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The Peak Divide is not a race, and rather than the typically menacing descriptors found on most
race run websites...you find ‘ultra fun’, ‘mega-feed-stops’, and other details welcoming you to a ‘social, supported trail-run’. So this is how I found myself awake at 3:30 in the morning, inside a suspiciously fancy wedding venue, that was playing host to the briefing of the Peak Divide. Fifty people setting off to traverse 76km over the UK’s first national park, the Peak district, from Sheffield to Manchester, in a day.
On arriving at the briefing, I immediately noticed a shift from the typical nervous energy of twitching muscles and eyes scanning the room for potential challengers and worryingly strong looking calves. Instead I was immediately offered a much needed coffee, and enjoyed the friendly energy of a room that felt full of old friends rather than rivals. Rather than the fancy wedding-venue we were inside feeling uncomfortable, it almost felt fitting for the familiar-ness of the folks I was surrounded by, most who had only just met, or who met on the Peak Divide ‘Classic’ earlier in the year.
The Peak Divide in a day, dubbed the ONER, set off at either 4am for most, or 5am for a slightly speedier group. In the warm glow of a dozen head torches, I set off just after 5am with one of the ‘Beacon Runners’, Tom, who will effectively guide you all the way from city to city, should you be less comfortable with navigation. This was a good thing, as initial visibility was around 50m once on the peaks.
One of the things that drew me most to the Peak Divide, other than the friendly-nature, was what I had heard about the food on offer, and the legend of the vegan gnocchi was on my mind from the moment I signed up. We reached the first aid station at 23km at the south of Derwent Water, and were offered an impressive array of protein balls, sweets and vimto (which I unfortunately completely missed). All served with a side of party-vibes, despite the less than bright weather. Whilst the clouds had not yet burnt off at higher level, it was easy to see the next climb, Winhill, rise well into the clag and out of sight. The clear motivation for most was that up and over Winhill we would reach Edale, where we could get our first stamp on our card and tear off a corner in return for a hot sausage sarnie/batch/cob at Edale.
The aid station at Edale, around 35km in, felt like a family gathering as we took over the brilliant Newfold Farm Café. At this point, many of the runners were reaching the furthest distance they had ever run before, and whilst it was clear there were some aches and pains present, there was a momentum of positive energy that overtook the typical aid station woes.
On the climb out of Edale up to Kinder Scout, with bellies full of warm sarnies, the hot topic was the appropriate name for bread in such an arrangement, with over 21 options to pick from. Be that Bap, Bara, Batch or Bun (without even getting past the letter B), there was obviously no consensus, other than that we all liked bread an awful lot. Luckily, the next checkpoint at 51km offered Gnocchi, which as far as I am aware, is the only name for the glorious little potato/pasta balls.
Before the Gnocchi, was a beautiful stretch across Kinder Scout, and whilst the visibility over the top was still only reaching out around 50m at times, it made each little group running together feel like a whole world. Occasionally stopping to admire the incredible rock formations looming out of the clag, or to chat to other ONERs or weekend runners out in the peaks, this was my favourite stretch of the route. This was despite sinking thigh deep into a bog at one point, but I had new friends to help me out (after taking the obligatory picture once laughter has subsided enough). It was during this stretch that some of the ONERs crossed paths with a fell race in the peaks, and when one of my fellow ONERs asked a competitor ‘how far is your run’, the angry response was ‘it’s not a run, it’s a race!’. The irony of shouting this angrily at someone on the Peak Divide was not missed. Looking it up, I believe it was the ‘Fat Boys Stanage Struggle’, and the easy answer would have been to say ‘10km’ which would have taken less time to shout, with less breath lost.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love to race, and indeed I believe fell-racing is some of the most fun that can be had on two feet, but this difference in attitude speaks volumes of why the Peak Divide is so important. At the end of the day, much like bread, whilst we all have different names for it, we all love the inherent joy of running. For years, if you wanted to come together with others to run, then a race was almost the only answer. I’m glad the Peak Divide exists for those who don’t seek to beat others, but to get lost in an adventure as one.
The Gnocchi at the 50km checkpoint was indeed as good as I had been dreaming about the previous 50km. Thankfully I got to savour every last bite due to the necessary cleaning out of my cup/bowl to wash it all down with coffee. Had it been a race, these little relaxed moments in time simply would have been lost in the frantic refilling of bottles with energy powders, and at the end of the day, it is these little moments that remain with us long after the aches in our legs departs. Maybe the Peak Divide is the best way to not just savour great food, but the joy of running alongside it.
The remaining 25km to Manchester was punctuated by supporters popping up at regular intervals, and an ominous “have you run from Sheffield, someone’s looking for you” at least 4 different times. I reached the finish with four new friends all completing their furthest run to date, with massive smiles on their faces, and party-vibes in the air. I collected my final stamp on the check-card, and my adventure from Sheffield to Manchester was complete. All I had left to do was cheer in the other finishers at Track brewery and eat a couple pizzas. I believe out of the 50 odd who started, only two had to pull out or only finish part of the route, and I personally think that is a finisher rate that should be boasted about rather than the misogynistic chest beating “less that 50% complete this race”. It should serve as a beautiful reminder that we can all achieve so much when we lift each other up.
This was the first year of Peak Divide, dreamt up by Stef, Tom, Luke and Peat, who were helped by many friends. Their Classic event is over two days from Manchester to Sheffield, and the ONER, is a single day from Sheffield to Manchester. For anyone that wants to achieve more than you currently think is possible, or who needs a reminder of why we all love this thing called running so much, I encourage you to try the Peak Divide in 2024, and enjoy every little step in time, because there’s no going back.
Photography - @saskiacmartin
Experience - @peak.divide