Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Mourne Mountain Marathon - day 2

Crowing crocks and braying donkeys announced the beginning of the new day. Opening the door to have a look, I got a pretty wet arm from the masses of condensation that had collected on the fly, but was rewarded by the view of daybreak.

Day break on the campsite.

Having two people in the Laser Comp was certainly quite cosy, in respect to both warmth and space, but it was still comfortably large for us both to get a decent amount of sleep in. Sleep was punctuated by a bit of careful rotating in my Rab top bag, as to not leave my un-insulated side open to the cold, donkeys braying and a couple dogs that felt they should be listened to.

A distinct popping sound was heard throughout the campsite during the evening, and it wasn’t till the morning that we figured that it was a balloon bed, a favourite with moutain racers, taking lightweight low bulk sleeping mats to a whole new level. Interesting product, however hearing one guy say that all but one of his balloons had burst during the night didn’t fill me with the greatest confidence in them.

A check of the times and leader board put us in 29th position after the first day, not too shabby, but still a whole two hours off the lead! If we could stay in the top third both of us would be very happy, but a full days racing was left. Back to the tent and time for some breakfast, hot chocolate and half a dozen pancakes were on the menu. After stuffing our faces it was time to get packed up shake out the tired legs and get pumped for another days racing.

The mass starts were beginning 15 minutes between each class, and it didn’t feel like too long after the call for elite runners to move that the call out for c class was given. The mass start certainly gave a more competitive edge to the start something which was lacking from the first days racing. Standing with the rest of the class, the whistle sounded and it was time to collect route cards, quickly mark maps and then move off.

The first control wasn’t far from yesterdays last, and after 15 minutes plodding up a track we had dibbed the first control of the day. Probably the most annoying thing of the day was the massive bottleneck on the slim track leading to the first point, resulting from the mass start. Thankfully from the first to second point the class started to thin out and a bit of progress could be made.

From the first to the second control was the greatest ascent for the day, and in the morning sun and surprisingly little wind it was hard work. As we were making the slow climb over the heather I was roughly counting the teams in front of us and placed us 35th at that time, not too bad after spending the beginning of the race crawling and stuck behind others.

The constant climb led to most people putting the head down and following the man infront, when we finally arrived on the summit nearly every team was slightly disorientated and ended up doing nav checks. There was a lot of confusion on top of Chimney Rock Mountain. I could say we were fully aware of our position and knew we were moving in the correct direction when we came across the second control, however it was pretty much pure luck.

A quick map check and then it was a run down a thin peat path to the Mourne Wall, again we climbed on top and ran on the wall, but this time only for a couple hundred meters. Jumping down I managed to find a nice cushioned area of bog, sinking up to my shins, and completely soaking my previously dry feet. Crossing a stream, then dropping down to base of a rock face and then contouring onwards to the third control.

Although now considerably stretched out it was impossible to avoid a large contingent of fellow runners, and from here to the fourth control at the saddle of Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donard, we were in company of those moving at a similarly pace. We had been warned to watch cut off times before, but it wasn’t until we got to the fourth control that we even considered them. We were still easily within the top 35 runners of our class but had only made the cut off time with only 15 minutes to spare. I would have been very surprised if half the teams out had made it before the stipulated time.

Onwards and upwards, following the wall up towards the peak of Slieve Commedagh, before leaving the wall for a spot of contouring. No doubt those out walking for a Sunday stroll on the paths below us must have though we were mad, running across the side of a mountain for no foreseeable reason.

Looking down to the saddle of Commedagh and Donard, pre race day.

We were still managing to stretch out the legs for a run when on the flats and descents, but once we hit another incline the brakes were put on. When we finally hit the fifth marker there was a bit of a scramble to get dibbed, as for some reason the control had been placed on the other side of the wall. Amy and Chloe were climbing back across the wall when we came across the marker; watching them clamber across I was thankful not to be carrying a 55 liter pack and a 4 KIlo tent.

Following the wall for another couple hundred meters before descending to the main walking path we both praised the walking poles again for helping us keep our knees and ankles intact, definately one of the most useful things we had brought. After returning to the marker at Hares Gap we descended the bouldery path to where I had fallen the day previous and continued on the Trassey track before leaving for the far side of Luke’s Mountain and more cross country ascents and contouring.

Shortly after getting the Seventh marker misfortune struck; Alan suffered a sizeable fit of paralyzing cramps effecting his hams and calf’s. Around 7 minutes were lost waiting for the cramps to cease and then trying to stretch the muscles out. Thankfully we were able to move on at a reasonable pace, but from here till the end nearly all running ceased. Fortunately we had made it over two thirds through the race before Alan cramping, but it was disheartening to see the mornings work going to waste; as teams that we had passed on the tough inclines were now overtaking us on the relatively easy declines. At least we knew we were on the home straight; crossing over yet another dry stone wall returned us to Tollymore and a couple of K’s until the finish. Alan was pushing himself as much as he would dare, and running when possible, stopping before the possibility of cramps set in again.

Eating again.

The shortest route was now taken, as we weren’t going to be moving quickly over even the best of paths. All the same, descending through a deciduous forest is not too high on my list of things to repeat, even if it was faster that the 1200 meters detour we would have had otherwise.

With the final marker dibbed all that was left was the “sprint finish” following the taped streamers. Possibly better described as a fast jog, all things considered it was still a reasonably swift end to the race, even if it seemed never ending at the time. Running in to the finish we recieved a small round of applause from those who had came in before us and after downloading and dropping bags it was time to get some fluids and food back into us.

The rest of the afternoon was spent watching and waiting for the rest of the teams to come in, eating, discussing routes and tactics with other teams and checking the results board to see how we had faired in comparison to the rest of the class. We both agreed that atleast 20 minutes was probably lost to both stopping and stretching off and also the inability to run, however there wasn't much point of crying over spilt milk.

For the last week I is mostly been wearing this.

It was a hard race and the most I've pushed myself in a long time. From the speed we covered the ground on the Sunday we probably could have pushed harder on the Saturday, but thats an issue of experience, and we might have been in a worse way on the Sunday if we had.

For our first race with little preperation, we are very happy with ending up 28th of the 86 that completed, that said when we return next year hopefully we will finish less than 3 hours off the lead.

Day 1 - 20 Km - 6:28:27 - 29th
Day 2 - 16Km- 4:07:58 - 33rd

Over all - 10:36:25 - 28th

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Monday, 28 September 2009

Mourne Mountain Marathon - Day 1

Up at half Six; shower and final look down the kit list to make sure nothing obvious has been left out of the last minute packing the night before, a couple bits of toast, milk and then a swift walk for the train. The thought that something obvious is missing is hard to put out of my mind but by the time I arrive in Belfast its too late either way.

We all converge on Jenny's house and then leave for Tollymore with mixed anticipation, excitement and a slight amount of dread at what the next couple days hold for the four mountain marathon virgins and the car load of kit. An hours drive takes us to Tollymore country park, just outside the seaside town of Newcastle A reshuffle of kit and last minute dry bag action then registration and off to the start.

G*ed up from the feet up (*gimped)

It was both mine and Alan's first mountain marathon, but both of us are pretty well versed in orienteering and have spent a good bit of time walking with weight so we were pretty confident that we would get through the course with some dignity still intact. That said we were still pretty nervous as neither of us had spent time actually running on the fells, never mind with weight, and with my lack of physical preparation and Alan's previous week being spent in Ibiza, it was anyone’s guess how would get on.

With no experience of 2 day events, running from the very start probably wasn’t the greatest idea, however it was hard not to get carried away. The first point was only 600 meters away on an old boundary junction, a classic orienteering location, however finding a marker on an earth wall using a 1:25K map was a bit of a change up from the usual 1:5.
Ankle socks and shorts, not the greatest idea! Atleast it looks cool

Running from the second to the third point the gorse re-taught us the old age lesson of route choice. Just like forest fight, gorse is not easy to pass through, especially when you are wearing shorts and ankle socks. For the next twenty minutes we battled with gorse progressing very little. Lesson learnt we avoided it for the rest of the weekend like it was the plague.

When we reached the third control we ran into Andy and Gareth from NI-Wild and had a quick confab before setting off again up the Trassey track and then up to Hares Gap. Before making the ascent up to Hare’s gap, and the fourth control, I decided to get a bit intimate with the rocky path, and received a couple of cuts and a bent lower section of my walking pole for my efforts.

By the time we had ascended to Hares Gap my cuts, and subsequent blood, on my legs made it look like I had been climbing through barbed wire fences, causing the manned cut off point a bit of concern. Across the wall and then summiting Slieve Bearnagh passing where I had camped a fortnight previous with some of the NI Wild boys, before descending through the thick cloud coverage to the top of Ben Crom reservoir. A run-able track took us a K and a half down the valley before making another ascent to the main saddle between Lamagan and Binian, to Blue Lough.

By the time we hit the second manned cut off point we were more than half way through the days run, a quick water and jelly baby break and then onwards past Hare’s Castle and Rocky Mountain. Reaching the eighth control left us with around 6 Ks left for the day and not much ascent, which was just as well as I think both of us were starting to get quite fatigued.

For the first leg we climbed onto the Mourne wall and ran when possible. Concentrating on foot placement on the wall, and with the ground 2 meters below on the periphery made for quite a hypnotic journey. The descent from the Bog of Donard to the quarry and subsequent contouring and final ascent to Millstone Mountain seemed to last forever. A final descent to Bloody Bridge River and then jog into the finish completed our first race day.

It was good to have finally arrived at the night’s campsite, and after downloading we checked where we were in regards to the rest of our class. Only thirty runners were back in, or at least had been published, and we were sitting pretty, in our eyes, at ninth. However with over a hundred teams entered in our class and only thirty on the board this was bound to change.

Still pretty empty

Entering the campsite I was surprised that there were so few tents about, however Jenny and Ryan had made it in before us, as had Amy and Chloe. It was good to be finished for the day, and with the tent up a good hour was spent enjoying the evening sun and chatting about each others experiences of the day. Carrying two dinners was probably one of my better judgments of the weekend; (rice pepporami and pita’s) X2 washed down with two 275ml bottles of red wine, nice :-)

Its all about the vino, or for Jenny scalding hot chocolate

A few more people decided to turn up

With light and warmth fading Alan and myself retreat to the 1 man Laser Comp; a cosy but restless night followed.

The shepard gives us his blessing for the second day

Day 1 - 6:28:27 - 29th

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Sunday, 27 September 2009

Deep Clouds Above - Weather Mixtape

Well this has been a couple weeks in the making, different songs being added then removed, rearranged, left for a day or two, then going through a similar process again and again. It swelled from 20 miutes to 40, and has now fell somewhere in between the two at a total of 28 minutes and 38 seconds with an eclectic mix of songs that I hope someone out there might appreciate. If you like it please leave a comment and if you don't, well, check out the Kitsune Noir mixtapes, within which you are sure to find something agreeable.

Edit; just realised a schoolboy error, in that nobody can actually download the mixtape! The link has now been fixed!!

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Saturday, 19 September 2009

Mourne Mountain Marathon - Finally packed

Finally sorted for tomorows race, both myself and my partners first mountain marathon. Its been a squeeze but I'm all packed now, and everything has just about fitted into a 20 Litre Alpkit Gourdon Stealth + OMM chestpouch, well including some external fastenings. A couple of mini bottles of red wine even made it into the sack, at the expense of an extra fleece, I've got my priorities straight!

The weather forecast has got better throughout the week and the promissed rain looks like it might have been blown off to another part of the country, showers are still likely but I think the shorts and t-shirt will prevail, fingers crossed.

Time for some sleep!! Late night last night and far too much alcohol consumed, especially for anyone looking to perform half decently at the weekend, or today as it were.

Slieve Binian

Hopefully I will return with some capacity to walk, preferably with both ankles intact.

Wish me luck!

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Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Blue Skies - Noah and the whale

Looking for music for my weather mixtape, I came accross blues skies by Noah and the whale, a song that has got a bit of air-time on the radio, but in my eyes not enough. The accompanying video is a trailer for a 50 minute long film which accompanied the album The First Days Of Spring of which a small clip can be seen here.

I love these sorts of leftfield arty films, which usuallly I just happen to stumble accross, the last one was Heima from Sigur Ros, which I came accross through Kitsune Noir. Obviously enjoying the music from the artists goes a long way to enjoying the film, however both seem to be beautifully and lovingly shot. Heima is well worth the watch for the interviews and music, if not for the beautiful time lapse and landscape shots of Iceland. Theres nothing like beutiful landscape captured perfectly to make you want to jet off and explore.

The audiences reaction which is caprture in part 2 reminds me of Amelie, something else I'd certainly reccomend watching.

The "mixtape" will be out soon...

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Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Mourne Mountain Marathon & lightening up

Slieve Beg in the foreground, Slieve Donard & Chimney Rock Mountain in the back

The Ulster Way left me with aspirations for the future, and with the Mourne Marathon coming up in the middle of September, it seemed like a likely addition to the calender. A few other ideas were thrown into the possibilities folder, like Niall Quinn's suggestion of setting a new record for the completing the Wicklow Way, however they are still in the air for the mean time. The plunge into mountain marathoning was made at the end of July and myself and Alan (who joined me for a small jaunt across the Mournes while out on the U.W) signed ourselves up for the C class, thinking that the D class wouldn't pose too much of a challenge and that B would be a bit too much for moutain marathon virgins.

C Class

The C-Class demands a lower level of speed, endurance and navigational skill than the Elite and B Classes. It is suitable for Teams who have, perhaps some mountain marthon experience or who are good hill walkers who want to stretch themselves and their navigational capabilities on a 2 day event.
Distance - 35km over 2 days.

The Mourne Mountain Marathon is only eleven days away and I've been trying to cut all unnescesary weight out of my pack. After the Ulster Way I've a pretty good handle on what I can go without so I think it really will be a skelleton packing list for the day, well except, maybe a bottle of port or atleast some sort of alcoholic beverage may make it into my pack or shared between us, but some things come first.

Granite Tor and view from Slieve Bearnagh

Obviously trying to cover the ground in as little amount of time possible means the less carried the better, I could start giving advice for lightening up your rucksacks, however I don't really think I'm that much experienced to tell people what to pack. Instead the following couple of links give a pretty good insight into getting your pack weight down. The advice is as applicable to mountain marathons as it is general hiking.

Have a look over at Hendrik's blog and his very well written guide to Ultralight backpacking (part 1, part 2, part 3, part4, part5) check out the comments as well as theres some interesting observations and discussions there. Some basic sound advice can be found here. Another resource which is certainly very useful is PlanetFear's Mountain Marathon kit list, all the kit listed gets very decent reviews, and I wouldn't mind having some of it myself.

On a side note are the mountain marathoners and fell runners a driving force behind the Lightweight revolution? maybe something for another day

May all your rucksacks be made of dyneema and your roll mats of bubble wrap
Travel light, freeze at night!!

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