I did my first mountain marathon (the KIMM) in 1989 and have stacked up a fair amount of experience since then, stupidly thinking I had pretty much covered all the bases with regard to incidents, happenings and eventualities but last weekend took the biscuit!
The Marmot Dark Mountains MM bills itself as follows
Marmot Dark Mountains™ takes the classic two-day mountain marathon format and gives it a new… darker twist. Rather than two days of running with an overnight camp in between, Marmot Dark Mountains™ packs everything into one winter’s night!
...... how hard could it be?
Simon, my buddy in most of these adventures, and I met up on Saturday evening in Glossop (Peak District), giving ourselves lots of time to sort out our kit for the rigorous inspection before registration and our start time of just after 8pm.
Over the last five years of racing together we have probably totalled about 30 minutes of navigational errors across 8 or 9 races, so we set our stall out, based on tidy navigation and a nice easy running pace, trying to remember that this was a longer night of racing than a usual MM first day.
What actually happened was that we made over an hour of errors, all in the first half of the race. Right from the start, we both struggled to judge distances, partly due to the lack of visibility and partly, I think, to the fact that you just run so much slower at night. Although we made no mistake on the first control, there were already alarm bells ringing as I struggled to keep in contact with the map, everything taking so much longer to appear than it normally would.
|Race map with Elite course|
|Elite course profile!|
Control 2 was our downfall. From a good attack point, it was a dropping contour to a stream bend amongst lots of streams. Looking back now, we were actually pretty much on line for the control, but convinced ourselves that we had gone too far, so traced a contour back along the hill away from the control. To cut a sad and tearful story short, we lost somewhere in the region of 20 minutes.
What was pleasing, was the way we both put this out of our minds and got back on the job in hand; grinding out a nice steady plod and spiking the controls over the next couple of hours. This included a couple in thick mist where it was better for vision to hold the head torch in hand to avoid glare back off the mist droplets.
|For most of the race, the views were not great!|
The weather was generally being quite kind to us up to this point, a bit breezy, but dry. Just when we thought we had got the measure of the navigation, we me our old friends Mr and Mrs Cock-up again. What looks like a simple run along the top of the southern edge of Kinder Scout caused us no end of problems, mainly as we just kept losing the path, suddenly finding ourselves away from the edge, knee deep in peat, usually swearing and having to hack out to try and find the path again. With these travails, we were obviously not covering the ground as well as we thought and ended up doing our trick of talking ourselves into thinking we had gone too far - cue more faffing around and another 20 minutes lost.
We both stayed pretty chipper about the situation and, at least on the reasonable tracks, were maintaining a good shuffle considering we were over 5 hours into the race (sometime just after 1am). However, you could just start to tell that there was a subtle change in the weather and the predicted storm was starting to nudge our way. The next three hours had a series of controls more tightly packed, seeing us drop out of the wind and get a better rhythm navigation-wise.
As we emerged back on to the more exposed fells (about 5am) with still 4 hours to go, the weather started to kick us and remind us that it was January - we basically endured a mix of wind, snow, sleet, hail and rain right through to the finish. At our first opportunity to dip out of the wind in a slight hollow, we stopped and put on all of our spare kit - the only time I can ever remember putting on full overtrousers in the middle of a race! What a difference it made and within an hour we were also able to turn off our head torches - yippee!!
|Are we having fun yet?|
Those last few hours were fairly grim, not a great deal of conversation going on with Simon and I, only the occasional summit meeting about route options. I thought we would get a bit of a relief from the slog through peat and tussocks when we hit the Pennine Way, but it wasn't a great amount fun as we trudged up over Bleaklow Head, mainly along stream beds as far as I could tell, being lashed by sleet, trying to hide your face in the hood.
|Doesn't really do justice to the bleakness of Bleaklow Head|
Mr and Mrs Cock-up called round for coffee at the last control, when we just couldn't be bothered to look at the map as our hands were too cold to even hold the map strongly enough to stop it blowing away in the wind - oh how we laughed!
Finally made it to the finish after 13:23 hours, knackered, wet and cold. The marshals in the finish tent were great, giving us some seats and coffee as we had a 10 minute regroup before the 10 minute jog back into the town to the leisure centre.
We finished in 3rd place, which was pleasing, especially when looking at the attrition rate - only 5 teams completed the Elite course! However, we were both very disappointed with the navigation performance, perhaps being a little rusty in general and certainly not "getting into the map" in the first half. Within two days we were exchanging texts along the lines of "unfinished business" - isn't the mind a wonderful thing?
Congratulations to my old mate Steve Birkinshaw and his partner Tom Gibbs on an amazing performance to win the Elite class by a country mile.
Without doubt, the toughest single mountain marathon style race I've ever done; words which will bring a smile to Shane's (race director) face as this is exactly what he set out to design.
I had a lovely sleep in the back of the camper van at a service station on the way home, much needed, and as good a justification for having a camper as any. I have been fairly trashed all week, only reacquainting myself with my running shoes this weekend but am now ready to put in a good month of training without any races (having, unusually, done two races in January).
Back to the grindstone ;-)