I had been really looking forward to the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon this year for a number of reasons. Primarily, I just love the challenge of a mountain marathon, testing your ability to not only run over the terrain but also to navigate and look after yourself, being self sufficient for the two days. This would be my first such race since the operation and therefore by far the biggest test of my tendon. Finally, this would also mark the end of my training for the Lakeland 100 which is less than three weeks away, giving just enough time for a nice taper.
I left home after eating on Friday night and drove the van round to Wasdale; the usual journey of nearly one and a half hours to finish up only about 15 miles from home. With the early start time on Saturday morning, it was great to have the use of the camper to sleep in at the race on Friday night, so I registered and settled down for a good night’s sleep.
The Klets class (Elite) had an experimental format this year aimed at spreading out the field. At the start at 8:00am, we were given the grid references of all the controls we would need to visit over the two days but we could plan which controls we would do on each day in whatever order we wanted, with the proviso that there was a 10 hour time limit on day 1 and 7 hours on day 2. The organisers had provided tables and chairs for us, though the start of this race did resemble an exam room (or was it a bingo hall?)
It took about 10 minutes to plot all the controls and have a think about my plan. I thought it would be a good idea to collect all the controls to the east and south of Wasdale which covered the more difficult and rougher terrain. It does nothing for your confidence as you turn off the track and watch all the other runners in your class take a different route, perhaps this was the moment I should have re-evaluated my plan but instead I stuck to my guns. I made the long climb up from Wasdale to Beck Head, checking over the map and started to realise that I had probably made the wrong strategy choice. A better option would have been to split the rough terrain over the two days, particularly as my route would bring me back close to the start which just felt like a waste. By this time I was committed to the route so just decided to get on with it.
The weather was amazing, particularly when compared to the conditions we have had recently. I climbed round Green Gable and dropped down to Styhead Tarn as most of the rest of the field came up the other way. I remember thinking that they could all be wrong in their strategy and I might be right! Over the next couple of hours, as I made my way over the hills to the south of Wasdale, heading towards the west end of the lake where I would cross the valley, I tried to up the pace to make up some of the time I would lose with the poor route choice. Big mistake!! As I finally dropped down in Wasdale again I felt pretty goosed. With all my training this year being aimed at the Lakeland 100, I have not spent any time running off-piste and therefore found the rocky and tussocky terrain a real handful. I went through a really bad patch after about 4:30 hours and just slowed right down, walking on even the most gentle of inclines. My original plan was to do a loop of 5 controls on the Seatallan slopes, above Greendale, however, I made the decision that it would be better for my overall race plan if I left those controls for the Sunday and made my way to the overnight camp over towards Ponsonby Fell. This would at least mean I could regroup at the camp, there was no point in wasting time whilst I was struggling. I did start to get things back together again by the finish but felt that it was a prudent move.
I had been running for about 6:30 hours, covering 20 miles and about 7200 feet of climb through much of the rougher terrain and had ticked the most important box; don’t get injured!!
The campsite was about half full at this point. I had a wander about until I found a familiar face and set up camp next to Dan who runs for Ambleside. We got chatting about the routes we had taken and I could immediately see that I was well out of the running for this race. Dan had split the tougher controls over the two days and still collected a good section of the others, all in less than 5 hours. It was interesting talking to other Klets competitors and seeing what strategies they had employed, with some going for a monster first day of over 9 hours, leaving a very easy second day. Nobody could really say for sure who was in the box seat; I just knew it wasn’t me.
The overnight camp was a great experience, the sun was beating down most of the time, you could even dry out your socks (unheard of in a mountain marathon), great banter with everyone and a view of the remaining competitors as they came across the final hillside. If you are reading this after making this SLMM your first race, let me tell you, it is not always this idyllic!
I got through the long process of refuelling the body; Cup-a-soup, freeze dried lasagne pasta meal, custard, chocolate, energy bar, then three hours later, start again but with Bolognese this time. I do find that by the end of this process you are simply eating for the sake of it and not getting any pleasure from it!
As I settled down to sleep, I tried to calculate how long it would take me to collect all the remaining controls the following day and would I have enough time within the 7 hour limit. Working back from the finish, I gave myself a 5 hour target to reach the checkpoint on Scoat Tarn which would allow me to finish off the full course in time. This target setting was useful as it gave me a real focus for the following day, rather than just head off and see what happens.
With a 7am start on Sunday, I was up and out of the tent at 5:30am to give enough time to have breakfast, break camp and pack everything into the rucksack. It was all so quite after the hustle and bustle of the previous evening, with the sun peeking over the hills. I now felt fired up and ready to finish this event with a flourish; the course was not going to beat me! I decided to run a more conservative race and just maintain a steady push, rather than go hard and blow up and I was pleased when a number of runners shot past me at the start and I felt confident enough to let them go.
I settled into a nice pace and met up with Toby, also from Keswick, who was taking slightly different lines to me but we both kept meeting up at the controls. It was amazing that we could not see each other for 20 minutes and then reappear together having taken different routes. This time my route took me up to Kinniside Common, a long slog up the lower slopes of Caw Fell before the lung busting climb of Seatallan. During this long climb, I had another good look at the map and decided to change my planned route round the next group of 4 controls, with the aim of reducing the overall climb. This worked a treat and I started to feel like I was back in the groove and making good progress, being much stronger than the previous day.
After passing Scoat Tarn nearly an hour quicker than my rough plan, I had the bit between my teeth and pushed on hard up Scoat Fell, Pillar and along to Black Sail Pass. My mind briefly drifted to three weeks time, when I would once again be running through this pass, hopefully feeling strong. It was all downhill back into Wasdale and the finish. 5:20 hours, 17.7 miles and 6350 feet of climb. A grand day out, Gromit!
After 37.7 miles and over 13,000 feet of climb, I had achieved most of my aims for the weekend; enjoyment, no injuries, mega hills, etc, etc. I was pleased with my strength on the second day and delighted with the way my tendon has held up after a bashing like that so, despite a mid-table finish in the results, I feel confident about my preparation for the Lakeland 100 and am ready to start a proper taper.
A great event, as always, and a huge thank you to all the organising team who once again made this race one of the highlights of the year for me. Congratulations to Dan, who went on to win the race with a superb plan and some serious mountain running.
I am in the process of putting together a video of the weekend, which I hope will give some insight into the goings on at a mountain marathon for the uninitiated.