This year’s Mourne Mountain Marathon was based out of the lovely Tollymore Mountain Centre: a treat for all involved with changing /shower /locker facilities and large indoor and outdoor gathering areas…with tables and chairs! Luxury in all weathers for pre and post race lounging. The weather was even dry for the majority of the weekend….anomalies all-round.
I met my team-mate John a good hour before we set off. I took the tent pole and pegs and we made some last minute kit decisions. Based on the definitely dry day 1 forecast, I ditched my spare base top, spare buff, and also my mobile (John was bringing his anyway to check-in with the family). 330g saved quicker than you can say re-entrant! Up to registration and a thorough kit check. Some re-packing later we were ready to go, though were nearly late for our start getting carried away chatting.
12 minutes of map-marking and intrigue at the slightly more subtle B-class clues saw us running along happily in the sunshine: the adventure all ahead. An easy first marker, then out of the forest. The second proved a little challenging. “Vague wall/earth bank S” was eventually located and the few teams that had bunched in the hunt all took wildly different routes towards the next checkpoint. From then on it was a leap-frogging who’s who throughout the day, not knowing who was in your class and seeing familiar faces in the most unfamiliar places. We were really strong on the first day, and if I do say so myself, our navigation and route choices were spot on. ‘No Summits’ was our motto, and finding vague animal tracks the highway to success. There were still plenty of stiff climbs but the SW wind was often very helpful in pushing us up them. The only close call was when I nearly missed a checkpoint: A combination of old worn map and sweaty thumb, on a fairly linear plot, had me aiming us off until team-work stepped in and John questioned my sanity. Crisis averted!
Up the last climb of the day we dropped perfectly into the quarried crag and chuckled at all the teams scampering around a few hundred meters away looking confused. We all make mistakes, but it’s fun when it isn’t you. Being dry, we jumped up on the wall and sped along towards the last checkpoint. Downhill gave the legs new life and we cantered to an easy find and then blazed through the taped route to the finish. There were some MTB ramps in the forest, and I may have shouted “big jump… woooo!” and launched over them… “oh, hi Liam”: Our Ni-Wild friend was there to surprise us with the camera. I’m glad to say that our amazing speed took him by surprise as well….
A dry camp is a relaxed affair. We pitched the tent, hosed our legs, and wrapped up for the evening before getting the stove started to begin the eating of many calories. Other camp activities involve chatting to mates and other teams, helping find someone’s translucent green spork…in a field…. and checking the overall times (and the routes of the top teams). Top half was our realistic hope, top 10 the best case result; but our successful run had us sitting in 4th after the first day! We were delighted. 17 mins to 3rd put any sudden ambition out of our minds, and with about 5 teams within the 17 mins behind us we were fully expecting to drop places on the second day. Hey, we’d still get our top 10.
Owing to some lumpy ground in the wrong places, the inability to move to a better spot in a tight tent, a lingering pain in my hip I’ve had all summer, and barely any foam mat, I did not sleep a wink all night. My eyes were welded shut but I tossed around every 20mins trying to relieve pained areas. Thankfully my little iPod shuffle helped the brain relax and while away the hours. The sleeping bag I had borrowed was also lovely and warm: how much worse to be cold and sore! The rain started heavily a few hours before we got up and continued for about an hour after we started.
Yet again, John slept like a baby and managed not to burst a single balloon in his bed. I’m convinced for next time…1 balloon bed coming right up!
Marking up a map in the rain is a delicate affair, but I managed to do so in 7 minutes. We set off moderately to try and stir life into the legs and get the blood pumping. John was adamant to take the now slippy wall towards Checkpoint 2 whereas I wanted to take a track. I relented, but it was a bit of a slog and a thrash through boggy heather, although we soon evened out when I had us looking for the marker based off the description for Check 1… oops! The sheer genius of the position for the manned checkpoint delighted us no end, and the serious thought of going up and over Chimney Rock helped us focus and forget our shaky start. Perhaps we should pay more attention to the contour heights as the descent from the top was massive, although the alternative was a long contour on already trashed ankles. C class were involved with this checkpoint as well, so there were teams everywhere. Nice competitive buzz.
We continued our ‘up and over’ strategy for the next 2 controls, but limited the height gain to saddles rather than summits. It worked well, but there was a bit of a chase down to the forest edge, with us dropping a dicey few hundred metres against the swarm from the flanks. The adrenaline clouded our minds a bit and we followed the hive mind decision when considering the following cluster. A bad trail in leg-ripping heather while I tried to beat gels into my flagging body gave John long enough to realise the extent of the evil climb ahead. We changed our plan but found ourselves contouring indefinitely on more terrible ground, with the beautiful forest trail we could have been on teasingly out of reach. Silly boys. The trail gradually improved to a great control, before we started a long contouring climb to the Commedagh control. I could see it from a mile away, but getting there was no easier on the ankles or calves.
John was really perking up at this stage and his energy was putting me to shame. Downhill all the way home now, he disappeared into the landscape as I failed to match my descending from day 1. Eventually, he realised I was not on his heels and stopped for me to catch up. I tripped and slipped all the way to the manageable trail of Tollymore. The final 2 controls were not too bad, although the very last one had us cautiously scanning the trail side until we figured it may be on the trail above. With it in the bag, we raced the last minute uphill to our triumphant finish: still 4th place! I’m not sure how that happened: we thought our less-than-optimal moments and tiring bodies had scuppered us, but everyone must have suffered equally. Some of the lead teams made mega-mistakes, but were so strong that they maintained a top 3 spot with a bit of a reshuffle. I was impressed!
Baguettes, brownies and clean clothes awaited us…and a well deserved sit down. Banter and tales of daring and mishap abounded as teams streamed in to finish a great weekend. There was one final surprise waiting that made our 4th place hold-on more fortuitous – Rinaldo and Lawrence who came 3rd in our class, were over partaking from the main sponsor Lowe Alpine. As such, they kindly waived their prize to the next team: us! With a 30min lead they had us truly beaten, but we gratefully accept the vouchers…maybe I’ll spend mine on a nice Lowe pack for next year!
Another successful partnership from the Craig & John team, and a great weekend into the bargain. I thought the routes were brilliant, and would like to thank the cheery marshals, all the organisers and supporters. Thanks to the baguette makers (plain ham FTW) and thanks to Brian for squeezing me on the bus back home.
So, next year John… back for the win, or shall we try for top 10 in the elite? 😉
* EDIT – finally got photos working and sized correctly.
* FINAL EDIT!! – kit list & thoughts: