MMM: the race

Saturday dawned bright and clear in Newcastle. I crawled out of my tent having only slept about 3 hours, but as usual, feeling fresh by virtue of just being outdoors. My team-mate John picked me up and we made our way to registration in Silent Valley.

Kit was sorted out and checked. It started raining, and we started the race at 10:04. First task was to plot the checkpoints for the day on our maps. We had agreed beforehand to mark them all up at once as it would be more efficient, and would avoid silly mistakes when we were tired later on. We both marked up independently and then quickly compared maps and confirmed the route to the first point. This took about 15 minutes, and was time well spent; even if it was intimidating to hear some nearby teams rattling through their markup like map robots.

We started with a stiff climb and I was immediately aware of the teams with heavier packs struggling up. The second checkpoint farther split the teams, with people searching the mountain up and down. We studied the contours closely and trusted the map. Up and down, the grey day kept navigation in play. My calves burned marching up every hill, but the flat was okay, and I positively enjoyed the descents: a complete mix of sheer concentration and sheer abandon appears to be the technique. It is at once both meditative and exhilarating – I was always reprimanded for running in the mountains as a kid, but as Japhy tells Ray in Dharma Bums, “you can’t fall off a mountain”.

Now, I did go over on my ankles, step into bottomless holes, sink into thigh-deep bog, slide on my face, and came down the steep side of Spelga more on my arse than my feet, but if you go with the flow most injury can be avoided.

Looking back, I think we lost time after the Ben Crom river by marching through tough terrain right of Doan – there was a better path to the SW of the mountain that was slightly longer but would have been runable. Otherwise, we handled the small cluster well and trundled into camp happy. 18.3km, 1260m climb in 4hr 55min. It took a while to notice the small writing at the bottom of our timesheet that said we were in 2nd place in C class! We were pretty stunned. We wanted to be in the top 20, but now the chance of a prize… the leaders were a solid 35mins ahead of us, the next team 20mins behind. We quickly decided we would just do everything the same on day 2 and see what happened: mark up all checkpoints, confer on routes, and keep moving.

Camp was wet and slimy so teams mostly hid in tents. There wasn’t the party atmosphere I had been told about, but we had good chat with the neighbours and the other lads from NI-wild forum. Cramps were threatening everywhere on my body so I shovelled my delicious food into me, along with some Ibuprofen and port. A herbal sleep-easy brew completed the feast and we turned in at 10pm for a fairly good sleep. Up at 7am, cup of tea (no breakfast for me), then time to pack everything away. There had been a lot of disqualifications (missed checkpoints) or dropouts due to the bad weather on day 1, and day 2 dawned with a similar forecast. The course planners dropped a few checkpoints for the day, in our case for safety as they were near a ridge of cliffs, or to reduce the effort a bit.

There were no clusters this day, although the first two checkpoints held enough route choice to split the mass start. We again went around the wrong side of a mountain, this time an error rather than suboptimal decision, but reoriented ourselves and quickly made up time. The rest of the day was spot on, if we forget the bog of doom that tried to eat us… and finally twanged my hamstring. Being unable to walk while slowly sinking is awkward. It was downhill all the way now, but I was nursing the hamstring and feeling the calves wanting to go as well. Why didn’t I bring electrolyte tablets?! John did a sterling job of leading me in and encouraging me all the way to the finish. When we got to the tent and finally stopped I was almost overwhelmed. Finished, completed, succeeded! 16km, 700m ascent, 3hrs 25mins. We were 3rd that day but held on to 2nd overall.

Soup, juice, sandwiches, biscuits, tea and the obligatory T-shirt were gratefully lavished upon us. Having placed in our class, we also won a generous gift voucher for Jackson Sports. John and I thought we might get some nice socks or maybe a base layer, so were very pleasantly surprised when we opened the envelope! I started a great chat with a fellow competitor on the courtesy bus back to Belfast, but soon fell asleep…

The event was very well run, and consensus is that the course planners had done an excellent job. I certainly had a great weekend, but really should not have listened to everyone about the classes. Yes, this year elite would have killed me, but I would have done okay in the B class: There is a massive cross-over in ability. I’m not saying I don’t deserve my prize – we worked really hard, and our team interaction prevented costly mistakes, but it wasn’t the reason I entered. With my electrolytes, and experience from this year I’ll be looking for a top 20 in the B class if my schedule permits entry again in 2011. Bring on the wall!!! (Mourne wall)

6 Replies to “MMM: the race”

  1. Good write up Craig. So the question is … after you’ve done the Mourne Wall are you going to tackle the MMM again next year?

  2. I might try the Mourne Way marathon after reading Keith’s good write up, and yes I would definitely do the MMM again (or try one of the others). It’s all fun to train for – I need some mountaineering on the horizon now!

    My nutritional strategy worked a treat also, as my legs were not stiff at all afterwards. Just need to watch the fluid and salt levels to prevent the cramps and it would have been perfect. (Probably not suitable for folks really pushing on, but moderate with bouts of intensity did alright).

  3. Well done Craig! It is a very enjoyable race, pity real life stopped me from visiting this year but hey.

    Cramp definitely is no fun, I hope you’re partner was a wee bit more sympathetic than I was to mine, and didn’t start laughing at you!

    Are you planning to run the Mourne Wall, or just tab across it?

  4. My partner kept offering me food which was good, but maintained the 20m incentive gap 🙂 Almost pushed me the last mile which was great because I felt if I stopped running I probably wouldn’t have been able to walk either!

    I was actually trying to be funny about “the wall” as in “bonking”, but perhaps I have committed myself to something here 🙂

    What do you mean by ‘tab across it’? There are certainly a few things to try, and the wall would be awesome training. I might try the 7 sevens route also. Part of me is mad and wants to do the ultra marathon, so I may need to recce that route sometime. Lots to do for when I get a day off. Will post on NI-Wild if I’m doing anything, for those who want to join in.

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