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.

The hare and the tortoise

Those two guys are half my age and moving at twice my speed yet I’ve arrived at the second checkpoint ahead of them; curious. They give me a friendly grin and shoot off into the distance. I am plodding after them feeling old and slow.

We started in Cold Kirby up in the Hambledon Hills; ancient monastic lands north of Ampleforth and east of Rievaulx. The route will zig-zag up and down the steep escarpment to the west, reaching Arden Great Moor in the north before working back home via Rydale.

It is an unseasonably summery March day and… there they are behind me. I’m at the northernmost checkpoint in open moorland and I’ve beaten those lads to it! They shoot past me again as I start my descent into Ryedale and the search for CP 7.

The Cleveland Survival is an orienteering event; twenty five miles to cover with fourteen checkpoints, plenty of climbing and loads of variety. The perfect way to spend the day AND – you ought to taste a pint of Black Sheep Ale after all that running!

I’ve got this off to a fine art. En route to the next checkpoint, make sure I’m heading in the right direction and then – on the move – work out the route to the checkpoint after next. So as I make the final approach, I know the exit route and direction to the next CP and don’t have to think about it. I clip my card and move off straight away. No standing ‘round and staring at the map – navigate on the move!

Of course, I also trip over things and run into trees, but when it works it’s fantastic!

I’ve a lovely view of Reivaulx Abbey as I jog towards CP 11. We are on the home straight now, working our way back to Cold Kirby. And there they are again; they’re standing and staring at the map.  I give them a wave as I lumber past and, when they’ve sorted themselves out, they leave me behind in a cloud of dust.

If those lads ever learn to read a map there’ll be no stopping them.

The Cleveland Survival 2011

Hutton le Hole

“Why isn’t everyone following me?” I thought as I ran steeply downhill from checkpoint 7. Quite simply, there were two possible routes to checkpoint 8 and I had chosen the worst one; knowing that I had an extra kilometre to run, the competition had a good laugh at my expense and I never caught up with them. This was the Cleveland Survival 2011 – a 25 mile orienteering course in the Cleveland Hills around Hutton-le-Hole and Rosedale.

I’m working towards two events this year – the Coniston Trail marathon in June and the Lakeland 50 at the end of July and I thought the Cleveland Survival would be a good training milestone. There is no official route – just a list of 14 checkpoints you must visit on your way ‘round. So apart from building up your ability to traverse rough hilly country, it is a great way to sharpen navigation skills.

The event started in Hutton where we were set off in small groups at 2 minute intervals. Just like an orienteering event, the first ten minutes was spent locating the checkpoints on the map from a list of grid references on a route card. Once that was done we were off.

The start was a hoot. Running confidently towards the first two checkpoints it was so funny to see people running all over the place ‘cos they had no idea how to read a map.  This was pride before the fall: my mistakes were embarrassing and must have added 30 minutes to my time.

I have already described the first but the second was worse. We needed two OS maps for this event and part of the route was along the join – so navigating involved juggling with two maps. Jogging down a ridge to checkpoint 4 it was easy to plan the next leg; just come back up the ridge to the top of the moor. The alternative was a path that contoured the moor and saved a lot of climbing but it was on the other map and I didn’t see it.

Like everyone else, when I see people heading in one direction I’m very happy to join them; it is the British instinct to join a queue. So my mistake was all the more attractive because some others had made it too but at the top of the moor the way ahead was not clear and the journey to checkpoint 5 became a bit of a struggle. In all, another 20 minutes down the drain; good job it wasn’t misty!

Roughly half the checkpoints were un-manned, so you just had to clip your card to prove you had been there. The other half were manned and had drinks – but no food – available. This was an impressively organised event, run by the Cleveland Search and Rescue Team. An added bonus; the right people were on hand if anything were to go wrong!

And there were two more bonuses; the meal at the end and the best souvenir T-shirt on my wardrobe.