I started the Peak District Boundary Walk attempt at Ringinglow (Lady Cannings Car Park) at 0800 local time on Friday 5th June 2020. I ran in a clockwise direction and was supported by an army of running club friends from GoodGym Sheffield, plus my good friend Charlie, and my parents Liz and Chris. I had support at each of the intermediate points on the route, which are spaced an average of 9-10 miles apart. At each of these points, I refilled my water bottles and restocked my food supplies.
During some stages of the attempt, I was joined by support runners. This is currently permitted by UK Coronavirus rules; but we were careful to avoid physical contact and to maintain a distance between one another. Sam joined me for the first 50k.
The weather on the first day was quite good; outbreaks of sunshine interspersed with short sharp showers. We winded our way south past Chatsworth House and onto the Limestone Way, near the town of Matlock. The sunshine quickly dried us off after each shower, and by mid-afternoon I was about 50k in and now running on my own until early the next morning. I was still met by support crew every few hours, however.
Near Waterhouses on Friday evening, I had fish and chips courtesy of my kind parents, and later, by 2230 I had reached Tittesworth Reservoir for a clothing and shoe change. The sun had recently gone down so it was time to don my head torch. I set off from this support point in to the night, but still in favourable weather conditions. Over the next few hours however, the weather gradually deteriorated, and shortly after reaching Wildboarclough at 0100 on Saturday morning, the rain and wind started in earnest. A thick band of rain was due to pass over the Peak District between this time and late morning, and this indeed turned out to be the case. As I summited Shutlingsloe from its east side, I was now exposed to the full force of the north westerly wind, together with all the rain it was carrying, and it almost lifted me off my feet. I donned my full waterproof and ran off the hill as quickly as possible, since the wind chill was testing my lightweight clothing setup.
Now in Cheshire and on high ground above the Cheshire plains, I had a striking view of Manchester at night, its high rise buildings lit up in an ode to civilization. At around 0330 I descended into Bollington and was finally joined by another loyal support runner, Ash. We carried on to Whaley Bridge together, in the persistent wind and rain. I warmed up here by borrowing a jacket from one of my support crew, and on the next leg to Buxton I felt very sleepy for the first time. After nearly falling asleep while walking for 10 minutes, I brought out my headphones and put on the podcast 13 Minutes To The Moon, and the dramatic tale of Apollo 13 was enough to rouse me back to full awake status. I found myself running again with a new lease of life, despite the now horizontal driving rain, requiring me to shield my eyes from the pain of the droplets, and shortly thereafter on the descent to Buxton the wet conditions which had been with me for the last 8 or 9 hours halted, and I met my good friend Charlie for the first time. I was feeling great again by this point.
Charlie joined me on some of the next leg, through the deep limestone Derbyshire Dales. This new found positivity was a little short lived, since on this next leg to Peak Forest I developed my first set of blisters, on both feet. After meeting with my family and support crew at Peak Forest, I engaged in some footcare, changed shoes and immediately felt better. The next leg to Hayfield starts off in fairly dull fashion, where the route makes its way through many grassy farmers’ fields. Towards the end of this section however, it climbs up to South Head, a hill I'm familiar with having lived in the area a few years ago. As I rounded South Head and began the descent towards Hayfield, I spotted a familiar face in the form of Stu Westfield, the current FKT holder! This was a complete surprise to me, and proved a big morale boost. I chatted with Stu as we descended down to my next support point, and he pointed out I had a good chance of going under 60 hours, which had never been even my most optimistic aim. I had been aiming for 72 hours, so this realisation, while uplifting, also ensured that the pressure remained to go as fast as I could!
I had planned to sleep at Hayfield, but I was making excellent progress and it was only late afternoon at this point. My organising crew informed all supporters that I was shifting the sleep point 10 miles away to Glossop, and I set off up Lantern Pike still feeling strong and fast. As I descended to Glossop, I still didn't feel tired, but I wanted to attempt a sleep stop, so Charlie made the back of the van comfortable for me to have a lie down, and after a meal of chicken pasta I attempted to rest. After listening to the car next to us blaring out music for a few minutes, I asked Charlie if we could move to the top of the car park, and he kindly obliged.
An hour and a half later, with not a wink of sleep achieved, I gave up on the idea of rest and decided to keep going instead. A big lesson learnt from this run is that if your brain is not ready for sleep, and is instead orientated to carrying on, it is not worth trying to sleep. Nevertheless, my muscles did at least have some rest for a brief time. Now, setting off up the trail with Charlie at 2230 on Saturday night, I only had one 60 mile 'day' between where I was, and the finish at Ringinglow. Although 60 miles in a day would normally feel like a long way, I reminded myself that I had already covered about 130 miles, and by breaking the 60 miles into each of the individual sections, I was able to rationalise the task ahead. As we climbed over the hill towards Tintwistle, the sporadic showers and windy weather of Saturday gave way to calm, clear and still conditions. I felt refreshed and relished the task ahead, as Charlie doubled back on himself and I was left alone again, heading towards Greenfield and a meet up with my next support runner, Carys. I once again put on my headphones and played Start Key by Nelver. I find that the right music at the right time can be a shortcut to a complete change in mental outlook, and the fast paced but understated beat of this track put me in a euphoric mood which lasted a good while. The moonlight illuminated the Oldham suburbs and I could again see Manchester, and while everyone in the lowlands was in slumber I was having my own unlikely adventure on the hills. It was exactly where I wanted to be. I was once again running at a great pace, despite being 135 miles into my journey. I arrived into the support point at 0140 to find Carys had just arrived.
We climbed onto Dick Hill in what was now a descending still fog. The obelisk loomed out of the mist only when we were almost on top of it, and we followed my watch to navigate the intricate network of paths leading up onto the moorland. After Carys had turned right off the hill and said her goodbyes, I made my way through a tiny hamlet, where I saw a 4x4 coming towards me. It stopped, and I anticipated a curious farmer asking me what I was doing going through their farm at 3am. It was actually a pair of friendly police officers.
"You're keen mate, how far are you going?"
"Well if I told you I left Sheffield on Friday morning, and I'm hoping to get back there about 8pm tonight, what would you think about that?"
"You can't be serious, fair play mate!"
I went on my way, and shortly thereafter was back in familiar territory as I joined the Pennine Way near Brun Clough Reservoir. I'd never ran this part of the Pennine Way in this direction, but I was familiar with the terrain from my experience on the Spine. While making my way over the flagstones, I once again felt extremely sleepy, and began to connect in my mind the fact that I always seemed to feel tired shortly after dawn. This time, no podcast or music could abate the feeling, and at times I had to slow almost to a stop to prevent myself from falling off the trail and into the peat mud for a much-needed nap. I was only a few kilometres from my next support point where I would meet Tom and Annie, and equally important, a homemade pizza sent from my good friend Andrew. I resolved to keep moving at all points until this meeting, whereupon I would decide whether to have a short kip. On finding Tom and Annie and consuming three quarters of the aforementioned pizza under a low bridge, surrounded by sheep droppings and peat mud, my tiredness had seeped away, and Annie and I set off at a jogging pace across the post-industrial moorland toward Holme. Arriving there later, I again tried to have a short sleep in the back of the van, but the opportunity for slumber had again passed, and after less than an hour I was on my way to Langsett with Annie. I was now in my final fresh pair of socks and shoes, and I had taken the time at Holme to focus once again on patching up my rapidly deteriorating blisters. I now had 30 miles remaining, and on the descent towards Winscar Reservoir, Annie and I broke into a consistent jog. She stayed in lockstep with me throughout this time and was instrumental in helping me force this pace, which was now rapidly bringing my ETA at the finish forward. This pace was retained all the way through Dunford Bridge and along the Trans Pennine Trail, now also joined by Tom on the trail. As we descended to Langsett Reservoir, I realised that a time of sub-60 hours was well and truly achievable, but that in order to be confident of this, my long and relaxed stops at some of the recent support points would have to give way to efficient re-supply and pacer changeovers. Tom ran ahead to get the team ready and to find me the food and water I needed. Here I said goodbye to my Charlie, and Zof joined me for the next leg to Low Bradfield.
We made consistent progress, and at Bolsterstone I was treated to an unscheduled stop from my sister Anna and her husband Joe. Anna joined us on the trail, and now Zof had someone to talk to, since by this point, I was fairly focussed just on getting to the finish. My friend Beth also surprised us at this point and joined us all the way down to Low Bradfield. Several times on this leg, we engaged in careful cow negotiations, attempting to reassure them that we were not there for their calves. This had been a common occurrence throughout the adventure, together with a number of close sheep encounters. I could now really start to feel that the end was in sight, a mere 9 miles away. At Low Bradfield I was joined by Chris W, Celine and Suze, and we set off, with Chris helpfully taking charge of navigation, Celine keeping me cheerful with her upbeat style, and Suze ensuring I was feeling OK (I mainly was, although my feet were becoming more and more painful).
At Rivelin the end was in sight, with only 6km to go, but I felt the need to take some painkillers to dull the blister rubbing pain and swelling. A few minutes later I felt much better, and through Brown Edge Farm, we accelerated to a running gait, now joined once again by Sam. We threaded our way through the Second World War bomb craters and onto Ringinglow Road. Less than 2km of mainly downhill road running remained. We kept up the good pace, appropriately running past a Peak District border sign. At the Norfolk Arms in Ringinglow, we turned right and kept running, now uphill, the remaining few hundred metres to the finish at Lady Cannings. I crossed the line in 58 hours, 41 minutes, to the cheering of some of my support team. Stu Westfield has also taken the time to meet me at the finish, and had even brought Prosecco. What a kind act from the previous FKT holder! My three year old daughter, on hearing the cheering from others, turned to me and declared that I was a "such a good runner". A lovely endorsement to have.
It is now a few days later and I have caught up on some sleep, and my feet are now much better. I'm taking the time to reflect on this extraordinary experience, and I will certainly write more about it in the future, once I have processed it a little more. For the time being, I'm incredibly proud to have achieved a big time off the previous FKT, and I couldn't have done it without my ever-positive support team, who not only kept me fed, watered, and warm, but who more importantly provided much needed positive psychological support. I cannot thank them enough.
Trip Report HERE.
Note: This run was followed on our Tracking Now page.