Posts Tagged ‘crowden’

It’s all coming back to me now. This time last year I’d done a considerable amount of running in preparation for the New Chew 2012 before falling down a hole in the paving slabs on the Pennine Way on Black Hill. This year I did little. I’d done a fair bit over Christmas in preparation for the Trigger (Marsden to Edale Fell Race) on January 13th but since then had only run twice and one of them was along Blackpool prom – hardly a fell.

It wasn’t until I was driving to the race with my good pal and team mate Dr Ali that I began to think about the facts – we’ll be out running on t’moor for four and a half hours that’s  30 minutes less than it took us to do the Trigger… erm…oh ‘eck I hadn’t thought of that. To be honest I hadn’t thought about anything since booking us on the race – well I don’t do I?  “Never mind I was OK last year” I told myself as I tried to plant a false memory of effortlessly gliding across hill and dale 12 months earlier.

We were soon parked and heading for kit check and registration at Dovestones Sailing Club. One of the things I find quite wonderful about fell races is the genuine joy, energy and helpfulness of the people on the organising teams.  The Saddleworth Runners are no exception. I have never before been greeted by so many friendly smiling faces on such a cold, wintry morning – and can’t imagine Simon Pymm on kit check being happier if he’d run and won the race.

With kit checked and numbers pinned to clothing we waited in line to start. We got our maps and start time at 9:52am and we were off. Dr Ali was quickly at work studying the map and planning a route – he’s bloody good at this and quick. After some discussion we had a strategy. We decided to head up the Chew Valley and out towards Holme Moss and Crowden where the big points were – doing the Trigger a month earlier had given us a good indication of the ground we could cover and how long it would take. We could then head round to Black Hill and head back over Saddleworth Moor. It was a good plan and gave us room for manoeuvre should we need to make adjustments.

Eh? So how does it work?

This kind of race has no fixed course or route and is as much about navigation as speed. At the start of the race your are given a map of the area covered and a control card. Dotted around the area are control points each with a unique number or stamp with which you mark your control card. Each control is worth a number of points dependent on the relative difficulty of getting to it. The location of the controls are shown on the map. The idea is to get as many points as you can within the given time – in this case 4 hours 30 minutes. For each minute late you lose 3 points.

So how did it go?

It was cold. The run up Chew Road got us into a good rhythm and quickly warmed us up. Our first control (5 points) was just off the track on the top of a knoll. We bagged this and carried on up to Chew reservoir where we found the second control and a photographer. We got another 10 points for the control but nothing for the photographer. Here the weather turned almost arctic so we kept moving. We set a good pace heading east to find the Pennine Way where we descended into a glorious spring morning. Our third control was a bit trickier to find being located at the bottom of a crag (Rakes Rocks) which we couldn’t see because we were running in a trough. Rising onto higher ground we were soon able to find it for 20 more points.

From here we planned to head up the Pennine way, about a mile past Laddow for the next control. We decided to miss this one and instead head straight down into Crowden Great Brook (15 points) then back up into the arctic winter, across Bareholme Moss to the grouse butts in Wiggin Clough. This control was labeled as a sheep fold but turned out to be a grouse butt. No matter, we found it easily (30 points) and made jokes about small sheep whilst looking at a group of people scratching their heads at the sheepfold near the grouse butts about 200 metres further north.

Another change of plan at this point. We decided to cross Crowden Little Brook and head south to pick up a 35 point control on a slag heap in a disused quarry just above Crowden before heading back north to Stonefold Grough on Westend Moss for another 30 points. Somewhere along this route we had to ditch our plan for getting to the control on Holme Moss calculating that the descent to Heyden Brook and up the other side would take us too long. We headed straight up to Black Hill making good time on decent terrain.

Dr Ali’s expert navigation and route finding saw us arriving at the A635 – Isle of Skye Road – in Peak Bog Men record breaking time. We crossed the road to the layby and located our next 20 points. With about 50 minutes remaining it felt like we  were cutting it fine but should get back in time… so, perfect then. We crossed the road and soon found the next control at a stream junction (15 points) before following the stream to Rimmen Cottage – the old shooting lodge for our final 10 points.

Points in the bag all that was left was a long slog back to the finish at Dovestones Sailing Club. We took the direct route across moorland to Greenfield reservoir- where the steep decent of Ox Rake Brow just about saw off the rest of my legs with about 3 miles of flat trail to go. Dr Ali set the pace so I locked into a rhythm, switched of my head and followed.  We made it back with 4 minutes to spare. Job well done.

We did about 16.5 miles and over 3000 feet of climb – pleased with that.
We came 7th out of 36 in our race (long score) – well chuffed, I think that’s our best yet.
We had a fantastic day – the most important thing.

The Food

The post race food of the New Chew is about as good as it gets. Veg and cheese bake or meat and potato pie – the proper, home made stuff with lashings of  beetroot and red cabbage, none of your nonsense. A variety of expertly made cakes and gallons of tea finishes off a remarkable race with a warm cozy glow.

The New Chew has got to be one of the best races on the calendar. It’s got the lot: great organisation; challenging and varied terrain; weather conditions that vary minute to minute from spring running in t-shirt and shorts to arctic survival in full winter kit; breath-taking scenery;  the spread and variation of controls means that you’re not following crowds around – you hardly know you’re on a race;  and and the food… mmmmm the food. With numbers limited to protect the moorland restoration work I’ll be looking out for registration early next year to make sure I don’t miss out.

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Traversing some of the toughest terrain in the Peak District in mid winter, the Trigger Race is a test of speed, navigation and endurance and often – in my case -survival. Starting at Marsden the route measures 20 miles as the crow flies and ascends over 4500 feet climbing Black Hill, Bleaklow and Kinder before finishing in Edale. Profits from the race are donated to the Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team.

Totally out of character for me, I’d left entry too late and failed to get on the starting list. I had made it on to the reserve list though, and a couple of Peak Bog Men had bumped into the race organiser whilst doing a reci on Bleaklow who’d told them I would get a starting place. I was going to do it anyway – jumping into the race at the start and tagging along unofficially  As it turned out there was no need. A couple of weeks later I learned I was in – Entry List. Plans for anarchic fell running were wisely dropped.

Not knowing the route beyond Crowden I was planning to stick to the Pennine Way and other major footpaths as much as possible. An hour studying maps with Dr Ali who’d done the race before and surveyed much of the route changed my mind – so I think I’m already on Plan ‘C’.

Logistics were sorted out, cars were taken and left at Edale to get us home and support from ‘Jellied Eels’ Jeff Button was organised.

The weather in the week leading up to the race had been utterly miserable so I was pleasantly surprised to wake and find glorious sunshine and, importantly, no wind whatsoever.

Alistair Macdonald, Rick Legge, Alistair Macdonald, Stephen Fraser, Steven Tuck

Alistair Macdonald, Rick Legge, Alistair Macdonald, Stephen Fraser, Steven Tuck

We met at Marsden Cricket Club and after the usual formalities and photographs we were off. I’d anticipated a bit of a bottleneck going through the gates approaching Butterlley dam so made sure I got myself forward for the start. It quickly became apparent that, though the start route had been published nobody had actually studied it. This lead to what has been termed the Keystone Cops start to the race and a good deal of hilarity  Calls of “which way do we go?” and “We’re all following you” were shouted – I even heard someone say “Follow Mr Tuckle”, I can only guess they sensed that I had some local knowledge. Going through the first gate I found myself in first place! Pity it was at the wrong end of the race and for only 5 seconds. A group passed me then turned to ask me which way they should go when we reached the next gate. It was good to see Mac cheering us on as we crossed the Dam but sadly he was unable to prevent the tidal wave of runners now passing as we hit the obvious trail up the Wessenden Valley.

I quickly found my pace and settled in for the long haul as many, many runners passed me by. I was surprised to see people walking where the route steepened briefly at both Little Hey Sike and Leyzing Cloughs and managed to gain a few of the places I had lost. At Wessenden Head reservoir We came off the main Wessenden trail and got our first taste of boggy, tussocky moorland following the ‘Old’ Pennine Way route up to the first road crossing A635 – known locally as the Isle of Skye Road after the pub which was here up until the 1950s when it was demolished either due to a fire or the potential health threat from drainage into the reservoirs.

Crossing the road we continued the slog up Black Hill on paving slabs. Straight forward enough but great care had to be taken descending the steep sides of Reap Hill and Dean Clough as my Mudclaws glided effortlessly across the icy surface Blades of Glory style. I didn’t want to risk a fall here so walked down gingerly. Scanning the path carefully for the holes I am prone to fall down. I was soon at the foot of the steep section on the side of Issue Edge which leads to the summit. Everybody seemed to be walking up this section, I’m pretty sure they all thought I was insane as I slowly edged past them in a low gear. It felt great to get to the top where I gave myself a mental high-5 as I tagged the first trig point of the race.

The mist began to thicken but retained the brightness that betrays better things to come. I turned off the Pennine Way and followed a trod across the edge of Sliddens Moss. Here the ground was perfect – soft with a crisp icy shell. A steep and exciting  decent lead to Crowden Little Brook. Crossing the brook lead to what is probably an old quarry access road – now a rough trail mined with icy puddles every few yards – 3km of this and I would be at the first checkpoint and refreshments with Jeff. Just before the end of this section I saw my first fellow Peak Bog Man as Alistair passed me. This surprised me as I thought he was already ahead of me. Taking the connoisseurs descent route off the hill I was soon with Jeff who had doing a sterling job of organising supplies. I was busy gulping down some of these supplies when we were joined by Dr Ali. I asked Dr Ali if I could tag along with him for the rest of the race as, from here on, I was on virgin territory – I was glad when he agreed. Fresh supplies stuffed into my rucksack and we were off.

We crossed the second road crossing – A628 Woodhead Pass – and followed a footpath around the top of Torside Reservoir where we encountered the first person to offer us Jelly Babies – strange. Crossing the road, we ran alongside a wall before crossing it and beginning the steep ascent which was to lead us to Lawrence Edge. This is where sticking with Dr Ali began to pay off – he know’s these parts. Definitely not runnable this is a scramble. A scramble that has to be undertaken with the sound of gun fire from neighboring gun club echoing around the rocks. It’s worth it though. Height was gained rapidly and we soon found gradient easing off as we headed to Shining Clough Moss on a moonscape beneath a perfect blue sky.

We joined the Pennine Way just south of Far Moss before leaving it for a trod which took us straight to trig point number 2 at Higher Shelf Stones. This last section was like being on another world. The ground, being covered in ice crystals, sparkled and shone in the bright, clear sunlight. This vision and a surge of endorphins triggered a euphoric rush which lasted for a good ten minutes. It was one of the best running experiences I have ever had.

We set off from the trig point on a good trod which petered out near the top of Crooked Clough. Dr Ali’s route finding and research paid off again. We avoided the descending into the Clough and were soon traversing its eastern edge on another good trod which took us to the Pennine Way. On rapidly tiring legs it wasn’t long before we were at our last road crossing – the A57 Snake Pass – where Jeff was waiting with warm tea and Christmas pudding, a treat I’d been looking forward to the whole race. Reaching this point in my mind was ‘job done’ but I hadn’t any idea how much there was left to do.

snake pass snake pass mr tuckle snake pass dr ali

We set off on the Pennine Way which was treacherously icy so I was happy when we left it after about 1km at a delta of streams at the bottom of Withins Clough  which we were to follow on varying trods to the foot of another steep scramble. Time to dig deep and plug away again. We arrived at a group of stones at the top which I later learned from  Bridget were called The Boxing Gloves. After catching our breath we headed off south for our third and final trig point – Kinder. After more jelly babies and a quick bit of banter with the chaps from Woodhead Mountain Rescue we were off on the last stretch.

Not having been on Kinder before I didn’t know what to expect. We headed to the downfall on a  good trod before finding the Pennine Way again. The plan from the downfall was to follow a series of stream systems to the Western side of Grindslow Knoll. Again I felt we were on another planet. Running deep inside groughs and stream beds we were almost permanently surrounded by the darkness of eroded peat – the skyline only momentarily visible when we climbed from one to the other. I struggled to imagine a more difficult place to navigate – Dr Ali told me it involved several compass bearings, a small fir tree and a cairn. Even if I’d possessed the neccersay skill and knowledge I was too tired to use it and was happy I had someone to lead my through this maze of frozen blackness. This section was longer than I had imagined. We eventually found ourselves at the top of Grindsbrook Clough. Dr Ali was cross with himself as this meant we were now on the eastern side of Grindslow Knoll, something he’d wanted to avoid.  He still managed to expertly navigate us on decent paths back to the route which would lead us down into Edale.

edale churchA wave of emotion and relief swept over us as we spotted the steeple of Edale Parish Church which was followed by hearty congratulations and back slapping. I’ve followed Dr Ali around this race twice before in the car and never imagined that I would ever be able to complete such a challenge and here I was finishing it with the person who’d inspired me, and the sun was shining.

We were soon into the village and running down the road to the finish at Fieldhead Campsite where we were greeted by Jeff, Alistair, Rick and Bridget. We came 118th and 119th finishing in a time of 5h 6m 20s. I was elated and knackered but already looking forward to doing again next year.

Finish Line photos by Jeff Button.

rl sf am trigger finish

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The Team

Dr Ali pulled the Peak Bog Men together for what was to become our best turn out and finish ever. I may be wrong but I can’t remember 4 Peak Boggers starting and finishing a race. Even Lis (her indoors) turned out in the green vest of the Bogger to offer support – it will be great to see her joining us in a race soon but on this occasion the team was:

  • Alistair Macdonald
  • Andrew Doig
  • Richard Sharp
  • Steven Tuck

Arriving at Crowden camp site in plenty of time, we met up in the car park, registered, exchanged Sunday morning pleasantries and even had time for a quick warm up before the race began.

The Race

The race started with Dr Ali and Mr Tuckle bemused as Sharpy set off like a mountain hare up the lane the Youth Hostel. His cunning plan – he revealed later – was to get to the stile as quickly as he could, where he knew he could then grab some rest whilst waiting in the queue. Upon reaching the queue I was surprised by one runner and his partner for their complete disregard for etiquette as they blatantly pushed their way to the front. By the time I got over the stile I had lost sight of both Sharpy and Dr Ali.

The stile marked the beginning of the gruelling 800 foot climb to Lad’s Leap. Up this difficult terrain I adopted what is becoming my usual tactic of running slowly rather than walking fast. I passed Sharpy and couldn’t even muster the energy for a slap on the back to say hello. I was later rewarded for my efforts when I caught up and passed the queue jumper and his partner.

The terrain steepened onto some high rocky steps and I had to join the rest of the runners in walking. This sudden change of activity from small, slow, running steps to big wide walking steps, sent my legs into instant confusion. This inevitably led to protest. Reaching the top of this steep section my protesting legs turned to direct action in an attempt to further their case for inertia. After intense negotiations in which I promised my legs never to put them in this situation again, they agreed to get me up to the top of the hill.

Lad's Leap Route

Lad's Leap Route

The Top

Contouring around the upper edge of Rakes Moss and Robinson’s Moss to Tintwistle Knarr the route threw every condition imaginable under foot. Ankle spraining rocky outcrops where  interspersed with deep sticky peat groughs  and tortuous limb lacerating heather. Knowing this was also the route back I tried to evaluate my route choice against that of the other runners.

Unlike other fell races that I’ve done where the field seems to spread quite quickly, I found myself stuck in a group. Feeling under pressure to keep up with the calves in front and to stay ahead of the irregular gasping behind made me more self conscious than I’ve been before on a race.  The calves in front made an impression on me because of  their size and because I couldn’t get past them. They belonged to a powerful looking chap in a red shirt who also seemed to be wearing headphones.  After a while I got the same feeling you get when driving behind someone travelling at the same speed as you on the motorway. You just have to overtake them! You just have to be in front. Or is that just me? This situation lead to me making a couple of bold lunges in order to pass people as they slowed down to negotiate difficult terrain. My familiarity with the terrain going some way to make up for my lack of fitness and running finesse.

The Bottom

As we started the descent I was overtaken by several people who I then managed to keep pace with. At the Western end of Tintwistle Knarr the path all but disappeared as the route plummeted through broken rocks dangerously disguised by the heather. Seizing the opportunity to pick up several places over the more cautious runner,  I instinctively threw myself down the descent and let gravity do its work. I managed to shout a breathless apology to a group of runners that I ploughed through like a bowling ball and comforted myself that the noises they made in return did at least sound understanding.

Back on low ground I knew what was to come.  I had read tales of the cruel second ascent and was fully expecting to be finished off by it. To my surprise it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. With nearly as much height gain as the initial ascent but on a disused quarry track the terrain was much more forgiving. Though only at walking pace I did managed to run the entire climb. To be honest if I’d had to stop and walk I don’t think I could have got going again. The hardest thing about this climb was the illusion that the top was just round the next corner. Of course it never was and on and on it went.

Back on the Top

With my legs now turned to jelly I reached the top and scrambled my way over Robinson’s Moss and back to Lad’s Leap, periodically exchanging places with a bloke in a Penistone vest. I couldn’t pass a girl in a Pennine vest who had passed me on the ascent to the quarry so was happy to try to keep pace with her. Nearing Lad’s Leap for the second time, we caught up with a couple of runners who were traversing a rather nasty looking peat bog. The girl in the Pennine vest opted to deftly skip by them on the outskirts of the bog. Recognising that she had taken the easier but longer route around the obstacle I seized the opportunity and opted for the shorter, more direct route across the bog. Why I thought I would defy gravity and deny the bog its vice like grip on my tired legs is now a complete mystery to me.

I desperately pulled at my legs to free them from the suction of the bog as I watched the girl in the Pennine vest overtake and then disappear with the 2  runners we had both caught up. On hearing “For fuck’s sake!” I turned to see that the calves in the red shirt had made the same mistake as me. My feeling of desperation turned to determination and I set about extracting myself from the bog. Determined to stay in front of the calves in the red shirt I caught and passed the two I had tried to short cut at the bog and regained my position behind the girl in the Pennine vest.

The Final Descent

SteveTuck at Lads Leap 2010

SteveTuck at Lads Leap 2010

We began the final descent. I could hear someone breathing down my neck and felt sure the calves in the red shirt were about to pass me. I was eventually passed  by the person behind me but to my surprise it was a girl. I have no idea where she had come from. I felt really happy as she streaked past me and the girl in the Pennine vest, who gave chase for a while and increased her lead over me. Glancing round I could see the calves in the red shirt and gave a final push.  Running downhill isn’t one of my strengths so I was pleased that I had left him out of sight by the time I got to the youth hostel at the bottom of the hill. Here I was met Lis and the rest of Dr Ali’s family cheering me on. I could see the girl in the Pennine vest in front of me but too far ahead for me to catch her up. I settled into my position for a relaxed jaunt to the finish line and much needed refreshment.

The Mystery

Looking at the results I assumed that 703 was the girl in the Pennine vest and that she must have pipped someone on the finish line out of my sight. Then Jan sent me a photo which clearly shows 703 as the girl who flew past me and the girl in the Pennine vest on the final descent. Not only can I not find the girl in the Pennine vest in the results table but her number – which looks to start with a 1 – doesn’t exist for thit race.

The Results

Lad’s Leap Fell Race 2010 Results

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