Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

September 26, 2011

Rab Mountain Marathon, Wales, 24-25 Sept 2011

A Mountain Marathon isn't really a marathon, unless you want it to be one.  Or two, or three...   Actually it's two days of mountain orienteering, while carrying enough gear to camp in the mountains and cook your own meals.  Mountain Marathons seem to be quite a tradition in the UK, as events fills up and amazing amounts of people are willing to carry their own gear and potentially suffer bad weather while camping with minimal equipment.  While you can do it solo, my friend Sarah convinced me to enter the Rab MM with her a pair, meaning that we could share the weight of tent and stove, toothbrush, etc.

We arrived in northern Wales on Friday night, and wondered if the bad weather was going to make the weekend a nightmare.  Weather forecasts predicted rain, wind, and fog on the mountaintops, oh joy.  While camping near the car that evening, I kept expecting the wind gusts to tear the tent apart, and didn't get a wink of sleep.    Mist arrived the next morning, and the dampness followed us all the way to the start.   After making a chaotic mess on the floor of the school while Sarah and I sorted our gear and hopelessly tried to make our packs lighter, we fit everything in (including way too much food), and set off. 

Yes, the winds were strong.   
So much for the waterproof socks...
Yes, it rained a bit. 
Yes, there was a bit of fog. 
Yes, my pack was heavier than I have ever imagined carrying (while running, at least). 
Yes, the footing was boggy, bumpy, rough, trackless, and unfirm.
Yes, the hills were really steep and torturous. 

But you know what? After a couple of hours I was really enjoying myself, even as I worried that we would get soaking wet in our minimalist tent and freeze to death that night.  :) 

I even (somewhat successfully) used a compass bearing to navigate between a couple of points we went to.  Although I must admit that our navigation was mostly by lemming (i.e. other fools ahead of us marking the points by digging in their packs right next to the dibbers!)

Photo courtesy of Gill Watson

Amazingly enough, the sun came out and the wind dropped in the afternoon, and the views over the sea to Anglesey were clear and beautiful as the tide receded.  Sarah and I had entered the Elite class, meaning that our time limit was an hour longer than most of the entries (truly, we just did it to minimize the time we might have to hunker down in the tent during a long soggy night).  So after 7 hours of racing, as we dropped down into camp, most people had already finished and set up their tents. 

We were quickly hailed by an assorted motley crew of other adventure racers, (including Tom, Gill, Karen, Mick, Dave, Emma, et al), and set up our tent near them.  Water came from a clear, fast flowing stream, and we could finally relax, change into a dry shirt (what luxury!), and get warm in the sunshine.  With several hours left to kill before dark, we all spent the time cooking multiple courses of cous cous, ramen, and hot chocolate, listening to the banter of the camp, and enjoying the nice weather. 

Sarah's tent was indeed minimalist, but we managed to fit in pretty comfortably, and the tight space probably helped keep some heat in against the chilly night.  I only had an old summer sleeping bag so I was grateful I didn't have to take extreme measures to keep warm.   
Gill brings a (plastic) bottle of wine all the way to camp!
The next morning was still calm, sunny, and almost warm.  While it had taken me a few hours to get into the MM mood the day before, this morning I was ready to hit the hills and capture as many points as we could get to in our 6 hour time limit.  Unfortunately, many of the points with high values were repeats of the day before, but we did manage to see new terrain while linking them all together into a fast route. 

The wind picked up significantly during the morning to gusts of over 50 mph, but our route meant it wasn't a headwind too often.  I did make sure to keep a really good grip on my map as it was the only thing not attached to my backpack!

We made really good time by finding a few hidden small trails, and added more points to our route with revised fast pace.  With 40 minutes to the deadline, we were still 4 kilometers from the finish and climbing a big hill.  Our legs were trashed, I was panting like a maniac when we dibbed in at the summit, and then it was a long run down a slope to the final checkpoint and the finish.   Just as I was saying something to the effect of, "If we push we can still make it", I tripped and fell into a bog.  Then had to beg Sarah to give me a hand up, I was laughing too hard and felt like a upside-down turtle!  We carried on, through another bog that almost covered my knees for a few steps, unfortuntely Sarah had to come through the same spot as well! 

At the finish!
10 minutes left and 1k to go, we were running as hard as we could (which meant a geriatric walker could have easily passed us), and saw the finish flags with less than a minute left.  In fact, after getting our results, we realized that we had finished with just 20 seconds before the penalties would have kicked in!

We had been behind our competition after the first day of racing, so didn't expect to pull ahead of them.  So when the Rab reps started pulling out the prizes for the awards ceremony, we wondered if we should stay for it or not.   Well, that was a definite YES after we checked the results sheet and found ourselves in 1st PLACE! 

We were grinning like loons when our names were called and we walked up to receive our prizes, which were Rab down sleeping bags.  Perfect timing for me as I had been eyeing them after sleeping chilly in my old bag anyway!  Hmmm, perhaps now I'll have to do another MM, just to use the new sleeping bag!  :)

Results are HERE
Sarah and I after the first day, with the field of tents already set up in the valley (to the left of the photo)

1st in Elite Women's category, and our booty, a Rab down sleeping bag!
(Photos courtesy of Sarah Keast, and thanks for carrying the camera so I didn't have to!)

I want one of these! (Klymit Inertia X sleeping mat)

Additional Photos of Saturday and Sunday here, we made it into a few of them! (below)

Definitely want one of these sleeping mats!

At the finish!


  1. WOW. HUGE congratulations Dawn. I was thinking about you all weekend, assuming the conditions would have been worse than here in Manchester. It turns out they were better. But to win your category is simply awesome. I did not use that word frivolously either. I am in awe.

  2. Impressive result! (more so considering that gigantic rucksac!)

  3. Thanks everyone!

    Nick, I think I must mention that there were only 3 in our class, but it still feels nice to win outright, especially with such nice swag!

    4 Winds, that backpack is never going on a MM again, it was huge and heavy! Lighter is always better...

  4. Brilliant! 1st place Elite lady, cool.

    Well done Dawn. Glad you enjoyed your 1st MM. Will you be back next year to defend your title?

  5. Thanks, I think the wild camping makes an interesting addition to a long fell run. Will work on lightening my kit (and pack), and yes, I think we might try to get back to the Rab next year! The new sleeping bag will help with that!