Hathersage Hurtle – 20 May 2023
Report by Laura Mella
It was somewhat of a surprise to discover I’d entered this race. I had no recollection doing so, and it was only brought to my attention that I had during a chance conversation with Jane Huws at parkrun a week earlier, as she had seen my name on the start list. Apparently I entered back in December, when I either had a moment of extraordinary hubris or temporarily took leave of my senses. I think the most likely scenario is that I got my Hobbles, Hurtles, Canters and Gallops (and all the many other trail and fell races) mixed up and thought I’d entered something else. I was convinced that this event was only 6 miles, until Jane told me it was actually 20 miles. Oh dear. After discovering it was too late to cancel without losing my entry fee, I decided I’d just do it and see what happened. After all, I did a marathon in April, so I ought to still have some distance in my legs, right?!
Hathersage Hurtle is a 20 (yes, 20) mile trail race (although it includes some road sections), starting in a field at Hathersage football ground and then climbing a very long way up to Shatton mast. Then follows a gravelly, steep descent towards Bradwell, crossing onto the Thornhill Trail and into Bamford, before tackling a massive, long climb up New Road and onto Stanage Edge. After leaping over the rocks along the Edge, it drops down through Burbage and down some more through Padley Gorge, before following the River Derwent back to the start. It is an undeniably beautiful route, taking in some of the best and most iconic views of Peak District.
The race is split across 9 sections with checkpoints at the end of each section. Runners are issued with a chip wristband, and must ‘dib’ at as they pass each checkpoint (much like Round Sheffield Run). The checkpoints also provided a helpful mental countdown towards the finish (“only one checkpoint to go!” I told myself as I began my hobbling down Padley Gorge).
Race HQ was well-organised and friendly, and parking was simple. Number, dibber and t-shirt collection was smooth, there was a changing area and bag drop, and enough toilets to ensure there were no enormous queues. It was also an opportunity to eye up where the cakes would be at the end, as the quality of the cakes at the Hurtle is the stuff of legend. It was a small group of Striders who turned up for this race – probably due to people saving their legs for Dronfield 10k the next day. We all had a chat at the start, and I listened intently to the people who had run this race before and knew what they were doing (and had also cleverly read the pre-race briefing with meticulous attention rather than my cursory scan).
Just before 10am, we were ushered to the start point, which was in a field across the road. We lined up and were briefed on using the dibbers, along with the usual safety information, then we were off.
The climbing began early in the race, and after the bottleneck of getting out the starting field, we immediately began the first ascent to Shatton mast, briefly following the Abney road before veering off onto a trail across the exposed hilltops. It was on this first ascent that I realised just how warm it was, and my decision to wear my hydration vest was called into question as I began getting hotter and hotter and could feel the sweat running down my back (TMI? Sorry!). However, I was grateful to have water readily available at this early stage, as it would be a good while before we reached the first water station at Thornhill.
There were 4 water stations on the route, 3 of which included copious amounts of lovely looking cake and other sustenance such as bananas and the classic jelly babies. All stations were staffed by a team of enthusiastic volunteers of all ages, who were generous in their cheering and were happy to fill up water bottles as we continued on our way.
This first climb up to Shatton was fairly long and brutal, and conscious of the distance still to cover, I made the decision to walk a few bits to save some energy for later. Most people seemed to have the same idea, and not many other runners came past me on this section. As is usually the case for me in races, I tend to overtake people on the ups and get overtaken on the downs. This race was no exception, and on the descent to Thornhill, I was overtaken by loads of people as I tottered about on the gravel while people flew past without hesitation. I really must work on my descending! Once the descent was over, we entered a flat section of trail which seemed to last forever, before the dreaded climb up New Road and up to Stanage Edge. I know New Road very well from cycling, and riding it is hard enough. Running it turned out to be even more challenging. I decided to adopt an approach of 2 minutes running then 1 minute walking, as I knew how long the climb went on for. This worked reasonably well, and when it flattened off a bit I skipped the walks and just ran slowly. The path up to the top of Stanage Edge was also an exercise in walking and running (if I call it jeffing does that make it sound more professional?), but a call of “Go Strider!” from some passing walkers made me try and up my game a bit. Once on the Edge itself, the hill gives way to an entirely different challenge of rock-hopping, trying to keep an eye on where you’re going, and also dodging walkers, dogs and runners competing in an entirely different race running in the opposite direction. About two thirds of the way along the Edge, I started to feel my concentration drifting and like my legs and my brain were not connected properly. I slowed down, reasoning that it is better to run slowly than break my ankle through lack of concentration. Finally we dropped into Burbage and onto a less rocky path, but my legs were still reeling from the rocks of Stanage, and I felt slow and sluggish. Padley Gorge was more of the same, but with more rocks and more people to avoid. I didn’t enjoy this descent at all. Every time I looked up at the path, the rocks just looked like a maze I couldn’t navigate as the connection between my legs and my brain became weaker. Once more, more confident runners came flying past me. I was happy when this section ended, as we were on the home stretch. Just a couple more miles along the riverside to go, but they felt so hard! I was so relieved when I heard the sounds of cheering and music which meant the finish was close, and after running round the field (why do so many races finish with a stupid lap around a field?!) it was over and I was very glad to be done.
At the end I treated myself to a shandy and had two delicious pieces of carrot cake and a lemon and blueberry cake. After all, we’d earned it! Others had burgers, beers and coffee, and we sat in the sunshine reflecting on the experience. Consensus among the Striders in attendance was that it was a beautiful but very tough route (although apparently not as tough as Grindleford Gallop), and that we’d probably all do it again.
I wonder what other races I may have accidentally entered? If they turn out like this one, I’ll be happy.
The race was won by Lee Kemp (MV40 Esk Valley Fell Club) in 2:17:16 and by Helen Quirk (FSen, no club given) in 2:49:41.
13 Striders ran. Their results are as follows
For full results see RaceTek Hathersage Hurtle 2023 (racetek-live.co.uk)