A report by Andy Buck, with contributions from Jeni Pitkin and Jon Street
At 6.15am on the morning of the first day of the 2015 Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon we were awoken by a great flash, followed immediately by a terrifying crack of thunder: pretty effective as an early morning call, similarly effective at instilling a sense of fear about the two days ahead.
And off they go…
Dave Parry and I went through our kit again, checking and double checking. All complete, we set off to collect our map, and walk the 1km to the start. Ian Stinson and Simon Bayliss were a few minutes ahead of us, and James Fletcher and Phil Howson a little less; Jeni Pitkin and her friend Beck were already at the start line. Jon Street and his brother Tim were already well away, having started earlier. At our allotted time we stepped into the start box, and as the clock ticked over, we dibbed and were away.
Day one, Kirkfell
The first thing you do in a mountain marathon is stop. Having collected the route descriptions, the first task is to mark the controls on the map, taking great care to get them in the correct grid square. Dave and compared notes, and corrected a couple of errors. And so the event begins.
Playing follow my leader is a very bad move. Wandering off in a different direction to many others is, though, somewhat unnerving. But with eight different classes, all with different routes, having the courage of your convictions and trusting the map, and in thickening mist, the compass is essential. Trying to work out which of numerous small hills is the one you need to look behind to find an orange and white orienteering control is less easy! After some floundering around, Dave and I found the first control, and set off on the long climb and traverse to find the next – a bend in a stream. Remarkably, we nailed it – or so we discovered after we dropped down the stream a bit and then returned to the point we’d arrived at. Bingo. Game on!
70 minutes later, we’d lost all the advantage gained and were pretty hacked off. “Spur, south east side” sounds clear doesn’t it? And on a clear day, we’d probably have been OK. Instead, we were among dozens of teams hunting a spur strewn hillside for the proverbial needle in a haystack. James and Phil turned up and disappeared. Ditto Ian and Simon. The nightmare ended when Dave happened upon the control. We’d lost loads of time, and were well off the pace.
There followed four controls in quick succession, one described as “saddle”, which was actually a marshy hollow in the middle of dense mixed woodland. And hence to Hard Knott pass, one of the narrowest and highest roads in the Lakes. Fifteen minutes later we were all together, running across open fells towards a distant stream junction, mercifully visible as the clag was steadily lifting. A pretty significant choice followed: a long steep ascent to pick up a well known path to Red Tarn, or a long rising traverse to arrive at a similar spot. Dave and I started to pull ahead, and found the right little hill and control without any difficulty. We were pretty sure we were ahead of James, Phil, Ian and Simon, but knew the next control was critical. Our route choice was not that chosen by most, but did the trick and for the third time we nailed a long leg.
Still unsure of our position, and in the warm afternoon sunshine, we navigated safely to the penultimate control and hence the finish. We’d sacrificed a good 40 minutes to navigation errors and to losing “hunt the control”. But we’d established a lead over our clubmates, and had not disgraced ourselves.
Meanwhile, Jon and Tim, and Jeni and Beck had had contrasting days.
Day one, Wansfell
Jeni takes up the story:
“We were halfway through day one and after a long period of silence Beck declared “I’m never doing this again”. Although it was Beck’s first mountain marathon she’s no stranger to long distance challenges involving a map, albeit usually on 2 wheels. I was hoping that she would drag me along to finish in a respectable position. Optimism waned after realising I had marked the first checkpoint on the wrong stream. Optimism later deserted us after we spent an hour and a half searching in the mist for the second checkpoint. We were in the wrong kilometre square and after losing each other for 10 minutes we were on the brink of giving up. A Bedafell team appeared and took us under their wing.
We made progress in the next few hours but there was a cruel twist at the end. Some long pauses with the map after realising we had marked up the final checkpoints wrong. We then stumbled along the ‘taped finish’ with our brains (and our maps) switched off, not realising some of the tape had blown away and we ended up at the start location for day two. It was a relief to see the campsite and download our result for the day: seven and a half hours in 64th place.”
Day one, Bowfell
“In the lead up to the Saunders Tim and I were feeling in pretty good shape. A week before the race a calf niggle appeared and on the night before it hurt merely trotting across the camping field. Seemingly kinesio tape combined with compression socks provided me with all the placebos I needed to get round both days relatively pain free.
However whilst we were moving pretty well physically, we were making a lot of silly errors having not really paid much attention to our navigational skills for a few years. We made our way to the general locale of each flag, then wandered around in the mist for a while looking for a flag on the floor (this turned out to be a common tactic for a lot of teams). The team who came 3rd overall commented that they kept being overtaken by us, only for them to catch us again due to navigational errors. All a little frustrating, and likely costing us around 50 minutes additional time for day one. We were still pleased to arrive safely into the overnight camp in 5th position after roughly 22 miles and 7000ft of climb in just under six and a half hours. We quickly set about purchasing as much liquid as possible for £10 to try and rehydrate.”
So: dinner time! Remember the kit check and double check? Well, next time, we’ll do a triple check, just to make sure we don’t leave the cooker behind! What a gift to Phil – something we will never be allowed to forget! – but then we won’t forget being able to borrow their burner. A glorious evening in a simply beautiful spot, early to bed and a sound night’s kip.
A new dawn, a new day
Sunday dawned – a sunny and warm day. Route descriptions were available from 6.45am, meaning we could all take a slightly more leisurely approach to marking up the maps, correcting errors, and planning routes. It’s nonetheless a bit frenetic. James and Phil learned from last year and were at the front of the queue for the mass start at 8.05am, with Dave and me and then Ian and Simon not far behind.
The first of Sunday’s controls was about five metres from the path. James and Phil went straight passed it, but quickly doubled back. They soon made up ground, choosing a better line to the next control. Ian and Simon were on their tail. A big route choice followed – James and Phil went north, Dave and I, followed by Ian and Simon went south west! It was a good few km to the next control, but as luck would have it we all arrived at about the same time. The next decisions would prove decisive. A super steep descent, and then choice of ascents led to a control tucked behind a tiny crag. We were bang on, and moved quickly on, not knowing how the others were faring. The next two controls were at much easier landmarks, as was the penultimate one. Dave sprang into action, and hurtled down the path to the finish. It transpired he wasn’t going to allow himself (or me) to finish behind another team we had repeatedly met all day.
Had we prevailed? There was no sign of James, Phil, Ian or Simon. Still not certain, we hung around and sorted out our stuff. And so they appeared, and yes, the super vets had pulled it off.
Jon and Tim meanwhile had consolidated their day one position, finishing the toughest course for teams – Bowfell – in a great fifth place. Make no bones about it – this is very good fell running and navigation.
Jeni and Beck took their revenge after their day one position and finished in 15th, finishing in 44th overall. The high spirits of day two, along with the post-race meal and cake, convinced Beck she would like to do it again! …
And so to some statistics.
The Kirkfell course had 13 controls on day one, and 7 on day two. The straight line distances were 20.6 km and 15.4 km, and optimal (least!) ascent was 1490m and 1175m.
The detailed Kirkfell results look like this:
|Dave and Andy
|Phil and James
|Simon and Ian
|Dave and Andy
|Phil and James
|Simon and Ian
Or put it another way, Dave and I prevailed on the time to 12 controls, James and Phil on six, and Ian and Simon on two. And Dave I prevailed on the time to the final five controls on day one and final four on day two.
|Brendan Bolland and Antony Meanwell
|Jon Street and Tim Street
|Adam Stirk and Thomas Bush
|Andy Buck and Dave Parry
|James Fletcher and Phil Howson
|Ian Stinson and Simon Bayliss
|Lewis Taylor and Alastair Thomas
|Laurie Parmenter and Ali Parmenter
|Mark Bryant and Ian Bolton
|Jeni Pitkin and Rebecca Bright
Full results are on the SLMM website.