Monday, June 14, 2010

Can't feel my legs

That has to go down as one of the toughest races - scratch that - THE toughest race I've ever done. How much difference does carrying a rucksack with all the compulsory kit make? - A bloody huge one.

I ran with Matthew L, a Chepstow team mate - I was standing in for his partner who was injured and we set off on the mystery coach tour to our start point at 9am on Saturday morning.

There are six classes from Elite down to D and an orienteering style score class. We elected for the B class - I'm bloody glad we didn't run the A as threatened 'cause I'm not sure I'd have made it round the A. Each class starts from a different point. You get given your checkpoint list as you set the clock running and have to quickly markup your map, plan your route and then the hard bit, start running. We set off just before 10am in near perfect - if a little too sunny - conditions.

I soon realised just how hard the task ahead was going to be as we started to climb towards checkpoint one - and it wasn't really that steep as compared to that which would be coming up later in the day. We found that one quickly and continued up to the ridge above and headed to checkpoint two. We made an error on route and gained more altitude - and wasted energy - than we needed too before dropping into checkpoint two. In fact we picked up so much extra altitude we might have well gone the extra few feet and bagged ourselves a Munro, Ben Vorlich.

From there we rapidly descended and picked up three before a long stretch of tussocky open fell and another steepish climb to four. The route to checkpoint five was a tough call. Over the top or extra mileage around? - and we probably made the wrong call and went over the top. Although, from discussion with others at the overnight stop, the over the top route was possibly quicker it was far tougher. It really took it out of me and for the rest of the run in I was absolutely wiped out.

Anyway we made it over and down to checkpoint five before a long section on track, again adding extra distance but by then I couldn't face more tussocky grass. It was runnable - only by this point - I wasn't.

From five we got six with a bit of searching before a straight forward seven and then a long downhill - but tussocky - run to checkpoint eight and the finish - of day 1. We covered somewhere near 26.5km (16.5mi) and 6,800 feet of ascent and I was knackered beyond belief and had to lie down for half an hour to recuperate.

Then it was camping time, tea and - very soon after - sleep. It was very cosy in the tiny tent!

The midges struck in the night as we woke to find low mist and rain so it was on with the wet weather gear. We'd finished day one in sixteenth place and forty minutes off the lead which meant we were in the 'Chase'. That means you get to wear a race number so you can spy out your direct competitors - and they can spy out you. From there on it's pretty much a straight race to the finish. You are set off in race order by the amount of time you're behind the lead. With our numbers called we collected our list of checkpoints and marked up the map - only for it to rub off in the rain after an hour or two.

For the first hour we were in a chasing group of four teams. We'd caught B15,and B10 but had been caught by B18. We picked off checkpoints one and two relatively painlessly but we lost ground at checkpoint three having followed the wrong stream bed. We eventually found it but by then the others were out of sight not to be caught again.

Four was also a cockup - and we almost missed it out altogether but for Matthew's expertise and experience. We then headed up to collect it but again gained too much height, hit the higher of two knolls and had to drop back down - I could have done without that.

The slog to five was difficult and navigationally tricky. Not so much tricky in that we couldn't get to the general area but with so many stream runs coming off the mountain it was tricky to pick out our checkpoint at the crossing of two such stream amongst all the others while making sure we'd gone far enough but not too far. Oh, and of course, it was a large climb from the bottom of the reservoir to where the checkpoint was.

Five to six was an even longer slog and there was little choice but to head further up and down into the valley before climbing almost to the top of Beinn Bhuidhe, another Munro, contouring around the top, through a coll to the east and down sharply. I did a beautiful pirouette descending maneuver on that bit. As I lost control, going too fast, slipped and spun through 180, landed a foot without regaining control, spun a further 180, landing the next foot and carrying straight on with a little too much speed. Thankfully the steep incline gave way to a shallower one and I could lose some speed and regain control of my legs.

The next three or four kilometres were, once again, navigationally tricky. With poor visibility it was difficult to pick out features and find checkpoint six. We traded places with another couple running the B class a few times across to six. That was a good thing as it gave us confidence that we were headed in the right direction. Finally we picked off six and headed downwards for the last time - and no more up thank goodness - to seven which we collected quickly. The final, sharp descent was a right bastard. We had to drop over 1,200 feet through bracken and rocks. It took a while on my dodgy, ever weakening pegs but finally we reached the track at the bottom and ran in to checkpoint eight and the finish.

We were fully expecting to have dropped down a few places so it was a pleasant surprise to find out was had actually gained one, finishing in 15th place.

I don't think I ran as well as I should have but overall I was pleased with my first mountain marathon. I do feel like I let Matthew down a bit though, as he was much the stronger and quicker. He could have been top ten with somebody faster to partner.

Will I be doing another MM? I'm not convinced. It was just bloody hard work. My entire body is aching. On day 2 we covered about 24km (15mi) and 4,100 feet of ascent. So in total we covered around 50km (31.5mi) and somewhere close 11,000 feet of ascent - and I can feel every single metre and foot. In all reality, what with meandering around, you can probably add on an extra kilometre or two and a few hundred feet - that's not to say we took a less than optimal route because obviously to suggest such a thing would be heresy.

It was an enjoyable weekend though - apart from the pain - and the company of the other Chepstovians was fab. I was a novice while they'd all run many many before. Special mention has to go to Steve C and Gill S for managing to accumulate -236 points - yes 'minus' 236 - in the score event after day one having arrived at the overnight stop three hours outside the seven hour cut off, time penalties wiping out all their checkpoint scores and then some - and they weren't even last! Big thanks to everyone one for letting me tag along.

Day 1

Day 2

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