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The Epic Marsden to Edale Fell Race – The Trigger

The Trigger is a 24 mile fell race with 4,500 feet of ascent. It starts in Marsden, entrants have to navigate their way over Black Hill, Bleaklow and Kinder Scout, visiting seven check points on route and finally finishing in Edale.

This year was the sixth time the race had been run and I’m sure its one that everyone who has ever taken part in it will remember. The Trigger is renowned for being one of the toughest races in the Peak District but this year it was made even more difficult by the heavy snow fall in the week prior to the race and the heavy rain through the night before. I thought about what the conditions might be like and what kit I would need and more importantly what I was going to start the race in. The biggest challenge of the day and the one that played the biggest part in 25% of the starting field dropping out came from something I didn’t even take in to consideration and that was that the streams that had risen due to the snow melting and heavy rain fall would become fast flowing icy river crossings.I must have checked my bag a dozen times to make sure I had packed all the required kit before leaving home as I always worry that I will forget something and fail the kit check. The race organizers had made the decision to add a head torch and long sleeved top standard FRA kit list.

The hardest decision was deciding whether to start the race in a windproof or a waterproof jacket, the first section to Black Hill was on good paths and I didn’t want to stop to take off or put on any layers. I decided there was more chance of over heating than getting cold, until we reached Bleaklow where we would be navigating over featureless moorlands and I expected to get colder due to the nature of the rough ground slowing my pace down.

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On the approach to Black Hill I got a little glimpse of what was in store for us, when we had to cross a small stream nothing normally to worry about but today it was a fast flowing stream that came above my knees which I was a little shocked to see. You know something isn’t quite right when the mountain rescue team are manning the crossing and have another team member further down the stream with a lifebuoy.

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I managed to get across safety and started the ascent of Black Hill with my legs still stinging from the ice cold water. There wasn’t much time to get warm as the higher we climbed the colder and stronger the wind became. As I reached the summit check point I had put on all my extra layers that were accessible without going in to my bag but I still didn’t have enough layers on to keep me warm enough. Not wanting to stop and lose any time I pushed on through the cold as I knew we would soon be descending into a valley and joining a good runable track and that I would be sheltered from the wind and be able to warm up a little. There was just the matter of crossing a fast flowing stream first, my Mountain Fuel team mate Jacob was the first to cross the river and soon found himself taking an early bath as the strength of the water knocked him off his feet. I wasn’t keen on doing the same so looked for a better place to cross but there wasn’t a good place to cross you just had to take your chances and hope for the best. I manged to get across more by luck than judgment but still ended up waist deep in freezing cold water. I headed down the valley with my feet and legs stinging from the ice cold water. It was like jumping in to a ice batch every few miles while running a race.

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Having cold feet is something I’ve never had to deal with and wasn’t something I had prepared for. I suffer pretty bad for poor circulation in my hands and they always get cold therefore I was carrying a second pair of gloves to put on and even the little hand warmers you crack to warm up which I just put inside my gloves.

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We quickly went through the second check point and started the ascent up to Lawrence edge which is a tough climb and involves some scrambling which is normally fine but the snow and ice made it a little bit tricky and a little unsettling at times. The navigation starts once you get up on to the edge and you can lose or gain so much time. As long as you hit the check point at Higher Shelf Stones you can take any route you want. I was in a small group but we all had our own ideas of the quickest route, so off we all scattered in to the thick fog. Normally in these conditions I would try and stick with another runner for safety but having the route pre planned in to my Garmin Fenix gave me the confidence to head off by myself and try out the navigation feature on my watch. It seemed like I was heading over the moors on my own for ages but for all I knew there could have been someone five feet away from me. I had no idea if I had lost or gained much time or even what place I was in.

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My pace had slowed down over the open moors and I had become pretty cold and wet by the time we joined the Pennine Way which took us to the check point on the Snake Pass summit. I became aware just how cold my feet were as they felt like sold blocks of ice pounding on the flag stone path. I was still alone and had nobody in sight when I headed over the moors again to the next check point. I was within ten feet of the check point but couldn’t see it when a group of runners appeared out off the think fog. Had I lost time or had I gained time on this group? I didn’t have a clue what position I was in but I was glad to see someone as I had been trying to get my last energy gel out of my pocket for the past hour but my hands were just to cold to open the zip, even the other guy was struggling and had to use his teeth to get my gel out but I didn’t care how he got it as long as he did.

My plan had always been to try and make up some time up on the path on the edge of Kinder Scout as I knew it was pretty good under foot but today there was no chance. The snow and ice had made it near on impossible to get in to any kind of rhythm and any parts that were clear were under ice cold water and my feet were so numb I was trying to keep out of it as I couldn’t move or feel my toes.

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The worst river crossing at Kinder Downfall as there were big blocks of ice flowing down it and we all put aside our individual race battles to help one-another through a fast-flowing river. This sums up fell running – great adventures in wild places with a community spirit of helping each other out. As we linked arms to make a chain to allow us all to safely make it across I had stopped caring about racing anymore and just wanted to get to the finish. From the final check Point at Kinder Low I had planned to follow the path along the south side of Kinder but we were advised that the path was pretty rough and that we would be better to avoid it if at all possible. Luckily the others knew a line that would take us directly to the bottom of Jacobs Ladder and for the first time I decided to follow them as temptation of heading out of the wind into a sheltered valley was just too appealing.

I couldn’t feel various parts of my body and I was shivering pretty bad but managed to keep a reasonable pace along the Pennine Way and gain a couple of places. I’ve never been so glad to see people waiting at the finish line.

I finished in 9th place and headed straight to get a warm drink but there wasn’t much chance of drinking it as I was shivering so badly I couldn’t hold my cup still without spilling it all over my hands however they were that cold I couldn’t feel the hot drink going all over them.

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To be honest looking back I really enjoyed being involved in such a challenging race and I have gained invaluable experience that I can take forward into my next race. Well done to everyone who took part and a massive thank you to the Mountain Rescue Team, Marshals and anyone else who stood out in the cold to make sure we were all safe.

The race raised a whopping £5100 which will contribute to the annual running costs of 25k that the Mountain Rescue Team needs each year in order to function.

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