Posts Tagged ‘more rain’

Sleep is overrated

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

The start
It's a week after the event, and I'm just about rested enough to string a few vaguely intelligible sentences together, so here goes.

Marmot24, the UK's first 24 hour mountain marathon, was launched a few months ago. The principle is simple – you've got 24 hours to score as many points as you can by visiting controls spread out across an alarmingly large area. You can return to the event centre to eat and/or sleep, or you can keep going for the whole time. As well as the 24 hour option, there are 12 and 6 hour classes, each timed to finish at the same time.

Adopting my usual plan of "try anything once and regret it later" I was keen to give it a go. Carmen didn't take much persuasion, and so last Saturday morning found us in a wet field near Threlkeld with over 80 other like-minded people. Maps were issued at registration, giving us 3 hours or so in which to plan our day. The competition area was huge, about 300 square km, and the route choices limitless. Each control was worth the same, 10 points, but with a few small clusters of relatively close controls.

There were 2 main areas. To the north were Skiddaw, Blencathra, and the hills Back o' Skidda'. To the south were the Dodds and the northern slopes of Helvellyn, with a scattering across St Johns in the Vale, and even some west of Thirlmere; and east to Gowbarrow and Great/Little Mell Fells.

After a lot of staring at the map, we came up with a vague plan. The area to the south had more controls, with a few nice clusters, but many of them looked like they'd involve some tricky technical navigation with lots of knolls, spurs, re-entrants and the like. So we decided to head this way first, while we were still fresh and it was light.

Controls on the two Mell Fell summits were followed by straight paths/roads back to the event centre, and we hoped this would give us an easier night time section. From the  centre, another line of easy-looking options headed back north. By the time we were on to complex terrain again, we hoped we'd be back in daylight. Depending on fitness levels, there were a few options available taking in some or all of the controls at the top of the map.

So much for theory.

Clough Head in the rainSlightly after midday and in heavy rain, we were off, in a mass start. But it wasn't long at all before we were almost alone, with just one other pair choosing the same first control as us; we had no idea if this was a good sign or a bad one! After 3 controls on Clough Head, we dropped back down to the valley, slightly surprised to find the other pair do the same, as it wasn't an obvious route choice! Four controls on Low and High Rigg proved just as tricky as they looked, but we were pleased to get them all right. A few other teams arrived from various directions, and soon disappeared in some more different directions.

A quick up-and-down through the woods of Great How was followed by a long ascent just west of Castle Rock (nobody was climbing today!) then a rising traverse to the upper slopes of Stybarrow Dodd, by which time the rain had stopped and the sun was out. Here the other team who we'd been leap frogging all afternoon, headed south for a control near Brown Cove and we were alone. We crossed to the east side of the Dodds followed by a not-as-hard-as-it-looked ascent back to the ridge NE of Great Dodd.

Control on Middle TongueHere we decided to miss out one of our planned controls in order to get to easy ground by dark, and so a descent to the east was followed by a short road section through Dockray (the pub was extremely hard to resist). The rain returned briefly, but soon disappeared, and we climbed up Gowbarrow Fell in fantastic evening sunshine – we even had the luxury of a good path through the bracken, at least until we left it and fought through undergrowth, tussocks, and bogs to find a couple more technical controls. The first summit tick of the day was Gowbarrow Fell, with a brilliant sunset over Blencathra, after which we followed some good unmarked tracks to reach the road below Little Mell Fell.

Evening light over UllswaterOur plan had been to get here by about 10 – we arrived at 5 past 🙂 Little Mell Fell went smoothly, but Great Mell Fell was hideous, the path for most of the way up obscured by head-high bracken and the path down the far side seeming vertical to my tired knees. But the road from here back to the event centre was at least easy, with fantastic starry skies to look at, though I didn't have enough strength to run much of it. Passing a few worryingly energetic runners going in the opposite direction – hopefully doing the 12 hour course which had started half an hour before! – we arrived back at the event centre after 13 hours, with 190 points in the bag.

We couldn't keep this up of course.

Excellent track up GowbarrowA cup of tea and a quick chat with Shane (though I doubt he understood most of the gibberish coming out of my mouth) were followed by some food. I was feeling ill and could hardly eat anything, just a couple of mouthfuls of vegetable tikka and a banana. And despite changing into dry clothing (3 layers and a new waterproof), I was cold. But forced myself to get going again, just as the rain returned. Carmen of course was doing much better.

The next control was a sheep fold well away from any paths, and head torches wandering randomly around the hillside confirmed it was going to be tricky. So we stuck to the path until the altimeter showed the right height and traversed to it – I was pleased (and surprised) that we hit it almost spot on! Back down to the valley between Blencathra and Skiddaw, here it should have been runnable but I was having trouble even walking. Another control, then past Skiddaw House to a hideous 2km there-and back tussock-and-heather-bash.

SunsetDawn had by now been and gone, obscured by incessant rain with cloud bases down to 300m at times. Our planned route further north was long abandoned, it was just a question of which route to take us back to base. The cloud base rose for a while, making an potentially difficult re-entrant easy, after which some indecision and a change of tack led to a sheepfold.

Still raining, we traversed Mungrisdale Common to the col below Bannerdale Crags, down the valley and up to a final control just south of Souther Fell. At least it was supposed to be the final control. But we had 2 hours left and the centre was half an hour away, so although neither of us wanted to we headed back up into the clouds and increasing wind on Scale Fell before descending into the corrie east of Doddick Fell. This is somewhere I've wanted to explore for years – I don't know why, and having now been there I still don't!

All that remained now was the final sprint (ha ha) back across the fields to the finish. After 190 points in the first 13 hours, the last 9 or more gave us just 70, for a grand total of 260. Some way short of my hoped-for 300, but pretty good considering how I felt for most of Sunday.  47.5 miles and 14,000 feet ascent. Much to our surprise, we found we'd finished in 6th place (out of 42 starters), and picked up the mixed team prize!

With hindsight, we made the mistake of devising two 1-day routes, but without the benefits of a good night's sleep between them, so the second part was always going to be unrealistic. And it would probably have been better to stay out all night, without the long control-free section to get back to and from the event centre – the first two teams did this and were a long way ahead of everyone else.

Another brilliant event from Shane and team, with another fantastic course from Charlie Sproson.

I'm really glad we did it, but next time I think the 12 hour course may be a better choice, I wouldn't do the 24-hour again. Definitely not. Almost certainly not. Probably not.

When do entries open for 2015?

Results here

Our route here

Even web site here

The best OMM for years

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

This year's OMM was held in the Breadalbane area of Perthshire – little visited by walkers other than those slogging up Ben Chonzie, one of the contenders for the most boring Munro. The area had never before used for mountain marathons – too often there is a very good reason for this! But it turned out to be one of the best events for a while.

As the weekend approached the forecast was for persistent heavy rain, gale force winds, and low cloud all weekend. In other words, perfect conditions for those of us who can navigate reasonably well but aren't fit enough to do much running. The event centre was at Cultybraggan Camp, an old WW2 POW camp – very different from the traditional marquee-in-a-field! We didn't get to see much of it though, as we arrived well after dark on Friday evening, and had an alarmingly early start the next morning, catching a bus at 7.15.

The first surprise as we crossed the start line and collected our map is that other than a final compulsory 10-pointer, all controls on the long score course were worth the same, 20 points, so there was no obvious incentive to go for the outlying checkpoints. This had the effect of spreading teams out rather more than usual, there is often an obvious line of high scoring controls to take, but this time there were several equally likely-looking options.

We set off with a rough route in mind, but were going well after a couple of ours, well ahead of schedule, so added on an extra loop. This almost worked well, but after wasting 15 minutes looking for a control in the clag we were forced to miss out our final intended control. Still running short of time we made a very long sprint for the finish, covering the final 5 miles in just under an hour to finish with 30 seconds to spare out of our allotted 7 hours!

It had rained pretty much all day, but just after we'd got the tent up it got much heavier, and we ended up staying put for most of the night, glad that we'd opted for our slightly heavier but much more comfortable tent. All our clothes were either wet or damp, as was my sleeping bag (the waterproof bag wasn't). We were 45th out of 144 starters and 137 finishers (24 other teams entered but for some reason never turned up), and were one of 12 teams all on 210 points. The first 5 mixed teams were all taking part in the chasing start, luckily we were 6th so escaped the added pressure (and super-early start).

Sunday's weather was better than Saturday – still low cloud and windy, but only occasional showers and even some sunshine. The controls reverted to tradition with different scores for each, and we chose to start by a long climb up a hill behind the camp for a 30-pointer followed by a descent back almost to where we'd started. After this, all went more-or-less according to plan, until we were ambushed by a camera crew filming for a forthcoming documentary of some sort. Despite my streaming nose they decided to point the camera at me, so after muttering a few inane sentences I duly led us off in the wrong direction, and we ended up at the wrong control, a mile or so from where we'd been meaning to go. At least they didn't capture that bit on camera!

This detour meant that we didn't have time to get tempted by a final extra 10-pointer (well I was tempted anyway but luckily Carmen's caution won out). We eventually finished with 13 minutes to spare and a score of 180 – 41st on the day, and 40th over all.

We really enjoyed this event, the terrain was interesting with some difficult navigation, and the route choice extensive. Although we never got to the top on our course (some courses had a control on the summit), Ben Chonzie failed to live down to its reputation – most of those who call it 'boring' probably choose the normal ascent via a long landrover track that goes almost to the summit, missing out entirely on its cliffs and corries.

Full results here.
No more photos – although I carried a camera round all weekend, other than a handful of shots on Sunday morning I never turned it on!