It’s three years since my last mountain marathon, which was also Saunders – tough, but enjoyable. After a break for Dragon’s Back and injury, it was the social aspect which drew me to this year’s event in the Howgills, just east of the Lake District.
I decided upon the Score class, aka “Fairfield” in SLMM parlance, since I wasn’t really sure where my hill fitness was, and that gave the option of making my own route of a difficulty I felt appropriate on the day! The map presented to me at the start therefore gave me more than 55 potential controls to visit over the two days, each with its own points value. The skill is therefore deciding whether to visit fewer higher-scoring but less-accessible controls, or try and sweep up lots of the easier lower-scoring ones.
Last time I did a score course was the Marmot 24 back in 2015, and my head nearly exploded with the stress of wondering if I was planning a reasonable route. It worked out quite well in the end though, and after a grumpy initial 45 minutes I gained in confidence and used my allocated seven hours to cover 23km and 1675m ascent, for a total of 310 points. That left me in 27th place out of 73 at that evening’s mid-camp. For context, the winner got 653 points! Neverthless, I was pretty happy with my performance.
I estimate that the day was around 85% pathless, with some decent line choices but also some sharp reminders about some of the finer details required of competition nav. I covered less ground than I expected, but I suspect I still have a lot to learn about linking high-scoring controls with runnable ground, and I was carrying gear too.
Like all true mountain marathons you have to carry all of your gear on Saunders, and I decided to go as lightweight as possible this year. I had a pleasant time at mid-camp despite carrying no luxuries, obviously bolstered greatly by the presence of a goodly number of friends providing entertaining company. The words “hot” and “steep” featured heavily in conversations as the evening wore on!
On Sunday morning I felt good, and made the 08:05 mass start. I didn’t want to push my luck on unconditioned legs, so ran a couple of km and knocked off a big climb to hit a 40-pointer, then chose a route home which was very runnable but rather light on points! However, it served its purpose of allowing me to stretch my legs, and reminded me how much I enjoy running. I got a weak 110 points over the day, but had a lovely time blasting along the ridgelines and bumping into plenty of other people on the way.
My Haydn-centric day meant that I dropped to 53rd position overall, but I don’t mind because it was (a) planned and (b) incredibly enjoyable. Even the Score course aspect was fun, which was most unexpected, so perhaps there’s potential to drop some of my own weight, buy some more shiny lightweight gear, and put in a serious effort next year?