Another marathon, the 3rd of the year and as usual it was set to be an absolute scorching hot day. I’m starting to think that if I want good weather I should just book another marathon. Everyone I’ve done so far has been in heat in excess of 25 degrees (Celsius). This time I’d entered the Dovedale Dipper Marathon, a checkpoint marathon across Derbyshire’s rolling countryside, starting and ending Hartington nr. Buxton. Organised by Matlock Rotary Club, this tiny unheard of race consists of two distances, a shorter 15-mile route and a longer 27-mile route, to cater for most entrants abilities.
I’d entered the 27-mile route of the Dovedale Dipper marathon and I was looking forward to wrestling with the beast whilst listening to my recently downloaded audiobook Born to Run. I’d come to realise that running for 4-5 hours requires some heavyweight entertainment, and with this audiobook clocking in at 11 hours long I knew I wouldn’t be caught short.
Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail
Prior to the race, I took the route planning quite serious, the organisers had provided two sides of A4 semi-cryptic hiking notes and no map. I don’t think they meant to make them cryptic and in a calm non-fatigued state of mind they were perfectly understandable, but now knowing how exhausted you feel running a marathon I was taking no chances. I took this as an opportunity to add a new ordnance survey map to the collection, the White Peak area and set about highlighting my route ahead of race day. Something some fellow racers and I would later rely upon whilst finding ourselves hopelessly lost!
Dovedale Dipper Race Day
Being my 3rd marathon, all of which have been very low-key I didn’t have many expectations for supporters to be cheering us on. Luckily with there being 6 checkpoints throughout the course, all the organisers were exceptionally supportive and helped to keep everyone fed, watered and moving – without them it would’ve been a very solitary affair.
We all gathered at the start line just behind the village hall and set off at 10 am through Hartington. We headed out west from the village square and then veering northerly up the hills towards Parsley Hey and checkpoint 1. Once we’d left the village and began across the fields, it became evident how few markers there would be throughout and how hilly the course would be.
No surprise but I was feeling strong at the beginning, I was leaping over the stiles in the dry stone walls with no hands, like a leaping gazelle. I think I must’ve been drifting between the top 20 runners and as usual, I thought I’d be able to keep this pace up. At checkpoint 1 I took a quick drink of juice before setting off again and chasing down the few runners in front.
The route in these early stages was easy to follow, a walking event following the same route had set off an hour earlier to us and a string of walkers marked where we had to go. I was en route to Longnor and checkpoint 2 through yet more rolling hills. On this section, the runners in front kept drifting out of view and the walkers were becoming less frequent. On the final climb up to checkpoint 2, I happened to look up at the top of the hill and could see someone sat waiting on a drystone wall. I squinted and swore I recognised them, it was my Aunty Helen! It is so nice to see a friendly face, when you’re pushing yourself to your limits of endurance. I think you can probably tell from the photo that I was stuffing a prawn sandwich down my gob.
I ran out of Longnor following another runner luckily, as the route wasn’t marked at all. This was where the vague markings started to take their toll, time to get my trusty map and notes out. Once I’d made it to the next checkpoint atop Revidge Hill in Reaps Moor’s, I had a magnesium tablet to stave off any chance of cramp. A trick I’d learnt onhand whilst battling Ladybower Marathon.
By this point, I was still feeling good and enjoying taking in the epic views whilst leaving CP3. The weather was amazing and I was in good spirits. I had a couple of other runners around but navigating our way towards Warslow required directions from some friendly local farmers. I’d memorised the crossing in Warslow so knew my way from here, it also helped that the next bit involved scaling Wetton Hill so all I needed to do was head for the huge hill up ahead.
Wetton Hill was tough, a 16% incline that really seared the back of my legs and left a dull burning sensation for the remainder of the run. The climb didn’t last for too long but it was short lived because as soon as I was back down the other side we were climbing up another hill to b the village of Wetton into sight.
I’d taken on another magnesium tablet at CP4, in the hope I’d avoid any debilitating cramps setting in. Getting to checkpoint 5 had begun to feel harder than I’d anticipated, this didn’t bode well as I’d not even hit the dreaded 31 km mark yet. More rolling hills and a few poorly marked directional arrows threw a few runners in front off the trail and allowed me to catch up. By the time we’d got to CP 5, I needed more fuel on board but couldn’t stomach anymore gels so made a start on the millionaire’s shortbread I’d brought with me.
After forcing more fuel onboard, getting to checkpoint 6 was a bit of a blur. There were yet more rolling hills, exhaustion was setting in hard and when I ran into Milldale I had no idea whether I was going the right way. I waited for a few minutes for another runner to catch me up who, once they did, kindly lead us on to the next and final checkpoint.
To the finish
It was tough getting to CP6, my legs were tired and I’d walked a little. I find it is almost impossible to not give in to the temptation of walking again after you’ve done it once. I was struggling with dehydration and I felt ill whilst following the river Dove up the valley. I tried to piss but it was no good, there was genuinely no liquid left in me, I’d sweated it all out! After 3 miles of gruelling stop-start running, I’d made it out of the River Dove valley and was on the trail back into Hartington. I found the strength to jog again and did so until the finish.
After crossing the finish line we headed to the pub for a well-deserved pint and to review my running performance. Again, I think I went out too fast in the beginning – when will I learn. I would have benefited from taking a slower pace from the start and taking into consideration the 1,035m of climbing I had ahead. Maintaining a steady pace all the way round is much better than losing the minutes gained early on in the final throws. Instead, I’d got myself into a state of exhaustion again and by 32 km the wall hit hard and I struggled with the final quarter.
I’m not sure if I’ll run this race again, but then again, I’m sure I said that immediately after all the races I’ve ran.