Race Date: Saturday 2nd to Sunday 3rd July 2022
Race Report by: Jennie Stevens
The Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (SLMM) is a two-day mountain navigation competition (or race) that is held annually in the Lake District for teams of two runners. The location for this year’s event was Eskdale, on the 2nd and 3rd July.
You have to carry your camping gear and food and be totally self sufficient over the 2 days, with the exception of an overnight bar (you order beer or G&T in advance (both in our case!), and milk for the morning if you wish), and there’s also water at the camp. All rubbish you have to take out with you.
I did my first SLMM last year, also with Alison Barrett. Neither of us had a clue what we were letting ourselves in for. We did the Harter Fell course (the harder of the two beginners courses), and could barely sit down afterwards, let alone walk. We placed 4th females and 23rd OV and therefore qualified for the next course up.
A few months ago, in a pub, Alison and I decided that the pain of last year’s event hadn’t been enough, and we decided to enter the Carrock Fell (experienced) course for 2022.
We had a 5:30am start on the Saturday. There was uncertainty about whether or not we actually should be going due to a few family issues of mine. I spent most of the car journey on the phone, and Alison – all too frequently – saying she was only too happy to turn back and not bother going! But for me, the pain of running up and mountains was far preferable to the pain of parenting teenage girls! Before long we were out of signal (yes!) and committed. I hadn’t got round to eating my breakfast, and soon realised that Hardknott Pass was not the right place to be eating anything I wished to hold onto for long, so I passed.
We arrived at the event and registered in plenty of time. I was pretty calm by now, and Alison very slightly less so. We’d decided that, based on last year’s experience, we’d just go steady and not expect to be able to run anywhere. We’d conserve our energy, navigate carefully, and enjoy the day.
It had rained a lot on the way over but that had passed. We’d spared many a thought in the car for Nick Burns who was half way through his Bob Graham Round, and must have suffered some terrible weather through the night. But we set off with the sun coming out and the decent weather would continue through the day.
We were out for 6 hours on day one, covering just under 18 miles and 5,000ft. Navigation was successful and the terrain was a lot less demanding than the previous year, but mostly included trudging through wet tussocky grass, rendering running impossible. There was a brilliantly steep descent down a slope of scree – I was using my poles at the time so was skiing down grinning. But then I thought it’d be good to capture the moment in a photograph – which I did – shortly before falling a good few metres, ripping my shorts and bruising my arm and legs in the process.
On arrival at the camp we found a great secluded spot behind some gorse, which not only provided shelter from the wind, but also a convenient toilet spot for the middle of the night wee! We got ourselves changed and cooked our respective meals, then collected our drinks from the bar. 2 cans of IPA and 2 cans of G&T each and we were feeling very slightly tipsy!
Before bed we set off up the hill to find a signal, to discover with great joy that Nick had successfully completed his BGR! We also checked the forecast for the next day.
When we went to sleep at 19:40, the camp was still quite lively. I remember us complaining about a nearby man’s annoying laugh preventing us from sleeping, but before long we must have drifted off.
We were both up for a wee at 22:00. It felt like the middle of the night and like we’d been asleep for ages. The camp was still and silent.
When we checked the forecast the night before, we saw there was to be rain in the morning. So we’d decided that when we woke up (05:45), if it wasn’t raining then we’d get packed up immediately. There is nothing worse than packing up in the rain, and the water adds significant weight to your pack too. So we were pretty efficient and got all packed up before starting on breakfast, feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. We were already under the event marquee before the rain came down, planning our route for the day (the control points had been made available from 06:45).
There are 6 courses in Saunders and all the control points are marked on the map. The first task of each day is to identify (using the provided grid references) which controls you need to visit, and in what order. Once that is done, you can start planning your route choice. Even though you need to visit the controls in order, it’s up to you how to get to each one. Sometimes there are paths, but using the paths is usually longer and there are some good short cuts to be made if you are willing to take the risk!
The second day is always shorter and less hilly. But we saw straight away that we’d need to be ‘on it’ navigation-wise. Alison and I had noticed that after day one, we were in 3rd (females) and 27th overall, so started to act a bit more competitively, choosing a direct route to the first control.
The day passed without much drama. Navigation was good, and we were kept on our toes by two ladies we knew we were competing closely with. There was a moment of dread where Alison rolled her ankle and for a minute both of us thought it might be over. But she bounced back!
We crossed the finish at around midday. After not much longer we saw that we’d retained out 3rd place (females) and moved up to 22nd overall. Out of a total of more than 9 hours in the hills (09:48:46 to be exact!), there were only 8 minutes separating the 1st, 2nd and 3rd females! We both knew if we’d been more competitive on day one, it could have been ours!
We now, in any case, qualify for the advanced course (Kirkfell) next year. Thank goodness I have other plans!
For those of you wanting to give this a try, next year’s event is on July 1st and 2nd 2023. The precise location is revealed closer to the event. You really should not be afraid to give it a go – the different courses cater for all levels of experience and fitness and it’s a great weekend away.