If the hill doesn't get you then the weather most certainly will...

Tonight I will sample one of the Cockbain EventsThe Hill Ultra, up in the Peak District. After running The Viking Way, this shall be my second attempt at one of Mark's pleasant adventures...

So I shall be expecting it to be what he calls... the 'Hard Stuff'

This is all you need to do:

I arrived in Macclesfield very late, on a very cold Thursday night in December. I stayed in the Central Travelodge which had everything I needed nearby, but it was the sleep and rest I wanted the most. 

I stayed awake as long as I possibly could do, until 4am, so to sleep in Friday, as the event starts at 8pm. I figured it best to be in night shift pattern already to get me through. As a shift worker, running late at night seems very normal.

After checking I have everything a dozen times, layering up and loading the car I am ready to head on to the Cat and Fiddle pub, Buxton Rd where the event is based. 

Just as I was leaving some snow had already settled at the pub. Thanks to fellow Southerner Chris Ette for the heads up. I knew it was high up but didn't realise it would get snow so soon in the evening....

The pub is situated at around 1,500ft above sea level.

Courtesy of Chris Ette

After finding a spot in the second room of the pub, I keep all my kit bag and box together which has my name labelled. A good idea as other runners have big boxes, sleeping bags and gear dotted all over, so I will be able to spot my things easily enough. 

I chat to Allan Rumbles, who made it up in time after all, as the roads have been so busy. I catch up with Chris then speak to Mark about tonight and how I am a little too rested for this after my holiday perhaps. 

I decide to get a hot peppermint tea to keep me warm, then each runner collects a time chip to use for each rep of the hill, top and bottom. 

I put on another pair of gloves, a high-viz beany hat over my skull cap, and a fluorescent vest to be seen. I clip a green LED light to the rear of my hat. 

With just a few minutes left to go, we follow mark outside to the caravan and check point area. This will be where we scan our time chips for each hill rep, and a screen will shortly display our progress.

The wind has a real, sharp bite and already the snow has cooled the air to 1c. Frost and now the ice is forming on the ground below. I start in my HH trail shoes (fairly new but cosy with adequate tread), and Helly Tech Protection Waterproof jacket over a long sleeve tech top. My compression tights with shorts over them. I will soon see if this will be warm enough for the cold night ahead.

With last minute instructions from Mark, as we shuffle and twitch about to keep warm. The big bell should only be rung when you want to quit the Hill, except for now as we set off down the road.

START 20:10 
Everyone heads along the white line until the glow sticks go off onto the track, and follow the trail on a gradual undulating climb along the fence line. Then through an open gate and over a mound leading down a stoned walled track.

The stones are quite sharp and uneven in places, so I try to remember where to place my footing for the next rep. We all stay bunched close together and maybe setting off too quickly, but I think we all just want to warm up fast!

The winding path heads uphill quite slowly then in steep climbs for the last half mile it seems. The ground is almost like sand in places with chicken wire placed over the very soft areas. 

I can see the green glow sticks bending up to a big wall, which looks to be the top of the Hill... Already the first few faster runners are heading back down the hill to base. 

I get my chip tag out ready to dip. Two scanners are chained to a seat at the top which is covered in white frost... 

I dip the chip until it bleeps and flashes red. Then head on back down the way we came. The route is easier to navigate back down from memory, as I remember where I placed my feet without slipping. 

Soon enough we meet the road again and follow the white line until reaching the base at the pub. Again I dip my chip until it flashes, then head on out for rep two.

Peak of Shining Tor

The full moon is so bright tonight, lighting up the sky and showing a huge display of stars above. Although it is a bitter cold night, it is a perfect one for running out here in the Peaks. 

I enjoy the peace and still of the night air as we run back and forth, up and down the hill. The crisp crunch of frost with each step is my running lullaby.

I text my friend Helen after 5 reps before she goes to bed, she will keep an eye on my Runkeeper after 3am for when she goes to work. There is no need to text Sunday yet as he is flying up above some 35,000ft.

I'm really feeling good and fresh and think starting the run in the evening has helped give an adrenaline boost. 

The miles fly by and the hours seem to melt away so quickly...

I stop at 16 or so miles to refill my water in my Salomon pack and take an S!Cap (salt capsule)

I still feel fueled enough from my Bulletproof coffee and avocado I had in my room. 

Dawn break

The moon is still so bright shining the path like a huge torch. I can see ponies grazing at the nearby farm house that I've now passed so many times already. I'm amazed they are still out at 2am in the morning...

Slowly the moon starts to set over the hill and the sky turns from deep purple to pink, then a orange glow from the east. It's been a very cold night with the frost turning to ice. 

But it looks set to be a sunny morning which should warm the ground up and my face too.

After 60 miles reached and 21 hill reps, I have been running for 12 hours through the night. The sun is rising and the warmth is very welcomed after the bitter cold.

I still feel sharp and coffee with cream, olives, bites of cheese and my usual sips on olive oil has really helped keep my energy levels constant so far. 

Warm welcome

I use the pub to heat up after so many reps and to change my gloves and hat. I feel ok in my shoes and jacket at the moment. We are asked to move our kit out of the main room and into the other side of the pub for when it opens to the public. 

At the moment I am running in 3rd position behind Mike and Ronnie, who are a lap or two ahead of me. I can see them slowing their pace slightly but not by much. I seem to climb the hill better on some reps than others, the downhill is the easiest part still.... for now.  

Miles of thick frost

The clouds soon come in over the Peaks, as does the wind. The daylight won't last long and the cold will come in again for tonight. 

I catch up with Chris and chat to the other runners as we pass each other. The number of competitors seems much less than last night and I can only see the same handful of faces again and again. 

I later find out Allan is one who dropped out with a bad back, and about 9 others  have called it a day already...

I listen to some beats for the first time since I started. 

Clouds and wind coming in

By late afternoon the clouds have come in thick and fast as the wind picks up, bringing in the bitter cold again. I Change my shoes for Brooks trails, that are wider and with more cushioning, change my tech top for a base layer and my Cox Swain waterproof jacket. I add my head torch and rear light ready for when the dark sets in...

Tonight looks to get foggy and very windy! I warm up with coffee from my thermos and tuck into some olives and avocado, before setting back out on another rep..

As it's been so cold my body has been sufficient at keeping warm enough by running, and with power walking the steep parts. So I've not been sweating anywhere as much as I usually would in milder weather like at home. I have took far less salt capsules because of this and just relied on added salt in my nut and energy mix from my cool bag.

There has been more activity along the route during the day, other than us mad runners. Hikers, dog walkers and older folk strolling about. 

 Still running strong

A few supporters and friends of the race team are dotted down the route taking pictures. Calling out words of encouragement and clapping as we pass by...

Very little wildlife up here

Soon enough it's the end of another day here in the Peaks and the sky turns to dusk. Thick fog clouds come swooping in across the valley heading in our direction....

Lonely Christmas tree

I spot the lonely Christmas tree which is just as the hill climbs up steep to the top of Tor. I have been using this as a marker to run to if I have been walking the flat path during the day. Something I only just noticed I was doing. Playing mind games to pass the time and keep me moving quicker...

Final climb up the Tor

I send a few text to family and friends on my progress and that still feeling good. I feel fantastic reaching over 27 reps and half way through the challenge! Although my legs have that familiar dull ache, but nothing with discomfort or any pain.

I speak with Helen as she drives home from work then my Mum, and later my sister as she heads out for the evening. I like to call these my 'Crew Calls' when I do not have any outside help or crew team on location with me. 

I have many messages from followers and friends to read from Twitter and Facebook once this is all finished. As usual I feel very overwhelmed by all the support and encouragement I receive. 

28 Reps in and half way...

After 24 hours of running and 37 reps of the hill complete. I feel good in knowing I am so much closer to the 55 rep! The wind is picking up by the hour and fog has started to sit over our pathway.. 

Visibility is becoming poor.

I am also feeling the slight discomfort of ITB on my left leg. Which I rarely suffer from, but with the lack of high mileage training up to this event, it's very likely something was going to start to strain.. 

When I warm up back at base by the log burner, which is now extinguished but still warm. I take an aspirin and paracetamol in the hope it will subside for me. 

I stretch in front of the warm and try to heat my hands. Two gloves is not protecting from the harsh wind chill. My finger tips are numb and loosing sensation in them.

I make sure to get out again quickly as it's always hard to start running again after standing stationary. I can also feel my throat becoming sore and dry like the cold is getting to my head. 

I take a salt capsule and sip on some olive oil to see if that will soothe it. Wearing two layers of a buff does not seem to be keeping out the cold after all this time.

I can feel my body shaking trying to get warmed up again as I head on out into the thick fog. Wind is blowing in all directions now and makes it difficult to get balance over the rocky path. 

Dusk on the Peak

After the rep to the top I struggle to find my chip with my numb fingers. I decide to tie it around my bum bag instead for ease of finding it from now on. 

I take a moment to look around in the foggy darkness. My head torch seems to just make the fog appear more hazy and my pace has dropped to a shuffle walk when I can't see ahead clearly. My battery is dying fast and I did not pack any spares.

I manage to pick up my pace downhill, yet I kick a rock, then slip on the next one before flying head first across the grass edge. My hands cushion my fall, luckily, and with it being so cold I didn't really feel anything. 

Thick Fog approaching

Tom, another runner on the downhill sees me and checks I'm ok. I feel stupid for not keeping steady and feel clouded in my judgement all sudden. I think the cold is slowing my reactions and thinking. 

The chip dipper bench at the top (pic Mark Cockbain)

I plod down slowly with the help of Tom and his hand torch. I notice how much easier it is to see ahead and in close up areas on the ground with his torch. He tells me to hold my head torch on the spot function instead. Although not as bright as his, it seems to help and I can use it for watching the stones by my feet. 

It feels forever before we reach the road again, then the pub. I dip my chip and have some water before heading back inside to change my batteries and warm up again. I thank Tom for guiding me back and this time keep my torch on spot light mode. 

Head torch through a thick haze

As I head on back out in the biting wind, I call Sunday who is at Heathrow the night. I have to fold my phone into my buff as the howling wind is so strong, he can't hear me. I can sense his concern of the weather and my fall. I know he is not comfortable I am in unknown territory and my comfort zone. Without trying to sound concerned myself, I assure him I am well and doing ok. 

Although not completely true.... I am starting to question how many more reps I can go if this weather keeps getting worse. I've slowed to a power walk as the fog is so dense to see ahead. I do not feel as safe running right now. This is one hell of a storm out here! 

At best this could take me another 13-15 hours to finish... Really not what I had in mind... I wish the wind would die down to let me warm up again. 

By the 40th Rep, starting and stopping to see ahead I made the decision to call it a day once I reach the pub. I really feel ok within my body except my head and throat. The severe cold bitter wind that is getting stronger by the minute is clouding my judgement and I'm finding it increasingly hard to warm up in 20-30 minutes (Max time allowed) before heading out again. 

I really feel myself getting poorly and cannot afford to make myself ill this close to Christmas approaching! Especially now I've got it off work... 

I eventually make my way to the base and dip my chip. I'm offered pizza but turn it down as I do not eat much wheat, gluten these days, or feel hungry for it right now. I run into the pub to get warm again and rethink what to do...

Minutes later I come back out and tell the team I have to retire as feeling myself get sick. I just can't carrying on through the night with the conditions getting worse. 

I ring that bell.... It's over..., the Hill beat me and another DNF looms over me! 

I text Helen, then she calls to see how I am. A hard decision to make when I have it in my legs, but considering how far I got I can only learn from the experience and come back more prepared next year! 

I managed to creep up to third place in the later stages and stayed very strong as others slowed down, I know I can do this next time. 

I stopped at 40 reps covering a total of 116 miles in 27hrs and 20mins.

I later caught up with Chris after having a nap on the sofa, like me he too found the brutal weather too extreme to carry on through the night. 

He finished at a very impressive 43 reps.

Mike on his last rep (pic by Mark)

Shorts out again for the final leg (pic by Mark)

Winner Mike Raffan with a new course record

This year Mike smashed the course record finishing in 38hrs and 1min. 

Ronnie Staton 39hrs 50min
Tony Hall 45hrs

23 runners began The Hill and only these three finished....

I shall have to toughen up for the weather next year and be more prepared to beat 

The Hill Ultra...


  1. Hi Luke, that's a fantastic achievement despite the DNF. Would you call your diet LCHF or is it that you just avoid wheat?

  2. Cheers Malcolm,
    I follow a No Sugar No Grain lifestyle which is very much LCHF. I've been this way since August 2013 and I've seen great results in my endurance and overall health. Recovery is also much quicker these days too! I do suffer if I have wheat as my stomach and body will now react to it as removed from my diet...

    1. I see, thanks. NSNG is actually new to me but I've been reading some of your posts and it's interesting stuff. I've been investigating LCHF and endurance running this year (see and your experience would certainly help to answer one of my big questions - "How long can we go?" I've only gone up to 5 hours myself (I ran out of time, not energy!) but hope to go longer next year. I'm also very interested in the public health aspects that you have touched on.

  3. I shall take a look Malcolm, I have gone I think at most 8hrs running without the need of any fuel except water, which was the first part to Viking Way Ultra in April. I usually train 4-6hrs without the need to eat quite easily as I am very fat adapted these days. But if I am doing high intense or a marathon then I would have a sugar trickle along the way to give me that push.

  4. You are a total inspiration Luke, another amazing achievement xx

  5. Just read your blog, Luke. Stamina & endurance - 116 miles, wow! You are an inspiration; thank you for writing & sharing; always a great read. Tom Hooley


Please add your comments here. I would like to encourage discussion on running, training and nutrition. Luke