Edale Skyline has been an event I had always wanted to do but its one where you have to demonstrate that you have experience. At least 2 AL races, in the fell world – this is long and able to read a map and stuff like that, or done the race before. I had only done the Long Tour of Bradwell (34 miles) last year, Tiger Tor (9.5 miles) and Salt Cellar (7 miles) as proper fell races but my ultra experience including some self navigational ultras bagged me an entry.
I am not a fell runner, will never be a fell runner yet half of this course is regular summer training trails for me and routes I have covered on other races so parts of it I know I love. The part I was really crapping myself about was over Kinder Scout – the plateaux of the Peaks, for I had never been over Kinder and was afraid of getting lost. I could just see it now; Edale Mountain Rescue well rescuing me, silly non fell runner gets lots on Kinder. Totally insecure.
Don’t let insecure thoughts ruin something amazing
So I made sure I had studied the maps, got the highlight pen out printed out the maps in little bits and wrote all over them. In addition, I had the GPX route on my Suunto, how much more preparation could I do apart from recci’ing the route which I wasn’t able to do due to 3 weeks of the dreaded flu. And here comes the plethora of excuses…coming at you…
An obligatory kit check at the start was a must with this event. The kit check is not to be taken lightly, they even checked my trousers had ‘taped seams’ regardless of being cheap £10 Regatta waterproof trousers, they passed. I had my new OMM jacket, a piece of kit I absolutely love and was worth every painful penny I didn’t really have. A base layer on and a merino wool top in the backpack, a t-shirt over the base layer. Then there were the longs, including long socks and long ultra shoes,. There was even a need for ’emergency food’ which is different to normal ‘race’ food, it has to be the food you won’t touch unless in an emergency. Serious stuff you know, especially in such harsh conditions in a hostile environment as we were today.
10.30 and 300 or so runners stood in the soggy field looking up towards the first mile – a mile of pure Hillage up to Ringing Roger. I had no idea how long it would take me, today was a matter of getting around. I wasn’t racing from the outset, I just wanted to get around. Of course, the clocks had gone forward so my first excuse was that I lost an hours sleep, I was so different from everyone else who had not lost an hours sleep – really. No excuse.
So let’s see how many excuses I can put into this review to pretend that I hated the race when really I actually on reflection enjoyed the pain of the bleak weather provided that day and freezing thoughts that I endured right through my not very thick skin.
You can have results or excuses not both
First of all, I had been ill for three weeks, having had a horrible bout of flu which knocked me to the ground and forced me to pull out of and not even start the Masters Cross Country with Sheffield Running Club and the week after the Oldham Way Ultra.
Next excuse, I had the wrong shoes on. I do not like my fell shoes – the invo8 mudclaws (yellow ones). Yes they have amazing grip but I don’t like them – they feel tight. On the other hand, I love my inov8 Race Ultras (just replaced the ripped 290s with the rather bright men’s 270s) they have a wide toe box like the Altra shoe and are roomy and for me and my feet. However they are less than desirable in the mud and I was soon to prove this on the first few miles slipping sliding down the sides of the fell paths added to the mixture of not being the most elegantly confident flyer down hillier.
Next excuse, there isn’t really one apart from that I have already mentioned above I am not a fell runner. That’s it, kick the excuses and just run.
If you want it you will find a way, if you don’t you will find an excuse
I started mid pack but people overtook me straight away as everyone fought energetically up the hill towards Kinder and Ringing Roger which resides at nearly 2000ft. Within half a mile people were power walking. I was flapping with the route on my watch instead, not really bothered that at least half the field were in front of me just steadily walking up the hill. Trotting on by and trying to get my breathing right. It was already quite nippy and we weren’t even that high up yet.
Within a couple of miles runners spread out. A guy next to me put the real meaning to bear foot running for he was indeed bare foot – yes really. Rumours had it that he was running JOGLE bear foot in the summer, but for now Edale SKyline with rocks mud rocks mud heather rud mud run mud was the terrain, full credit. He let me past with a comment that he wasn’t racing it, I politely let him past saying I wasn’t racing either. Equal. Apart from there was no way I would run bear footed.
The descent down Jaggers Clough towards Winn Hill once again failed me. My balance was all over the place, my shoes defeated me, my body was running aground, my confidence had been left at the finish line of my last race at theGrindleford Gallop. A herd of runners came hurtling past me in true boldness, fearlessness, and daring, whilst I was left to pick my way out of the mud, unable to let go.
Back on what is more like trail ground, the light rain turned heavy, nipping right through my body. I tightened the hood of my jacket and wrapped my buff around me. I was already cold, 4 miles in. Winn Hill stood there in the faraway distant mist trying to win over all the fell runners, it was far from winning me today.
Yeah its cold, run anyway
My breathing was heavy and deep. I couldn’t get into a comfortable rhythm. I was now on the ‘Redbull Steeplechase’ route where a few months previous I had hurtled up this hill, strong and powerful, but not today. My whole body was aching as every bitter raindrop penetrated through me. I looked up at the long-distance towards Winn Hill almost terrified. My legs felt lethargic, my head pounding, this was not going to be my day.
Halfway up the hill some runners split off, some choosing to go round the hill, others following the main path straight up. I stuck to the main path as I knew this route and felt more confident plodding on by. The front runners were coming back down the same path whilst us back runners were plodding on through every daring muddy puddle. I looked at them in awe to how anyone can run so fast on such terrain in such raw conditions. The bitter cold was terrifying, the rain lashing down. I was struggling to keep my hood up and was not happy.
You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose
Once at Winn Hill, I dibbed into the checkpoint and glanced around. The surrounding runners who had left us to go round the hill were only just coming up so we had taken the faster route I think.
I then began my ascent down the hill but my legs wouldn’t run away with me, I think I must have decided to leave them on Winn Hill. I couldn’t keep up the fight with the billowing winds and torrential rain. I began to ease off my pace as my chest and legs just got tighter and tighter.
The ascent down to the foot of Lose Hill through cut down bracken was remarkably reasonable for me. I managed to keep upright and get down in one piece. Yet at Lose Hill base I was still suffering. I have run all the way up Lose Hill a couple of times but not today, as I took the option of walking straight away. The rain had eased and though I felt wet I was quite warm so I stripped off my outer layer t-shirt and put my raincoat back on. I walked up the most of Lose Hill chatting to another guy who had done this before, we talked about cut off points, I was nervous about whether I would make the cut-offs, but he assured me I had plenty of time. All I could see were little dots zooming up Lose Hill. I felt like a big black dot stuck a mole hole.
It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you don’t stop
Still struggling with my breathing I did my best to jog a little when the hill eased but it felt hard so hard. Greeted by friendly marshal faces at the top of Lose Hill , I said a hi and a thank you and went on my way. I felt worse than I looked.
Across the ridge and down the rocky Back Tor took us onto a lower path towards Mam Tor. Even though it had flattened out I was still all over the place, then I remembered I should be eating but didn’t really feel like much. I forced some macaroon bar down me and had a sip of water. I am not sure what this did to me as I seemed to still have no energy as I approached Hollins Cross and faced the upward struggle to the top of Mam Tor. This was tough.
Tough runs don’t last, tough runners do
Runners around me were walking up the paved pathway. Again in previous summer months I have run up this path with fully battery, today my battery was drained. I decided to walk, and try and take on more food. I felt weak, weak for walking, I just wanted to get round, that was all.
Mam Tor beamed ahead in a glorious mount of thick fog. I pulled the phone out to try and take some pictures of fog to keep me distracted from the bitter run. The hills were just not my friend today. Remind me to defriend them on Facebook when I get home.
Back down the other side of the Tor, my surrounding runners were beginning to suffer a little. Rain was moving in again. At the Mam Nick Road junction, Clare was there supporting her other half who had probably past some 2 hours previous, she gave me encouraged support, all I could manage was a pathetic wimper ‘ I just want to get round – I am struggling’.
It was OK, I was going to get around. I had not dropped out yet. I walked up the next hill towards Lords Seat just as the bitter winds hit the ridge and the rain rolled in at full velocity.
I should have put on another layer at this point but didn’t think ahead enough. Out came my spare buff and I wrapped it around my face, my other one around my head to keep my hood on tight. Three buffs one sad face. The biting winds were beating against my face and I could feel pains shooting across my face. I had suffered from what the doctors said was trigeminal neuralgia in January and although I had recently had a tooth out thinking it was that, the pains began firing across my face again as the bitter cold got hold of the nerve. The buff was wrapped more-so around my face to keep out the cold. It began to hail, cold white bitter hail right on the ridge. Was I enjoying myself? What a silly question.
Can we just skip to summer now please?
Over a stile the next checkpoint at Rushup Edge allowed us to continue without showing our bib numbers. Thank goodness for that. I was now in alien territory, welcome to the dark side.. welcome to Brown Knoll.
I was apprehensive as I could see very little apart from foggy misty clumps of peat and bog in-front of me. I knew there were a few runners just behind me that despite the cold I had overtaken on the ridge. I could just make out some shadows in the distance as I ploughed through the peat bogs, knee high in many places, waterlogged, lumpy and hard to run on.
Yet here something must have given me a bit of fire. I found myself catching up with those shadows, the shadows of other runners, I found myself overtaking these shadows, shadows of other runners. How was this happening? I was still feeling soggier than a soggy sponge.
I could just make out the next bunch of shadows in the distance, they kept disappearing as the hostile landscape dropped into gulleys of peat bogs and rose again out onto a flat plateau of clumpy heather. Each gully had challenging peat bogged terrain to easily sink deep into.
Never fear shadows, they simply mean there is a light shining somewhere nearby
The feet were soaked, the rain was still pouring. It wasn’t cold, it was freezing. They had warned it may feel like minus 10 up here, they were right. I tried to get my phone out but my hand were too cold to even capture this brownness of Brown Knoll. Despite the cold all I could think about was keeping going to keep warm, I was numb, chilled from the inside out, drenched from head to toe.
Finally I came to a junction – Edale Cross. A bunch of runners dibbed in and straight out, and went on their heavenly way. It felt like Siberia out here. Other runners were layering up. I decided to take a rest bite despite still shivering. I crouched behind the wall and managed to get my spare pair of gloves out. As I was unable feel my fingers, the arduous task of just getting them onto my hands failed miserably. I fumbled trying to yank them on with my teeth. It was so cold that I was sure I had icicles instead of fingertips. Another girl by the side of me was having similar issues but she had mittens – dammit I had some half-decent mittens at home why didn’t I think of that? She was on her third pair she told me with pride.
When you feel like quitting, think about why you started
Rain had turned to harsh hail and harsh hail had turned to snow blowing horizontally across the bleak landscape. I tried to glance at my watch route as I found myself running on my own a little. I would have struggled to hold a map at this stage. I was on the top of Kinder with some of the most harsh conditions I have ever experienced in an event. I had no idea how cold it was, but my insides were shaking, I am sure my internal organs must have had goose pimples on them or even icicles. I was at this point actually worried about hypothermia. I wanted to stop and curl up into a little ball and cry. At one point a couple of runners split off around a rock I followed a couple of others and realised I was off track as I went knee deep in peat holes and became even colder. Here I was hopping over a place I had never been in dangerous territory hardly being able to see or function.
Don’t give up – life begins at the end of your comfort zone
The only good thing was that the new OMM jacket was holding up really well. Finally I was able to follow a well-flagstonned path, and caught up with a group of 5-8 other runners all fighting against the bitter weather. It was a little reassuring that I was actually keeping up with them. I am guessing this is where my ultra running helped me for I could see some struggling with the distance by now some 15 or 16 miles in. I was just struggling with the terrain, weather and mindset. My insides were hungry too, my head spinning but I couldn’t feel my hands to reach for any sort of food. Eventually, I managed to force a fig roll down me and waited patiently for the sugar to penetrate around the body.
Antartica called, they want their weather back
Still following the path around the edge of Kinder, I was hoping we would soon descend but we had yet to dib in and out of Grindslow Knoll Check Point. I can not describe the atrocious conditions, the wind was gushing over the speed limit, I was soaked, shivering inside and out, hungry and probably dehydrated as I had drunk very little too. I had got it all wrong.
Finally, I reached Grindslow Knoll, the poor cold marshals were there holding us upright in the horrendous winds helping us to dib in and out. I felt sorry for them at least we were moving. I scrambled back down and thought I was almost on the home straight but little did I realise that from Grindslow Knoll to Ringing Rodger was a long long long way, a long way of more bitterness, hail torrential winds and the inability to keep upright. My skin was trying to climb into itself to warm up and even my toes were shivering.
Gushing water just put another obstacle in my way. I am not very good with heights (she who used to rock climb), and the gushing water scared me senseless. I was afraid of slipping, just like I am afraid of running downhill. I kind of did a girly thing and gently eased my way down the rock, but a kind guy helped me across, before shooting across the moors. I on the other hand alongside a couple of others took the longer – probably easier path around the edge of Kinder. I was taking no risks up here. I caught up with him later and he said ‘ told you that way was quicker’. I thanked him for helping me across the waterfall and then fell into a deep peaty hole. Fantastic!
So when you’re cold
From the inside out
And don’t know what to do,
Remember love and friendship,
And warmth will come to you.
– Stephen Cosgrove, Gnome from Nome
Picking myself up, I could feel all my organs shivering even more so. My legs drenched, unprotected by the bitter winds and rain. Although the rain and snow and hail and sleet had eased, the winds became stronger, blowing us all left right and centre. This wasn’t a fight against your body to push on and do more like in a road or trail race, it was a means of fighting against the the brutal weather, the brutal environment, biting into every corner of the body.
The final checkpoint at Ringing Roger was so windy that the few surrounding runners actually had to stop to fight against it. I knew from here onwards was downhill but my mind and body had really lost it. I wasn’t the only one as one girl was struggling to get down the rocks. I sadly passed her but then we both got passed by another incredible girl who came hurtling down the rocks at full speed. Now there’s a downhill fell runner who was having fun. My legs were raw, my face burned with the windswept icy conditions, my feet sodden my hands had only just come alive again. I was weeping inside as I took on the descent, just simply wanting to finish.
There is no app for this
The final descent into the field where we had started finally came into view. I was on my own. I could finally see the finish tent. I approached the finish, the kind marshals grabbed hold of me when I wobbled, asked me if I was ok, asked my name and ripped my number off me. Clare was there with the towel in hand to comfort me and reassure me that her other half Ralph, a fully experienced fell runner, had almost come in crying too, so it wasn’t just me, oh no most runners had come in looking and feeling as bad as I did.
This event was not to be underestimated. The horrendous conditions were worse than Tigger Tor some 15 months ago. Why do I always pick fell races on such horrific days? If the weather hand been nice would I have enjoyed it more? If I hadn’t battled with flu for three weeks would I have enjoyed it more? If I had put on my fell shoes would I have hurtled down those hills? Cut out the excuses, the race was what it was, it was difficult, it was adventurous, it was certainly a battle. My body wasn’t in a state of tiredness, it was just empty and cold. I had drunk about 100ml of water and consumed about 200 calories of food for 21 miles and 4 hours 45 minutes of running, walking slipping and shivering. That was not enough.
I got a cup of tea down me at HQ and demolished the blissful pie and gravy and henderson’s relish. I needed sugar too, and so took advantage of the huge cookies with a giant chocolate button in the middle. Oh heaven, Oh I was then in heaven. Another cup of tea and giant cookie later, I began to feel almost human again.
Runners were still coming in cold shivering some in a worse state than me. I felt for them for some had been out there 5 hours or more, a long time in such brutal conditions.
This fell racing is a completely different ball game to my love and passion for ultra running. It’s fast and furious and brutal. It all goes from the start. It takes me a while to warm up when I am running but for fell racing that is not good it’s too late. Fell running is about agility, its about power, it’s about technique. I don’t have the love for racing fell terrain. I said I wouldn’t do it again, I said I hated it, I said… I said…I said…
Don’t give up because you had a bad race, forgive yourself and do better tomorrow
On reflection a week later, I write this review a few hours after taking to the same hills in reverse and retraced some of my steps up Kinder Plateaux backwards. Not all, for I missed out Brown Knoll, but I loved it. The sun was shining, the easter eggs were out, I was hopping over the boulders and bounding down the peat paths as fast as the Easter Bunny. The magnificent beauty of the landscape made me smile, it made me giggle, it made me laugh as I passed the day walkers chuckling to myself that a week previous I hated every step I took. Yet here I was a week later in paradise just running, just simply running, that’s what running is about, running, laughing and enjoying.
I stepped out of my comfort zone but I learned so much from it, I toughened up, really loving every hatred minute of it – right? Right! Let’s see if I do it again – ey?
- Time: 4 hrs 44 minutes
- Position: 180 out of 242
- Gender Position: 16th