My first multi-day ultramarathon: Peak District South to North

No one wants to read about every step of a 62 mile race but I learnt a good few lessons running my first back-to-back ultramarathon that I hope will be useful to some.

The photo above gives you an idea of the weather conditions on the second day and to be honest, given it was the end of November, we were lucky that both days weren’t like this. When the mandatory kit list was posted I was a little shocked at the extent of it – survival bag, head torch etc. – and although it did make my pack heavier than usual I understand why carrying these items were essential. If you got caught out in weather like Sunday and were unfortunately lost, it wouldn’t take long to get cold and the situation to become dangerous.

Tip – pack everything on the mandatory kit list and make sure you have double of everything for two consecutive days.

Getting lost was one of my main worries ahead of race day. I have a good general sense of direction but lacked any local knowledge of the area, so I knew I was going to rely on GPX to get me round the course. I carried maps yes but Steph had uploaded the route onto her watch and it was a lifesaver. The first day was easy, a straight path for almost 30km and then a few turns that made sense, but it was the second day in the hills, when the mist came down and the paths weren’t obvious, and the GPX really came into its own. Every time we were off course the watch would vibrate to let us know, we would slow down and try and get back on route and make a few decisions together without having to get the maps out. There were about three arrow markings by the organisers on each day and so few runners that we couldn’t rely on anyone but ourselves to find the right way.

Tip – download the GPX files of the route onto your watch to guide you.

As well as very little route markings the checkpoints or aid stations were also few and far between. The kit list says to carry suitable mountain food for your race and this was essential as this was no picnic ultramarathon. Steph and I carried mainly flapjacks and bars, although I also had a Marmite sandwich, salted nuts and packets of vegan friendly jelly sweets, and we reminded each other to eat and drink regularly. The aid stations mainly had water, packets of crisps and jelly babies, so unless you can fuel your race on these, pack your own picnic.

Tip – know what you like to eat on the run, carry it and make yourself eat it. Take note of what you fancied and ate on the first day so you can pack for the second accordingly.

Food was also an essential part of recovery after the first day to get ready for more of the same the following day, and being race ready and wanting to run on Day 2 was my second fear. Get warm, dry, refuel and relax as soon as you can after the first run. We headed to the pub and got an early night and although I didn’t sleep much due to tingly legs and ongoing race nerves we did our best to prepare. Getting to the start line on the second day was easy, just going with the flow, but I didn’t expect how awful I felt the first 5km of that run. Everything in my head was telling me to stop, it was unpleasant and I didn’t believe I would ever make it to the finish line. It seemed an impossible task. Luckily, a few experienced runner friends had told me about this pain and unwillingness of these first few miles and just as they promised they soon disappeared. Soon we were halfway, 10km to go and counting down the miles to the finish, when 40km back I couldn’t see the end.

Tip – relax and employ recovery mode at the end of the first day to prepare yourself for the second. Know that the start of Day 2 will be grim but that it will soon pass. Believe. Keep moving. You will reach the end.

Support crew or pacers aren’t allowed during the race and they’re not needed but my does it cheer you up when you see a friendly face pop up unexpectedly between checkpoints, pointing a camera in your face and making you smile. Nige came down for the weekend to help us with logistics and it was so nice to see him every so often during the day and of course at the end to give us warm, dry clothes and drive us back.

Tip – encourage a husband, friend or family to join you for cheer duties.

As well as a cheer crew I’d also highly recommend a little peer pressure to make sure you have a friend to run with. Steph and I ran every single step together, even while we wild wee-d, slipped on our bums in the bog, scrambled across a dried up river bed and hiked the hills of Mam Tor and Jacobs Ladder. I couldn’t have imagined doing it without her. If I was having a low point and just not feeling it, she’d remind to eat, distract me with a funny story and vice versa. We were a team. A fastest ladies team!

Tip – for local races with a small field of runners like this, encourage a friend to run it with you. Double the fun!

Lessons learnt I’m excited to see what the next challenge brings but first, a little recovery and reflection. For a first attempt at multi-day racing this race was almost ideal – low key, less than a hundred runners, laid back and quite well organised. The logistics were always going to be a little tricky, running South to North and traveling back and forth from accommodation, race starts and finishes required some thought, but the organisers have already followed up on this and next year it’ll be South and North, starting from a central point in Edale and running South one day and North the next. Yes we could’ve trained wiser and more, but we did enough and were mentally able, which is a huge part of racing. The Peak District is an incredible place to run and even covering nearly 100km I still feel like we only scratched the surface and there’s so much more to explore. Here’s to more running, crazy challenges, hilarious chats and time spent sharing what we love with friends. Do more. Always.

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