We arrived at Rotherham East Premier Inn at half past midnight on Sunday morning, me after finishing a 12 hour shift and Scott after having competed in the Wadsworth Trog with Tom and Paul so straight to bed and lights out by 1am. At 6.30am, the phone alarm tinkled its tune: an expensive five and a half hours’ sleep but so worth it not to have to travel the whole way to the Peak District on the day as registration opened 07.30am. So a little apprehensive, I was ready for my first taste of a mountain marathon…
We arrived at Totley Moor sports club on the edge of the Peak District near Sheffield, now with the promise of good weather despite a gloomy earlier forecast and registered straight away in the Mixed Vet50 class. There was a very thorough kit check that included a compulsory bivvy bag each! (note to self: don’t try to get away with less than all of the compulsory items as we would not have been allowed to start).
We had four hours to gather as many points as possible so route choice was important to try to bag some of the higher scoring control points. We looked at the map together and agreed on the first couple of control points before heading straight up a hill and onto the fells almost immediately. I always need a decent warm up and my legs felt really stiff for the first couple of miles – I thought they were never going to get going.
The intention was for me to learn how to take bearings which can be crucial for yomping across expanses of moorland in the absence of other features. This meant that we tended to take a more direct route whereas some runners appeared to make more use of the paths. It seemed to pay off most of the time for us and was far more interesting.
We got to the first control without any problem, then took a bearing to head towards the next; a trig point that was out of sight. As we got close to where we needed to be, Scott was distracted by a huge cairn that had several runners going to and from it. There was no cairn on the map but we headed for it anyway thinking that it might have been listed incorrectly. However, we knew it wasn’t a trig point and that it was not quite where we expected the control to be. Needless to say there was no control kite there. Another lesson learned: not to blindly follow other runners.
Higher now, we turned around and spotted the trig point on the sky line. Once there, a bearing pointed us in the direction of our third control choice: it was a large tunnel shaft on a low hill with lots of heather and marsh in between, little of which was runnable. It was pretty windy on the tops and pretty cold, and I was having trouble with the heather loosening my laces (Scott quickly showed me a much more secure lace-fastening technique)
By this time we had decided that to speed things up Scott would do the navigating and show me on the map what he was proposing to do. I could then concentrate on running and read the control descriptions that were rather unhelpfully written on the reverse of the map meaning that it had to be unfolded each time.
Next, we were looking for the start of a stream in a very boggy area with really deep, ankle wrenching tussocks. Scott said that he had never experienced anything as bad, and he’s done similar events all over the country. I ended up face first, followed by several minor ankle twists and a fall onto my backside. It took us quite a while to find that lousy 10-point control which was visible only from one direction. Another runner was fairing no better and although Scott managed to get the control unseen, I, in my bright pink jacket, was blazing towards it like a beacon and the runner just followed me, pleased for the advantage.
We managed to find control after control over varied and challenging terrain and even had a moment of glory in finding a control described as a large group of rocks (with a dangerous cliff nearby). We later found out that several runners had been unable to locate it and it was the subject of much discussion back at the finish.
On the homeward stretch, we managed to fit in an extra control with a minor route change and had enough time to ease off a little for the last couple of kilometres. We were prematurely congratulating ourselves when Scott realised that with a one-and-a-half kilometre detour we could have bagged one of only two 40-pointers on the course; that would have brought us up from 10th in our mixed age group to 6th, and we had had time enough to comfortably do it!
I couldn’t believe that four hours could pass so quickly, and it was so much fun. We finished the event off with homemade soup, tea and cakes at the finish…..after it had taken me about ten minutes to undo the new lace solution….maybe just a bit too secure! I am now enthused and am keen to complete the series of four….watch out Lake District; the Watsons are coming!