The Four Trigs Challenge; a Fell Runners’ Association Cat B Long race.
I have been looking forward to this race for a few months now and packed away quite few miles of training in preparation. The premise of the Four Trigs Challenge, classed as a Fell Runners’ Association Cat B Long race, is simple. You must visit all four of the Triangulation Pillars that surround Sidmouth, Sidbury and Weston including the five checkpoints cunningly placed to taper the route. Basically the highest and lowest points of the surrounding area.
It's up to the runners to find their own way through woods, fields, bogs, rivers and any other means avoiding the roads and lanes. At each of the Four Trigs and checkpoints there are 'clippers' to punch into the card you are carrying to prove you have been through them.
The brave 104 runners gathered outside the sailing club at the Port Royal end of the seafront in Sidmouth. The sun was shining but there was a bitterly cold wind as everyone looked up towards High Peak looming in the distance. Trig One was a few hundred feet of climb away. The runners set off along the esplanade at 9:30am on the dot after the briefing.
Start to Trig One.
We worked our way along to the bottom of Peak Hill and up the road cutting onto the grass bank that leads to the top. Here is where the pack split into its respective abilities. The front runners were ahead already. The mid pack cruised upwards and the slower runners set their own pace. The course then entered the woods and meandered up through to the top of Peak Hill. Here's where Amy and her parents were waiting to grab a photo of me where I was already feeling the exertion and cold.
From the top of Peak Hill the trail drops down the other side and follows the coastal path back into some woods and out again to face High Peak. Here you scramble up a very steep track to the first clip point and Trig One. There was a bit of a queue due to it being the first of the Four Trigs everyone reaches.
Trig One to Trig Two.
From Trig One it's a quick descent off of High Peak and back up to Peak Hill again. A left trail takes you across to Mutters Moor where Amy snapped me again before I headed off along the long fire track to the top of Back Lane. This is a fast and steep track down to Four Elms Hill and across the road into Harpford Woods. I had trained to go left here and skirt the edge of the road and cut into the woods further down. Today though, I decided to follow another runner over a gate and to the right instead. Mistake.
He disappeared and I was on my own where I met multiple choices! Slightly panicking I decided to go left but another runner behind me told me to go right as it's quicker. I followed his advice and we dropped down further into the woods. Mistake again. Here we found the other runner who I'd lost earlier, attacking brambles. He said he always comes this way but hadn't reccied it for a long time and it had overgrown pretty badly.
Not so shortcut…
The three of us hacked and scratched our way through absolutely slicing my legs up. I was annoyed. We ended up exactly where I would have came out if I'd stuck to my route. Only we got there slower and with more blood. Other runners were surprised to see us appear from the undergrowth looking wrecked. We rejoined the trail after crossing the river and headed up through the woods to the first Checkpoint under the old railway tunnel.
From there it was a steep climb out of Harpford Woods and onto the climb up to Core Hill. I found Amy and her Dad sat in the sun waiting for me though at this point I was walking. The hills were taking their toll on my legs. Amy gave me a motivational talk and got me running again! Some sneaky steps at the top of the field led to Fire Beacon Lane and then to the next up hill to the top of Core Hill and Trig Two to clip the card. Also ate some flapjack here too.
Trig Two to Trig Three.
This isn't even half way yet. I set off and made my way across Core Hill to the White Cross car park at the start of East Hill Strips. Crossing over Ottery Lane and into a long field it was a welcome thought that the next mile or so would be mostly down hill. Checkpoint Two was on the way down as I slogged my way through the mud to Sidbury Village and Checkpoint Three.
The village descends a little before heading back up again through fields and woods towards Trig Three. Amy and her Dad were waiting here for me again to take some pictures and I felt much better at this point. I had fueled and got into my rhythm. This was the last time I'd see them until the end. I began the long steep climb up to Trig Three. The woods here are one of the steepest parts of the course and slow going.
Reaching the summit I made my way across the top of hill for about half a mile to locate the Trig. It's hidden in the woods and pretty much green with moss so easily missed if you didn't know it was there. I clipped my card and set of immediately.
Trig Three to Trig Four.
The descent from Trig Three is ridiculous, it's not really a trail. So I took it easy trying not to go over and slam into a tree. I could hear yelps coming from the woods below signaling how bad it was. The 'trail' comes out onto a path that leads down to Harcombe. Here it's a quick run along the lane and right into a field. More like a swamp though, nearly knee deep in places. You cross Snod Brook and begin the climb out of Harcombe and towards the fourth Checkpoint.
The climb out is long and steep with some slippery mud thrown in and also hail! I was starting to feel tired at this point. You pop out onto the A3052 and cross over to the fourth Checkpoint which was well hidden! Here I moved on along Paccombe Pool Lane and across to Weston. Nice little crowd here cheering everyone on and they are reminding you you're heading to the final Trig. I descended down into the woods and skirted along the valley heading towards the coastal path. A group overtook me here, my pace slowing considerably. I climbed out following them through a field shortcut to the Fourth Trig and some welcome Jelly Babies! I clipped my card (one slot to go) and set off for the finish. This was the stretch I was dreading.
Trig Four to Finish.
From the last of the Four Trigs the view across to Sidmouth is incredible! You get a sense of how far you've come as you can see High Peak miles in the distance. Then you notice the cliffs and valleys that are in your way… This is what I was dreading.
I set off and headed down the coast path dropping towards Weston. Lots of uneven steps full of deep mud, a great combination. The descent is steep and fast(ish) taking its toll on your knees in the process. Here you end up on Weston Beach and get a nice shingle run before being faced with the climb out.
Steps. So many steps. The path is steep, muddy and uneven. By now I was tired and my legs were pretty much done. I was on my own and had nothing left but knew I was still miles from home. I soldiered on while talking to myself. The path is a few hundred steps up to a field where it carries on up through mud to more steps. After these steps it turns and heads up again before switching back to… more steps. These then level out on the cliff top which was muddy and hilly and part of an old fort I think.
It drops down from the top again and skirts around the valley and back up the other side. I was overtaken again here by a few runners who seemed to still have energy. It's a long flat run across the cliff top for half a mile or so and this entire part of the run was accompanied by some serious hail! It stang and was cold, I could hear other runners cursing and groaning as it struck and took it's toll on us. Eventually I came to the last Checkpoint, clipped and moved on.
Clip card complete!
It dropped down to Salcombe Mouth but not all the way to the beach this time. There's a quick downhill across a field after some horrendous uneven and tall steps with a slippery path thrown in. Then it was across the other side of the valley to the last climb. 204 steps up. This was hard work. Another runner distracted me as we ascended (thanks to you). At the top some spectators clapped us on and told us it's all down hill from here. Being a local I knew it was still a tiny bit further up hill though and I had been running for 3 and a half hours. So I ignored them in the politest way having been in a dark place for the last three miles or so.
The final mile!
I pushed on across the top of Salcombe Hill, said hi to Nan's tree, and descended back down the other side for the final burst to the esplanade. My knees were hurting and I was ready to finish. I heaved it down the field and through a couple of roads before running across Alma Bridge and onto the esplanade. Amy and her family were there to see me home. She told me to leap the seafront wall and head to the finish. The great thing about this race is there was no actual finish line – two ladies were there to take your number and give you your time for completing the Four Trigs. Excellent.
- Race Time – 3:43:05
- Elevation – 3802 ft
- Distance – 16.4 miles
- Race Number – 192
- Position 52nd of 104
The Four Trigs challenge was exceptional and I think it will attract more people as the years go on. I hope to do it again next year and wonder if the course will be reversed! A great event and really well organised by Sidmouth Running Club. Even if it did destroy me!
Photos – Amy Kerr