Amberaid Trail Ultra (31.4 miles / 50km)
I heard a rumour that a new Ultra trail had been planned by Jamie & Clare (First Light Active), who organise the Spire Ultra. This was a trial of a new ultra trail called the Amberaid. 31.4 miles (50km) with (lots of) rolling hills throughout our local countryside.
My brain kicked in, can I do that distance with 4 weeks notice and can I rope some of my running buddies into doing it with me? The following weekend we did a recce of the bottom section and then we decided… why not, if we take it easy, we can do it. Our team consisted of James the ultra veteran, Stephen our long legged marathon runner, Sam (also a marathon runner) the youngest of the group and me (Red) who’s got a few ultras under my belt and likes leading people astray…
Friday (night before race day), the messages of excitement are starting to come through on the group chat. Photos of the mountains of food that we’ve prepared and the excitement of seeing the t -shirt that Jonn has designed for the race. Suddenly it all goes silent, must be time for bed.
Saturday morning, alarm goes off at 6.30am. I slept reasonably well, normally the nerves kick in or the thoughts of “what have I forgotten”. First good sign of the day. Open up the curtains to a beautiful sunrise (second good sign), what a glorious day… must remember to put suncream on!
As I start to prepare my breakfast, my thoughts turn to the adventure to come. How I’ve missed this buzz of excitement and the joy of knowing that we are running it as a team. No stress about directions, problems with parking or getting stuck in traffic. The start line is only 5 minutes from home.
Arrive at High Ashes Farm, and the nervous laughter starts as we organise all the food into the cars and check in with Jamie and Clare. It’s a cold fresh start to the day, about 14 degrees but we can see it’s going to be a beautiful day.
We are in the first pod, bib numbers 1,2,3 and 4, each pod leaves 2 minutes apart. Jokes started to flow about this being the only time we are in front for the whole race. We enjoyed this for a brief moment, then we quickly got overtaken by the ‘runners’ as we called them.
As we’d only signed up 4 weeks before the race, we had decided as a team to walk the uphills (and believe me there was loads of them) and to keep a nice steady pace on the flats / downhills so we didn’t burn ourselves out quickly.
Just before we started, Stephen reminded us to look across and see where we were going to be in 7 - 8 hours, it was such a clear day and the views were breathtaking. We headed down to the start line and we were on our way.
The first section of the race was on home turf, so we knew what was ahead. It didn’t take long for people to start passing us, but we were confident in our game plan (we’d done a recce of the whole route) and ready to enjoy our adventure day out.
We headed over to Ashover Rock and then down through the village. Passing by the Old Poets Corner Pub and down a lane that I like to call ‘ankle breaker hell’. We carefully descended, whilst remembering an error we made on the recce. This time we got it right and climbed back up through the fields to the first clip point.
Much to our relief, the undiscoverable path from the recce was now easier to spot and had also been cut back slightly, we headed through here and then pretty much skidded down all the next section. It seemed that every time Sam said “it’s slippy here” I then skidded, but (unlike me) stayed on my feet for a change!
Our minds turned to the boggy field, with the excitable sheep at the house. The field had dried up since our last visit and the sheep had mysteriously turned into a very sleepy pig!
We followed the path, through (another) field and then onto the road. Knowing that our support crew were waiting for us at Highoredish view point car park. This was also the second clip point with the most amazing views over the valley. Time to refuel, fill up the water and get a kiss from the hubby.
As we set off, James reminded us of another wrong turn we had made on the recce (can you see why a recce was a good idea?).We nearly turned too soon this time, but we soon realised and then got on the right path again.
Heading over the next stile I got a bit tangled in the brambles, but laughed it off and kept moving towards the woods. I remember this section, a nice steep downhill through the woods and then over a field towards Brakenfield.
The realisation hit, that we were nearly in Wessington the first checkpoint - wow that went fast! After checking in, I then took us off in the wrong direction (think I wanted to do this loop backwards) and was quickly corrected by the marshal. Off we went onto the section that I was in charge of (good start eh…)
Next, you come to a nice downhill section through lots of fields, look up though and you can see the Crich Memorial that you are heading towards.
This is one of my favourite parts, as you pass by the quarry and over the tram lines (although we did nearly get taken out by bikers on the recce). We continue with caution picking up some speed on the downhill section and through the prettiest caravan site I’ve ever seen.
As we near the Cromford canal, we decide this is our least favourite section as it’s flat and boring. The only saving grace is that our support team are waiting for us half way down. Time for my pork pie… oh wait, that’s what I forgot to pack! No worries Stephen saved the day and shared some of his.
The next section is our longest without support (8 miles), so we fill up with plenty of water, stock up on snacks and gels and get on our merry way.
Talk turns to pace, we start to go a little fast. I know it’s my fault, as I just want this section done. We soon get to the end and then walk up the very steep hill towards Fritchley. We meet Jamie at the top taking photos and providing water.
We then head down through Fritchley and past the house ‘that Dan built’ and you guessed it, up through another field. This section gets a bit tricky and we have to concentrate and think about where we went wrong last time.
As we head down towards the road, we pick up another runner who has got lost. We know the route, so he sticks with us for a little bit and then heads off in front. As we arrive at the ‘obvious’ diagonal across the field, we laugh knowing that it wasn’t that bloody obvious last time we were here!
As we head under the railway line, we keep our fingers crossed that all the nettles and brambles have been cut back… much to my legs relief they had! At this point we only have about 13 miles left to go.
We have some track/road sections coming up now. So we use the opportunity to pick up the pace a little before we hit the next hill.
As we leave South Wingfield, and head towards some more fields. We laugh again at the ‘obvious’ diagonal across the field that we missed first time around. At least this time we know where we are going. I then realise we don’t have far to go until Wessington again… that was a quick section.
As we arrive in Wessington to the second check point, our support crew are still sat in the pub waiting for us “oh my god!, you’ve done that section so much quicker than we expected”… Dan arrives with a pint in his hand and chips hanging out of his mouth.
This is our time to eat lunch, so we stop for longer here. Enjoying sweet potato pancakes, bacon sandwiches (well, the dogs got most of mine) and some soup. Sam rolls out a niggle in her bum and then we decide that we don’t need to see our support crew again, so they suggest meeting us further on at another pub, Batemans (can you see a pattern here?)
We are all feeling strong and nobody has hit the dreaded wall. You can tell we don’t want to mention it, as we still have 10 miles to go. We’ve spent the day just chatting and enjoying each others company. Don’t think I’ve ever been so relaxed on an ultra before.
I’m so busy chatting (not like me at all) that all of a sudden we are at Ogston reservoir. How did we get here so quick? As we head down the lane, we remember the overgrown stile that we went through last time (ok, the guys trampled it down for us) and are relieved to know that if you just carry on a little longer there’s another entrance much easier to get through and less painful.
We are on home ground again now, we pick up another couple of runners heading in the wrong direction through a field. We have a nice chat and then they follow on behind us. Time for more fields and we then arrive at the next pub to meet our support crew.
Here the two guys we picked up go past us as we have a final top up of water, snacks and change our t shirts. As it’s a trial of a new ultra, no t shirts were available to buy. Two people in our team had never run an ultra before, so they asked Jonn (my hubby) if he would design one for us, based around the logo provided by Jamie.
We now have about 3 miles left and we know that involves a lot of hills. Final check in with each other to check we are all ok. We head up towards Bolehill woods and catch up with the two guys again. Sam reassures them that we have a nice downhill stretch coming up, but we chose not to tell them about the final hill up to the finish.
As we hit Bolehill (clues in the name), I laugh at the thought of trying to run fast down it (like we normally do) and I suggest someone may have to stop me at the bottom if my ‘brakes’ don’t work.
As we climb up the steps at the bottom and reach the summit of the next hill, we hear this almighty roar. Over towards stubbing pond is a (socially distanced) crowd gathered. It’s the Wingerworth Wobblers and other friends out to cheer us on.
This puts a spring in our step and we all start to get excited as we know the end is in sight. We only stop for a couple of minutes to say hi, as we want to finish before we hit 8 hours.
As we continue on for the final couple of miles, the conversation changes to ‘what next’. We have paced ourselves so well, nobody hit the wall. We are full of energy and starting to get quite emotional at what we have just achieved.
My knees are starting to shout at me now (as they do when I cover longer distances) but other than a couple of aches, we are all feeling amazing. Final slog up that last hill and Stephen reminds us of what we looked at first thing this morning… “look, that’s where we have run today”
We turn the corner and see our amazing support crew and the wonderful organisers waiting for us. Final sprint finish, we all want to finish together.
The hardest part of the race for me, was not being able to hug my team mates at the end. We had an amazing adventure together and I hope it’ll be the first of many.
Thanks to Jamie, Clare and the team of First Light Active for organising an amazing, challenging and picturesque ultra at a time when us runners really needed it.
Also a huge shout out to our amazing support crew, Wingerworth Wobblers and friends who came out to cheer us on. You helped more than you realise.
Finally, to my team mates. It didn’t take much convincing when I asked you to do this with me. James, I hope you enjoyed the slower pace than your usual ultras? Stephen, you’ve always wanted to do an ultra and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did? Sam, I never had a doubt and now hopefully you don’t too.