After having such a fun experience last year, we had resolved (before we had even finished) that we had to run it again the next year. Fast forward 12 months, and on Friday night at 23:45, team Haggis on Tour (me, Konrad, Jasmin, Jon) set off on our second run around the High Peak Marathon.
The HPM is a 42 mile bog slog around the Derwent watershed in the Dark Peak, run in the middle of the night in mid-winter. The route pack most of its climbing in the first third, running over Lose hill, Win Hill, and along, just below Stanage Edge to Moscar. From there, the route starts to get boggy, traversing the watershed along Derwent Edge, then Howden Moor before heading onto Bleaklow. From Bleaklow head, the route follows the Pennine way over Mill Hill and Kinder before taking in Brown Knoll before the final descent back into Edale.
Last year I was very nervous in the weeks before the race, and on the night of the race, I could only manage a medium-size slice of cake at Jasmin’s parents. This year, I must confess, I’d been looking forward to it for quite some time (the cake, that is), so I was like a child on christmas eve as we took the TransPennine express down to the Peak District. But for all of us, the excitement had a nervous edge: as a result of our unexpected success (2nd overall, and 1st mixed team) last year, we had a bit more pressure on ourselves, with no less objective than unseating the perennial champions Flipper’s Gang (who between them have won it the past 10 years!). Poor Alex McVey had to put up with endless strategising and route chat on the train, as he was travelling down as a last minute draft into a Glossopdale team, who had a great run (and Alex will no doubt tell of his adventures himself).
As with last year, we were treated to an amazing spread of food at Jasmin’s parents house, who planned to get up at 4.30am to walk to Mill Hill to cheers the teams on. Fantastic effort from them, and much appreciated by us at a bleak point of the race! We each tried (with varying success) to snatch an hours sleep before leaving at 21:30pm for Edale, the start/finish point of the race. I was personally distracted by a copy of Manny Gorman’s book, and spent half an hour flicking through the pages, reading about the various pubs he visited…
The race starts and finishes at Edale Village Hall, and from 22:00, it is jam packed with nervous, well-wrapped up runners donning head torches and making last minute adjustments to their kit. I settled down to check the contents of my bag, have a quick cup of tea then enjoy the other teams leaving at 1 minute intervals from 23:00. Being in 2nd place last year, we had the second last start. There were several very strong teams entered this year, and we enjoyed finding out that the crack team led by Adam Perry and Kim Collison had lost two members and had to draft in some last minute replacements as much as we were dismayed to hear that none other than Jez Bragg had filled the gap in Flipper’s Gang that we’d heard about!! Our mixed team rivals Nicky Spinks had a strong team (after she dumped her previous team for not beating us last year!!), and Jim Mann (the regular LAMM Elite winner) had a strong team.
In the end, it was only Flipper’s Gang we needed to worry about. We set off like a rocket, overtaking all the other teams (except Jim’s who we were 5mins behind, but they had started 30mins before us) before the Moscar checkpoint (< 2 hours in). Though we didn’t know it at the time, we were also 20 minutes ahead of our rivals by this point. It was perhaps a little too fast, but we felt good and were on a high. Last year we started paying for our lack of local knowledge in the second third of the race, on the bogs. This year, thanks to J+K’s methodical reconnaissance, we made it to Swain’s Head without incident and still with a sizeable lead. At this point, the route ascends Bleaklow and traverses the hill to the Pennine Way. Let me quote from Wikipedia:
‘Much of the main plateau of Bleaklow is a boggy peat moorland, seamed by ‘groughs’ (pronounced ‘gruffs’, water-eroded channels in the peat), and lacking strong changes in elevation – in poor conditions its traverse is probably the most navigationally challenging in the Peak District.’
For us, it was pitch black, 30mph winds, heavy rain/sleet and foggy. Despite our best efforts we got slightly lost. Flipper himself (Stephen Watts) knows that section like the back of his hand and navigates by the shape of stones ‘ah, there’s pointy rock – we’re on the right track’. Us mortal Haggises (sp?) on the other hand seem to be cursed by our uneven legs as we seemed to curve around bleaklow as we tried to head west. Thanks to good luck and knowledge from J+K, we finally made it. Though for this one section we took 44 minutes to 24 from our rivals and without us ever seeing them, we lost our lead.
We were only 10 minutes behind (according to the marshals), so we pushed hard on the final 3 hours to the finish, but we were starting to tire and the lack of food (Jasmin was particularly disappointed by the lack of cheese and marmite sandwiches, not that it slowed her down(!)) at the Snake Pass checkpoint didn’t help. Needless to say we didn’t manage to catch them (we had more or less the same splits to the finish), but managed a comfortable 2nd place and smashed the Mixed team record by almost 30 minutes. If we hadn’t stumbled on Bleaklow, we would have been very close to the overall record, which was set a few years ago in perfect conditions.
Finishing is a surreal experience – the finish line is inside the hall, so you have to open the door to a nearly empty village hall and download the sportident card. Barely anyone even noticed us finish! The rest of the morning passes quickly with egg baps, stew, tea, bread, leftover race food, chatting, sleeping (for some!), tea, and groaning at our nav mishaps.
Will we be back? Yes! Third time lucky? We hope so!