Push your boundaries.
We are familiar with the quotes, memes and so on. We use them to pick us up, to fight the fear, to bolster friends, to inspire others. Sometimes though the rules aren’t made to be broken. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘not yet’ or keep practicing. Is there something to be said for staying within your capabilities and being the best you can be there?
I’m not about to enter an IronMan when I’ve only just learnt to swim and ride a bike despite my tri club friends telling me I could do it. I’m not about to invite 20 people over for dinner and make a jus even though I’m a keen cook. But a race that’s been on my dream list for a while seemed ever so more achievable once we’d won an ultra over similar terrain, once I’d had dates that involved running part of the course and when my friends level of normal is probably most people’s elite.
When you enter Edale Skyline on the stripped back 90’s-esque Dark Peak Fell Runners website you are prompted to enter your mountain racing experience. I entered everything I could think of – Ultra Tour of Edinburgh, training in the Pentlands, training in Chamonix, running around Jersey (I didn’t tell them I’d broken a rib), Country to Capital (I didn’t tell them it was flat). Then I waited, I expected to be contacted to clarify my experience, I expected a rejection email. Then I got the pre-race notes by email.
Slightly epic mandatory kit list, including a compass and map I don’t know how to use, 4 very nervous runners in one car, bright sun, but not convinced anyone appreciated me taking a selfie.
We set off and it’s a long, slow, push your knee with your hands, climb out of Edale. Fran and I set off together, middle of the pack chatting, not feeling too bad. Top of the hill and my legs were still full of the acid build up. We ran along, being passed by those slower up the hill, enjoying the scenery and each others company. The first check point is the longest away by time, and somewhere in between the top of the hill and the check point, the gap between my normal running ability, my actual running ability on the day and Fran’s aptitude for the hills became apparent. She in the nicest way, asked to drop me, and feeling relatively good, I said ‘of course!’
So far we’d been navigating together through previous knowledge, the route on my watch and seeing other runners up ahead. As the terrain got rockier and the crevasses deeper I suddenly felt very alone. The weather got rougher the higher we went and I tucked into a snack to cheer myself up, back on the safe flag stones I was able to think and do some maths and realised I was pretty bloody close to the first cut off.
In my mind I had Amy with me, chatting away.
If my legs or the terrain had allowed, I would have sped up, but I just kind of relaxed. If I made it, I made it, but actually I would be happy missing the cut off and sitting in the pub. At least then Liam, Alex and Fran wouldn’t have to wait for me. As carefully and as speedily as I could, I teetered down the rocks/ad hoc steps to the first check point, shouting ahead of me as I went “It’s okay I don’t mind pulling out”. The run director asked me how I felt. I felt fine. The volunteers told me to shut up and carry on running, my legs heard this and I shot off, 2 minutes to spare and last through the check point. Operation “DON’T BE LAST” had begun.
Up again, up, up, a gentle incline in the sun at a favourite spot full of memories. Oh another competitor, someone to chat to, but all of a sudden I’m passing him, and the next one. Seems a few people gunned it to get through the check point and were in need of a rest. Then I just kept going. Everyone I chatted to encouraged me, even when the going got tougher, water crossings were tackled, another check point down.
There are no aid stations at Edale Skyline. You carry all your own snacks, but the enthusiasm of the volunteers manning the dibbers (where you check your timing chip in to confirm you’ve got to the top of a Tor (Hill)) were lovely, even the ones tucked up in a bivvy bag sheltering from the wind, or mountain rescue. A smile and a wave and I was off. I ate when I needed to, took a wee stop when I needed to and just enjoyed it, no pushing, just trucking along. Then I was heather bashing up a sodding massive hill, passing all those ahead of me, even on the flat they didn’t reappear.
Two timing cut offs to go and I know I’m not last, I’m not even particularly worried and my favourite hill is next, albeit in the opposite direction to normal. Another big climb, fighting through tourists in the midday sun, I catch some other competitors with massive packs, struggling, I chat away as I pass them. Then there I am whizzing down Wynn hill, miles of grass ahead of me, dotted with other competitors, it feels like a race again. I catch up with a experienced chap, we chat away, I tell him I was last and he reassures me I’m doing great.
The clouds start to come over, but I am smiling enough to brighten the darkest moment.
Down to a stile and a left turn, the footing gets a little tricky with chunky rocks that slide or stub. I slow slightly and see the marshal jogging towards me, “you are doing great” “how much time do I have until the cut off?” He jogs next to me as I try and dib my timing chip into his dibber – no easy feat. “45 minutes, loads of time, well done.” I don’t remember exactly what this marshal said but loads of positive affirmations, encouragement and he was exactly what I needed.
One timing check point left, at the very top of the last hill and then it would be scramble, climb, drop, zig-zag, then a run across the grass. I nibble on one of my dried bananas to boost my mood and energy as I go up the hill.
It’s been a bad few weeks of running for me (after Belvoir) and I want to cross the finish line smiling with my friends. I knew Liam (who I met at Longshaw 10k) and his pals Alex and Fran would be there for me, waiting in the cold after finishing the race themselves. The tiny competitive gene inside me also thinks I might be closing the gap between Fran and I.
I enjoy the climb up the back of ringing roger and get to the timing point smiling. I chat to the volunteer and he sends me down the other craggy side, not so fun, but I do it at my own pace and confidence level. Yes, that means sitting on my bum and jumping where the terrain is really tricky. Someone should video me doing it, it would be an internet sensation. I make it, I’m on the zig-zag, which is much easier than ploughing straight down hill and compulsory to protect the flora and fauna. I’m looking at my feet, but I know the guys are there and I want to do them and myself proud. I hit the grass at Grindsbrook Meadow, I see the low key finish (think parkrun funnel), I see my people and I RUN.
I run as fast as my tired legs will take me and I cross the line smiling from ear to ear.
That fantastic kind of tired, the kind where you are exhausted and energised at the same time, hugs all round from my team. We’ve all had a tough day, Liam and Alex who are used to winning ultras and marathons came middle of the pack. We are humbled but happy and bolstered to do better.
With tired legs and happy hearts, we stop in a small petrol station in the Peaks for a sneaky car beer for those of us not driving, rather than stopping in a pub. That’s when the car broke down and our legs got their biggest test of the day, but that’s a different story.
Long story, short, I wouldn’t recommend ‘just entering’ the Edale Skyline. It’s not worth pushing your boundaries quite that far sometimes. Step by step with small achievable goals we can all achieve big things, but breaking it down allows us to enjoy the challenges on the way. Breaking it down allows us to check that this is something we will enjoy. No point running a marathon if you hate every minute. If you like 10ks or Obstacle Course Races stick to them and enjoy every minute. We do these things as a hobby, for enjoyment and that’s the most important thing.
In the end I came 266/286 people who finished and some others who dropped out and got timed out. The race director and marshal I’d met at CP1 were so pleased to see me finished and advised I’d had the perfect race strategy. Somehow this made my finish even sweeter.
N.B. Edale Skyline Fell Race is a category A long fell race held on an unmarked course covering high and exposed fell terrain in potential harsh conditions. Suitable experience is required, as detailed below. If you cannot demonstrate this your place will be cancelled and you will receive a partial refund.
You need to either have finished this race in the last 5 years or completed 2 AL races in the last two years. Or be able to demonstrate you can safely navigate your way round exposed fell terrain in potential winter conditions. Please give plenty of information.
N.B. The required kit list goes beyond the standard FRA kit list for an AL race, this link will take you to the equipment page on the event website. If the weather forecast is favourable we will relax the kit requirements to standard FRA kit, but you should either come fully prepared or risk disappointment.