I have been wanting to run the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon for a few years now, but due to summer holidays and work commitments I have never been able to fit it in. So this year I booked on early, and I also managed to persuade my friend Josh to take part in the Kirkfell class with me. This class involves a linear route with an average of 56km, 3300m of ascent and approximately 14 hours of running time over the two days. However, this can change depending on how speedy and how competent you are at reading a map so you can choose the best lines between checkpoints.
For 2019 the location was in the Howgill Fells where neither Josh nor I had visited before. I talked to other people who knew them though, and the main gist of the conversations was “it’s bloody steep”. So, on Friday 5th July we drove out to the start and camped at the race headquarters. Looking up from the campsite I could see that they were not wrong.
On Saturday morning we double-checked all our kit and headed out to the start, which to our joy(!) was 2.5km away up a hill. At precisely 8:25 we set off and after 10 minutes of marking the checkpoints on our maps and planning our route we headed off into the hills.
We were blessed with sunny weather and excellent visibility which meant finding the checkpoints came with little difficulty. The only problem was the steepness of the terrain which meant contouring was painful on the feet. The heat meant we chugged through our water quickly, but thankfully there were many cold and refreshing streams to quench our thirst. As the hours ticked on, we started to feel the distance and elevation in our legs. At hour 7 due to tiredness and lack of water we had our first nav error and entered a gully too low down, then had the painful realisation we had to climb back up to the top to get the checkpoint. But after a sugar hit from some very sour and sweet rainbow laces we were back smiling and the last couple of checkpoints went relatively smoothly.
After 8hrs, 24miles and 6261ft of elevation gain we clocked in at the overnight camp. After the first day we were pleased to find out that we had come in 16th. The camp was located in a small and quiet farmer’s field by a cool river which provided relief to our feet after the battering they had received that day. It was great to relax in the sun, fill up on the lost calories and catch up with old running pals from Sheffield.
On Sunday we woke up early, refuelled on porridge and got out running as soon as we could due to the swarm of midges that had descended on the camp. It was tough to get the legs going again but they soon warmed up. Thankfully the route setters were kind on the second day and the checkpoints came by quickly. Due to the mass start in the morning we spent the day leapfrogging a few teams, each of us taking slightly different lines. On the last hill of the day we both dug deep, and we found ourselves opening up the gap between the teams we had spent day with. This gave us the boost we needed so we gave it all and plunged down the final very steep bank to the finish. Even though we were knackered, Josh still managed to pull his classic move of a sudden sprint finish to the line. We managed a cracking time of 4hrs 39mins for 15miles and 4192ft of elevation gain. This second wind enabled us to come in 8th meaning our overall ranking was 12th. Not bad like!