Tag: Mountain marathon

Dark Mountains Mountain Marathon 2020: Northern Arenigs, Snowdonia

Why are we having a sprint finish Will? I’m sure a slow little trot would suffice. We still have about 40 minutes until our time is up. It’s an odd feeling running (or shuffling) along tarmac after almost 12 hours of bashing about in waist-height heather. My legs had become accustomed to the slow pace, high knee, bracken gallumping from last night, and now they were being asked to move quickly. But, if you ask nicely enough, they sure get their act together and oblige. We crashed over the line and landed the final dib of the night. Whoa, what a night eh? It was nice to see that Will was looking as wrecked as I was but still smiling.

The days leading up to Dark Mountains was full of the usual mountain marathon (MM) kit prepping and organisation.* Running through the kit list and laying everything on the floor, before playing Tetris trying to stuff it all in my bag. Something a bit unique on the list was an ice axe and micro spikes, but thankfully the weather was warm enough so they weren’t needed. Saturday night quickly approached and before we knew it, we were standing at the start line. Joking with the marshals who said we looked like the springiest runners they had seen so far. I don’t think I felt it though. At exactly 18:44 we were handed our race map with a splatter of checkpoints sprawled across it. We worked out a rough plan, and then headed out onto the fells excited for what the night would bring.

“Springy”

As perfectly described in the planner’s insight, the terrain was notoriously rough. They even advised on avoiding one particularly bad section marked “Here Be Dragons!” As always for the first handful of checkpoints, we were leap-frogging other teams until the field thinned out. The weather was relatively dry and mild, but the fog was thick on the tops creating that ever so helpful glare from your headtorch. Around the fifth checkpoint we decided on a different route choice to the other teams that were near; and we soon ended up in the dark by ourselves. As a kid I used to be scared of the dark. I remember one particular night-time bike ride through the local woods in Newcastle. I had recently watched Predator, so every rustle in the bushes made me jump. I got too scared of the dark and begged my dad to take me back to the car. However, over the years I now find being in the dark second nature, especially when you are with someone else. This is because if Predator does turn up, you push over your partner and let them be taken ha ha! (Sorry Will…)

The Predatorus Cymru, native to the dark mountains of Snowdonia

The first few hours ticked away nicely, and we picked off the checkpoints without too much bother. But around midnight I began to feel cold and tired. I pushed on for a couple more checkpoints and I got quieter and quieter. Only saying the odd “a bit more left” or “a bit more right” if we were straying from the bearing. This was the first time in a race where quitting crossed my mind. I realised that if I didn’t put on more layers and eat more food the next 6 hours were going to be rough. I put on my waterproof trousers for the first time ever in a race, and had some sausage rolls and energy bars. I soon perked up, and we even took the luxury of stopping and turning off our headtorches to admire the stars. They were some of the clearest I’d seen in the UK for a long time. This was the boost that we both needed.

No dragons, no predators.

More hours of bumbling about passed with plenty of trips and falls. The most memorable was when Will’s legs disappeared into a hole, and he bashed his bum as he folded in. As we ran over rocky sections, we would sing “ROCKS-ANNE” in the tune of The Police song. Something I found a bit too funny considering the crap joke. The final few hours passed quickly, and we were soon faced with a classic MM decision. Take it easy home, or go for glory with one more checkpoint and then run like hell. To Will’s dismay I managed to persuade him of the latter, and to go for one final 25 pointer. Thankfully, the running gods were on our side and we made quick progress leaving us a whole hour to get back. This didn’t stop us from the sprint finish down the last track though! It was great fun hammering it down the slippery slope, skidding around other teams on their return. We crossed the line to the claps of the marshals. I wonder if they thought we still looked the springiest.

Our splits were downloaded, and to our shock we had somehow come in 1st out of the 13 teams that were back. But there were still another 16 teams to finish so let’s not get our hopes up just yet. It was going to be a nervous 45 minutes wait until 7am. This would mark 12 hours since the last long score team set off and therefore would confirm our final position. In the meantime, we staggered over to the café and shovelled some food into our faces. To Will’s delight they had a decent vegan breakfast for the competitors. Hash browns, mushrooms, beans, Linda sausages, toast and ample tea and coffee. We sat in the event tent getting warm and watching other competitors crawl through the door. During this time, we saw a rather exhausted, cold and wet Mike Ayers stumble in and slump into his chair, bag still fully strapped to his back. He had been out on the medium score with his usual MM buddy Toby White. Mike was in good spirits as always, especially since he had managed to run for 10 hours without too much bother from his knee. Finally, just after 7am we checked the results and our final ranking was 3rd! Woohoo, absolutely epic. We were not expecting to do this well, especially as this was Will’s first MM. We realised that we were only 20 points clear of 4th, so good job we went for that final 25 pointer.

We wobbled to the car and changed into dry clothes and attempted a few hours of kip before hitting the road home. When I shut my eyes, my brain replayed images of map contours and the scan of heather with my headtorch. Clearly my brain was still stuck on navigation mode. After a couple hours of restless sleep, we watched the prizegiving and then carefully began the drive home. The deal, as always, is that if the driver is tired, the passenger can’t snooze and they must act as DJ. Will did not disappoint and played some bangers. I was most impressed by him not snoozing, as in his delirious state he thought it was raining inside the service station bookshop. We chatted nonsense and dreamt up plans for future adventures. Will has definitely caught the MM bug as there were talks of the Saunders, ROC, OMM and the Scottish. How many of these events can we do in a year? Answer: N+1.

Ollie Roberts

*Ed’s note: a regular mountain marathon usually happens over two days. The Dark Mountains marathon packs all that into one night instead. Competitors chose between linear courses of varying distances, or a fixed time — a “score” — in which they had to reach as many checkpoints as possible. Short score (8 hours), medium score (10 hours), long score (12 hours).

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon 2019

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.

Camp at race HQ. Those are baby 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.

Filling up on sticky toffee pudding
View from the overnight camp

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!

Josh and me at the finish line: we made it!

Ollie Roberts

LAMM 2018

The LAMM has been on my radar for many years, but I’d never seriously thought about entering it before. It’s a mountain marathon based in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. But this year was a bit different, there was a buzz about it. Martin Stone, the organiser of the event for the last 22 years, announced that it would be located on the Ise of Harris and promised it was sure to be a classic. This was one not to be missed.

The organisation that went into this event was phenomenal. Sorting logistics for some 700 runners to arrive in a small village in the middle of an island with just two ferry ports and one small airport must have been a huge undertaking. Not to mention providing food and various facilities to look after us while we were not running in the hills. And then their were our own logistics to plan, which essnetually involved lots of travelling. After 8 hours of driving, a stopover at a friend’s flat (thanks Barbara and Simon), a 2h30 ferry and an hour coach transfer, I arrived safely with racing partner Pete Wilkie.

From the second we arrived at the ferry port the atmosphere was great, meeting friends old and new, everyone was excited for the adventure. And that atmosphere would only grow throughout the long weekend. Well, I say weekend but Harris being a very religious island, there was to be no racing on the day of rest. So the two days of racing was over Friday and Saturday.

We had opted to compete in the Score class, which gives us 7 hours each day to collect as many checkpoints as we can, with points lost for every minute late back. We set off along a track, but after about 2 minutes we veered right and up our first hill. This was to be the last path we would use for the rest of the weekend!

The scenery was incredible, so wild and remote. Even with all the runners on the hills, we were on our own for a lot of it, although this could have meant we were taking a rather niche route selection. All was going well, for the first 5-6 hours, but the problem with score is that one small decision can have a big impact on the overall result. Approaching the final stages of the day, I had tried to calculate how long it would take us to reach the finish while picking up 2 high scoring checkpoints on the Western most peaks. Problem was, I didn’t correctly account for the contours we needed to cross. Long story short, we had to abort and only collected a measly 10 points in the last hour rather than the 60 we aimed for. More annoyingly, I didn’t spot a much shorter route that would have netted us an easy 50 points with time to spare. But that’s why score is so fun, right!? Still, 9th after day one isn’t so bad (…2nd would have been better)

Anyway, the remote campsite was incredible. We just don’t talk about the toilet situation.

Here’s some great drone footage from the event, thanks dropro aerial imagery

Day 2 was another stunner. A bit of mist in the morning, but lovely views and weather as the day went on. There was still a tough 7 hours of hills, hills and more hills, but there were no complaints. Our aim was to make the most we could of the course, and I think we made a good overall plan. We thought better of a risky last push to grab a few more points towards the end, so we finished with time to spare and smiles on our faces. We managed to gain one place, finishing 8th overall, with the top 10 being close it was always going to be hard to make up for yesterday. Congratulations to Konrad Rawlik & Jasmin Paris (and baby who joined them at midcamp!) on a storming 2nd day and pulling away from the chasing pack and being ahead by literally the distance of the highest mountain on the island.

Another great feature of the event is that because we were on an island, no one can escape before prize giving and the evening’s entertainment! The school gym was packed as Martin told us about the lead up to the race and provided some insight to what it takes to put on such a great event. After prizes were awarded, it was then time for Martin to make an announcement. He was so pleased with the “Harris Classic” it was time to go out on a high, this was to be the last LAMM he would organise and with him the name would also retire. A standing ovation of several minutes followed and many a tear was shed.  I’m so privileged to have been part of the event and so happy that we decided to give this one a go. Thank you to Martin, his team of volunteers, the Islanders of Harris and Pete for pushing hard the whole way through the event.

Marmot Dark Mountains – Forest of Bowland

This event has been on my radar for a few years now, after having failed to make the start line a few years ago due to injury, and it’s taken me about 18 months post hip surgery to be confident enough to take something like this on. It’s been fascinating to hear stories from previous years about the challenging conditions that only a night mountain marathon in the depths of winter is sure to bring, so hopefully you’ll find this one interesting too.

I was joined by fellow Roundhay Runner and ultra-running legend Pete Wilkie. We had entered the Long Score class, which gave us 10 hours to find as many checkpoints as possible, starting at 9pm on Saturday night. Not really knowing how either of us would hold up over the distance and not having raced together before, we agreed that the night would be a success if we nailed the navigation and kept moving as consistently as possible throughout.

I’ll spare you a long essay about the full night and instead I thought I’d provide you with a five line summary and an annotated map of our route.

  1. Jogged up a road
  2. Slogged up a hill, contoured through some heather, descended through some heather, disappeared into a stream, slogged into the wind. Repeat
  3. Put on a warmer layer and some waterproof trousers
  4. Repeat step 2
  5. Ran down a road a bit more quickly

(If you click on the map, you should be able to see it in high res in a new window)

Finishing with just 5 seconds to spare at around 7am, we ate a very welcome cooked breakfast and had a bit of a nap. As the sun rose and the finishers from most of the linear courses came in it was finally time for prize giving. With the top runners battling it out on Elite, we were happy to sneak into first place in the Long Score. Huge congratulations to anyone that made it round any course!

So I guess technically that leaves us leading the British Championships, perhaps it’s time to look at going to Scotland for the LAMM? Anyone else fancy heading up?

Thanks to Shane and team for hosting the Marmot Dark Mountains. We’ll be back.