Some of you may remember Rachel’s epic High Peak Marathon adventure from last year, in which she ended up chest deep in a bog half way across Bleaklow. Somehow, despite that experience, she agreed to race again this year, but unfortunately had to pull out at the last minute with a chocolate calf muscle. That left me as her substitute, but when two more of her original team-mates also withdrew we were left trying to find another runner at the last minute. Happily, the Fell Running Association forum provided a solution, and the legendary Yiannis Tridimas, joined us the night before the race. Yiannis has done the event at least ten times and knows every little short-cut on the whole course, so was a perfect addition to the team. The final team was Amy, Natalya, Yiannis and I.
The HPM is around 42 miles, starting in Edale, and doing a circuit of Ladybower Reservoir on the watershed, so visiting Hollins Cross, Lose Hill, Win Hill, High Neb, Moscar, Derwent Edge, Bleaklow, Snake Pass, Kinder Downfall, Lords Seat, Hollins Cross again, and finally back to Edale. We set off just after 11pm, watching the lights of the few teams ahead of us climbing up the first hill. The weather was fantastic – cold and clear, so we could see Win Hill across the Hope Valley in the moonlight. Soon we were charging down the ridge to Hope, then up to Win Hill, and down again to cross the dam at Ladybower before climbing to a checkpoint below High Neb.
After that we had a long flat stretch to Moscar where we filled water bottles and got fed sandwiches, cake and bananas before running down the road to Cutthroat Bridge. At this stage we could see the route behind us, with little groups of lights making their way towards us.
The hardest stretch of the route is from Cutthroat Bridge to Snake Pass – parts of the route have no path, and it’s easy to get confused in bad conditions. However, with the moonlight and clear weather, plus Yiannis’ expertise, made navigation relatively easy, and we made excellent progress, helped by the fact that the recent cold weather meant we could run straight across many of the bogs that usually require diversions every few metres – although Amy had a few anxious moments as the dreaded bog monster tried to pull her into a less-frozen bit!
Sheepfold Clough came and went, followed by Cut Gate and Swains Head, then the trackless bit to Bleaklow Stones, where we chose a less-than-optimal route. To make up for getting caught by a couple of teams we elected to take a Yiannis’ short-cut to the next checkpoint. Leaving the stones we switched off our torches and took a sharp turn off the normal route – fortunately dawn was just arriving, and there was enough light to run across the snow. The other teams didn’t follow, so shortly afterwards we were flying across the hill again, picking up time on the way to the Pennine Way.
After that we had the glory of watching the sunrise on the way into Snake Pass, a short stop for breakfast, and then on (and on) around Kinder, Brown Knoll and back to the familiar trails around Edale. We finished up at Edale Village Hall almost exactly 11 hours after we started, very tired, but happy to get around so fast, and finish in a very respectable position.
It must have been good because I’m already looking forward to doing it again. The team really made the whole experience – everyone kept going and stayed cheerful. I’m still amazed that Natalya kept going so well despite never having run more than 20km before! We also loved all the costumed control marshals, especially the crime scene investigators at Cut Gate!
Even more surprising, I felt sufficiently good to go orienteering on the Sunday morning.