Many moons ago two outdoor novices set out on a weekend adventure to the Peak District. It was the first glimmer of sunshine after spending the winter months in rainy Manchester and we were eager to make the most of it. Having spent time during my childhood camping and hiking in the Dark Peak areas around Castleton, that was our destination of choice and I was excited to take Nathan there. We parked up in Edale, laced up our running trainers and with map in hand, headed out into the hills. We had planned a route up to Grindslow Knoll and back down Jacobs Ladder, so we marched past The Old Nags Head in that direction. Once we got into the meadows at Grindsbrook Booth we were greeted by a group of people basking in the sun, cheering, and shouting as runners came hurtling through the open gate at the top of the field. Naturally intrigued, we started chatting to some of the locals to find out we had arrived just in time to see the front runners of the notorious ‘Edale Skyline’ fell race cross the finish line. The race is approximately 21 miles with 1373m of ascent and graded a category ‘AL’ fell race, which essentially means steepest, longest, and hardest! Gripped by the excitement we continued our (now very pathetic) attempt at a run up The Nab ducking off the paths and cheering the oncoming runners. We managed to get as far as Grindsbrook Clough (not very far) before eating all our sandwiches and calling it a day – not quite the AL fell runners, but we were buzzing.
Upon our return home we spent hours researching the race and the route. I’d previously read about the Edale Skyline in Richard Askwith’s ‘Feet in the Clouds’, as it was one of the first Fell Runners Association (FRA) races to allow women to compete back when it started in 1974. We purchased a map of the route from Pete Bland Sports and headed back at our earliest convenience to do a recce. There was an obvious split at the half-way point at Mam Nick, so we planned to use Edale as a base and attempt the recce runs in a modest two stages. Many wrong turns and trips to the Peak District later, we cracked the route and each time we went back our love for the area grew stronger.
As well as being gruelling to run, the entry process to the Edale Skyline is equally as gruelling – you have to detail past race experience and demonstrate ability to navigate, come rain or shine – so when they announced the entries were open the following February, we completed our entry forms with 99% certainty we would NOT be allowed to take part. However, race day arrived and there were no rejection emails in our inboxes. As I forced down my morning porridge, I was still convinced we would arrive at kit inspection to be exposed as novices. It was only post-registration as we ambled to the start line in the same meadow where we had stood just the year before, that reality started to sink in – we were about to compete in the Edale Skyline.
The race starts with steep climb up to the rocky plateau of the Ringer Roger. I hung back as the long-legged, string vest wearing supermen sped off towards the sky, if I had any hope of getting round the course, I needed to pace myself. The stampede had levelled out as we reached the plateau which signalled the first checkpoint, the friendly marshals took our numbers and wished us luck as we passed, navigating the rocky terrain around Kinder towards Grindslow. It had been a particularly snowy winter that year and the peat bog that lines the paths was sodden – one wrong foot and you were crawling your way out of the mud. Chest on fire and coming up on Grindslow Knoll, I was growing acutely aware of the tight two hour cut off time at the Mam Nick / half way checkpoint. I was almost 50 minutes into the race with three checkpoints still to go, so I started to push harder over to Edale Cross and even managed to overtake a few runners on the Brown Knoll flag stones. Rushup Edge was challenging and the pack thinned out as people started to slow pace for the climb, I continued to plough on up the sandy incline and made into checkpoint six with just 30 seconds to spare!
On cloud nine after my victory, I floated past the day-trippers on Mam Tor and along the beautiful ridge line over to Lose Hill. Reality and achy limbs soon caught up with me whilst clambering through the heather towards the summit of Win Hill. This part of the race is an out-and-back and my spirits were lifted again as I spotted Nathan on his return from the summit. One sweaty embrace later and I was on my way again – only three more checkpoints to go. If you have ever had the pleasure to take part in a fell race, you will know that the people involved in these events are simply wonderful. There is something special about the camaraderie in the fell running community and I have made countless friends over the years – even if it is just for one race. As I was nauseously cramming flapjack in for the final climb back to Kinder I met Trev. Trev was a Dark Peak Fell Runner who had relocated down south but came back religiously for all the classics in the fell running calendar. We were running at the same pace so decided to hang out for a while, swapping tales of previous experiences and I think those final miles were made so much more bearable by the good company. I have coincidently bumped into Trevor on many races since! We hopped along the boulders to the final checkpoint at the Ringing Roger and managed not to face plant the rocky ground on the steep decent into the Grindsbrook meadows. I ran through the gate at the top of the field towards the finish line, to find a very muddy Nathan stood waiting for me – we had done it! No medal on this race – you never seem to get them for the toughest feats – but we didn’t need medals, we had just competed in the Edale Skyline fell race with the crème de la crème of the fell running world and nothing would take that away from us. Plus, you got a cracking pie and chips in Edale Village Hall afterwards!
It continues to astound me what we are capable of when we put our minds to it. This race seemed unattainable just one year prior, but we never gave up and kept the dream alive. We run in Edale regularly and have competed in the skyline each year since. It will always be a magical for us and the place our love for the fells was born.