Marsden to Edale Trigger: Race Report

Date: 15 January 2012

Position: 20th out of 169

Time: 3 hours 57 mins 28 secs

Distance: 23.8 miles, 3719 feet of ascent

The Trigger was a new race in the fell running calendar.  As the name suggests it runs from Marsden, near Holmfirth/Huddersfield, to Edale, covering the route of the Pennine Way, and passing 3 Trig points on the way (Black Hill, Higher Shelf Stones and Kinder West).

The race is advertised as 20 miles and 4500 feet of climbing.  I reccied the course a couple of weeks earlier and discovered that the 20 mile figure is as the crow flies.  When we did our reccy we ran for around 27 miles, excluding wrong turns!  I wondered if some better racing lines on the big day would cut that down a little.  But even so it was going to be a long, challenging route.

Having filled up with porridge, we set off at 6.30am, planning to leave lots of preparation time before the 9am start.  We arrived in good time and I registered and had my kit checked, before then having to spend the next half hour queuing for the only men’s toilet in Marsden Sports Hall.  I still had time for a decent warm up.  In fact it was so cold that I was glad not to have been waiting outside for any longer.

We started outside Marsden Sports centre, climbing the road up and out of Marsden.  I felt good and was amongst the leading pack in the early stages.  I didn’t feel as though I was going too fast, but I also committed not to overstretch myself by sticking with the leaders for too long.  But this did get me a good start.

We were soon running past Wessenden reservoir, and the hills surrounding it looked stunning, covered in frost with a bright winter sun shining down.  It was really inspiring and I was enjoying myself as we joined the Pennine Way and continued South, gradually climbing out of the valley.  I had settled into a good rhythm and was happy in around 15th place as we left the first valley and headed on towards Black Hill.

After a road crossing we dropped down to a stream and then started a fairly steep climb up to Black Hill.  There were numerous sheet ice patches on the Pennine Way slabs, and I had 2 or 3 falls during this stretch.  I survived unscathed if a little bruised.  The views were still brilliant as we continued up, veering away from the Holme Moss TV tower and on to the Black Hill Trig which was checkpoint 1.  The race was raising funds for Woodhead Mountain Rescue, and there were a number of enthusiastic members of the Mountain Rescue team, in their red coats, giving us great encouragement at each checkpoint.

About 100 yards after Black Hill trig we left the Pennine Way, heading due South.  This was about the last I would see of the Pennine Way for about 15 miles!  On our reccy we had stayed on the PW for pretty much the whole route, but the racing lines today were very different!

This was a lovely stretch of running.  Along firm grassy ground, gradually descending (and at times less gradual!) through the valley towards Crowden, with the hills covered in frost and glorious sunlight.  I kept a good pace up in this section, and maintained a position of around 15th.

Checkpoint 2 was in Crowden, next to the Woodhead Pass road.  At this point we went in a completely different direction to my previous reccy.  On the reccy we turned right along the road and then crossed the reservoir at the damn wall, before heading up into the hills.  But when we got to the checkpoint everyone turned left, confusing me greatly.

I followed a couple of Dark Peakers, and we soon crossed a bridge and soon started a long and very steep (almost vertical!) climb up Lawrence Edge.  I enjoyed this climb, which was quite a scramble which required use of the arms and hands as well as legs.  Looking at the map subsequently, it was certainly a good direct line which probably saved a couple of miles compared to my reccy route.  As we climbed I heard the regular sound of gunfire which was a bit unnerving – it was from a clay pigeon shooting area nearby.  I was also entertained watching a helicopter buzzing back and forth, carrying equipment for repair work around the peaks.

It was a good feeling to get to the top of Lawrence Edge.  The 2 Dark Peakers forged ahead, but I kept them sufficiently in sight to follow their line and keep on track towards Bleaklow.  This was a pretty poor trod, and was quite difficult to run on and tough on the legs.  At Bleaklow, I then started a long plod over to Checkpoint 3 at Higher Shelf Stones.  This was a hard stretch, weaving in between frozen peat mounds.  The height of the peat mounds made it hard to see any landmarks or runners ahead.  I stuck to what I thought/hoped was the correct bearing, but was relieved to occasionally catch a glimpse of runners in the distance which reassured me that I was on track.

It was a great relief to eventually see a flag and some red mountain rescue coats ahead at checkpoint 3.  We hadn’t managed to find this point in our reccy, and there are a huge number of route choices to get to Higher Shelf Stones, with none of them clearly defined.  The marshals were very encouraging, and I stopped there for a moment’s rest, feeling satisfied to have got to this point.

I then took a bearing and headed downhill and across to rejoin the Pennine Way.  This was still a tough running line and the frozen tufty ground was hard on my legs.  But eventually I hit the slabs of the Pennine Way, which took me in to Checkpoint 4 at the Snake Road crossing.

It was a fairly still day, but it seems that whenever you hit Snake Pass then the wind appears from nowhere.  The wind was nothing like as bad as the freezing gales which we experienced on our reccy a couple of weeks before, but it was still strong enough to be energy sapping after 19 miles of hard fell running.

I had a choice of route at this point.  Most runners (in fact possibly everyone but me!) opted to take a direct line from Snake Road to Kinder.  This meant going across Featherbed Top, which meant very tough ground which is hard to run on at all, and with some dangerous groughs to avoid falling into.  I decided that taking the Pennine Way via Mill Hill was better for me.  It meant an extra mile of running, but on the slabs of the Pennine Way I could keep up a reasonable pace.  It was a bit of a lonely slog for just over 2 miles, but ultimately I think I gained some places through this route choice.  I was very pleased to reach Mill Hill and take a left turn across to Kinder.  The climb up to Kinder was steep but I managed it pretty well, and I then felt I was on the final straight.

Cue my big mistake of the race.  I was pretty confident of the route from here, planning to follow the Pennine Way to Kinder Downfall.  But as I approached the Downfall I realised that I hadn’t been to the final checkpoint at Kinder West Trig.  I had assumed that the Trig was next to the Pennine Way.  I asked a few walkers and eventually established that it wasn’t.  I had to turn round and run back about quarter of a mile, before turning off the path and a few hundred metres up to the Trig.  It was very frustrating to watch a number of runners, who I had been ahead of, running past me going the right way, as I ran in the opposite direction to the checkpoint!

I resolved to push on hard and try and make up for my mistake.  I managed to pass 4 or 5 runners quite quickly, but after Kinder Downfall the tough terrain started to sap all my remaining energy and I realised I was in for a tough final slog.  Thoughts of gaining further places were replaced by just focusing on keeping going towards the finish.

After Kinder Downfall, we followed the Kinder River, which is a winding wide stream across the top of Kinder.  It was completely iced up and unfortunately the route forced us to cross the frozen stream several times….which left me slipping and falling flat on my backside a couple of times, and with a few other near misses!  This all made for tiring running, and that was followed by a long stretch of clambering up and over a never ending series of frozen peat mounds.  The only consolation was that I knew that the peat and bog meant that I was getting closer to the other side of Kinder and the familiar route of the Edale Skyline back towards Edale and the finish.

I was delighted to eventually see the familiar odd shaped rocks of Crowden Tower, on the other side of Kinder, and I managed to come out a bit further east of there, joining the Skyline route.  I followed that line for around half a mile before veering off towards Grindslow Knoll and the big descent into Edale.

Since Kinder Downfall I had kept on the tails of a fellow Dark Peak runner.  I hoped to pass him in the final stretch but he had that bit too much in his legs and started pulling clear as we approached Grindslow.  But I did start to close on another runner and decided to keep him in my sights and try and gain a place before the finish line.  We skirted the right hand shoulder of Grindslow and then we were descending steeply and rapidly.  For a stretch the best way down was to sit on my backside and slide down the hill.  This was great fun.

Soon we were crossing a field and taking the final footpath into Edale.  We joined the road and I saw the familiar sight of the Nags Head pub, signaling just a few hundred yards to the finish line.  I knew I had enough in my lengths for a strong finish, and I took my chance to go past the runner who I had been tailing.  I pushed on hard and soon I was turning off the road and to the finish line at Edale Campsite.

This had been a great race.  Beautiful (cold) weather, which made the best of some fantastic and varied Peak District scenery.  A tough route, but with lots of good runnable sections mixed with challenging ascents and some leg sapping stretches across bogs, frozen streams etc.

I finished 20th out of 169 runners, in 3 hours 57 minutes.  I was very pleased with my position and especially pleased to finish in under 4 hours.  I think my mistake in missing the Kinder West Trig checkpoint cost me about 5 minutes, and 3 places.  But still it was a good result.

After the race I dragged myself up the hill and back to the Nags Head for a well earned pint…..only to discover it was shut for renovation work.  Gutted!!  Wearily I had to trudge all the way back again to find another pub where I could enjoy that well earned drink.  My legs were completely shot by this stage – the rough frozen ground had particularly battered my shins.  But that drink was good, and the hot bath when I got home was even better!

This race has all the potential to become an established classic in the fell racing calendar and its certainly one which I will be keen to do each year.

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