I remember many years ago, while I was out walking up Ingleborough in the pouring rain one August bank holiday, and I saw two fell runners pass us, in shorts and vest, heading up the hill. “I’d never be able to do that,” I recall saying to my husband, as they trotted past us.
Yesterday, as we emerged from muddy fells and tumbled into the sleepy villages of the Peak District, covered in mud, sweating, looking a little worn out and tired, I recognised that same puzzling look in the faces of villagers enjoying a Saturday morning coffee, or out for a walk, that I had given the fell runners all those years ago. It seemed I had crossed to the other side.
Grindleford Gallop is not a registered fell race, but it is a serious distance event (21 miles) on which the organisers recommend taking full FRA kit. I sense a true fell race is not far off for me.
I heard about the Grindleford Gallop by pure chance, when I bumped into somebody at a parkrun that I had run a 401 marathon last summer with, around Ladybower reservoir. “If you loved that,” he told me, “the Grindleford Gallop opens next week, but be quick because it always sells out straight away.”
When I got home that day, I researched it and found it fitted into my marathon training plan perfectly. It was 3 weeks before Manchester, so would serve as my longest run before I started tapering mileage towards 2nd April.
It turns out the race sold out in 5 minutes, so I consider myself very lucky to be on the start line with 300 other runners this year. I had been really nervous leading up to it, worrying about navigating the 21 mile route on my own but once I chatted to other runners who had run it before, my mind was soon put at rest that it was well marked. My plan was to always make sure I had others runners around me. I had also studied the written route instructions carefully and had memorised the main turning points of the route. If all else failed I had an OS map in my bag with the route marked on it.
The start was on a field in the village of Grindleford, and the race brief consisted of a quick warning to check in at every control point with your chipped wristband, to stick to the marked route over Longstone Moor to protect nesting birds, and to ring the bell when crossing the golf course near Chatsworth. Then the klaxon sounded, and we were off!
There were a few queues within the first quarter of a mile to get through a couple of stiles but once we hit the first hill at 1.5 miles, the field thinned out. The hills were very much “walking” hills, and my calves were burning even walking. There were marshalls at all the main road crossing points, and the control points, and the rest of the route was marked with arrows. I could always see other runners around me apart from very occasionally so I soon relaxed into enjoying the views, which were stunning!
There were refreshments at each “even” control point, and the “odd” CPs were simply to scan your wristband. Jelly babies heading onto the beautiful Longstone Moor gave me an early sugar boost but I was especially looking forward to cake at later checkpoints. (There is a theme developing with my races this year.)
The route took in part of the Monsal trail which I had never run before, and which I had been looking forward to. Actually this turned out to be the least favourite section of the race for me, as it was flat and boring (it’s an old railway line) and it was full of people, a contrast after the splendid isolation of the hillsides and the moors. We soon left the Monsal trail however after a quick sugary cup of tea and some lemon drizzle cake (which was deliciously melty), and started a steep climb uphill over to Chatsworth. We were at around 12 miles here and I had been going for 2 hours. I was feeling ok until we got into Chatsworth park itself at around 15 miles then I felt tired. I reckoned after the hills I was feeling like I will feel around the 20 mile mark at my flat marathon – I needed to refuel now but was around a mile away from the last control point so I tried a sports bean which I had in my pack for an emergency. Wow! The sweetest thing I have ever tasted, but it worked! A noticeable energy boost. A quick small coffee and a bit of rocky road at the next control point got me ready for the final climb up to Baslow Edge.
The mood of runners at that final climb was lovely. There was lots of banter from those who had run it before, there were many locals out cheering us on and proffering jelly babies. It was a tough climb, but wow, was the view worth it. Splendid 360 degree views from what felt like the top of the world. I was bordering on euphoric here (this happens a lot during my long runs) and I just felt so happy! I could feel a blister on my right foot, and my legs were tired, but I didn’t care. I loved this!
2 or 3 miles along the edge with glorious views, and more locals cheering, and we then began our final descent during a slippery, muddy woodland, back into Grindleford. I was genuinely sad it was over. I actually feel a bit sad that my next race is a road marathon because there won’t be views like this in Manchester.
This was a superbly organised event – great t-shirt, fantastic local support, excellent refreshments (I especially liked how all the cake was wrapped in cling film so you could take it with you – little details like this really make a difference) with a bowl of hot soup at the finish, and well signposted. I’ll be back for more.
Although I didn’t set out to run this in a particular time, I’m actually pretty surprised that I did it in 4 hours considering it took me the same time to cover the 15 mile route at Hebden in January; a good sign of progress with endurance and fitness gains I hope.
I’ll definitely be booking more events like this, so if you know of any similar ones, I’d love to hear about them.
Distance: 21 miles
Elevation: 2687 ft
Amount of cake eaten: 2x lemon drizzle, 1x rocky road, and 1x flapjack (saved for later).