Monday, 26 March 2018

4 inns "walk" 2018

A few months ago Julien had the great idea of doing the 4 Inns walk. A little bit of history - it has been going for 61 years. 60 years ago 3 scouts died in the Alport valley due to exposure and this was part of the reason why the Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation came to form, and was also instrumental in the formation of Glossop Mountain Rescue as a team as well.
It is perhaps because of this tragic event that the kit list required is (in my opinion) ridiculously long and complex, despite the fact that times have moved on, but that is a bone to pick for another day.

The event is organised and run by Derbyshire scouts, and as such, food is a big part of the event with Breakfasts and dinners being put on by a superb catering team. If you're going to do this, do it for the food. Don't do it if you don't like getting up early, or if you don't like running/walking with other people.
Our team of 3 consisted of me, Jules and Chris Webb (who I partnered in the OCT last year). In the weeks leading up to the 4 inns I realised that I was woefully unprepared, not really having done huge amounts of miles, and really not having been on the hill much in the past few months. Truth be told I was a little worried, despite having done a bit of a recce of some of the route over Bleaklow and Kinder with Julien. That being said, in the last few days up to the race I simply sat down and accepted the fact that no, I might not be as fit as I wanted to be, but could still get out there and suffer. So that is what I prepared to do. Running at your own pace - easy. Running at a pace set by others... well.... that's another thing.

The definition of "shorts"
Our start time was 636. Which meant that our kit check time was 536. Which meant getting to Holmbridge for 5. Which meant getting up at just before 4. Eugh. Especially when the evening prior was spent helping out with an event in the local Brewery. Liquid carbs can be good race prep, or so I convinced myself, but still managed to get to bed before 10. The community hall was heaving with teams and kit checkers. Chris eventually wandered through the door about 20 mins after Jules and I - who were standing there comparing how badly sore our throats were, and who had the worst pre-flu symptoms -  and we were duly kit checked. Yes a Sol bag counts for an individual survival blanket, yes a Blizzard bag is tog 8 and counts as a sleeping bag, yes, a BMC Dark and White Peak map counts even though it doesnt have the first 3km of the route on it - so someone else has to carry a full Dark Peak map as well. No, a polythene bag doesn't count as a survival bag, despite the fact you used it for the Ronde del Sims....

Luckily for our team, just as we were standing around a sign was put up informing us all that Shorts were indeed allowed for the day. Quite what we would have done if they weren't allowed, I don't know. Put on trousers and started cutting off the legs at various lengths until we had a level that was acceptable to the organisers?

Anyhow, eventually our turn came to start, we got counted down and out, and off we went, taking a wrong turn within 100m. (to be fair, it isn't a turning that is even on the Dark Peak map), it probably would have been handy to recce that bit. Oh well. So looking like total amateurs we took off up the lane. Road solid underfoot, we overtook a couple of teams, walking the ups and generally trying to keep an intelligent pace on the flatter sections. On the way up to Wessenden we passed a goodly number of teams, generally exchanging pleasantries, or being ignored by a minority. Not a whole lot of exciting stuff happened, apart from trying to keep our feet dry for as long as possible, but not really managing to, blatting through mud in shoes while others in waterproof boots tottered around it on bits of stone.

Up to nearly the site of the Isle of Skye Inn - the first of the 4 inns, hand in a bit of paper telling them we had gone past, and straight onto the Trigger route down the flags to Black hill. "D'you run over here much mate?" was a question... "not really" was out response... "these flags are proper 'orrible".
"yup - that's why we don't run here much".
"this is why we don't run here much...."

Down the flags, overtaking teams, a bit of a walk up to Black hill, and the mist clung around and over the moor. Perfect. We took off down a decent line which with a bit of undulation would take us to Tooleyshaw moss, the next checkpoint. The ground was boggy and gnarly, just the kind of stuff we like running on, and we made good time, chatting away and enjoying the mist. Down and up, over to the trig point that isn't a trig point, drop off the route card thing and we're told we are the first team through. Fab. We must have passed a couple more teams in the mist and didn't even see them. From now on we wouldn't see another team all race. Less like a race and more like a long day in the hills. Nice.

Crossing the dam at Torside
We jogged down to the old YHA at Crowden- a remarkably short distance to the next checkpoint, where we picked up a couple of sandwiches (with Chris showing a real weakness for Corned Beef) and headed off down towards the Woodhead on the track that eventually becomes the Pennine Way. Over Torside dam, up through the next checkpoint and onto Bleaklow.

We know this bit relatively well, living in Glossop so we pretty much stomped across from Torside to Dowstone to the wreck and the Pennine way in short order. Great stuff underfoot, generally feeling good about the day though wishing for a bit more mist - the cloud had lifted by this point and we were hoping for some serious clag. Ah well, you can't have everything. By this time Jules was feeling a little more ropey and my sore throat was coming on a bit while Chris was merrily yomping away across the moor with nary a care in the world.
Jules in his natural environment.
We congratulated ourselves on getting such a nailed-on line across Bleaklow that we totally screwed up the next bit down towards Drs Gate by dint of micro nav-ving looking for a specific trod in TOTALLY the wrong place and ending up running pretty much direct to Nether North Grain, having to detour a fair amount to actually get to the correct clough for the Checkpoint. Perhaps 5 mins extra of peat bashing, but not really too much of an issue. We dropped into Drs Gate Culvert from a new and exciting line which the CP team had never seen before (to be fair, you wouldn't unless you had got slightly misdirected on the moor). More food, sandwiches, and a sausage roll for Chris and off we went down the worst, most tedious and certainly the most dangerous part of the entire route, 2km straight down Snake road. Nice.
Food stop at Drs Gate culvert
Woodhead road was shut on Saturday which meant there was a greater volume of traffic on the Snake. We were running and tried to get it over and done with as quickly as possible, but still managed to nearly get run over by about 5 cars who refused to budge over the central line. I know that no-one has ever died on the 4 inns on the road, but they have on the moor, hence the ridiculous kit list. However- running down an A road is not safe in any way shape or form. Considering the fact there is a path running down Lady Clough in a pretty much parallel fashion makes it even more ridiculous. The fact that "traditionally" the route went down Snake should not be reason for sending 70 teams of 3-4 people down the A57 on a Saturday morning afternoon. It is inherently unsafe and I really hope they change it before someone is killed, it would be a thorougly preventable tragedy. /rant

Jules was having a bit of difficulty getting food down, a combination of too big-a-mouthful, lack of water and a dry throat and had to drop back a bit to get his breath back as we negotiated the gauntlet that is the Snake. Getting off that damn road couldn't have come soon enough, and eventually we handed in out bits of paper at the Snake Inn - 2nd pub of 4 before diving into the woods, across the river, through the ford and onto Gateside clough up Kinder.
We still have no idea how to get onto the lovely path up onto the edge and bashed through some harder ground - but no matter, it wasn't a deal breaker. I did have a "bit of a time" getting up the steeps to the top, definitely being the weaker member of the team there. Goodness knows what OCT and Jura are going to be like. I need to get some strength back in my legs for them...

Around to the top of Blackshaw and then over 7 min crossing which was heavy in snow and mud right the way across, and then the descent to Edale which we took rather gently. Knees were beginning to feel it as my muscles weren't used to so much up and down recently... good to know that it isn't anything permanent - just muscle fatigue.
Descent to Edale.

Down into Edale and along past the Ramblers (the 3rd of 4 inns) and down the the checkpoint, which was the community centre. As I handed over my bit of paper the checkpoint guy looked at me blankly for a moment, thinking I was a random walker asking for change for the carpark, before realising we were a team and were there to get fed and watered before carrying on.
A quick sandwich and water stop and off we hobbled. Most of the races that any of us had done over this way finished at this community centre - our bodies were certainly saying we should be finished, but unfortunately there was still another Inn to get to, and that was a lot further away than we wanted it to be. Jules was really hanging, my right hip was hurting and we were both, in the privacy of our own thoughts were thinking about stopping there. Chris was joyfully ready to pootle along towards Chapel and we all dragged each other along.

As we started climbing over Chapel Stile it became hotter and more humid. It felt like we had slowed to a crawl, blisters on the feet started to make themselves known and we generally started to suffer. From now on it was pretty much going to be road or track with no proper fell or boggy terrain to give us a break. This was not going to be entirely pleasant. Up through the clay clag of Chapel Stile, across the road and down the bridleway on the other side.
Just as we were going to drop down to pick up the road into Chapel we came across a bloke with a car that was stuck in the mud... "can you give us a push out, gents?" "uh... we're in the middle of a race. But, ok".
So we three got behind the car as the bloke slowly set down his shovel and clambered into his car in the most leisurely fashion before starting it up. We pushed as he rammed it into 1st gear and covered us in mud. Nice. Cramping calfs and hamstrings and a person who doesn't ever appear to have needed to de-stick a car. "stick it in 2nd! Slow revs!" shouts Julien. And sure enough, the car crawls out of the hole and back onto dry land.

Quick, run down the road and see if we can get the feeling back in the legs... and we toddle back off down to the main road. Thankfully, this one has some semblance of a pavement down the side, so we aren't actually on the road as cars rush past us at 60mph.

Jules and I were feeling especially rubbish by this point and Chris managed to magic us up some Paracetemol which sustained us into Chapel Checkpoint where more corned beef sandwiches were consumed. Off we went through the most navigationally challenging parts of the whole run... through Chapel en le Frith housing area. Some of us wanted to walk. One of us suggested we "get a shuffle on" or words to that effect, and once more, we dragged our feet forward, squelched blisters into toes again and cast out minds ahead. There was never a sense of humour failure, just a lack of talking and a resigned silence of "well, in order to get this done with, we'd best crack on as fast as possible".
The forsaken climb

Some fairly innocuous terrain followed, bringing us over to Combs, and then up Lesser Lane, a road I have climbed on a bike in the past, and really struggled on. Today was different only in the fact I didn't have a bike. From here, though, everything was pretty close in terms of check off points. From Chapel it isn't far to Whitehall, where more food was consumed, and sugar really started to be a necessity. From Whitehall it really is not far to the reservoirs at the bottom of Shining tor. Our running styles had changed somewhat from the beginning, but pretty much nothing else had. We hadn't taken off our rucksacks once. I had a pair of gloves that got put on and taken off about 100 times, and we had taken sips from our water bottles, but nothing beyond that.

Along the reservoirs we chanced upon Alice from Adventure Pedlars and stopped for a quick chat (ie. a break from putting one foot in front of the other) until the inevitable pull of the hill led us inexorably up Walker Clough. A horrible little climb that goes on at a (at this point of the day) just about un-runnable incline. Looking at the watch I was now counting down the kilometres, which I did with gusto, until I realised that I was counting down to 60km, rather than 65.... ah. So when I say its 10km to go, I really mean it is 15... aha. ha. ha. Funny, eh?
No, apparently not.
Us. Being amused that there is another 5k more than maybe I thought....

So from the top of the Clough we yomped over to the Cat and Fiddle, final Inn of the day, a quick refuel and then a thrash... well, not quite a thrash, more of a yelping hobble down another blinking road, to the only point where we were nearly navigationally embarrassed, but pulled it out of the bag at the last moment by remembering a minor detail about the route.
Cat and Fiddle checkpoint. Sugar. Water. Go.

A final dig over a hill and run down a horribly rutted and crappy bridleway that appears to have been used by 4x4s to create the worst terrain possible for anything, man or beast.
Down a road, across another one and a final run in to the end.

Not a bad time, really, and definitely time for a cup of tea and some food.
Thanks so much to Andrea for transporting us to the start and from the end, to the organising committee of the race and all the checkpoint volunteers, and of course to the catering staff. A great day out.
The best thing about long distance running is NOT long distance running when it is over.

And thanks to Chris for being a "backseat driver" in terms of Nav, but very much a front seat driver in terms of motivation and speed.
I am NOT looking forward to the speed you *think* we're going to be running at on the OCT, but I am looking forward to the challenge. 
Shiny shiny.