Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Bullock Smithy 2011 (Preview)

The first weekend in September marks the highlight of my running year, the culmination of a spring and summer's training and racing. This is the weekend of the Bullock Smithy Hike, a 56 mile loop through the Peak District starting and finishing in Hazel Grove, Stockport and passing through, Lyme Park, Bow Stones, Chinley Churn, Edale Cross, Edale, Castleton, Peak Forest, Miller's Dale, Chelmorton (nr), Earl Sterndale, Brand Top, Cumerbland Cottage, Walker Barn, Whiteley Green, before the monotonous slog down the Middlewood way to Higher Poynton and on to Hazel Grove. The Bullock Smithy involves some 7500ft of ascent and passes through some beautiful parts of the dark and white peak district.

This year will be my twentieth entry and If I finish will be my 16th completion. I remember my first Bullock Smithy at age 15. I had grown up in Hazel Grove watching my youngest sister and her friends who were members of 3rd Hazel Grove Venture and Ranger Unit try, and in many cases fail to complete the course. At that age I couldn't understand the difficulty. "We have been walking since we were three years old haven't we? Isn't it just a case of putting one foot in front of the other for a bit longer than usual?" I used to ask. My sister replied "just wait till your old enough and you'll see how hard it is". Then came my rude awakening.

I managed to get a parental consent form signed off in 1991 and set foot out of Devonshire Park for the first time. 28 miles later I came to a staggering halt followed by the DNF bus back to Hazel Grove. Somewhat embarrassed by my failure I went back the next year and came to a similarly despondent end dropping again at half way, Miller's Dale, 28 miles. Looking back I must have been a bit plucky (or daft) because I entered again the following two years each time dropping at Earl Sterndale, 36 miles. I'm not ashamed to remember that I cried after my fourth DNF. The Bullock Smithy seemed entirely insurmountable and I questioned if I'd ever get round the course. Looking back I didn't know the Peak Park like I do now and the appropriately named, Axe Edge when you are approaching 20 years old with little experience of the outdoors was a bit daunting. Although I admit each DNF I was physically and mentally knackered, I don't think its a coincidence that I tended to retire before or around midnight. Getting lost in the Peak District in the dark in the early hours didn't appeal to me at that age.

2004 - Steve Tiffany clips my rear view tally card at Whiteley Green!
And so my first success on the fifth attempt at what must have been 20 years of age. I remember my usual haunts, Miller's Dale and Earl Sterndale seeming usually attractive as convenient DNF spots especially as I had recently discovered the delights of the Quiet Woman at Earl Sterndale. This year however I had shuffled the previous leg with a couple of typical rugged fell runner types from Sheffield. I can only remember that one was called Bill and both seemed hard as nails. Those two saved the day and are in part responsible for my love affair with the Bullock Smithy ever since. They whipped, kicked and tricked me out of my DNF chair and onwards up the road to Axe edge via the 'old route' from there they enticed me across to the Cat and Fiddle and then 'carried' me across a boggy shining Tor to Pym's Chair and on to the Moorside Hotel at Disley. They pushed me out of the penultimate checkpoint and were only then satisfied that I would not DNF. They left me at that point, I'd held them back far too long. They had sacrificed their event to make sure I got round and In an odd kind of way I will be eternally grateful. The tears flowed again as I ran alone down the A6 from Disley to Hazel Grove part through pain and more through happiness and in September 1996 I completed my first BSH in 17 hours arriving back to the scout hut at 5am, the feeling of self satisfaction was incredible. I should have left it there...

 Sadly my first success began a mild obsession with the event and distance running in general. I questioned whether I might be able to run the entire route and the I did the following year. In subsequent years I got more confident and faster and in 1998 I broke the 12 hour barrier. I've been back each year since and last year ran a PB in 10 hours 2 minutes. I remember saying to my partner afterwards "that's it now, I can't go any faster than that I'm not doing it anymore". And so off to Hazel Grove I go again after having entered online....that happens each year, "never again", then you enter.   

The Bullock Smithys' a great event. There are lots of brilliant LDWA events that welcome runners but I have heard it said on many occasions that the BSH has something special. For me its a personal challenge to run the best I can. I won't forgot that crumpled, sorry state I was in at Earl Sterndale as my fourth DNF bus came to pick me up in 1994. Similarly I won't forget the tears of elation when I completed at the fifth attempt in 1995.  Good luck to everyone participating this year and thanks in advance to all the organisers especially the volunteers at the check points. Report to follow.              

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