The first weekend of August brought my first entry into the annual “Seven Sevens” event in the Mournes. Organised by the Spartan Red Sox walking club, the event starts and ends in Newcastle, with participants summiting the seven peaks over 700m (well, after more accurate surveying one now falls short) and crossing the Ben Crom dam. Walkers can set off from 7am and take any route they feel like, while the runners all start together at 10am and must follow the same route. It is a challenge, not a race, but timekeeping is observed to help track people.
I felt pretty unprepared for this one. My training has been continuing, including a 2.5hr run last Sunday, but I haven’t been down to the hills to practice on the unrelenting steepness. We gathered and had our kit checked before setting off over the field. Everyone bunched to file through a gate into the car-park, but I ran ahead to skip through the wooden fence at the end. Sometimes following the crowd is wiser, like this instance where there was another enclosing fence! I just climbed up and jumped over before I could get embarrassed. We made our way up through the forest before the group split at the Ice House. The majority of people chose to go up the Glen River trail, but I thought the Black Stairs was a better route (even though it’s been 9 years since I went up that way, and the mist was down). There is a slight trail, and the female runner I was with knew the route. We scrambled up and gradually the footsteps and breathing up ahead became louder.
We had 7 tabs on a treasury tag, giving one to each marshall point. If you remember, it saves time to get one ready as you are already going slow near the top of the climb, to simply hand it to the marshall as you continue on uninterrupted. Donard was ticked off just under an hour, with the first steep descent the real test of shoes and legs. The shoes were happy enough, but the legs called for caution if I wanted to see the rest of the day through.
Pulling up Commedagh I reeled in a few of the flightier descenders and arrived alone at the top. Tactically, I hadn’t thought this through: the descent straight off the summit was the one section of the course I was unsure of. I could have followed the crowd if I’d held back a bit, but just peeled south down the vague ridge and aimed off slightly right to avoid dropping straight onto the Castles. I could hear voices somewhere in the mist but there was no direction. As I dropped out of the mist the Brandy Pad came into view and I contoured left again to hit the saddle. I had been leap-frogged again but gradually reined them in on the humps of Beg and Cove, pulling ahead to the summit of Lamagan. Streams of walkers were coming up as we negotiated our way down the rocky face to start the long drag up Binnian. We had somehow been leap-frogged again… the pattern of our different strengths emerges. As the Binnian path is ‘out and back’, narrow, and many people were on the route, we bunched up to make the most of passing opportunities. As I was still with the guys this time I decided to follow them and their superior descent routes/technique. We veered straight down the side of the mountain and they pulled away. A quick pee-stop later and they were gone!
The crowds thinned the other side of Ben Crom dam and I enjoyed the lone climb over to the river and the technical trail up the bog. I stopped at the river to get water and remove a stone from my shoe. In the extra shelter of the river cut, thousands of midges crawled all over me and began their feasting. Blighters! I quickly emerged back onto the bog trail in a cloud of swearing and map-swatting. I left the trail to aim directly towards Meelbeg. It was deteriorating anyway as far as I could see so I took my chances clod-hopping and puddle jumping before climbing straight up the side of the mountain. By this time the threatened heavy rain had given way to warm sunshine. Combined with tiredness creeping into the legs, the climb was slow. I picked my way over to Meelmore and unconvincingly towards the wall of Binnian’s West face. Although tired, my legs still worked going up, and before long the seventh summit was ticked off.
I did not work so well on the downhills anymore and was feeling the heat. I was thankful for a few swigs of water offered by a supporter at Hare’s Gap, and thankful for the easy Brandy Pad trail until my hamstring cramped up. After a quick stretch and more water from a stream I eased it into movement again, avoiding all the little ‘Super Mario’ hops that so useful on the Brandy Pad’s random rocks and steps (but seemed to trigger the cramping). The woman I’d climbed Black Stairs with (Jacqueline) came past me going strong. I tried to pace off her, but lost her at the final saddle, where she managed to pull out 10mins on the Glen River descent – a well run race! The new trail work on the glen path really made a difference. I just tried to keep going and hold off the ‘walkers’, many of whom run the easier bits…which is essentially what everyone but the top fell runners does (I also noticed this with some of the challenge walkers on the Mourne Way route…personally, I think they should sign up for the run but what ya gonna do)?
Finally, guided through the tape to an abrupt stop at the officiating table. 5:49:25. 29.5km, 2586m ascent, 5600 calories!
I was pretty foggy and drained from the effort and likely dehydration as it’s such a dry route. Hmm, thinking back, less than 2.5 litres for nearly 6hrs running isn’t ideal; I should have chugged more at streams. After lying on the grass chatting I eventually walked to get my recovery kit from the car up the road and came back for a shower and a recovery shake in the shade. Driving home, thoughts of massive pizza kept me going! I really did try my best to eat and drink copiously the next few days, but on day 3 my legs were strangely even more painful, then the fever set in and I was ill for 5 days with a chest infection. 12 days missed training in all, but on a positive note it helped get some weight off for September’s races. MMM next featuring a return of the illustrious prize-winning team of 2010. Happy days.
* edit 10/9/12 for spelling & formatting.