My first Saunders, and first A/Elite-equivalent mountain marathon course.

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon 2016

Written by Haydn Williams

My first Saunders, and first A/Elite-equivalent-ish mountain marathon course.

My preparation had been thrown off course by a manic week in work, but “puncture on the M6” wasn’t a situation I would have planned for anyway. My arrival at Martindale was slowed slightly by doing 50 mph on the space-saver spare wheel, but I eventually got there and registered for Klets.

That’s right, Klets. The hardest of all the SLMM classes; gulp. I chose that class partly because it’s the only one you can do solo if you’re a man under 45 years of age, but also because I thought I’d read on the website somewhere that distance for day one was 23 km. That sounded eminently do-able, so it was interesting to see a note in the marquee on Friday night giving the straight-line distance as 29 km for day one!

It rained a bit on Friday night, and Saturday morning was distinctly blustery. It was never my plan to be even remotely competitive in terms of placing, and I was thankful that my start time of 08:06 was one of the earliest, thus giving me more time to get around before course closing time. In full waterproofs I picked up my map and control list, and set about marking up the map. On the Klets course you must visit all controls but can choose the order in which you do so. Like the Rab score course last year, this choice threw me a bit and I spent a full 20 minutes at the start ensuring all the controls were marked up and then choosing the order. I deliberately didn’t plan the exact route between them because I wanted to be informed a bit by the look of the land once I got to each one.

SLMM 2016 Day One - 40 km / 2800 m ascent
SLMM 2016 Day One – 40 km / 2800 m ascent

The leg to the first control was a long one, and part-way there I got chatting to another Klets competitor, Karen. We made the same navigational choices at the same pace over the next couple of controls, and stayed vaguely together around the next few. The wind and rain continued, and I was just at my maximum sustainable pace. After six hours of this I had to admit defeat. Despite claiming she was tired, Karen stormed off towards the next control, while I had my first (and only) stop of the day for food and drink.

I chose to go down to the valley floor, then climb 250m up to the next control rather than braving worse weather over the top. Combined with earlier exertions, this proved to be a bad move. It meant I then had another 250 m of climbing to access the following control, and I did not cope well with it. This was definitely the low point of the entire weekend – I was tired, fed up, and wasn’t sure whether I could even finish the day. It was the ascent that was killing me; I was walking as though at altitude, shuffling five steps and then stopping for a rest. Thoughts of just retiring to mid-camp flooded my head, and I was feeling very sorry for myself. I’d been suffering from stomach cramps all day, making it painful to breathe in deeply or eat anything, so I was having to force food down and then stop doubled-over and groaning for a little while before I carried on. It was, dear reader, decidedly rubbish.

Nonetheless, I’m pleased to report that I knuckled-down and carried on to the next four controls as more waves of rain passed over, and eventually I descended the steep muddy slope down to mid-camp at Deep Dale. Unfortunately a couple of other competitors did not make it unscathed, and so MRT were called out twice, with one Air Ambulance evacuation and then a winch by the coastguard later in the day.

Heading into mid-camp at the end of a very long day one. © R & R Photos 2016
Heading into mid-camp at the end of a very long day one. © R & R Photos 2016

After a punishing 9h 39m on the hill I ambled into the sea of tents, where I was greeted with great enthusiasm at Camp Bowline and plied with food goodies while hearing about everyone else’s days. It seems it was generally successful, with no major traumas and some people even catching an afternoon snooze! By this time it was 6PM, so I spent a couple of hours hiding from the rain under a tree whilst cooking, eating and chatting.

On Saturday afternoon I was sure I would spend Sunday just walking home by the shortest route. By Sunday morning I thought I’d have a little run and just skip the last 50% of the day’s checkpoints, particularly since I had little confidence that I could beat the course closure time of 16:00 or the times on individual controls. However, by 10AM I was getting into the swing of things and by midday it became clear that there was a chance I’d make it all the way around. With better weather, less ascent, and more runnable ground, I finally started to enjoy myself. Navigation was fine and I was soon at my penultimate control, where I bumped into Chris and Dale on Kirkfell class (both of whom were still looking cheery). I was amazed that I was still running at this point, and uphill too!

Crossing the finish line, hurrah! © R&R Photos 2016
Crossing the finish line, hurrah! © R&R Photos 2016

A few minutes later I was off the hill and crossing the finish line back at camp. Just shy of 5h 45m on day two gave me a total running time of 15h 21m over the whole weekend, covering in the region of 68 km with 4400 m of ascent (42 miles / 14,400ft). I clearly didn’t take the optimal line and/or order of controls, but it was always about getting around rather than beating anyone. My final position was tenth out of eleven runners, and because I finished within 150% of the winner’s time I’m even allowed to enter the same class next year if I want! We’ll see…

SLMM 2016 Day Two - 28 km, 1600 m ascent.
SLMM 2016 Day Two – 28 km, 1600 m ascent.

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