It was a wild morning as I drove over to Greenfield from Sheffield, the wind tearing at everything loose and driving the rain in sheets and this was the weekend before Eunice arrived. When I walked into the Sailing Club that is used as the Race HQ one of the organisers looked up: “Ah Rick, we knew you’d make it. Have you ever missed this?” I thought for a moment. I reckon I have done it every year since 1993 apart from last year when it was cancelled and one year when my wife decided we had to go to Majorca for a long weekend in the middle of February. I’m not sure I have quite forgiven her for that.
As I pulled on my stripes in the changing room the guy next to me looked across: “Tring Running Club, you must be Rick”. And so I met new member Patrick Butlin. There is a choice of two courses: ‘Short’ when you have 3.5 hours to find as many checkpoints as possible and ‘Long’ when you get 4.5 hours. Patrick was on the Short and I was doing the Long. He set off before me and obviously finished a lot before me so I didn’t see him at the end but he has an entry for Edale Skyline at the end of March so hopefully we’ll meet up again.
This is very much an old school event and all the better for it. You carry a control card and clip it with a needle punch at each control. In recent years the organisers have caved in to pressure and painted a white blob on the top of the stake that holds the clipper but otherwise the stake is perfectly camouflaged against the moor and there is no orienteering kite to see from the distance. You have to get to where you are going to see the thing.
“I’m glad to see you have some new trousers” said the lady on the kit check. “The ones you used to wear had so many holes in I’m not sure I would have allowed them”. I quadrupled pinned the control card to the said trousers and set off into the gale. There were some tempting high scoring controls way out to the east on the other side of the Crowden Valley but the thought of having to battle all the way back from there against the wind had me looking at options closer to home. There was a slew of 20 and 30 point controls to the south of the Chew Reservoir and then a line of 30s heading north so a circuit of the moor staying mostly high seemed like a better choice. Never too far from home if time gets short.
In the old days these moors were largely a bare peat desert and easy to run over. In recent years an army of do-gooders, environmentalists and wild life protectors have re-vegetated the moor and now, despite the best efforts of families from Manchester who come up here in the summer to have barbecues and then set the moors alight, they are covered in think mosses, heather and tussock grass, all of which hold the water. It is almost impossible to run on now. And for the first time on this event I didn’t see a single hare or even hear a golden plover. Actually, I wouldn’t have heard a plover even if there was one with the roar of the wind in my ears and the flapping of my hood against my head.
Two hours done and things seemed to be going fairly well so I decided to drop into the Crowden Valley to collect 40 points before climbing back out again and heading north to get the four 30 pointers. I got to the last one with 55 minutes left. I knew I was going to have to negotiate the horrible steep rocky descent to the north end of the Dovestones Valley and then the long run round the Reservoirs to the finish. I have run in this way many times before and I know it takes about 30 minutes. I was wondering if time was getting short. Could I get down to the track in 25 minutes? I punched my last control by a waterfall, a great peaty brown surge of water piling over the rocks and saw I had 21 minutes left and still 400m of clambering over wet slippery rocks to get to the track. In a triumph of hope over experience I told myself it would be fine and I would be back in time.
The run in is not easy. After fours hours of bog and tussock it isn’t like just doing a Park Run. The gale was against me. Every dog walker seemed determined to ensure their dog lead entangled my legs and every other walker made it their mission to step in front of me and block progress. I was seven minutes late and in a very bad mood.
The Mountain Rescue boys were hanging about the door of the Sailing Club hoping to cadge a free lunch and a cup of tea. “I remember the days when you used to have such amazing red hair, Rick. Now each year it looks greyer and greyer” “Well, at least I’ve still bloody got it” I said which shut him up as he took off his cap and polished his hairless pate.
A fabulous slice of cheese and onion pie and a couple of cups of tea and my equanimity was restored. Even though I had lost 21 points, I don’t think I would have improved on my score by taking a different route back in the last hour, getting fewer points but arriving on time.
1 Martyn James 517 points
13 Rick Ansell 319 (1st V60)
Patrick didn’t appear on the results at all. Apparently his control card had blow off his shorts and although he had continued and clipped his map instead, he had felt he couldn’t ask for a result. A shame really as the organisers are very laid back and would, I’m sure have accepted the map instead of the control card. I was worried about losing my card and had punched the map as well just in case.. He reckons her would have been 4th on his course, a fine result. Tring has another fell runner.