Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Pushing my Mountain Marathon boundaries

I love the SLMM but was cross and frustrated when they axed my beloved KLETS course. We tried to get them to change their mind but it was not to be. I stepped up to the KLETS back in 2012 after completing various lower courses with both Matthew, my son, and Rowena my usual partner. It was to be a new set of challenges- running a MM solo and also an interesting mix of linear and score as on KLETS you have to collect all the controls but are not given any order to do so. The solo element was quite scary- carrying all the gear, having nobody to check your navigation and nobody to keep you going at tough times either. That year was also different at the last minute when we were given all the controls for both days.
It was tough but I loved it. I did KLETS every year from then onwards. Often I was the only female either to enter or to finish although there were a couple of years when Kirsty ran too, and won. So what to do in 2019? I didn't want to do score and the only other solo option would be the elite Scafell course that they were re-introducing and beefing up so it was even harder. This really would be a challenge and I knew I would need many things going in my favour on that weekend. The organisation of the SLMM has changed a little in the last two years and suddenly we were no longer needed to park camper-vans. The big bonus was an inside sit down job instead! It did mean that I also got to see the others on my course when they registered and to panic at how young, tall and fit they were. I was the oldest person and in the end only one other female ran.

The Howgills are beautiful and I have run there a number of times, including an OMM and a Capricorn, but I do not know them well. I was aware that if we had low cloud the navigation could be tricky with lots of potential for ending up in the wrong valley.
Big valleys and tops
Also usually when I run there I stick on the ridges whereas I knew the planner for this would not be so kind. the valleys are very steep and very big. Having collected a succession of injuries I arrived at the event not really knowing how far I would get, never mind whether I could complete the course.
Fantastic blue sky!
A good weather forecast with no low cloud or rain persuaded me to stick with it. After an easy time at registration I slept well in the van.
I had an early start and beat the crowds
I had a lazy amble to the start on Saturday and was there so in advance of my 8.06am start that I had time to chat to the planner. It was already warm and clearly going to get hotter. I mind this less than most people so that was fine.
I took my time marking up my map. Without a partner to check against it seemed worth the extra minutes. An odd looking course with the first four CPs in a loop that ended with us looking straight back down on the parking field. Then another loop much later over on Wild Boar Fell but I had expected that. I had even guessed the location of the mid camp correctly. A steady climb saw me find CP1 with no bother.
Just before the first big up (of so many)
I got pulled a bit off line by the path and others but it meant a fenced area as a good attack point. On my way to CP2 Richard came past me and I tried not to worry that this meant I was going slowly.We took different lines to CP2 and even to CP3 but soon after 3 we were back together and going at roughly the same pace for a while. Different lines to CP5 saw Richard pull away again but I could still see him and others from time to time. It is easy to be 'influenced' by others and I was now. After crossing a dodgy landslip after CP5 when I reached the col I spotted the others contouring the next hillside. It wasn't long before I wished I had stuck to my plan of a ridge run! It went on and on, was steep and my feet were sliding in my shoes. It hurt.

 Richard was up ahead and starting to take rests so maybe I wasn't doing too badly. On the way to CP7 I chatted with a young man called Duncan who is the same age as our sons. I moaned I was too old whereas he was worried he was too young and inexperienced to do this alone. After the roads and crossing Wild Boar Fell first Steve Birkinshaw ran past (so he had caught up almost 2 hours on me) and then Shane Ohly.  I stopped for water but didn't want to sit down and eat. I wished I had remembered to pick up the sweet potato from the van. Once we had reached the summit and were descending I felt better. I lost Duncan and caught Richard.
Lots of big descents and equally big climbs
The run to CP10 was lovely and I reminded myself of The Yomp route which crosses the same area but in reverse. Richard and I were now together and it would stay that way until the end. It was good to have company and I think we helped push each other a bit. It was a bit of a trek to CP12 to finish our loop on this fell but then fast to CP13 and the end was getting closer. We stopped to eat, drink and bathe our hot feet before tackling the last lump. I had sort of persuaded myself that this bit was short and easy. It wasn't steep but at this stage any hill felt enormous. There was a lovely downhill to the road and bridge that would lead us through to the finish field.  Yes, finally, I had done it. I was so relieved, just a little tearful and very very tired. I queued to collect my milk and then sat drinking a coke (Thanks Janet) before I could even contemplate putting up my tent. All the flattish spots near download seemed to be taken so I wandered down to the next field and the toilets. It would do. I later cursed all the selfish people who let the doors slam but on the plus side I was right next to the path and so got to chat to many people without even needing to leave my tent.

I must have looked a wreck because the people next to me even offered to put my tent up. Neo air pumped up and I could relax with a drink. Despite thinking I had drunk pretty well during the day I did seem dehydrated. My ankle was fat again and my shin swollen again too but neither was really painful. Once fed I wandered up to the results. Not too bad at all. First woman, second Vet (I don't mind being beaten by an icon like Steve B) and 7th /13 or /16 starters on the solo. My 9hrs 5 would have put me 5th on the pairs too.  Before long I felt the need for another lie down and more food. Bob had bailed with a sore leg so I collected his milk and decided to drink it while it was a bit chilled. Not much later I was in my bed. Not easy to sleep even though I was tired thanks to the summer light and the banging toilet doors but I did doze off and got about 6hrs total in the end.

Sunday was forecast to be slightly cooler with a little more cloud. It was. There was also no wind so the midges at camp were awful. I stayed in my tent as long as I could and the bonus of being solo was I had plenty of space to pack things away, map up my map and study route options as well as eating. Eventually it could be put off no longer and I braved the world to take the tent down. Richard and I had had hatched a plan where we might try to start together and see if we were going at the same pace. No binding deal but I think we both hoped it would help with pace, motivation and maybe even nav when we were tired. Studying the map I had already spotted that we were likely to have more running today and scope for sticking to some ridge paths for at least some of the time.

Richard set off fast and half way up the first hill I was already doubting any hope of us running together. Then suddenly I caught him on the descent to CP2. I had not expected that as I don't think of the downs as my forte. Great news. The next leg looked tricky in terms of route choice. We both agreed that there would be mega climb and unless we were confident of moving fast on a loopy ridge run we might as well just go straight up and get on with it. Just as well we were together as Richard had mis-marked his map and almost punched the wrong control. We were now almost half way, in terms of the number of CPs at least. We also got a bit of a boost when we saw others on our course and realised that some were already retiring. Katie joined us for a short while but we were soon alone again. Sneaking a peep at the next leg my heart sank.  Right back towards the mid camp again!
Paths at last on Day 2
The upside was a wonderful ridge run heading south over all the top peaks. I loved this bit and pushed hard. Less than two minutes behind Steve B on this leg! BUT, it was a long way down to CP4 and what goes down must come back up again.

The fast pace took its toll and by CP5 we were knackered enough to take a breather before the mega climb back up to The Calf. At least some nice ridge paths were our reward and CP6 came quite quickly. I had convinced myself that 6-7 was no big deal but again there were some steep ridges to cross. I started worrying about being timed out. We had to be back by 4pm and time was slipping away.

It felt like all the competitors had gone home with just a doze of us out on the hills. I couldn't bear the thought that all the hard work could be for nothing. Then suddenly CP7 appeared along with cheerful singing girls. A huge elephant track led the way from there to CP8 and the end. I was off! I did stop and wait while Richard was sick again. We had spent the day together and it seemed to storm off.

The final drop to the lane was tough on sore feet but we felt like we were sprinting on the lane for the final 500m. (bet it didn't look like a sprint to others though).

Wow. I had done it, my first Scafell class and then first female as a bonus. The prize giving and Nicky Spinks were long gone but I was given my shot glass and voucher.

Roger kindly refused to kit check me on the grounds that he knew I would be carrying everything, get kit checked most years and possibly because I looked like I might cry or thump him if he insisted on me emptying my sack. Bob kindly got me tea and food and slowly I felt more human. Richard came to join us and then Katie arrived too. Fantastic.

After an hour or so I felt better. Trashed but happy. I now also have an invite to the Japanese OMM in the autumn. Wow that would be a real adventure, thanks Richard now I need to see if I can do it. Thanks to Josie and other who I have pinched photos from and the guys at Event Safety for the overnight ice-pack.