Ranger Ultras - High Peak 100k

Over the coming months I've got three 100k races coming up and the High Peak 100k was the first of these.  On paper it should have been the easiest, more so as the weather in September is usually benign.  The reality was somewhat different, weather forecasts were stating it was the hottest day of the year hovering around 30c with very high humidity levels.  It was clear that the weather alone was going to make this a sufferfest and it didn't disappoint.

I decided to be quite conservative with fluids, reverting to my expedition pack which is designed for multi day races.  It holds 2 x 750ml bottles, plus space for my 2 litre bladder.  Although there were 7 water stations along the route, I wanted to ensure that I could drink freely from the start and get a feel for my consumption until I was properly settled into the race.  The downside to this strategy was a rather heavy race pack...

At 9am the race started and it was my initial plan to try and finish the 100k in somewhere between 10 and 11 hours.  Despite the early start it was already warm and humid and after just a few km it was clear that this was a race against the conditions just to finish.  Time and position at such an early point in the race were irrelevant.  Despite this, I was co-leader and we built up a sizable advantage.  Thankfully my fellow runner had recce the route which in places was more intricate than I had thought.  Unfortunately my navigation wasn't as sharp as usual as I was using my Garmin watch (rather than my handheld GPS) for the first time and it took a while for me to 'key' into what it was telling me.

Somehow we missed the first checkpoint at 9km, though wasn't clear whether we were there before it was set up, or just missed it as coincidentally it was in the same place where registration for a bike race was taking place.  It didn't bother me as I still had plenty of fluids so would have run through anyway.  This was probably of more concern for my fellow racer who only had 2 x 200ml bottles which was either very brave or optimistic.  

The early part of the course was certainly the best bit of it with stunning views, even at low level where you follow a reservoir before climbing into the High Peak.  Although it was very up and down, it also forced a little rest here and there which feels slightly counter-intuitive as it was this section where the majority of the climb exists.  It was very difficult to describe how I was feeling at this stage; I don't think there was ever going to be a pace that you could call comfortable as the heat just sapped your strength.  At about the 20km mark I slowly started to build a lead but it wasn't by design and I would have been comfortable at this stage to continue running as a pair.  I think my fellow runner found the heat was becoming too much and I suspect the lack of fluid intake had probably taken its toll.

As for me, I felt ok but it was a constant balance between trying to get enough fluid down to stay hydrated, but without getting an upset stomach.  I was also taking electrolyte tablets as being a profuse sweater I knew that using powders dissolved in my bottles were never going to be anywhere near enough.  I reckon I took 20-25 during the course of the day (each contains 300mg of sodium), plus extra salts in a few gels plus whatever salts were in my water bottles at the start of the race.  Its debatable whether that is too much, but I was reminded by what the race doctor at the Marathon des Sables told us.  We were basically told that salt in everyday life is considered bad but when it gets this extreme its almost impossible to overdose in the space of 24 hours.  Although I was drinking loads my appetite was the opposite - I had a bar after about 5 miles when I still felt ok and a bite of marzipan after 10 miles which I struggled with.  Other than that I had an orange at 35k, a banana at 70k (carried from the Friden checkpoint but eaten at Parsley Hay) and a further banana with only 3 miles of the race left (5k after the last aid station).  I also was carrying 6 gels and they were the only things I could stomach in these conditions and I made it a thing to try and take them evenly throughout the day.

A second water station was set up around the 20km mark and again I ran through as although by now my 2 litre water bladder was empty, I still had 1.5 litres in my bottles so I was confident that it was enough to the next checkpoint at Friden (35km).  It was around here that I saw my fellow leader for almost the last time as by now although we were close together we were working independently.  We did briefly see each other at the bottom of a steep valley shortly after I had a quick loo stop but from then on I was by myself.  At this point I was genuinely not concerned about race position, its so early in the race and even on a normal day lots of things can go wrong so my focus was still about the finish and nothing else.  I just went at a pace that felt sustainable, but on a day like today there was no such thing as taking it easy due to the heat.

At 25km I hit the disused railway line that has been converted into a fairly even track.  On the plus it was flat, the views of the surrounding hills are still stunning and on paper was eminently runnable.  The problem was also that it was eminently runnable - no respite whatsoever so little to no opportunity to take a breather by hopping over a style or walk up a steeper bit.  There was also very little to no shade in the main part and this coincided with the hottest part of the day.  As I got close to Friden I needed to make a decision as whether to turn round and complete the 70k version of the race or push on.  The 70k version was never in my mindset pre-race, but I just didn't really think I could comprehend a further 30k in these conditions.  Also, when the opportunity to turnaround is handed to you on a plate it becomes hard to resist.  Several times on the approach to Friden I had to walk as I was overheating, if not already had mild heatstroke.  At the CP I took 5-10 minutes and decided to go for it.

Somewhere along the railway track

The next section to the turnaround point at Middleton Top at 50km was little short of dire.  I felt terrible, had an upset stomach and was massively overheating.  I had to walk probably 70% and there was just nothing in the tank to do more.  At this stage I had no idea whether it was an issue affecting everyone in the same way or was just me, but again it reinforced my belief that despite being the leader it was about completing the race and nothing more.  About 3km from Middleton Top I managed to run most of it, generally spurred on by knowing there was a visitor centre and the likely opportunity of some ice cold drinks and maybe even an ice cream!  I went straight through the checkpoint to the bemused look of the marshals and came back out with two bottles of coke and a Calippo!  I met my wife and son here which was both unexpected and a boost.  I arrived at 2.57pm and left at around 3.10pm.

Middleton Top Checkpoint

About 5 minutes after leaving the checkpoint I passed 2nd place heading on his way in.  I thought he looked good so expected him to catch up later on.  Over the following hour I passed several others on their way into Middleton Top so it was the only time on the course where I could see how I was doing relative to others.  The person I was running with early on was not among them, so assumed he had probably decided to do the 70k race instead.

Although the heat of the day was still present I managed to get into a steady shuffle in all bar one small uphill section back to Friden.  I was churning out 6-7 min kms and was going considerably quicker than I was on the way in (6.30 - 11 min kms).  I think I got to Friden at about 4.45pm and left a few minutes later.  Although the humidity was still as high as ever, there was a bit more shade as the sun was lower in the sky.  I made it my mission to run without stopping to the end of the railway path which was also more or less 75% of the race completed.

Friden (return leg)

If anything, I was looking forward to the final 25km to the finish, more variety in the terrain, more mentally stimulating so it distracted from the suffering and also softer on the feet.  I ran everything that was reasonably runnable but it was much slower.  As an example, the road section skirting Buxton I was averaging 7-9 mins/km.  It was around this stage where race position started to creep into my mind and I started to wonder how I would react if I was caught.  I think I concluded that it would be a shame after all this distance by myself but my overriding desire was still just to finish.  I was surprised that I was still in the lead, not knowing at the time that I had increased my lead at Middleton Top from about 10 mins to 30 mins at Friden.

Think this was towards the end of the disused railway section.

After leaving Buxton it really was last light and just after 8pm it was time to put on my head torch.  I managed to leave it until the climb back onto the High Peak was complete but the terrain after was too uneven to see where I was going.  With about 2km to the final aid station (10-11km remaining) I did the worst thing and had a look behind me only to see a head torch about 5 mins behind me!  I was now in a quandary as up until now I really didn't care about whether I was leading or not.  I was quite happy pootling along at decent pace but without pushing it.  However, a large part of me was thinking that I had led for most of the day and to be now overtaken with a few miles left would be a gut punch.  I left the final aid station after only stopping for a minute and I made it my mission to defend my lead.

I was averaging 5-6 mins/km on the flattish sections in the last 10k and I was going all out.  I also managed to avoid treading on the 30 or so frogs that were on the path.  I always find it fascinating where wildlife exists where you least expect it as it was still high on the hills and not close to any obvious water course.  It was only with about 3km to go was I reasonably sure that I wasn't going to get caught.  Still, that didn't mean that I took it any easier, I pushed right to the end and finished in a time of 12hrs 20mins.  So about 5.57 for the first 50km, and around 6.10 for the return section with the remaining 13 mins spent at Middleton Top.


I finished in a heap, shivering and helped into the recovery position.  The volunteers and race officials were brilliant.  They were probably more concerned than I was as I've been like this before and is how I race by leaving everything out on the course.  It probably took about an hour to get back into any sense of normality, and would have been much longer had I been left to my own device.  As for the head torch?  Well, all I can say was that I finished about 1hr 20mins ahead of 2nd, so whoever it was either in the 70km race (although I hadn't passed anybody for a good hour) or someone not connected with the race at all.  Either way I thought it was typical of me to push it when there was absolutely no reason to!  I was reminded by one of the volunteers who also helped at Kirk Yetholm in the Spine that I was convinced I was being chased down by a head torch there as well!  This time I'm 100% certain it was definitely a head torch unlike the Spine where I'm not certain how real it was due to sleep deprivation.   Clearly I have something about head torches that I need to work on...!

This race was right up there in terms of difficulty.  Whilst the Winter Spine is no doubt harder due to time of year and distance, completing a 100k is a mash up between longevity and intensity so pound for pound packs in more of a punch that was made much worse by the on course conditions.  Whilst debatable whether I took on too much Sodium, I never suffered from cramp so I probably judged it right overall, perhaps at the cost of an upset stomach.  It was also probably best to take on electrolytes this way as if nothing else I struggled to take on anything other than water or cordial in the final half of the race.

For anyone considering a first foray into a 100k race, this is definitely one to consider.  Its achievable and well supported and hopefully next time wont coincide with the hottest day of the year!

My first ever race win in a Ultra!


  1. Massive congratulations again, it was an honour to be overtaken by you in the dark around the frog section!!!

  2. Great to read how the race was from your point of view, amazing how different your race was to mine, in literally every aspect. Maybe see you there next year for another go in slightly cooler conditions - Ben (finished 2nd)

    1. Hi Ben. Good to meet you at the half way point and the finish. I did geek out a bit and stalked your Strava splits. I was about 30 mins ahead at 35k, reduced to 10mins at 50k, 30mins at 65k, 1hr at 90k and 1.23 at the Finish. I'm sure your partner must have told you about how I looked at the finished having thought you were only a few mins behind me at the last CP?! You had a very strong section between Friden and Middleton whilst I just wilted. I'd be very interested to hear about how the race unfolded from your point of view?


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