Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Trigger- First race of the Year

Awakening at 5:50am for a race isn't something I had done for a very long time, however, it was a reality. A beautifully clear sky, frost and ice on the car awaited us. Breakfast and coffee, and a while to wake up properly, and we were on our way to Marsden. We went via 3 pick up points for fellow racers that we were ferrying to the start.
Although there was ice on the road, there was a lot of grit too, so no issues in getting there.
We were pretty much the first people to the race centre, and Ian from Woodhead Mountain Rescue (and DarkPeak) was there in full kit check capacity, making sure that everyone had the required kit.
A quick shuffle through, picked up the race number and sat down to chill out (quite literally) and wait.
Soon enough, people were arriving in droves. There were 200 entries, and it was over subscribed, to make up for any droppoutage.
Prep, note the lack of long legs on shorts. oops.

Waiting for the start was cold, and the water in my Camelbak tube froze while I left it on the floor. Schoolboy error! Thankfully, Lynne had some hot water in a flask in the car, so I used a cup of that to defrost the offending bit. Thank goodness. That might have caused a few problems! There was good banter at the start, a large number of Glossopdalers had entered and were standing around getting cold. I was very very glad that I had my down jacket on, which was about to be thrown into the car. One minor issue was that I had decided I'd wear shorts. Seemed sensible. But the vast majority of the competitors were wearing long tights. I hadn't even brought a pair to change into had I wanted to, and it was freezing. (-5 by someones reckoning). I had a Helly hansen top on, and a pair of merino arm warmers under that. The combination, along with the sealskinz lobster gloves should keep me warm all along the race. Very soon we were called together for a short speech before a very non-ceremonial 3-2-1.... go.
Waving at the off

Off we went into the sunrise. Beautifully clear, blue sky above us, not a breath of wind, and a couple of miles of running ahead of us. I've never raced this kind of distance before- but I have run it, so I thought I'd just focus on surviving rather than going all out, settling into a relaxed pace I saw the leaders hammering off into the distance. I was quite high up in the field, but not hooning away in any shape or form. Up the road, onto a wide track, and Matt from Glossop was a few steps ahead, so I sped up to have a chat as we ran alongside Butterly reservoir. Still cold, and very, very still, the surface was mirror-like, and you could see a very thin crust of ice that had formed in a zigzag shape across the middle. The sun was coming up over the hill, and I was very glad for my peaked cap that I had decided to wear- pretty much at the last minute, with a lot of the people around me being dazzled by the sun so low in the sky.

As we started climbing slightly I decided to let Matt get on with it and drop back slightly- his pace was a little faster than mine uphill, and I didn't want to hold him back, or burn out this early in the race. Toddling along at my own pace holding my own with a few others, we passed a bevy of deer up in a farm to our left, and then a flock of sheep, just lined up across the dam at Wessenden reservoir.
We carried on up, a massive line of runners, perhaps spread out over a kilometre or so by now, the path carried on up the hill, and then, all of a sudden, runners were splitting from the path and hacking out across bog. Everyone was doing it, and as I hadn't reccied this bit I thought, no harm in following them, and tagged along at the back. Over a boggy stream, up a hill our first real taste of off road running- very hard and icy, over a couple of stiles, and down a hill. Hey presto. We're at Isle of Skye road.
Credit- Rich Asquith - Flaming Photography
That was fast. Excellent. Eat half a Geo-bar, (there is no sense in carrying food that I'm not eating), and after all, a long run is really just an extended food management exercise, I thought I'd just carry on at that pace.

Across the road, with a fantastic cloud inversion across to the East, we travelled down into a slight valley, and then up the hill, which always promised to be a bit of a slog. The paving slabs underfoot were generally ok, but in places where water had trickled across them over night, were a bit treacherous. Very very slippy ice and black ice was in evidence, and you had to be a bit careful with your foot placement. I nearly slipped once, but held it together quite happily. Up the hill, walking, then running, then walking, then running, a skein of about 50 geese winged its way overhead, honking quite merrily, which was a fantastic sight to see on such a clear day. Up and up, as we crested the rise, the wind was howling up from the South, with quite a chill in the air, clothing management, and the Buff came off my wrist and on my head, under the cap, covering my ears. Mmm. Thats warmer. At one point we had to cross a stream, careful managment of foot placement should see me across it happily enough. Down to the rock by the waters edge, a launch, on which my foot skidded quite spectacularly, and a rather ungainly step into the middle of the cold cold water. Nice. According to the photo that was taken by Rich Asquith a little later on, a cut on my leg... no idea that was there. (Go to his website Flaming Photography for some excellent images of the race)

I was still in no-mans land. The faster runners way off ahead, the slower-faster runners a about 200 yards ahead, and the faster-slower runners behind, but my cold, wet foot was warming up with every step.
Coming up to the first trig, Black Hill, we passed the Woodhead Mountain Rescue contingent who were marking off our numbers as we came through, and I was finally on ground that I vaguely knew, and the first downhill section of the race. Excellent, I'll make up a bit of time here.
At this point, I was behind a couple of people who were running together, but quickly dispatched them. But the ground was not nice to run on. It should have been a bit boggy, quite squishy, and easy to run on. Not a bit of it. It had iced over, the ground was rock solid, tufts of grass were sticking up which were also iced solid, unstable ground was frozen and unforgiving, and at speed, it would have been pretty vicious ankle spraining territory. Not quite the downhill flying section I was anticipating.
Ah well, keep it together, and just keep going downhill. I was gaining on a few people, and without really trying, took a few quite easily. Jumping across ditches was interesting, because you couldn't trust that the ground was going to be forgiving and easy to land on. It was like concrete.
Except the bits with a thin crust of ice which you went through to get another cold shoe of water, and cut your shins on the ice.

The ground steepened as we surged down toward Crowden Littlebrook, and I was finally catching up with Matt and his little group of runners. Ian Winterburn was taking some wild lines across the bog, and when I saw there was a curve in the path ahead, I decided I'd just bee-line it across. Great idea. Well executed, and then a fall, a roll and get up, in front of about 8 runners- getting up just in time to see the ground radically steepen below me down toward Littlebrook, and a gaggle of Mountain Rescue Guys who were waiting for people like me to come crashing down the hill.
But I stood up, carried on running, looked down the steepness and assessed where the best line for getting down the clough and up the other side, and, to be honest, it looked best and most straight forward to follow the fall line.
Bang, straight down, across the river, up again and onto the path, in the process passing all 8 people. Saying "Hi" to the MRT guys in as nonchalant style as possible, trying to make it seem as if the whole thing was planned, I gained the path, fixed my eyes on the runner ahead, and plodded. I fully expecting the horde of people I had just thundered past to gain on me and overtake at any moment.
Nope. Not a bit of it.

Carried on, caught up with the next runner- which was Dan, who I did the 15 trigs with mid last year. We carried on, and still, no-one was catching us up. Ah well, quite a good little line there then.

Along the path, and then a descent into Crowden, we were eventually getting caught, down and a dodgy road crossing, passed another gaggle of MRT members and then along the reservoir to the dam, and then up and onto Bleaklow- the 2nd climb of the day.
I knew there were helicopters buzzing around, working on the "Moors for Future" project, ferrying large sacks of moss and heather and other stuff up onto the moors. I had heard there was a Huey up there, and didn't really believe it, but as we approached there was that trademark deep "choka-choka-choka" that you hear on films like Platoon and Apocalypse Now. Flipping heck. There's a Huey up there!

I was with Dan, Andy and Matt, all Glossopdalers, and John Doyle from Pennine, as we headed up across the road and up the slopes, it was just like a club run. To the right were people clay-pigeon shooting, up above us were low flying helicopters, it was certainly like no other fellrace I have ever run.
Ian W was at it again with his various "short-cuts" which inevitably brought him out at the same place as us, at exactly the same time.
Up and then, really, up. A scramble up a semi-dry waterfall/stream bed, straight up, clinging onto heather and rocks, and all too soon, it was over, and on to the top, along Lawrence Edge up to Wildboar clough.
By the end of the scramble I had no one around me, with everyone taking different lines up, so I set off in pursuit of John- not very fast pursuit, I must hasten to add, but I was pursuing.

Coming up to Snake Summit
To be honest, I was shuffling a bit by now, but keeping moving. Heading up through Wildboar clough it was icy as a freezer. Underfoot was horrible, and I nearly twisted my ankles numerous times. I heard footsteps behind me, figuring it was Andy, Dan or Matt, I carried on and figured they'd pass me at some point in the very near future. The Huey continued to thunder overhead, at times seeming to be just a couple of hundred metres off the deck, may be closer. Those things are LOUD!

We trudged up the clough, which seemed to take an age, and then a massive leap over the stream at the end and up, over the stile.
At this point, I realised the guy behind me wasn't a familiar one, we had a quick conversation about lines up and onto Bleaklow, so I told him to follow me up and over, there was a pretty good line, so we carried on.
The line up to the Pennine Way was fine, nothing out of the ordinary occurred, no-one over took us, and really, we didn't see anyone until we got up to Bleaklow Head, a turn about and over to Wain stones.

On my last recce, in the midst of fairly average Bleaklow weather I ended up going far too far in the wrong direction, completely missed my point, gave up and got myself off the hill for dinner time. Nothing like that today. It was clear as a bell, and as we passed the MRT guys at Wain stones I looked out for the trod going across to Herne Stones, and then onward to the Trig point. I missed it completely. However, no problem at all, as the bogs we were crossing, normally leg sucking monstrosities, were iced over and solid underfoot. By this time Craig (yes, we had introduced ourselves by now, and exchanged life stories) and I could see a couple of people who were ahead, and appeared to have taken the correct line, however, by bashing across the bog in a straight line, we caught up to them as we passed Herne stones, and had over taken them by the time we had got to the Trig point. - It was Dark Peaker John Boyle (not to be confused with John Doyle who I mentioned earlier... I ALWAYS get them the wrong way around, sorry guys). At the trig point Craig and I turned South East and powered down the hill toward the waterfall in Crooked clough.
Again, the ground, rough and hard, ankle snapping stuff, but we got off ok. Up onto the trod, and then a bust across the moor onto the Pennine way. I completely stuffed the line up and broke up too early, but again, the frozen ground came to the rescue, and we hit the Path early with no problems at all. We were discussing lines across to Kinder now, and Craig was saying his friends told him the best line, without doubt, was straight down the flagstones and up onto Kinder. Fine, if he wanted to go that way, not a problem, I was going straight over Featherbed Moss. He asked if he could go with, and as he asked so nicely, I said yes.

Away over Featherbed Moss
An easy pace down toward the Snake Pass where Lynne was waiting with a camera and water if I needed it, which I didn't, MRT members were also there, and we got across the road without incident, through the gate, hang a left, and up the Landy track. Skirting Featherbed Moss we resorted to walking at points, as we saw John Doyle ahead of us- we reccied the same route a couple of weeks before. Over the "crest" and now we could see the line of the ascent up to Kinder. But not before a hellish descent over groughs and through heather to get to the bottom of Ashop Clough. I swear it took half a lifetime to get through that lot- it certainly didn't seem that far when I reccied it the other day, but to be fair, that was just a bob over the hill as opposed to having run 15 miles beforehand.

The climb up Kinder was horrible. Nothing like Bleaklow, which was more of a scramble, this was just a long, hard, horrible slog that seemed to go on forever. Getting tired now, and eating the last of my "normal" food, only "emergency" type food left- but I had a bit of it left. We eventually broke onto the top and stumbled up the ramp clough to the trig, I wasn't quite finished, but was at the beginnings of struggling.
Past the MRT guys at the trig, showing our numbers for the last time before the end, turn down, across what would normally be bog, but now frozen ground, and onto the edge path, from there nearly to the Downfall, and then up the river, which was frozen solid.
If there is one thing that you don't want to do without spikes on your shoes, its on a frozen river. We worked our way up and past Kinder Gates, and eventually, it had to happen, one of us went over HARD. It wasn't me. Craig was on the floor on the ice in a fair amount of pain. Stop. Make sure he is ok, help him up, check he can walk/run, help him along, and we were back going.
The line across Kinder wasn't ideal, it certainly wasn't as good as the one I hit on another recce the week before, but again the solid ground made it fine. By this time, Craig and I had been joined by another runner, who piggy backed us across the plateau.
It was testing and hard, but we got across, at which point, I was sugar-crashing quite interestingly. I stuffed down a Snickers and sucked up the last of my water. When I filled the bladder in the morning I was hoping that I would run out just before I hit the last descent. Seems like I got the balance pretty much right, but the guy who piggy backed across behind us was flying down the clough to Grindslow Knoll. Dammit. I was getting cold, hands, which were warm all the way through the run were beginning to chill, the biting wind cutting across the moor. However, not too far to go, I didn't need to put on a waterproof yet, and anyway, the end was nearly in sight. I'd get there ok.

As I was coming to the Knoll, who should pop out from the West... Ian Winterburn! He must have had an AMAZING line across Kinder, either that, or he was just better at rough ground at the end of a long race than me. I trailed behind all three of them (Craig was ahead by this point), and I dragged myself to the end of the Knoll, and threw myself down the hill. Too tired to work out any intelligent line, I pretty much kept to the path all the way down, overtaking Ian, but being left behing by the other two.
Argh. Tired, painful legs, not quite working properly, hammering down a hill at the end of a race... there was an amazing line which I completely missed, but nevermind, just focus on the end.

Through the gate, and John Hewitt was there shouting at me to get a move on and catch the 2 guys in front, one of whom had just fallen over in the field. Great, I thrash into the field, theoretically, great running terrain and within 10 paces, I'm over and sliding down on my side, up again, and a few more steps, exactly the same, over on my side. Nightmare. The grass is icy and slick as the river back at the top. Be more careful- a few more running steps, and a third time, I hit the ground, hard.

Right. Speed has to be the key. Up and run faster. All I can hear is John in the distance shouting at me to "GET UP" and something about being a lazy swine, lying around on the floor at the end of a race- but I might have imagined that. Running down the grass, I can see the other 2 in the distance, catchable? I don't know. They disappear down the path, and I plunge down there after them. But not fast enough.
The end
By the time I get to the end of the path and onto the final run in on the tarmac, they have gone. Ah well, keep up the speed, and down the road, dodging cars and jeeps, and 100 yards before the end, I finally catch up with Craig.
I don't know if he felt guilty that I lead him to the end all the way across from Bleaklow and let me finish before him, or if he was genuinely knackered and couldn't stop me from getting past. Probably the the former, to be honest.

So I came in 23rd. Pretty tired, but quite happy with the result. And about a minute later I remembered to stop my garmin. Official time, 3:59:12 for 35km, with (allegedly) 1,165m elevation (learnt not to trust Garmin so much on the height gain...) That's not bad.
Remembering to switch off

The food (chilli and a load of cake) at the end was most welcome, along with the happy smiley faces, the excellent organisation and the help from Woodhead Mountain Rescue.

Julien came in 6th in about 3:30, and first V50, and the Glossopdale ladies team came in 2nd team place. A pretty good result, it has to be said! The winner was Oli Johnsone from Dark Peak in 3:13
Excellent event, and a classic in the making.

Real food
Post race laughs
Julien getting V50, going in for a snog with Nicky
Ian, and the Woodhead Rescue Ale

1 comment:

  1. Apologies to Beryl, who I saw in the pub on Sunday night without finishing my blog beforehand. (You can tell she used to be a teacher).

    Well, I've finished it, and here it is.