Spartan blog

Dusk til Dawn 2015 or DNF dodging

Dusk til Dawn 2015 – 50 mile (actually 52) race at night in the Peak District:

Last year this event started at Hope (1/2 way round this year), the course was relatively the same except for a few miles at the start/finish which were different.

This year the start was at Buxton Community School (same as High Peak 40).  Me, Nick and Andy W did a 30 mile recce from Mam Tor to the finish, a lot of the section to the Limestone Way I’m familiar with but after that I’m not so confident.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to recce the start towards Cracken Edge but gambled that there would be enough on the course at that point to fluff my way round, plus remembering last year’s route.

There were six Spartan’s, three doing the 29 mile ‘marathon’ and me, Nick and Gareth doing the 52 mile ultra.  The 1/2, marathon and ultra share the same start time and route but peel off back to the finish.  It wasn’t obvious which other people were doing which route and it could be dangerous trying to keep up with a ½ marathon runner who will obviously be going a lot faster.


Me, Nick (ultra), Suzie (marathon), Gareth (ultra), Becks and Jon (marathon).

The weather looked perfect, we had the race briefing and off we went.  The route is basically: west up to The Cat and Fiddle, along Shining Tor, Windgather, Taxal, Eccles Pike, Chinley, Craken Edge, Rushup Edge, Mam Tor, Lord’s Seat, Hope (1/2 way), Castleton, Cave Dale, Limestone Way, King Sterndale, finish (Buxton).  It’s a route of two halves, the first being hilly and technical, the second although has Cave Dale and three short sharp climbs is relatively flat.

You have to take mandatory kit and are kit checked at the start.

The basics of the race is to start at official dusk and finish before dawn running a double marathon.  Medal colours are dependant on finish times, the highly prized black medal, for those under 11 hrs, then gold, silver and bronze for every additional hour lapsed.  The Grim Sweeper is also chasing you round the course at 3 ½ miles/hour and anyone he catches up with is retired at the next CP.

I caught up with a couple of mates at the start whom I met through previous events.  The thing with trails and ultra running is that there is a real positive community spirit, it’s not about PBs and beating other people, although everyone wants to do their best.

Typically around 10% of finishers get the Black, for which I was one last year finishing 3rd.

We had the mandatory briefing, lined up and were off.  Head torch off and west out of Buxton towards The Cat & Fiddle.  Up the technical Macclesfield Old coach road and about ½ hour later I had to put my head torch on.  Trying to conserve carrying excessive batteries, it’s a case of trying to be efficient with head torch usage.

Over the Cat & Fiddle, Shining Tor and down towards Taxal, all good.  I got to Eccles Pike and the field hadn’t thinned out that much, I was running with Dean and Paul.  Up Craken Edge which took a lot of out me and then along to Rushup Edge, all going good so far.  Paul was struggling with bad guts and urged me to push on.  I was running along Rushup Edge and it was a clear sky, a half orange moon above Mam Tor that was amazing.

There were intermittent head torches behind me and I carried onto Lose Hill and the descent to Hope.  There were patches of fog which made head torch usage and navigation a bit tricky with the light reflecting back to you.

I got to half way, Hope in 5 hours and was 4th.  I wasn’t feeling brilliant, I changed head torches, had some food and tried to get out ASAP.  Paul arrived just as I was leaving.

I turned my headtorch off briefly for the flat road run to Castleton and then back on up Cave Dale – a real slog, especially after 28 miles.  This bit always destroys me and today it did so magnificently in force.  I tried to run where I could but it was wet and slippy and co-ordination was shoddy. 

I had difficulty trying to regulate my body temperature as I ran though bits that were sheltered and some that were harder than others.  Going up Cave Dale I only had my t-shirt on and was getting sustainably cold, I decided to stop and get my base layer out.  The problem was that I had to strip down and put my base layer on which, due to my excessive sweating had seeped into my pack and soaked my base layer.  It was skin tight and really difficult to get one, after a battle I managed to get it on and put my soaking t-shirt back on along with my buff and arm warmers but by now I’d gotten really cold.

Once you get to the ‘top’ you get onto the Limestone Way, another gradual climb, a tricky one as it’s not steep enough to have to walk but running it takes it out of you as it’s muddy and boggy in places.

On the top there is a gradual road descent where you can gain some time.  I was now in a bad state, feeling really sick, weak and dizzy, I really didn’t think I could make another 20 miles and was now looking for ways to quit.  Paul caught me and I said how rubbish I was feeling, he said just walk and recover but I was on the easy road section and it didn’t feel necessary to walk on an easy section.

I’d popped an SIS salt tablet in my water, I hate them and any sips just made me feel like being sick, I did a mouth puke but managed to hold it.

This section felt tough, 15 miles between Hope and the next fuel stop with a couple of tough climbs – Cave Dale done but Miller’s Dale still to come.

I got to Miller’s Dale and started trying to climb but got bad cramp in my right leg, think it was my quad which was a sign of salt deficiency.  I just had to power through it, stupid leg.  Trying to ascend Miller’s Dale was messy, I was swaying all over the place and my energy was zapped.

At the top through some fields and then we had to run past a pub which people were partying outside, how I so wish I was with them.  A few jeers and pathetic attempts at trying to run with me despite me having just run around 35 tough miles.  I tried to make the next climb but was really struggling, I necked an energy drink but it didn’t make much difference and a couple of miles later I had to have my emergency gel.  I got caught by another runner who just breezed past me like I was standing still.

I was now in a real bad state, I was now seriously thinking about quitting, I was in hell and thinking of calling the race director to get picked up, thinking about all the different excuses I could for quitting.

What got me to through this was:

1)    I run as an inspiration for Hermione and Theo (my kids) and no matter how bad it gets I cannot think of anything worse than going home and saying ‘I quit’,

2)    Spartan’s motto is ‘Spartan’s Never Surrender’,

3)    There was only about 13 miles to go, I’d done nearly 40 so was on the home stretch,

4)    This is where you learn what to do when things get really tough.

I managed to just about make it to the last manned CP with 10 miles left to go and 8  hours in, I had 3 hours do go to get my black medal which even if I walked I would make it.  I sat down and fuelled up on coke and sweets.  I chucked my SIS drink, it was seriously making me ill.  I caught Paul at the CP and he was just leaving as I arrived and he gave me words of encouragement.

After this CP there is a tough but short climb which I used to walk and digest my grabbings from the CP.  Generally once on the top it’s a little undulating until about three miles from the end when you have to partially ascend to The Cat & Fiddle and then descend back down the old coach road that you started on.

I clipped in and ran back to the school and finished in 10:05 in 7th place taking 2 hrs to do 10 miles!  I was totally destroyed and in a bad way, Paul helped me at the finish and sorted me out with fresh clothes and cups of hot chocolate.  I was 20 mins slower and 4 places lower than last year but considering that I was on the edge of quitting I managed to pull through and Paul gave me encouragement in that I finished despite being not just on the ropes but chucked over and flat on the floor.

Dean who I just finished ahead of in the High Peak 40 pulled through and won in 09:22hrs and I was really pleased for him, Paul was 3rd in 09:41, Spartan Nick was 10th in 10:30 and Spartan Gareth 12th in 10:40.

We all got out Black medals.


After I’d finished apparently 25 ultra runners had DNF’d.  Even though I was disappointed with the time and placing I’m more than happy with how I performed when in such a bad way.

So reflecting back, what went wrong?  I think simply lack of training, namely eating on the move that was my downfall.


I live, I die, I live again.






Alex Mason's picture