The first sign that not all was right was when the first mile arrived before the first mile should have arrived. GPS is an unreliable friend at best however, so I disregarded this and trundled on. When the 4 mile sign drifted past as the watch stuck 3.25 miles I thought perhaps, yes, something has gone wrong.
This was the Dambuster 10, a race around the Upper Derwent Reservoir, known for being the training grounds of the famous RAF 617 Squadron – who used Sir Barnes Neville Wallis’ Bouncing Bomb to attack the Möhne, Eder, and Sorpe dams in Nazi Germany during WWII. They were immortalised in the 1955 film The Dam Busters – which came out close enough to the real life events to star a veteran of D-Day, Richard Todd, in the lead role of Wing Commander Guy Gibson.
I booked the Dambuster 10 in early 2020, only for the pandemic to be postponed twice. Perhaps race is the wrong word. I was there to enjoy the day out, enjoy the reservoir, and run sort of fast by my own standards. This was the week before my debut half marathon, my A-race, so I didn’t want to take too much out of my own reserves. It is quite pleasant to arrive at a start line in the knowledge that you specifically aren’t going to hurt yourself too badly. Usually it’s quite the opposite, usually you have to remind yourself that, hey, this is what you want.
I definitely recommend it to any runner: enter a race and don’t give it your all. When you’re giving it the full beans you end up in an extremely insular state, and you become walled off from a lot of external stimulus. In a place like the Derwent reservoir, this would be a great shame. For a start, it is a tremendously accessible route, and although quite a few of us on the start line were in trail shoes, I would recommend road trainers. Having walked around the reservoir the year before I had it in my head that it was going to be a notably flat route, considering it’s a race in the Peak District, but actually running the lap it feels as if you’re constantly on a gradual uphill or down. It breaks the distance up very nicely. And then, the colours. The colours. It is hard to believe how close you are to Sheffield. It’s hard to believe you’re in Britain at all. Though, I suppose that’s what this pretty little island is very good at – you can pop off the motorway and very quickly find yourself in a pocket of tremendous beauty. Reading Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island recently, alongside this trip and race, has made me appreciate what we have here all the more. Everything is so densely packed, but for all the negative connotations that it has, it also means that we’re never too far from our greatest treasure: the countryside.
Now, the race wasn’t all gravy. It is the Dambuster 10, you see. 10 miles, you would suppose that means. Well, tell me, how is it that in a 10 mile race you run past a marker that says 10 miles on it? Should that not be the end? 10 miles? A 10 mile race? Now, clearly there was some issue with the mile markers as the first 9 all came far too early, and then the distance between 9 and 10 was far too far, but the fact there was a 10 mile marker half a mile before the finish line suggests that everyone was quite aware that this was not a 10 mile race at all. Considering I wasn’t going all out, I survived this hardship just fine, but if I had been absolutely ragging it then that last, extra, half mile might have been suffered begrudgingly. In truth, I don’t really mind all this. By making the race 10 and a halfish miles they made it a complete loop of the reservoir, and I prefer that over having the start/finish lines in different places – it’s not a PB course anyway, with 300ft of elevation gain and loss.
And if it’s not a PB course, and if the mile markers aren’t accurate, and if it’s all far too beautiful for us to disappear off within our own heads, then maybe we shouldn’t even try to PB it. Maybe we should all be doing as I did: take the foot off the pedal a little, soak in the day, soak in the colour, the reservoir, and the history, and consider that there is more than one way to race.