Following on from my recent post about mountain marathons, I thought I would write a quick report on an event I have just completed. This race was a Dark & White mini mountain marathon – meaning that it only lasted 3 hours rather than two days and there was no requirement for carrying a tent and overnight equipment.
After a really busy week for both of us, Mark and I arrived in Edale later than we would have liked to a cool and calm evening. I was surprised to see how busy the campsite was and I suppose this is a welcome reflection on the fact that Spring seems to have finally arrived. We quickly got the tent up and decided to head to a nearby pub to eat and discuss tactics for the following day. After studying an OS map and speculating on the possible area that the next days event may cover, we discussed the mistakes we had made during our last event resolved to put things right this time. Soon after this we were back in the tent for an early-ish night.
We woke an hour later than intended to a cloudy, breezy sort of day and as I began to pack my bag, I realised that I had forgotten my hydration bladder and would have to substitute it for a bottle of mineral water. I was exceptionally frustrated by this as it would make it much more difficult to drink on the move and I am usually so careful about checking and double checking everything. On the other hand, Mark had decided to bring most of the things that he owns in the world which completely negates the possibility of forgetting something.
Soon after eating breakfast, we were on the road and making the short trip to the events centre. Once we got out of the valley we were immediately struck by a cold, gusting wind which produced a bum-clenching chill. On the plus side, there was no rain and the visibility was perfect.
We made our way to the start point and after electronically dibbing in, we were issued a map and the clock began counting down from the three-hour time limit. I was pleased to see that the controls were mostly in areas I was fairly familiar with and we quickly agreed upon a looped route that would first send us along the ridge of Rushup Edge before dropping down into the valley below. This took us into a very strong headwind and I glanced at my heart rate which was into the early 170’s despite only a moderate incline and a slow pace. Our pre-race resolve to take it easy at the start was quickly blown away by the aggression of the meteorological assault.
After finding the first couple of controls without any problems, we embarked on a rapid descent towards Barber Booth and completely missed the rather disguised branch of a footpath we had intended to use to get us to the next control. Much foul language ensued before we started back up to regain the 100m of height that we need not have lost. maybe it’s, better to get the mistake out of the way early?
A few minutes later, we had found the next control and were heading off again when we came across a guy, probably in his late 60’s who was doing the event on his own. We exchanged a quick greeting and then carried on our route and I ate my first Gel of the day. Being low-carb’er, I only use gels for racing so I quickly felt the hit of energy and this was welcome after our efforts at the start. Ten or fifteen minutes later, I looked behind me whilst we made our way up a steep climb and I noticed that the guy we had seen a few minutes before was gaining on us despite the fact that he was more than twice our age. Impressed by this, we continued to glance behind us and a cat-and-mouse scenario ensued which continued for about 45 minutes until route choice took us our separate ways. Inspirational stuff, I really hope that I can do that in 30-odd years time.
I think I was enjoying myself more than I ever have during a race and we were on target to significantly improve on our points total from the previous event and in what seemed like a few minutes, we had completed much of our intended route. Just as we began our descent into Castleton which would loop us back towards the events centre, Mark’s calves started seizing up and we stopped for a few moments whilst I massaged out the spasm. Once back on the move, we maintained steady progress although we were increasingly aware that there was little margin for error if we were to get back before the cut-off and incur penalties.
We trotted through Castleton and began the steep final climb of Cave Dale with around 30 minutes to spare and the pace soon reverted to a grinding but enjoyable trudge. Mark continued to have issues with his calves but we decided to push on due to the lack of time and relatively short distance that we had to cover. As we got closer to the events centre, Mark’s calves got worse and our pace got slower and I began to think we had made the wrong decision in not sorting it out. We reached the top of the final climb, the events centre was in site but we had been reduced to a hobbling crawl. It was as we climbed the second last stile about 400m from the finish that things really went wrong. With one leg over either side, Mark mad a noise that sounded a bit like this. His legs completely locked up and he was frozen to the spot. We managed to get him down after a few moments, fortunately without holding anyone else up and I tried to help him recover through elevation, stretching and massage, all of which were dramatically unsuccessful this time. After a few minutes he was back up and hobbling again and we were heading for the finish, laughing profusely at the absurdity of having to stop so close to the end.
We eventually checked in three minutes late and incurred a small points deduction but were overall very happy with our result and in the way that we executed the race; concluding that if we could refine our approach further and avoid calamity, we have the potential to perhaps compete near the top of the leader board in the future. The event was really well organised and I would encourage anyone to check them out. It’s a great way of getting into mountain marathons and learning the skills without spending hundreds of pounds on equipment
As we drove out from the event across Winatts pass, I noticed that flying next to us was the first Swallow I have seen this year. Darting this way and that, no doubt looking for insects. Following the last three hours, I thought to myself that whilst I could never match its swiftness or grace, I could perhaps relate to the sense of freedom and joy that it expressed through unencumbered movement in clean air.