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Thursday, 18 October 2018

Peak Skyline 50k 2018

There are a few times in my life that I have got nervous. My inaugural fell run last year, my first marathon and my fist 100. This was equivalent anxiety build up. The usual....will I be last? Will I DNF? It must be natural for all runners to think like this. Sometimes it can be all-consuming, like the very first toe-on-the-line of a marathon. Often it is beneficial to have a level of apprehension, or awe and wonder of the terrain ahead.

If you want to watch as well as read, this is the Youtube stream. Every time I watch it I get that hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling. I didn't win. I didn't podium. The field was littered with pro runners. I had one of the best races of my life. For me, it was epic. Realising running through places I had not visited since a bowl-cut Mancunian upbringing. I am a child of the North, trapped in a London-centric bubble and I was out to conquer the hills I walked with mum and dad for many years as a nipper.

So after an eventful evening (AirBnB patron had locked the keys in his own house - cue neighbour with a break-in strategy. Every method failed so he fetched a bloody big ladder 'from a friend' and broke in through an upstairs window. Dinner was takeaway as nothing else was open, followed by a street party of Buxton delinquents in the street below, hurling lots of glass bottles at each other, smoking weed, fighting, shouting and generally pissing off all and sundry. Not even the village policeman came to intervene. It was 3am before they departed in a pre-dawn stupor.) I had a 6am porridge, packed and walked the mile up the road to the start. Wow. Razzamatazz. Raidlight, Inov8, Buff, runners. Hardcore Northern fell runners. I race prepped in my own little world. There were a couple of the usual over-geared-and-no-idea'd London types up for an adventure over the weekend. These types make me laugh. They used to fuck me off a bit as sometimes in my formative years I'd be psyched out by their gear-banter) but now I realised they go off like a shit of a hot chrome shovel and are all over the shop at the 20 mile stage. Bless.

A walk up to the start which I reminisced as I had been there for a massive family reunion winter the year before. Last time I ran from Buxton up to Solomon's Temple there was a foot of snow on the ground and it was -6 degrees. I placed myself pretty much at the back, such was my confidence, but climbing the first hill of 450m I found it easy to move through the pack.

Then....a bagpiper at the top of Solomon's Temple. Epic.

At the start I had spotted Hakeem Okoye.  We'd run together in 2017 and he was looking lean. I'd seen him at the Fox ultra and managed to get within 50m of him after about 20k, then never saw him again. He was ahead for about 5 miles and then I caught up and we ran together for 12 miles or so. To say this event was hilly would not compute with our southern runners. 7000ft in 50k, Climbing, scrambling and brain-off-brakes-off silly downhills. No scree like the lakes, but some bloody big peaks. 9 of them.

CP1....CP2 Ramshaw Rocks. BTW, there were 3 CPs manned. plus 7 clip points. I was fine up Axe Edge Moor and down to 3 Counties, I was struggling a bit from about 2 miles before Ramshaw up to Hen Cloud and then the Roaches. Once I had traversed the back end of the Roaches, something kicked in. There was nobody about. I had dropped the group of complainers and gear-tribes. Something verging on primeval kicks in to the pre-frontal cortex. I am now on my own in the mountains. The wind is all around me, the bracken whips my legs, there is a lone kestrel in the sky, hovering. This is what it is about. Purity. Hakeem had left me to run ahead.

Off the Roaches and down into the valley, then a long ascent to Shuttlingsloe (the Derbyshire Matterhorn) which was a climb to the CP clip point at the top. Thankfully someone put water at the bottom as it was 30 degrees by now. Hakeem was at the bottom. Broken. I reached into my backpack. A gel, a Salt tab. He had it. We ran again, uplifted. We got to the base of the climb and he sat down. I had to go on. After the summit and return, he was still on  the way up. For me, the grind onwards to the Goyt and Shining Tor. The heat beat down on my shoulders through neck high bracken. Obscure paths and the thought of only 10k to go was quickly dampened by a slow summit climb past the Cat and Fiddle to what I thought was the last climb.

Straight down with tired but happy legs I headed for home. One last peak (that I had forgotten about) remained. Burbage Edge was not high but awkward in its presence as a final ascent of 1640ft. A quad mincing 3 miles of downhill into Buxton to go. With all the pomp and splendour of a big race, arms aloft I crossed the line. 2 hours after the winner. However, the sadness of the runners behind became a reality as the organisers told of their strict enforcement of the cut offs. 192 started. 73 finished. I was 43rd. Pro-runners, fell runners. Me. Happy. Probably my favourite short ultra.

I'll be back next year