Saunders Mountain Marathon 2015: Something missing

Leg power, brain-power and check-points. All seemed to be missing at some-point this weekend on the 2015 Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon!

Day One

It was an ominous start to the day. Dark, thunderous clouds and torrential downpours shrouded the Lake District early on Saturday morning. Luckily by the time I had driven across to Torver, the thunderous downpours had abated but the cloud continued to lay low and thick on the fells.

I hung around the event centre, as the start queue grew ever longer, the call-out for teams could be heard every few minutes. I was running solo again in KLETS, just myself and my thoughts for company. It was just before 0930 by the time I made my way to the start-line and readied myself for the off. Ahead, lay the relatively bleak and complex terrain of Torver Common. The cloud base was little higher than 425m or so and visibility was very limited. After dispatching my first control I running on instruments, weaving through contours in the thick mist.

I headed up towards the Walna Scar track. I found the boulder I had marked as my second checkpoint but there was no control. Maybe this wasn’t the right boulder. Strange, it should be. I ran east, there was the stream, why wasn’t that the boulder. I ran back to the track. Nothing made sense. I re-checked the checkpoint sheet. A series of expletives then thundered through my head. I’d marked the wrong boulder, I was about 400 metres further north than I should be. That was my first mistake and with it I had lost some 15 to 20 minutes.

As I headed up the track skirting south of Brown Pike my legs felt tired. I’d been running for less than an hour and I felt drained. Was I just half asleep or was this the deep-seated tiredness post Bob Graham that I thought I might have avoided. Whatever it was my aching quads and calves and pressed on and locked onto the 600m contour height as I began the traverse onto the Seathwaite Fells towards my third control.

This leg should have been straightforward. Maintain height, hit a spur, then a stream and drop straight onto the control. But it wasn’t. I got disorientated in the thick clag, convinced my compass was spinning all over the place and found myself in what felt like very rocky ground. I searched the map and could see nothing. But things felt wrong. I’d not yet come across an obvious stream, but there were gullies and the ground was falling away but to the West. In hindsight it was plainly obvious, at the time it wasn’t. I had dropped too low and been sucked into some stream lines that ran West. Again I lost time as I re-established where I was. I reached 3 controls and screwed up 2 of them. This wasn’t turning out to be a good day.

Coming over Brim Fell I steadied my thoughts. I was back on track, despite a tough call on which check-point to head to next. I’d made my call and was getting on with it. Control Four in the bag.

Sometime later I found myself on the South side of Wetherlam. I left the path as planned and headed up directly towards the obvious knoll. No check-point. I was surrounded by confused people. Some a few hundred metres higher, some further east. I ran around the knoll, checking for some cunningly hidden control. Nothing. My brain didn’t compute that the checkpoint couldn’t be there. Perhaps the grid reference was just a bit vague, perhaps the 1:25,000 scale didn’t support the description. Surely I couldn’t have mis-marked another checkpoint? But there was no other feature within a 400 metre radius that would show up. I’ve no idea how much time passed, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, maybe more. I eventually gave up. Resigned to either being disqualified or having an interesting conversation with the race planners.

Running down to Red Dell Beck I lost my footing, slipping on the greasy grass and ice-like slate and slid towards an array of upturned and jagged rocks. My shin connected with the rock as I felt the pain sear through my lower leg. As I picked myself up and limped down, the blood slowly oozed from the wound. This was turning out to be a really shit day. I forced my way up the ridge running off Black Sails. I felt tired and dejected.

By the time I had picked off another control, lurking behind another random and insignificant boulder in the thick mist I was feeling, mentally at least, better again. I had resigned myself to a ‘poor’ day, boxed the remaining controls and headed to the event centre. Almost. I had failed to mark control 130 on my map. In my line to 145 I had practically tripped over it, but not seen it, not dibbed.

I reached the event centre to find confusion over the missing 116 control and the reality of being disqualified for not dibbing the 130 control. I had easily lost more than hour and that was without factoring in my tired legs. My only consolation was that I avoided being caught up in the numerical farce that was decided upon in ‘compensation’ for the missing 116 checkpoint. Everyone on the KLETS course had the checkpoint re-instated and then everyone was allocated a time deduction to make up for the time they had spent looking for it. I didn’t agree with the methodology and thought it was both unfair and inaccurate. Others however thought it was unfair to void the entire day. This is the problem when the courses are not linear. If they were, you could simply remove the time taken between 3 controls, thereby eliminating the one in the middle. But KLETS isn’t linear and people had arrived at the missing control from different starting points and then spent vastly differing amounts of time, in differing levels of visibility searching for it.

Day Two

I had spent Saturday evening in quiet contemplation. Chatting briefing to some club-mates who were camped nearby but otherwise deep in my own thoughts about the day. I put it down to experience and decided that I would race day two and not simply retire. I wanted to see how tired I really was and re-establish some sense of personal pride that I could actually navigate!

I headed up to towards the start-line at 740. For those outside of the chasing start, the gates wouldn’t open for another 25 minutes but I was keen to get going.

Compared with Day 1, the route choice between controls looked to be more straightforward, only a couple of legs where there looked to be any meaningful decisions to be made.

Running out of Tilberthwaite I was conscious of heavy breathing only 25 metres or so behind. It was off-putting. I was tired but at least my lungs were working. I kept pushing knowing whoever it was would be hurting also. My route choice seemed to work over to Levers Water and by the time I had sweated up to Levers Hawse I had pulled out some more distance and set off on the traverse towards Grey Friars.

By the time I had began the boulder hopping traverse and descent down towards Seathwaite Tarn I was alone, save for passing the odd team on other classes.  I knew there couldn’t be much left in the way of meaningful ascent or distance. The control sheet had marked the day as just 17km – a pathetically small amount of distance for an elite-level course, but I wasn’t going to complain, it just meant I could relax a bit more and push a bit harder, knowing there wasn’t far to go.

The warm slog towards control 5 passed without incident. The control was sneakily hidden down to the side of what was already a fairly indistinct spur (in my humble opinion!) but once I had dibbed I could see the lone figure of another KLETS competitor ahead.  By check-point 6 I had caught Andrew Higgins and that pretty much was the end of my running. We swung leads over the last few check-points as his cramping legs made way for my occasional navigation indecision. I ran down to the event centre, my racing for the weekend over. Just over 3 hours since leaving the overnight camp – 3rd place on day two and some pride restored. Definitely the shortest day I have ever had on a mountain marathon!

Day 1: MP / DNF

Checkpoints in order of attack

START – 119 – 137 – 142 – 113 – 116  – 114 – 146 – 133 – 105 – 120 – 145 – 126 – 143 – 101

Day 2: 3rd – 3 hrs 05 minutes

Checkpoints in order of attack:

START – 129 – 138 – 134 – 125 – 141 – 127 – 115 – 111 – 131 – 136 – FINISH

Overall Result: MP / DNF

Notes

I’ll make it quite clear that the co-ordinators, planners and everyone else involved in these events do an awesome and difficult job, without their hard-work these events would not happen. But that doesn’t mean I always agree with everything that is done, and these events only get better by constructive feedback. This years event I think had a number of things which could be improved.

Firstly the KLETS routes were way too short. Secondly the control descriptions were not descriptive enough to allow for the 1:25000 map scale. I enjoy the extra dimension that comes from having to mark your own controls but this only works when the control descriptions work in tandem with the grid references given and the detail actually shown on the map. Thirdly some of the controls were positioned in locations more akin to trying to catch people out than challenge accurate navigation. Fourthly – the time compensation given because of a missing / stolen check-point was a farce (what would I have done? I would have voided the entire day). Lastly – rules are rules, you miss a checkpoint, however stupid, you get disqualified. You don’t carry the specified kit, you get disqualified. And of course, the decision of the planners is final! However difficult, those are the rules we all play by and we should all accept. See you again next year.

Clothing and Equipment

  • Terra Nova Laser Photon Tent
  • Mountain Equipment Xero 150 Sleeping Bag & length of Bubble Wrap (Mat)
  • Jetboil Sol Titanium with foil lid and 100g gas cylinder, pre-ignited to reduce gas weight
  • Light My Fire Spork
  • Inov-8 Race Ultra Pant & Mountain Equipment Micron Jacket
  • Tencel LS Base Layer & Mountain Equipment Crux SS Tee
  • Ronhill Twin Shorts & 2XU Compression full length tights
  • Hilly Off-Road Running Socks
  • Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 with Inov-8 Debris 32 Gaiter
  • Black Diamond Ion Head-torch
  • Polartec Powerdry Beanie & Gloves & Sun Cap
  • Red & Black Marker Pens
  • Silva Nor 6 Spectra Thumb Compass & Suunto Core Altimeter / Watch
  • All carried in Inov-8 Race Elite 20 Rucksack with two Exped Ultralight stuff-sacks (Med & Small), Food carried in zip-lock plastic bag

Food

I carried slightly less overnight food this year and also moved away from a diet of chocolate, gels and Jelly babies for my ‘on-the-move’ food –  moving across to more ‘normal’ food. Keeping sugar-levels more stable, I found this mix of food much better.

  • Expedition Foods (1 x Chicken Tikka & Rice / 800 kcal range)
  • Cup a Soup (Potato & Leek)
  • Chorizo Sausage (1/3 individually wrapped)
  • Peanuts (50g)
  • Cadbury’s Hot Chocolate Sachets (3)
  • Nescafe Coffee Sachet (1)
  • Quaker Oats Porridge (1 pot – just needs hot water)
  • Cheese Wholemeal Rolls (2) cut into quarters
  • Rowntree’s Randoms
  • Morrison’s Swiss-Roll (3 small pieces, individually wrapped)
  • Banana (1)
  • Small Pork Pie (2)
  • Snickers Bar (2)
  • SIS Isotonic Gel’s (2)
  • High 5 Tabs for water
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About Richard Talbot

An accomplished fell-runner as well as being a keen climber and mountaineer. Since 2005 he has worked for the UK based manufacturer Mountain Equipment and is currently Director of Product. He has worked in the outdoor industry for over 15 years.
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