Sunday, 3 March 2019

High Peak Marathon 2019

It started like a lot of things do these days. Chris Webb caught me at a moment when I had a couple too many beers and asked if I wanted to be part of a High Peak Marathon team. I last ran it in 2012 and disliked it so much that I swore never to run it again.
Chris has a knack of getting people to do things. I suspect it is his natural enthusiasm- buoyed along by the fact he knows he'll just enjoy the run while others stress about the nav.

Stu, Chris, Jules and Me
Long story short, I signed up.
Next thing I know, the person who was the mainstay of the navigational nouse - ie the person who has run it so many times he barely needs to think about it- has to pull out due to medical issues. Team in doubt- as we don't want to just form a slow scratch team and bimble around in a slow time- but equally, don't want someone who can't navigate either. Chris gets a week to find someone as a replacement and at the same time, the long awaited route amendments are published - amendments due to permissions etc. The route is radically different across Bleaklow, so it needed a bit of reccying. Unfortunately I only had a chance to recce in the daylight. Useful to a point, but not quite giving me the optimal conditions to really know what I was doing.
Easy enough to nav in daylight. More challenging at night in clag

Chris came up with Stu Walker as replacement- shall we say- quite a fast chap- from Dark Peak. Also handy with nav. (Both significant understatements, I might add).

So the evening came around, not without quite some trepidation. I don't tend to do well with waiting
for a race.I much prefer just to get on with it, so the days leading up to it were a bit of a challenge mentally. Chris and I got there and met up with the 3rd member of the team- Jules Barratt, whom none of us had run with before... and then standing around in the event centre, the phone buzzed.

Still got an hour and a bit til the off, we can go get him - right? Quick. Where is he? Take the baby seats out of Chris's clio, bundle in...  and just as we are about to leave on the rescue mission, another text- "its started! see you soon".

Through kit check etc. All fine, and we set off into the night at 2333.
The plan was to start conservatively, take the long view and just keep plugging away at about the same pace right the way through.
Despite starting at a moderate pace, we picked off a few teams on the initial climb to Hollins Cross, and a few more on the way to Lose Hill. 4 more on the way down, and then more going up Hope Brinks to Winhill.
A sneaky side line down Parkin clough followed by a quick stop to see Mark and Zoe who had come out to see us at Yorkshire Bridge, which was a great boost.

Long drag up to High Neb where my right hip and hip flexor started to nag and give me some gyp. Not so good. We aren't even at the first checkpoint with food yet... not a good sign at all. We inadvertantly took a great line in comparison to others at High Neb (it involved following the right path... not particularly tricky nav) and dropped right onto the Checkpoint, before heading across to Moscar where Jasmin's team caught us up and overtook.

Um. No idea where. Stu had the presence of mind and body to take photos.
The rain was beginning at this point, so as we stopped at the food station, waterproofs were put on in anticipation of the rain and the wind coming in across the tops.
My right hip flexor continued to be painful on every step, but it wasn't going to get any better, so I shut up and put up. If it got any worse, I'd take a paracetamol later in the night.

Up onto Derwent edge and the massively long flagstone section to Cartledge flats and a slightly ambiguous Checkpoint. From the Grid ref I was expecting it not to be on the main path- but across on the other section to the west. We stayed on the main path for ages, and just as we were going to cross to the other, a tent loomed out of the mist, we dibbed, and moved on. It seems that over analysing the check point grid refs was not the right thing to do.

At this point, on the turning up onto Cartledge moor, Nicky Spink's team overtook us. No great worry, they seemed to be going well. We took much the same line for a while, but we split from them at a certain point, went on a bearing cutting the corner and hit the Edge way ahead of them. Feeling smug we carried on to the Cut Gate Checkpoint, coming out a little too low, but needing only a short detour to get the dibber.
Down to Slippery Stones and then North to Humber Knolls, it was beginning to feel like a bit of a trail race. My hip was not feeling particularly great, so it was nice that we were still keeping the speed at a sensible touch, still, considering we were about to cross Bleaklow with a fair amount of heather I took a paracetamol as a precaution against increasing pain.

Across the river at the Checkpoint and a search upwards for the line onto Barrow stones, during which Jules was feeling a bit worse for wear and Nickys team came past again. The line was fine and we nailed the nav, hitting the stones perfectly, and went through the clag to Grinah- where the Checkpoint was not where we expected it to be.

At Old Woman. Snake Top
We cast about a bit, and I remembered that the initial grid ref was at the bottom of the stones. I thought it was to the South West... it turned out to be south east, so we lost a little time scrambling down the wrong side of Grinah. It seems that at *this* point, overanalysing the grid refs would have been a good idea. Not to worry.

The line across from there to Bleaklow- fine, not a problem, we spent a while getting to the right line on the south side of the plateau, and then my brain switched off in the clag and we ditched south as opposed to keeping going west. And hit a bog.
DAMMIT. I should know this bit. We extricated ourselves and climbed to the trod over little Grinah, and then I lost the trod AGAIN going up to Fork Stones. The mist was so thick it could have been within 10 yards and we still wouldn't have seen it.
Towards Snake Summit.
Time to go emergency nav- we know vaguely where we are, we know where we need to get to. If we go too far South West it'll be Grough-city. If we go too far North West it'll be out of bounds. Bang - someone hold the bearing, I'll go ahead across the groughs and you shout at me when I start veering too far north or south. We blundered over a ridiculous amount of groughs until eventually we came upon the Pennine Way. That sentence reallhy doesn't do what happened enough justice. Suffice to say that there are a few teams that had a MUCH better line across Bleaklow in terms of speed and directness. We screwed up and lost a bit of time, but didn't end up catastrophically lost, which was good. (My main fear was missing the Pennine Way completely and ending up somewhere down towards Glossop which would have been *most* embarrassing).

Straight south on the Pennine Way, dibbing the control point on the way, and Lynne, Julien and Andrea were waiting for us near Snake Summit with some rousing cheers to make us feel a bit better. It was great to see them there, along with the food stop where tea and flapjacks were gratefully received from the checkpoint staff.
Pennine Way
The next section across featherbed and down the western edge of Kinder seemed to take an age, during which I had 2 blisters pop, one on each foot. There was a minor nav faff at Kinder Low trig to make sure we didn't screw up the line to the next checkpoint by Edale Cross. By this time, head torches were away, and waterproofs were off. We were keeping at that steady pace, but slowly cranking it up, bit by bit, though the clag was still down and we were being careful not to mess up the nav again.

From Brown knoll trig we followed the paving slabs - (far less bog on this route that it used to be - in places it almost feels like road shoes would be better footwear)- but took the diagonal line at Chapel Stile to take us to Rushup edge, where the Checkpoint staff informed us that the next team ahead of us were only 2 mins away. Gels drunk, we got off along the ridge, and within a short amount of time could see figures in the mist.
It was Nicky's team with one of their number visibly suffering. We passed them, checking they were ok and didn't need any assistance- they did not- before continuing on, past Mam Tor and down to Hollins cross. They had started 4 mins behind us, so we needed to put at least 4 mins into them to come ahead of them in terms of time. For the first time in the entire race we thought about speed and placing - heads down and away we went. Nothing too scary or fast, but fast enough to be swift.

Homeward bound.
Down from the final checkpoint to the end, and dibbed into the finish in 9:29. Cups of tea were distributed and we settled down, chatting to the 2 teams that had come in before us. Time passed and then Nicky's team came in. 9:33. We just pipped them at the post.
So 3rd overall.

Having chatted to Jules at the end, he mentioned quite casually that he'd done about 15 training runs- in the last 2 years! Flipping heck! Stu was a monster all the way around, I suspect he could have blitzed it in a much faster time, but it was great to have him on the team. Chris was just Chris all the way around. All puppy dog enthusiasm and banter.
Considering we didn't really plan this all that much, the team only really came together in the final 2 weeks and our nav, though generally good, could have gained up much more efficient lines, I reckon we acquitted ourselves fairly well. I thought the new route made it interesting because it made a lot of people have to think about the route as opposed to running the same old route again and again.

We had a grand evening out, and dare I say it - I actually enjoyed it!
Thanks to Stu for having the presence of boy and mind during the race to actually take some photos, to Lynne at Snake summit for the photos there, and to Matt Huxford for the team photo. 

As a final note, I should really say that although it is a long evening out for us, we are not the ones who deserve the plaudits and the congratulations. They shouldn't even go to those who won the various categories either. Anyone who gets around in 10 hour or less, yes it is impressive, but really, the route is well within their ability.
The people you should be seeking out to congratulate are the first timers, the people that, although they can run, this was a massive challenge to them. They might have done a road marathon, but that does not compare to this. 42 miles across gnarly terrain at night, carrying your own stuff? A daunting prospect to say the least. If you know someone who completed, no matter where they were in the field, and this was their first experience at an ultra distance, congratulate them and buy them a drink of their choice. This is NOT a walk in the park.
I love the fact that Strava seems to think we were only "moving" for 2:47. It just goes to show that their algorithm is a complete load of cobblers. Yeah, we "moved" for just under 3 hours. We "rested" for the rest of the time. If you look at the bit across Bleaklow you can see the loop around Grinah to find the checkpoint, and the bit just west of Bleaklow stones where my head took a holiday.