Race Date: Saturday 19th May 2018
Race report by Joseph Buckman
The Kong Mini Mountain Marathon is a series of 4 mountain orienteering events throughout the year. Additional to the main series they have two evening events in the Peak District. The format of these evening events is a 2 hour ‘score’ event. Imagine this as a treasure hunt in the hills. You have 2 hours to find as many controls as you can and get back to the start. If you’re late then you will start bleeding points.
The first evening event of the year took place in Dovedale in the South Peak District. Just outside of Ashbourne, Dovedale is a popular spot for people visiting the famous Dovedale stepping stones, and ascending the pyramid shaped Thorpe Cloud. Its also popular for its nearby beautiful Ilam National Trust estate.
I decided to head down on the day as the weather was so nice. The events are managed using “dibbers” which record your visit to each control along with your start and finish time. This means you can start at any time within a period given by the race organiser. In this case between 5:30 and 7pm.
The whole ethos of these events is that it is relaxed, welcoming and open to all abilities. You can enter as a pair or a solo. You can visit as many or as few controls as you like in the 2 hours which means anyone can take part. You could take a 5 minute walk to the nearest control, return to the finish and still not come last because a couple of people did lose all of their points for being late.
So, I digress, it was a stunning sunny evening in Dovedale, and setting off around 6:22pm (I guessed after making the error of not checking my watch when I started) I received a map of Dovedale showing 15 controls all with different point values. The further away and harder to get to (e.g. high up!) a control is, the more points it will be worth. Controls were assigned point values between 20 and 50, with a total of 480 up for grabs. One of the hardest parts of these events is quickly planning a rough route once you receive your map. Its hard to stop your brain from just joining the dots drawing a clockwise or anti-clockwise circle between the controls and legging it, but that might not be the best route when looking at the lumps and bumps in-between. On this occasion the start person had to point out some out-of-bounds not marked on the map between controls 2, 4, 5 and 6. As she drew my attention to this, I duly decided on an anticlockwise route starting with controls 2, 4, 5 and 6, and then legged it.
My route took me a little way along the Dovedale valley floor, past the stepping stones, before cutting up the valley side to the East to tick off control point 2. One of the reasons I like this orienteering score events is that everyone is running a different route. You run up to a control and people are converging from different directions, and then everyone spreads out again for different controls. At control 2, I bumped into fellow Strider Ian Stinson, and partner Jenny from Totley. We all tootled off towards control 4 (description, bottom of small crag). Following the control description diligently I found a small crag…but no control. Unfortunately there was a lot of small crags and I’d stopped one gully too early. A few of us made the same mistake and were looking for a while before heading over the rise into the next gully where you could clearly see it 100 metres away in the sunshine.
So after a rocky start it was onwards and upwards. About 20 mins down, and I diverted off most other peoples routes. I was fed up with contouring on the East side of the valley so decided to head West, as Fieval once did, and miss control 6. There also seemed to be more points for grabs in the West. So I migrated through the River Dove, and fell in. No bother, it was a hot evening. For the next hour or so, I quite happily ticked off a number of controls and heading to the further reaches of the area, also totted up some big points. I picked up the 50 pointer (the highest value) in the bottom South West corner of the event area in Ilam with around 50 minutes left of the clock so felt like I was going strong. I also got to run through the Ilam National Trust cafe gardens. If only it was open, it could have been like a scene from the Italian job, as I ran past grabbing a scone, jam and thick clotted cream off someones plate. Mmmmmm. Alas, I digress again!
Seeing as I had 50 mins to spare and about 5km back to the start, there was time for one last climb. I decided to tick off 3 controls on the way back, the first two being labelled ‘bottom of crag’ and ‘top of hill’. From bottom to top it is. My legs were tired at this point and the climb straight up 150 metres felt a bit of a slog but I had time. Ticking off the hill top, all I had to do was run off the tongue of the hill, tick off a final control before a slow run into the finish. This was where my second problem of the evening would happen (after not being able to find control 4). I missed all signs of a path off the steep end of the hill and with my eyes set on the bottom, just headed straight down. It was a little steep, and then towards the bottom I realised I had got myself into a pickle, or otherwise known as a dense thickett of nettles and brambles. With the steep hill behind me I had no choice but to go through. We’re going on a bear hunt… came into my head. I can’t go under it, can’t go round it, can’t go over it, got to go through it! I’m writing this 3 days later, and my legs still sting.
I must have looked like a plonker when I stumbled out onto the main Dovedale path with brambles stuck to me and legs bleeding. In my frustration and worrying about time, I skipped a control just 50 metres away from me, and headed back. I ran into the finish with, it turns out, 6 mins to spare. I sat around at the finish point for a while watching various people come in in the dimming and increasingly beautiful light. I saw Ian and Jenny arrive back in, unfortunately 15 mins over time but a fun evening was had by all.
A short walk back to the ‘event centre’ at the old dog inn and we could download our results from the dibbers. I was delighted to find I was currently in 6th out of 46th and 4th in the Mens Senior category with 360 points in 1 hour 54 min. The course was open for another 30 mins so I knew this would change, but I was dead chuffed with the result….so I did what any fell runner would do and had a pint and watched the red sunset drop over the back of Thorpe Cloud.
These events really are some of the most fun of the running calendar. Yes, they cost a little more, but the inclusivity, atmosphere and extra challenge of reading a map add up to a really fun event. And don’t be put off by navigation skills. You can do as much or as little as you like, most people enter as a pair, and lots of people get a bit lost. Some people just walk it, some run it very quickly. Practice makes perfect and there is no better event to start at than the mini mountain marathons.
I ended up in 13th out of 86 overall, and 4th (out of 10) in the M Sen category.
Three people completed the course (all 480 points) with the winner (Phillip Vokes of Leeds University Orienteering Club) doing it in 1 hour 34. Yes it is sickening that someone can run that fast and read a map at the same time. Always good to have something to aim for though.
|62||Ian Stinson (& Jenny Featherstone, Totley AC)||02:14:49
Full results available here.