RAB Mountain Marathon Day 1

After final preparations we were walking along the road leading out of Coniston onto the famous Walna Scar Road which is anything but a road. It was only very near to the start did I realise that I forgot to put my ankle brace on so knew that my left ankle was in for a severe bashing. I knew I was going to go over, it was just a case of how many times and how badly.

After a few minutes deciding upon our general route we ran along the Walna Scar Road at a decent pace before turning off to a well made track heading past Goat's Water. Everything was fairly straightforward to this point and we made our first steep ascent to Goats Hause before contouring round to the control. We made a small navigational error and descended too steeply before realising the mistake and finding the control. We lost about 5 minutes which was a bit annoying but we were still trying to tune ourselves into the map but on the plus side no real damage was done.

We decided to head to the next control called Foul Mart. My partner Steve suggested heading up Tarn Head Beck but I favoured the steeper but shorter route via the left of Knotts. As we got closer he agreed that the latter route was the better option and we started our first serious climb of the weekend. It was a bit treacherous in bits and involved a fair bit of scrambling on all fours in places but 20 minutes later we were near to the top. The picture below is near the top by Knotts looking back towards our first control.

A few minutes away from the second control at Foul Mart I took a picture of Steve - I think he was happy to have reached the top!

At this point the photos become few and far between, basically because I was too knackered to take anything! We reached the control without any problem and so bagged another 20 points. We then headed towards The Steeple for our next control and would decide then where to go with our remaining time. On the way down we were comparing our strengths and weaknesses. It was obvious that I was a strong ascender and Steve was exceptional on the descents (I was pants). Just as he said 'I like descents' he put his foot in a really boggy bit, went flying landing on his chest before rolling onto his back. I was about to burst out laughing until he started to make strange gargling noises as if he was winded. I also knew that he had fractured some ribs a couple of months earlier and if the problem returned we were out of the competition. He eventually got going again but you could tell for the rest of the weekend he was never really operating at full stretch.

From Foul Mart we tried to head gently downslope whilst moving forward at the same time. We descended a bit too far and hit the out of bounds wall too low but didn't really cost us much time. We then followed the road up a small section of Hardknott Pass before taking a bearing to the Steeple. In the end we didn't follow the bearing too much as we were able to read the contours on the map ok. It took us just over an hour to get there with about 2.35 on the clock overall. Up to this point I was still feeling reasonably good and we made a decision to head towards Great Moss as the control was worth 40 points and we still had plenty of time. There was a nice runnable descent down before it became a bit up and down in the last mile before the control. We found the control without too much problem and we had a couple of minutes rest to decide what we should do next.

Although we didn't realise it at the time we were about to make our only but significant mistake of the weekend. We had 2hrs 50 mins left before the finish so were just over half way through the day. We were still feeling ok although I could tell that my energy levels were beginning to fall. We decided to take a risk and head north for the high value 50 point control before heading eastwards to Rossett Pike for another 30 points then down the Langdale valley before picking up another 40 points and then finishing. Well that was the plan that never quite materialised.

We headed North and eventually met up with a path (I use the word path loosely - a very severe rocky scramble was more appropriate) and followed the stream up called Tongue. Quite early on I became aware that our plan was not going to happen as our progress up the slope was extremely slow. I later found out that Steve was harbouring the same thoughts at this point, but at the end of the day we never discussed it, I guess because there was no plan B option available to us. With hindsight the alarm bells should have begun ringing as no other teams were heading the same way as us.

About half way up I was completely knackered and really struggled to keep going as the end was never in sight. I just kept plodding and tried to keep Steve in sight. I reckon it took us 45 minutes of hard climb to get to the top. We were now only about 1km from the 50 point control but as we only had 1.45 to get to the finish I said to Steve that we should leave it. To be honest I really wanted to get to the control after all the effort we put in; we were both knackered and Steve wanted to get the points anyway. The problem for me was that there was a deceptive amount of descent/re-ascent to do and I didn't think we could do it. It was a tough decision to make but at this stage it was looking increasingly likely that we would not even get back within 30 minutes over our allotted time. If we were to finish over 30 minutes beyond the 6hrs then we would be disqualified for the day. Things were becoming desperate.

We headed to the 30 point control at Black Crags at a fair speed as we descended most of the way. We then had 1hr 38mins to get to the finish - sounds easy but after 4hrs 22mins with heavy rucksacks it looked like a certainty that we wouldn't finish on time. It was just a question as to whether we would lose all of our points for the day.

The start of the decent from Black Crags was a total nightmare. Some of the descent was the worst I've ever had to endure - give me the ascent of Tongue any day. I think it took us about 20 minutes to do about 200 metres with some very risky drop downs on the way. Knackered and demoralised are just not suitable words.

Eventually we hit the Cumbria Way which we both knew was quite runnable but to begin with it was quite rocky but eventually the track became quite runnable. We had 58 minutes to do about 8-9km. This may sound easy but consider doing it off road with stiles thrown in after 5hrs being in the fells with full rucksacks and no water. Steve's ribs were clearly causing him some trouble and I was determined to minimise our losses. For the first time in ages I began to feel like we could get back without being more than 30 minutes late. I think this determination resulted in me having a second wind and I did most of the leading.

We were really motoring and for the first time in ages started to harbour thoughts about not just finishing without losing all of our points, but the possibility of finishing with no points deducted at all! The more things were beginning to look positive the more I was pushing and I think at this point Steve's legs had gone. We eventually managed to get home with a full three and a half minutes spare and most importantly no points deducted!

We knew that overall we had scored far less than we should have done because of our bad decision making, but we did have a very strong finish which lessened the blow a little. We think the last 10k was done in well under 60 min pace. Overall in our age group (open category) we came 9th out of 15 with 150 points.


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