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Ian Roberts Fell Race

At the end of the race me and several other runners found that we couldn’t remove our shoes because they were frozen to our feet. As I sit here writing this nearly 3 hours after finishing the race I’m still unable to feel 2 of the toes on my left foot. They’re numb, completely numb. To my adjoining toes they feel like something in my sock that shouldn’t be there. A very odd sensation. All part of the fun.

It was a bleak night but I didn’t expect to wake up to hills covered in snow this morning. This should make it interesting. There were already many tales being told in Marsden Cricket Club (race HQ for the Ian Robert’s) of the various adventures people had already had getting there this morning. With dark skies, high winds and snow showers we might well be in for some more.  Was I really going to spurn the warmth of my insulated coat and head up the hill? Of course I bloody was. I made my way up to the start with fellow Peak Bog Men Stephen (Diver-Driver) Fraser and Alistair McDonald.

I’m pretty sure comedy starts to fell races that begin in Marsden are quickly becoming the way things are done round here. We’ve already had what’s been termed ‘The Keystone Cops start’ to the Trigger earlier this year. Phil Hobbs stepped up to the ‘starting mound’ to do the housekeeping and start the race. One hundred and five fell runners primed and ready to go, eagerly staring up the track waiting for the countdown. When…”Is that a car …coming towards us?” Up pootles a rather surprised looking farmer in a pick-up truck carrying a huge bale of hay. One hundred and five fell runners now find themselves clambering off the track to find enough space to let him through. Normal service was soon resumed and we were off.

I’d decided to go for a fast start (for me anyway) up to the footbridge after the first road crossing. It was fun. Keeping up with the faster runners and jostling for position as we raced along the track. I forgot to slow down after crossing the bridge though and got dragged along at a pace much quicker than I’m comfortable with. By the time we hit the first ascent of Bobus I was knackered.  I arrived at the top having only lost 3 or 4 places but now expected to lose more on the section around the catchwater leading to Black Moss. I didn’t so was quite pleased and feeling the recovery from the quick start and ascent was going quite well. I looked up to see everyone crossing the bog at the same place – usual in snow when it’s easier to see and run in a broken trail. I decided they were all sheep-like idiots and that I could pick off a least half a dozen by blazing a much more efficient trail of my own. At least 12 runners passed me as I floundered helplessly through the snow covered, energy sapping bog.

My attention was soon diverted from the resulting low morale of this error by the freezing gale force wind which side-swiped us as we traversed the dam of Black Moss reservoir and the realisation that my trousers were falling down – I had neglected to tie the waist cord before the race. Why it took me several minutes of fumbling about to learn that it was almost impossible to tie with gloves on I can only put down the hypothermia and altitude sickness. I got annoyed with myself and sped past at least 6 runners before we got to the paved section of the Pennine Way, hoicking my trousers up every couple of minutes. Funny, but I’ve just read my previous account this race  in 2010 to find that I sped up in this exact same place on that race too. I think it may be down to the turn in the course which puts the wind behind you – a good thing for us tall fellas as we act like sails in high winds.

I wasn’t looking forward to the decent on the paving slabs especially as they were covered in snow and ice. I was planning to run as much as I could on the grass by the side of the path. Once on the slabs I was surprised at how runable they actually were so I stayed on them and flew down gaining a couple more places after the stream crossing at the bottom. Whilst running down this section I got chance to look up and was staggered by the scenery. It was beautiful, covered in a layer of snow with the tussocks and other vegetation sticking through the top and the rocks on Pule Hill in clear contrast. I didn’t have time to stop and take a photo so decided I should come back later.

Pule Hill - ian roberts fell race

Running into the wind almost brought me to a stop as I ascended the Standedge Trail and I was overtaken by 3 strong limbed athletes. I tucked into this group and stayed as close as I could to use them as a wind break (you know what us tall fellas are like in strong winds) until we turned off the trail to head along the catchwater to the bottom of Pule Hill.

I could see a steady stream of runners walking up Pule and, anticipating that the wind was going to be a factor, was ready to do the same myself. But I didn’t. I didn’t make any ground on the group in front of me who were walking but I did manage to run all the way up even though my legs had turned to jelly. I was surprised at this point to see a race marshal cheerily urging me on and pointing the way whilst trying to hold the hood of their coat tightly to their head against the wind which was doing its best to blow the poor soul off the hill.

Now, I try not to look behind in races – it scares me and and makes me feel under pressure – but at some point I had glanced over my shoulder to see Alistair McDonald not far behind me. I wasn’t making the most of the decent of Pule Hill because of my jelly legs so was expecting to lose a couple of places on this section. By the time I had got to the top of the incline and turned east over the moor and into the wind again I was pleasantly surprised that I hadn’t been.

Feeling like one of those young chaps who prefer to wear their trousers with the wasteband around their knees and tiring from the distraction of having to periodically yank my trousers back up I decided to have another go at tying them. I was celebrating the success of this endeavor when came the distinct and inevitable sound of a firmly pinned race number fighting with the weather for its freedom. Not long after I was overtaken by a runner who was travelling at great speed – I decided to let him go.
“He’s probably not in the race anyway.”
“He’ll have just got out of his car at the bottom of the hill.”
“On fresh legs.”
“Yeh that’ll be it.”
“The noise of the race number? Gortex! – yeh, makes a right racket in wind.”

A few minutes later, on the steeper section of the decent, Alistair glided past with effortless speed. This did speed me up a bit but I couldn’t stay with him. By the time we reached the track where we’d started the race he was about 50 meters ahead of me and quickly gaining on a group further in front. After the uneven, soft, spongy decent of Pule this section completely confuses the legs often resulting in them refusing to work. By the time I had got to the road crossing I was glad that it  was marshaled. I wouldn’t have cared if there had been a bus coming, I just wanted to get to the finish.

For some reason the second ascent of Bobus was slower than the first :-). And I noticed that the 2 runners who had recently overtaken me had started to walk.  The marshal at the stream junction which lead us down into Butterley Clough had erected a tent to fend off the weather. This last section is horrible. Most people that do this race can be heard complaining about it. It’s evil. Possibly the worst section of any fell race in West Yorkshire – which of course makes it the best! The deep tussocky terrain and steep decent can turn the hardest of fell runners into quivering wrecks. Today though the snow made it almost a pleasure. And, though I did take a spectacular fall and was barely able to get back on my feet I really enjoyed it. The tracks in the snow also pointed out a far better route than I had ever found on this section before. Even the ascent up the other side of the clough was enjoyable. And even though I’d been overtaken on the descent I was catching Alistair and the group of runners he was now struggling to get passed.

On the muddy zig-zag decent to the footbridge several runners made bold moves which nearly ended badly. I decided to stay put. Play it safe. Not take any risks. This, of course, didn’t last very long. I like bold, daring moves. Like…well…throwing caution to the wind and blazing my own trail through bogs. So I knew it wouldn’t be long before I tried something. Just then I spied an opportunity. A small rise next to the path. “If I throw myself at that I can get past most of this group and tuck in behind the two at the front before I reach the bridge.” It only worked! I crossed the bridge with only 2 people in front of me before launching myself up the other side of the gully determined not to lose the places I had so boldly won.

By the time I got to the top of the gully I felt quite sick. I had nothing left. Legs and lungs screaming in protest I somehow managed to get myself over the style and start running again. The track  – with a wall on one side and young trees on the other – is barely wide enough for one runner and had been turned into thick foot-clawing mud. The chap in front of me was the same runner who had passed me on the decent into Butterlley Clough and had himself performed several daring downhill maneuvers to get there. The chap behind was Alistair. He couldn’t have been more than an inch behind me. He was going to power past me at any moment. “If only I could get past the chap in front. That would put someone between us and it might just put him off.” Finding legs from who know’s where I made a mad dash through a small gap in the trees. I’d done it! I’d got past him. I could see the end 30 meters away! All I’ve got to do is stay on my feet and keep going. I could tell by the faces at the finish line that it was close. I could also tell the other two hadn’t given up. Desperately trying to gulp oxygen from the freezing air I dug in a bit more. Surprisingly my legs responded. I sped up. Forcing myself forward I moved closer to the finish. I went over and ended up on my arse.

If there was such a thing as a prize given for the least amount of time spent on the floor after a fall I would have won it. Somehow, without conscious effort I was back on my feet and across the finish line before the other two. Hardly able to breath and bent double trying  not to throw up I was thanked for the “great battle”. Unable to speak I responded with pats on the back.

The other two, Alistair and (I’ll post his name when I get it from the results) had seen me slip – as the result times show they were inches behind me – and without any communication between them they both decided not take advantage of  my misfortune to gain the extra place. That, to me anyway, is what this is all about. And that’s why it was such a great race.

I came 44th – my best ever place in this race with a time of 65 minutes and 9 seconds by best ever time.

Ian Roberts Fell Race 2013 Results

first & third road crossing and the path up Bobus

first & third road crossing and the path up Bobus

second road crossing looking back at path from the Standage Trail to Pule Hill

second road crossing looking back at path from the Standage Trail to Pule Hill

Pule Hill - ian roberts fell race

Butterlley Clough

Butterlley Clough

Pule Hill - ian roberts fell race

Pule Hill

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trigger

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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With the good Drs Ali and Crowe opting for Huddersfield climbing wall Mr Tuckle decides to take advantage of the last of the snow before the thaw. Deciding against Black Hill I opted for a trudge up Pule Hill, a much safer bet on my own.

The lane leading up to the A63

The lane leading up to the A62

snow drift

Some interesting snow drifts have formed on the old farm track

ST

My initials peed into the snow. Some people never grow up. I blame the parents

footprints

I don’t think anybody will know which way I came

hole

My foot disappeared down a snow covered hole. Looking back I realised I had wandered too far right and had ended up over the gulley with a stream in the bottom. As I tried to push myself back out with my left foot it too began to slip down the bank into the gulley. Waste deep, I scrambled out. Realising that the conditions were a little too rough to be tackled alone I broke open my flask, had a coffee and made my way back down.

snowman

I put my time to good use by building a snowman which, on reflection looks a little scary. His name is Jim. Follow snowmanjim on twitter

snowman

I bade Jim the snowman farewell and set off for home

bridge

After all the trudging through deep snow it was good to be back in the village.

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A walk in the snow around Deer Hill and Wessenden on a perfect day. Pity I forgot to put the memory card in my camera and had to use my mobile phone to take pictures. I had lunch in a cozy hole that I dug in the snow, overlooking the village, on the top of Deer Hill. Then I walk around the top to the Wessenden Valley where people were snowboarding down Butterly Dam. One person even had a ski lift set up.

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It’s been a good year for the Marsden Monday night-ers. Reasonably good weather meant early season outdoor outings to boulder at Pule, Standedge (3 times?), Buckstones and as is traditional,West Nab providing the infamous Mr Tuck horizontal buttock jam (photos provided by Sharpey).

West Nab, as nature intended

... or when they come in the mother ship will they need a bouldering mat?

Three men and a rock

Mr Tuck contemplates the head jam

Mr Tuck tops out

Mr Tuck releases himself from the infamous West Nab buttock jam

A dynamic finish for the Tuckmeister

Diver Driver gets his leg over at the end of the night

Remembering to make it look worthwhile for the camera

In amongst this were some dedicated trad climbs most often on Pule where Square Buttress finally succumbed to the persistent charms of Dr Crowe and Mr Tuckle. On the other hand, later on in the season, Dr Crowe (and most of his gear) succumbed to the indifference of a greasy Flying Buttress. Due to fine belaying by Mr Tuck serious injury was avoided. Further afield the quarry at Standedge repelled all boarders in a fit of overhanging chossy offwidth shite. Trips further afield to Standing Stones in June and Alderman’s Rocks in gave good value and established our credentials at a reasonable VS 4b/c for leading. Dr Crowe and Mr Tuck enjoyed a fine late May bank holiday afternoon at Alderman’s leading four routes and soloing another five – thereby doubling what they’d done all year outdoors! A repeat trip in June saw Diver Driver take his first outdoor lead, the second pitch of Rib and Face. Hobson’s Moor Quarry in Stalybridge in July gave up Crew’s Route (VS 4c again) before night set in and drove Drs Crowe and Ali back circuitously to the Riverhead.

Other activity started to take place outside outside of a Monday night. Dr Crowe and Andy Wood had a bright afternoon skiving off work and childcare duties at Ravenstones, knocking off a couple of easy routes (it was only June after all) and spotting that Birchen Clough might have some autumnal promise. The same pairing took on Slanting Buttress Ridge Route described elsewhere (Wet Wet Wet) but in between times at the back end of August they had a great day out on the East Face of Tryfan. Slightly unpromising weatherwise, they took second position in the queue for Grooved Arete (HVDiff 244 metres) a fantastic 8 pitch wonder that I’m sure I’ve written up somewhere. It included just about everything: ribs, faces, cracks and a traverse. The crowning glory was a steep gulley descent (North Gulley) that led us to the foot of Belle Vue Bastion (VS 48 metres) which was an absolute joy, good gear, exposed position, some lovely moves the best of which were at the start of pitch two. the two together made for a really great day out.

This isn’t all, I’m sure.

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Managed to get out on a cold, damp wintery afternoon for a blast round a variation on the Ian Robert’s Fell Race route. Great fun apart from the vicious nettle sting on my knee from the path off Old Mount Road.  I dediced to try to better my 2009 result in 2010.  As the 2009 race came after 4 or 5 months of no training whatsoever it shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.

Ian Roberts Fell Race Route

Video of Ian Roberts Fell Race Sunday 8th March 2009. With that famous fall at the begining. If you look closely you can see me near the back looking well prepared.

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