The Leaden Boot Challenge is a fairly new marathon discance event, having started in 2011, and is based in the beautiful Peak District village of Alstonfield. The term fairly new does not mean easy, though. Far from it! They bill this bad boy as one of the toughest marathons in the country. And I can vouch for that. I’ve run a lot of marathons and I’m not sure I’ve done anything harder (save a few ultras). The Leaden Boot has a total ascent of 5,800 feet (1,768 meters in new money). That’s more than a vertical mile! And you know it right from the start!
I was asked to take part in the event by my mate Paul, who told me he did it last year and loved it. “Dead cheap”, he said. Followed by “loads of free food”, “friendly people” and “it’s quite tough”. He lied about one of those points – more on that later. So we booked a cottage, took the dogs and made a weekend of it. If you’ve been to the Peak District before, you’ll know how beautiful it is. If you haven’t, you need to go. I’m not sure my grasp of the English language allows me to do it justice.
The Saturday was spent walking, eating in pubs and relaxing. My wife Amy loved it – we covered quite a few miles and took in some astonishing views.
Having paid our £16 entry, which we thought was very cheap, we arrived on the morning of the event not really knowing what to expect. Surely they had cut some corners in order to keep costs down. But that didn’t seem the case at the venue – we were welcomes with open arms (quite literally) by some of the friendliest people we had ever met. Directed into an area to pick up numbers, have a brew and mill around, all was very laid back. Even Rich found time to smile!
The local vicar was present at the start to bless the boots of those taking part, before the hooter sounded and we were off!
The first mile was all downhill; steady, fun, relaxed and fun. My friend Paul had told me he remembered three challenging climbs and the rest was ‘undulating’. The ascent that started at about mile 2 was 500ft in total and at times was near vertical. At the top, we admired the views, picked our lungs up off the floor and then dropped back down the other side of the hill, which was just as steep as the way up. If there were only three of these climbs, though, I thought it couldn’t be that bad!
The views were stunning throughout, and with such clear weather which was perfect for running, we set out at a steady pace that allowed us to enjoy the first ten miles.
It was at ten miles, though, that Rich started to struggle. He hadn’t run since April, and was struggling with injuries and a general lack of fitness. He decided to stop at half way – a sensible decision! Half way had a checkpoint – there was one roughly every four miles on course. The checkpoints were very well stocked with water, juice, cakes, sweets, biscuits and other bits and bobs. There were always cheers and words of encouragement from the people manning them.
By mile 16 I had gotten over my initial enjoyment of the event and was starting to curse the climbs. At this point, Paul had apologised to me for ‘forgetting how many climbs there are’. Apparently, last year was so hard that he had managed to mentally block most of the run and only remember the good bits. That wasn’t good for my self-worth. My legs were getting very tired and by 19 miles I was struggling both physically and mentally. Whilst the views were stunning, the people extremely friendly and the other runners lovely, I decided not to tarnish my memories of thee event and so decided to stop at mile 19. It was only my second ever DNF at a marathon. At the checkpoint, I told the people involved that I was stopping and after a little encouragement to get back out on the trails, they saw that I was done. They called for a car and 20 minutes later, I was being driven back to the start in a Jag. If I’d have known that, I’d have stopped a lot earlier! The driver was just like everyone else – as nice as they come. Very friendly and very proud of his local area. He told me about how they were so rural they had been snowed in during the winter, and how his family had lived in the area for generation after generation. He was a very proud man, and quite rightly so.
Anyway, back at the start I was invited into the hall to have a cup of tea and some cake. I went into the hall and I’ve never seen anything like it. a table about 20 feet in length completely filled with cakes. Some ladies with tea urns were handing out complimentary drinks and encouraged me to have some cake. “I can’t”, I said. “I don’t have any money on me. But I will, when my wife arrives”. I was then told not to be silly – all the cakes were made by locals and were free. Unbelievable! Free cakes? Tnd tea? And free pie and veg? All for a £16 entry fee? I filled my boots!
Anyway, I went back to the finish and saw Paul come in. He did incredibly well and was grinning all the way.
I can’t recommend this run enough. It is by far the friendliest run I have ever taken part in. Entry is limited to 300 people and it WILL fill up. It has to. So get in fast. And treat it as a challenge. You won’t ever PB on this course. It’s not about that. It’s about pitting yourself against nature, having fun and challenging yourself to the max.
I’ve had the pleasure of taking on marathons across the world across some very tough terrain. The Leaden Boot Challenge is right up there. BUT… I have one complaint. And that’s the ridiculous price of the event. It’s £16. That’s it! I have no doubt that if a professional events company (who, by the way, wouldn’t be able to do better than the locals) put this on, they’d charge a minimum of £50 and there would be no complaints. A fully manned course with drinks, sweets and contingency transport, followed by free dinner and a world of cake is worth a lot more.
You couldn’t tell the Leaden Boot is a fairly new event. It feels like it’s been established for years and should be a first date in any crazy runner’s calendar. At Honest Fitness, we can’t recommend this bad boy enough!