Over-ambitious and under-prepared

Early in 2014 Chris entered us in the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon (LAMM). A demanding event held each summer in a wild location somewhere in the Highlands. The exact location of the start is not released until a couple of weeks before, so you can’t go up there and reconnoitre beforehand.

This would be a step up from our usual activities for the following reasons:

  • There is no marked route but an orienteering course requiring pinpoint navigation
  • There are few paths ; just rough open country all the way
  • It is a two day event with an overnight camp. All the gear for this has to be carried, you arrive at the campsite knackered and get up to do it all again the following day

We were delighted when the venue turned out to be Strathcarron; just south of the Liathach-Ben Eighe massif. We had been there before for the CELTMAN. This is lovely country.

They looked after us well on the Friday evening. There was a big marquee with live music as well as food, beer and equipment for sale. We sat next to a bloke from Swaledale who – once he had quizzed us about our level of experience – seemed pessimistic about our prospects. ‘How much does your pack weigh?’ We told him. He shook his head and said, ‘Most people will be carrying half that’.

He was right. Making or way to the start the following morning I felt a proper amateur. Our bags were far too big and heavy.

It was a great day though! Our route took us through wild and remote country. It was challenging; one of the most memorable days in the hills I’ve ever had.

The checkpoints were an adventure, even in excellent visibility. In mist, these would have been very tricky to find.

My problems began between CP 5 and 6. It had already become apparent that I was under-prepared for this. Chris was full of beans and well inside his capacities but I had done little preparation on real hills, none on bigger mountains. I was struggling by CP 5 and kept falling over on the way to 6. Slowing down significantly and falling over constantly, I was going to be a liability for the rest of the journey. We decided to call it a day around 16.00 hrs – nevertheless, we still had a five mile walk back to base.

I felt rotten for Chris, because he could have finished.

Some lessons learned:

  • We entered the B class – this was (for me) too ambitious
  • We needed lighter kit
  • More than anything, I should have trained hard on steep, pathless terrain. The LAMM is nothing like anything I’ve ever done before!

So do we have another bash in 2015? Oh yes, I think so!

There’s no such thing as a DNF – only a training run for next time.

CELTMAN! – mountain run

So you are thinking of doing the CELTMAN! Thousands of people sensibly resisted the temptation to enter the CELTMAN!in 2012 – 127 were not so wise and actually turned up at the start. Of these, 101 of them finished the full course, while 11 missed the cut off for the mountain section and were sent round a low-level alternative.

In this first CELTMAN! My wife and I supported our friend Chris in the cycle and the run – I then rode shotgun for him on the mountain section. Mountain running is my thing, so here are my thoughts; based on our own experience, chatting with other competitors, and looking at their blogs. This may help you prepare for your effort. If you are thinking of doing the CELTMAN! you need all the help you can get.

First, the mountain section is big and scary; a serious Scottish one. You will ascend steeply, 1000 meters in less than a kilometre; straight up!  At the top is a rocky ridge, sometimes quite broad, but occasionally reducing to a narrow path with big drops on both sides. You need a head for heights.

Second, there is a good chance that the mountain will be sheathed in cloud. We had not had a chance to recce the route so the terrain was unfamiliar. I wish we had micro-navigated from the first summit. We didn’t, and found ourselves a bit confused in thick mist. In anything other than clear weather, it is advisable to get your map out and navigate; noting the ups and downs and correlating these with the contours on the map. Use the magnifier on your compass and take your time.

Third, the mountain section is very, very rough underfoot. If you are used to running cross country in England, Holland or Denmark, you will not know what hit you when you enter the mountain section of the CELTMAN! – before you compete you really need to get experience of terrain which is mountainous and rough.

Fourth, when you reach Corrie mich Farquhair you are still a long way from home. After an open water swim, a 120 mile bike ride and 19 miles of mountain running, you have still got 7 miles to go. For 4 of those miles you will have to watch every single footfall in case you trip and hurt yourself. You need stamina and presence of mind when you are knackered.

Finally; it is worth it. There is nothing, absolutely nothing in this world, better than the taste of cheesy pasta and a glass of beer in Torridon village hall when you have finished the CELTMAN!

 So go for it and enjoy yourself!

Emmanuel Gault

I like this promo video from Asics, and the runner – Emmanuel Gault – philosophising away in his nice soft French accent. But the bit I like best is the shot of him running uphill into the mist; you just want to follow him into the clag just to see what’s up there!