Elite: top class at the MMM

Filling in the blanks: Autumn 2013

Moving on up

Having exceeded our expectations on previous occasions when John and I entered the C class, then the B class of the Mourne Mountain Marathon 2-day (MMM), we were finally tempted to push the boat all the way out and enter the top Elite class. I think if they called it the A class they would attract more entries: we were certainly put off for a while because we didn’t see ourselves as ‘elite’. Elite sounds like sponsored professionals and record breakers… while I just go on like a broken record sometimes!

My memory is fuzzy, but I assume we had at least one or two training runs together. Schedules were busy, but both parties were training hard. We had always adhered to the ultralight mountain marathon mindset, so had no problem putting together elite-worthy packs stuffed with the barest of essentials (and my inflatable pillow). This year I sported a Lowe Alpine Lightflite 28L purchased with 2012’s prize money… a pack perfectly designed for mountain marathon events with its bottle pockets, mesh, bungee and stable carry.

Craig & John mark up their maps on the open ground.

Plotting course with elite-worthy packs! Photo by Liam Smyth.

Day 1

We had picked a leisurely start time and were relaxed getting on the bus to the mystery set-off point. We figured the mist would lift giving better visibility, and there was no point sitting around at camp from early afternoon after rushing to go too early in the morning. This seems like a good strategy when you are confident the day will go to plan…

As expected we had to mark up many more control points than before, most of which were one giant cluster. A cluster is a group of control points that can be visited in any order, requiring navigational decision making from the team as well as navigational tracking. There is often no right way, but a mistake can cost dearly. Teams are free to choose their route based on their strengths across different terrain. Leave the tough decisions to the experts; we are ‘elite’ after all.

A few hasty errors early on cost some minutes, but our big mishap was following a firebreak for about a mile into Kilbroney forest only for it to become an overgrown impasse (hands up: my bad). We had to backtrack and skirt around on the mountain bike trails. I also remember barbed fences, thickets, and scrambling down a dangerous notch in a cliff face. The adventure was high, but our navigational luck and accuracy were coming together too… it was damage limitation time.

Working hard to overcome the terrain and our mistakes we had neglected to feed as much as we should have early in the day. As we finally hit some fast track and dialled up the pace our energy didn’t last long, and when blood sugars drop you lose a good deal of fine motor control. As a result John took a mighty tumble in the rocks and sprained his ankle. He tried to run it out but a tussock took him down again soon after.

We moved on at a quick march and completed the afternoon with perfect navigation. One benefit to being out on the course longer than expected was seeing the beautiful light of sunset turning the hills golden all around us. Down at camp in Silent Valley it was already getting dark. We finally made our way down to finish the day just as headtorches were popping on and quickly looked for a tent pitch so we could get dinner on the stove. Spilling my pasta on the ground rounded out proceedings. It was just one of those days.

A long day of mishaps show on the faces of Craig & John as they try to make dinner in the dark.

After a long day of mishaps, you just want dinner. Photo by Liam Smyth.

Day 2

At least it was a clear night so I was able to sleep outside under the stars and give John more room in the tent to stretch out his leg. I was very comfortable in my Mountain Hardware Phantom 45 sleeping bag and had only popped two out of seven balloons in my balloon bed mat, which is considered a great success at these events!

The first mass-start of the day was the Elites for they are given the most difficult distance to cover. Another sneaky cluster with points on all four sides of Binnian quickly separated the field, everyone crossing their fingers that they were choosing a better route than their rivals. Despite being last in class to camp the night before, we were actually out on course for a shorter time than two of the teams (due to our late start) and were sitting in 10th place. The desire to say we were ‘top 10 finishers in the elite class’ meant we moved at a steady trot all of day 2 and made sure our navigation was spot-on to make up for the restricted pace.

We will never know if we did enough to beat the others with time on day 2 for they both dropped out, granting us 10th place by default. With John’s determination to keep going we had done it. Our hat-trick of perfect MMM runs was not quite to be but you take what positives you can… and we were top 10 finishers in the elite class!

Next time

I have had a two year hiatus from the MMM and cannot predict the future, but will certainly have another go at it if the opportunity presents itself. The 2-day mountain marathon is always a fun and challenging event, and falls within the distance one might reasonably consider on a low amount of training, which is all my plans allow for the next year or two. Maybe see you there?!

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