Exe-rated runners!

Exe-rated runners!
The successful Harriers team, en masse, at the Erme Valley Relays, July 2013

Thursday, 12 July 2012

6 Harriers tackle the tough Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon

On the weekend of 7th / 8th July, 7 Harriers (6 competitiors and one support member!) made the long trip north up the M5 and M6 motorways to the Lake District to take part in the 2 day, self-sufficient Saunders Mountain Marathon. The following report by competing Harrier, Terry Oldham, and the accompanying photos from Terry and Kaie, give you a real flavour of the event:

In the north of England is a place of magic. It is hidden away on the north west of the country and it is called Wasdale in Cumbria. Those of you that know it will immediately have an image of the mountains towering above the valley and the small hamlet of Wasdale Head. For those of you who don’t know it, a few photos will follow. On the evening of Friday the 6th July 2012, this valley and the mountains around were wrapped in layers of fast moving cloud and whipped by the gale force winds, which, even on the deep quiet waters of Wastwater, had created small foam topped waves that pushed headlong down the length of the lake. It was a beautiful and fearful side of the mountain magic.

Into this maelstrom came a group of walkers and runners taking part in the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon. The Harrier representatives were Bob Keast, Paul Champion, Sue Wilkin, Dave Backway, Katie Comer, Lorraine Gilson and Terry Oldham. All of these hardy bunch, save for Sue, who was in the role of support crew, took part in the marathon but in two different categories. Bob and Paul were in the ‘Carrock Fell’ category, and Dave, Katie, Lorraine and Terry in the ‘Kirk Fell’ category. They all had a challenge ahead of them, and Bob and Paul successfully completed their challenge finishing 89th, but the Kirkfell entrants had to settle for being unplaced due to missing a control point (or two...!). So, what went wrong for the ‘Kirkfellers’?

That category means that you do a nominal 13 miles or so on each day. However, the distance is actually calculated using a point to point measure taken from each control point. The actual distance is much greater and can be calculated based on both the more circuitous route, added to which is a measure of allowing 1 kilometre for 100 meters of climb. As the organisers prohibit the use of GPS (as this can be used as a navigation aid) you need to estimate distance and height. The organisers give you an estimate of total ascent for each day and so you can produce some sort of distance from that. An estimate of distances by the Kirkfellers gives something in the order of 18 - 20 miles on each day.

The control points must be visited in a certain order, and you have to find them with the aid of a grid reference, a short description and a map. So, you have to add in the time it takes to plot your map, and your course as you make your way from control point to control point. Add to that the weather conditions and the terrain, everything from crags to peat bogs and more besides, you can then judge how you have performed.

Unfortunately, on day one, there were two C.P.s which required a route across an exposed area of ground beneath Scafell Pike, and heading towards Brown Tongue. Lorraine here experienced an attack of vertigo and so she and Terry, forming a Mixed Vet team, had to descend down to Lingmell Gill and take a lower route, with the intention of taking another less exposed route back up to the high ground. However, once down they did not relish the ascent, so they took the decision to find another route and miss out the C.P.s. This meant they were out of the competition for places. However, they made their way to pick up the route at a different point and reached the overnight camp (Note: you have to carry all your kit for an overnight camp which is held at an undisclosed venue until the day of the race). This took Lorraine and Terry about 7 and ¾ hours. Dave and Katie, in the mean time, had pressed on and picked off the two C.P.s and were heading around the back of Whin Rigg before crossing Nether Wasdale and on to the Nether Wasdale Common and the overnight camp. It took them 9 ¾ hours having visited all the C.P.s, but they were still in the competition.

On day 2, the route finding was going very well and the Kirkfellers were picking off the C.P.s as they went along. But the route on this occasion took in a huge area of Caw Fell which is mainly peat bog and was brimming to the rim with water, so they were slowed down to a walk for most of the day. Although the day started bright, by the middle of the day large amounts of cloud had formed at high level and with that some drizzle and reduced visibility. Slogging across the wet ground brought them up to Buckbarrow and they then had to climb up to Scoat Fell and make their way to Pillar, and then a descent via Black Sail Pass. By the time they reached CP 6 on an exposed area called Windy Gap, beneath Pillar, in thick cloud and drizzle, they had to make a choice either to continue the route and take in all the C.P.s but be timed out, or miss out a CP, CP 7, and complete the event in the time given (which was a short window of 8 hours for day 2). Rather than be timed out, they decided to exit from Windy Gap down a scree slope (sometimes known as a chute), and not for the faint hearted, and down to Wasdale Head and the finish, where they did finish with just 30 minutes to spare.

Bob and Paul however had had a much better second day and once again had ticked off all of their C.P.s and were headed for home well within the cut off time. They took 7 hours 51 minutes for day one, and 6 hours 48 minutes for day two, and so a combined time of 14 hours 39 minutes and 11 seconds, finishing 89th team in their class. Congratulations to them both.
As for the Kirkfellers they had had a hugely challenging experience over two days, and were all well and truly k……tired out. All were disappointed not to have claimed a position, but the navigation element had gone well without any more than the odd hesitation, so all were justifiably satisfied with that. Also, bearing in mind the challenges of the category (and they may well now drop down to the Carrock Fell category for next year), they all felt they had done as much as they could in the time available. In addition, as the photographs confirm, they all had a jolly good time! And, after all, that is why we do these things isn’t it?

The venue of the camp is not disclosed until arrival - couldn't have any cheating by depositing supplies early to save on weight carrying them!

Terry heading up towards one of several checkpoints on day 1.

Navigational debate in progress... "I'm telling you man, it's this way"!!

Navigational error leads Lorraine into a stealth bog!

The views were just reward for the hard slog up Scafell.

The gang, having made a tricky ascent up a scree slope to one check point.

Some well deserved cider at the end of day 1 for Katie and Dave!

Paul mistook Terry and Lorraine's camper van for the chip wagon!

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