When my colleague Zoe approached me in November last year about completing the Peak District Challenge together, I immediately said yes.
Brand new for 2019, the event was set to welcome up to 3000 walkers, joggers and runners into the Peak District National Park, with 50km and 25km challenge options available alongside the ‘full’ route of 100km (62.2miles).
Organisers Action Challenge promised a major ‘basecamp’ hub set-up in Bakewell, including a full range of camping options, car parking, and extensive hospitality and welfare services across the weekend, with full support along the way.
The full 100km challenge takes ‘a tough and varied figure of 8 route through Derbyshire’s finest scenery and Peaks’ and sounded like something new and different to try! There were further options regarding this distance – whether to complete it continuously (through the night), or to complete 52km and then camp over, completing 48km the following day. We opted for the latter as neither of us had been to the Peak District before and wanted to be able to enjoy the location at its finest – in daylight. It was also going to be the first time either of us had done this distance before, so didn’t want to over-exert!
There were a few pricing options when signing up: to self-fund completely, mix-fund and self-fund, or to fundraise the majority. Zoe and I chose to fundraise the majority and paid just £15 up-front, whilst committing to raising at least £595 each for charity. We opted for Great Ormond Street Hospital, as I have a personal connection with GOSH. Zoe and I joined as a team under our employee’s name and set up a joint JustGiving page.
We set to work fundraising, asking family and friends for donations, and executed a ‘Purple Week’ in the office. Our employers’ brand colours are purple, and the GOSH brand colour is purple, so we had a week of bake sales, mocktails, raffle and hot breakfasts in the office for our ‘Purple Week’, with all proceeds going to GOSH – who had sent us a generous package of balloons, banners, stickers and posters. They also sent us t-shirts and vests to wear for the challenge, and would email us frequently to check in, which was sweet. Luckily our employer kindly matched our fund-raising efforts, but raising the full sponsorship amount was definitely the most challenging aspect of this journey – I feel uncomfortable asking for money!
There were various camping options available: pay for a ready-made tent, erect your own tent, bring a camper van, etc. We opted to share a ready-made tent and paid £90 each for the Friday and Saturday nights, which also included a shuttle bus to and from the nearest train station in Chesterfield. There was an option to drive and park, but it’s a long way from Tonbridge to the Peak District, and we thought we’d be too tired after the event on Sunday evening to drive back home. We booked Premier Inn hotel rooms for the Sunday night (£46) so that we could travel back comfortably on the train on the Monday.
I purchased a pair of basic Karrimor hiking boots from Sports Direct and wore them in; and started researching Ultra-Marathons and reading blogs by people who’ve participated in similar events. I looked at hydration backpacks and compared makes and models, reading reviews and eventually opting for a Camelbak Arete 18. I’d never used a hydration bladder before, but absolutely love it. I took the backpack out on a few training walks and can’t fault it – it’s big enough to hold two litres of water with enough room for spare clothes and essentials.
I then looked at how to look after feet properly for this type of distance. The same advice kept cropping up: change socks at every rest stop. Feet get sweaty (even if you can’t feel it!) and moisture can cause problems, as feet need to be dry and clean. Also, you shouldn’t wait for blisters to appear – it’s best to apply blister plasters or padded tape to areas where shoes might potentially rub, before starting a challenge. So, I bought padded tape from Boots and topped up my K-tape supply, and spent time strapping up my feet/toes and finding the best and most comfortable way to do this – and then going out hiking to see how it felt.
I’d never thought about using walking poles, but Zoe sold me on the benefits and leant me a spare pair, which I used on few practice hikes around town. I could definitely see how they would come in handy on the inclines and declines!
A few blogs helpfully included a packing/kit list, so I used these to make my own spreadsheet detailing what I would wear both days, what I would carry in my Camelbak, and what I would need in my suitcase. I purchased Deep Heat spray, Voltarol, Deep Freeze Cooling patches, Diarolyte sachets (for the electrolytes), Neurofen, anti-bacterial wipes, mini tissues, x2 packs of mixed Compeed, x1 Boots own blisters plasters (terrible!), more socks than I thought I would ever need… And I used them all. The Deep Freeze Cooling patches were useless and I wouldn’t buy them again, but everything else came in handy and was utilised throughout the challenge. I actually needed more than that – luckily, there were fully-stocked medical tents at every rest stop which generously housed free Compeed, K-tape, talcum powder etc.
So, on Friday 12th July, I caught the midday train from Tonbridge to Chesterfield, changing at London. The train ticket wasn’t cheap at £75 return, but was definitely preferable to driving. I was pulling a wheeled cabin suitcase with a sleeping bag on top, and was wearing my Camelbak, with the walking poles strapped to my wrist. I met Zoe at Chesterfield train station around 5pm and we found a chatty Action Challenge marshal outside who ticked us off a list, before we hopped on the event’s shuttle bus to Bakewell showground.
Once arrived, we headed to the registration desk and checked in with our e-tickets. We were given envelopes containing our bib numbers, food vouchers, event pass (with timing chip), route map, and free event Buff. From there, we wandered over to the Camping area and checked in. A kind event manager carried some ground mats for us and walked us over to our allocated tent, where we unfolded our sleeping bags and read the contents of the envelopes, before heading back out of the showground on foot to the village 350yards away. Sadly all of the shops (including the original bakewell tart shop!) were shut by this point, but we found a fish’n’chip shop for dinner, before heading back to basecamp where we fell asleep nice and early.
My alarm went off at 5am and we got dressed and ready within the hour, including strapping our feet up. The camping toilets and showers were a few yards away, which was useful! We walked over to the food marquee and enjoyed a delicious breakfast – two fried eggs in a roll, hash browns and baked beans, with unlimited tea, coffee and juice! We filled our Camelbak bladders, took some photos, used the portaloos, and were ready to enter the starting pen at 6:45am. There was an energetic warm-up, funny MC and motivating music before we started walking at 7am.
I was wearing USA Pro lycra shorts under Nike Dry-Fit shorts, Primark sports bra, Great Ormond Street Hospital technical vest, Great Ormond Street Hospital cotton t-shirt over the top, SKINS calf compression sleeves, Karrimor hiking socks, Karrimor hiking boots, and Nike visor. Later on, I took off my cotton t-shirt and put on a Hygee headband to keep hair off my face. My outfit was super comfortable! The Camelbak contained my phone, battery power pack, old headphones, AirPods, medical kit (plasters, tape, Vaseline), chewing gum, Torq energy gels, plenty of spare socks, anti-bacterial wipes and tissues.
The first few KM flew by – we passed KM marker by KM marker. Everyone seemed happy, chatty and excited. The route was fully signed-posted throughout and it was always clear where to go. The weather was warm and dry, but not too hot – perfect conditions!
I don’t look at profiles/elevation etc before an event, because I enjoy the surprise and don’t want to feel overwhelmed. I prefer it that way, and it was definitely the right decision to make on this challenge! There were a lot of steep inclines and some sharp descents too, with slippery sections, crossing rivers, steps and stiles thrown in for good measure. I absolutely loved the variety! It was impossible to get bored. It felt like no time at all had passed before reaching the first rest stop at 14km.
I changed my socks after re-plastering my feet, drank plenty of water and coffee, ate some snacks (they had pastries, Freddos, Chomps, Poppets, Space Raiders, Mini Cheddars, loads of fruit… And so much more!), and used the portaloos before we set off again. The rest stops throughout were brilliant – they had seemingly unlimited free food and drink at all of the stops, including water, juice and hot chocolate – plus medical tents, event staff and marshals. Everyone was friendly and chatty.
The half-way point at 25km was fantastic, with an MC, music and a lunchtime picnic, including sandwiches, fizzy drinks, cookies and fruit. Time was whizzing by and we were still positive and excited, with our feet and bodies still intact and feeling good! I’d packed a normal bottle of water in my Camelbak which had a Diarolyte sachet in it, so took a few gulps of that for the electrolytes before we moved on to the next stage. Zoe and I also started using our headphones at this point and wore them in one ear.
This stage felt slightly longer, and Zoe and I started separating a little – my natural speed is a lot faster. With 3000 participants however, neither of us were ever alone and there was always someone to talk to. I ended up quite far ahead of Zoe but waited for her at the final rest stop of the day, at 37km. My feet were starting to feel a little sore, but nothing too major. I re-strapped them and changed my socks as usual, consuming a banana with coffee, salted peanuts and chocolate, for energy. There was also a pick’n’mix station at this rest stop, which was amazing!
The last leg of the day was definitely the toughest, and I’d had enough by 46km. I was tired and the bottoms of my feet felt sore. The views were incredible, though – we walked over a beautiful viaduct and through a tunnel, then along a bridle path. I loved the scenery. The walking poles were a life-saver here, as I practically leant on them and depended on them to power me through. Still, I had slowed right down and Zoe came up behind me, so we completed the first day of the event together, crossing the finish line back at basecamp at 52km, which was nice.
We were handed dinner tokens and went straight to the food marquee, where we enjoyed lasagne, chilli and pasta, followed by cups of tea! Zoe visited the medical tent to ask about her blisters, whilst I took all the strapping off my feet and used the camping showers – which were surprisingly hot and powerful! A great way to end a great day, and we were in our sleeping bags by 10pm.
My alarm went off at 4am on Sunday, as we had an earlier start. After getting washed and dressed, we packed up our sleeping bags and belongings, leaving the tent and taking our suitcases etc to the baggage area. We enjoyed another hot breakfast – the same as the previous day – and visited the medical tent for advice on blisters and strapping. The doctor told us that someone doing the continuous 100km had finished with trench foot! The medics were super friendly, and said that my feet were the best they’d seen. I just had very sore soles and tender pads, with the beginnings on a blister on my right little toe. They reassured me that I’d been doing a grand job and had been doing everything right, and said that most people were in a much worse position, which made me feel better!
I was wearing exactly the same clothes as yesterday (just clean versions!) – all super comfortable.
We used the portaloos and refilled our Camelbak bladders before setting off at 6am. This time, the first few kms dragged, and it was noticeably a lot harder than day one. It was drizzling and I felt slightly queasy with no appetite, and couldn’t wait to reach the first rest stop at 63km. This was a short leg at only 12km, so I was disappointed and worried by how much I was already struggling.
I checked my plasters, used some talcum powder and changed my socks, before forcing some salt’n’vinegar crisps down my throat. I felt nauseous and wondered whether it was due to lack of salts or electrolytes. I glugged some more Diarolyte water, had my first lot of Neurofen and used a Torq energy gel as we continued our journey. From there, I didn’t see a lot of Zoe. I generally just walk a lot quicker and was way ahead of her. I listened to music in one ear and chatted to other walkers. I met a lovely Trek Master, who explained that he was there as a volunteer to ensure that everyone was ok, and to help those who were struggling and needing support. I kept seeing him throughout this second day – it was nice to know that there was someone around to pick you up if needed!
Gradually I started to feel better, and so enjoyed the second section of the walk a lot more. Although, I had to go for a wee and found a secluded field off to the side, but accidentally (stupidly) squatted over a patch of stinging nettles, which was painful!
I found a burst of energy and jogged the last km to the halfway rest stop, where I waited for Zoe. The food at this stop was amazing in theory (handmade pizzas, onion rings and jacket potatoes, alongside the usual crisps, chocolate, cake, fruit, hot drinks, squash and water) but there was a difference between supply and demand, and the queues weren’t ideal. Event staff would put a fresh pizza out, and it would be gone within seconds… And the next pizza was still in the oven. Regardless, I managed to try everything, and felt ready to go again after refueling.
The next section of the walk was the hardest by far. It was also the longest of the whole challenge, at 16km long – it seemed to go on forever. I had to use another Torq energy gel, and my old headphones must have dropped out of my bag, so I used both AirPods and relied heavily on my walking poles. The bottoms of my feet were really sore and I was beginning to struggle. I had to keep pausing to elevate my feet and rest them for a few minutes. I ended up jogging down the declines just to make the kms go a bit faster! I nearly sobbed when I reached the last rest stop at 89km.
This was my favourite rest stop. I grabbed a chair, lied flat on my back on the grass and elevated my bare feet for about 20minutes. It felt amazing, and my feet loved the fresh air. The marshals and event staff were super kind, and one bought me a cup of tea and some talcum powder! The nausea had quietened down and I consumed the tea, a banana and salt’n’vinegar crisps with some more Diarolyte water, which seemed to do the trick. I re-strapped my feet, used the talcum powder and put on fresh socks whilst waiting for Zoe.
I got chatting to a lovely walker called Jamie, who I ended up walking with up until 95km. It was the quickest 5/6km I had walked, and it sped by – I didn’t even notice the time or distance. He was super friendly and made me laugh. I didn’t even use my walking poles and was feeling good! Then, the rest of his group caught us up and I didn’t want to slow them down, so told them all to go on ahead. I walked on my own, listening to music through my AirPods and once again relying on my walking poles, up until 99km. There, I sat on a patch of grass and waited for Zoe, as I thought it would be nice to finish together. 45minutes went by and I was starting to get cold and tired. Walkers kept passing and asking if I was ok, and I would always ask if they had seen Zoe, but no-one recognised the description. Reluctantly I relented and walked towards the finish line with two lovely walkers who were raising money for Alzheimer’s Society. We all crossed the 100km finish line together at Bakewell basecamp.
A lively MC welcomed us in, and a bespoke event medal was hung around my neck. I was handed a glass of bubbly and could pick a bespoke event t-shirt in a size of my choice. The MC took a photo of me and provided a hot meal voucher, so I headed towards the food marquee and chose a veggie burger with cheese and ketchup in a bun. I sat and ate dinner, taking in the atmosphere, and then Jamie from earlier appeared at my table! We sat together having a laugh before he had to leave with his group.
I found my luggage at the baggage area and was sorting myself out as Zoe came through the finish line with a handful of other walkers. We had some photos taken together and she ate some dinner whilst I called us a taxi, as although we had paid for a shuttle bus in advance, the next one wasn’t due for over an hour, and it was already 8:30pm. The taxi arrived within 10minutes and took us back to Chesterfield, where we checked in to the Premier Inn hotel near the train station. The taxi cost an extortionate £40 which I still can’t fathom, and the hotel messed up by allocating us rooms without baths even though we specifically requested these at the time of booking, meaning that we both had to change rooms and lug our suitcases around, so the evening was tarnished slightly.
However once finally inside a hotel room (with a bath!) I just stripped everything off (including all the plasters and strapping!) and had a long, hot shower, washing my hair and scrubbing myself clean. I then immediately ran a bath and made myself a cup of tea. I was given a bath bomb for my birthday which I’d been saving – a big glittery pink one – and I used that whilst soaking, drinking my tea and listening to relaxing music from my phone. It was the best feeling in the world, no exaggeration.
After that I brushed my teeth, sprayed my legs with Deep Heat Spray, and fell into a deep sleep. Getting up the next morning was tough – my legs were so stiff! They didn’t want to move. I had another long hot shower, re-packed my bags and sorted myself out, before checking out at 11am and heading to Chesterfield train station. Luckily it was only a 5-10minute walk and all downhill! I spent the entire train journey catching up with friends and family, and reviewing photos of the experience. I felt really happy and content; and was wearing SKINS full-length compression leggings with Oofos recovery flip-flops, so felt super comfortable.
Three days later, and all I have are just two small blisters on my feet. No lost toenails (yet!) and I’ve even been out for a long walk. My legs are absolutely fine and only felt stiff when I got up on Monday morning – they’ve been as normal since. I feel fresh, sprightly and have already signed up to complete another 100km challenge with Action Adventure, at the May 2020 London to Brighton event. Completing this challenge has made me realise that I’m stronger and more capable than I give myself credit for – I really thought that I would struggle, have a mental breakdown or hold Zoe back. I thought my hips would give out, or I’d tear a calf muscle again, or that I’d burst into tears at some point. None of those things happened, and now I know that I’m capable of completing this distance, I’m desperate to give it another go!
As for Action Challenge and the event itself – I can’t fault it. All of the staff (marshals, volunteers, MC, medics…) were super encouraging and caring. The route was scenic, varied and really well sign-posted. There couldn’t have been better rest-stops, or a better camping experience. The basecamp had everything we needed, and the whole thing was perfectly organised. In addition, every participant I encountered was friendly and kind. I loved the whole experience and can’t wait to complete my next Action Challenge adventure! 🙂
NEXT UP: London British 10K, Sunday 21st July 2019