Year on year I have hosted a recce of The Ladybower 50 Ultra Series.
It has always been a fun little run, but this year life has conspired to keep us all very busy at Accelerate and there simply isn’t time.
So, not to be out-done, I’ve elected to provide you with a ‘virtual recce’ of sorts.
A little guide to the event, the course and a few hints at tackling this event with confidence.
Ladybower 50 is a number of things. It’s a picturesque event in the Peak District, right outside Sheffield and based around the Derwent Valley – packed with local history and featuring some interesting remains from the village which used to exist under the reservoir itself. Derwent & Howden Dams are lovely to look at and provide a landmark upon which to focus as you circle the water’s edge.
I gained my 50 mile personal best during the Ladybower 50 in 2016 and thoroughly enjoyed it.
So, the route.
From the lay-by near to Fairholmes Visitor Centre on race day – we would normally set off from outside the Centre itself on the recce, as the parking (pay and display) makes it a more sociably convenient start/finish. The course lies within the Derwent Valley, home to Derwent Dam, used as practice for the famous ‘Dambusters’ Bouncing Bomb campaign and home to a museum all about the missions during WWII.
First thing to consider – all races (20, 35 and 50 mile distances) travel in an anti-clockwise direction and feature the same start loop of 5 miles (red dots). Through the back of the lay-by into a wooded trail (my favourite section) and down to the A57 (Manchester Rd). Across the bridge and back on yourself as you once again pick up the path at the water’s edge. The soft, undulating trail turns to grassy fields just before the bridge and then after a spell on pavement, turns into a tarmac/hard concrete section, before becoming more of a hard packed trail all the way to the 4 mile mark or so…
Final stretch of road, back to where you were and you return to race HQ for a second loop on race day. 5 miles complete and back where you started already!
For the recce of course, we only bother to complete this section the once.
This is normally where I ask the group how they feel. Last minute kit swap or toilet visit before we head off to complete the 10 mile section at the top of the valley.
From here you need to have stocked up at least enough drink to last for a further 5 miles and food for the entire 10 mile loop. You’ll also have to bear in mind that from this point things get more and more cut off and there’s every chance a change in weather will leave you without any easy way out of the valley.
For this reason, I ask folk to bring waterproof cover, hat/gloves, food/drink and suitable footwear for uneven and often wet ground.
Terrain wise, there really isn’t much in it. You can complete this course entirely in road shoes for the sake of comfort. The need for traction is next to none, but there are a few variations under foot. The colour coded map shoes how the majority of the course is road, with a bus route between Fairholmes and the outer reaches (top of the highest grey section).
The early wooded trail is softer and wetter than a lot of the other areas depending upon recent weather conditions and run off from surrounding hills, but is still fairly firm and easy to navigate. There are some winding single track sections for a bit of fun and one set of steps in/out of an inlet with a narrow bridge WARNING: Unless doing the 20 miler or at elite level, this is a good place to walk, rather than bounding down and back up the over sized steps, since you’ll regret wasting effort when you finally return to the same section on the second or third lap!
Once you’ve managed the uneven grassy section just before the A57, you’ll find the surface becomes firmer and faster. Watch your pace and don’t get carried away. This is where I catch myself re-writing my race plan and moving at a deceptively easy pace, only to regret it hours and hours later when I’m on fumes and the wheels have come off.
Firm ground all the way to Derwent Dam itself, where just prior, there’s a drink station set up in time for everyone’s second time around (10 miles).
NOTE: It might be worth considering the need to carry drink for the first 5 miles, since you return to HQ on that first short lap. Hydrate well an move at an easy pace and you could enjoy travelling light until filling bottles at the 5 mile mark before motoring on.
Once you head past the Dam (right fork, sign posted and marshalled) – it’s around we go.
At this point I’ll repeat what Race Organiser Steve King explains pre-race – “Navigation is a doddle. The water’s on your left”.
It’s not until you reach the furthest part of the course at the very top of the valley that you encounter some very uneven stony ground and some wet, almost slippery sections here or there. Still firm and mainly level (except for one steep descent, which again ought to be taken gently to protect the quads).
We usually plan to stop for a moment at the very northerly tip of the reservoir (a place called slippery stones) for a brief breather and chance to eat/drink at a relaxed rate while taking in the scenery.
Then it’s road all the way back to HQ, but with ups and downs along the way. Climbs and descents take turns, while the water cuts into the surround hills and you’re forced to endure the long winded out and back sections you see branching out to the west. They can cause a little frustration when you lock sight on the runner ahead, almost in reach across the narrow stretch of water, but by the time you round the car end of that tributary, they turn out to have been half a mile in front! Though you’ll snigger to yourself when you look back and see someone else feeling as if they might have caught you and you leave them in your wake.
Completing the full lap provides people with a 15 mile taste of what these individual races offer. 20, 35 or 50, the deal is the same – one checkpoint/HQ at which to feed from a buffet of race snacks. Water stations are located at 5 mile intervals, with the first two being manned and the final station being a water butt positioned for self service a the top end of the aforementioned bus route(easy to spot, next to a wide gate right before you arrive at the bus turning circle).
So having run anti-clockwise from start, onto the A57 and back onto water’s edge, reaching your start position at 5 miles and heading around the top loop for a further 10 miles, you’ve covered the course in its entirety. Depending upon the distance you’ve opted for, you’ll then add a second or third lap for good measure.
And that’s what’s so convenient about the set up. One checkpoint, which doubles as an aid station at 5, 10, 20, 35 and 50 miles. Psychologically (on the full 50 miler) I found this to be more motivating than tedious. I’d assumed that doing laps would become torture, but actually deduced the water didn’t need carrying for the first 5 miles (though I was carrying water all the same).
I realised that at the 20 mile mark I was already more than a third of the way into my ultra. At 35 miles, the very next time I entered the HQ, I was feeling as if I’d almost finished, so there was a really positive reaction every time I happened into this same location. On other races of upto 50 miles, there can be as many as 10 or more aid stations/checkpoints, which while very supportive, can leave you feeling as if you’re only making slow progress.
So Ladybower 50 is a great event for the first timer or navigational novice, as it’s childs play to stay on the course and the interaction with the same familiar faces creates a sense of amusement in the face of such a physical challenge.
I heartily recommend this event and have been happy to be involved from the side lines. Currently supported by Raidlight with some very attractive prizes provided from their extensive trail running range –
I might very well take another stab at beating my 8hrs and 50 minutes in years to come, but as a single lap, 15 miles has rarely been more rewarding than it is around this beautiful part of the world.
Perhaps that’s why so many people with no intention of ever entering the race itself used to attend the recce. If you find yourself at a loose end and have 15 miles in you, it’s well worth a go.
So that’s it. Simple. Good luck if you’re racing this year. Don’t forget that the event is officially ‘cupless’ this time and you’ll need to have at least a drink bottle upon your person, if not a lightweight cup for hot/cold drinks, such as the one from our co-sponsor this year, Raidlight.
That’s me at 2:45min in this snazzy video of the 2016 race by Martin James.