Event Date: 15-16 September 2023
Wilderness Development are a local outdoor company who put on a series of events over the weekend. Distances range from a “Back before dark” 10k, Copper 25k, Bronze 50k, Silver 75k, Gold 100k. The Silver and Gold events start at 9pm on the 15th – the Bronze 50k starts at 9am on the Saturday morning, “Back before dark” starts an hour before sunset on the 16th. All routes are circular from Hathersage and are self-navigated.
TL;DR – epic adventure event run by local people!
This was my third time at this event – I’d completed the 75k back in 2019, the 50k in 2021 and came back to the 75km this year.
Back in 2019 I’d burned out after the event – it was my first overnight run and I was unfamiliar with the route. I’d also run the 60k Speyside Way ultra four weeks before, and the Great North Run two weeks ahead. I’d met up with some folk on Stanage Edge and hiked overnight, then left them at dawn, and promptly got lost… Fortunately I was being supported by fellow Strider Andy Wier who noticed I was off track. I ended up finishing in 22h45, and didn’t run properly again for about a year…. (am I selling this right?)
2021 I entered the 50k, which is all in daylight (woohoo!) and I’d done most of the route in the 75km version. But I was pretty untrained and it was a really warm day so I’d ended up hiking a lot of it – it is designed to be completed by hikers and they’re keen to have team entries as well. I finished that in about 11 hour
So, back to 2023, I was pleased with recent consistent training, I’d dropped about a stone in weight since 2019 and was working with a new PT and also had learned a LOT more about ultra nutrition (highly recommend Lindsey Newbold on FB for female running nutrition advice). I’d looked back at my previous times and wondered how I’d been QUITE that slow, so went in feeling hopeful….
7 days out, and the route arrived. I was happily expecting Hathersage to Stanage Edge, then west to drop down to Ladybower, around the top, up Derwent Reservoir, over to Allport Castles, then south towards Castleton etc. The Gold 100k route ends up over by Kinder Scout etc, but I was surprised to see that the Silver route also headed towards Edale before climbing by Hollins Cross and dropping in to Castleton. And it’s a 9pm start so that’s all in the dark. (I’m still selling this, yes?)
I took the train down from Edinburgh where I live on the Friday – I wasn’t going to be able to concentrate on work that day anyway – serious lunch, then evening snacks – registration in the Village Hall at Hathersage, and you could leave bags there, and leave a drop bag for “half way round” – more like 2/3rds of the way around. But I didn’t need to book accomodation for Friday night.
Registration was well organised – tracker was attached to my backpack and i then had to work out how to squeeze all the mandatory kit AND food in. The kit list is long and includes serious level blizzard bags, head torchES, waterproofs, maps, compass, first aid kit, etc etc. I squished all the things on, and it was about time to leave. We were started at minute or so intervals from 8:45pm, and headed off into the night through the streets of Hathersage…
I’d practiced some overnight running recently (half marathon starting at midnight, anyone?) and was MUCH more confident overnight compared with previously. Even so, by 4am or thereabouts I was beginning to wonder if colour existed, and if it would EVER be light again. There were well-stocked aid stations every 10k or so – fairy lights helped us find the one at the Derwent Overlook – but then it became REALLY foggy on High Neb – I wasn’t sure if my glasses were steamed up or if it was actually really foggy. It was foggy – some Gold people said they could barelyt see their feet on Jacob’s ladder or Mam Tor. We ran the ridge line south east from Allport Castles – I was SO GLAD to see some rock slabs where you could actually get some speed up in comparison with rutted paths. Even the descents were tricky – steep and covered with ankle-breaking rocks.
Coming along the Edale valley was nice – it was about 4am by then and there were occasional trains – and after leaving the Edale aid station to climb to Hollins Cross it was just beginning to get light – about half way up the hill I realised I could SEE THE PATH!!! Got to the top and was less happy as the path dropped off very steeply down towards Castleton – so much for the nice run down the hill – more of a pick your way down a steep rocky path. It was fun to see some runners coming out early from Castleton though.
For me, mentally, Castleton was “almost home”. It was half way through my distance, and I was much more familar with the next part of the route – I’d run it twice on previous PDCs, as well as a Limestone Way 17mile in 2018. So it felt familar, AND IT WAS LIGHT! I was also way ahead of my 2019 time, but the terrain had been brutal so I no longer wondered why I’d taken so long in 2019.
We went on through Cave Dale (I find it REALLY creepy and it’s uphill and I just don’t like it), then south through Hay Dale, turning east to meet the car park south of Tideswell. Somewhere along here I’d given my knee a tweak, I think at those V-shaped stiles, and I had to walk a chunk – I was well ahead of cutoff so I was prepared for the “death-march” to the end. It did ease off, but it’s still (3 weeks later) irritated.
The Cressbrook aid station was the major one, where we met our drop bags. As the race was being tracked, the team could tell who was about to arrive, and we were greeted with our drop bags on our own individual chairs, which was lovely. While I’d put a complete change of kit in, it didn’t seem worth changing, so I just ate my tuna salad pack, checked my fluids were OK, then headed for the hill up Cressbrook Dale (photo) towards Wardlow. In 2019 I’d taken the wrong path and ended up scrambling up a steep slope, but I avoided that this time, and soon found myself in quite a nettle-y patch on the way east out of Wardlow and heading towards Calver.
Sadly the final aid station in Calver had neither new legs nor gin, but I did get my water replenished and knew that it was just a trot up the valley to Hathersage for me. People on the Bronze 50k route were sent up Froggatt Edge, and Gold 100k people had to go on to Baslow and back up the Edges and Higger Tor before getting home.
We’ve spent a few holidays in Froggatt so the path from Calver to Froggatt was one I knew REALLY well – it was so nice to see it again – and it was really good to know I didn’t have to go up to the Edge. Following the river brought me back to Hathersage and the finish, arriving in a time of 19h22 which was almost 2h30 off my previous time.
The 50k route is much more runnable – the terrain is much easier and it’s in daylight, while the 75km felt MUCH more technical, and you’re doing the technical bits in the dark. The 100k is a very technical 100k – I’d love to think I might manage it one year, but there are plenty of way easier 100ks.
So, if you like adventure and are prepared to self-navigate in the dark, this is a really wonderful event – it’s not at all commercial, run by a local company, not hordes of people – epic trails. They do encourage team entries, and the 50k has a hike-able cut-off. If you’re looking for a 50k or 75k PB, this is NOT your event.
Thomas Brownsort & Samuel Pugh (Newcastle University Running Club) 11:56:33
Gemma Scougal 15:15:14
Striders Result: Fiona Tweedie 19:22:47
Josh and Jake Southall 15:24:56
Agnieszka Kaminska 20:29:25
The Peak District Challenge is a trail running or trekking challenge that offers five levels of difficulty:
- 10km (Back Before Dark fell race)
- 25km (Copper)
- 50km (Bronze)
- 75km (Silver)
- 100km (Gold Ultra).
Each distance has a target time to try to beat, from 1 hour to complete the 10km Back Before Dark fell race, up to 24 hours to walk or run the 100km Gold Ultra Peak District Challenge. All events start and finish in Hathersage.
This year Fiona Tweedie took on the Silver Peak District Challenge. It is described on the Wilderness Development Web-site as follows:
Take on 75km (47 miles) with a 24 hour target and 2,235m of ascent, the Silver Challenge starts at 9pm on Friday evening. During the initial overnight leg, you can chose to join a led group walking with a guide or navigate yourself. During the daytime, you’ll navigate yourself.
Your Silver Challenge begins with a trek east up onto the Dark Peak moors. You will cross Stanage Edge, site of Robin Hood’s cave, and Foulstone Moor to reach Back Tor. Next it’s a descent to Ladybower Valley and an easy flat section around Ladybower reservoirs where the Dambusters trained for their bombing missions in WWII.
You will climb to the geological oddity of Alport Castle, before descending to the Vale of Edale through forests, Woodlands Valley and the route of the Roman road.
As dawn breaks you re-enter the western end of the Hope Valley and head to beautiful Castleton, before joining the Limestone Way past Peveril Castle and enjoying the valley nature reserves at Hay Dale.
Joining the Bronze route on the second half of their challenge, you’ll leave the Limestone way and meander through idyllic White Peak villages and the Derbyshire Dales nature reserves on your way up to Middleton Moor. A tracked section through the Peak District’s working landscape brings you to pretty Baslow.
The route home follows the river Derwent north along the Derwent Valley heritage trail through rolling fields and alongside the chattering river to Padley and Grindleford. Silver Challengers aim is to finish by 9pm on Saturday evening.
Fiona completed the Silver challenge in 19 Hours 22 minutes 47 seconds. Well done!
Link to full results here.