Having done a couple of LAMMs and an OMM without suffering complete disaster, Greg and I took on this year’s Highlander Mountain Marathon in Laggan. That makes it sound rather confrontational, but it was actually a very friendly event with some great running (and a lot of hard work).
At the grand old age of 31, I didn’t fancy camping the night before and so we passed the night in relative luxury in a hotel. I’m not sure whether that’s sacrilege on an MM weekend, but it definitely makes life easier. The forecast was reasonable and blue sky abounded as we reached the start field on saturday morning.
A nice bus trip took us to the shores of Loch Laggan, where we had a clear view of the still quite comprehensive snow cover from around 800m. We started the day in high spirits, and they only got higher as we moved up the Allt Coire Ardair to the lochan via two controls. With our recent Snowdonia jaunt proving its worth we then climbed the snow slope out of the back of the cwm.
From our high point of Stob Poite Coire Ardair we flew down good snow to pick up the second half of the day’s controls. I started suffering at this point, losing pace and generally feeling quite sick (something which doesn’t normally afflict me even if I’m really pushing). By the final checkpoint, around 3km from mid-camp, I was about ready to give up and was really only carrying on for Greg’s sake. I crawled to the finish and promptly spent the rest of the evening being violently ill.
With the tummy bug identified as the cause of my slow pace, we enjoyed the warm, dry and sociable atmosphere of the heated ceilidh tent (luxury!) and then I waited overnight to see if breakfast would stay down before deciding whether to retire or not. Fortunately everything went according to plan and so we marked up the controls on the map and started day two with a climb to the first one. Sunday was Greg’s turn to suffer, as a heavy cold combined with him having decided to carry my half of the shared gear as I’d effectively taken on very few calories overnight.
As a result, I had a pretty reasonable day and was able to help pull Greg through his ‘down’ patches. One of these involved a fairly significant fall through a snow bridge and bang to his leg, but he popped a couple of ibuprofen and got on with it.
From control number three we took a slightly devious route to four via the head of a stunning gorge north-west of Meallan Dubh, and then proposed to use similarly cunning tactics from four to five. The fact that everyone was heading off in the opposite direction didn’t bother us, as we thought we were being very clever by going low-and-long to avoid the shorter but very steep and significant climb that everyone else was doing. We were, at this point, unaware that in my befuddled state that morning I must have completely missed one of the controls when reading the list out to Greg. We do have a system for marking down the controls, but it seems it included me as a single point of failure, and I failed. We also have a double-check procedure in place, but it’s predicated on me not being foolish enough to omit controls entirely.
Everyone else was therefore doing the climb because they knew about the control at the top of it! We duly navigated our way to what we thought was the next control, blissfully ignorant of the fact that everyone else had visited another one in the meantime. We obviously weren’t aware of the error at the time, and the last couple of kilometres felt like a battle of attrition with the hillside as we continued to plod our (now 25%-longer-than-the-planner-intended!) way to the last control. That done, we both managed to get a sprint shamble on to the finish line.
Interestingly, we placed 15th on day one and based purely on timings for day two we would have placed about 18th overall. That involves us covering a bit less ascent but a bit more distance, so we can’t have been moving too slowly despite how it felt. Alas, you don’t get extra points for going entirely the wrong way and so for the first time we don’t have a race result. Shocking. Nevertheless, we both had fun and that’s what counts. Apparently *.
Anyway, I can safely say that this was the hardest, snowiest, friendliest, most relaxed, most river-crossingy, and probably overall most enjoyable mountain marathon I’ve done to date. The Saunders is in July and it will have to be pretty special to beat this!
* That’s a joke – I had a great time. :)