Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon 2003: St Johns in the Vale

Damon sent me this write-up, which I am posting here for posterity. I expect it is on the Westerlands CCC website too, but I couldn't find it.

Runner, Why do you Run?

This was the title of a Boat-Race write-up exquisitely crafted by Chris Menhennet a few years back. It's a question that occurred to me several times over the first weekend of July, as I lumbered around the Elite class of the Saunders Mountain Marathon trying to stay within sight of Crispin, cursing the horrendous bracken, tussocks and concealed boulders of the first day that cruelly exposed my soft centre, and the fast runnable paths of the second day that revealed the true extent of my lack of fitness.

Perhaps the question should have been, 'Runner, why don't you run?'. Of only a dozen or so training runs I had managed in the previous four months, the longest was the Kilpatricks Hill Race. Thus, with a background of virtually no training, I set off for the Lakes at 1 a.m. on the Saturday morning with a fluttering stomach and water in my bowels. I'd stepped in as a late replacement when Manny suddenly remembered that he's a big girl, and would rather a 5-mile leg of the canal relay than having to dirty his socks on the Helvellyn range and I had serious suspicions that I'd flounder on the first day and spoil Crispin's weekend.

Conditions could hardly have been better on day 1. Overcast, 60-odd degrees and a cloud-base of about 2000ft. This meant that the tops were in clag, but for a struggling donkey with no sweat-glands, the fine mist was pleasantly cooling, and as I had very little part in the early navigation, the lack of visibilty wasn't really my problem. It merely saved me from seeing the monstrous nature of the hills we were expected to negotiate.

The first three check-points were pretty straight-forward, with a fair amount of good running and no real navigational difficulties. Thereafter, starting with a long, long third leg, things started to go downhill. A wall Crispin was climbing succumbed to his considerable mass and collapsed under him. I watched in alarm as he tumbled to the ground from a height of about 5 feet, with enormous boulders cascading around him. Fortunately his generous padding protected him from injury.

I'd gone like a bull at a gate up the first climb (not an entirely new tactic for me, I'll admit) and after a couple of hours running was starting to feel pretty shagged and not a little grumpy. Checkpoints 4-9 were in horrible steep, rocky terrain, and although upping my J.B. and Geobar consumption had restored my spirits, I was having to work bloody hard to prevent total melt-down.

Crispin had a rough patch around checkpoints 7 and 8, during which I rallied to some extent. Leg 9 was a bugger of a contour and the descent to the day's finish was a complete bastard on steep slippery grass and wet rocks, for which my road-shoes had no answer. We trundled into the mid-camp bruised and knackered, and were astonished to find that we'd completed the day in second place, 20 minutes behind the leaders and 10 minutes clear of third place.

Crispin had sounded a bit preoccupied on the phone when I said we'd have to use his tent, as mine was bought to accommodate a family of six. His, it transpired, had been bought specifically for one, and was, by his own admission as we stood looking at it in dismay, 'a bit like a bloody coffin'.

Nothing, however, would have stopped me sleeping like a corpse (fittingly), and after a couple of cans of lager (just to make sure), 5 packets of supernoodles and a limp down to the shores of Ullswater, I crashed out in my sleeping bag and slept, without stirring and with my mouth gaping unattractively, for 10 hours.

The morning revealed a groin-strain, 2 blisters, a swollen ankle, chaffed thighs, bruised toes and shoulders and a mild hangover - 2 cans being more than I've drunk in months.

We'd made the chasing start and set off 20 minutes after the leaders, whom we were not to see for the rest of the day. At each checkpoint we asked for the gap, and it never varied by more than three minutes, which pleased us almost as much as it amazed us. The down-side was that this encouraging progress meant that Crispin wouldn't allow me to stop for a picnic and 40 winks.

On the first day Crispin's navigation had been excellent, with probably less that 3 minutes of the 7 hours spent looking for checkpoints. On the second day it was truly inspired, as time and again he hit it right on the button. The only leg on which we may have lost a couple of minutes was the one on which I volunteered my sole piece of navigational input, persuading him against his better judgement to add distance to his proposed route to take us onto a lovely smooth Land Rover track for a few miles. Unfortunately by the time we hit it I was too shagged to muster much more than a fast shuffle, and comparing leg times with our competitors at the end it emerged that we had lost more on this leg than on any other.

A pig of a climb to the end of this leg (the fifth) took its toll, and after an easy sixth we laboured up the final climb of the day, on a route on which I repeatedly expressed doubts about our bearing. Unsurprisingly, I was talking bollocks, and we dropped bang onto checkpoint 7 exactly where Crispin expected. From here it was a manic descent on a narrow trod to the end. The wind in his sails, the nimble youngster skipped on ahead as I yelped and hopped in his wake, cursing the pain in my groin and feet (8 blisters and two departing toe-nails) with every step.

Miraculously we had held our second place, even managing to take a minute or two out of the leaders. It transpired that not only did they both have fell-shoes, but they also train regularly, which, I'm sure you'll agree, is rather against the Corinthian spirit of the whole thing!

It was, despite my hideous lack of preparation, the most enjoyable MM I have done It scares me to contemplate what Crispin could do with a partner who could navigate and run. Even one of the two would be a vast improvement!

I can only find one photo. Beer is evident, and the coffin is almost out of shot lower-right (it was pressed into service again the following year, and there's a better photo - it hadn't got any larger).

SLMM 2003 mid-camp
SLMM 2003 mid-camp