Saturday, 16 June 2018

LAMM 2018 – Mountain Marathon on the Isle of Harris

My main memories of this year’s LAMM are the amazing scenery of the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides and getting completely dehydrated whilst running. It was a memorable, at times very painful and ultimately successful way to spend my 50th birthday.

I previously visited Harris in the outer Hebrides as a competitor on the Hebridean Challenge as part of a team running, cycling and kayak from the south of the Hebrides on Barra up to the very north at  the Butt of Lewis lighthouse. Martin Stone was course director and took us to some beautiful places. With Martin organising the LAMM I knew we were in for a treat. Thinking about the type of terrain the Mountain Marathon would be visiting I thought that Neil Talbott would be an ideal person to run with. Neil loves rocks, tussock, heather. He loves anything rough – he hates tracks and roads and there was going to be virtually none of this sort of terrain on Harris. Luckily for me he was happy to run it with me. I met Neil in the queue for the ferry at Uig in Skye after the long drive up. We decided to stay at a simple hostel about 10 miles from Tarbert (where the ferry docked) to avoid the midges and hopefully give us a better night’s sleep. We managed to get the last start on the Elite which gave us plenty of time in the morning. A quick drive back to Tarbert and we got on the event bus which took us to the start. It was a tough start to the course as the second control took us to the summit of Clisham the highest point on Harris (799m). On the third control we took a typical Neil route choice avoiding the obvious ridge run by going straight with a drop to a lochan and a climb back up to the control. It seemed to work as the Chepelins who started before us were now in sight and we overtook them soon after. However, I was finding the running hard going. It was hot and humid with no wind, I was sweating loads but the sweat was not evaporating off me and cooling me instead it was just dripping off me. I could feel my core temperature rising. Every stream we crossed I drank water and poured it over me but it was not helping. I slowed down a bit and let Neil do all the navigating and just followed him trying to use as little energy as possible. Controls 6 and 7 were very close together on headlands separated by a lochan, we were expecting a wade/swim and I was looking forward to this. When we got to control 6 it was actually a time out with the time stopped until we reached control 7 after a short boat journey. It was my chance to recover; I took my pack off and lay in the lochan for a couple of minutes. I immediately felt more comfortable. We ate and repacked our packs so everything was ready for the rest of the day and took the boat over to control 7. Control 8 was about half way but as we approached this the heat was getting to me again and my legs were starting to complain. Neil took my pack and we carried on slowly through the heat to control 9. I was slowing down and wondered how I was ever going to finish, I wondered why I was putting myself through this pain on my 50th birthday.  I needed to use all my determination and experience to keep moving forward as fast as possible. Neil encouraged me and reminded me that everyone would be finding it hard. Control 10 was the longest leg of the day and had a key route choice. It was either a longer route through the valleys or straighter, up and over a couple of ridges. We went for the ridges as the vegetation in the valleys was really hard going. Higher up and better drained ground had more short grass and rocks and so was much faster underfoot. We also hoped for some wind, which did appear and slightly cooled me down. A couple more times of lying down in lochans also helped stopped me completely overheating. Finally we reached control 12 the last one of the day. It was all downhill to the finish and what a finish. A lovely grassy area above a beautiful sandy beach and the turquoise sea. After 7 hours 30miutes I was completely knackered and did not want to move but it was important I started my recovery for the next day immediately. So I quickly had a recovery drink and some salted nuts and lay in the river to cool off. The tiredness and pain from cramp was relieved a bit by finding out that we had a lead of just over an hour- everyone seemed to struggle in the heat. The normal boring Mountain Marathon food was supplemented with some birthday cake from Neil and some from Nicky Spinks who I only told it was my birthday on finishing the day. 

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Overnight Camp at Loch Crabhadail (credit: Dale Rodgers)

We nearly missed our day 2 start at 7am. It was 2 minutes along the beach not in the download tent from the previous day – we got laughed at as we ran up with 10 seconds to spare. With such a big lead our plan was just to keep moving steadily and not do anything stupid. Despite my best effort from the previous evening I immediately knew I had not recovered properly and was still slightly dehydrated. Neil was quickly doing his bag carrying duties and all the navigation while I hung on trying to save energy and drinking and eating as much as possible. Looking at the map we expected a 6 hour day, this gradually increased as we realised the amount of climb on the course and as the heat built up, eventually taking 7 hours 15 minutes. We were running out of food but with a bit of rationing we just about made it to the end. We were delighted to run into the finish for the win, my second overall win at the LAMM (I have also been first mixed on the elite on three occasions). For the next hour of so I was completely exhausted and just lay in  a quiet dark corner until I had recovered enough to eat and drink without throwing it all back up.

It took 36 hour after finishing for me to stop feeling sick. I also got irregular heart beats afterwards, which is usual for me these days, but after 36 hours these went back to normal.

The LAMM is a special event. I have done 10 of them and it has taken me to some of the best places for views and mountain running in the UK. Martin Stone has done a great job organising them all together with his team of brilliant helpers. So it was quite emotional when Martin announced it was to be his last ever LAMM and he got the standing ovation that he deserved.

Results are here:

Courses and route can be seen on Route Gadget:

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Collecting the winners trophy. Neil Talbott, Martin Stone and me (Credit Jon Brooke)

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