The UK's first overnight mountain marathon, Marmot Dark Mountains, was held at Muncaster Castle in the Lake District this weekend. This new event had promised to be a serious challenge and it certainly lived up to expectations.
In the days preceding the event the planning team took a battering, whilst the Lake District fells were pummelled by gale force winds and blizzard conditions. By Friday evening, the night before the event, conditions on the hill were so poor that the organisers held a minuted meeting to discuss the weather, the risk to competitors and whether the event was still viable. Race Director Shane Ohly said, "We had all experienced the very serious weather that day and were genuinely concerned for the safety of the competitors should the event proceed".
The video of the weather on Friday provides an insight into the conditions. Note that this footage was taken before nearly a foot of new snow fell on the Friday night!
After careful consideration, it was felt that because the competitors were all vetted for experience and because strong warnings about the very serious nature of the challenge had been issued, that the event remained viable if shortened courses were used.
As the competitors headed off to the start they all seemed to be in excellent spirit and well prepared for the challenge ahead. The weather at this time and throughout the night was very bleak with periods of torrential rain interspersed by sleet, continuously gale force winds and very poor visibility. Although it had warmed up a little in the last 24 hours, this only meant that there was a massive thaw taking place with all watercourses now in spate and many new streams appearing on the hillside.
Interviews with competitors on the start line
The Elite competitors headed off first from 1900 and the last competitors on the C and Score courses had started by 2300. By midnight there was a trickle of retiring competitors arriving at the Event Centre and by 0400 most of the teams had retired cited the extreme weather and cold.
As Hugh Harris from headline sponsors Marmot commented, "It is about perfect conditions for testing gear. At most mountain marathons people are just wearing a pair of shorts and a vest but tonight they are going to need every piece of kit they have got". This comment was borne out by the observations made by the marshals on the start line; usually it is the elite runners that wear the least clothing but they noted that it was the elite runners who were wearing the most clothing. It was the elite course that had the highest finishing percentage and although the experience of the competitors is of huge significance here, a strategy of risking running hot (i.e. being slightly overdressed) rather than risking running cold seems to have been the winning the formula.
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: HUGH HARRIS (MARMOT UK), ALEX PILIKINGTON (ELITE WINNER), IONA FROST-PENNINGTON (MUNCASTER CASTLE), KIM COLLINSON (ELITE WINNER) AND SHANE OHLY (RACE DIRECTOR)
None of the teams finished the C or B courses but there was a reasonable finishing rate of 40% on the A and 60% on the Elite. The A course was won by Kevin Saville and Stephen Martin whilst the Elite course was won by Alex Pilkington and Kim Collison. The Score course had a much higher finishing rate as competitors could finish whenever they wished but the top teams were well ahead of the pack, with Tom Davies and George Neville-Jones winning.
What the statistics don't tell you was the high degree of mountain sense that the competitors displayed. Many decided to cut their night short and head back to the finish early, whilst some decided to camp on the fells and finish on Sunday. Without exception everyone arriving back at the Muncaster Castle Event Centre was in good spirits and had stories to share of the "worst weather ever". Marmot Dark Mountains promised to be a very serious test of competitors all round mountain craft and Saturday night certainly lived up to that expectation. The fact that there were no significant hypothermia problems, despite everyone arriving back wet and cold, speaks volumes about the sound mountain judgment each team displayed.
Provisional Results are available here: http://www.sportident.co.uk/results/2013/DarkMountains/
Photo Gallery with captions here: http://www.marmot-dark-mountains.com/media/photo-galleries/
Marmot Dark Mountains is an annual event held on the last weekend of January. Planning for the 2014 event is already progressing and will use another superb mountain area.
All Images - Ben Winston
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