Peak Skyline Race Report - Jake Lane
On the 6th of August 130 runners line up on a school sports field in Buxton. At 8 am they are set off on the Peak Skyline (formerly the Peak Skyrace), a 48 km race with 2000 m of ascent (that’s 29.7 miles and 6560 ft of ascent in old money). This race has been in the diary since early February, and will be my first ultra. Having recce’d most of the course and stuck to a training plan without injury, I await the starting horn with the usual butterflies, confident I have done everything I can around in a sub-4 hours 45 minutes.
The race gets underway and in typical Peak District fashion with a 100 metre surge to a bottle neck before the first of many climbs. Climbing through the woods we top out at Solomon’s Temple where we’re greeted by the morning sun and piper on his bag pipes. We don’t keep our height for long its back into the tree line and a descent back into Buxton. During the descent I stretch the legs, shake out the nerves and relax… too much in the only section I haven’t run before I take a wrong turn. Thankfully it’s early on and a helpful marshal coming from HQ redirects back me to the course.
Toys go out the pram and my chimp takes over, the ensuing 30 minutes are a blur as Mr Grump storms up toward Axe Edge Moor. By the road crossing at Dane Head the race leaders are back insight. After a quick bottle change, I finally calm down as I reach the leading trio and hear that they too went wrong. The legs still are still feeling fresh on the trails to Cut-thorn (CP1) and the kilometres slip by uneventfully. Dropping the others I start to open up a lead.
The traverse over toward Flash Bottom and onto the second check point chops and changes between single track and trail and barring a slight navigation error (I decided to take the less boggy looking path) goes by uneventfully. As I reach the second checkpoint at Newstone Farm I am met by my mum and my sister (support team (1)) for a bottle change and some flapjack.
Refuelled and opening up a good lead, I set off looking forward to the next section (it’s the reverse of Passing Clouds Fell Race) heading over the moor toward Ramshaw Rocks, up Hen Cloud and onto The Roaches. Support from the public along this section is great and I am permanently running with a smile, It’s on the inside, to all on lookers I appear a muddy, sweating, with a grimace etched on my face. At Roach End support team ((2) my dad and my partner) are waiting with gels and encouragement, having ridden out from the start on bikes.
The route continues along the ridge to Lud’s Church before dropping into Gradbach. Where I am met by support team (1) who this time feed me my secret weapon ‘Grannies Chocolate Biscuit Cake’ think Rocky Road but the marshmallow has been replaced with walnuts, pecans and cherries. The next 4 km takes me to the bottom of Shutlingsloe, from afar it looks like Mount Crumpet from ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’. Just for giggles (or maybe to save Christmas) the route goes straight up then back down. I summit Shutlingsloe with a 7 minute lead but now the race is in its final third and uncharted territory for me. As I pootled up to the Cat and Fiddle Andy Bryce and Jakob Sliacan start to take chunks out of my lead.
At the Cat and Fiddle I am met by support team (1). Team 2 took a detour and ended up on the outskirts of Macclesfield. We do one last bottle change, stuff me full of the biscuit cake and I grab 3 caffeine gels for this final leg. As I leave the Cat and Fiddle for the short haul over to Shining Tor Andy and Jakob are still around a minute behind. Once on the Tor I have a good old faff (still on a bit of a sugar low) trying to locate the checkpoint flag. This allows Andy to catch up and we leave the checkpoint together with Jakob trailing by around 30 seconds. The following section of the race takes us down to Deep Clough and The Goyt Valley which allows me to hang on to Andy’s coat tails and take onboard 2 of the gels.
We don’t hang around in the valley its straight back up Berry Clough, which despite only being 1200 m long ascending 100 m takes the wind right out of our sails. This allows Jakob to latch onto Andy and me. Half way up we were met by a familiar face. My sister not content with sitting at the finish line has jogged out to cheer us on and trail us back to the finish. This gives me the impetus to have another gel and see what’s left in the tank. We crest the summit together and finally all that sugar is working. Now just only one final descent and 2 km of tarmac lay between us and the finish. For Jakub this is one descent too many and he cramps up badly leaving just Andy and myself. We exit the field neck and neck. As the gate slams shut behind us we both know it is now a two horse race. As we hit the tarmac two more friendly faces ride into view my biking support having returned from Macclesfield give me one final bit of encouragement.
Over that final 2 km I keep the pace high. Tunnel vision sets in, and my hearing fades so all I hear is my own breathing as I try got get in as much oxygen as possible. As I round the final corner I chance a glance back, but Andy isn’t in sight. I cross the line in 1st (4:31:24) with Andy just 19 second behind. Jakob’s cramp on that final descent meant that he lost just over 3 minutes crossing the line in 4:34:55. The women’s race was won by Tracy Dean (FV40) in 5:11:35 with Emma Morton-Collings (FS) and Fiona Lynch (FV40) rounding out the podium in 5:45:43 and 5:45:53 respectively. Other age group winning times were: C. Bell (MV40) 4:58:50, G. Pettengell (MV50) 6:14:46 and A. Frost (FV50) 6:36:01. Of the 130 starters 105 finished, over half the retirements were due to injury with the others not making the cut-offs at the manned checkpoints.
This was a great introduction to ultras and has given me a lot to think about. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a short ultra. The race organisers have announced that next year they will also hold a Half-Skyline making the event more accessible to anyone wanting to give ultras and trail running a go.