we mud-skated along.
Sunday was a very wet day. It rained for a large part of the day. Many of the paths were streams, with the water running over the tops of our shoes. Some of the descents on Sunday were very slippery, and we all fell occasionally but without injury. When anybody fell, laughter broke out as soon as we saw nobody was injured. It is good to be running with people who enjoy the ups and downs of running on the fells.
The time passed quickly
Because we ran as a social group, we all took longer than we would have done if we had run separately. This is because everybody has sections where they tend to be faster than the group. Some are faster uphill, some are faster on the downhills, some run faster in the middle of the race, and some are faster at the end. This meant everybody spent some time waiting or moving slower than they might otherwise have run. However, we all noticed that both days seemed to have passed quickly. This was despite spending nearly 18 hours running, spread over the two days.
The Thank You Section
Races like these are only possible because of the organisers (Stu Westfield and Ranger Ultras) and the many volunteers. There were volunteers at the base station (dealing with food, accommodation, and support), there were volunteers on the route checking we were safe (which meant standing in the rain and cold for hours), volunteers were running the aid stations (keeping us fed and watered), and there are the sweepers who follow the race to make sure nobody is left on the course.
My learnings from this race
I stayed two nights in the accommodation at the race centre, which comprised bunkrooms. This made for a very social experience, with less fuss and was a big positive. I need to look for these options more often (rather than driving early in the morning or simply staying at a hotel).
I will do more of my races as social runs. I will still want to push the pace in some races, but the joy of being in a group is worth appreciating.
I will be back to run the South and North race again.