Thursday, 11 October 2012

RAB Mountain Marathon race report

This is always one of my favourite races of the year, so much so, that I think I have only missed one of the events since it started. (When I was only just about walking post-op last year!)

Most readers will be familiar with the mountain marathon concept where you race over two days carrying all the required equipment to be self-sufficient for the full duration of the event. There are so many facets of this kind of racing that appeal to me; the test of navigation skills (without the use of GPS), the route planning, the race strategy, the long days out on the hills, the preparation and kit selection and especially the opportunity to be "off the grid" for a couple of days. The RAB MM is run as a "score event" where you have a maximum time limit on each day, with the aim of collecting as many points as possible without incurring penalty points for being late. Each checkpoint is assigned a points score depending on it's distance, height and technical difficulty. For this particular event, the Elite class have time limits of 7 hours on Day 1 and 6 hours on Day 2.

The event centre was based near Wooler on the NE edge of the Cheviot Hills. I drove over after work on Friday and was quickly registered and settled into my sleeping bag in the campervan.

Saturday dawned clear and bright which set the tone for the weekend, though the air temperature was low and gave some idea of what to expect during the following night.

At the start, you are given a control description sheet which tells you which controls are "live" that day and what their respective points values are. Having made a bad decision at the start of the Saunders MM earlier in the year, I took my time here and tried to look at every possibility before setting off. Physically, I wanted to run a controlled race, hoping to be running strongly at the end, rather than going off hard and trying to hang on. Tactically, I had decided to be prepared to take longer routes to gain better running rather than shorter distances in tougher terrain - a lesson learnt from my last visit to The Cheviots in the Phoenix Long Orienteering Race a number of years ago.

It was a stunning morning and I soon settled into a good solid pace, always trying to be smooth and not fight the terrain as this just wastes energy. I ummed and ahhed about some of the earlier low point controls, but made the decision to get across to the higher points values and just pick up a few of the close, early controls. For those that were at the event, I chose some particularly good lines round controls 7, 10, 9 and 12, before dropping down to cross Harthope Burn.

The terrain changes slightly after the river crossing, becoming steeper and hillier, though I was really pleased with the way I was still covering the ground without ever really going into the red and blowing. I made a slight change to my route choice as I climbed up the SE flank of The Cheviot as I thought I might struggle to complete my final big loop of controls in time. Round the upper plateau of The Cheviot, it was lovely to run on the slabs of The Pennine Way and get some rest from the mud and heather.

As I set off on my final loop, I started to realise that I had over-estimated how long this would take me (or I was running faster than I thought I would be?!) I approached the camp and realised I easily had enough time to collect another control but not quite enough time to collect a 2nd extra which would have involved another 6km and a short climb. So, a little disappointingly, I tagged my last control and ran back down into the finish/camp.

I came into the finish 30 minutes before my deadline, and this did feel like a bit of a waste, though I knew I had had a good solid run. For a while I was in the lead until two other teams (the pairing of Tim Higginbottom and Chris Near and the solo runner Darrell High) came in to place me third overnight. Tim and Chris were well ahead but Darrell was only 30 points in front, though my main worry for the second day was my slender 5 point lead over Andrew Higgins in 4th. A podium place was up for grabs!

The camp was in a lovely spot and I pitched my tent just on the verge of a track which meant I could cook on solid ground, making life that little bit easier. Things started to get interesting as the sun went down and the temperature plummeted. I do not think I have ever been that cold for that long! I slept in everything I had with me; socks, thermal tights, Skins shorts, Pertex overtrousers, thermal top, fleece jumper, Pertex jacket, waterproof jacket, buff, gloves and sleeping bag. I managed to doze for an odd hour but seemed to spend most of the night shivering, finally waking up at 6am in an ice tent.

I started to feel better once I was up and had some warm food inside me, though you know it has been a cold one when you have to spend 20 minuted shaking the ice off your tent just so it will fit back in your rucksack.

Once I had stared and got my map marked up, I tried to divide the controls into three groups and then treat each section as a separate entity basing my decisions on the time I had left, always having options to bail out and get back to the finish under the time limit.

I cleared my first group of controls (to the west of the camp) about 20 minutes quicker than I thought I would and set off into my second loop. It was during this loop that I had my first major problem of the race. One of the control markers was missing from the intended sheepfold. When a control is missing it always eats away at your confidence, but I was sure I was in the right spot and a couple of others agreed with me, so we decided to just carry on after we had made a note of each others names so we could vouch for each other at the finish. Having lost 5 minutes checking and double checking the control, I decided to miss out a low scoring control (10 points) which would mean I could still collect the higher scores later in the day.

I soon put this out of my mind and even managed to spot a route choice that I had missed earlier, so felt rather pleased with myself as I entered the last loop, still running well, knowing that I should make it to the finish in time.

I started to feel the pace a bit as I approached my 3rd last control and made my only real navigation error of the weekend. All those around me were obviously heading for the final control whilst I had enough time to collect one extra one, however, in my knackered state, I simply ambled along with the pack for a km until I realised my mistake and had to cut round a small hill to get back on track, probably losing 7 or 8 minutes. No major panic, but it did leave a bitter taste in my mouth!

I think I was still annoyed with myself as I made the final climb, I pushed on and ran up much of the path to the summit cairn before the steep drop down to the finish. Despite the couple of errors, I would have still had evough time to have collected the 10 point checkpoint I missed out earlier and therefore get a clean sweep of all the controls for the day. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

It was now just a case of getting a shower, clean clothes and some food and waiting for the other runners to come in to find out the final positions. I knew I had had another good run and was only 10 points off the maximum score (the organisers credited those who had visited the missing control) but it was so close at the camp that I just hoped I had held on to the podium place. In the end, it was more dramatic than that....

.... Tim and Chris had stormed round again and scored the same as me but in about 30 minutes less time, winning with a total score of 780 points. Darrell had sored 30 points less than me on Day 2, meaning that were had the same total score of 720 points!!!! In a score event, if the points are equal, you then look at the total time taken by each runner and the shortest time takes the higher position. It took another 20 minutes or so before the combined times for the two days were up on the screens, but, would you believe it, we were equal on time too!!!!! We had both been running for 12 hours and 18 seconds over the weekend so could not be split and were awarded equal 2nd.

The Elite class prizewinners
(Photo by Richard Dearden)
For my troubles and pains, I earned a lovely new RAB softshell jacket which I have been showing off at work all week, and given myself just enough mojo to get me through these final couple of weeks training before the Round Rotherham 50 miler and then a well earned rest.

Thanks to the organisers of the race and the many marshals who made it possible. Another cracking RAB MM!


John Kynaston said...

Superb performance and write up.

Your recovery is well and truly complete.

Congratulations on a great year ...

pb at the Fling, a storming Lakeland 100 and now 2nd place in the elite class.

Wonder what 2013 will bring!

Andy Cole said...

Well done Dave, great result; and the weather looked superb.