The Long Tour of Bradwell

6.30 in the morning, I was scrabbling around the house checking my kit then re checking for no other reason than to burn off some nervous energy.

For the last 6 months I’d been bigging myself up about running my first ultra marathon, or intro ultra for those die hard runners. Inspired by the efforts of my two colleagues Paul and Hood who had been in training for the Snowdon Trail Marathon, I decided to set myself a new challenge. I’m not built to go fast so distance seemed like the obvious choice. This led me to the Long Tour of Bradwell, a 35 mile route following the rim of the Hope Valley, with an excursion onto the edge of Kinder.

Preparation had consisted of a few 10 mile runs around the local area but most importantly I bought myself a fancy new running watch; this was obviously going to make the difference. I had even thought about reccying some of the different sections but never got round to it. How hard could it be?

Race day arrived, not a cloud in the sky, the temperature was around 15 degrees but was supposed to climb to the low 20s by mid-afternoon. Had I been doing anything else I would have welcomed a day like this, but today I would have given anything for some cloud cover.


(L) Looking (over)confident | (R) Spot the guy paying no attention to the race briefing!

We set off - my first major error happened about half a mile in when I realised I hadn’t turned my new watch on. Anyone who uses tech like this or Strava knows that if it isn’t recorded you might as well not have done it and I wanted every mile to be counted!

A mile in and I was feeling strong. Everyone was walking as we ascended behind the cement works, I ran the bits I could but felt that if everyone else was walking they knew something I didn’t so decided to ease off.

My second embarrassing moment happened when a lady asked me for directions, we were supposed to be descending down cave dale into Castleton. It’s a route that I’ve been up countless times but never down. At this point I realised that maybe checking out the route beforehand would have been beneficial. Being a bloke obviously meant that getting the route map or description out of my bag wasn’t an option; instead we waited for someone to point us in the correct direction.

The first 9 miles of the course was merciless, Hollins Cross down into Edale, up to the Druid’s Stone, then steeply descending to the valley floor before climbing back out via Back Tor to the summit of Lose Hill, then contouring round Win Hill. I was worried, if you didn’t get to the half way mark at the Thornhill trail by 2pm you were cut off and I still had a distance to go. The valley section had taken its toll as I had totally underestimated how difficult it would be. Progress had been very slow especially up Back Tor. But the thought of having to face the guys at work without having completed half the route helped me dig deep and grind out this hilly section of the race.

View from Ringing Roger

I made the cut off point, but wasn’t particularly excited about doing so as I was very aware that I was only half way round, physically broken and to make matters worse the chafing had started...

The route now dropped into Bamford through the very scenic mill area then climbed (of course) up to Stanage via Dennis Knoll. I was surprised how quickly progress was made along this section. A mixture of running and walking. That and I was with some ladies that were apparently determined to prove how weak I was, their company was brief as we leap frogged each other before they disappeared into the distance, it wouldn’t have been that bad if they weren’t about twice my age. However I am used to this having run plenty of local fell races, so my pride only stung for a few minutes.

Stanage to Burbage car park was familiar ground, I also had the mental boost of teaming up with a bloke who had decided to enter the event only the previous morning. Having someone to run with made a big difference, I could talk to them to gauge how they were feeling but more importantly I could slip stream them in the tough sections.

Burbage down to Padley Gorge remained steady, at this point I had the mental boost of completing marathon distance. I was about 6 hours slower than I thought I would have been but I was happy. Only seven miles left, easy, about an hour and half left I thought to myself….

The descent towards Hathersage remained steady, however route markers were becoming a bit scarce meaning one or two wrong turns cost me valuable time, I was gaining on the lead runner who was about four hours ahead of me: in fact they had probably already finished but I didn’t want to think about that yet.


Arms up for the finish line

(or to relieve the chafing?)

We reached the final water station at mile 29. ‘Only a bit of uphill then a steep descent into Bradwell’ we were told…….an hour and a half later I was still climbing. This last section of the race mentally broke me and I was surprised at how much this negatively impacted me. The climb over Abney is long, it would be a great 10k route but after 30 miles I still wasn’t sure if I was going to make the end. As I could only walk the uphills at this point it felt endless. All the chat between me and my new companion stopped and I started noticing weird little details like my little toe nails felt peculiar (I still don’t know if they are attached as I stuck them down with plasters after the race), we hadn’t seen anyone in front for ages and finally to round it off my watch came up with a low battery message….had we been out for that long? We were still climbing, through Abney along possibly the longest track in the Peak. 33miles came and went? We should have finished by now? 34 miles also came and went, where have we gone wrong? Finally, we crested the ridge and looked down onto Bradwell.

The descent was steep, but we were feeling recharged having seen the finishing line. This was short lived as the route markers started to take us from half way down the hill back up. We regained the top of Abney only to realise that these markers must have been from some other part of the race. This was mentally crushing! We descended.

I finally crossed the finishing line after 9hrs 22min. I was surprised how long the last section had taken but having checked my watch, which survived the distance, we had completed 35 miles. It was a great experience with hind sight. I could have done a few things to improve my time; training would probably have been a good start. Reccying some of the sections would have made a big difference but carrying more Vaseline would probably have had the biggest impact!


By John Bradley
Shop Manager

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John Bradley
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Marathon Man

It’s arrived! I’m excited and nervous, talking race plans and gear with my training partner and Outside colleague Matt Hood in the car. When we arrive, we sign up – me for the marathon and Hood for the half.

Carb loading before the race (how did he get through that door, anyway?)

We take a walk on the first mile and half of the route, and return via the pub for some pasta based carb-loading. Then comes the packing of the bag for tomorrow. Then the second pack, and a final repack, just to be sure. Why have I brought three waterproof jackets?

Kit check

Inov8 Race Ultra shoes

Salomon calf compression sleeves

Rab Meco long sleeved top

Beannie Buff

Shorts and socks

Into the pack (UD Wasp) goes;

UD soft bottle

Black Diamond Trail Poles

Life Systems first aid kit

Outdoor Research Beanie

Silk liner gloves (dry bag)

Berghaus Vapourtherm top

Spark Windshirt (not used)

Rab Charge waterproof jacket (very much used)

Ipod and earphones and a £5 note (dry bag)

Phone in an Aquapac case

Jelly babies

Peanut butter sandwich (not eaten)

Clif bar

Fenix 3 (on the wrist)

Race Day

I wake up at 5.30am and it’s dry and mild outside. I allow myself a brief moment of hope before I drop off again, only to wake at 7.30 to the forecasted heavy rain. Brilliant. I throw down breakfast and get dressed for the race before heading down to the start. There are plenty of runners about and in spite of the grim weather the atmosphere is booming.

We are ushered to the start and deliberately take up our places towards the rear of the field – there are a few racing whippets on show at the front of the pack. We take the obligatory selfie and then 10 9 8 7 6 etc. Go! Well the whippets go – we don’t move for another minute and a half, but eventually we’re off!


 Starting selfie | Running with the pack

We take a nice steady pace through town to the bottom of the first hill, where I turn to Hood, shake his hand and we wish each other luck, each now going off at our own pace.

I feel alone now in a sea of hundreds of runners, of all shapes, sizes and weird dress senses! The pack makes its way up into the mountains. I’m feeling good when I’m suddenly shoved into the first drink station. It’s a complete surprise to me. We’ve only come 2 miles and people are rushing to take on gels and drink. At the next one I brace myself for a scrimmage, but we’ve spread out and become civilised by now. I take water and gels and get going, but then realise I’ve got an empty carton to dispose of (a good race rule – any littering results in disqualification) so I reverse and find a bin back at the station.

Four miles

I check the Fenix and I’m on pace for sub 12 minute miles. As we turn and head for Rhyd Ddu I’m cheered by some people who clap and shout out my name. I’m impressed they know me (surely they can’t have been reading the blog?) but then I realise my name is on my race number. Oh well, not so famous after all.

The field is really spread out now and the weather is grim. We run into Beddgelert Forest and get a little respite from the rain amongst the trees. A steady downhill leads to Beddgelert village and I remember the fiver I stashed in my pack for an ice-cream when we reached this point. Well, not going to happen now. Maybe soup and a roll if I spot somewhere!

The crowds in the village are massive as I go down the main street people are shouting my name and clapping and even the occasional dog joins in – this really does feel good! I wave back and for some reason shout “Merci”, I have no idea why. Maybe I’m going a bit crazy by this point.

Leaving Beddgelert behind the trail goes quiet again and I can only hear the sound of my own breath. The stretch coming up is the bit I didn’t enjoy on my recce, but a check of the Fenix tells me I’m on pace so I keep it steady.

Here we go; slipping, sliding, it’s really muddy now. All the runners are walking this section as it seems the safest thing to do. For about a mile we struggle through and thankfully I avoid taking a tumble. We cross back over the main road and I decide to have a few nuts and raisins. It’s a steady plod for me now – I’m soaked to the skin but it’s not cold so I’m fine.


Conditions were a bit grim

Sixteen miles

The next feed station. I arrive wet and tired and take on a couple of cups of water and a gel and remember to throw away my rubbish this time. I take out my poles and head for Pen-y-Pass. Time check is fine, but my pace has dropped; that’s ok so long as I get there before the cut off.

It’s a steady 4 mile climb up to Pen-y-Pass and I’m thankful for the poles. There’s plenty of room for people to pass me if they need to, but only one person does. We exchange the traditional grunt, good luck, well done, keep going. I can see a great string of runners high up on the pass and it looks a bloody long way away. I make a mental note not to look up again. It’s hurting but I’m getting there.

I make it to Pen-y-Pass before the cut off time. My plan of action is to change my jacket here, eat my sandwich and take on a good amount of liquid. Step one – take off wet jacket. Oh my God, it’s almost blown out of my hands. Step two – put on dry waterproof jacket. Step three – leave peanut butter sandwich in my pack, grab a handful of jelly babies and a swig of water and leave! It’s brutal stood here; absolutely horrendous wet, windy and cold – get moving!

Twenty miles

So, 20 miles in we get to climb Snowdon via the Pyg track. It winds up and up. Just round this corner, I keep telling myself. I’m alone at this point with only a handful of people coming down off the top. Then I come across a group of youths who begin to shout; “Go Paul! You’re the man! Dig in! Well done!” Then I’m asked for high fives. Wow! This really lifts my spirits and if you’re reading this, thanks guys!

On I go, wet, tired but happy. I’m caught up by another runner; we battle on together and I’m glad of the company. When we come across another fellow runner who’s hypothermic, we stop to see if we can help. He indicates he’s ok, but he needs to be rescued. With no phone signal we continue up and just before we reach the top, a couple of rescue guys are heading down to help him. They tell us we’ve only got 200m of the Pyg track to go.

Twenty two miles

On reaching the top I feel relieved more than anything. My hands are very cold and so are my legs. I’m still only in shorts. Finally I decide to stop and put on my waterproof trousers and gloves. Instantly I feel better and set off down but Arrgh! The pain in my knees is unbearable; I can only just move forwards. This really is hurting. Half a dozen runners pass me and now they’re asking if I’m ok. “Yep” I reply with a smile. I’m not.

I make a decision to see how I feel at the next water station and in a flash of inspiration decide to try walking down backwards. Poles tucked under my arms, I start singing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. I’m good for six steps and then the pace goes into warp speed help! I manage to stop and get my breath back. Maybe not the best idea.

As the terrain begins to level out, I find I can move my knees a bit more. Great, at least I’m moving with a little less pain now. I reach the last water station but everyone has gone. There’s a box of gels left but I can’t find any water. I think maybe the two guys going to rescue the runner near the top might have been called away from here, so I carry on down. Several more runners pass and it’s clear to see everyone just needs to finish now, it’s been a long day.

Twenty five and half miles

I arrive on the road just above Llanberis where a marshal sends me into the woods with the words “just half a mile to go, keep going”. I follow the signs into another wood across the road, and I realise that I’m moving further and further away from the finish line. I can hear the tannoy system and it’s getting fainter. I continue about 400m out of this wood before I decide to back up just as a woman pops out. I explain I’m not sure of the route to the finish line. “I don’t care, I just know I’ve nearly finished!” she replies and sets off running down the road. Well ok!

Twenty five and 9/10 miles

Two more runners appear out of the woods and after a quick discussion we set off after the previous lady. I’ve already run this section, I’m thinking grudgingly as I turn a corner and see a marshal who tells me there’s only 400m to go. I up my pace to a crawl.

400 metres to go!

I can see the finish line now and I’m buzzing. Hood is there, shouting words of encouragement, wow this feels good, my first ever marathon and I’m going to get a PB! As I go over the chip timer I raise my hands into the air and hear a spectator shout to keep going – it’s only 200m to the actual finish line. Gulp! I dig deep, tears in my eyes as I cross the line in 7hrs 30mins.

Someone puts a medal round my neck and hands me a drink of water. First words out of my mouth are, “I could murder a cup of tea,” and Hood points me straight at the tea and biscuits station. Result!


Where's my medal? | Did someone mention tea?

Did it! Did it! Done! Would I do it again? Yes, yes, yes! What a fantastic day I’ve had. I’m knackered, don’t get me wrong but it’s been a great experience. Huge thank yous to all the people who’ve been into the shop to wish me luck, to all the spectators who cheered and clapped and to all the marshals who stood in the pouring rain and greeted us with smiles and encouragement. Thanks and I’ll be back!

By Paul Morris

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Paul Morris
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