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Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th September: Rab Mountain Marathon


Report from Sarah Fuller:

I’m climbing slowly and laboriously, the terrain is tough, wet underfoot, tussocky and largely unrunnable. I’m breathing hard and my legs are already complaining. I am about an hour into this years event and with 12+ hours of similar ahead I’m already wondering if this was a good idea! It was always going to be hard but I guess I didn’t expect it to feel this bad so early on. I have barely run since July when I badly sprained my ankle, but the physio gave me the all clear to run a couple of weeks back and I already had a place on the RAB mountain marathon so I did a couple of test runs round the chevin and thought ‘what they hell I need an adventure so why not’! It turns out there were lots of reasons ‘why not’ and each would make themselves known through the race but right then I was concentrating on not losing my partner over the horizon. Now I can put up with a lot and a mountain marathon makes you suffer in many novel and interesting ways but probably the worst torture is not being able to keep up with your partner. This would be my torment for much of the weekend and it’s a good job Kate is very understanding and I try and convince myself I am a valuable team member for my navigational and route choice input and not a useless millstone to be dragged around kicking and screaming for 13 hours!

Before the start we talked about how competitive we were going to be (answer: not very) and since this is the only type of ‘race’ I am ever going to possibly place well in it was hard to leave the competitive brain behind and just enjoy it for a weekend in the hills. The event started in Outhgill, near Kirby steven and the competition area took in the fells around wild boar fell, baugh fell and mallerstang edge. On day 1 we had 7 hours to find as many ‘points’ as we could. Different controls were worth different points usually depending on how much trauma was involved in getting to them. It’s hard not to get greedy and bite off more than you can chew (you rapidly lose hard earned points for every minute late you are after 7 hours) so we left ourselves plenty of options close to the overnight camp should we overcook it. Controls were spread over a huge area and there were an unusually high number of them so big scores were possible for those cunning enough and who had the legs. We started conservatively but confidently, planning a route that covered both sides of the event area but which also minimized the climbs where possible. Topping out under 700m the hills weren’t huge but there were enough of them and as we soon found out the difficult terrain more than made up for the modest elevation!

The first half of the race went well enough we nailed the navigation mostly and felt like our route choice was ok despite going up and over wild boar fell twice in quick succession (it was logical honest!). After wild boar a lovely run along the skyline to Swarth fell was a real treat but then we entered swampville and spent a ‘happy’ hour wallowing around in big wobbly bogs looking for obscure re-entrants and trying to avoid drowning. Thankfully no navigational mishaps and still alive we hit the road halfway through our planned route and halfway through the 7 hours. The second half of day 1 was spent in some kind of giant tussock purgatory – what seemed like hours we spent stumbling and thrashing our way across the fell through some unspeakable rough terrain, running was out of the question, walking was difficult enough! I developed a nasty case of tussock tourettes my foot regularly disappearing down some unseen chasm tripping me up with predictable consequences. This was not fun and many others were also not enjoying this part so we all had not much fun together which made it kind of fun – yes weird ! Eventually we came out of tussock hell and had a few nice tracks to run on for the rest of the time but by this point my legs were destroyed through having to lift my knees up to my ears every step for the last 2 hours that running was not very nice either. Eventually the 7 hours were up and we could stop this madness and lie down for a while, this was fun until the pouring rain started and we were all confined to quarters for the night. Quarters as usual was an alarming small and flimsy tent meant for someone the size of a small child on their own. The relief of lying down lasted about 30 seconds then I just wanted to be up and get going again to escape the tent! We finished day 1 in 41st position overall (out of about 110 starters) and second ladies team. Pretty happy with than considering!

Eventually it stopped raining and thankfully it was just in time to get stuff packed away to start another day of fun. The reprieve from the rain lasted about 10 minutes but by then we were off and didn’t really care. Despite the fact we didn’t cover hardly any of the same ground as in day 1 was a repeat of day 1 but in reverse. First up was the 3 hours of unpleasant tussock bashing around Baugh fell and back up and over Swarth fell (enhanced by now being under an extra 6 inches of water – joy!) and me constantly moaning if we had chosen a bad route as we seemed to be moving so slowly and racking up not very many points (if anyone has seen the lord of the rings film think of that scene where Frodo is crossing that marshy bit on the way to the black gate). But miracles happen and I felt a lot stronger on day 2 at least so we went for it and the second half of the day was great, the rain stopped we crossed the road and found some nice shorter grass to run on and started ticking off checkpoints with wild abandon. My legs, which refused to run on a flat track at the end of the day before now happily jogged along mountain trods, Up, down, along, up and finally down mallerstang edge we had virtually all the controls there were to have on that section so headed into the finish a little early. Day 2 felt like a classic mountain marathon day we felt good we had a strong route and we nailed the navigation every time, dare we hope to improve our position a little ? We started the what ifs ‘what if we had decided to get that extra 10 pointer earlier on’ what if….’ ‘what if…..’ On the walk back to the download we decided we were very happy with our choices and couldn’t have done much differently what was done was done, the important thing was we finished, had lots of fun and had a great adventure, and my ankle held up. We collected our final score and were promptly sent for a kit check, weird we thought they usually only check the winners but happily complied and spread our gear out for inspection. We then found out our score for day 2 was better than we thought and we were sent for checking as at that time we were the 3rd highest scoring finishers (yes 3rd out of everyone!) that was partly because only a third of the field had finished so far (there was 2hour window to start day 2 and we started quite early) but we were going to ride that glory for the few minutes it lasted! Of course that didn’t last but we were surprised to see that once everyone was in we ended day 2 23rd , which moved us up to 26th overall for the two days and the first female finishers. Absolutely delighted with that but more importantly delighted to have shared a great adventure with a good friend and delighted to be back to shuffling in the hills again.

Provisional Results are here http://www.rabmountainmarathon.com/results/2016-results/

  1. #1 by Hannah Lupton on September 27, 2016 - 2:00 pm

    Sounds like hell, well done for the great result and for managing to do it so quickly after the sprain.

  2. #2 by Matt P on September 27, 2016 - 2:49 pm

    Well done Sarah for getting back at it so quick, and a good result for your suffering. I’m ticking off the Yorkshire 2000ft peaks and have spent a bit of time in that area recently. Fabulous huge quiet hills, which can be a bit boggy and pathless. I camped on top of Sail during a walk of the Mallerstang ridge, accessed by the Settle to Carlisle Train.

  3. #3 by Howard on September 27, 2016 - 3:45 pm

    I only fly (at 30,000ft) over the kind of terrain you describe so good on you. No ill effect on the ankle?

  4. #4 by Caron on September 27, 2016 - 7:49 pm

    Fantastic effort so soon after ankle sprain! Bloody well done!

  5. #5 by Antonio Cardinale on September 28, 2016 - 8:52 pm

    I agree with all the positive comments about your tough adventure at the RAB marathon , made more difficult by your ankle sprain . Well done to Sarah Fuller .

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