Now my very first event that went beyond a marathon was an LDWA walk when I was in my early teens. My mum and dad were into LDWA events and I suppose did not see any reason why having children should hinder their progress. So I did my first 30 miler (Spires and Squires) and I think I sort of got the bug although I am glad they did not insist us children did many of these events. But the event I am going to write about happened many years later but I know my early walking trips with mum and dad are to blame for my love of being out in the hills trying to always go a bit further.
I got into fell running from walking and mountaineering. After moving to Sheffield in 1989 and spending many hours out in the Peak it seemed a natural progression from walking to running. So my first proper long event was the KIMM in 1992. We entered the B class and although had completed most of the Peak long races were no way prepared for what we had let ourselves into. I really like the idea of mountain marathons, with not being a particular fast runner I could see that we could finish higher up the leader board if we did not have to rely solely on running ability. The mountain marathon philosophy of being self sufficient for the time out on the hill, finding your own route, thinking about kit and food, navigation and generally relying on your mountain skills levels the playing field slightly. We made quite a few mistakes on that first event but then what are first events for?
So we had an entry for B class – 55k over two days, well within our fitness levels, how hard could it be? Mistake No. 1. So we trained doing lots of Peak 20+mile routes – Skyline, Peakers Stroll and other routes we made up. All run at our normal race speed and on tracks we were pretty familiar with. We did spend a bit of time on Kinder, Bleaklow, etc but not enough.
We spent the summer running in shorts and t-shirts, a bumbag for the longer runs – mistake No. 2.
We went through our kit in fine detail – we were both working for an outdoor retailer (now no longer around, anyone remember Wilderness Ways?) and so splashed out on ME Dewlines, Saunders Jet Packer, KIMM sacks, lightweight stove, a spoon, Trangia kettle, cutting edge base layers and fleece. Got our kit down to the bare minimum and then reduced it some more. Mistake No. 3.
Food – same as above, dehydrated meals, energy bars / gels were around then, just. Complan, instant drinks; we searched for anything that was as light as possible in weight but plenty of calories. Not really any real food was carried. Mistake No. 4.
So race weekend came, I think I remember feeling a bit cold in my shorts and base layer (we had the minimum requirements – we were not being flaunting the rules but definitely did not have anything extra we did not think we required). Arrochar at the end of Oct is a different place to the Peak in the summer. So off we went with our light and small looking rucksacks that for some reason still felt really heavy.
So you probably know how this tale is going to end. After some difficult route finding, a couple of navigation errors and soon it was getting dark and with a whole load of route left on the map a team meeting was held. We had been surprised to the extent that the route planners go to to hide checkpoints – in all the races we had previously done organisers usually make checkpoints easy to find, not so on the KIMM. We had also eaten most of our food for the weekend so even if we did make it to the overnight camp we were going to pretty hungry on day 2. So late afternoon saw us dropping down to a road and hitched back to the event centre.
But this experience only motivated us, we learnt from our mistakes – particularly the distances quoted for the run. Most of the those k’s are going to be proper off-road k’s, more food and proper food is essential for me at least, it is going to be colder than you think it will be – take an extra layer (or two) and you are going to run slower than you think you will. This is not a problem do not try and run faster, it will not work. Do some training runs with most of your kit – that lightweight rucksack is going to get heavier as the weekend goes on despite how much food you eat.
This is what I love about Mountain Marathon events – get it wrong and there is no place to hide, get it right and you will have a fantastic weekend in the mountains. On day 1 you will go to places that you would not normally go to, take routes up and down hills that should not be routes, scramble around and over rocky outcrops that have no reason why you should visit them and camp overnight in (usually) a fantastic setting. You will then get up on Sunday and do it all again. That is why I have now done quite a few and although no expert feel I have learnt a lot over the last 20 years. So later this year myself and Houghboy from Accelerate will be tackling the Medium Score – a new class for me. So better get talking to RunStu about the best way to be training for running 11 hours over the weekend and see if we can get any new kit to try.
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