Wednesday 10 June 2009

The Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon

Finally today the legs work again....

I thought I'd try another discipline of marathon running and jumped at the chance, back in February, to enter the L.A.M.M. my first real adventure race which involved two days of orienteering through the wilds of Scotland with my old friend Bryan Smith.

This sort of racing is totally different from a conventional marathon and a whole lot harder on the mind and body than I expected, but also incredibly good fun to be involved with.

It's known as the Connoisseurs Marathon for a number of reasons; you enter as a team of two and carry all of your camping kit, food, water and clothing which is needed to take on the Highlands of Scotland in the summer (read as 'wet and windy), don't know anything about the location of the event until 36hrs before it starts apart from "3 to 4 hours north of Glasgow", don't know anything about the course until you're handed a map and some co-ordinates and have to run it up, down and over some of the highest mountains in the area.

This is really tough event. Full stop, Period.

Here's the GPS route of our drive up to Scotland and the image
Wednesday 3rd June

I collected Bryan from a pub in Rugby after a three hour drive to get there and then drove all through the night to reach our destination, Glencoe, three hours after sunrise just as my head was starting to get to that nodding stage. Afritrex all over again with mammoth drives, this one being 567 miles/912 kms!

Thursday 4th June

We camped in Glencoe, setup the Colonel ready for a night/days sleep and were rudely awaken by RAF jets screaming overhead three hours later....there goes the sleep, so we cut our losses, packed up and headed to the pub for some well earned lunch.

Now Scotland at anytime of year can provide 'interesting' summer weather - I know after having numerous family holidays there when I was younger; rain, sleet, sunshine and the ever present midges but today was to be a pleasant surprise - 20 degrees C and sunshine all round. Perfect.

We headed out for a drive to soak up some air before we'd have to do it for real the next day on the marathon and found a stunning little valley road running alongside a river and got out for a wander.
Now I know I'm renowned for jumping into cold water anyway but this was a fantastic place to find - a cool flowing stream and waterfall with a deep pool and a huge jump off, far too tempting not to have a go so I stripped off and entered the surprisingly clear waters without freezing myself too much, amazing.

Finally after waiting for what seemed like ages my iPhone signalled the arrival of the email we'd been waiting for...the location of where this years LAMM would take place, Kintail, around 80 miles away to the north of where we were staying. Tonight we'd rest up and get a full sleep and then head to the location ready to pitch camp sometime in the afternoon.

Friday 5th June
We headed out of Glencoe towards Kintail via Fort William, situated at the base of Ben Nevis - the UK's highest mountain, and bought the last few things on the kit list we were missing and in near perfect weather conditions had a fantastic drive across the Highlands of Scotland and had a rush of nostalgia about quite how great this island we live on actually is!

Arrived at the campsite in good time and set up the tent just as in the distance a rainbow signalled the end to the fine weather and the approach of what we'd feared the most....rain. damn it, surely this would be here all weekend meaning a wet and uncomfortable two days pacing the hills. We went to bed with fingers crossed.

Saturday 6th June
Now I love the bagpipes; the sound conjures up scenes from Braveheart and Dead Poet's Society, determination through adversity and total Scottishness - but when you hear them at 5.30am as a wake up call to signal the start of a two day physical adventure they somehow loose their romanticism.

Stuffing the last of our kit into our 30L backpacks we left the Colonel behind and made for the coaches which would whisk us to the start point, following our every move on the laminated maps we'd be given so we had a good idea where we'd be heading from the off.

Fifteen minutes later we were there, I felt a little nervous to be taking on a new form of adventure racing but totally excited at the same time and hopped out of the coach to collect the series of co-ordinates which marked the checkpoints we'd need to complete the course for the first day.

Bryan spent a number of years in the military and knows far more than me about map reading and orienteering so showed me how to plot the control point positions and from their location, how to navigate between them using the contour lines and features on the map to give the best route around the course - and from looking at how close the contours are together there would be some serious slopes to go up and down!

We headed out into the grey morning with the first easy checkpoint on the horizon with a few other teams already on the way giving us an easy decision on how to get to it...follow the other teams! Once we'd both pushed our dibbers (electronic bracelets which need to be clicked at each checkpoint) into the boxes the next decision was a little more difficult - a huge mountain stood between us and the next checkpoint, so which way do we go around it!?!?

As we neared the decision point we decided to track east of the obstacle whereas others teams appeared to to west, oh well we'd stick to our plan and head along the contours keeping our height as best we could until the the edge of the cliffs and the eventual checkpoint...hopefully! We found the next checkpoint at the stream junction and made off into the distance for the remaining goals with the clouds gathering overhead all of the time.

By the early afternoon we'd found all but the last of the checkpoints and made our way down the final descent and wearily into camp to find the majority of the field already there, tiny tents already erected with people soaking their battered feet in the babbling stream to relieve them of the days exertions. 1400m ascended in total, 23kms as the crow flies or around 30kms on the ground.

After a light dinner of pasta, cous cous and energy bars we both hit the hay in 'the' smallest of all tents on show there - Bryan all the time happily claiming his £25 Ebay bargain was the way ahead, and I had no complaints sleeping right through until the dreaded bagpipes kicked off again at 5.30am once more!

Sunday 7th June
Tired legs, tired minds, tired feet - not the perfect recipe for a fast time and after consulting the leader board found we'd not done as well as expected being placed 109th out of 116 teams in the 'C' Class - oh well we'd just be glad to finish today really, this is another game altogether compared to conventional marathon running!

We trundled out of camp around 7.30am, the leaders and chasing pack having departed well before us all still competing for the lead, leaving us mere mortals to run at our own pace for the remainder of the day as we tracked back to base camp some 14kms away (as the crow flies which actually made it about 20kms on the ground!).

What a lovely way to start the day a sheer 600m climb to the first checkpoint followed by another 250m to the summit of the nearest mountain for the second - it certainly got the blood pumping and the knees working again. After some great navigating by Bryan we decided on our route for the next couple of checkpoints and actually made up some time on the other teams by racing (or as fast as our painful legs go carry us) down a pretty steep slope almost falling on our faces as we went to arrive at the machine in advance of our fellow competitors.

One of the checkpoints was placed on the far side of the river so through the chilly water we went which added to the weight of our already heavy feet, as dibbed in but the joy of reaching another goal was short-lived as we both looked at the map and the monster mountain which lay directly in front of out eyes focused on the challenge ahead we could start to see other teams already on the ascent slowly inching their way hand over hand up the slope. This really was a testing point of the weekend - already fatigued, here was another huge personal challenge to take on.

We broke the back of the climb around an hour later and finally had only one more checkpoint to find before we could start to taste to start of the descent back down to the awaiting finish line, clean clothes, food and the Colonel!

Pressing on, and after a slight navigation error (!!) we finally hit the tarmac road and the last of the checkpoints, well we almost got to the checkpoint having to backtrack to it after getting caught up in the joy of nearly finishing and walking straight past it! As we crossed the line a few muted claps welcomed us and we staggered into the finish area to claim our prize for the weekends exertions - a free bowl of chilli and a cup of tea!!

We had a quick glance at the leader board and discovered today had been altogether more successful as we'd posted a final position of 127th out of 152 teams in the 'C' catergory. At least we'd got around and with minimal training too, if we do this again we'll be fitter thats for sure!

This event really has to be entered to be understood, its around a marathon and a half for our class, the elite runners cover another 20kms on top of that and finish around 5hrs in front of us. It's great fun, once you've finished, and a true test of grit and determination - I will be back for more at some stage in the future.

Thank you so much to Bryan for being the brains behind the brawn - we made a damn good team and even though he's just told me he picked eight sheep ticks out of his legs in the bath last night (I couldn't find any in mine - must have been too quick for them!) I'd love to do another at some point.

We headed out of the campsite after a quick dry shower and straight onto the road south passing the beauty of the Cairngorms before pitching the tent just outside Perth. Monday was spent trawling down the A/M1 south towards home with a slight diversion to meet a good friend Ben Patterson who's been responsible for creating and managing my website over the last year and is currently masterminding the next one. Great to see you BP and thank also for the very fun photoshoot on the beach at Bamburgh dressed in wetsuits for the Press Association - very memorable!

Off to Cornwall this weekend for more diving and water based blog out just as soon as I can.



swinhoe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
swinhoe said...

Hey fella.:)

Here's the Journal article from Monday.

I see the Sun took a slightly different angle on it !


Varun said...

i just found your blog..first of all congratulations for winning the best job in the world....I am from India, and I will eagerly wait for your posts to see the adventure out there...

Filipp said...

you are very lucky.
i am from greece and you can come here in mykonos island

pilothans said...

hi Ben, you inspire me in many ways...would like to congrats you for winning the Caretaker job! been reading your blog for a while...

Unknown said...

It looks very good place in the photos.The Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon calls itself the Connoisseurs Mountain Marathon, and is celebrated amongst competitors for its unexpected twists and impeccable logistical organisation.
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Unknown said...

Mountain is a dream for me...Hope i can be a part of mountain marathoners too...:D



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