Kong Mountain Marathon

Fran Blackett

  • Arran, Scotland
  • August 2022

This was the first two day mountain marathon organised by the team that have been behind the ‘mini mountain marathon’ series for the past ten years or so and the first mountain marathon held in Scotland since the final LAMM in 2018. When the location was announced, it seemed rude not to go and support this new venture.

For Andy and I this event came at the end of a month long van/cycle touring family adventure along the length of the Outer Hebrides and then back down through mainland Scotland. Our participation in the event was only possible thanks to the dedication of my mum who drove up from Durham, and met us on the Arran to take over childcare duties for two days whilst we went and destroyed ourselves in the mountains.

As a result of all this, we were probably the least prepared running wise that we have ever been going into one of these events. However, this did mean that I was probably the most relaxed. The pressure was off. If I was rubbish then I had 5 weeks of little to no running to blame! The weather was set fair and as we took the short ferry ride from Ardrossan to Brodick and the mountains of Arran came into view then I felt really excited for the weekend ahead.

We were not the only Durham Fell Runners to have made the journey. Steve Lumb and Tom Carter were taking on the A course (running with separate partners), Digby Harris was on the long score course and Meghan and Rory were running together on the C course. Here is my account our Arran adventure.

Day 1 – 30km, 1541m ascent

The weather was incredible and as we set off we were in high spirits. The first few checkpoints were relatively straight forward and there were plenty of cheerful and friendly exchanges with fellow teams on the hill. Our first decision came as we looked at our route from CP 4 to 5. Andy was very taken with a route that went over an inviting and attractive looking ridge. I was more keen on a riskier route that descended below the ridge and contoured through a bog. As we mulled over ‘midge or ridge’ neither of us were keen to budge. In the end we went midge and I was relieved that it was a good line! Then from CP 5 – 6 the fun really started. It looked relatively straight forward on the map. What the map didn’t tell us was just how horrific the terrain was: tussocks, reeds, tree saplings for four long kilometres. The cheery exchanges with fellow teams were now grumblings and mutterings about how slow and grim the terrain was.

Battling our way through this sapped our enthusiasm for the game!

After finally reaching CP 6 we were heading inbound to mid camp. Although there was still a long way to go, it felt good to be heading in the right direction. One more decent climb ( I am sure it was steeper than it appears in this photo. It certainly felt it!) and then everything else was pretty straight forward until our final route choice to the final CP of the day.

Grovelling my way up this climb to a summit checkpoint

Andy was keen on the direct line. I had spotted a slightly longer route that got us off the rough ground more quickly and joined a path along to the CP which was on the path/stream junction. I was tired. I wanted to be off the hill. It seemed a safe option. Andy didn’t feel strongly about his route and so we took my line. And we were glad that we did. The direct route down off the hill to the CP went through what was marked as ‘mixed woodland’ on the map. In reality this was impenetrable rhododendrons, trees and gorse. Many teams lost a lot of time negotiating this. Finally the finish was in sight. We were very relieved to have made it.

Midcamp: As we made our way towards the camping fields we saw a guy eating his meal in the middle of the road. ‘Are the midge that bad?’ ‘Yep’. He was not wrong. The midge situation was desperate.

This picture here shows me blowing up my Neoair through my midge net. Yep. It was that grim.

A respite from the midge was provided by a Ceilidh (with bar) that had been arranged by the organisers. A room full of sweaty runners all in their hill gear giving their all to some excellent dancing must have been quite the sight.

Day 2 – 27km, 1576m ascent

I am not sure how to give an account of day 2 without it being a massive whinge but I will give it a go! This was the hardest day I have ever had on a mountain marathon. Maybe the hardest day in the mountains I have ever had! The lack of fitness played a part. My base fitness was good enough for one tough mountain day. When I asked my body to go again the next day, it did not have a lot to give.

After a glorious 400m along a path, the day got going with our first climb. Up through wet grassy tussocks which made my legs (cut to ribbons by the previous day’s fun) sting like crazy and then deteriorating into loose, grumbly rock that just came away in your hand. It’s 745am.

Me: Is it too early to lose my sense of humour?

Andy: Yes

The first climb of day 2.

CP 1 was successfully located and we tried to rally ourselves. It was another clear and beautiful day. The sight of runners silhouetted against the skyline struck me. This is a pretty crazy game to play but there are these incredible moments of peace and calm among the stress.

A brief moment of calm

We were taking each CP one at time, trying to remember to eat and taking turns to boost moral when low moments became too much. And then we reached a rising contour into a hanging valley across rough boulder and heather covered ground. This was the lowest of the low points. As we approached the ridge line to a checkpoint ‘cross on a hill’ (I think I will always remember this one) it was all too much. 

Me: I just can’t do it any more

Andy: Well I’m not going back down through that **** ground

Me: I don’t want to go back down there either

Andy: Well then you’ll have to keep going up

Me: I don’t think I can

Andy: What do you want to do then?

Me: Call for help

Andy: Fran, I am not calling Mountain Rescue

Upon reflection. I think Andy was right. To call for help was not the best course of action. He let me sit down for a few minutes, gave me a gel and we regrouped for the final push because as it had taken us so long to get to this point we were now in a race against the clock to beat the 4pm cut off. Miss the cut off and we would DNF the whole weekend. Brutal. The next checkpoint was the summit of Goatfell and then it was a long and painful descent down to the finish line. It was tight but we made it with just 10 minutes to spare. The sight of my mum and the boys at the finish line was such a joyous feeling (although they had spent so long waiting they were more interested in their snack they’d just been given!) and there was so much relief at having made it.

Joss and Kenny cheering us in to the finish
Day 2 finish – a low key end to an epic 2 days

In the end we finished 26th of 29 finishers. 14 teams DNFd so I like to count these and say that we finished 26th of 43 starters. Meghan and Rory finished 5th in the Short Score. Digby Harris finished 9th in the Long Score. Tom Carter did not finish a brutal A course. Steve Lumb’s partner was injured during day 1 on the A course so they did not complete. He ran with a new partner on day 2 (as her partner was also injured) and so completed with A course with an *!

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (SLMM)

Eskdale, 2022

What is it?

‘The Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (SLMM) is a two-day mountain navigation competition (or race) that is held annually in the Lake District for teams of two runners.

The event comprises  6 linear courses of varying lengths and technical difficulty and one ‘score’ course where competitors choose which controls to visit over a 2 day total of 12 hours.

The first day finishes at a mid-way campsite. Competitors must carry the lightweight camping and safety equipment listed in the rules. Competitors need to be competent in the use of map and compass in the mountains’

How did the 2022 SLMM go?

This year the event centre was in Eskdale. A beautiful location. DFR member Joe Addison had headed over earlier in the day on Friday with his running partner, armed with beer and deck chairs ready to do some carb loading whilst soaking up the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the weather was distinctly ‘unSaunders’ like (sunshine is usually pretty much guaranteed). For those of us who arrived on Friday night, heavy rain meant it was a mad dash to complete registration and then back to tents or vans to hide from the weather.

For Andy and I this was our fourth Saunders together and our eighth mountain marathon. So we have our getting ready routine pretty sorted. By this I mean Andy keeps telling me to stop faffing and aims to leave 5 mins before we actually need to leave so we passed James Osborn’s van in plenty of time on our way to the start. Andy stuck his head in to wish them good luck to be met with James and his partner Matt staring at food laid out on the van floor with James realising he had forgotten to pack anything for his breakfast on Sunday morning. It seemed best to leave them to it. James can run for 8 hours on one mini snickers bar so we weren’t overly concerned for them!

Thankfully, the worst of the weather cleared by Saturday. There were some heavy showers during the day but nothing too dramatic, the cloud stayed high enough and the wind was not as high as forecast.

Andy, myself, James, Matt and Digby were all in the Kirkfell class. Digby and his partner had a great run on Saturday, finishing top of the DFR entries. Andy and I did not have our finest day. We made some questionable navigation decisions, running 36km (3km further than James and Matt). Cue plenty of self-analysis!

In the Wansfell class, Patrick Bonnett was running with his daughter Emily. This was also the class that Joe Addison was running in.

This year the mid-camp was in Wasdale Head. It really was a spectacular location. A lovely breeze coming off Wast Water kept any midges at bay. Two camping fields meant we could all spread out and there were plenty of non-boggy, flat spaces to pitch your tent. A real treat. Although we did spend the evening staring up at Yewbarrow towering above us promising that no one was going over that in the morning!

Patrick’s camp
If you ever come to a Saunders, don’t camp next to Patrick. He always has the gourmet food. And isn’t up for sharing.
Patrick enjoying his gourmet grub.

On Sunday, Digby had another strong day and finished well in 8th place. In consoling ourselves on Saturday night, I told Andy that we always have a strong second day and we did have a much better day. We concentrated a lot better and continued to move OK. We came within two minutes of the next pair but this was not enough to make up for Saturday’s losses and move us up any places.

James and Matt, Kirkfell, start of day 1
Fran and Andy, Kirkfell, end of day 2.
Patrick and Emily, Wansfell, finishing day 2

Overall, it was another fantastic event. Always so well organised. It is hard to describe the intensity of spending two days out in the hills hunting for checkpoints but I find it such a welcome relief from the everyday. I would be no good going for a spa weekend. I would just lie there thinking about all the other things I should be doing. For me, these two days of pure mountain fun are such a treat.

‘A great weekend in a rarely visited part of the Lakes. Well organised, friendly and competitive enough to make for a challenging couple of days but without being too ‘hair shirt’ Patrick Bonnett

‘Another fabulous weekend at the Saunders hunting down checkpoints, this time in Eskdale and surrounds. We were blessed with an overnight camp beside Wastwater to debate the day’s route choices over a beer. A civilised and inclusive event catering for people of all abilities’ Digby Harris

‘A great way for like-minded individuals to have as much fun as they can and eat as much rehydrated food as they can possibly carry. It can be a ‘leisurely’ holiday or a real challenge and anything in between.’ Joe Addison

‘Matt and I both agreed in the run up to the event that we would take it easy. Matt was recovering from a ruptured Achilles a couple of years ago and I was still recovering from a round of tendinitis. Neither of us were on our A-game. It started well and we were moving well together. The Blacketts were only 5 minutes behind so we could hear their intimidating calls at the early checkpoints. We made some great route choices through the day that played out well despite our relaxed effort. Only one nav error, which is pretty good for me! Matt had his poles out most of the time that left me to do the nav – a risky move! Overnight camp on the side wastewater was incredible. Just enough breeze to keep the midges away and good chat with everyone else. Day 2 and Matt was struggling a bit with his hip. We decided to walk back. The route choice changed from ‘fastest’ to ‘easiest’ and we had a nice day in the hills. Overall a great weekend with great people and plenty of hours in the hills. I give Saunders Mountain Marathon 5*. Would recommend.’ James Osborn

If reading this has tempted you to think about having a go then we have plenty of club members with incredible mountain marathon experience. I would not even like to guess how many Mark Bevan, Alan Hunt, Patrick and Steve Lumb among others have done between them and I know they would be happy to answer questions/give encouragement.

Roll on the next one; Kong Scottish Mountain Marathon on Arran http://kongmountainmarathon.org.uk Entries open until 20th August. I can’t wait. 

Ladies on Tour

This morning a group of ladies from our Tuesday sessions (plus special guest Clare O) had a wonderful run from Reeth. We had the wind to our backs as we made our way up on to Fremington Edge and then, sheltered by the wall, had a lovely run along the ridge. Then came the fun bit! It is such a wonderful descent down a springy, grassy path before a short, steeper technical section. The section along by the river is always more undulating than you would like it to be but we were back in Reeth before we knew it. A fabulous, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable run out!

DFR Ladies Nights are up and running

It was not planned that our very first Durham Fell Runners Ladies session would take place on International Women’s Day but it felt pretty powerful that it did. 

Having recently completed my Leader in Running Fitness course it was my main aim to set up these sessions as a way of making that leap into joining a new running club a little less intimidating and for new female members. The vision is that these sessions are accessible to all, regardless of current fitness levels, with the focus being on getting out into the forest, building confidence and just taking in the magic that running somewhere remote gives.

And so it was that last night thirteen brave ladies took the plunge and came to Hamsterley Forest for the very start of this adventure. It was a lovely early spring night with little wind and a lovely moon peeping through the trees as we completed our warm up then set off for a lap of the Gruffalo trail where we learned and practised the art of looping back. When we run out this will mean that no one is left behind and that everyone is able to keep moving at their own pace. Then we completed a paired activity with the focus being on maintaining a consistent pace. It is fair to say that everyone absolutely smashed it with some very impressive timing. Then we had a cool down and before we knew it the session was finished. 

 A huge thank you to everyone who turned up – you were fantastic.    See you at the next session on 22nd March.    If you have any questions then please email me at fblackett@outlook.com.   If you fancy joining us then come along for our next session, we meet at 1900 in the main Hamsterley Forest car park.   

Thank you for a truly inclusive first session. And having the moon out and listening to the river added to the magic.

Rachel

Hexhamshire Hobble

Running for DFR today: Meghan McCarthy (30th), Marie-Louise Ridley (47th) Jim Clapp (53rd), Fran Blackett (71st) 

We had a good turnout of runners for DFR at the Hexham Hobble today. Given the events and challenges of the last week I think that we were all feeling extra grateful to the organisers and marshals for getting this race put on. The Hexham Hobble is a great route of about 16km with roughly 400m ascent. It is always incredibly well marshalled and, at points, flagged making it an excellent introduction to fell racing if you have never done one before. In fact, it was my very first fell race back in 2013. I ran it again in 2014 but then hadn’t returned until today. When I entered on a whim a few weeks ago I was imagining a lovely, crisp winter morning with all bogs and puddles frozen over. I should have known better. Andy always bets his left testicle that there will be snow at the Hobble. Although the weather was pretty kind (just a bit of an icy headwind on the second half…), the conditions underfoot were pretty horrific: wet, slippy mud; icy patches; soft snow (not the nice frozen kind that you can run along); slushy, FREEZING cold puddles and bogs. I was full of regret at deciding not to wear waterproof socks. The first climb is the worst, steep up the road out of Allendale and then it levels off as you turn off the road onto tracks and trods across the fell. Then it is undulating until you hit a middle road section with a steep down and then up back onto the fell before a final road section as you descend back into Allendale and the finish. As per the race organisers instructions everyone dispersed quickly at the finish so I can only assume that everyone had a great time! And the ladies managed to scoop the team prize so that was an exciting bonus! 


Thanks to Tom Bentley for the photos.