*This article appear for the first time in the printed edition of Ultra-Fit  magazine in 2010, but has never been publish before online.

An ultra is any race longer than a marathon they vary from mind numbingly tough 24 hour track races to events across some of the planet’s most challenging and stunning terrain. Nik Cook entered the High Peak 40 and talks to ultra legend Mark Hartell.

“Perhaps surprisingly I was feeling good, but I had to nurse my ankle down the rocky descent from Hollins Cross”

Having entered the 120-mile 6633 Ultra (www.6633ultra.com) this March 2010, I figured that a 40-mile race in the September of 09, would be a good indicator of how my training was progressing. The ‘High Peak 40’, part of the ‘2009 Run Further Series’, ran through my home village, which prompted me to sign up without hesitation.

Starting and finishing in the spa town of Buxton and covering 40 miles with 5400ft of ascent, it crosses both the rugged and bleak moorland terrain of the Dark Peak and the rolling hills of the Derbyshire Dales. After good preparation, race day came and would you believe it I had a stinking cold and a niggling ankle injury however, I decided to have a go. At 7.45am I was off and running.

I held myself back, let the front pack go and settled into a bit of a plod. Prior to catching a cold, my plan had been to run to a 7 hour schedule however, feeling decidedly underpowered I was unsure what my time would be. However, I somehow found myself 5 minutes up at the first 3 mile checkpoint and this gave me confidence, so I decided to try and stick to the pace.

After another flat 3.5 miles I came to checkpoint 2 and was now eight minutes up on schedule. I took my time to re-fill my bottle and get some food down and knew that the time I’d gained would come in handy with long climbs to come over the next 14 to 15 miles. 10 miles in and I passed my village of Chinley and dug in for the tough section to come.

The climb via Beet Farm was the softener, before dropping right down into Roych Clough and then starting the long 5 mile slog to the summit of Mam Tor. Perhaps surprisingly I was feeling good, but I had to nurse my ankle down the rocky descent from Hollins Cross. I then hit the next checkpoint just outside of Castleton, still eight minutes up.

The ascent of Cave Dale was the last significant climb and the second half of the race passed through the gently rolling White Peak. However, the climb seemed to go on forever and fatigue mounted. However, amazingly by the 23 mile checkpoint I was still seven minutes up. Running through Tideswell and past checkpoint 8, I was striding out well, gaining time and overtaking runners.

However, my guts were starting to misbehave, my calf muscles were tightening up and my hamstrings threatened to cramp. I joined another runner for the next stretch and we managed to kickon a bit. Together we reached the 29.2 mile Upper Dale checkpoint in 4:55.00hrs, 11 minutes up, but my body was really starting to rebel against the punishment.

ultra running_2

I reached checkpoint 10 at 32.2 miles, still 8 minutes up but I was not in good shape. I took my time to sort out my kit out and forced food and fluids down, whilst giving myself a bit of a talking to. The next three miles were the crux of the race and I’d been quietly dreading them for the last couple of hours.

I faced a dead straight, slightly uphill and seemingly never ending stretch of monotonous tarmac. I normally run without music, but this time I had packed my i-Pod and had loaded it with motivational tunes, especially for this ‘road to hell’. I knew that to break seven hours I had to run the stretch and so head down and with the Chilli Peppers blaring, I went for it.

“I hobbled down the near vertical descent into the second Deep Dale and then crawled up the equally brutal ascent back out”

I kept piling on the coals and finally I reached the Chelmorton turn-off, but as I shakily started the descent into the village, I knew my push had taken its toll. There were still 4.5 miles to go, I crawled over every stile and took any excuse to slow. Runners I’d passed streamed past and I could see the 7 hour target slipping through my fingers.

I hobbled down the near vertical descent into the second Deep Dale and then crawled up the equally brutal ascent back out. Oddly, the steep climb seemed to refresh my legs and I managed to run reasonably strongly through the final checkpoint at 37.2 miles, now five minutes inside of schedule.

Even though my legs were behaving, my guts were still not playing ball. But I soldiered on and made it to the finish line in Buxton in 6:57:27. In 2008 this time would have got me near the top 10, but with a stronger field this year, I placed 21st. I was delighted with my performance but knew I still had a lot of work to do before taking on my next ultra challenge – three times the distance in Arctic conditions.

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