Saturday 6th July – Sunday 7th July: Saunders Mountain Marathon

Saturday 6th July – Sunday 7th July: Saunders Mountain Marathon

Report from Sarah F

I have always loved a mountain marathon, it was how I got into running in the first place when in 2003 we entered the KIMM, figuring a background in mountain bike orienteering would be excellent prep for similar on foot (nb no it isn’t!). Fast forward 16 years and 2 kids I was standing on the start line of the Saunders mountain marathon with Erin my eldest daughter. At 14 she was just old enough to qualify to run the Bedafell course at the event, a parent child handicap race run over the same or similar course as the easiest ‘normal’ course. To say I was excited about this prospect was a massive understatement !

On paper the ‘Bedafell’ course looks fairly amenable – 35KM and 2000M of ascent over 2 days with a wild camp thrown in. Erin’s verdict was that is sounded pretty ‘easy’ – I figured I should warn her the stats hid the reality of the effort ahead- racing with an pack obviously makes things more challenging and then add in the navigational element which means in reality those distances are the absolute minimum involved, then take the terrain – a merry jaunt along popular paths it is not oh no there are usually many joys such as tussocks, bogs, long grass, bracken, rocks to contend with then throw in the steep climbs and descents and the large amount of contouring steep ground, then 35KM is suddenly a very long way! She didn’t really believe me – oh well she’d find out pretty soon !

This years event was actually in the Howgill fells – unusual for it to move beyond the confines of the national park but classic mountain marathon ground and much more wild and remote. I’ve done 2 previous MM events in the Howgills and had not forgotten how brutal the climbs and descents were! Anyway we enjoyed the pre-race buzz the night before and chatted to lots of folk and met up with the two Toms who were also running (not in the parent child class!) which was great. At 9:45 the next morning we set off, after marking up our map with the days checkpoints to visit, straight up a massive steep hill in boiling hot conditions. Erin set a quick pace (which soon eased off ha ha!) and we settled into the day. Near the top of the climb I suggested a different line to the checkpoint than everyone else seemed to be taking as it meant slightly less height gain – Erin wasn’t convinced initially as its really hard to not follow the crowd but I told her to trust me (and said a prayer that I was right and wasn’t about to cock up right near the start!) – turned out to be a good decision and we reached the control spot on (phew!). I think she then knew I wasn’t a complete idiot with a map and compass and was keen we tried different lines.

The next couple of hours went swimmingly but it was very hot and tough going at times. We met another pair on our course (a dad and daughter) and travelled on and off together for an hour or so which was fun and we would see them on and off the rest of the day. As the day went on and the effects of relentless hills and a lot of contouring began to be felt and Erins feet were in quite a bit of pain. If it was my regular MM partner then we would just deal with it quickly and with a dose of ‘pull up the big girl knickers’ but this was a different dynamic and it was really hard to see her suffer. We had a few short sit downs but to get it done we had to keep moving which was tough to watch but I wanted her so much to achieve this. After another ridiculous steep descent (which was done on bottoms!) and a long, hot contour around a steep hill – sorry Erin  (a crafty Sarah special route choice that virtually no one else seemed to take but turned out to be quicker – phew!) we were finally on the last leg to the overnight camp and Erin got a bit of a second wind to get it done and sit down!

We ‘ran’ into the overnight camp in a bit over 6 hours – very hot and ready to rest! We were pleased to discover we were about half way down the field (18th out of 35) and first all female team (out of 5 but still I’ll take that!). We camped with Tom and Tom and had a very jolly evening until the horrendous midges drove us into our teeny tiny tents!

Day 2 and thankfully Erin was keen (ish!) to get on with it – the pain of the previous day not forgotten but the rest had helped considerably. I reassured her that day 2 was usually a lot shorter and easier than day 1 on linear mountain marathons (and crossed my fingers this was indeed the case this time – it was!). We perused the map and it definitely looked shorter and with less climb but a very long gap between the second and third checkpoint meant a lot of route choices were possible. The route I probably would have taken involved a bit more climb and some very steep ground but there were a couple of other possible options. I pointed them all out to Erin and went through the pros and cons of each and gave her the choice. She picked the longer, higher level route with less climb – I thought this would probably be a little slower overall but as there was much more runnable terrain on the tops there wouldn’t be much in it and it would be a whole lot more enjoyable than slogging up and down steep tussocky hills! And so it turned out – this was the best hour of the whole weekend, Erin said she felt good so we ran quite a lot of it passing many teams on other courses which felt great and the views were super. I hope she remembers this part more than the miserable hot contouring hell of day 1! Anyway the rest of the day went ok despite a couple of steep, boiling hot climbs just to make sure our legs were properly tired!!

We finished day 2 in just under 4 hours and it felt incredible to run across that line with my daughter – definitely a something in my eye moment ! Final position stayed the same – 18th and first female team but this weekend was never about results it was about spending time in the mountains with Erin and introducing her to what passes for fun in my world. A good result was the cherry on the top of a pretty much perfect adventure (well you can keep the midges and all that contouring! I must admit it was a tougher course that I expected from the so called ‘easiest’ one – most people said the same of the other courses too so not just us! It was easier than previous Saunders events I’ve done but not by the margin I expected at all – some of that was probably the heat and some the fact I was carrying a lot more than I normally would but even so!

Tom and Tom also had a good run despite Tom P suffering with bad blisters – they also came 18th in their course (Harter fell). Brilliant.


2 thoughts on “Saturday 6th July – Sunday 7th July: Saunders Mountain Marathon

  1. Sounds like a brilliant way to spend time together! I’ll have to show Martha this. Well done Erin!


  2. I agree with Graham L. that it was a brilliant way to spend time together . Congratulations to Sarah F. and Erin F. for the first female team , it is a massive achievement to do with the junior Erin in a very tough environment , big merit to you two to complete 35k in very challenging terrain , not easy at all . Also I liked the report from the Saunders Mountain , it is really interesting .

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