Some tours lend themselves to the last minute and others do not. Better planned in the future is Buaic-Roinn, which has 75 kilometers of support from Manchester to Sheffield. When I tell a friend that I’m taking a spare spot with two days notice and almost no training, she says her joints are falling off just thinking about it. Co-founder Tom Reynolds texts me the day before the run telling me to take a break and stay calm.
Some people call this trend of multi-day running adventures “runpacking”; others refer to it as “fastpacking”. I’m in the latter group as I stroll around Manchester trying to find items from a list that includes trail running shoes, an emergency foil blanket and a fully charged head torch. My previous longest distance is 21km on the canal towpath, but Tom reassures me that this is not a race, but a journey. And it’s not just for trail runners, but for everyone.
It’s not hard to see why trail running trips and holidays are on the rise, says Simon James, founder of Run the Wild, which organizes guided events in the Chilterns and the Alps. He cites an increased interest in maintaining good mental health and the positive effects of getting outdoors after the pandemic. Founded ten years ago, the company had its busiest year to date in 2022.
Like many big master plans, especially the London Marathon, the idea for Peak Divide started in the pub. Over a pint one evening in February last year, founders Tom Reynolds, Luke Douglas and Stef Amato considered the possibility of running from Manchester to Sheffield.
All three share a background in bikepacking, running and travel; Lúcás quickly started planning a route and last weekend their dreams came true. We met – 76 runners of mixed abilities from across the country – at the Track Brew taproom in Manchester for a pre-run briefing. After a short ceremonial walk to the city’s Vimto bottle monument, we were off on the 40km stretch that day.
The trip, 90% on off-road trails, was carefully planned, with road crossings to count on one hand, beauty spots maximized and a team of “beacon guides” guiding groups at different speeds. 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 receded behind us, the Kinder Scout plateau – the highest point in the Peak District – loomed ahead.
Strangers become friends quickly, and at various points along the way you switch between motivated and inspired.
A rest stop at 25km was an opportunity to refill water bottles, pick up running snacks and grab portions of freshly cooked cheese gnocchi before the final 15km slog across the West Peaks. After a challenging stretch navigating boulders, waterfalls and bogs we headed down to Edale for the night’s camping – not before a quick shot of rum at the aptly named Mount Malibu checkpoint. Baggage had been delivered before we arrived.
The evening’s luscious carb spread 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 rolling and a great sense of accomplishment from completing a marathon length trail, I began to see how the Peak Division made sense. The shared masochism of ultra-trail running is powerful social cohesion. Strangers quickly become friends and at various points along the way you switch between the motivator and the inspired. Awe-inspiring landscapes provide a soothing antidote to tired limbs.
“It’s amazing that trail running is such a great sport,” says Charlie Knights, founder of Pure Trails, a trail running company that organizes trips across destinations as far away as Albania and Kyrgyzstan. Charlie says since the pandemic “demand has gone through the roof.” As well as the health benefits of trail running, the journeys are also about pragmatism. Trail runners cover twice the distance they would on a walking holiday over a similar amount of time, allowing for more exploration. Combined with superbly curated food and drink elements, tours of historic sites, wellness workshops and boutique add-ons including saunas and spa hotels, track holidays become an attractive proposition, says Charlie, particularly for solo travelers and women. .
On the eastern edge of the Peaks, the City of Steel is on the horizon. I am running with two strangers with whom I now feel a fraternal bond. We ran through heather, over reservoirs and over grassland; boulders and treacherous bogs were shipped, and snacks shared. As we wind our way through the stunning riverside parks and botanical gardens of Sheffield, an elderly woman walking her dog tells her where we’ve come from.
Day two’s 35km finish on a final hill climb, hobbled to Perch Brewhouse in Sheffield, with the sound of other runners cheering me on into the beer garden as I hit “run finished” 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 passed pass the window – and the magnitude of the journey finally dawns on me. The minute I get a sign on the other side of Hope Valley, I Google “running vacations” on my phone for inspiration. I think I have caught the bug.
• The Peak Division will take place again on 20-21 April 2024. Register at peakdivide.com
More holidays for runners
Paths and Vines: Norfolk wine taste tour
Two nights all-inclusive in Norfolk with daily running delivered by English athletics coaches. Trails and Vines specializes in wine tasting at award-winning vineyards, with tours including home-cooked meals, yoga and strength sessions.
From £395 pptrailsandvines.co.uk
Run the Wild: Introduction by the Alps
A two day 26km guided tour taking in pine forests and mountain balcony trails above Mont Blanc in the French Alps. It includes two nights’ accommodation in a four-star spa hotel, breakfast, dinner on the first night, refreshment stops (including wine and cheese tasting) and a technical guide and training plan.
From €575pp, runthewild.co.uk
Run Wild: Scotland sky running and yoga camp
A four day guided run through the dramatic mountainous terrain of West Ross. Included is a four-night stay in a hostel close to Loch Torbertain, fully qualified running and mountain guides and yoga sessions.