I’ve just put in a really poor performance, so that you don’t have to.

How Not to do Marmot24

Written by Haydn Williams

Marmot24. The 24-hour mountain marathon which I so enjoyed last year. Preparation for this year’s race was impressive (by my standards, anyway), since I managed at least two decent nights’ sleep and ate really well (i.e. appropriately!) beforehand.

This year’s event took place around Yarrow, near Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. I received my map of the course at 09:00 on Saturday morning, and spent the next three hours planning and re-planning a route. Last year each control was worth the same value, but 2016 saw the introduction of a true score-type course with controls worth between 10 and 50 points. I’ve never been a big fan of score courses but I think I came up with a reasonable route.

It all looked rosy in Morrison's. © Haydn Williams 2016
It all looked rosy in Morrison’s. © Haydn Williams 2016

We were soon all amassed on the start line, and at exactly midday we set off. My cunning plan involved 5km down the road first, to take me to the start of the jagged anti-clockwise circuit of controls I intended to visit. My first point of entry onto the hill was discarded due to chest-high bracken, only for me to be faced with exactly the same thing at the backup point. From here I reached the first control and set off cross-country towards the second.

Start / finish / in-between funnel. © Haydn Williams 2016
Start / finish / in-between funnel. © Haydn Williams 2016

After a brief road section I hit the main ridge running across the centre of the competition area, and spent a long time slogging uphill on awkward pathless terrain. The main aspect of last year’s event that led to me loving it so much was that the vast majority of it was easily runnable, whereas this year’s start had been the complete opposite. This fact combined with a sizeable heel blister (I never get blisters!) to put me in a particularly foul mood and I even stopped dibbing controls. At the top of Black Knowe Head I decided to head back to the event centre to change shoes and re-assess my route choice, since the cross-country vibe clearly wasn’t working for me.

Race HQ. © Haydn Williams 2016
Race HQ. © Haydn Williams 2016

Even my retreat wasn’t simple, since the broad ridge I planned to follow back to camp didn’t actually have a path anywhere along it. I dropped off the ridge line early, only to receive a massive electric shock from a cattle fence along the way which pushed me further into my stinking mood. On the plus side, I saw a lizard and picked some raspberries as I arrived back at race HQ after four hours.

Hills around Yarrow, as I beat a hasty retreat at 6AM. © Haydn Williams 2016
Hills around Yarrow, as I beat a hasty retreat at 6AM. © Haydn Williams 2016

After a shoe change and some food I went back out, intending to pick up tracks and long-distance footpaths as a bit of a ‘training run’ to salvage something from the trip. The plan was to get some actual running in instead of slow slogging over pathless ground. Alas, I still couldn’t get any kind of pace going on the uphill or the flat, and the fire-break I planned to use to access the forest was completely impassable due to fallen trees. Again I had a sense of humour failure and decided enough was enough – I called it a day and headed home. As with the morning’s escapade this was a bit of a trial; whoever it was at the Ordnance Survey who marked the ‘tracks’ on the map in this part of the world needs to be re-trained I think. Having dibbed no more controls on this outing, my total score was 60. Out of a possible 1,000.

Ouch. © Haydn Williams 2016
Ouch. © Haydn Williams 2016

My second trip out had lasted 3½ hours, and I covered 33km / 900m in total over the course of the day. A reasonable day out, but definitely not what I had planned for an event which I’d been so looking forward to. I spent a sizeable portion of the evening ‘dot watching’ in the marquee with marshalls, support teams and other competitors – every competitor had a GPS tracker, so watching everyone running around in real-time on the map becomes surprisingly addictive.

Awesome birthday present bag sat on awesome mountain bike. © Haydn Williams 2016
Awesome birthday present bag sat on awesome mountain bike. © Haydn Williams 2016

The following morning I was off site by 06:00 to avoid a major road closure, meaning I got home in time for a visit to Sherwood Pines on the mountain bike in the afternoon. I was desperate to prove to myself that the previous day’s debacle was psychological not physiological, and did so with two laps of the Kitchener Trail (27km) in two hours. Clearly the legs still work!

I’m marking this one down as being “one of those days”. I was hoping to do well in this event, given that Great Lakeland 3 Day went well, and Saunders too. I still don’t know exactly where my mojo went, but it seems to have been a temporary blip so roll on Rab in a few weeks with its newly-introduced linear course (hoorah!).

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