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

Read the full report on the Mourne Mountain Marathon

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4 comment(s) so far, add your thoughts -->>here<<--:

Anonymous said...

Balloon beds? I think they are great. We have used them for 3 years with only one popped balloon this year. The trick is to not move very much*. This is not usually a problem as we are usually so wrecked that it feels more like unconsciousness than sleep.
*Science bit - moving a lot causes static charge to build up on the balloon. If it builds up it can cause a tiny spark which pops the balloon. Apparently.

Keith said...

I would move about a good wee bit, even in my top bag, so don't think they would be for me. Don't think I would stop thinking about them bursting, even if it happens rarely
Thermowrap looks like it might be worth an investigation though.

Hendrik M said...

Very interesting read, Keith. I haven't been aware that these kind of races exist, but they seem to be very popular in Northern Ireland, Ireland and the UK. Maybe to push oneself it it would be interesting to compete and see where one lands. You and Alan did great, and reached your goal of top third! Congratulations!

Keith said...

Hi hendrik.
Thats quite an interesting observation, I presumed that it was quite an international wide type of event, maybe not so. Fell running as far as I know has its roots in Britain, and mountain racing has probably evolved from this, maybe its popularity here is due to it originating in these parts.

Its definately a good physical test, I think both of us went harder than we thought we would on the Sunday, you can't help but want to beat those running around you.

Cheers for the congratulations, we were certainly very pleased with where we ended up! We will hopefully return next year to better our result. I think if we can make it in the top ten, we would have to jump up to B class, maybe.