It is twenty seven years since Bryan undertook his first Mountain Marathon.  

Recently he completed the one that could be his last.  

Or there again.....


A Last Goodbye?

In late October 1985 I completed an event in the Lakes known as the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon (KIMM).

This was a 2 day event requiring competitors to find a series of checkpoints (in those days just an orienteering kite and some pin hole punches) placed so that they weren’t too easy to find.

The courses presented choices of routes to get to them – for example should I contour around the hill traversing this boulder field, or would it be quicker to follow the path but have to climb 300 ft more?

All the gear needed for an overnight camp in the middle of nowhere – tent; sleeping bag; food etc. - had to be carried with you, and the intention was that you ran as much as you could.

We finished 145th out of 328 teams and I really enjoyed it – particularly when we finished!

These days the KIMM is known as the Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) and achieved some undeserved notoriety in 2008 when heavy rain and flooding lead to headline TV news about Hundreds of runners stranded overnight on Mount Scafell!

The 1985 event was the first of many more Mountain Marathons for me. I have competed in other Karrimors; Saunders Lakeleand Mountain Marathons (SLMM); the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon (LAMM); the Rock and Run; The Howgill Challenge; and (in 1990) the Swiss Karrimor which took place in Lenk in the Swiss Alps.

In 1992 I completed the LAMM in Glen Shiel, Scotland, with Tony Mercer. I didn’t know at the time but this was to be my last event. In subsequent years I started to have problems with cramp which has stopped me running and, despite seeing every possible expert, I have been unable to overcome it.

I wasn’t happy with this situation and it has been gnawing away at me for some years. If I had to stop Mountain Marathons I would prefer it to be my decision rather than one that crept up on me.

The Saunders is the only event that has a class purely for walkers (you have to wear walking boots!) so I suggested to Tony Mercer that we should give it a go. He agreed.

On the Wednesday before the event I was at the physio barely able to straighten up, and certainly in no state to compete. An hour’s manipulation seemed to improve it a bit and so we decided to give it a try.

This year’s event was based at Wasdale Head. The forecast for the weekend had been grim right up until Thursday night when suddenly it started predicting a decent day and we arrived in Wasdale at 8am in glorious sunshine and no wind.

The event centre at Wasdale Head

After registering and sorting gear out we had plenty of time for a cuppa before the mile walk to the start. Back in the ‘old days’ my haversack weighed as little as 11lbs for an event like this – achieved by doing things such as taking a very thin Karrimat and using foil dishes as pans;, but this time we had gone for a bit more luxury and the consequent weight was 17lbs – 8.5 bags of sugar – and it felt it as we trudged along.

View back to the event centre on the walk to the Start

At the Start

On our start time of 10:23 Tony ‘dibbed’ and we were off. Dibbing was the biggest change I noticed since 1985. You have a small pen-like electronic device fastened to one of the teams wrists and you dib this into a small box located at each control. It registers your time onto the dibber and when you finish you download it into another little box and are handed, there and then, a print out of the times for all your controls and your current position within the class.

Hang dibbed to start we were handed a piece of paper with the 6-figure grid reference and a description of our 10 checkpoints for the day. We then spent 20 mins marking the controls on the map – some things hadn’t changed!

Our first control was a re-entrant and I made the first navigational mistake by leaving the stream too early. This probably cost us 5 minutes and was a reminder to me that in these events you should not get distracted by where other teams are going and concentrate on, and have confidence in, your own route choice and navigation.

From there the route took us steeply to a knoll near Looking Stead on the Pillar ridge. This went well and our next control was on Wind Gap on the far side of Pillar. I opted for contouring around Pillar across a large boulder field (I’ve finished the Wainwrights so don’t need the tick!), whilst virtually everyone else went over the top The results suggest this recovered the time lost on the first control.

Bryan on the ridge near Looking Stead

Tony ‘dibs’ the 2nd control

The course then took us via Scoat Fell where we stopped for a drink and where I left my compass on the rock, only realising when we were 300 feet lower down. I opted not to go back for it!

This is where I left my compass!

Leg 6 from Scoat Tarn to the Pots of Ashness was our best of the event. I took a perfect contouring route and the split times show only 6 teams were faster than us on this 45 minute stretch.  

Looking down Blengdale. The finish is near the forest at the end of the valley

Finish and Overnight camp comes into view

Two more tough, boggy legs took us to within sight of the overnight camp at Scalderskew farm, just a couple of miles North West of Calder Bridge on the coast. A final trudge through the forest saw us finish the 3739ft / 10.7miles of Day 1 in 7hrs 3mins.

Tony dibs at the Finish

The overnight camp was excellent, and one great tradition of the Saunders remained intact – they try and get some beer into the site! In this case it had to be pre-ordered and we’d only gone for one each, but sitting in the sun after the tent was up and drinking a beer was a superb end to the day.

 The overnight camp

One other noticeable difference was the size of tents. My Saunders Spacepacker was the tent for events back in ’85, but it seemed like a large house compared to some of the things people were squeezing into today.

 Our 5-star accommodation!

Dinner is served (note the dibber on Tony’s wrist)

A good meal and off to sleep for me, but not so for Tony. An on-going problems with leg cramps meant he had to get up every hour or so up to 2am and walk around so he was pretty shattered as we lined up for the mass start on Day 2.

The weather was more overcast and cloud had begun to cover some of the higher tops. Another early mistake on the first control cost us time (we should have followed the masses on this occasion) before the long flog up to control 3 above Buckbarrow and number 4 near the summit of Seatallan, which by this time was in the mist.

Into the mist as we approach the control on Seatallan

Tony approaching control 7

The next three legs were relatively straight forward before we headed towards Wast Water on a long contour of a boulder strewn slope hidden amongst thick bracken. This leg was only about 1 mile in distance but took us 43 mins.

The start of the rough stretch ( didn’t take many photos along here!)

Worse was to follow as even rougher ground had to be traversed around the shoulder of Yewbarrow. This was less than a mile and took us 58 mins!

Looking down Wasdale

Control 9 at last - on the slopes of Yewbarrow

Thankfully that was the worst over and the last couple of miles to the finish were over more reasonable ground. We ended the 2376ft / 11.4miles in 6 hours 41 mins.

The end is in sight

The Finish

Looking at the results today we seem to have done pretty well.

We were the 2nd oldest team in the class (a combined age of 128 years) and finished 24th out of 38.

The Veterans category (teams with a combined age over 90) has a handicap system based on your combined age and in this we finished 2nd out of 17 teams

Interestingly the class we did (the Bedafell) uses the same course as a runner’s class (the Wansfell). Comparing our times to these teams we would have finished 95th out of 115; and with the Vets handicap time we would have been 19th out of 52.

I am pretty pleased with that. It’s probably a good way to end my Mountain Marathon career although if someone were to be interested in having a go some time………..

One final thought. Some of you know I was also using the event to convince myself that I was fit enough to head off to the Alps next week and attempt to climb Mont Blanc. It’s done that, but yesterday’s headline news of the avalanche deaths on the mountain has done nothing to reassure Liz that I should be going. Clearly it’s a risk, but then so is Jack’s Rake and I’d happily go up that tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

Bryan Hardaker,  17th July 2012





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