By Mountain Marathon correspondent Chris Baynham-Hughes
Persistent rain, high winds, plunging temperatures, sleet and snow… it can mean only one thing; Marmot Dark Mountains weekend!
The annual turn in the weather appears to coincide perfectly with the more extreme end of the mountain marathon calendar; I wouldn’t have it any other way.
At the pointy end of the field, the level of competition at MDM is high and only becoming more so with the advent of the Mountain Marathon Championships. Now in their second year, the championship appears to have captured the imagination of many and we’re seeing strong partnerships established.
One would be forgiven for seeing MDM as a niche within a niche – not least because it is – however it clearly works for a lot of people. The score classes also make the event accessible to all as you can head back in once you’ve had enough and yet still rank on the finishing board. The success of the event is without doubt down to the vision and impeccable organisation of the Race Director. Shane consistently assembles the finest and most dedicated event teams and I’m sure I speak for the 175 teams that entered when I say “Thank You” is not enough.
Elite winners Steve Birkinshaw and Charlie Sproson ©Steve Ashworth
Getting into the results, the overall spoils went to a new but familiar partnership. Elite mountain marathon supremo Steve Birkinshaw and Mr. Mountain Run, Charles Sproson, showed a clean pair of heals and a 25 minute gap between them and second placed Ian Stewart and Ally Beaven. Steve was second overall in the Elite category in the 2018 mountain marathon championship; pretty phenomenal for somebody still recovering from his legendary Wainwrights record. Steve has taken an early advantage over 2018 winner Tom Gibbs who was too ill to compete as planned with last year’s MDM winner Sabrina Verjee.
If Tom is fit and well for the first edition of the Scottish Mountain Marathon it will be a real clash of the titans. I also have to say I was thrilled to see my good friend and previous OMM elite race partner, Charles Sproson, take the title. Charlie is a master of rough ground, seemingly floating over it and I hope the partnership with Steve is one that continues throughout 2019. I always knew it was me that slowed us down, but this fantastic performance is the true proof; fantastic job.
Anybody who has undertaken the elite class will understand just how much of a test of mountain craft it is. It’s not just the physical aspect, but can also be the mental aspect of going from one side of the map to the other and back again. This year’s course was no exception with some really agonising route choices that can just play on the mind for the whole leg; “did we take the optimum route? Oh we really should have gone the other way…. Can we still switch?” Confident choices and commitment to the route can make a huge difference, even if you’re less than optimum. In a class where only four out of the ten teams finished, it was left to last year’s winner Sabrina Verjee and Alex Pilkington to take third place and first mixed team prize. This puts Sabrina in pole position, but with the Dragon’s Back finishing just two weeks before the Scottish MM I think it will be all about the ROC for the ladies title.
The A class is also a particularly stern test of mountain craft. Despite a strong field overall, the class delivered similar results to the elite with only 6 out of the 13 teams finishing the course successfully. (The real) Max Wainwright and Lova Chechik scorched around the course to take the win and have set themselves up as the team to beat by creating a gap of almost two hours on second placed Guillaume Courias and Ben Kelsey.
Twenty-two minutes later, Ant Emmet and Chloe Lumsdon dibbed in to take third overall and the mixed pair’s title. Rankings wise, none of those ahead of Lova (8th) last year returned to the A class, with Chris Jones stepping up to the Elite. All focus for the championship will be on the Scottish MM as a result, but with Wainwright (41stin 2018) and Chechik in such rich form they look difficult to beat. The ladies is wide open with Lumsdon (8thlady overall in 2018 having won the ROC short score) branching out into the A class.
The B class is one I will be watching with interest as there is all to play for in the mountain marathon championships. Mixed vets Sarah Dunn and Jon Musgrave took first in a touch over 9 hours, but were closely followed by Mark Potts and Richard Garratt just 95 seconds behind. Benjamin Wolstenholme and Sam Booth took third whilst some classy running delivered a win for the second year running for Jo Gillyon and Catherine Evans in the female category; placing fourth overall.
Wolstenholme and Booth have dropped a class having DNF’ed at the ROC and it’s a similar story for Potts who DNF’ed the A class at MDM 2018. Clearly the B class is suiting them all well with such a strong showing. Dunn and Musgrave delivered a classy second in 2018’s MDM, but with a performance like this I hope it’ll drive them on to take on a second MM from the series in an effort to scoop 1stoverall in 2019.
The C class delivered another mixed team win, this time it was Rob Henson and Beth Albon taking the spoils, five minutes clear of second place James Scott and Matthew Stapley. Henson and Albon are new to the MM Champs, but Scott and Stapley were 8thoverall in the C class despite only doing MDM (placing 2ndon the day). Third place went to Tom Snow and Calum Sowden. Snow claimed 1stin the U19s last year and 45thin the B class – great to see strong young talent taking on our beautiful sport. Whilst it’s clear that some markers have been laid down in this class, there really is all to play for – it’ll be interesting to see how it looks after the next round of the championship.
Clearing the score course was worth 900 points and at 750 with ~17 minutes to spare, Mark Clarkson and Jonny Malley came the closest to the maximum winning the long score (12 hours) in the process. This new partnership is clearly working for Clarkson who was 7thin the 2018 championships. 70 points behind were 2018 championship winners Jeff Powell Davies and Ian Jones. I hope to see the competition getting hotter at Scotland with Powell Davies and Jones up for revenge! Eleanor Johnstone (2018 champs Ladies A winner and 2ndplaced Ladies B class) and Jack Redvers Harris (13thin both A and B in 2018) took third overall and first mixed pair with 605 points. Nicola Sommers and Katherine Hargreaves we first females in the long score with 450 points and over an hour left to use, were their watches on BST?
The medium score was open for 10 hours and saw Jonathan Cox and Chris Naylor win with 535 points, Mark Seddon and Steve Wilson were just 5 points behind with 530, this could well prove an interesting battle over the course of the year. Gareth Clarke and Peter Stobbs were third with 485, Charlie Bradshaw and Dominic Arnold took the mixed and 4th with 440, whilst Josie Greenhalgh and Alison Wainwright grabbed the second trophy of the night for the Wainwright family in the Female category with 375 points.
Cox has stepped up a class from 2018 and Naylor has dropped down a class as have Wilson and Seddon. It certainly looks like they have found their range in these new partnerships and it’s certainly all to play for. The theme of dropping a class continues with Bradshaw and Greenhalgh; it shows how popular the Medium score format it. Just that little bit more time than the short, but not all out on the long, I believe this will become one of the hardest fought of the categories.
In the short score Alan Irving and Paul Managh collected a whopping 495 points but were also over 18 minutes late meaning they lost 45 of those points. I for one would not have enjoyed any of those 18 minutes and I’m sure Irving and Managh had a frantic finish. Knowing all your hard work is just ebbing away is always mentally tough to take, so they were no doubt thrilled to snatch the title. Julie Ferris and mountain marathon/orienteering stalwart Scott Collier were second and first mixed with 395 points pushing (the other) Max Wainwright and me into third on 380. In the ladies Sarah Fuller and Kate Boobyer took the ladies title with 340 points confirming their switch from long score and B class in 2018.
The short score is far from the easy option; sure you’re out for less time and it is the perfect class to dip a toe into this wonderful sport – not least because you can always come in once you’ve had enough, but at the pointy end of the class it’s about fast efficient movement and accurate navigation. The class is favoured by many from an orienteering and fell running background rather than the ultra runners per se. Bearing that in mind, a pair needs to be sharp on the details, however in a brace of comedy blunders neither Max nor I had adjusted the clocks on our watches and were still on British Summer Time, meaning we arrived in at 05:10 instead of 06:10! We also went for CP 201 at the start, missing the note that it didn’t open until midnight; amateur hour. Would we have bagged the 71+ points needed to win? We’ll never know, but it was certainly a missed opportunity. It didn’t take us long to laugh about it but considering this was our fifth MDM as a partnership we should have known better.
The next round in the championship is the Scottish Mountain Marathon; Ourea event’s reboot of the LAMM after Martin called time on the event. Anticipation is already building and I’ve no doubt that anybody looking to do well will need to work on their climbing legs.
As for me I’m still pouring over the map trying to work out the best route. An added bonus for me from a mountain marathon is that I can return to the area to train and work out the optimum route. All I need is my hill kit, race map and a time limit; it’s the adventure that keeps on giving, but I think I might do it with the lights on and a stopwatch next time!