Report from Sarah F…
This was my third running of this winter pairs event and as the name suggests it involves mountains and er darkness ! It’s perhaps the most challenging, unusual and strangely appealing event in the mountain marathon calendar, taking the usual 2 day / overnight wild camp format and squeezing it into one dusk till dawn extravaganza.
I hadn’t run the event since 2014 (due to being involved in Spine race shenanigans in January for a few years), when we had a storming run coming in 2nd overall and First Ladies in long score. We were hoping to do well again despite the growing popularity of the event, however kate picked up an injury in the run up which necessitated a change to the shorter score event with strict instructions To ‘take it steady’ (long score is 12 hours time limit and short is 8 hours)- I was just glad to be there and glad kate was able to run. Both long and short score course get the same map and same controls only the time allowed is different so it can still be a very competitive class as a lot of people just don’t want to be out 12 hours (weirdos!).
Anyway we set off from a stunning event centre at Lowther castle in the lakes into a raging hoolie and pouring rain, which fell as snow up high as we would soon find out (now very glad of the enforced change in course!). We kept the pace steady – this is easy as I’m captain slow on a good day but also concentrating on route choice and navigation in the pitch black tends to slow things up anyway. It soon became apparent that this years course was going to involve some very interesting choices and therefore we had to bring our A game to planning an achievable but high scoring route (you are penalised for being late back over the 8 hours), it also looked to have some more challenging navigation than previous years with some real intricate controls on less than obvious features (you try finding a ‘shallow depression’ in the middle of a featureless moor at 2am when you can’t see the thing until you trip over it!).
Still we seemed to be navigating reasonably well despite a distinct lack of recent practice, and the route was flowing well. We first picked up some controls on Askham common which is renowned for tricky route finding at the best of times but thankfully we picked these controls up without too much cursing and faffing! We then picked a route that took us eventually over to howtown, around Hallin fell then up it via some very unpleasant terrain in a blizzard! We then found ourselves in fusedale facing a formidable climb up 8,000 metres (ok it wasn’t that high just felt like it!) of near vertical grass, scree and tussocks – this was more than a little unpleasant and with the wind howling increasingly wildly as we gained height we had to stop and put on all our warm kit (the wind chill was severe). Reaching the summit of loadpot hill was a relief but we couldn’t stop due to the freezing cold so we dibbed the control and jogged on.
The next few controls were tough and we had to really concentrate on our navigation and pacing, we overshot one that was allegedly in a stone circle and spent 5 minutes in increasing frustrated panic until we realised our mistake and backtracked to find it well hidden in some stones struggling to compete with the surrounding bog and tussocks (think of the complete opposite to Stonehenge ! ). Our route then zigzagged around on the lower part of the high street ridge for a while before we were re crossing Askham common again and the long run in back to the castle.
We finished 20 minutes early kicking ourselves for deciding against a quick out and back to a 20 pointer on the way back down but that’s score for you!! Still we were pretty pleased with ourselves – we had navigated well and picked a reasonable route and Kate’s injury had not made a reappearance thankfully so could complete the full time out and most of all we enjoyed it immensely. It’s a very satisfying feeling to have spent a full night in the mountains in pretty inclement weather moving under our own steam and doing some tough night nav!
We finished 9th pair overall (but only 40 points off third place!!) and First Ladies pair in short score with 340 points (31 teams started). In the linear courses (set checkpoints in a set order) the DNF rate was high!