"Edale is a tiny Derbyshire village at the southern end of the Pennine Way, in the aptly name Hope Valley, shielded on all sides by by the great green hills of the southern Peak District. Paths flow out from it in all directions: low routes and high routes, flat and steep; long, short, muddy, firm. There are deserted lanes, riverside footpaths, the wide well-marked beginnings of the Pennine Way and faint sheep-trods leading up to the open fells. No one with the slightest taste for running could come here and not feel their legs grow restless. If the sport leaves you cold, go to Edale and you'll understand." Richard Askwith - Running Free
Alright, so my other half in her infinite wisdom, decided to tag me in a quoted tweet by the lovely people at Runr who were looking for contributors to the blog section of their website. I've never written a blog before. In fact I haven't written anything of length since my A-Level Sociology coursework back in 2005 but what the hell, if no one reads it then I can just go for a run and forget I even attempted it, right?
This is the tale of a short, solo fell run as told by a bonafide Yellowbelly. I'm Lincolnshire born and bred and having lived in Lincoln for the last 9 years, my hill running experience is generally limited to climbing Lincoln's hill (up and down the various roads that lead to the famous cathedral). So how did a flatlander come to leave Lincolnshire at 5:30 one Saturday morning to drive to Edale for his first taste of fell running?
About 2 and a half years ago I went walking from Edale with my girlfriend and her family. Her parents, sister and brother in law, and our respective children... all togged up and ready to traipse up to the top of Mam Tor. The views from the top were spectacular and I was struck by the rugged nature of the landscape. I'd spent weekends in my childhood up there with my dad but had forgotten how beautiful and peaceful it is. 20-ish years ago we camped in an orange Vango canvas tent, we ate bacon for breakfast and took cheese & jam sandwiches and fuse bars on our walks (don't knock cheese and jam until you've tried it. Trust me.) but I hadn't been up there for years.
On the walk across the top towards Barker Bank, it occurred to me that this particular stretch was slightly down hill and very runnable, if you catch your breath after the climb up that is. As we got to Hollins Cross, we bumped into some runners who were taking part in a 40 mile ultra marathon (I later learned that this was The Highpeak 40, definitely one for the list), at the time we thought they were bonkers but I was intrigued by their efforts. We had a small picnic, alas no cheese and jam, and set about coming down Hollins Cross as we had children with us and mine was in a rucksack and was getting pretty heavy. I still felt that I could have run the route we did but mapped it out in the pub afterwards and it was a shade over 5km. So upon my return home to the flat horizons of Lincolnshire, I set about mapping out a route for a 10km run which would take in an ascent of Mam Tor and what I thought would be a "proper" fell descent, down Back Tor Nook. This bit would take me down 115m in just over 600m. It sounded like a lot of fun. I played around with the route for a few weeks, finding more trails and paths to ensure I didn't have to run on a winding country road then quietly suggested to my other half that I'd quite like to do it and would it be ok if I was home for lunch. Surprisingly she agreed on 2 conditions. 1) I didn't fall off a mountain, and 2) I brought coffee home with me.
I set out for Edale at first light with no clue how the run would go. As they don't make Fuse bars any more I had to resort to Fruit and Nut. A poor alternative! I also had a bottle of water and an old Camelbak with no bladder that I intended to use as a rucksack. I arrived at Edale village hall car park in light drizzle with low lying cloud covering the top of the hill. There were a few walkers who were all togged up in full wet weather gear and as it didn't look like it was going to improve I couldn't blame them, I was starting to feel decidedly underdressed. I pulled on my trail shoes, said my good mornings to the walkers and while I could still feel their questioning looks from behind me I set off down the road. I took a left and set off up towards a farm, it had been raining in the week preceding my run so there was plenty of water coming back down the hill. The path turned slightly to the right and then climbed sharply, this was the point I realised I hadn't done anything like this before and was out of my comfort zone. The going was tough, the path inches deep in mud in places and the grip on my trail shoes failing to live up to its name. Within about 800m of starting my run I was forced to walk! This was new... Even up Steep Hill in Lincoln I made sure I didn't walk. I started to think I'd made a mistake, if the whole run was going to be like this then I wouldn't be repeating it any time soon.
After 15 minutes or so of walking, I made it to the road pass near the summit of Mam Tor, a left turn through a gate and then the small matter of around 70m of wet, slippery, flagstone steps to he summit. I was determined to run these and set to. I arrived at the top shattered and out of breath. I checked my watch and realised I'd run just under a mile and a half and it had taken me nearly half an hour. I gathered my thoughts, took a drink and set off east along the path towards Hollins Cross. This stretch drops approx 120m over 1.3kms and it was along this ridge that I freed my legs and let gravity do some of the work. I bounced off the soft, spongy turf at the side of the path and bounding over gaps, kissing the top of rocks and flagstones with my toes before almost losing balance. This was a whole different experience to anything I'd experienced while road running, I was grinning ear to ear by the time I arrived at Hollins Cross.
Next up was a short and sharp climb up Barker Bank, this one was short enough to run but I don't think I was running much faster than I could have walked it (as it happens there should be another blog on why it's perfectly OK to walk on a run). A short descent brought me to Back Tor Nook. A small v shape between Back Tor and Barker Bank, it was here that I was to make a left and start my descent proper. I looked east up towards Back Tor but being on my own and due to the steepness of the climb, I thought it best to stick to the plan and come back another time. A quick look over the edge and I realised that it was steeper than I had envisaged. Only one way down though so I started a little gingerly, small fleeting steps, not wanting to overload my quads early on. It was after about 100m that I figured it out and it clicked; why the climbs were so steep and unrunnable. Why it was drizzling. Why I had driven 2 hours to go for a run. Why I was wet. Why I was muddy and why I was probably about to fall flat on my face.
It's difficult to describe the sensation of almost falling down a mountain, it's sort of like being on a roller coaster at its tipping point; but that's too safe, too controlled. You know those dreams you have where you're falling and you wake up just as you hit the ground? It's that. And it's brilliantly addictive.
All too soon I was at the bottom and set out to find the track that would lead me back to Edale. The remaining 3km passed all too quickly; I talked to some sheep, stopped to stroke a horse and ran through every puddle I could find. Before I knew it I was back at the car, out of breath, soaking wet but smiling. The only negative was that I hadn't picked a longer route.
Since setting out on my solo effort, amongst dabbling with trail races, I have taken my running club up there twice to see if anyone else gets bitten by the same bug as me. There's invariably a lot of swearing on the way up and down but a few have been back more than once so it can't be all that bad. Half way up Jacobs Ladder a few weeks ago, one member commented "@?&£ Jacob and @?&£ his @?&£ing ladder." But then he also said he wanted to go round again so read into that what you will!
I am far from an experienced fell runner, in fact I'm really only an absolute beginner but in fell running I have found a part of the sport I love. If you've never tried it then I urge you to have a go. Even if you don't live near the Peaks, the Dales, the Pennines, the South Downs or any of the other lumper bits of Britain; find a grassy hill, walk up it and then run down it as fast as you can. You might even like it. And remember, "if the sport leaves you cold, go to Edale." You won't regret it. I promise.
Thanks to Jake for sharing the experience of Fell Running up in the Peaks and for the photos taken whilst running with his club, Witham Runners (@witham_runners).
You can follow Jake on Twitter: @J4kerobbo and feel free to leave him a comment below.
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