Bullock Smithy Hike - 1st Sep 2007

by Nigel Aston

The longer the race the more there is to be gained from a good recce or even better learning from experienced competitors. This was my fourth run in the Bullock Smithy and I put into practice various improved route choices from previous years and yet was still surprised by fellow competitors making better ones.

The weather was near ideal this year, with light winds, mild, some sun and dry. 190 walkers and runners set off at 12 noon from Devonshire Park after a pep talk from the scout leader which gave a mention to the Baden Powell centenary and thanks to the organisers and many helpers. The preferred route goes straight out onto the A523 and as with previous years Tony Okell (winner last four years, and five times before that) was setting the pace with perhaps just one person keeping up with them - not me, I just observed from a distance as the two disappeared out of sight.

With cap on, short sleeves and a splashing of sun cream, coupled with a belly of porridge and pasta and I was well set for the long day ahead. Jogging into Lyme Park and a gradual climb up to the first check point at Bowstonegate - no time to admire the fabulous panoramic view though as it's a fast bit down the road. A short climb up the side of Whaley Moor gives time for a drink from the water bottle which also lightens the load a bit. Paul Rushworth and Julian Brown lead the way in a group of three as we make good progress to Furness Vale - the traffic is kind and we cross the A6 without slowing. Julian gets ahead along with Mark Ollerenshaw.

The track climbing up to Edale Cross gradually gets rougher. Keeping to the edge is kinder on the feet and eventually the gradient eases and we are able to jog. I've now overtaken Julian and Mark, and Paul has dropped off - perhaps he was overheating as he'd partially stripped off by this time! Three young women standing together offer us their encouragement - or were they waiting for Paul to come by? There are no drinks at this CP, so it's over the top and down Jacobs ladder - preserving my knees and thighs for later on - not so a fast descending Steve Temple (top five in each of last four years) who whistles past. He paces himself well and has passed me on previous events after an hour or so. He seems to enjoy the downhill and skips away along the lovely gradient to Booth Farm. It's now Mark and myself who stay together through Edale and Castleton CP. Castleton is a shock to the system, from the quite hills to a bustling tourist village, dodging cars and people. Julian catches us here. Quarter of a jam sandwich plus, a lick of salt, a bottle of water before jogging off up Cave Dale.

As Mark and myself set off up Cave Dale there is some activity from a few walkers taking a stupid steep descent route. They dislodge a football sized rock that comes bounding down in between Mark and myself. That gets the adrenalin going a bit but not enough to encourage a jog yet. The sun now stays in it's time to put the cap away. Mark is quiet but when 'entrance right' Julian appears jogging having taken a better route than ours along Cave Dale then Mark accelerates off after him. On these long races you may get people that are prepared to travel at the same pace but often it's solitary as it now was for 3 hours. A chance to go at my own pace and look after feet and shins - already tightening up, and eat more regularly.

Peak Forest CP is orange slices and banana - plus a few crisps for salt. The three young ladies seen at Edale Cross appear again, sitting inside and encouraging everyone - great!. The fruits are consumed jogging away from the CP and the bottle of water saved for the next uphill. Limestone way - dry and easy running with not much thinking to do all the way to Miller's Dale. This CP is in a large barn, which always seems a bit unfriendly when there are only a few people in it. No doubt such places are welcoming and busy later on in the night with hot brews going for the walkers. They probably welcomed it too as rain did come in the early hours. For now there was plenty of light (5 pm). More Limestone Way to Chelmorton CP - this being in a tent with 6 helpers and 2 gas rings going, a rather cosy affair when I entered. This would certainly be fun later on with a few walking groups in it. I was out quickly after tally card punching, with a bottle of water.

I like the next section, there is a good feeling of being well over half way - six CPs to go. The off-road track past the quarry is good running then some grassy fields and soon into Earl Sterndale which was having a 'fun day'. Do I stay for the BBQ on the green or grab another bottle of water and continue jogging? Unfortunately it's along the road for me, shins causing foot cramps but thankfully am able to keep jogging. Some Kendal mint cake keeps the energy levels up. Now, an incentive arrives. In the distance I spot two runners, noting one as Mark, the other I cannot identify. They are 5 minutes ahead. Perhaps I can catch them? So my pace quickens slightly - at least it does mentally as I cannot really tell whether I am moving any faster. There are occasional glimpses of the two ahead on the straighter sections and I gradually reel them in - 4 mins, then 3 mins then 2 mins then 1 min. After an hour and a half I am just a minute behind them. Cumberland Cottage goes by - those three ladies appear again - another boost to the system, I must thank them next time.

A mile down the road and I catch the two runners - who are walking. It's Steve Jackson keeping Mark company. I've finished '=' with Steve on two previous occasions so I am pleased to catch up with him again - he looks fresh. I jog on, the other two keep walking and I get ahead and make my way in the sunset over the Macclesfield Forest track. A glance over my shoulder and the others are not in sight - was I really going that much quicker? The rocky track is just passable without a torch, and the tarmac the other side means I manage in available light until Walker Barn. Before reaching it my heart sinks as along the main road come Mark and Steve jogging - they'd gone the long way, staying low, which proved to be a bit quicker and now they were a minute ahead.

Head torch out and plough down the main road to the Kerridge-end turn off - no sign of the other two. Still, I'm up on my previous best time and providing I keep going along my known route I should be on for a PB - but it would be nice to catch the others. It's not until Bollington is reached that the others appear - from a different direction again - I must take a good look at the map when I get home. The three of us carry on down the canal. A welcome sight is bridge 25 and the last CP. Time just for half a bottle of water, no sitting down and we're off again jogging - walking - jogging - walking. Walking feels so good after jogging but trying to start jogging again is such an effort. Now it's turn off to Wood Lanes, trying out probably most people's route home but the first time for our group. I get the navigation wrong here and we end up down Dickens Road and the A523 to the finish rather than the rutted Towers Road. However it made a change and not too much of a deviation. We all manage a slightly quicker jog (not quite a run) for the last 200m 'downhill' to the scout headquarters finish. For me it's another '=' with Steve Jackson, as well as a PB.

To celebrate I have a sit down - my first for 11 hours - and a cup of water. The three ladies are at the finish - so it's handshakes all round and I say 'Well done' to them (meaning - thanks for supporting us). Whilst dozing in the car I hear the rain come down and my sympathy goes out to those still on the course.