Race date: Sunday 12 Jan 2020
Distance: 25 miles (ish) – see map below for very rough idea of the route (orange line from Marsden at the top to Edale at the bottom)
As usual, we all joined the Dark Peak bus at an unholy hour and wound through the streets and lanes to Marsden to the Cricket Club. There were seven Striders at the start this year, the original group of around 12 having been trimmed by injury and lack of fitness. I lent my pen to a young woman at the kit check, only realising it was fell running legend Jasmin Paris after she’d gone. The rain splattered the windows and they herded us outside. It was just getting light.
The race began in grey conditions with light rain skittering across the moors, much as the forecast had warned. Yet the cloud seemed to be lifting, which levened the start line trepidation with hope for a kind day, weather-wise. This turned out to be a cruel joke. The wind funnelled down the reservoir towards Marsden, bringing squally showers with it, heavy enough to give you a good soaking, and cold enough to keep you wrapped up. Everyone trotted along in full waterproofs, with hoods up and gloves on, making it all but impossible to identify fellow Striders. Everyone except for one lunatic who set off in little more than shorts and a vest. He was spotted at the finish in his complete kit, but by then it had stopped raining. I ran with Fran Cummins for a while before moving ahead and past Nicky Spinks, just like I did last year. Well, what does she know about pacing a long effort…
The steady track round the reservoir takes you out and up, on to the long, steady climb to Black Hill via the Pennnie Way. I’d forgotten about this part of the route, as it was relatively benign last year. This time round it was a real slog: the rain lashed our faces and the wind howled, just as the forecast had predicted. I was making good progress however, ticking off runners as we wound our way up to the first road crossing. I must have been close to the top 20 at this point. Fool.
The clag from Black Hill to Little Crowden Brook played havoc with people’s sense of direction last year, with runners fanning out across the slopes within the space of of a few hundred metres. This time the cloud had lifted, rendering the need to take a bearing redundant. But although the cloud wasn’t going to get you, the bog did. Tussocks and reeds hid thigh high pools of sucking brown mud. Like the others around me, I danced down the descent in uneven jumps and slips, bouncing and tripping and springing back up like jack-in-the-box, only to plunge down again moments later. Perhaps there was an optimal line, but the direct route got me over the river and on the long, rocky run down to Crowden in decent time, just under 90 mins after the start.
The closing of a footbridge across Torside reservoir necessitated a route change at this point. We were sent west through the woods along the water’s edge before crossing at the opposite end to usual to rejoin the Pennine Way for the climb up to Bleaklow. Initially very steep and muddy, the path flattens slightly and runs along the edge of a sharp drop for a mile or so. The views on a clear day would be amazing, but the cloud had dropped again, meaning the only way to get a a glimpse of scenery was to gaze into the vertiginous precipice. At least the rain had stopped and the wind had eased, but the heavy overnight rain had turned the trickles into torrents and the streams into rivers. The water had to go somewhere and mostly it ran down the furrows of the path, creating thick peaty mud and making the rocks as slippy as ice.
On our recce the weekend before, Nick Kirk had stacked a mini cairn by a particular bend in the path, marking the place we were to turn off and strike out across the featureless moor. Maybe it had gone, maybe I missed it or maybe I never quite reached it. Whichever it was, I lost precious minutes stumbling off the path at various points, looking for the elusive trod across the heather. I never found it but lost quite a few places. The first of the Spine Race runners appeared, clutching poles and googles and hefting bigger packs. I didn’t envy them. Eventually I figured I was in about the right spot and headed cross country. Bleaklow is a terrifying spot to run when the mist has descended and today was no different. Gripping my compass I tried to follow a bearing, desperately scanning ahead for the brook and the unusual rocks that marked the beginning of the clearer path. Other runners ghosted in and out of the clag either side of me, also running vaguely south. I hit the brook in the wrong spot, but there were a fair few others around me now, so I guessed I couldn’t be far wrong and ploughed on. Luckily I hit the path shortly after and trotted my way to the second trig point at Higher Shelf Stones.
Down from the trig is probably the most runnable section of the route. Last year I was hypothermic at this point and didn’t enjoy it in the slightest. This time I’d wrapped up properly and let loose, plunging down the soft grassy slopes that led to the stream fording and back up once again to the Pennine Way. A short jog along the flags, passing many more Spine runners now, and we hit the road at Snake Top.
The Angel of the Snake, Andy Green, was there again, his car boot open and bursting with all kinds of delicious treats – tea, coffee, bagels and jaffa cakes – a veritable cornicopia for the ravenous runner. I checked my watch: 2hrs 45mins, just behind Simon Bayliss’s best time. This was going well. Andy poured me tea and implored me to eat and a minute later I was off. It was the perfect stopping point at just the time I needed it. Thanks again for to Andy for his support.
The section from Snake Top to the corner of the Kinder Plateau was sapping. After an initial run along the flooded flags of the Pennine way, you leave the relative comfort of the path to pick a line through the thick heather and grouty peat. There are no paths – who would choose to come this way? – and little in the way of bearings. Runners left the main path at different points, but all converged on the deep scar of Withins Clough. The river at the bottom was full and freezing. Constantly criss-crossing in search of firm ground, you slide and slop your way down, trying to find not the path but the line of least impediment, before finally hitting the checkpoint where the other main path crosses.
Quite a few of the runners chose to the return to the path, the longer but more certain route to Kinder. The rest of us continued south, over the sodden grass to the aircraft wreck from the 1950s and the pathless trudge up to the corner fence. At this point you are tired and flagging and neither option appeals. It becomes a battle against both the elements and yourself. This was one of my lowest points last year. I was exhausted and ready to quit and walked most of the way to Kinder. This year I was tired but stronger in spirit. I ground out the next few miles and managed, somehow, to drop the others and reach the next checkpoint almost alone. Gone were the relative crowds and I spent the seemingly endless stumble along the undulating edge of Kinder in a slow motion battle against the one other participant who still seemed to exist. It was as if the race had ended at the fence and the two of us were the only ones carrying on through the cloud and gusts.
This tortuous section ends with the turnoff to Kinder Low and the final trig point. From there is is a realtively straightforward decent through the rocks and peat to Grinslow Knoll and the final, sheer drop into Edale. But despite everything I conspired to lose the path. Perhaps I was just exhausted and losing focus. But suddenly I found myself facing an unfamiliar outcrop. Around me, four different hills rose out of the clag. I stopped, consulted my compass, got even more confused and dropped my gloves while trying to work out where the hell I had managed to go wrong. A young couple wearing just trainers and hoodies asked me the way to Jacob’s Ladder. I waved in a vague direction and started heading back the way I had come.
Then Simon Bayliss appeared and showed me the way. I had been a mere 20 yards off the path but it could have been miles, so discombobulated had I become. I made a vague effort to stay with Simon, but that final mistake had knocked the fight out of me. I ran the final two miles (how could I do anything else on such a downhill section) but I wasn’t racing any more; I just wanted to get it done. “How do you feel?” Andy Green asked us at the finish. Simon grinned through the exhaustion. “Broken.” I nodded. “Yes, broken.” That about summed it up.
A sit down, a few chocolate bars and a very hot shower later and I was merrier and more verbose. I even managed to chat blithely about cheese to a fellow finisher for a minute or so, again not realising it was Jasmin Paris until she’d wandered away.
Nick Kirk sneaked past both me and Simon somewhere near the end to finish both first Strider and 3rd V50 male overall – a highly creditable performance given it was the first time in a long time that he’d raced over such a distance. Simon finished 5th V50 male. Fran finished 9th female overall and, despite badly jarring her ankle on the final section, still managed to beat the legendary Ms Paris. Therefore we expect Fran to smash both the Bob Graham and Spine race records in the next few years (don’t worry Fran, we won’t reveal your secret!). Nigel Barnes was next in, performing excellently for his first Trigger. The Striders team was rounded off by Ben Clithero and Matt Williams. A great effort considering Ben had been ill over most of Christmas and New Year and Matt was coming back from last year’s disappointment, when he was forced to retire through injury.
The race was won by Tom Saville (Dark Peak) in a staggering 3:37:30. First female and 10th overall was Megan Wilson (also Dark Peak). There were 168 finishers.
|64 (9)||Fran Cummins||Fsen||05:09:41|
Full results on the Trigger website