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The 12 Labours of Hercules a 78 mile Peak District ultra marathon with a difference

16:46 30th July 2013 By Andrew Cremin

Anyone who has completed a 100km+ ultra marathon can tell you how tough they are, but what about as well as running over 100km you also had to take on a series of tasks built to stop a mythological Greek in his tracks?

The 12 Labours of Hercules Ultra Marathon that has just been run in the Peak District aimed to achieve just that (sort of). In addition to putting the miles in underfoot competitors were required to navigate the entire route with map and compass, collect items, and performs tasks inline with the mythical challenge set to Hercules.

This 127km ultra, which has over 5200m worth of ascending and descending, is unlike any other ultra run that you are likely to come across.

A custom OS map is handed out to competitors before the start.

A custom OS map is handed out to competitors before the start.

The Labours

Unlike your common or garden ultra (if such a thing exists exists) the 12 Labours employs a slightly offbeat, non-linear format.

Runners all start out from a central basecamp (Olympus) and head towards checkpoints set between ½ a mile and 6 miles away.

Once there, runners “punch in” with electronic timers before returning back to Olympus.

At some of the labour destinations, each runner is asked to perform tasks, which resemble the actual stories of Hercules, or at least use some quirky detail from with the Hercules story. (My favourite was running past The Nags Head Pub while I was completing the Mares of Diomedes labour).

There is also a visit to “The Underworld” with a checkpoint tucked away in a nearby cave which, giving the runners a brief rest from the warm July sun. Other interesting tasks throughout the race involve collecting an apple (The Golden Apples of the Hesperides), and miniature cow (The Cattle of Geryon), as well as making an origami bird for the labour of the Stymphalian birds. These tasks are all in good fun, and a welcome distraction from the running.

Carrying the fruits of his labour...

Carrying the fruits of his labour…

Not quite a straight line

The non-linear design of the course is also different.

Running out to each checkpoint and back soon adds up the miles. In total the route including all 12 checkpoints adds up to a cool 78 miles. With 24 hour time-limit cut-off the 3 Ultra Trail Mont Blanc points you gain for beating the clock are well and truly earnt!

Each runner is given a custom O/S map with a recommended route, so brushing up on your compass skills is essential.

Olympus serves as a rest stop throughout the 24 hours with a constant supply of all types of food, and as night begins to creep in, several of the longer labours have some much-needed warm food after navigating throughout the night.

With what seemed to be a very successful inaugural year for the race, and with the added authenticity of it all, I wouldn’t be surprised if the12 Labours of Hercules becomes a must do ultra on the UK calendar. Runners can allow themselves to step back into Greek mythological times and conquer their own “labours” throughout the beautiful and scenic (although quite hilly) Peak District. 

Name: The 12 Labours of Hercules Ultra Marathon

Location: Castleton, Peak District

Distance: 127km

Elevation (m): 5200m of ascending and descending

Record time: Charlie Sharpe, 16:10:49

Typical/average time: This was the inaugural year, times varied (24 hour time limit)

How Hard: Score 9 /10


The race is challenging in numerous ways, you must always know where you are, and where you are going, with no route markers, runners need to be competent at reading a map, and using a compass. Climbing several of the highest peaks in the area (multiple times for some) runners will also need to be efficient in tackling hills.

The terrain is over rocky/stone trails, and bridleways, with some road running, but as you are never more than 6 miles away from the race headquarters any change of gear, comfort of your own food and kit is never “too” far away.

The course near to Castleton is in the middle of the Peak District- a very beautiful area with stunning views. The organisers did a great job at arranging this year’s route to not only climb some of the more demanding peaks, but once arriving at the tops, runners are rewarded with breath-taking scenery of the surrounding hills and valleys.

When to go:

20-21st July each year

What do I need?

  • custom OS map (supplied by race organisers on race day)
  • compass (and know how to use it, you will definitely need it)
  • mobile phone
  • waterproof jacket
  • reflective jacket/bands for running at night
  • head torch
  • space blanket
  • whistle
  • drinks bottles
  • food (even though food is provided, you can’t beat your own snacks)
  • A GPS is allowed and good back up just in case your map reading skills are not the best!

How to prepare:

This race has so 3 different areas you need to prepare for, firstly, the 127kms to running over rocky trails, through fields, and along windy country roads. Then you must tackle 5200m of ascending and descending over loose ground, along ridgelines and up and over old stony paths. Finally, you need to be able to read a map, navigate throughout the entire course yourself without any route markers, through heat of the day, the dark of night, all within the 24-hour time limit. 

Similar Events:

So far, we’ve been unable to find anything similar. Sure there are other ultras but none that have the same mix of self-navigation, an out and back element combined with the need to collect numerous object, and perform different tasks along the way. It’s truly unique.

Further info:

  • Beyond Marathon: The official site of the race.
  • The 12 Labours of Hercules: Brush up on your mythology before signing-up.

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