29th January 2017

Cue 2016 I registered to run this event, a week before, I face planted with one broken rib or two. A few days later lovely Best Friend Becky decided she would walk it with me, cue 32 miles of walking which neither of us had ever done before. Suffice to say that we managed 28 of those 32 miles.

Good friends don’t let you do silly things alone

So it was always on my events to do, to run the course, the whole course and nothing but the course. Despite a leg niggle the week before for no reason at all and lack of motivation alongside some dodgy chest inflammation, and probably a broken toe, fractured hip and a slipped disk in four places, the loss of 9 fingers, something in my eye and a scratch on my achilles I was all up for running 32 miles around the pathways of Derby.

The route takes in some of the ‘Nomad’ route which was my first 50 miler back in the days I was happily running ultras. Its kind to the hills with only 1500 feet of climb over the 32 miles, the hills are really not noticable at all but what is noticeable is the clunky mud infested fields, tractor tracks and endless styles of stiles to negotiate. There is little road but the last 5 miles on tarmac’ed bike track is to say the least the least interesting section, monotonous and pounding tarmac ishly hellish. But part and parcel of the event.

A snippet at £12, its local, its cheap and its cheerful and really well organised. At 8.28am I was called along with 2 other guys to start. Runners and walkers set off at 2 minute intervals so it sets itself as a challenge rather than a race. This I liked as I am too lazy to race at the moment, my heart and my legs are not in it I just want to run, its that simple, so to not have that mass start, a time or a person to chase but to just run the route was appealing. Furthermore I wanted to further my navigation skills, so I armed myself with the maps and tried to thumb my way around via the maps only. Ok easier said than done for within a few minutes I had missed the little bridge crossing in the park and was running on the other side of the stream whereas the other two guys I had set off with went the correct way. Epic fail.

It was so much not a race that I didn’t even bother to set my watch to start with. I am wildly guessing that after about a mile or so I pressed the start button and off I went in my own little world leaving the two others behind. I caught up with another guy who started chatting about football, unfortunately my head doesn’t do football so I merely left him as I headed up the deer park into a wide crusty field.

Don’t forget to have a good time

The morning midst was lingering around the fields, but I just didn’t feel like getting my phone out to take any pictures. I just wanted to run in my own little head and my own mind. I was being unsociable too, it was just me and my maps, thumbing my way through each field, over each stile, through little gaps, meandering onto the small sections of road to the first checkpoint.

Checkpoint 1; done, checked in, checked out. A speedy guy or two passed me, they were racing. I was plodding happily in my own little world. The leg was dully aching but it was ok. Over and over more stiles and through lots of thick mud, my newish trainers were now looking ready for the bin caked in more mud than a mississippi mud pie.

Embrace the dirt, the mud the grit.

A group of walkers / runners were coming up some random driveway as I passed them, by the looks of things having followed one of the faster runners who had done a wrong turning. I continued to plod straight up. I recognised more of the course from last years walk than I thought, and low and behold checkpoint 2 came up much sooner than I had anticipated.

Over the railway bridge at Duffield, lots more walkers and slower runners (this is what they are often called I do not mean that in a detrimental way) were making their way across the fields as I ran merrily passed them.

The next section had a bit of a climb, well a climb for Derby standards anyway, a climb that involved being able to walk and fish out a cereal bar having only really eaten a handful of jelly beans at the last check point and a square of kendal mint cake.

I caught up a large bunch of lads, who it seemed knew each other but you never know with these things, and apparently I found out later not everyone knew each other. I tagged onto the back of them for a considerable distance, their pace suited mine but I was still quite unsociable. I think other things were on my mind, my best friend, and walking it last year.  Though I was enjoying being at the back of the group just running, and for 15 minutes or so I put my map and my thumb away as their dog seemed to know the route having done it double over many times before.

Reaching the third checkpoint the lads stopped for a cuppa tea, I grabbed some jelly beans, some juice for my journey and got on my way. Back on my own in my own little world, I got my map and thumb out again and looked at my breadcrumb trail on my watch. This section last year involved standing in the middle of a field deliberating where the path was. Yet again this year I was about to follow the slightly wrong path – deviating across the field rather than keeping to the right over a very much hidden foot bridge. One of the gang of runners shouted me kindly and we ran together through more muddy fields for a while. I learned that he was in the 100 marathon club (not worthy!) and was carrying his costa coffee mug ready for a cuppa at checkpoint 4.

Running is a grownups lost link to playing outside

Checkpoint 4 came up much sooner than I thought. I met up with some walkers as I grabbed more jelly beans and some more liquid to see me through the next stage in particular the laborious canal section. Legs were feeling fine, energy levels were feeling fine, dodgy leg was feeling a bit dodgy but less dodgy than I thought.

More mud and glory, and the A38 to negotiate, reminded me of Manic Minor running across a crazy busy road despite a couple of signs saying ‘caution runners’ or something like that.

Back in my own mindset I ran down to a little village, managed to get a little bit lost by hopping over a stile and finding myself in the middle of a field full of pylons and mud unable to find any pathway but with the roaring road not too far away. If this happens I always just retrace my steps and reanalyse where I have come from. So back over the stile and sense hit home as I looked at the map and saw I needed to go down the lane not across it.

A lovely gentleman asked me how far I had come, 22 miles I said, ish. How far are you going, he said? About another 10 I replied, its the ‘Wilmot Wander’ I am looking for the canal. And he gave me directions to find the 4 miles of unhillish hell.

Running is alone time that lets my brain spill out the tangles that build up over the week

The canal was a sheer mud bath, one foot stuck in the mud then the other, and repeat for 4 long flat sticky muddy miles. Painfully slow, painfully painful, boringly tiresome in the head but all part of the challenge. This is not a whinge its just how I think with flat canal like land. With few bridge and barges to keep my head occupied I think it was the only time I walked properly for a little bit. I can not do canals at the best of times, so when conditions are at their worst it makes it even longer than the longest canal in the world. Only a few day walkers were passing as the grey murky skies were now prone to rain drops splattering down on the grey waters. I’d rather be up a mountain right now but that is not detrimental to the course or the event its just a mindset of my own. So I pretended I was climbing up Kinder Scout. This was a scouts route after all. Up and up and up I would go, along along along along I would go, one foot in front of the other as the rain got heavier and heavier and my shoes got muddier and muddier.

Play in the dirt because life is too short to have clean toe nails

Finally, the final checkpoint. One other guy was there as the friendly marshals told us both the last 5 miles were unfortunately not the best 5 miles of the route. All tarmaced bike track meandering through housing estates with added harassment from the local kids. ‘You could say excuse me rather than run on the grass’ they called, well I wanted to run on the grass because the tarmac was doing my head in.

Eventually I came to the spot where we sadly gave in last year. I plodded on, waiting in anticipation for Becky to appear out of the pink (not the blue) to meet me and run the few miles that we didn’t make last year. A big hug and some words of encouragement about how strong I looked gave me the incentive I needed to keep pounding the tarmac. At least it was footpath and not road. I was felling okish the leg was dull and heavy, it was more the terrain the hard packed flat tarmac the never ending pathway through newly built houses which really did my nut in. With Becky by my side I put one foot in front of the other. She told me to go at my own pace but my own pace was her pace to so it worked out perfectly.

Apparently there was a Pizza Hut coming up and deliberation to whether we go under the road or over it and then cross it. We went under it – decisions decisions. Another ‘bridge’ in the distance was where we had to be, it seemed so far away yet I knew it was so near and was all about the finish. Over the bridge and I could see my yellow car sitting there patiently having left it some 6 hours or so ago, nearly there, nearly there nearly there as we both ran down the road to the scout hut to finish just as the heaven’s opened. We had beaten the rain. Just.

Take pride in how far you have come and have faith in how far you can go

Inside the scout hut was hot soup, tea and coffee, bread and cheese and cake. I was presented with my certificate of 5 hours and 36 minutes. By no means my best 32 miler in terms of time but I should be happy that I completed it, mudfest and all. No excuses it was never meant to be a race it was just a challenge and I almost felt like I was back in ultra running world.

However the leg said better, as I attempted to get up it locked up. Too much mud. Mud. Mud.

A great event, cheap as chips, really well organised, with tea and biscuits at every checkpoint if you so wish, walkers and runners alike. I wouldn’t treat this as a race despite some liking the competitive element it just has such a relaxed feeling about it which I like. The route is mixed, enough to be challenging for both simple navigation and terrain especially the endless seeping muddy fields, and enough never to get totally bored despite the 4 or so miles on the canal and the 5 miles on tarmac towards the end. These are the sections that can be worked through the mind just like hills.

The most important thing for me today was to run the last few miles with my lovely best friend Becky. I am praying we can do it again next year. xxx

Wilmot Wander

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