Ahead of Raid in France AR and scouring the event lists for the upcoming weekend, the Marmot 24 jumped out temptingly. Run by Ourea Events, we knew this would be no simple task but worth every metre of the course. Various options were on offer, but with the adventure race looming and time on our feet required, the decision was made to race the full 24 hour course.
Saturday morning was mildly leisurely, with a 12 pm start. We set off so we’d have time to set up camp, be sociable and read over the maps, arriving at about 10 am to just outside Threkheld. By this time, the forecast has taken vengeance on us and now we were faced with hours and hours of torrential wind and rain. That’s summertime in the Lakes! When packing, we doubled up on waterproofs, having made the decision way before arriving that we’d have a midway stop, switching over to give us to time rest and load up on food again.
Registration was swift and we got our maps from the helpful team. There was a good crowd of people there; AR friends and also the Spanish team we’d shared a raft during the Raidaran. Later we found out they were European Rogain Champion and Spanish AR Champion… Their other mixed team included Monica Agillera who is a legend of AR and has also won the UTMB. Probably a good thing we found out at the end! One of the teams, ‘Team France’ had matching team tops and were using a wooden board, pins and string to mark out their optimum routes. So we knew it had attracted a competitive, international crowd of experienced racers. After chatted amongst friends, we left for our tent, hoping to rest our eyes a little, get our heads in the map and pack the mountain of rations! The Hoopla tent worked well despite the downpour, we pitched it next to the van and crawled inside, looking at the mass of check points – 54 in total. Phewf!
Anthony was on it, tuning into his navigational brain and devising our best route. My nav is getting better, but trying to decide a score course route over 24 hours is not so easy for the less experienced. By the breadth of controls it looked a superb challenge and this was proven at the start as teams scattered in all directions. Choosing to take the southern loop first, we left along the river path, close behind our friends Ben and Sabrina.
Having some time to warm up the legs on the flat was appreciated, but soon we were climbing steadily and heading to the fells. Ant reminding me to keep consistent and eat. We had learned a lot from Spain and his handy Inov-8 food front pouch had three sections, so we had sweet and savory divided up nicely. A bit of cheese… some chocolate… pepperoni…. A Trek bar. That was the routine for the next 24 hours.
We took the road round on to the fells picking up CP226 then on to 227 – this was at the foot of the crag and we got this pretty swiftly, giving us a lead from the teams around us. We moved pretty quickly, mostly likely some of the fastest of the whole 24 hours! This was certainly not a PB maker given the technical terrain. Once we headed towards the CP 230 and 231, the lovely local bracken was in full force, head height and grabbing me back as I tried to keep up with Ant. The next few check points we found easily, just some fiesty flora to contend with in the form of thorny brambles, nettles and thistles. As much as love the floral emblem of Scotland, I wasn’t appreciating it’s nasty nip.
Once out of the bushes, we crossed the road and headed for a defined track to CP251, winding up the rocky path to the top. Kindly, the CP was just at the top of the track, so simple enough to pick then turn back on ourselves and head back down the same way. Back for a short time on the road, we past Thirlmere on our right, which brought back memories of supporting Ant’s Coast to Coast race. We shortly found a rough path and headed up towards a sneakily placed CP 254. Initially we thought were on the right summit, but a closer look told us we were too early and had to scramble and hack our way up further to find it.
Descending was a scrappy affair; part fall, part dive and we made it back on to the road to then head for Castle crag. Local knowledge suggested that a route up must exist as lots of climbers visiting this popular spot, so we followed on. Our first stop for water too – I was super thirsty. Once at the top of the path, this CP proved a bit tricky. Although we picked a good line, we doubted our altimeters (having worked for Suunto I should know not to do that!). In a shade of doubt, instead we followed the map features but ended up too high and had to retreat back down the river. Eventually Anthony found it. Next stop was CP 242, spotting Ben and Sabs again at this point. Thankfully the sun was out and we were enjoying the pace and the terrain. Memories came back from this year’s Saunders MM as it was at this point that I had been considering chopping my feet off thanks to monster blisters following my Raidaran bashing. Making the wise decison to wear my Inov8t X Talons, my feet were spot on, just a bit of burn from the contouring – but all good to get to the sheepfold at CP 249, our furthest point south on the course. At this point we saw the winning team smashing it down the hill – a quick ‘Hola!’ and they were off.
We steadily picked up CP 250, 243 and 240, then headed over towards CP 234, which we found despite our chatting and distractions. CP 233 then 232 saw us meet Liam from Marmot, who was on us with the camera, snapping away and we stopped to give him a short video interview – feeling good at that point. Off we went to head to the flatter, but supremely boggy, baby head infested CP 235. We took the track for as long as we could once we’d laid eyes on the terrain, cutting in for the control. As nice as it was to have some flat, it was like wading in cold porridge and was arduous and hard-going. We emerged out of it and headed to get CP 239, spotting a rather adventurous pair slipping and stumbing their way down from the top. I wasn’t jealous – it looked a rough route. With our bodies rapidly hurting, we decided on the longer, easier route rather than a shorter, harder one and headed off along the track to the next CP.
Darkness was setting in so we got the trusty Petzl head torches out and made our way up the wet track. Nav was getting tough thanks to the terrain. We battled again with those bloody baby heads! My hip flexors started to scream at me, not enjoying being pulled and twisted from all the uneven ground. I was hobbling at bit at this point, trying to get the head down and go. In some strange way, when the plant life is akin to the Little Shop of Horrors, it’s a welcome distraction from pain. An untamed route meant there was lots of bum sliding and bracken/ bush bashing to get down.
Next stage was Aire Force Falls, very pretty but we weren’t stopping to admire it for long. We got on to the right track and headed up steadily, spotting head lights across the fell. Once we’d collected CP 248 and 247 it was a decision to carry on with the plan to get 238, 237 and 236 – or hit the road and head back to the event centre. My body was starting to tire from the effort with the rough terrain and I my niggles were progressively getting worse, so we bailed to avoid more aggrivation. We aborted left, eventually hitting the road, where I happily threw back some painkillers, probably not my most sensible medical moment, but it worked! Within 1 km I was shuffle running back to base, poor Anthony in pain with his 85kg and pack weight pushing against his X Talon tred…. I wondered if I should have taken the route to the other cps, but you have to make the call and stick to it.
Back at camp, we were watered with tea and cracked into the rice pudding, settling in the van for a short sleep. Taking some more painkillers when we woke, I
re-taped my feet and put on fresh socks to tackle the next section. Then we were off again. For us, the rest was perfect; we trotted off to the north loop and felt much fresher and grateful for the time off our feet. Poles were a must at this point and we made our way towards to CP222, a sheepfold that was a little harder to see thanks to the morning mist. Once ticked off, we descended down on to a track, munched some morning cheese, found our ruins to get CP 218 and marched on to get CP213. Sadly the drugs didn’t last and as soon as we hit that heathery mess it was a slog again. I saw a clearing, so shouted to Ant and I was determined to make the CP, getting on the track and picking it up just at the river crossing.
Back on the track and the wild weather was howling, so we trudged on and stopped to use the bothy bag we’d borrowed from the organiser Shane. getting cold, we put on our Ghost Whisperer down jackets and gloves, and I gritted teeth as we headed for the next few CPs and the testy ascent up to Blencathra. We were follwing the BG route mostly at this point, stopping to pick up CP 214 and 219. I took the chance to put on my waterproof trousers, which helped hugely on my hip pain – taking the chill off my muscles gave me some relief. My poles helped my to make the steep climb towards the summit, where we decided to take the main path down, with the chance to descend to the right to pick up our final CP 224. Winding down the slippy rock, we got to the cross section, peering down the super steep gully. Anthony though perhaps we just leave it; carry on down the path and finish up. But going through my head was the thought of getting back and missing a place by 10 points, or one CP. I’d be annoyed at myself. So I pushed for us to go for it, knowing that I would be fine with my life-line sticks! Once at the bottom, we crossed the river, found the control and then follwed a bold sheep trod round the mountain-side, over some scree and out onto the road. A short distance took us over a field and along the road I’d hobbled along a few hours earlier – then finally back into the finish.
Shane and Charile were waiting, checking in the competitors and to our surprise, told us we had the highest score to date. Two kit checks later and we headed for the van, made ourselves human again and were drawn to the event tent by the smells of Wilfs veggie chilli and cake. mmm. Chatting to the younger racers who had been successful in the 12 hour race, we waited for all the teams to finish up and gather round to hear the final results.
Shane called the placings and we surprisingly made to 3rd overall – we won that position by 20 minutes! So that last check point off Blencathra had paid off. Marmot 24 certainly was a lesson; we’d entered last minute and even for all the running in the fells that i’d done so far, this was by far the most brutal of terrain, but this is what makes an event stand-out. I’m certain this will become a calenfar favourite and i’d like to thank all of the organising team for putting together a true tester for the UK’s first 24 mountain marathon.