Dusk til Dawn 2015 – 50+ mile Ultra in the Peak District at night :-) Race report

I entered Dusk til Dawn Ultra for the third time. I completed it in 2014 and DNFd in 2013 (I was totally out of my depth that first year). I couldn’t resist going back to this amazing race in the UK Peak District.

The stats on paper are enough to either make you feel super excited or super scared. 50 miles (as it turned out it was more like 52 miles – according to the three GPS devices I was using – bonus miles – even better value for money), approx 9,000ft of elevation gain, almost entirely through the nice (all in the name innit!), and a bit of navigation savvy required.

I intended to go back to get a silver medal (means finishing in 14hr13m). In 2014 I finished in 15h34m getting a bronze medal so I had quite a gap to jump.

My friend Sophie drove up from Kent with me, thankfully she was driving – the traffic was horrendous and I would be in no fit state to drive back after 50+ miles running with no sleep). It was great to have some company at the event for once. Sophie was running the marathon route – new for this year.

We arrived in good time for the registration. Except it turned out that we were sat around the wrong side of the HQ. Around the right side, we followed a big group of people hiking around to find the HQ. We all missed the huge beyondmarathon flag. We queued up. Did a quick kit check – (I have learned to leave my stuff in a carrier bag for the check and then to pack afterwards). I also got a great bumbag free from the beyondmarathon team. Nice touch guys!

I packed my gear. Unpacked. Packed again. Unpacked. Moved kit around then packed again. I was in full faff mode. Eventually, I was done. But I was worried about a couple of big holes in my fell running shoes. I decided to switch to my trail shoes – which would last the course but put me at a disadvantage on the muddy course. Sophie hooked up with a girl – Abi and they planned to run the marathon together. We all headed down to a cafe for some sandwiches before the race.

Back at HQ, race briefing complete we made our way outside. I bumped into few of my Serpentine Running club members – Andy and Donna.

We headed off in the dusk, it was only around 15 minutes before I had to put my head torch on to negotiate some rocky trail – bit of a risk of ankle turning going on. I also had an opportunity to try out my trekking poles – a little clumsily at first but soon picked it up.

At Cat and Fiddle pub I took a wrong turn and had to go cross country to pick the proper trail back up, which meant that I found myself at the back, and using trail shoes which are rubbish in mud. In short, I ended up cutting fine the check point cut offs because I was constantly battling with the sticky mud, slipping and sliding around, and falling over many times.

Because I was so under pressure on time, I skipped through checkpoints only to register my number and to fill my water bottle and grab some runners junk. I was really pressing on – but relatively slow compared to others. There were times that I was concerned that I would miss cut offs – but decided that I would press on and if they told me I had to retire then I would retire. There was no way I would quit though if I didn’t have to. I suffered badly between 15 and 20 miles thinking about quitting, getting grumpy after falling over countless times and hurting myself alot…. my muscles cramped up many times, and my quads were hurting badly.

At Hollins cross, a couple of superheroes (it was fancy dress) gave me a few jelly babies – and gave me a bit of motivation. It clearly worked because I started to press on and over took a few people for the first time in the race.

It’s fair to say that the hard stuff was at the start of the race…. the first 20 miles were really hilly and coming down off Back Tor was so foggy that I had to use my hand torch too. Partly because my batteries in my headtorch were already on their way out (still – they had lasted almost 7 hours).

Eventually I made it to Hope (25 miles in). Aptly named. I somehow managed to get in ahead of cut off. I didn’t stick around and quickly left again. I knew that this next 15 miles were a great opportunity to get ahead of cut offs… some fast sections of tarmac and then the limestone way. Ok, there were some tough bits when I had to hike up the hills (especially Cave Dale) and a muddy hill I remember from previous years.

I made the checkpoint at around 32 miles near Wheston. Brief stop and then pressed on again. Overtaking some folk who looked a bit injured. No pleasure there. I sped up taking advantage of the great running conditions. It was cool not cold and the tarmac and trail was lovely and smooth – only a few sections of heavy going mud. I had around 9 miles to cover before the next checkpoint. It is a crucial checkpoint 11 which if I reached it before the cut off then I would be allowed to continue to the end. Last year I made it with 10 minutes to go.

I got so determined at this point to get there by any means possible in the time limit. I threw caution to the wind. Ran through muddy sections – risking falling (which I did a few times), throwing myself at hills, throwing myself down them, and trying to run as much as possible and when I was struggling I would count to 100 while running and then count to 50 while walking – it was enough sometimes just to start running to turn my mind, and I would often continue well beyond 100.

I was determined not to look at my watch. I didn’t want to know what time it was. In any case I had no idea about the checkpoint cut offs because they changed them to accommodate the extra 2 miles on the route. I knew this whole section to Earl Sterndale school (run most of it twice before), and I knew therefore where I could press on, and where I could recover a little. I ran into the school car park. Grabbed a quick cup of tea, established I was within cut off (JUST!) and then left again with a guy called Julian (he beat me by 15 minutes last year). We pressed on, through the rockery garden and onto Ladmanlow. Only had around 9 miles to cover to the end… I pushed on, overtaking some people, and going as fast as possible. I was dying for a mars bar, took my pack off, located a squashed mars bar, and then I couldn’t fasten my pack where it connects around my chest. I took some paracord and tied up around my chest – and hoped it would hold. I pressed on.

I had in mind I wanted a silver medal – that was still almost possible…. (amazing to think that I was entertaining the idea of quitting 30 miles ago!) and with what I estimated would be a couple of miles to go I stole a glance at my watch. I had around 30 minutes to do 2 miles (thereabouts). Unfortunately, I realised soon that it wasn’t 2 miles… and going to be more like 3 miles. Even with my last mile being quite fast I managed to hit the finish line at 14h27m after running 52 miles. I missed the silver medal by 13 minutes – and instead got a special edition Halloween Dusk til Dawn medal. I was still over an hour faster than last year! Amazing!

I went into the HQ to a round of applause – which was lovely! and chilled out with a bacon and egg sandwich on white bread. Yes – white… and I also had three sugars in my tea!

All over now…. didn’t manage to get that silver medal but maybe I will be back in 2016 to get it or maybe an even better medal! 🙂

Thanks to Richard and others at Beyond Marathon for a brilliantly organised event, fun and epic too.

Garmin link – https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/943753214

What I learned:

  • I can run with trekking poles and they help on steep up hill sections
  • Check running shoes BEFORE packing them
  • Garmin Fenix 3 battery lasts a long time (28% left after almost 14.5 hours of running)
  • Racedrone worked well – my iphone 4s (I use for tracking) still had 66% battery.
  • My Fenix 3 and 310XT recorded the same mileage – So confidence returned on Fenix 3.
  • A 500ml soft flask is good enough for the checkpoint distances on Dusk til Dawn.
  • Any sign of mud – I am using my More Mile Cheviot 2.
  • I need a new running backpack!
  • I am faster than last year!
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