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A Run to InSPIRE 2020

Spire 2020 Write up – By Martin Picker

Martin Picker on the right

The Spire Ultra 2020

32 Miles

3,660 ft. Ascent

The competitive ego is a strange thing. In my youth, it was all about beating the county rivals over 1 or 2 laps of the track or one circuit of the ‘Barnsley 6’ but as I’ve got older it’s evolved into something much different. Standing patiently at the side of the A632 in the wind and the rain on the final day of October surrounded by places called Stonedge and Spitewinter, I reflected on what had brought me to yet another Ultra race.

It started with a casual remark at work of walking the Rotherham 50, and the competitive ego rose to the challenge. Completion led to a qualification place in the Hadrian 100 mile and once this had been completed the competitive ego then asked the question of “What if you ran next year’s Rotherham 50? How quick could you do it?” Once that had been answered, the next question was “ How quick could I get round the 100?” and the year was shaping up well, recce runs were planned, hotels booked and then everything stopped, the 100 was cancelled, then the Rotherham 50 and races became few and far between.

Martin Picker chasing down the pack

In the past, the Spire Ultra clashed with the 100, but now it was moved to Hallowe’en and they had opened up a waiting list for spare places, there was a ray of light that a competitive race could happen. Two weeks later the email came through to say I’d received a place and my start time was 8:18am.

So we stood by the bus stop on the edge of the moors in our pod of 6 waiting for our socially distanced start time. Each pod was released 2 minutes apart and I was in pod 10, so plenty of other runners ahead to fuel the competitive ego.

The starters were running late, so I managed to see Luke B, who was hoping to retain the relay crown with Paul S and Tim C, and have a chat with him about course conditions. “It’s really muddy and the rivers are full, it’s over the top of the stepping stones”, Luke mentioned casually, confirming my thoughts about this week’s stormy weather.

We started at the highest point of the course, set off at a brisk trot and soon got into a group of 3. I’ve realised that you have got to run your own race and fast starts often lead to disaster 4 hours in, so I eased off and allowed the watch to set the pace. I was aiming for 10 min/mile pace initially, knowing that I would need energy later in the day as the final 4 mile section was all uphill.

The descent into Corporation wood was exactly as Luke had described and foot placement was crucial if the first mile was going to be survived.

We arrived at the bottom where the impressive pumping house stood, partially hidden amongst the trees with its substantial gate posts and ornate bridge and then continued up through the woods, onto the Bridleway, through fields, following boundary walls and hedges and avoiding complacency. Getting too relaxed with navigation can create difficulties and despite knowing that the middle path into the depths of Birkinshaw woods was the route, the lack of footprints in the mud made me doubt myself. It wasn’t until I emerged from the wood and saw the crowd of weary plodders coming up the hill that it became clear that their misguided faith in a lead runner had taken them the long way round and they had missed the junction.

Before long we arrived at the first checkpoint on the Chesterfield to Baslow road, numbers were taken and we were off. I was bluntly told on my first long distant jaunt, “You don’t hang around at checkpoints”. So I don’t.

Completing an Ultra is all about getting to the next checkpoint, the finish will arrive soon enough. Enjoy the changing views, the farms, the horses in the fields, the woodland paths carpeted in golden and bronze leaves, the old guy at a marshal point playing ‘Run Rabbit Run’ on a french horn, in the rain and forget about the finish. The countryside around Chesterfield is beautiful and to see it in one go is quite the privilege.

We passed through New Whittington, Brimington and joined the trans Pennines trail to skirt by Arkwright Town, the industrial past contrasting the wild beauty of the first half. It is changing though and on the Eastern side of the route giant solar farms are replacing the bleak slag heaps and families are using the trails of the old mineral railways to exercise and enjoy each other’s company.

At the end of the Five Pits Trail section is North Wingfield, what would have been the finish in more pleasant times, this year it marked the beginning of the final 4 miles, 4 miles of climbing, 4 miles of hanging on, 4 miles of avoiding being caught by the competition. The competitive ego took over and kept one foot moving in front of the other, climbing onwards and upwards, round woods, up tracks, through fields and always aware that at any moment someone could be gaining on you. Eventually, as the landscape started to level out, there was a little huddle of marshals who guided me through the final gate, kindly holding it open with the message, “3 fields and make sure you keep left”. The finish wasn’t in sight, the fields seemed to go on forever but then there was a huge cheer as I rounded what seemed like the world’s longest hedge and saw the flags of the finish as the first sunlight of the day broke through the storm clouds. Despite the weather throwing everything apart from snow at us, it had been a good day and thoroughly enjoyable.

The Spire Ultra is a great race and really well organised by Jamie and Claire Glazebrook, and all credit to them and the marshals under these circumstances. If you’ve done a marathon, you can do this, allow your competitive ego guide you from checkpoint to checkpoint and enjoy a day seeing another side of Chesvegas.

Completed in 5h 44mins 43secs, 15th position of 62 finishers.

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