Monday, 9 July 2012

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (sorry if it’s long)

slmmI don’t think I have done many things that physically and mentally took me to my limit but this was definitely one.

Earlier this year I started to pester Chris and drop hints about me wanting to do a Mountain Marathon (MM). I needed a partner and I thought Chris was the man to help me. But try as I might he wasn’t having any of it. In fact the mere mention of anything that involved a map and a compass or could be marginally described as orienteering and he went all quiet. You would swear he has a fear of maps and I know that isn’t the case. So during a conversation about this with Albert one night Albert kindly volunteered to partner me.

Having never done any MM before I had no idea of which course to enter. Harter Fell, Scafell, Kirkfell, Bedafell, Wansfell etc.. OK I can assume that the Scafell class would be hard as there was no Ben Nevis or Snowden Class. I decided, based on previous course distances, that the Carrock Fell & Harter Fell looked better suited to me however when I went to enter they were full and running a waiting list. So I plumped for the slightly longer Kirkfell Class and got a little worried, wondering if I’d bitten off too much.

In the past few months I have been trying to get some long runs in to build up my mileage and I’ve ended up with a couple of injuries (Achilles problem in my right foot for months now, Tight Hamstring & knee pain on the left and lower back ache) so in the week before the event I was a little apprehensive. I’m actually quite weak willed and give up on things very easy unless somebody is pushing me along. My main concern was the thought that I might want to pull out and let Albert down. A final massage from those fine people at SUMMIT PHYSIO (plug plug) and I was as good as I was going to be.

SLMM Map 2012On the Thursday it was time to pack my rucsac.

  • Sleeping Bag
  • Day 2 clothes
  • Waterproof Top & Bottoms
  • Titanium Kettle
  • Gas
  • Stove
  • Spork
  • Hat
  • Compass & Whistle
  • Food
    • 2 x Super Nooooodles
    • 1 x Chicken Cup a soup
    • Chicken & Bacon Wrap
    • Foil packed Tuna
    • Tea Bags, salt, sugar
    • 2 x Banana Protein bars
    • 3 crushed Weetabix and a Banana

You get the gist…

So Friday, with all the rain and warnings of floods around the country, I Set off to collect Pete Kidd and Albert already about an hour later than planned. Pete had asked me for a lift up a few weeks back. I’d forgotten until he rang me up the night before too (whoops). Anyway I went to meet him at Tesco and whilst we were faffing about he received a phone call from his partner who was thinking about pulling out because of injury (I think). After about 20-30 mins of calls and discussions Pete told me he was no longer coming and I headed off to collect Albert.

Friday in WasdaleArriving in Wasdale the traffic was mainly flowing in one direction. The rain had almost stopped and the parking/camping field was already well populated. After a shandy in the Wasdale Head Inn and a chat with some people we’ll never meet again we headed back to our accommodation. The accommodation was: an inflatable double mattress in the back of the bus. Quite comfortable and Albert took no time in going to sleep but I think my nerves were kicking in as I couldn’t get to sleep at all but eventually I think I managed to get about 3-4 hours sleep at the most.

Saturday Morning in WasdaleSaturday morning we awoke to a clear sky, you wouldn’t have believed it the day before. Despite only a few hours of sleep I was feeling quite good. The hills and the clear sky in a morning are great to wake you up. We headed to registration and collected our dibber and then got some Sausage and Bacon barms whilst we got ourselves ready. As usual I was faffing about, then I couldn’t find my 3/4 leggins I’d planned to wear so had to resort to wearing my full length ones only to find my 3/4’s as I closed up the car.

With no time to spare at about 7:35 we headed off to the start which was apparently a 20 minute walk. When they say a 20 minute walk they normally mean about 10 minutes to mere mortals and 20 minutes to people in wheelchairs. As we headed to the map collection point we passed the Kit check area. Silly me pointed to the woman and said “Do you need to check our kit??” to which she said “Yes, ok then”. Of course if I hadn’t said anything she would have just left us alone. Big gob!

At the kit check the lady seemed to ask us for everything we couldn’t find. Pencil and paper, first aid kit and storm shelter/survival blanket. We had pencil and paper, then Albert couldn’t get to his 1st aid kit as it was at the bottom of his bag and neither of us recalled the Storm shelter being mandatory however both of us had packed a foil blanket so she was happy with that. We collected our map and headed off on the path behind Wasdale head Inn around the back of Kirk Fell to the start with plenty of time, so we thought.

We just arrived at the start (a little rushed) as they shouted out our time “08:03!!”. We’d bumped into Vicky and Jane on the way to the start who were due to set off at 08:02 so they rushed through to the start box in front of us.

Finding the 1st controlNow the map you collect at the start has no controls on it. When you get into the start box, just as you are about to start, you can pickup you control descriptions sheet which contains the controls descriptions and Grid references. On starting people tend to head off about 5-10m and stop to mark where they think their controls will be before planning their route and heading off. As the course is linear then the order is fixed so you don’t really need to plan any further than the next control ahead so with the 1st control plotted we both headed off up the first climb from the lowest point in this valley up towards the 1st control which was a re-entrant about 500m from the start.

What a view

The orienteering on a MM isn’t really about fine navigation like some other orienteering events despite the fact you can be looking for stream bends and gullys I think you find that once you are in the right sort of area then the control is pretty obvious, it’s more about reading the map details and finding the optimum route to the control. So the orienteering side of things was relatively easy (for me) and even Albert seemed to be doing well with the working out the sites and the route we could take.

I’m not a fast plodder and Albert straight away started to set the pace for the whole weekend. I expected as much though and had tried to spend weeks warning Albert that he was going to be going at my pace and not his and that he might need to pack some warmer clothes for all the hanging around he might do, however he’s a great guy and did nothing but encourage me to keep going all weekend.

On the climb to control 1 I plotted the next 7 controls and worked out where the finish would be. We’d had a hint that the overnight was going to be in Ennerdale however it was more like Nether Wasdale. Control 1 came easily and we headed of for Control 2 near Green Gable. Over Black Sail Pass and around Kirkfell towards Great Gable before taking a shorter route across to Green Gable to find the control sitting in a gully. It wasn’t hard to find though as there were a small influx of people heading for the same control.

Control 3 was passed Styhead, below Lingmell/Scafell Pike and I knew the route in that general direction so didn’t need the map too much until we got to Albert on the Climb to the corridor routeStyhead. The route from Control 2 to the col between Great/Green Gable though became a matter of traversing the rocks and was slow going. I think it would have been quick to drop down and take the path. Over the col and down to styhead we seemed to be followed by a couple who had passed us on the climb to Black sail. After Sty head they stayed high for too long and despite us being higher than we should have been we arrived at the control much sooner, being passed by one other team on the descent down. Once we arrived at the control I turned to see what looked like about 8 teams all heading for me from various angles.

We’d dropped down quite a bit for the last control and control 4 was located just over the top of Lingmell which meant a long steep slog up to the corridor route and over to Lingmell. This climb really took it out of me. I think I was ok until this point but suddenly I found myself making the climb much more difficult than I normally make it look. I was stopping and resting and teams kept passing us but eventually, once on the path I tried to keep pushing on.

From Lingmell we had to drop before contouring around Scafell to Slightside to look for a Sheepfold, again the climb slowed me and by the time the ground sort of levelled out I was jogging at a very slow pace and constantly wanting to walk. I hadn’t really eaten anything by this point despite it being a good 3-4 hours (I think) from setting off and I didn’t feel like eating. I’d eaten some crisps and a couple of Maoams a little earlier and tried to eat an energy gel but it didn’t seem to do anything at all for me. The sheepfold came and went and I tried to eat Jordans nutbar I had brought but it just took all the saliva I had in my mouth so I ended up spitting most of it out.

Looking up the valley

Control 6 was on the descent from Whin Rigg as you come of the screes however the path from Slightside/Great How was slow, boggy and a slog in places particularly for my now tired legs. Albert kept pulling away and waiting for me and I kept thinking that he must be getting a little pi55ed off with me but he always met me with a smile and encouraged me to go on this definately felt like the longest leg of the day. The descent down from Whin Rigg, through the bracken was a little slippy and I wished I’d had the grip of my Inov8 Mudclaws. The RocLites I’d chosen were a great shoe overall and I’d chosen then for there comfort and I probably wouldn’t have been able to do the whole weekend in the Mudclaws.

The last few controls on Day 1 were more about covering ground to get you to the campsite. Trekking over farmers fields, then a climbing concrete road before a terrible route choice (the shorter route) across tussocky, boggy ground which overall took the last of the life from my legs. At one point I got stuck in a bog and I had to work them out slowly as they were on the verge of cramping up. There were many times over this last couple of hours where I questioned my sanity and seriously considered retiring despite the fact that there was NO WAY Albert would have let me!

Vicky & Jane crossing the streamApproaching the finish I could see the overnight camp. A farmers field 1/2 full of tents. Portaloos positioned up and down the field and people milling around socialising. Jane and Vicky caught up to us at this point, mainly because of my seriously poor pace at this point. Vicky kindly shared a couple of sportsbeans with me and we plodded on to finish with similar times. I was glad though to get the rucsac off my back as my shoulders were really aching now.

The view from the camp was great and you could see other runners converging as they finished their courses from different directions which carried on for some time after we finished.

Day 1 finished after 8hrs and 18mins.

Spark OutAlbert setup the tent and I don’t seem to recall what I really did at that point. Without too much trouble the tent was up and we both got changed into dry gear (using carrier bags to stop your dry socks from getting wet when you use your wet shoes). We ate and had a coffee and I went to read the results whilst Albert caught an hour. After while I came back to the tent, Albert went for a wander and I thought I would catch a few winks before we ate our 2nd course however I didn’t wake. By the time I woke it was nearly 11pm. Albert was sat in the tent besides me on a foil blanket after eating his 2nd course and making a coffee plus taking a picture of me asleep and none of that woke me up (mind you I was wearing earplugs too).

Albert was ready for sleep now and I decided it was time for a brew as it was too late to eat really so whilst Albert went to sleep I made a brew and sat in the open doorway of the tent watching the yellow moon rise over the top of Seatallan whilst being eaten alive by midges (I’m still scratching now).

Cup of tea in the morningDay 2 and I awoke feeling a little sharper. We had breakfast and a brew and started to pack up the tent. The queue for the toilet was already about 30m long. The “chasing starts” for the the leaders in each group started after 7 and an announcement was made that we could collect our control descriptions for Day 2 and start plotting our intended routes. Mass Starts were from 08:00 – 08:30 so we finished packing our bags, plotted the controls and then went to the start.

The tented village

Vicky and Jane commented that about me still being around for day 2 and I said I was feeling better whilst inside I was hoping I wasn’t going to have a similar blowout to day 1.

With a good track from the start we jogged for a while and I felt ok. The rucsac was on a little tighter as it had chaffed the base of my back on day 1 and I was trying to find a comfortable position for it. It didn’t take long for my shoulders to start aching again though. We dropped off the track and onto the open fell and I lead us on a bum steer by heading off the path too early which meant we had to drop to cross a stream and climb back out; Must pay more attention to the map!

With so many people heading out on the mass start it wasn’t hard on day 2 to locate the controls as there were many people around . Control 1 was easily found and control 2 we dropped right onto because we were following a line of others (although it was a little higher than I expected it to be). Route choice for control 3 now, we started to do a little bit of climbing. Do we go over or round the hills? We decided to go over as they weren’t that big but the ground in between would have slowed down any herd of stampeding buffalo. We made up a little ground before re-joining the line of people that had contoured around.

Like a line of antsAfter plodding over Nether Wasdale Common and losing my bearings again slightly (distance this time) we rounded the hill to see a line of people (similar to a line of ants) heading for a large cairn and as our control was a 2m cairn we headed right for it. Although when Albert checked the control number it wasn’t the control we were after. So a quick “concentrated” look at the map showed my mistake and we headed east for another 500m to the correct control. We weren’t the only ones to make the same mistake too.

Control 4 involved a trek passed Greendale Tarn (Where old Joss Naylor was out for a run and saying hi to a few people) before a steep drop down to Nether Beck and a climb back out alongside Black Beck over Blackbeck Knotts. The two days of trekking were now catching up with me again and ANY climbs slowed my pace right down. Albert offered me a snickers and even suggested breaking it up and leaving it placed on rocks up the site of the hill to coax me along, meanwhile I was doing the Effort vs Reward calculation and thinking a Snickers just wasn’t worth it for that climb. Thankfully Albert just gave me the whole Snickers.

A short trot followed to Control 5 at Scoat Tarn and a climb out of the basin on the east side passing a stream flowing from over the top of a 4-5m high rock which had the loveliest tasting water of the weekend. Once on the path from Red pike, and now in the mist, the navigation for the rest of the day pretty much stayed on paths. We followed the path to control 6 at Wind Gap before climbing up to Pillar. Vicky and Jane had caught is up on the climb from Scoat Tarn and we’d ran together until this point but then descending from Pillar they seemed to drop behind a little.

Control 7 was located just before Black Sail pass so no need for the map from the top of Pillar (There are some steep drops off the north side of that!). I managed to make up ground on the descent passing quite a few people on various different courses. Control 7 was also like a line of ants but with that done we just had the last control in the base of the valley near the Day 1 start.

Final crossing and last controlAs we dropped down the slope near Black Sail, Albert was on a mission “Scree! are you good on scree, lets go!” so we hit a scree run whilst others were gingerly trying not to slip on the grassy slope besides it. At the base of the scree was a small trod that others had aimed for. So we tried to make up ground again passing a few people. My quads were killing me and I had to keep stopping for a break but eventually we crossed the stream to hit the last control then head for the final run in.

Albert was pushing me to jog and I tried where I could. Totally exhausted we arrived back at Wasdale head and I crossed the bridge to finish. Albert headed to download and I went and stood in the stream and washed my legs whilst trying to take it all in.

The queue for food was massive and with Beanfeast and weak tea as the lure we decided to head back to the car to get changed and make a proper brew. It’s amazing how quick the body starts to recover though because after only about 20 mins, some food and a cup of coffee I started to feel much better, although still tired. Once changed, we packed everything into the car and headed for home.

At this point I have to say thank you to Albert, without whom I wouldn’t have been able to take part or even complete this event. He plodded on all weekend and NEVER seemed to be in a mood or be phased by my slow turn of speed. In the next couple of months he will be competing in the IronmanUK (Bolton) and in August is heading back to the Pyrenees to run the 160km Grand Raid des Pyrenees where he believes he can shave a few hours of last years time (where he ran with blisters and a broken toe). Thanks Albert and Good luck!

jjWhilst I didn’t run the Saunders MM for any charity I do support Joining Jack. Please take some time to read about Jack here:


  1. Great write up Mark - that brought back memories of my Saunders attempts with Stewart

  2. You remembered everything! Am sure there will be others ha ha ha.