Sunday, 8 March 2009

High Peak Marathon – 6th March

Albert Sunter and I joined Andy Howie and Geoff Pettengell in The Rucksack Club “Youngsters” Vets team for our 23:32 start. The forecast was for a dry, still night but it rained all the way from Bolton to Edale so Albert and I weren’t optimistic. Away on time and the climb to Hollins Cross proved wearing our spare clothing was a mistake – it was too warm, even in the breeze blowing over the tops. The one minute between team starts is very short and the initial climb is a procession of head torches snaking away up into the sky. With the “warm up” over, Hallam Moors passed pretty quickly and the food stop at Moscar arrived almost before we were ready for it. A short stop with most of the food eaten on the way to the next checkpoint, the romantically named “Cutthroat Bridge”. The crossing of Derwent Moors went fairly quickly, the clag wasn’t too severe and the ground was still pretty good, dry’ish and firm.

Leaving Howden Dean marks the start of Howden Moors, the start of some very difficult route finding and the worst ground of the entire 40 miles. For the next three to four hours the clag worsened, the temperature dropped (by two o’clock we had donned the clothing removed at Hollins Cross) and continues to drop until by 4 o’clock it is barely enough to keep up warm. The last two to three hours before dawn take us across a pathless, trackless, completely featureless, flooded peat bog that had been frozen all year, until about a week ago. Where the water wasn’t ankle deep it was knee deep and we took it in turns to get stuck. For some of this section we were with two or three other teams and one after the other we tried to run fast enough  to pull away from the other two. One by one we gave up because, inevitably, each attempt came unstuck as one or more runners got stuck in the bog. Around here we found out why teams of four are required – Andy went in thigh deep and it took the three of us to pull him out!

By Swain Stones it was coming light and the ground began to improve but the clag more or less prevented visibility from improving to any significant degree. The rain had blown away and I think our mood was probably improving as the sky got brighter. Just Bleaklow and then Snake Summit for some food and drink. “Just Bleaklow” – I don’t think any of thought “just Bleaklow” but we reached Bleaklow Stones without any real trouble and, along with another team, had no trouble in leaving in the wrong direction. It is rumoured there is a magnetic variation in the peat capable of turning  a compass needle by 180 degrees but it may be we just made a mistake and left in the wrong direction. By the time we all realised and agreed we had gone wrong we were unable to locate ourselves which meant all compass bearings were going to be very approximate. The two teams having agreed about being wrong then set off in different directions to get to the same place and we never saw each other again until we had finished. This coupled with a few failed attempts to find Wain Stones probably added a couple of miles to the jaunt and, perhaps, half an hour to our time.

Snake Summit check point had warm orange juice and flap jack to die for. Replete, we set off for the last section. Andy’s legs were cramping on every descent until, eventually, the painkillers began to work and this probably cost us a bit of time. Geoff’s near continuous “Can we just jog, a bit?” kept us moving but if it hadn’t been Andy it might have been Albert whose left knee wasn’t enjoying every bit of this. The clouds blew away so that we could enjoy the views, in bright sunshine, from Kinder. Leaving Brown Knoll it looked as though we might, possibly, catch the team in front. This was enough for Andy and, cramp or no cramp, our pace began to increase until we caught them. The next 2.5 miles over Lord’s Seat were an “eye balls out” race – not fast, you realise, but no less competitive – until we reached Hollins Cross the first and last checkpoint ahead of them. Just the final descent, the awful half mile on the road and the final run across the car park to finish in 12:39:23 and complete the toughest race I have done.

Provisional results put us 26th of 50 starting teams. The winning team finished in under 9 hours. The first vets team were fifth overall, about two hours ahead of us.


Last Week: 92.7 miles; 15100 feet; 23:31:38

My training week starts on a Saturday and so the HPM falls in last week. Knowing this, I was tempted to add a couple of easy sessions but I thought Friday night would be a tough one (I didn’t know how hard) and that the rest days would do me more good – I am sure they did.

1 comment:

kate said...

good work! sounds like a particularly tough race this year. maybe next year i'll be brave enough to give it a try :)