The Peak District Ultra Challenge

Last weekend was a big one for me. It was time for my first ever ultramarathon, the Peak District Challenge organized by Action Challenge. On Friday, James and I took a train up to the lovely village of Bakewell in the Peak District.

As soon as we arrived at the base camp, I started feeling like a massive imposter. Around me were all those people wearing t-shirts from Iron Mans, triathlons, trail festivals and marathons. And then there was me, having started running 6 months ago and proper training 3 months ago.

I picked up my race pack with event bib, timing pass and so on, before we set up our tent. The evening seemed to pass fairly quickly with buying dinner and preparing my kit for the race, and soon we got in the sleeping bags and closed our eyes.

Race day

After what seems like 10 minutes of sleep, I woke up bright and early at 4:50am. Between getting dressed, brushing teeth and assembling the last pits and pieces of my kit, time flew and we found ourselves heading to breakfast at 6am. Feeling the pre-race jitters already, I managed to get down a banana.

A few minutes later, I walked into the starting area. Someone scanned my chip, I listened to the race briefing and followed little warm-up session with everyone around. My stomach felt heavy and I was nervous. What if I failed to finish?

No more time to think about that, the race started and the group of runners set off. I was rather at the back of the pack, seeing some people sprint off as if it was a 5k race.

In a comfortable pace, I wiggled my way through between other runners. Soon I hit the first climb of the route. While quite a few people eagerly ran up and passed me, I decided to preserve my energy and walk. After all, there were still about 50k more to go. When the trail became flat again, I picked up the pace and started passing some of the other runners again.

It wasn’t long until the first gorgeous view: Running across a meadow with sheep, I came past Chatsworth Manor. If I had been on a hike, I would probably have taken about 100 photos. In a race however, I decided to just enjoy it while I see it and then press on.

Only minor issues

From then on, the race went mostly smoothly. By now, the field of runners was so spread out that I ran mostly by myself, sometimes I saw someone further ahead. The route was very enjoyable. I passed through quaint little villages were a few people stood in front of their houses in dressing gowns. I ran across meadows and fields, through little bits of forest, along and across rivers and up and down hills. The views were spectacular, sometimes I could see for miles across the Peak District from a hill top.

Along the route, I only had some minor issues. My stomach was playing up and little and I couldn’t eat properly. While in training, I had always eaten at least some food on a long run to keep me fuelled, but in the race I could hardly take an energy gel. But being nervous before the race had taken its toll and my stomach wasn’t happy. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad and didn’t hinder me much.

Another tiny problem was getting off course once, for about 800m. I had been running downhill and through a puddle of mud and then continued on this path. After another 400m roughly, I hit a road with three other runners, but no route marking on it. We must have missed the last marking. A little annoyed, we ran back together and soon found the marking. It was right next to the puddle of mud. Not an overly huge sign, it was easy to miss when looking at your feet.

After that, I had a smooth run to the finish line. Feeling good, I picked up the pace again and enjoyed the last 12k through picturesque landscape.

The surprise

Eventually, I was in Bakewell again. Running through the streets and towards the finish line, I realized that I would definitely finish. Only a few more metres and I was there, getting my well deserved medal. I couldn’t believe that I had taken 6:30 hours to complete 52k with 1000m of ascent. That was much faster than I had hoped.

But the biggest surprise was yet to come. I had been convinced that I was more in the back of the pack, but I was very wrong. Turns out, I came in 2nd woman and 20th overall!

Thoroughly happy with that, I enjoyed the rest of the day wandering around Bakewell with James, having a delicious dinner and hanging out at the campsite, before going home the next morning.

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