A last minute addition to my calendar, I justified the long drive down to the southern Peak District by combining it with a mountain bike ride in the South Pennines the next day. Unfortunately that meant sleeping in the car the evening after a marathon, which can be painful, but the Six Dales was surely worth it, as I would discover.
To backtrack, I pulled into the field parking lot within seconds of Nick Ham, who has completed this LDWA Challenge something like 9 times in the last decade. His finishing times seem quite fast, and he reasons that the Six Dales Circuit is one of the most runnable trail routes that he's done.
The course did start out very runnable, but also quite breathtaking. Our first descent dropped us into Biggin Dale and then sharply into Wolfscote Dale. Both of these valley were steep-sided and narrow, with just enough space in the bottom for a path and a small stream. I was fascinated by the valleys as they looked a big hand had cut them out with a sharp knife...and told myself that I needed to come back with hubby in tow for a dayhike. Because of course I didn't want to stop and admire the view, I was on a mission to see how fast I could run this "runnable" course.
Beresford Dale passed by without any fuss, and I was making good time, almost a minute faster per mile than my usual long-distance pace. The trail made a few sharp ups and downs for a bit until the second checkpoint at Monyash, where I gave away a few hard-won minutes by waiting in line for a cheesy hot oatcake, a specialty of the area. It didn't disappoint!
Next came a long (miles and miles) descent of Lathkill Dale, which was rocky underfoot but still runnable. I'm partial to forests and rivers, so the terrain was heaven for me, and the leaves were liberally sprinkled with bright fall colors. Then it was into Bradford Dale, which was definitely uphill but still gradual. Having covered almost 20 miles in 3 1/2 hours, I was on pace for a very quick time. The last checkpoint in Middleton was an out and back up and down a steep hill, and from there my pace slowed way down. The trail went from smooth and runnable to a muddy uphill slog that never seemed to end. My shoes must have weighed an extra pound from all the mud stuck to them, and I started getting quite tired from the quick miles I had just done.
So sorry, Long Dale, but you just aren't as nice as all the other Dales. Although, to be fair, even when I got on a road section I still felt like I was slogging through mud. Wait, maybe that was the stuff still stuck to my shoes... My time slipped away a bit at the end, but by sprinting in the last couple of fields I still managed to finish in 5 hours flat. Definitely have to say the weather helped with the fast time, by being mild, sunny, windless, and generally beautiful!
I was surprised that Nick had only finished 18 minutes faster than I had, as he took off like a rocket at the start. Met Helen Skelton post-race as well, winner of the Runfurther series this year, although she had walked today's route as part of injury rehab. Nick and Helen were both headed over the next day for the Runfurther Series awards ceremony after the Roaches Fell race, as Nick had finished the Grand Slam for the second time in 2011. With nowhere to get to, I stuck around in the hall quite a while afterwards, talking with Nick, Helen, and Roger Taylor, plus snacking on cakes and a filling meal of vegetarian curry and soup!
Even with the last ugly miles, I really enjoyed the route and will put it on my calendar again in coming years...
I will shamelessly offer up Nick Ham's photos here, as I hate being weighed down with a camera, even on such a beautiful day!