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\”It’s not a race, it’s a journey\”: why a two-day, 75km trail run is a fantastic way to see the Peak District

Photo by Tom Wheatley on Unsplash

Some people call this burgeoning trend of multi-day running adventures “run-packing”; others refer to it as “fastpacking”. I’m in the latter group as I scramble around Manchester trying to source items from a list that includes trail running shoes, emergency foil blanket and fully-charged head-torch. My longest distance prior to this is 21km along a canal towpath, but Tom reassures me that this isn’t a race, it is a journey. And it isn’t just for trail runners, but for everyone.

It’s not difficult to see why trail running trips and holidays are on the rise, says Simon James, founder of Run the Wild, which organises guided events in the Chilterns and the Alps. He cites increased interest in maintaining good mental health and the positive effects of getting into the outdoors after the pandemic. Founded a decade ago the company had its busiest year to date in 2022.

The trio share backgrounds in bike-packing, running and travel; Luke quickly set about planning a route and last weekend their daydream became a reality. We met – 76 runners of mixed abilities from across the country – at Manchester’s Track Brewery taproom for a pre-run briefing. After a short ceremonial walk to the city’s Vimto bottle monument, we were off on that day’s 40km stretch.

The journey, 90% on off-road trails, had been carefully planned, with road crossings countable on one hand, beauty spots maximised and a team of “beacon runners” guiding groups at different paces. A steady 15km east along the Ashton canal out of the city to Audenshaw soon brought us to the village of Gee Cross on the edge of the Peak District. As Manchester faded into the distance behind us, Kinder Scout plateau – the highest point in the Peak District – beckoned in front.

A rest stop at 25km offered a chance to refill water bottles, pick up running snacks and indulge in portions of freshly cooked cheesy gnocchi before the final 15km slog across the western Peaks. After a challenging stretch navigating boulders, waterfalls and bogs we descended into Edale for the night’s camping – not before a quick shot of rum at the aptly named Mount Malibu checkpoint. Luggage had been ferried over prior to our arrival.

The evening’s spread of luscious carbs came courtesy of Manchester artisan bakery, Companio, with craft beers (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) from Track Brewing Co and Bristol’s Left Handed Giant.

With thighs and calves burning, ankles almost rolled and a glowing sense of accomplishment from completing a marathon-length trail, I began to see how the Peak Divide makes sense. The shared masochism of an ultra trail run is a powerful social cohesive. Strangers quickly become friends and at different parts of the route you switch between the motivator and motivated. Awe-inspiring landscapesoffer a soothing antidote to tired limbs.

“It’s funny how trail running has become such a cool sport,” says Charlie Knights, founder of Pure Trails, a guided trail running company that organises trips across destinations as far-flung as Albania and Kyrgyzstan. Charlie says that since the pandemic “demand has gone through the roof.” As well as the health benefits of trail running, there’s a pragmatism to the trips. Trail runners cover double the distance they would on a walking holiday over a similar timeframe, which allows for more exploration. Combined with impressively curated food and drink elements, outings to historical sites, wellness workshops and boutique add-ons including saunas and spa hotels, a trail-running holiday becomes an attractive proposition, says Charlie, especially to solo travellers and women.

Back over on the eastern edge of the Peaks, the Steel City is on the horizon. I’m running with two strangers that I now feel a fraternal bond with. We’ve run through heather, across reservoirs and over grassland; navigated treacherous boulders and bogs, and shared snacks. As we drop through Sheffield’s gorgeous riverside parks and botanical gardens, an elderly woman walking her dog gasps when we tell her where we’ve run from.

The second day’s 35km ends on a final, hobbled hill climb to Perch Brewhouse in Sheffield, with the sound of fellow runners cheering me into the beer garden as I press “finish run” on Strava. The atmosphere is one of pure elation.

On the train home to Manchester, the adrenaline slowly wears off as the landscapes I’ve just run through whir past the window – and the magnitude of the trip finally dawns on me. The moment I get signal on the other side of the Hope Valley, I Google “running holidays” on my phone for inspiration. I think I’ve caught the bug.

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