Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Dovedale Dipper

I thought that running was meant to be an easy sport, but it’s been a funny old weekend full of highs and lows and I’m beginning to think that it would be much easier to be a couch potato!

It all started last Thursday, when after weeks of iffing and areing, I finally made the decision to resign from Trentham and to join Staffordshire Moorlands AC. This wasn’t a snap decision, but is something that I have been thinking about for a while now, but I’ve been so loyal to the Green Army and been honoured to be a part of that team, that writing out my resignation was extremely difficult. Even when I was handing it over, I broke down and cried, feeling absolutely terrible and convinced I was letting so many people down. However, my head eventually overruled my heart, and with me wanting to focus more on fell and trail running, and more of the long distance races, it became clear that I would have more opportunities by moving clubs. It didn’t make things any easier and it was difficult knowing how to break the news to everybody – I don’t like the attention, and didn’t feel it appropriate to make a grand announcement as I really would have felt like an idiot. I figured the best way was to go quietly, so having mentioned it to a couple of people, off I went, and let the runners’ grapevine run its course.

So it was that on Sunday morning, I turned up at Hartington for my third attempt at the Dovedale Dipper and my first race as a Staffordshire Moorlands runner. The Dipper is a 27 mile hilly off-roader organised by the Matlock Rotary Club. My best time on the course was 3.57 last year and given all the other stuff I have been doing of late, I just wanted to get close to 4 hours again. It was weird not wearing my Trentham vest and I felt like I was betraying my old club mates, but I had to focus on performing well for my new club now. I was somewhat reassured by the presence of fellow Moorlands athlete and friend Gareth Briggs, who was also running the Dipper despite having problems with his Achilles.

The run itself starts in the village of Hartington and takes in some of the gorgeous scenery of the limestone valleys of the Peak District. Heading out of the village, the route takes runners across the fields to the Tissington Trail, before turning off towards Longnor. From here it heads across the valley towards Reveridge, before the steep long climb up Ecton Hill that overlooks the Manifold Valley. Then it’s down and back up again over the hills towards Wetton followed by yet more climbs over to Castern near to Dovedale, and more ups and downs across the trails towards Mill Dale and straight up the valley following the River Dove to Wolfscote Dale and Beresford Dale. The last mile of the run is cruel with a steep climb up the lanes overlooking Hartington, before a fast finish back to the village hall.

This year, the weather was spot on – dry and cool, although there was a brisk breeze blowing. There didn’t seem to be as many runners as in previous years, and following a 10am start, Gareth and I found ourselves leading with nobody really pushing to challenge us. We ran together for the first mile or two, wondering where everybody was, and then a couple of chaps caught us up and that was Gareth’s cue to pull away and go for the win.

For me, I just settled in behind the men. There are no marshals for the event although there are sporadic markers as well as 8 checkpoints that have to be visited in order. There isn’t really any navigation but it does help to know where you are going, and having done the race before, I was pretty familiar with the route. I sensed that the 2 guys hadn’t done the run before and noticed their hesitation at certain points, so for the first 12 miles or so, I would go past them with knowing the route only to be overtaken by them again as soon as a hill appeared.

I was feeling pretty relaxed and actually quite good, and although the hills were hurting somewhat, I was really enjoying the run. I overheard one of the guys saying that he had done the 24 hour Thunder Run last year with a team of 5 from Colchester, and I seemed to remember speaking to Allen Smalls about the Thunder Run who had told me a similar story. It turned out that the chaps I was running with, who were both very friendly and chatty, had done a fair bit of ultra running themselves and knew many of the “ultra gang” that do crazy distances on the trails at home and abroad – Jez Bragg, Matt Giles, Allen Smalls, Brian Cole, and Jen Salter to name just a few. It was so nice to have some company for once and a bit of a chat to take my mind off things, and even better that I was running with people who shared a passion for long distance, off-road running (I later found out that they were Sean Ketteridge and Ian Corless – nice to meet you both!)

From then on, we ended up running pretty much together, although I tended to spend more time scoffing cakes and biscuits and drinking gallons of squash at the checkpoints than they did, which allowed them to open up a gap over me at times.

By now we were overtaking quite a lot of the walkers who had set off an hour or so before us, and they offered words of encouragement as we passed. The Dovedale Dipper really does have a great atmosphere, and it always makes me appreciate how lucky we are having such beautiful countryside so close to home.

The time went very quickly, and before I knew it, we had reached Mill Dale and had just 4 miles or so to the finish. I was hoping to run close to 4 hours again, and with about half an hour to go and knowing that there was a sting in the tale towards the end of the run, I knew I wouldn’t beat my time from last year. It didn’t really matter though as I really was having a great time and was under no pressure whatsoever.

The run along the valley towards Wolfscote Dale is pretty flat, so we found ourselves picking up the pace. The most frustrating thing was the sections of gravel that was quite rough underfoot, whilst some of the Sunday walkers seemed completely oblivious of us trying to get past them on some of the narrower parts of the path.

As we approached the caves at the top end of the valley, I knew there was only about a mile or so to go to the finish so I focused on trying to get up the nasty hill to join the lanes back to Hartington. Thankfully, this year we didn’t have to cross the farmer’s field that normally saps the energy due to the freshly mowed grass and the incline, and on joining the lanes, it was mostly downhill to the finish.

I was still running with Sean and Ian, and by now another chap had joined us although he was now ahead, but as we hit Hall Bank that goes past the old chapel in the village and back down to the village hall, the cheeky monkeys pulled away from me, and left me to finish 1st lady and 5th overall. Clearly there was a bit of male pride at stake (!), but in all fairness, Ian and Sean did wait for me on the hills and if it was a proper race, I’m pretty sure they would have been miles ahead of me anyway. We were all awarded the same finishing time of 4.02, marginally slower than my time last year, but I was still happy.

My mum and nephew George were both waiting for me by the church with Sam and Wilson, and once I had checked in at the finish and grabbed a cup of tea and a tasty jacket potato, I went outside to join them. Gareth was with them, and we already knew that he had won the men’s race and considering he’s been struggling with an Achilles problem for a while now, it was a credit that he finished the run at all, and in a respectable time of 3.46.

Following the presentation of our winners trophies (which thankfully I didn’t drop and smash this time!), it was time to head home. It had been a lovely day and thoroughly enjoyable, and with being in the company of ultra runners with a similar outlook on things, it made me realise how much I love my running, and how much I am looking forward to representing the Staffordshire Moorlands AC on the trails and mountains over the coming months.

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