The Peak Skyline is a fell race that takes place in the hills around Buxton in the Peak District; it has two distances, Full and Half. The full distance is 47km (29.4 miles) with 2000m of ascent and an 8-hour time limit, the half is a 25km (15.5 miles) route with around 900m of elevation.
This would be my second fell race at beyond marathon distance, the first being the Hardmoors White Horse in June. That and the fact that I’d completed Rat Races Man vs Lakes (a 50km adventure/obstacle race) two weeks prior put me in good stead for the race, or at least that is what I thought.
Race HQ was Buxton Community School, where parking was free and could accommodate over 150 vehicles, so no worries about finding a space to leave the car. Registration was straightforward, present your id, receive your checkpoint control card and collect your race number. The race sponsors RaidLight, Torq, Buff and Ornua had stalls for their wares, and the organisers had arranged for access to the school’s toilets and showers, so no portaloo horrors today.
The control card was a new thing to me, but after the pre-race briefing, it all made sense. The race had nine checkpoints, three manned and six unmanned, to prove you did the full course at the manned stations your race number was noted, for the unmanned stations you had to clip your card using an orienteering punch, failure to clip would either incur a time penalty or a disqualification.
After the briefing, we headed for the start line which had been set up on the school’s sports field and at 8 AM sharp we set off en-mass taking a short loop of the sports field before heading uphill towards Solomon’s Temple (Grinlow Tower). You get an idea of how this race is going to go when in the first kilometre you have a 100m altitude gain. After looping around the tower to the dulcet tones of a lone bagpiper, we headed back towards Buxton drooping through Grin Woods, some welcome shade before picking up the first climb up onto Axe Edge Moor. From Axe Edge Moor the route descended through Orchard Common to Three Shires Head (the half distance route splits away here) the terrain was very rough underfoot, a constant mixture of sun-baked farmland and rocky trails. By now the temperature had climbed beyond what was expected, and my thoughts turned to water rationing as the 1.2 litres I was carrying was not going to last until the first feed station at checkpoint two some 8km away.
After clipping my control card at Cut-thorn, I headed South East, across Flash Bottom, missed a sign and had to double back before pushing on onto Gib Torr, finally dropping down to Newstone Farm, checkpoint 2 and some well-needed supplies. Water bottles were refilled, and snacks consumed, included some salted nuts to offset the sweating, however, by this time, I’d developed a headache, a classic sign of dehydration. The forecast for the day was cloudy with an expected high of 21 degrees but true to form the British weather had other ideas, almost clear skies and bright sunshine were pushing the temperatures into the high 20’s.
I’m going to stop describing the route in detail now, as it was just hill after hill after hill and you don’t want to spend the next 5 minutes listening to me bemoaning my life choices. On a positive note, I finally found a use for the £10 note I have stuffed in my emergency pack as at 18km there was a road crossing and an ice cream van, frozen processed food never tasted so good.
Jumping forward to kilometre 32 saw the arrival of checkpoint 7, Shutlingsloe, also known as the Peak District Matterhorn. The deal was simple, go up, clip your card and come back down, with a 30-minute penalty and time in short supply I headed up the climb. 1.6km and 230m of altitude gain later I was clipped and on my way back down, round trip 25 minutes, so just about worth the effort. After Shutlingsloe it was a nice kilometre downhill on gravel tracks to Cumberland Cottage, then up a rough track following the course of Cumberland Brook, which was bone dry. After Shutlingsloe, I thought things couldn’t get any steeper, wrong, looking at the GPS tracking certain parts of this climb hit a 40% incline, which is damn steep. Cresting the climb took me onto the Danebower Hollow Path and onwards to checkpoint 8, the last feed station.
I hit the checkpoint happy in the knowledge that I only had 10km to go and 90 minutes before the 8-hour cut off, however, upon arrival the marshal told me that the cut off was 14:15; it was 14:30, my race was over. I handed my tracking chip over and took my place on the floor waiting for a lift to the finish line and the DNF walk of shame.
In reflection, I suspect the next 10km would have broken me; there was a further 300m of climbing on very rough terrain and I if I’m honest I was already done. I’m always over prepared for races, I carry too much gear and try to be accommodated every eventually, but this weekend none of that mattered, I was physically underprepared, and no fancy backpack or trail shoe can save you from that. I was measured and came up short.
Next year the event is 3rd August 2019, I shall be back to have another go, but this time I’ll take sun cream and perhaps a hat.