Friday, 5 October 2018

ROC Mountain Marathon

I really love mountain marathons. It is great being self-sufficient for two long days running and navigating in the mountains. I have done over 60 in the last 34 years and it is great to still be up there competing near the front of the Elite course, but over the last few years I have found them really hard. There were times during this year’s ROC MM when I thought how nice it would be to have two relaxing days on the fells rather than pushing my body to the limit.

This year’s ROC MM ( was in the Northern Fells of the Lake District and I was doing it by myself (doing it in pairs was also possible). It was very much home terrain as it included Blencathra – my local and favourite fell. Setting off from the Uldale side the competitors in the 6 different classes got their maps at the start line. I immediately looked at the distance of my Elite course; it was 44km on Day 1 – slightly further than expected so I thought it was going to be a long day. The first two controls took us right across fast running ground to the area on the southern side of Blencathra. There are paths up the ridges to the summit of Blencathra on this side of the fell, but anywhere in-between is really tough ground – mainly deep heather with loose rocks all on really steep ground. This is the sort of terrain where I excel but by the time I had got out of it and appraoching number 4 the effort was taking its toll and I felt light-headed with a dip in energy coming on. A couple of bars sorted it out but it was not a good sign with only 3 hours gone. As I approached the end of the long leg to control 5 I saw my main competitor Tom Gibbs come out from a different route just ahead of me. We had a quick chat and found out I had caught him up 14 minutes, although we were moving at a similar speed – I had taken some better routes. By the time we reached control 7 I started to struggle badly. Tom was off and moving well, I was moving very slowly. How much time would I lose to him before the finish 12km away? My bonk got worse I was wobbling around struggling to make any progress. I tried eating but my stomach was really dodgy so I had to stop as I knew I would be sick. There was the last  climb of the day up to control 9 and I risked some more food but my stomach had had enough and I spent a couple of minutes knelling down throwing up everything (a real waste of all the energy that I needed the rest of that day and the next day). Things got worse as I fell over and broke my glasses (I normally wear contact lenses but I can see both the map and land better with my varifocal glasses). I lost a couple of minutes finding the next control as everything was blurry and then struggled to run downhill quickly. Eventually I reached the finish and Tom had finished 21 minutes earlier – I was seven minutes down on Day 1 having run for just over 7 hours. As I said to people I chatted to it was a good 5 hours followed by 2 hours where everything went wrong. I got all my spare clothes on, collected water and put up my tent. But I was very cold. 7 hours of running and then being sick had completely reduced my energy stores. After noodles and couscous I felt OK but I was not expecting to feel good on day 2.

Day 1 Map

Day 1 route from the trackers every competitor carried. Route  = 47km with 2400m of climb

The second day started with some positives. I was not feeling sick, I had slept a bit and was reasonable warm and dry all night, I did not have any injuries and I had even managed to get my contact lenses in. I was not expecting to catch up the 7 minutes on Tom but I would give it my best shot. I took some stupid routes to controls 1 and 2. I did not follow my normal plan of going straight if I cannot choose between two routes. Knowing a clever route around Sharp Edge helped on control3 which took us to some more really rough terrain on the southern side of Skiddaw. I was working hard but not moving very fast. It was all a struggle and it was no surprise when I saw Tom catching me up on the way to control 6 – having started 20 minutes after me he was extending his lead and there was nothing I could do about it. He eventually finished just in front of me. It had been another hard 6 hour day.
Day 2 Map

Day 2 route. 38km with 2200m of climb

Winning this event meant Tom had also beaten me to win the British Mountain Marathon Championship. So congratulations to Tom for a well-deserved win. Even with home advantage over the weekend he was better than me. In the end I was happy to come second. Congratulations also to everyone else that got round the elite course - it was a tough one to finish before the courses closed.

The weekend was really well organised by Shane and his team of cheerful helpers. I thought the courses planned by Graham were great. There was a real mixture of terrain from the rough, tough terrain on the southern slopes of Blencathra and Skiddaw to the faster running further north. There were tricky route choices on just about every leg and I made at least three stupid selections. 

I am annoyed I had such a bad bonk and was sick on day 1. I need to work out why these happened. However, overall I am happy because although I was tired afterwards (and felt sick) I had none of the really bad fatigue that has plagued me for 4 years. I slept well afterwards and my heart has been beating normally. As for the future I am going to have to think about if I want to continue to push it hard on the Elite course or maybe go for an easier option.