Saturday, 17 November 2012

Dusk Till Dawn Ultramarathon 2012 - 50miles 9000'

Some people will do anything to avoid watching the X Factor. With this one I managed to miss Sunday’s repeat as well!

The Dusk Til’ Dawn ultra is a 50 mile, 9000’ jaunt with a couple of twists – it talks place nearly entirely in the dark and you must finish the course before the Grim Sweeper crosses the finish line at sunrise.

Starting from Losehill YHA in Hope it takes in Back Tor, Lose Hill, Cave Dale, the Limestone Way, Priestcliffe, Hind Low, Earl Sterndale, the Cat and Fiddle, Shining Tor, Taxal, Whitehough, Chinley Churn, Cracken Edge, Mount Famine, the Pennine Bridleway through Roych Clough, over to Rushup Edge and Lord’s Seat, before plunging back down to Losehill YHA via Hollins Cross.

Organised by the very thorough team at Beyond Marathon, the pre-race briefing consisted of a 22 page Powerpoint walk through of the entire course, along with the various pitfalls along the way. Despite this I still managed to fall over on the rutted caterpillar track on the moors above Earl Sterndale – just goes to show the briefing was accurate!

I started off at my own pace up Lose Hill, which was a decent climb to the token drop to get the legs going ready for the long descent into Castleton and the end of civilisation for a while. I bumped into fellow Pennine runners Mark Cliff and Hanno coming out of Cave Dale and we ended up sticking together until the end.
The first vehicle checkpoint looked more akin to a landing strip and featured flashing yellow lights and fruit cake. After a quick refuel we were back on our way again, it was getting a bit nippy by this point and we were glad to keep moving.

We were maintaining a conservative pace but making good time for an ultra – so much so we got to the second vehicle checkpoint ahead of the vehicle checkpoint itself! However the hardest working race organiser in history™ was on hand with water rations and advice on the route ahead. We’d see him 3 times during the race in total.

Between here and the indoor CP (2) at Earl Sterndale Primary School I started to feel decidedly sorry for myself and was starting to crumble severely. It was past my bedtime, I was missing Match of the Day and it was bloody freezing!

But prior to the event the organisers Richard and Wendy had sent all competitors an online survey as to our checkpoint dietary requirements; firmly on my list was Rice Pudding. I think this and a good brew helped save me here. Hanno changed his shoes, Mark put another layer on as I did the same, combined with a thermal buff to complement the existing Pennine buff on my head. Mark Cliff also had his buff on his head and together we looked like a pair of Peak District kamikaze fellrunners as we charged around in the darkness that night.

The next 10 miles From Earl Sterndale to CP3 at the Cat and Fiddle (30 miles) were relatively straightforward, we’d all agreed that the C&F was the place to get to where we were nearly on home turf and more than halfway through the race. Mark and Hanno were pleased to see Big Col here, who was running around making brews for everyone upon request. The flapjack squares and brownie here were a lovely touch and perfectly complemented the hot drinks on offer.

From here we proceeded to token drop 2 at Shining Tor and along the ridgeline along and down to Taxal – the flagstones were a welcome chance to get some speed up and get out of the driving wind and frozen rain. This was the highest point of the course as well so things were always going to be a bit hairy round here.

From Taxal we followed the High Peak 40 route up to Eccles Pike, then dropped down the other side into Leaden Knowl, Whitehough then Chinley. CP4 was in the form of a floodlit gazebo at the foot of Cracken Edge – slightly surreal at 3 a.m.! Andy announced our presence with ‘WE’RE HERE!!’ and without further ado we were elbow deep in more cake and some lovely veggie soup. I must have bitten off more than I could chew because at this point I found myself unable to breathe as I choked on a peanut butter sandwich, but luckily I managed to clear the airwaves so we could carry on.

The path along Cracken Edge was decent going, we were 40 miles into the race now so we probably looked like a bunch of geriatrics, but progress felt ok. From here on in we went up the side of the Lamb Inn and onto the Pennine Bridleway; the final stretch towards home.

This section went smoothly enough and we were soon at the last vehicle checkpoint on the road just before Rushup Edge. This was around 5 in the morning and the previously clear skies which accompanied our start some 12 hours previously had been replaced with a blanket of cloud, driving rain and a very chilly wind. We were given the option of taking the low road down to Castleton but Hanno said “Isn’t that a bit cheating?” – the decision was made! It later turned out that subsequent runners were not given this option; they were made to take the detour onto the road after feedback from early completers on the conditions on top of Mam Tor ridge.

From here on in all that stood between us and a celebratory fry up were two token drops on Lord’s Seat and Hollins Cross – although the Lord’s Seat drop took an age to loom into view, we finally found it along the side of the track, illuminated by a red glow stick. We’d been shouting at it for a while but it was reluctant to show itself…

Token dropped. Things were getting a bit hairy now. We were all wet through and exposed on the ridgeline. Got to keep moving – we broke into a trot onwards and down towards the road crossing before Mam Tor. By now I was punching the air as I ran in just to keep my arms and hands warm. We could start to see the lights of Castleton through the clouds, and the first tinges of sunrise over in the direction of Sheffield.

Hollins Cross soon loomed into view as we dug out our last tokens for the drop box. Mark kissed his token, Hanno and I had some choicer words for ours and we didn’t need any encouragement to get onto the path back down to Castleton. By this stage Andy was plying us all with sweets and energy drink to keep us going from his tardis-like rucksack – what a comeback he’s made from not being able to walk 12 months ago.

Before long we were on the main road out of Castleton and back up the long, long drive up to the YHA. The sun was coming up now and we were just going to make it in time after over 13 hours out on the hill.

We crossed the line as one, totally shattered but over the moon to have completed an epic run.

Highlights of the day/night/morning:

Seeing all the stars coming out as we moved through Cave Dale
Running 3 abreast as a “wall of Pennine” along the Limestone Way
The aurora round the moon as we passed along the Limestone Way
Rice pudding at CP2
Driving frozen rain at Shining Tor
Mark Cliff’s “I feel decidedly second-hand” comment on Cracken Edge
Hanno singing Wonderwall at 3a.m. round the back of the Lamb Inn
The vehicle marshall at CP5 saying things were ‘a bit wild’ on Rushup Edge
Watching both the sun set and sun rise in the same day


  1. Great blog Barney. You did very well. A bit wild is a mild understatement for Rushup Edge from what I heard!

    Glad the rice pudding helped! Look forward to catching up with you in 2013. Hopefully we'll see you along for another one.

    Rich @ Beyond Marathon

  2. Nice report and great read, Barney. I wish I was there but Snowdonia Marathon was already booked. I wonder if they'll clash again next year?

  3. Thanks Rich

    Thanks Nick - I think they clash again and i'm torn between the two! Wish I was fit enough for the back to back...maybe...