EVERY March, runners from all over the UK descend on Grindleford for the increasingly famous Grindleford Gallop.
Seen as an ideal preparation for the London Marathon in April, the 21 mile off road trek, with 3,000 feet of ascent, is perfect for those who like their running challenging, but picturesque.
“And friendly,” said many of the mud-spattered runners as they were handed their free massage and homemade cake after the ups and downs of the circular route from Grindleford to Eyam, Great Longstone, Hassop, Chatsworth, Baslow and the Curbar and Froggatt Edges.
Last Saturday’s gallop was the 16th, and as always, aimed to raise a significant sum for Grindleford Primary school.
“We hope to raise about £6,000 towards the fabric of the school,” said Kate Axelby, from the 15-strong Gallop organising team, members of the school’s PTA. Previous gallops have helped the school fund a climbing wall, a nature study pond and a fitness trail as well as trips for the pupils.
“It’s only a small school and we want to make sure the pupils get the best out of it,” said fellow organiser Julia Robertson. Grindleford has less than 70 pupils, and larger schools find it easier to fund trips to sporting events, for example, said Kate.
“The money raised is the icing on the cake for the kids, so they can do all they could do at a big school,” said Julia.
The Grindleford PTA worked out that hosting a single large event like the Gallop raised the funds needed more effectively than several small events over the year.
“You can’t run a fair in Grindleford every six weeks,” said Heather McMillan. “If you run a big thing like this, it actually brings in money from the whole country.”
The entire village and area gets behind the gallop, with the Peak Fruits shop and Sir William pub supplying soup for the finishers, and a team of school parents and pupils baking 1,400 cakes and traybakes to fuel the 600 runners and walkers. Local masseur Renuka Russell was on hand to relieve aching muscles.
Many runners praised the en route flapjack and early morning support from the Grindleford school children, some of whom were at the start line at 7am for the first wave of walkers.
“It’s a great cause, and what better way to support the local community then getting out on the Peak District hills?” said Lottie Bradford, who was taking part for the first time, and had never run 21 miles before, never mind 21 miles up and down the north Derbyshire hills.
“It was hard work but enjoyable, and when I finished I was buzzing. It’s the most strenuous run I’ve ever done. I was aiming for five hours and I did it in in 4.45 so I’m chuffed.”
Runners had expected far worse weather on the day, with heavy rain forecast, but had still found plenty of mud on the tracks and trails.
“Twenty-one miles in this terrain is really gruelling,” said ‘pop up masseur’ Renuka Russell. “I’d like to do it myself one day. And with the weather you can get anything this time of year – rain, snow, wind, and the mud is always insane.”
Helen Kirk was one of the first runners back, but her running partner had pulled out due to injury at the last moment, so she roped husband Geoff in instead, despite him only just returning from several weeks working on Danish oil rigs.
“I’d not trained at all, so I did some training on Monday but when I came back I couldn’t walk,” said Geoff. “She dragged me into it saying it was an opportunity not to be missed.”
Runners are urged to book early for next March’s Gallop, when the entries go live in November. “This year we sold out within ten days, which was the quickest ever,” said Julia Robertson. “So I’d say, if you want to come register immediately in November. Don’t think about it, just get on!”
This year’s event was won by Gareth Lowe, of Clowne Road Runners, who finished in two hours, 30 minutes and 55 seconds. The first woman home was Sally Fawcett, of Hallamshire Harriers, in 2:48.52.