Friday, 26 September 2014

Mourne Moutain Marathon

Back in March, me and Wil opened a wedding card to find a voucher inside for a three night stay in a cottage in the Mourne Mountains from the 21-24th September. Sheila and the Smiths had done their research and booked our wedding present in Kilkeel for the nights following this years Mourne Mountain Marathon.

Without thinking too much about it we entered the Elite course for the Mourne MM (it'd be rude not to race right?). I figured that by the end of September I'd have recovered from the Itera and all would be well for another assault on the Elite course. So, 5 weeks recovery, one very painful attempt at running fast the previous weekend (resulting in 5days of DOMS which abaited on the Thursday - phew) and we were at the start of two days of running through my favourite mountains.

Cloughmore stone

This year started a little further South than the previous events we'd done, covering some terrain less familiar to us. At 9:02am we ran across the start line (having arrived at 9:01am, efficient time management perfected) and marked up the map from the grid references given for the days 20 controls. Day 1 started with a steep climb, characteristic of many of the Mourne races which start close to sea level, and we were soon up and over to the Cloughmore stone for checkpoint 1, greated by a stunnning view. Moving well we headed off down the hill into Kilbroney Forest Park.

For anyone that raced the Elite this year, you might notice a bit of a discrepancy with this last statement.We made quick progress, down, across and up the kilometer or so to the next control. However upon consulting the control descriptions the code for the control didn't match what was on the flag. A double check of the grid reference and.....rubbish! We'd made a stupid marking up error and were out by over a km. Not a good start. Clearly we didn't think this race was long enough at 28km!

A mad dash back the way we'd come, up the hill to the Cloughmore stone and we were back on track, ~2km and 100m+ of ascent worse off. We left the track in the correct direction for control 2 just as the Swedish pairing of Tomas Albinsson and Pernilla Berg went flying down the track in the opposite direction heading to the first checkpoint.

The next three controls were fairly good going over runnable tussocky moorland or on forest tracks. We pressed on, looking over our shoulder, waiting for Tomas and Pernilla to come into sight but after an hour or so they hadn't materialised and we had something else to think about.

Heading up Finlieve More we got our first taste of what the SW Mournes had a reputation for, massively rough underfoot conditions. Having responded well for the first 90 minutes, my legs were a bit less happy with this and the high knees style running/trogging required to cross it. This continued for the rest of the day as we passed around Finlieve and headed for Eagle Mountain (making the most dubious of all of our route choices to take in an exceeding steep boulder field come tussocky mess). We reached windy gap after about 3hours, unfortunately not living up to its name in the hot sun, and I was starting to feel that in fact my legs might still be a little tired. There was a distinct lack of rivers to fill water bottles and my legs took a real beating on the 3km or so of rough terrain to the road crossing and Slieve Muck. I turned my left ankle somewhere along here, a sign of tiring muscles.
An hour or so of running around Slieve Muck including a big climb with no water (Wil dropped low to fill our bottles when it became apparent the stream near the control was not at all full), a steep traverse (on which we managed to stay in touch with the pair that won the day after they overshot the first control and took a high line) and an incredibly rough decent on which I turned my ankle twice more, the second time badly enough that I had to have a sit down before I could contemplate standing on it again.

The start of Day 2 - the hill on the left is Eagle Mountain. What appears to be a cliff face along its edge was our route choice on Day 1.....

By the time we recrossed the road we had no water left, still, only one big climb and a bit of ridge slalom and we'd be home! This seemed to take forever, the terrain didn't improve, my legs didn't improve, but somehow we were still moving faster than the B course runners around us. Having estimated a finishing time of 5hrs to 5hrs30, 6hrs15 was a bit disappointing and likely meant we'd be out of the chase as far as the mixed pairs were concerned. We really shouldn't add controls to courses!

Tomas and Pernilla came running hard down the track what seemed like far too soon after us. When we checked the leaderboard however they'd mispunched and according to the confused SI timing in this situation had taken 18hrs. Great, our holiday could start properly with an hour and half buffer to second mixed pair!
Oddly, it said they'd mispunched control number one which we'd seen them go to and there was a marshal at, fairly impossible....turns out their dibber had broken and shortly afterwards they were reinstated in a time of 6hrs 17minutes. Race back on then!

It had been a really tough first day, literally evey muscle ached, not just the legs. This was corroborated by the others we talked to around the campsite, possibly the friendliest of all mountain marathon campsites.

Overnight Camp - Costa Del Killowen
 Day 2 and we were off at 8am in a mass start. We were third off the line after map marking (taking care to double check everything), choosing an anticlockwise loop for the first three controls which we could approach in any order we chose.
A pair overtook us at the first control like an express train. By the fourth control we were still with them, having covered about 6km with two significant climbs, a traverse through more ankle eating terrain and a descent where I had another little sit down after the first ankle roll of the day.

Just before the 3km leg to control 4 we'd caught sight of Tomas and Pernilla heading into the control we were leaving, roughly 5minutes behind (if we were lucky). Plan number 1 of being ahead was underway but we'd have to work for it.

If we thought yesterdays terrain was difficult, I don't know how to describe the leg from control 4-6. Wading springs to mind when descibing our 'running' style and you've never seen anyone more dedicated to high knees than when Wil promised me there was a km of track up ahead as we were heading around Slievemeel. I didn't want to spend a minute longer in that stuff than I needed to!

Views from Rostrevor Forest - I tried to find a representative picture of the deep tusocky terrain, but it appears people with cameras don't bother going to that bit.

The track up to 6 was amazing, actual running! Heading down the firebreak to the control there was a trod and everything. What would normally be described as rough terrain was good going today!
At the end of the firebreak we scouted around, no sign of a control. The leaders from day 1 showed up. They couldn't find it either. Back we went, picking up the firebreak we'd made sure not to 'take by mistake' and there it was. 5-10mins binned.

This was the first in a series of 4 'free order' controls in rostrevor forest, that looked like they had been meant for an orienteering event on 1:15000 map, a control pick with a bit of 'reentrant roulette' thrown in on a 1:25000...After our initial miss we were very careful for the remaining three controls, getting round without navigational incident. This did happen to be the absolute worst terrain of the event however, I don't think I've ever gone as slowly between controls in a mountain marathon. My shins looked like I'd been orienteering and just as we were leaving the forest I turned my ankle again. This time it was very close to game over, but a hobble for 5mins and disaster was avoided.

Running over the fell outside the forrest was awesome, again under normal circumstances this wouldn't have been easy going, but today it felt like a tarmac road! We caught up with Johnny and partner at the next control and they informed us that we weren't far behind the first mixed pair!

What? When had that happened? They hadn't been in sight since the third control and now they weren't even in sight ahead. Our firebreak mistake clearly was costly.
We assumed this was it, they were definitely more than 2 minutes ahead of us to be out of sight. We could only move at our own pace as our beaten legs weren't up for chasing someone we couldn't even see ahead of us. We went over Slievemeen (it certainly felt it at the time) then a loop of Slievefadda and Knockshee before heading down into the valley just to fit that extra climb back in towards Slievemeen.

Heading off Knockshee I looked back and there were Tomas and Pernilla. It turns out the reason we couldn't see them ahead was because they weren't, they were busy making their own 5-10minute mistake...Back in the lead we gave it everything to the finish. Even in the last descent the planner had thrown in some rocks and gorse to keep things interesting and we burst out of that lot onto the path still ahead. Down the field to the finish Johnny and partner came flying past but we stayed a fields length ahead of Tomas as Pernilla to take the win. Doesn't get much closer than that over 11hrs of racing!

At download they found that they had mispunched the second control (accidentily ommitting it after not drawing a line to it in the free order section - easily done). However they must have run within meters of it so the tight race to the finish is still pretty much how things would have gone regardless. This racing down to the line only for the opposition to mispuch is becoming a bit of a habit....clearly you don't want to be racing me ;-).

Thanks to the organisers for another great event, well planned courses with plenty of route choice, friendly marshals and plenty of good grub to finish. Thanks too to Jackson Sports for supporting the event with some excellent prizes.
If anybody is planning to do a mountain marathon next year, I'd definitely recommend giving the Mournes a go, I even came back with a tan! Still my favourite mountains even if they did try to eat my legs this year...