The one where it was all virtual.

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon 2020

Written by Haydn Williams

I’ve only done Saunders a couple of times, but both have been very good fun and very sociable. This year was a little different because of what is now universally and euphemistically known as “the current situation”. The usual gatherings of lots of people were replaced by a digital course which was open for several weeks.

The forecast was for clear blue skies and glorious sunshine, which is what I woke up to.

Chilly outside but warm in the van.
© Haydn Williams 2020

I squeezed the van through some ridiculous narrow lanes (including one marked 6’6″ which I found out afterwards that it technically shouldn’t have fitted down), and eventually got to the start to meet Adrian, James and Andy.

View from the start. [Not shown: M6 behind]
© Haydn Williams 2020

The marvels of modern technology mean you can download and print a map of the controls, then wander/race around with your phone or watch, and it will automatically log when you hit each control. It also knows when you’ve hit the course time limit of six hours, and will penalise you accordingly! All of this is done through the magic of MapRunF and, if you have a Garmin watch, MapRunG.

Sunny! For now…
© Haydn Williams 2020

With last year’s race also taking place in the Howgills, the strategy I’d decided upon beforehand was ‘take it easy, and see the bits I didn’t get to last year’. We all set off at the same time, and Adrian and I went together to the first control before heading our separate ways. This led me immediately into the southern half of the course, taking in some typical Howgills terrain of big descents into valleys and incredibly steep climbs back out (hey, it’s all good training).

The sun soon started fading away, and by the time I’d trotted over The Calf things were looking decidedly inclement.

It was at this point that two things happened: having run better than expected, I suddenly decided I wanted to be more competitive than relaxed; and I realised that I therefore needed to move north to the points, and fast.

My subsequent navigation was pretty decent, even if the actual route choice wasn’t entirely optimal. I finished with about 20 minutes left on the clock, but having been penalised heavily before because of timing issues (Roc MM a few years ago), I’m now paranoid.

My final result was 44th out of 132 completions, putting me just inside the top third. My watch showed 25.9 km and 2,300 m of ascent, so not a bad day out at all. I think everyone was pleased just to have a day on the hill regardless of how it went – James suffered technical issues so did the running but without the scoring (gutted), Adrian promised he wasn’t doing anything more than a training run and then stormed it, while Andy led the results for the next couple of weeks before eventually finishing fourth overall. A nice run, but made much nicer by spending it with human beings in some semblance of normality.

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