“Success is not achieved by winning all the time. Real success comes when we rise after we fall.” Muhammad Ali
The Half Tour of Bradwell (HTOB) is the younger, shorter, faster-paced sibling of the Full Tour (FTOB) which I raced five or six years ago as my first Ultra. The Half Tour is only sixteen miles, but with a shade over three thousand feet of climb crammed in over three of the biggest hills in the area it remains a tough proposition.
I’ve put in a good block of training since DNFing my last race in June, and whilst a few mental demons remained from that day I was intent on kickstarting my racing again with HTOB. I felt top ten was possible if I ran to potential, and looking at the splits from last year I targeted 2:15 as a finishing time that would put me in with a chance of making that goal.
From the start the pace felt controlled as we followed the undulations out of the village across to the first checkpoint and then the first big climb of the day at Pindale. The mountain goats in front started to bound on up the hill but a check of my watch let me know that my heart rate was way too high to be sustainable so early in the race. The temptation as always was to push on and not lose touch with the leaders but I went against instinct and put my faith in the watch, cutting back on the effort and pace and bringing my HR down accordingly. I lost a bit of ground on those in front and also allowed those behind to close slightly, but kept my effort continual and managed. By the time we topped out I could still see the group in front, I felt as if I had plenty in the tank, and I was ready to get stuck in to the descent.
It didn’t take long to pull away from the crowd behind and draw level with the group of four runners in front. In fact, I was with them before we had even hit the steepest and most difficult section of descent. The group spread a little as my old pal Lee Rawson made a move to the front of the pack and pushed the pace, and this gave me a chance to make a couple of moves myself. I overtook and moved up one position before Cavedale proper, and then did it again as we picked our way down the wet Limestone gorge at pace towards Castleton. I hit the checkpoint at the bottom feeling pretty good, and Nic was waiting there with a big smile which gave me an extra lift. This pattern; steady up and hard down, would be repeated throughout the day as I became fixated on sustainability and maintaining an appropriate heart rate.
As we started the next climb the sun came fully out and roasted us on the hillside. That ascent is very steep and at pace very painful, but we eventually hit the beautiful Back Tor on the Peak Ridge and shortly after, CP3 and the top of Lose Hill. And then once again it was time to throw caution to the wind and batter the big descent.
Having kept the effort in check on the way up, I hurtled down the hill on the way down. The harder I ran the better I felt, I could see Lee and the other guy getting nearer all the time and so I kept it going. I caught them before CP4 and we ran in together as a three. Nic was waiting at the checkpoint, and after a bottle swap and a brief pause I headed out just behind the other two.
Next up was the ascent of Win Hill which on paper seems the least severe but I was actually dreading the most. However the steady trot remained intact, the clouds mercifully rolled over to shield us from the sun, and I kept running until the last shift upwards in gradient which I was content to hike. I was definitely doing something right. As I began the long and fast descent I was completely confident that I would make up even more ground, but once I got down to the bottom of the hill and rounded the corner I made my one fatal error of the day. Instead of continuing to descend on the road to eventually hop on to the Thornhill trail, I cut right at Yorkshire Bridge and started to climb again. I have no idea why. The route was clearly marked and yet I ran straight off it. This deviation didn’t just mean I was headed in the wrong direction, I was also gaining height again at an alarming rate.
My capacity to make a decision was rendered redundant as I debated whether I was on the right or wrong path, and all the while I kept running and climbing. Eventually the path was intersected by Parkin Clough, which was bad news as it meant I had definitely gone the wrong way. I descended directly down the clough to get back on to the trail which is a job in itself, it is steep to the point of unrunnable in places. The whole episode was difficult to quantify but I think it stuck an extra two hundred feet of ascent or so into the route, and probably cost me a good five minutes before I got back on the right trail.
Heading into the Thornhill checkpoint I was frustrated at the error but in good spirits nonetheless, I felt I was still running solidly. Nic was there to administer a bit of a boot up the arse and so I cracked on, running solidly on the flat but not really breaking any records, just some consistent mileage and a pleasant break from all the climbing. Trail turned to fields, fields to tarmac, and then back into trail again. I was consistent but very aware that I didn’t really have another gear to switch up in to.
Moving through Shatton (yes, my wife finds that village name hilarious too) the route ascended gently to the lower slope of the hill behind Bradwell. I hadn’t made up much ground but somebody behind me had put in a real effort and was sitting probably three minutes back, I could see their luminous orange shirt from quite a distance away. This was all the incentive I needed to get the job done and I put the last of whatever I had left into the final couple of miles, first a climb up through a farm and then a good strong descent through fields and trails back to the race HQ. I finished the race in 2:18 and took seventh place overall.
We relaxed on the grass cheering in the other finishers and catching up with old friends. HTOB and FTOB, despite being long races, have somehow retained that great sense of friendly competitiveness that fell running engenders. It is tough, sometimes fierce, but respectful and accepting at the same time. But I needed sustenance, and so after a while we jumped in to the car and headed over to the awesome Hathersage Social Club. Every race should be followed by a refuelling session of waffles and beer. It’s a new rule.
There are a number of things arising out of HTOB that I’ve had time to think on over the last couple of days. Obviously I’m chuffed to place seventh, it feels like a fair result and fits directly with what I thought I could do there. Sure, I lost a bit of time with a daft navigation error, but probably not enough to significantly affect the result. It did push me a couple of minutes outside of my target time however, and it seems feasible that I would have run 2:13 or 2:14 had I not got lost. Either way I’m not going to get too hung up about it. I lack the upper gears at the moment to push for a win or a top three, so I’m more than happy with seventh. More importantly, it occurs to me that HTOB was the most sensible, practical and stable race that I’ve taken part in for years. I ignored the temptation to blaze around early on, I paid attention to my heart rate and I had enough confidence in my body and ability to persevere at a very decent pace. The result was a very solid sixteen miles of strong running. Other than sections of unrunnable climb and getting sorted out at CPs there were no walking breaks, no moments of abject futility and frustration where I felt like I couldn’t take another step. I just ran. I stayed competitive. And I enjoyed it. I’d like some more of that please.