The Red Bull Steeplechase is a 21.4 mile knock-out event that starts and finishes in the charming village of Castleton in the heart of the Peak District. The event is unique, with four knock-out stages, runners are competing right from the word go. And it goes something like this:
Knockout Stage 1, 8 miles:
- 125 of the 375 male entrants are knocked out
- 40 of the 130 female entrants are knocked out.
Knockout Stage 2, 5 miles:
- 125 of the 250 male entrants are knocked out
- 45 of the 85 female entrants are knocked out.
Knockout Stage 3, 6 miles:
- 95 of the 125 male entrants are knocked out
- 35 of the 45 female entrants are knocked out.
Knockout Stage 4, 3 miles:
- 30 of the male entrants go through to the finish
- 10 of the female entrants go through to the finish.
Position is fundamental in this event. Wash your hands of the watch. Yes every second counts but more so every footstep of your competitor. A game of tactics, a plan of attack, let the battle commence.
The Beauty of Starting Lines – You never know what awaits you.
The men kicked off at 9.30am and women at 9.35am. Off raced the men, flying up the 200 metres or so of tarmac road to the foot of Mam Tor, ‘The Mother Hill’ – a climb of over 500 metres. The women lined up all ready to face the contest a few minutes later. I positioned myself a couple of rows back, unsure of how to play the game.
Do you start gradually to save the legs for later and risk getting knocked out in the first steeple or go out hell bent for leather from the gun and pay for it later? Or do you just run and hope for the best? I took the latter approach.
Steeple 1: Castleton to Bamford: 8 miles
On the word go, a tightly packed group of around 15 girls took the leading pack up the tarmacked road towards the grassy incline. Short but sweet, the 200 metre tarmac hill took its toll on some who had clearly sprinted off not realising this was not a track event and dropped off before the the clock could say tick tock. This worked to my advantage, allowing me to pass and gain a good position for the monstrous climb straight up Mam Tor.
No footpath marked the way up the arduous mountain looming ahead of us, just an army of runners grinding upwards through long tufts of grass and purple clumps of heather waving their tufts in the autumnal sun. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I described it as a vertical crawl. We all started off single file and then as the terrain became less jungle like there was opportunity to pass and to be passed. Clambering on all fours everyone fought through the heather, hanging on for dear life, gripping onto the woody tufts towards the summit.
As I reached near the top I began to over take some of the less quick fired gentlemen. There were a good handful of girls ahead and I knew there would be plenty of time for others to join me. The legendary Sally Fawcett (winner the previous two years and outstanding ultra runner) was clambering up just in front of me, learning from the expert I watched her magically climb up and speed away into the distance.
I hit the flagstone path along the ridge towards to Hollin’s Cross, jumping steadily down grinning silently to myself. Foggy cloud lying low on the valley below. The picturesque blue skies stretching way in the distance meeting the Dark Peak ‘Gritstone’ landscape. There is something very exquisite about being up on this ridge. Some of the guys were not used to the Peak District hills and were beginning to struggle within just a couple of miles taking the option to walk on the small ascents joining up with the notoriously steep and rocky ‘Back Tor’. I adore the run towards Back Tor, undulating, soft, vibrant and scenically special. Just back breakingly beautiful. As I climbed up the stone steps a brass band blasted out fine tunes to keep us all motivated.
I knew this event would either go one way or the other, I would either get knocked out at the first steeple being chased downhill or I would potentially get through to Edale – Steeple 3 and hopefully the finish. However I never take anything for granted; anything just anything can happen in an event like this. There were runners here who would be happy to make Steeple 1 and enjoy the 8 miles of beautiful Peak District running and the event atmosphere, there were runners who wanted to make it to Steeple 2 or 3 or finish, and there were runners who just wanted to run.
It’s Personal Run for yourself, not anyone else. You Are A Runner It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. You just run.
Onwards I ran hoping over cairns and up towards to Lose Hill. I have a big soft spot for Lose Hill. I feel alive and magical every time I run up it from any direction. The autumnal weather could not have been any better, warm enough for shorts and tee, cool enough to enjoy the crisp ridgeway air.
At the top of Lose Hill I normally drop down on the ‘highway’ route – the tourist trap route, but today my legs dropped down a non existent pathway to a rather steep grassy bank. The stream of 100s of runners cascading down the hill, many sliding on their backsides, some tiptoeing cautiously, was a spectaular sight in itself. I felt much more comfortable descending in my bargain second hand Ebay winn grippy men’s ‘race-ultra’ shoes (whatever that meant – marketing at its best?) than using my reliable and comfy Hokas which have let me down more than once on the steep descents. Something took over my mind, I felt like I was flying, following another girl and managing to keep with her right to the base of the hill.
Heat, hills, fast pace…Deal with it!
As I dropped down into the valley across Edale Road and round a muddy path I was overtaking more and more of the ‘Gentlemen’. The first drinks station provided us with either water, 50/50 Redbull or Full Redbull. The girl in-front stopped to deliberate which drink was best. I ran through and grabbed a water to fight another step. This was the only section of the route where it was repeated later on at Steeple 3. Another brutal hill awaited patiently for the pattering of my feet. The narrow pathway really only allowed for single file however the boys kindly let me pass them, not bothered that they had been ‘chicked’, passing on words of encouragement and support.
CHICKED: -verb. The act of getting passed by a female athlete. CHICK: -noun. The female who just passed you.
The first ‘counting’ marker at the top of the hill displayed the position that each runner was in.
I reached the marker stating ‘8’ which maybe meant I was in ‘9th’ place. I will take that – and Party! I could see two girls way ahead of me looking rather fit and trendy in what looked like tri gear. I admit sometimes I feel inferior with baggy shorts and a little trail top. No fashion sense whatsoever. Aldi ‘go faster’ stripes will do me at the best of times.
I battled on up the rolling hills heading towards Winn Hill. The route would eventually take us all to the summit but not before Steeple 2. Meanwhile the marked pathway meandered around the ‘Winn’ on a tight rocky and partly boggy footpath. Again single file most of the way along this stretch, it would have been rude to have ‘chicked’ the guys around here. I had caught up a girl who I later found out to be ‘Sarah’ and comfortably positioned myself behind her, breathing well and enjoying the chit chat with the surrounding runners.
Around the edge of Ladybower we ran. The route was superbly marked all the way through and came into its own through the woodland. The woodland that I recognised from the Long Tour of Bradwell a few months ago, but at the same time a woodland that I have got lost in on many a Sunday runs. Down the forest path covered in pine needles and tree roots. The two girls in-front of me were struggling on the downhill, normally that’s me but not today, I flew past them with confidence feeling the love for the fresh feel of needles under my feet. However just as I was feeling the love a southerner came hurtling past me. A southerner I say – a ‘Serpentine’ Girl. She came charging down and left me to pick my way through the pine needles. That was 2 places gained and 1 lost. But not all was lost.
Back on the flat I pounded on through Thornhill Trail. The Thornhill trail is a well compacted trail and relatively flat but somewaht misleading and somewhat monotonous. A good mile, mile and a half of pathness. This pathness does not bode to my strengths at all and the two other girls who I had overtook on the downhill took advantage of my flat weekness and overtook me in style. Two more places gone.
I put this take over behind me and concentrated on maintaining my position, this would make me 10th or 11th – possibly, I wasn’t sure. We were directed by yellow arrows and ample friendly marshals down into farmers fields and round the village of Bamford. I overtook one of the girls again as I descended into more cow fields. I frantically waved at club superstar Yvonne who had just completed her first marathon the week before, as she stood there cheering everyone on holding a big smile for me and told me to keep going.
Will run for Redbull
The only real proper road section down through the main road of the village provided some pavement pounding. The locals were all out to cheer us on.
The first knockout stage was in Bamford and Hope fields. The first inflatable race arch with race counters hanging down to tell us what position we were in, arrows directing the Gentlemen and Ladies into funnels for accurate counting and plenty of people cheering us on. I ran through as the counter showed ‘8’. Did that mean I was 8th or 9th? Did it matter, no I had reached Steeple 1 in good position. Now just to hold onto that position.
Steeple 2: Bamford to Hope: 5 miles
I grabbed a bottle of water and ran up to a fellow runner ‘Mo’ from Sweatshop Running and wished him well then headed on up the hill. I was beginning to feel the toll of the last 8 miles and felt weakness filling my body. I caught up with the girl called ‘Sarah’ and as we ran we chatted passing the time and the hillage.
There’s going to be pain, but keep going. Either the pain will stop or you’ll learn to cope. Either way, it’s just part of the journey.
Winn Hill was winning us, and this was a steep ascent. First up muddy footpaths levelling out to runnable state then the path starts climbing again. I was still overtaking many of the guys and reluctantly had dropped Sarah up the first climb.
The next counter at the base of the climb to Winn Hill put me at ‘7’ or was that ‘8’. I had gained a place. I could see a Tri Girl in the distance clambering up the rock steps to the summit of Winn Hill. I kept going speaking to the guys politely as I passed. One of them told me ‘Its in the bag for you girl you will get through’, I turned round thanked them but also made a point that anything can happen in another 10 miles, anything at all. There was no way I was being complacent about this.
After an arduous power walk up Winn Hill, we were welcomed with pure sounds of some trumpet playing guys blasting out ‘Chariots of Fire’ . I ran on down with a massive grin on my face, what else could I be doing on a Sunday morning than hearing ‘Chariots of Fire’ trumpeting through the valley from the top of Winn Hill. Surrealness at its best.
I followed the yellow arrows and stream of runners on the down hill path down towards Hope. At this point I began to feel a pain in my right leg, almost stiffening up, a shooting twinge that left me hobbling down the rocky terrain. Negative thoughts about pulling out ran through my head. I put the pain to the back of my mind telling myself that dropping out was not an option.
Once onto the tarmac road the pain eased and I tumbled myself down the road, overtaking the Tri girl with style. I was actually overtaking someone down hill – how was this happening? I was in a good place again. As the road turned and levelled out so did the pain, all gone I was a happy girl.
Round the village of Hope I ran. Big cheers from fellow club member Becky who was supporting her other half in the race put a big grin on my face as I approached the end of Steeple 2 and towards the inflatable arch with the number ‘6’ on it. I ran through and grabbed a drink.
Steeple 3: Hope to Edale: 6 miles
The next section took me through another route I was quite familiar with, lots of stiles and gates to negotiate. The guys who had got through to this stage were now ‘taking it easy’ as many had accepted that they were not going to be the first 30 ‘Gentlemen’ through to the finish. As I was still ‘racing’ they kindly let me ‘chick’ them as I sailed on by.
Back on Edale Road I was back on a high, getting a bit of a kick out of passing all these guys regardless that they were probably running much slower than they were capable of. A small ascent up the tarmac road I ran, as I passed more and more guys. I ran into talented fell runner John B who commented that he too was now ‘cruising’ and ‘enjoying the run’ for he also knew he wouldn’t make the top 30 men to go through to the finish. This pattern of overtaking the guys continued throughout knockout 3 and in a mind boosting way helped me push on through.
I was in a good place still as I continued through sheep fields and dropped back down onto the only part of the route that I had covered before. Grabbing a 50/50 with comments from the marshalls ‘looking strong’, ‘keep going’ I did just that and kept going, knocking off the guys in style – they didn’t mind being ‘chicked’ in this instance.
Another counter station reaffirmed I was in 6th place. Negotiating dead sheep, mud and conversations to the ‘Gentlemen’ as I passed them one by one no other girl was in sight. I was merely running chasing myself to 6th place.
Focus on the journey not the destination
This was a somewhat difficult section, not so much steep just a long drag up on what was becoming challenging terrain. I took a breather at the top, took in the surrounding the started bounding down the other side on a wide rocky pathway. The leg was feeling fine. Across the stream I paddled managing to keep the feet almost dry. A steep ascend wound its way up the valley, an excuse to power walk up and take on some food.
I spotted another girl ahead – no other than winner of the Chesterfield Marathon, and recently joined fellow club member Helen Mort. She was struggling with her hip, I found out as I passed her, introduced myself and chatted a little. Hello Helen, I am helen, how are you Helen?, very well thank you Helen? Good luck Helen, good luck back Helen, we replied as we went on our Hellish ways.
I ran down the path, leaving Helen and her Hip and some encouragement to keep going and get through to Edale and hopefully the finish safely and in one piece.
Back on small pathways the amount of runners I was passing was becoming few and far between. I was on my own now, anything could happen. A marshal stood on a corner making conversation with the runners and shouted out to me something about being ’17’. Seventeen I repeated? Yes he said ’17’ and there are drinks at the Youth Hostel a mile away. ‘Oh thanks’ I shouted back, confused to what he meant by 17. It never occurred to me he was on about miles, I had done 17 miles. For not once had I bothered to look at my watch or to count the miles. My mind was on position and position alone and now to maintain 5th position because 5th is a nice place to come.
Grabbing a drink at the next drinks station I continued onto Edale. This section was relatively flat and ‘easy’. However my legs started tiring and I began to feel lethargic. I had to push on to maintain my 5th postion. Some would say it didn’t matter but in my head I wanted to keep this position I wanted to hold on and keep my mind focused on 5th.
Run to Be Free, Just run to feel the emotional highs and lows.
I was still passing the remaining guys on the course. I didn’t realise I had passed Adam who I had given a lift to the event with until after passing him. I apologised and spurted down the field. How damm rude of me.
Another marshal reconfirmed I was in 5th position as I pounded through the smelly manure infested farm and Mr Farmer Giles giving me a strange look as he sat on his tractor sucking a straw of grass.
I continued down the lane to the village of Edale. The running field was getting remarkably empty now. I passed a couple of guys at Edale. They asked me if I was to make the final steeple. I grinned and at this point reality set in. I knew I was through unless I was to dramatically faceplant into the river and break every bone in my body. I took the final gate to the final inflatable arch. The inflatable arch kindly reminded me that 4 others had gone through and I was indeed 5th. Fellow club members, John and Andy cheered me on as I went through and grabbed a final drink. And then there was me.
Steeple 4: Edale to Castleton: 6 miles
I knew this route back to Castleton well. I suddenly felt lonely, it was just me and my shadow to chase.
I could see a couple of blots on the landscape as I ascended up the hill towards Hollins Cross. No way was I going to catch them up yet my body was telling me to run up this final hill. Through the farmland and onto the final upwards rocky scramble.
I glanced behind to check that no one was about to creep up on me and made the intelligent decision to take a breather and march into a fast walk-hike up the rocky ascent that even the most hardy of runners would find challenging. I approached the top and broke into a run. The kind marshals opened the gate and told me I had around 1.5 miles of descent into Castleton.
Run far, run fast, and run hard!
This final descent should have been bliss. Within a minute of the descent the bumpy terrain sent impact forces into my already torn muscle fibres. My right leg was ceasing up again, the stabbing pain returned as I hobbled down the paved slippery decent. I had to hold onto this run, I could not bottle out so near the end. I grimaced through the pain and tried to keep my leg raised as I used the other with further power. After what like seemed eternity I finally reached the tarmac road. Just a mile down to the finish. I was grateful for the easing of the ascent and the tarmac as the pain eased and disapeared as I turned each corner of the road to day walkers with words of encouragement. No one around just me and my legs to take me through to the finish.
Into Castleton I ran, directed around the car park with the infamous ‘nearly there’ words of wisdom from surrounding marshals and day trippers clapping me through. This would be the first and only time I would have traffic stop for me in the middle of Castleton. My own personal traffic warden as he stopped the traffic I ran across the road and straight through the absolute final inflatable arch to bag 5th Female and a time of 3 hours and 25 minutes.
A medal was placed around my neck, I shook hands with Mr Tweed, and handed a bottle of water and a can of redbull. And breath – I was sheerly spent.
What I am doing – nobody cares. It’s just personal satisfaction – Kenny moore
The atmosphere at the finish was remarkable. All those who had been knocked out were ferried back by bus to the finish. They too supported medals and hoodies. My hoodie was a white ‘Salamon’ zip up cardie slightly different to the fully jumper hoodies due to having finished. I hooked up with fellow club members Helen and Leanne who had done remarkably well, making it to Steeple 2 and Steeple 3 despite this not really being their normal sort of event but they had stepped outside of their comfort zone and challenged themselves to something fun and different and done so well in the process. Most of the club boys had reached Steeple 3. It had been a very strong field of runners this year – apparently.
The event sponsored by RedBull had a lot of money behind it. The after party was of the highest quality, a full hog roast, with gravy, pasta, cake and free bar. What more could you want after running 21.4 miles. And the sun was still shining. The marshals were of the highest quality, the markings of the route, the counters, the everything. Expect nothing better from such powerfully rich sponsors. A fantastic challenging event, the best value for money event I have possibly encountered. To finish this event was the cherry on the top of a can of Redbull.
- Position: 5th Female
- Time: 3:25:21