The day started with a lift to the HQ, generously provided by Tony O’Donnell of The Outdoor Times. One of the first to arrive, I was the first to try and register. This year, Dukeries was using chip timing for the first time, so we were being provided with wristbands instead of bibs/numbers. Unfortunately there had been an issue with some of the wrong chips being sent and – naturally, being the first to register – mine was one of those missing. This was soon remedied by Roger and his team, providing me with the chip of a no-show runner. Teething problems had been handled swiftly and with a minimum of fuss.
Soon after, more runners began to arrive for both the 40M race, starting at 8am, and the 30M, starting at 9. I met Mike, David, Chris, Alex and – later – Conrad, all of whom I knew from Twitter but hadn’t met before. Chatting helped get through the nervous wait for the start. After a race brief and a very nervous pose for a photo, we went outside ready for the off.
Start to CP1 Hazel Lodge
The first part of the route is out-and-back to a quick number scan (presumably to make sure nobody doubles back too soon). At this early stage, I was mid-pack (judging by the numbers I passed when returning). After a stop to remove my waterproof – the first of (too) many such changes that day – I found myself much nearer the back, which was where I was to stay. Having not done much off-road training, I struggled all day with conditions underfoot and was glad to reach a wider, more even, path at about 4.5mi. I made decent progress to Hazel Lodge, the first check point (CP) at 8mi, where I stopped only to be scanned. A friendly “see you soon” from the marshal (Hazel Lodge doubled as CP2) and I was off into Sherwood Forest.
CP1 Hazel Lodge to CP2 Hazel Lodge
The loop through Sherwood Forest from CP1 to CP2 was relatively uneventful, although I was beginning to slow noticeably and walk more often and for longer. I was also becoming more aware of the lack of other runners around me. A couple of times, I got confused at a junction and waited for a runner to catch me up to direct me. Each time, I ran with the runner for a while until each time I lost them as I slowed again to a walk. My head began to drop as I realised I was moving further toward the back of the field. I quite enjoyed the long straight path up to CP2 and was pleased to see the marshals again. I topped up with water and moved off without delay. It was at this stage that things took a turn for the worse…
I had promised my parents, who worry – as parents do, that I would keep in touch throughout the day. As I’d been going for 17mi, I thought I should check in. Rather than fiddle with a text, I thought I’d make a quick call, also thinking it would be nice to hear a familiar voice. My Mum answered and, naturally enough, asked how I was getting on. I told her I had just left CP2 and was OK, but was beginning to struggle. Without hesitation, she replied “Well if you’re struggling, perhaps you should go back.” It was like a smack round the face. I explained as politely as I could manage that I didn’t really need to hear that and that I would call back again later. I ended the call quickly, but the damage was done. My head was in bits now, having not been the best before the call.
CP2 Hazel Lodge to CP3 Creswell Crags
The miles between CP2 and CP3 at Creswell Crags were really tough. There were plenty of visitors in the Welbeck Estate and some kind of fun run going on, but no other ultra runners in sight. I was run-walking about 50/50 now and not really taking advantage of the wide, even paths; a strong crosswind didn’t help. Coming out of Welbeck, I was all set to throw in the towel at Creswell; at one point, I just stopped and sat on the floor – I felt beaten. I dragged myself up and trudged through the fields past Norton village. Heading in to the Crags, I saw I was being caught up by two more runners. I pushed on as best I could, but then took a wrong turn just before the CP and went round in a circle. By the time I arrived at the gazebo, the two runners had passed me and were already there.
Two things happened at Creswell check point that turned the day for me: I ate a Jelly Baby and briefly chatted to the runners who had caught me up. I cannot express enough how much difference one Jelly Baby made to me. I picked up almost immediately and realised that I’d only eaten one Nakd bar in the 24mi since the start. A brief moment to chastise myself for this and I was off again, revitalised mentally if not physically.
CP3 Creswell Crags to CP4 A614
The two runners (whose names I later found out were Steve and Steph!) and I ‘leapfrogged’ each other for the next couple of miles, until we caught up with three other runners. Two of these runners were doing the 30-miler; the third (a lady whose name I never got) had been planning on dropping out of the 40 at Creswell but changed her mind when she found she would have a long wait to be picked up. Steve, Steph, this lady and I continued as a group into Clumber Park and past Truman’s Lodge. The terrain was largely a wide, even surface so we ran (slowly) where we could, but walked occasionally. It was good to be in a group, so that we could spur each other on.
Shortly after entering Limetree Avenue, Steve, Steph and I were left behind by the ‘other lady’. [If you ever read this, I’m sorry I didn’t ask your name.] We continued together and it was good to have someone to chat to and also to discuss navigation with, when we were unsure. We were all really keen to get to CP4 – I was Jonesing for a cup of Coke, not available at earlier CPs – so it seemed to take a real age to get there.
CP4 A614 to Finish
After probably the nicest cup of Coke I’ve ever had, a handful of Doritos and a chat to the lovely volunteers, we trotted off over the road to begin the last leg of the journey. We were walking more than running now and all resigned to not making our initial targets; we all just wanted to get in before the cutoff. We made a couple of navigational errors which cost us a few minutes each, but otherwise reasonable progress, all things considered. Coming down the final stretch between Elkesley and Walesby, we were passed by another runner making a last surge for home. After entering the village, we walked up the final hill but then decided on a little trot to the finish at the Sports Club.
We finished with less than 15 minutes to spare. My Garmin registered 42.13mi in 9:46:13.
We found out that there were still 2 runners out on course, but – looking at the results – Steve, Steph and I were the last three in, so either those two runners didn’t finish or finished outside the cutoff. After wolfing down a couple of pies (they were clearing the leftovers), I phoned a cab, said my goodbyes to Steve, Roger and his team and went back to my guest house.
I would thoroughly recommend Dukeries for a first ultra. While not flat, it’s certainly not hilly. The route is interesting and varied, but navigation isn’t difficult. There are obviously 2 options for distance, both reasonably priced and you get a nice momento. Most importantly, the atmosphere is great, organisation is slick and the team are so friendly and willing to help before, during and after the event.