*Or by living in London
On Sunday I ran the second ever Redbull Steeplechase in the Peak District. Today, I sit here blogging about it because my fingers are the only muscles not paralyzed by pain from said steeplechase. As usual this race review is going to be my personal experience and probably wordy but if you want to hear how a proper fell runner and Steeplechase finisher saw the race click here, if you want a quick summary, see below.
Every part of your legs will be shredded in the first mile, so you better have a backup plan to get through the rest of the race.
We arrived in Castleton on Friday night with our small London contingent of runners and checked into the amazing Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn for the weekend. (Not just a great B&B it’s the perfect pub to set up camp and carbo load for the race.) We spent Saturday exploring the caverns around Castleton, walking up to the castle (history & hill training) and sampling the cream tea options in town. One of the reasons we came back to run this race this year is because Castleton is such a great weekend escape for us harden Londoners. The scenery and air are fresh and all meals are served in giant Yorkshire puddings. Seriously. LOOK at this toad in the hole, this was just lunch.
It was a 30 minute walk from our B&B to the start line and good thing we walked since parking was scarce and most people were parked 1/2 way into town anyway. The organisation was perfect at the start area. Loads of portaloos if needed and bean bags to lounge on in the sun. The race number pickup was flawless and we were given nice canvas sacks to put our stuff in for transport to the finish. Because it was not your average road race, the race briefing was pretty important and the Race Director gave a good overview of the event: Mainly, it was up to us to follow the directions and keep an eye out for route markers. 2/3 would make it through the first steeple, 1/2 of the remaining would make it through the second steeple, then the top 10 would get to run through the third steeple and to the finish line.
I was not sure how to feel as I lined up under the big red blow up bulls at the starting line. On one hand I was petrified as we watched the guys crawl up the almost vertical start and knew it was only going to get harder for the next 8 miles. On the other hand I was caught up in the pre-race excitement and surrounded by some seriously impressive running women and getting more confident by the second. I started to think about what ifs… what if I could make it through the first steeple? Before I got too crazy and imagined collecting my winner’s trophy a chap in tweed took his pipe out and made a quick speech about drinking port after we finished and fired the starting pistol.
I’ve never run through gravy, but I am sure it felt like the start of this race. There was 200m of road leading to the base of Mam Tor so without a slight warm up we sprinted to make it on to the hill as the route up was a single file thus placement was important.
Don’t believe the elevation map? Here’s a video of the climb
This hill. It has a name. That means it is big. As you can see from my Garmin elevation map it goes inverted at the top. BEYOND VERTICAL. My Garmin kept autopausing because it thought I wasn’t moving forward, nope, just up. STRAIGHT UP. This was more rock climbing than running and I loved it. My friend Nova told me to pretend we were hiking up Flute Bowl in Whistler for some fresh powder, and it worked (not carrying skiis was a delight!). I climbed past a guy or two and felt pretty good as we reached the top and started down the stone path along the ridge.
I wore my Brooks Pure Grit trail shoes (they begged to come on this trip and get some real trails on their treads) and they were awesome on the steeps but on the uneven and slippery stones they were ice skates, so I was going slow and getting passed by loads of speedier (wearing solomon trail shoes!) women. A few ups and downs along the ridge we ran past a trumpeter playing on the peak of one hill and came to the end of the ridge where the trail lead down to the right, but we were directed left.
No trail was left, it was just straight down a fun-slide of grass. About half the group decided to slide down on their butts and the other did a weird half-step-stumble in a wonky zigzag route to the bottom. I was wonky half stepping and could already feel the stabbing in my quads. Turns out when training for hills the downhill isn’t just for catching your breath, the technique is just as important as the uphill.
Legs suitably shredded we ran through some sheep’s fields and into a forest along an almost flat trail that felt like the smoothest tarmac ever compared to what we had previously been on. We then came on the first drink station and I stopped for a quick drink of water and looked up to see another hill. This one didn’t look huge but turned out to be about 3 false peaks, so I joined the line and marched up at a fast-hiking pace. About half way up I saw my friend Callum ahead of me so called out HEEEEEYYYY CALLLLUUUUMMMM and the guy in front of of me turned around and said I was much to cheerful for this point in the race. Not sure he understood the concept of running for enjoyment, but I kept the smile on while I chicked him and caught up to Callum.
At the top of the hill was the first place-check and it showed I was the 41st female through and all but guaranteed to get through the first steeple. WHAT? ME? My legs were mad but agreed to keep going and spend the next 2 miles deciding if we would drop out or keep going.
The path was relatively flat at this point but had its share of obstacles, including a rotting sheep carcass, so I kept running at a pace where I could avoid slipping off the rocks but also look up to enjoy the views.
The route took an abrupt left turn down into the forest and I think this is where some people continued on up the hill and missed the first checkpoint. The rest of us ran through thick mud down to a reservoir and continued along the bridal path into Bamford. I was pretty much running alone at this point and enjoying it as the path was wide and flat for what felt like miles – a quick check of my Garmin showed I was running at my 10k pace which surprised me. I guess my legs were just tired of hills, not running in general. As the steeple of the church in Bamford came into view I was feeling just OK enough to keep going and looked eagerly towards the checkpoint to see what place I was in.
As I ran through the checkpoint it said I was the 23rd woman. WT ACTUAL F? I did not pass 20 some odd women along the last 2 miles so was very confused as I stopped to try the 50/50 redbull water drink they had there (barf) and saw people coming in from the other direction to the route I had taken. A few of the women who arrived just after me were proper fell runners and not happy, apparently a marshal had told a group of 15 or so to go the wrong way so they had added 4 miles on to the first steeple. I’m not sure what happened and can’t make a judgement, but when I ran through I found all the directions easy to read and follow and it’s a shame if some were mislead.
I had a quick sit down to think about if I could run another 4 miles. My seldom worn Brooks pure grit shoes were rubbing my feet in all new places and to be honest my ITB/knee was acting up pretty badly so every step felt like a knife through my knee. But..,. I couldn’t quit. A girl I had run a few miles with passed me her blister packs as she was stopping – so I had one less excuse and thought, “4 miles, that’s like just 4. My running idol Ultra runner Rory Bosio considers 50kms easy and I just need to be more Rory. Rory would laugh at 4 miles, so let’s do this.” So off I ran with a small group of ladies running off to the next steeple.
We ran up a nice single track path as it went up and up. I ran with a really nice woman who had come 7th in last year’s race (she was caught up in the wrong directions this year hence why she was back running with my lot of folk) we had a great run-chat and she told me about all these other great 10k trail races and the awesome hills I could train on in Surrey. Nothing like planning your next race while smack in the middle of one you’re currently running. She eventually jogged on ahead and I tested out my knee on a few flat bits but ended up walking up the last huge hill to the peak. The trails were filled with families out walking and they were so nice cheering us on. One even offered me a piggy-back ride. I said I’d check with Redbull if that would be considered cheating and give him a call for 2014.
At the peak we passed another place counter and I was now the 31st female. The top 30 made it through the second steeple. As soon as I saw that and stopped for a stretch. The marshals told me that a quick sprint would catch me up to the 30th place woman and possibly a spot in the next leg, but I guess 11 miles and 800 some metres of climbing was finally enough to quash competitive Laura and I was not fussed to rush ahead at all.
From there it was another steep downhill so I went down using a weird skip/hop/not quite run so not to put too much pressure on my left knee and thought about how much more painful running dowhill was. If you could believe it I would have paid good money to run uphill. We ran past a pub and the cyclists there did not have beer waiting for me, so I ran past to their promises to find one. Sorry guys, I’ve got a steeple to find. A quick zoom down a farm road, through a small stream, and over a cattle gate (seriously watch out for those!) and we were running into Hope and I could not see the finish line anywhere. I think I scared a few Sunday shoppers on the streets but eventually found the sharp turn into the school field where the steeple gate was. The place board showed a lovely 34th and I stopped my Garmin in sheer delight. Not only had I exceeded expectations and made it to the second steeple, but Alex was there too just finished 10 minutes ahead of me so I got to see him at the end and he could listen to my incoherent rambling about my “broken leg” (I’m a bit of a finish line drama queen I guess). I grabbed all the water and ice I could find and sat down to just not move. After 12 miles I was exhausted and didn’t want to move up or down or left or right anymore.
We grabbed our medals and goody bags and hopped on the bus back to the finish line to see who made it the whole way. A bunch of muddy runners in protective booties with stiff legs makes for a pretty funny loading of the bus, but we all made it on and were delivered right to the post-race hog roast and open bar.
Our friend Callum was very reasonable and made it to the first steeple then caught the bus back from there, so he had grabbed us a great beanbag spot in the sun and a few drinks were waiting for us on arrival. I grabbed a double cheeseburger and a hog roast with stuffing for lunch and a cider to wash it all down. Race recovery at its finest. As we ate the church bells were ringing as each of the 20 finishers came through. The same woman won it as last year, this time though 30 minutes faster. Super impressive. And the male winner blew the competition out of the water and was 15 minutes ahead of his closest competitor. He may have finished the race in less time than it took me to do 2 steeples.
After the sun went behind the hills we donned the perfect race hoodies that I can’t say enough about. They’re LONG and THICK and did I mention LONG? We hung out on the bean bags for a few hours (race time = relax time) and had a few more double hamburgers for recovery purposes obviously and after the prizes were given out headed back to Sheffield to catch our train back to London.
For the £25 race entry I cannot think of an event that is better value. The route is unique and challenging, the organisation is top notch and no expense is spared. I’ll be there thinking about the 3rd steeple in 2014, will you?