Here’s the video, you might wanna just watch this instead of reading 🙂
My feet are cold, sore and not forgiving me for taking the contour line across the other side of a re-entrant. Mossy mounds, faint sheep tracks, a more than 45 degree slope is making progress slow. The rain continues to batter down as we squelch through swamp. I’d be sorry if I hadn’t expected this. I had, though not 2 hours into a 2 day event! This was my first Mountain Marathon and what a day to start.
A month ago I met Nina for a coffee to talk Tiree Ultra, Holidays, and Rubicon Triathlon in the warmth, that’s when Nina dropped the bomb “Do you want to do the Original Mountain Marathon with me?”. I have to admit I was slightly excited about this prospect though I demanded more information before saying yes. To be fair, I’d looked into this race about 5 years ago when I first got into this running thing and I got a taste for adventure. Back then I wasn’t ready and didn’t have a running crazy friend to do it with me. Now, I was ready, or so I thought. I was persuaded, even more sore that Nina had won entry AND it was in less than a month’s time!
The Short Score was entered, largely down to our state of injury and mostly due to our lack of specific hill trainin. The short score is the shortest of the races, in terms of time that is. 5 hours day 1, 4 hours day 2. For those not familiar with Mountain Marathons, the basic aim is to test your mountain craft, navigational skills and ability to get from point to point in the most efficient way possible, carrying all survival gear, overnight camping kit and food for 3 days on the mountain. The event is actually only 2 days but they think that if you get caught out, then you need to survive for 3 days as they only send the mountain rescue out if you don’t turn up to the finish on day 2. That means, you could be out there for 3 days. Nice.
I hear it’s meant to be hard, that’s why it is always late autumn when the weather is changeable and the temperatures are low. There are several other courses, all up to elites which could see them covering 65kms in 1 of the days with at least 3000m of ascent. That is crazy.
The rain was battering on the car on the way to the start, the sound made even more ominous due to the empty roof rack and the swirling wind making frightening sounds inside the car. What was even more frightening was Nina’s driving, I’ll stop there. It was still dark when we arrived in the muddy field acting as a car park. My motivation was zero, I just wanted to get back into a warm bed. The thought of getting out in the rain was horrible. Still, I knew it would be better once we were moving, this was still an hour away. We duly put our waterproofs on, over dressed for running but underdressed for waiting about. It was a muddy slog to the event centre some 800m away through churned up grassy field mud baths. The scale of the event was made known at this point as up until now I just thought it was a group of crazy people and jolly volunteers.
There were at least 5 laptops I could see, all with maps, some showing what looked like cctv, and there was radio equipment. This was a serious race, with a lot of serious equipment, and I can imagine a hell of a lot of organising. Kudos to those involved.
We were starting at 0900, the rain continued to fall, as we made our way back to the car for hot tea after getting registered. Nina took charge of the ‘Dibber’. This is basically a microchip attached to your wrist so you can mark that you were at the controls. The data is then downloaded when you finish to get your automatic print out of scores, times and penalties. Nifty, none of this waiting around for results to be uploaded.
Back to the start, ready to roll. The rain had died off just a tad and we were waiting in a small queue. The start is rolling, two pairs start every 1 min or so. It is at this point, and only this time that you get your maps.
The maps have all the control locations, the out of bound areas, the phone marshall locations, the over night camp and of course the usual contours and there was a lot of them. We headed to an area away from the start to start strategising. Which points should we go after? what route should we take? where is the over night camp? how long do you think it will take us? which way is North? how do you read a map again?
We worked out a pretty linear route, with some ups and downs and river crossings thrown in for good measure, and then we were off. It was a steady incline that went on for about 2 kms, the first control we got was worth 10points as it was just off a nice track, from here we didn’t follow the others and decided to contour around the hill as the next control on our list was just over the hill but around a bit, where the height actually drops. Our mission was to avoid going up any more than we needed to and there wasn’t any nice path or track. Heather bashing it was.
There was a few folk out around us, though not knowing which score they were on, they could have been going to different controls as we soon found out that there were controls not marked on our map out there!
We headed up and into the cloud. The ground was saturated, the moss and heather swimming in icy rain water, my shoes were wet to the core and feet were going numb. We located the next control at the top of a reentrant, a river was flowing down hill and the control was in the middle of it. I sent Nina into it as she had the dibber! I set out to locate the next control. 40 points in the bag.
On the map, the next control was only about 1.5km away but it was on another range which meant we had a steep descent and even steeper ascent to do with a river crossing in the middle. Half an hour Nina said. I thought differently. Time didn’t really feature on day 1 as we thought we had loads of time. 5 hours to be exact. The valley floor was sodden, we crossed fences and gates to reach the river where a bridge was marked on the map. This bridge did not exist, or rather if it did, then it was just three logs placed gingerly over the banks above a small waterfall which with all the rain was gushing with water. Nina attempted a crossing, on her hands and knees with no railings just a 3 metre drop. No. NO. Not worth it, I shouted as she retreated back. There would need to be another way. Jumping was out of the question, paddling too as it was too strong and wide. They say in the brief that you don’t get points for drowning. There goes that incentive, I thought. I was looking for a stepping stone, or even a narrow part not minding what Nina was doing. Turning around I saw her half way across the fence line that straddled the river. Ingenious. I didn’t think it would take my weight but it seems to take Nina’s so 🙂 worth a shot!
River crossed, we started to make our way up the steep hill. This was about 70 degrees to the vertical. It seemed to take a long time to get up, each step sapping stride go us fractionally closer to the summit. We missed our half an hour promise due to the river but we managed to make 40mins.
It was time for cheese sandwiches and some map navigational skills. After rounding the top of this spur, we headed west and spotted two probable places for the control. As we made our way along a boggy sheep track, we saw others making their way to one of the places which gave us a bit of a clue to where it might have been. 3rd Control found, fed and watered, and we were happy if a little cold.
From here we had the opportunity to get one more which was at the valley floor or stay high and skip that one. We opted to stay high. We were tired, cold and wet so this was the only option for us at that point. Staying high meant staying in the clouds and the wind but it didn’t mean another descent and ascent. With our injury status set currently as ‘getting over it’ or ‘active recovery’ this was also a sensible option.
We managed a bimble (Nina’s word for a slight run) to warm us up and keep morals high. We even located a control that wasn’t on our map. Shame!
Dropping down into the start of a valley we found the next control, the rain had stopped but the ground was still wet so our feet were still complaining. We needed some higher ground and some good going ground at that, so decided to make way for a track that would be slightly longer but would be able to traverse this more efficiently than any other route. This did lift our spirits as well as jelly babies. A staple for all runners.
Leaving the track, we took the line to a fence and Nina stopped to take a bearing. I just looked up and said “It’s that way” and pointed to the Eildon HIlls in the distance. Nina was getting used to my unscientific navigational skills but we still took a bearing. My gut feel was again right and we came across the Control – with a few others who were making their way to camp. This was an obvious control to get on the way to the camp so it was ‘busy’ for a mountain anyway. After this one we headed to the valley floor where camp was 2 kms west. We’d read the map so didn’t follow the other teams who crossed what was at the moment a narrow stream as the control on the way to the camp was on our side of the river, and with no bridge, they would have to jump. Feeling smug we got the control and made up time on those who had crossed the river, it was never a competition but it was in the same breath 🙂
Arriving at the finish we were half an hour early. We had spotted this before but decided that we shouldn’t go for any more controls as we’d be probably late getting back in and they fine you 2 points per minute or part minute for being late. This means you could potentially lose all your points for being just 50mins late.
The camp was empty, and we bagged a spot next to a wall that would shelter us from the wind. We were also high up and next to a barn that we could retreat to if the rain started to bellow. It was 2pm, and we ate. We ate and ate and bimbled and chatted, and ate and drank until it was bed time. Bed time came at 7pm and we enterd the tent and slid into our sleeping bags. I’d brought some whiskey which was duly drunk whilst we chatted some more. Part of me wanted to have still been on the hills, in the dark having an adventure. The other half was glad I was in a warm bag, dry and horizontal.