Sunday, 26 January 2014

2nd at the Dark Mountains

Tired but glad to be back in the warm
I'm back! After the OMM last year I had a bit of a break from racing, managing to fit in a house move, new job and half a thesis of writing instead. Me and Rosemary did start our open 5 series well in December, with a good score in the Forest of Dean ( to take the win and another win at the start of January at Hamsterley Forest ( One more good result needed to complete the series next weekend, however it probably won't be as smooth running as usual after the Dark Mountains Mountain Marathon this weekend.

Most mountain marathons require navigation over pretty unforgiving terrain, carrying all the kit needed to eat, drink, stay warm and camp for a night. An Elite course has a typical winning time of about 11 hours split over two days, with an (often rather soggy) overnight camp in between.  In terms of concept, the Dark Mountains is no exception, however there is a twist. Competitors start racing shortly after dark and race through the night, completing the '11 hours' in one go. Having spent more than enough soggy nights in a tent at mountain marathons, this did sort of appeal (although the fact that it was January therefore it would probably still be soggy and I wouldn't be in a tent sounded less good).

Elite Course Route Map
Me and Bruce raced the Elite course as a mixed pair, starting at 7:21pm on Saturday. The route started from Old Glossop and ran up Doctors Gate before dropping off to the left of the path to Mill hill and heading straight up to the edge of the kinder plateau. From there it was a lap of kinder, visiting Red Brook, Kinder Low End (both Pennine haunts), Ringing Rodger and Fairbrook Naze before crossing back over the A57. Into Dark Peak territory with several complex controls in Alport Valley, the next couple on the moor above Howden Res and then a trip over Bleaklow followed by 2 controls at an old quarry to finish!

Before the start we were debating what to wear. The weather forecasts varied between 'calm and clear' and 'horrendous snow storm' so anything was possible. After last year, we didn't want to take any risks.
I settled for hat and gloves, Puls Q Tights with their windstopper material on the shin to protect my legs when bashing through heather, a base layer and long sleeve intense Q top with my shield comp Q windproof over the top. I also carried my Stem II Q fleece and Essens down gilet just in case! Thankfully I didn't need either and at some points was verging on too warm, but in general I think I got it spot on.
In combination with our silva runner headtorches and compasses we were set to go!

We ran through number 1 ok, having caught 2 of the three teams to have started before us. At snake summit we caught Joe and Sharon and had a bit of a chat, finishing with the line 'see you at number 2'. Number 2 was probably the most technical control of the race so there was lots of room for error...which we duly made. It was positioned on a stream in the middle of some streams, with not a lot to use as an attackpoint other than the path and a bearing. We set off well, hitting a stream we thought was about right, however the sides steepened and it was clear this was not our stream. No worries, looked like we'd gone a little too far, so we set off back towards Mill Hill a bit. Mistake, we were not too far but too short of the control, which we quickly worked out, but this cost us a km or so. As predicted we arrived at the control with Joe and Sharon.

Off to the edge of the kinder plateau and we made up for number 2 by cruising through 4 & 5 (3 was removed from the course) and onto the edge path. Now we were on my territory, I know this part of kinder like the back of my hand, but at night things do look a bit different....
The next control was at a site used previously in the kinder trial and I was well aware that I had spent a fair while hunting around the boulders on this plateau in the light looking for controls. We ran around to Red Brook and took the direct line down the hill, hitting the plateau. Thankfully Shane hadn't used Andy's 'boulder' as a control, but instead used a crag which we found without too much difficulty.

On to kinder low end, keeping a high line as I was well aware of some of the rubbish there was to run through lower down. We popped up and saw a control, yes! We'd spiked it! Oh wait, no there was no SI box, clearly this was a control from the kinder trial earlier in the day. We had another small faff here in order to find the control, I think we nearly did hit it spot on but then dropped too low, relocated on the path before finally finding it.

Heading across to kinder low end I started to feel it was a bit tough going and my legs weren't functioning too well. I was eating and drinking well, however not too long after that I realised it had been around 2 hours since I'd taken my inhaler and I was now wheezing my way along. Not that effective when trying to move well through terrain. At the control I stopped and took my inhaler again, crossing my fingers for a good result. This has gone one of two ways in the past and one way would have been the end of the race. Thankfully it wasn't a repeat of Jura and I was able to pick my legs up properly again! Unfortunately this did start a pattern for the race and every two- three hours or so I had a bit of a wheezing session and had to take my inhaler again. Tomorrow I get a drug I ran out of about 3 weeks ago (the hazards of moving house and doctors) so hopefully this will sort things out...

From here to Fairbrook Naze the clag had descended making staying on the edge path difficult enough. Towards Ringing Rodger we were caught by Tom Gibbs and Steve Birkinshaw and we ran with them down to the control and back out to the three minute crossing (which I was very happy to identify in the clag, although it took slightly longer than 3 minutes). It was a bit of a slog to Fairbrook Naze and it certainly payed off that I knew where the path should be. We were happy to be off the hill and across the A57 without incident.

Half  way crossing the A57 (photo - Ian Corless)

It seemed like a long leg down to Alport, but once there we got the three technical controls without too much faff. I was less than impressed with the steepness of the hill to number 15, but we got there in the end! Now, on to Howden. Unfortunately I knew what was coming, tussocks, tussocks, a bit of marsh and some more tussocks. I certainly was not running the pace I was last time I was there last summer.... In fact, I'm not sure there are any other sports where competing in the 'Elite' category can make you look much less Elite....

Once out of the tussocks, the customary MM shuffle was implemented along the Pennine way over Bleaklow and down to the final two controls. The last control was a bit complex, but we took it steady and just when we were starting to wonder where on earth it was there, phew!

After Tom and Steve had passed us, there were a twinkling of lights behind us for a while, however by the time we were at Alport, these were nowhere to be seen. We ran all of the second half alone (occasionally seeing Tom and Steve ahead) so we thought we were running quite well. By the time we had got to the finish, walked to the sports hall (legs not able to even shuffle any more) and had a shower, there were still no more teams at the finish... Hats off to Shane for creating a really tough and technically challenging course.

This meant that not only were we first mixed pairs on the elite, but also 2nd overall! A result that probably makes some of the type 2 fun we had worth it :-)



  1. I came to say hello but you'd finished n left! Horrendous when I headed up Doctors around 10am!

    1. Oh no, we missed you! Bruce was on a tight schedule to get to the airport for 11, so we didn't hang around too long...

  2. Well done guys, you certainly must have got a shufty on to cover that distance in the time. Did the clag on Bleaklow affect the Elite course much? We got stuck in it for a bit on the short score and then I bailed in the wrong direction - we should have dropped down east to the real high scoring controls over above Derwent Reservoir but went south to Kinder N Edges. Great fun though, and a nice write up thank you.

    1. Cheers Jim, was indeed great fun (well, definitely now I'm thinking back to it...) Clag wasn't too bad on bleaklow but we had a couple of issues with it earlier in the race, when you can't stay on the edge path due to it not being visible, you know the clag is well and truly down!