By Mountain Marathon correspondent Chris Baynham-Hughes
What a year! The 2019 Mountain Marathon championships finished in style with its second visit to Scotland for the year. The Lowther hills provide an outstanding environment to play in, with steep but short climbs it’s surprising how much ground a team can cover. My first visit here was for what, sadly, became the last Marmot 24. I set off as a solo competitor with a plan based upon clusters with a handful of additional tops or clusters in case I was really moving well. As a personal first, I totally underestimated how much ground could be covered and had to add some additional clusters of CPs to maximise my time out on the course. As my regular race partner Max will tell you, it’s always the other way around when we race, I get over excited and the conversation goes along these lines; “Max! We could take CP209 and CP207 then head in via CP249!”, “Err… Chris, we’ve got 15 minutes left to go and that’s about 10k!”, “… oh.. yes.. you’re right… sorry!”
A lovely sunset at our overnight camp at the ROC Mountain Marathon ©Steve Ashworth
Mountain Marathon legend Steve Birkinshaw took no prisoners on day one and was ruthlessly efficient on day two in order to take the win by 21 minutes over Tom Gomrsall. Steve and Tom were a full hour and a half ahead of chasing pair Piotr Paszynski and Maciej Marcjanek. This result finished what Steve started by winning Marmot Dark Mountains with Charlie Sproson back in January, leaving him the clear winner not only on the day but overall for 2019.
One of the things I love about Mountain Marathons is that ‘Elite’ really means ‘Elite’. If you’re thinking follows along the lines of; “Why start a race you know you can finish?” then get signed up next year! Steve was the only person to complete two Elite classes out of the three in 2019. A combination of staying fit throughout the year, efficient Nav and sheer determination really makes Elite completions a pinnacle of Ultra running and mountain craft. Huge congratulations and respect Steve!
Navigating through beautiful terrain at the Scottish Mountain Marathon in Attadale ©Steve Ashworth
Philip Vokes may have had a new partnership for the ROC after winning the Scottish Mountain Marathon with Adam Fieldhouse, but the result was the same. Philip and Alistair Thornton smashed day one enabling them to take the foot off the gas for day two. Day one had seen Mark Potts, Rob Henson/Douglas MacEwan, and Robbie Peal/Gregor Malcolm all finish within seconds of each other, but it was Potts who pulled away on day two to snatch second from Henson/MacEwan. However, in the overall standings it was Peal/Malcolm who had the last laugh, taking joint second overall behind the imperious Vokes.
In the mixed, Chloe Lumsdon and Ant Emmet took the win to make it a clean sweep across all the Mountain Marathon Championship events. The result also secured the Ladies title for Lumsdon ahead of the evergreen Wendy Dodds and Sarah Rowell who took joint third ladies on the day behind Leah Williams who was running solo. Michael Ayres and Ian Macdonald won the Male vets whilst Dodds and Rowell took the Female vets spoils.
Enjoying some dark adventures in the Eastern fells of the Lake District ©Steve Ashworth
Turning to the B Class, it was Eoin Lennon and Iain Whiteside who comfortably won both days. Mads Blomfeldt put in a fantastic solo effort to take second at the ROC, followed by Ben Breeze and Daniel Spencer. Sadly it was too late for any to figure in the championships, I hope we’ll see them return next year to compete for the overall title. It was left to Donald Brown and Ian Pledger to reap the rewards of their excellent placing at Marmot Dark Mountain and Scottish Mountain Marathon and take the title followed by Alasdair McCallum and Tommy Begley. Freya Shepherd, Arianne Holland and Jenny Rice took first, second and third in the championship – fantastic work ladies!
Setting off at the ROC Mountain Marathon! ©Steve Ashworth
The upside down pudding bowl style hills proved ideal for vet 50 Martin Skinner as he won the C class by almost 30 minutes. This was enough to see the Championship title his for 2019. Father and daughter team Alastair and Freya Mitchell took second whilst solo Daniel Rejment was third. Mary and Lucy Gray were first ladies back to win the weekend, but it was super vet 65 Rachael Gooch who took the overall ladies championship title; simply superb.
Examine the route choices at the Scottish Mountain Marathon ©Steve Ashworth
The tightest battle of the weekend has to go to Darrell High and Richard Kendall. Just 9 points separated almost 13 hours of racing. They both breached the thousand point mark with 1047 and 1038 respectively. Sally Fawcett and Simon Mills bagged an outstanding 950 to take third with the first solo female going to Karen Parker on 846 points. Once again the Score Classes proved the most popular format, with the vast majority of competitors selecting the fixed time, variable route option.
Championship wise, High’s back to back winning performances on Scottish soil meant he was 6 points clear of Mark Clarkson and 10 clear of Ian Jones who took third place overall. The ladies long score title went to Sue Richmond just 3 points ahead of Carmen Elphick and 9 ahead of Nicola Sommers. As a vet 50, High also claimed the Mens vets prize by 7 points over Matthew Smith. Attracting over 60 different teams (including individuals) I feel the long score is a category that will continue to grow in appeal and it’ll be fascinating to see what 2020 will bring.
Taking on the challenge at the Marmot Dark Mountains! ©Steve Ashworth
The Medium Score proved incredibly popular with over 75 teams competing. A stunning first day for Alastair and Catriona Graves placed them 15 points clear of Peter Stobbs and 25 points clear of Peter Davies and John Rothwell on day one. Davies/Rothwell fought hard on day two, posting the highest score of the day. An agonising 24 points ahead of the Graves’ score and 9 ahead of Stobbs on the day. The mathematicians amongst you will realise this meant that first and second had equal points so it went down to the time; 2.5 minutes was the margin of win and there was just single point between first and third. For the event to come down to time after over 10.5 hours of racing shows just how competitive the score classes are; huge congratulations to Alastair and Catriona.
Despite the heroics of the day, Chris Naylor and Jonathan Cox already had the championship sewn up after back to back wins at Marmot Dark Mountains and Scottish Mountain Marathon, leaving Graves to pick up third place overall. Catriona, however, scooped the ladies title followed by Elaine Gillies and Ellie Salisbury/Zoe Tinnion. Despite the agony of such a close fought contest, Stobbs would no doubt have taken solace in winning the men’s vets prize ahead of David Frame and Adrian Moir. Elaine Gillies, Ellie Salisbury and Wendy MacKinnon demonstrated that the Vets are incredibly strong in the score classes.
Exploring the beautiful Lowther Hills at the ROC Mountain Marathon ©Steve Ashworth
Alan Irving and Paul Managh were confirmed as 2019 Mountain Marathon Champs in the Short Score after the Scottish Mountain Marathon, but were not content with just two back to back wins. Their return to compete at the ROC was no less dominant, in the end winning by 74 points. Tom and Ben Mitchell were second followed by Andy Bell. First lady was Morag McIntyre, competing in a mixed Vet 60 team whilst Julie Ferris-Worth was first solo lady.
As mentioned above, Managh and Irving were champions before they had stepped foot on the ROC course. Sadly, joint third placed Max Wainwright and I were not able to make the start line through injury so didn’t get another chance to go head to head again, hopefully 2020 will see us return. Morag McIntyre’s first placings at both Scottish Mountain Marathon and ROC were enough to crown her ladies Short score champion with Ferris-Worth and Fiona Marynicz taking second and third ladies spot. The male vet’s championship finished with a win for Graham McIntyre, followed by Andy Bell and Paul Marynicz, whilst Rhona Fraser joined McIntyre and Marynicz on the ladies Vets podium.
A remote overnight camp at the Scottish Mountain Marathon ©Steve Ashworth
Congratulations are also in order for Gregor Malcom and Robbie Peal after their fantastic performances in the A class. They scooped the U20 2019 championship trophy but are also very clearly ones to watch going forward. Home in 4th place as U20s shows real class. I sincerely hope we see more of them in 2020.
Will you be at the Marmot Dark Mountains in January?! ©Steve Ashworth
The final congratulations go to Shane and his team at Ourea Events. World class organisation and a fantastic events team that are, in my opinion, second to none. The overall championship has built well on 2018 and I have no doubt will increase numbers into the sport, and provide some extra spice to our already outstanding adventures.
So, what will 2020 hold in store? Will Steve be able to continue his dominance of the Elite category or will the likes of Duncan Archer, Jim Mann, Neil Talbot, Tom Gomersall or Sabrina Verjee get the better of him? Whilst I can’t wait to find out where we will be getting to play in the latter parts of next year, I’m totally focused on getting fit for my personal favourite event of the year, Marmot Dark Mountains; not least because it is in my favourite playground, Snowdonia! I hope to see you all there!