Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

July 10, 2012

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon, 7-8 July 2012

Hmmm....bogs.  They are slow, tiring, wet, scary, and dirty.  I'm not a big fan.  Although, to be fair, the Lake District doesn't have proper bogs.  I guess they could be called marshes instead.  Which means they have clear(ish) water instead of black mud, and less chance of sinking up to your eyeballs.  However, the grassy ground just seems to sag with each footstep, allowing water to seep up around the ankles, which gives the constant impression that the whole place just might sink underwater in one gulp.  That's a rather disconcerting feeling, and even after miles of running in such conditions I wasn't comfortable.  As part of my defense, I carried a walking pole, allowing me to poke at suspicious ground before sacrificing a foot. :)

Why was I doing this?  I was up in the Lake District for the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon.  It was supposed to be a pairs event with my friend Sarah, but illness had her volunteering instead of racing. I reluctantly moved to the only class available for solos; the scary, long, hard Klets Class.  There were only two women in this class.  Enough said.  The race was held in Wasdale Head near Wast Water.  It's such a long ways to drive around from Yorkshire, it'd almost be easier to hike in!  But the area is beautiful and well worth the drive...as long as the skies are clear like we had on Saturday.

Homework or race?  Klets sit down to plot their controls...
 The challenge looming ahead of me for the weekend was over 50 km of Lake District peaks, valleys, waterfalls, lakes, marshes, with 3000 meters of ascent.  Between the two days of trekking was a secret camping area, only revealed when the maps were issued.  This meant carrying tent, sleeping bag, cooking stove, warm and waterproof clothing, and any other luxury that participants were willing to bear the weight of.   In a change of strategy, the Klets Class were given controls for both days immediately, giving us choices enroute as long as we picked up all the controls before we finished. 

At the start, bright warm sunshine(!) had us sitting at tables and chairs outdoors in shorts and t-shirts waiting for the starting gun.  Then it was a mad, silent scramble to plot all the controls on our map from the grid coordinates, decide on a course to follow, and head out.  Since it took me a long time to plot my points, almost everyone else was gone when set out.  Gone as it too far up the mountains to even see anymore.  Oh well...I asked for a navigational challenge. 

Photo courtesy of Sharon Mcdonald
The recent monsoonal rains in the UK (June was the wettest month on record....ever) meant that every stream, beck, river, marsh, bog, lake, wetland, cave, and waterfall was running at full spate.  My shoes were constantly squelching water out, when more wasn't soaking back in.  Worst of all was the gurgle of hidden running water...with nary a stream in sight.  The trickling sound would often get louder, until all of a sudden a chasm would open beneath my running feet, with a deep stream of water flowing by.  Relatively deep anyway.  They usually wouldn't swallow me whole, but on several occasions my knees came close to losing my ankles....

The rough ground took a toll on my balance.  I managed to trip over everything it was possible to stub a toe on.  This included, but is not limited to:
Rocks (plenty of 'em in the Lakes)
Ferns (really)
Lumpy grass tufts (hey they are at least a foot high at times!)
Sheep (just kidding, they knew better than to get in my way)
Gorse bushes (really regretted tripping into one of those)

The first half of Saturday was spent in the area of Leg 4 of the Bob Graham.  Flitting in and out of my route were folks from other courses, which sometimes shared similar controls to my route.  At other times I found myself alone in the fells, with soggy ground on every side and not a soul in sight.  In fact it was fun to stop and take a good look in all directions on such a beautiful day.  This was the Lake District was at its best. Waterfalls, high peaks, more marshes, a small lake, or a rushing stream.  The cold clear water tasted so refreshing.  (And that's why my time was so slow...I kept stopping to admire the scenery).   With a 10 hour time limit the first day, I knew I had to get the farthest controls from the finish or I wouldn't finish the full course.  I was racing the clock the last 4 hours, desperately running over the marshes with map in hand.  But time worked with me, and seemed to slow down.  At least I would run what seemed like a kilometer, and only a few minutes would pass.  Luckily I was able to arrive at a bustling mid-camp with a few minutes to spare.

Which tent is mine?!?!    Photo courtesy of Sharon Mcdonald
 In midcamp, it was thankfully still warm, sunny, and midge-free.  In other words, perfect for camping.   Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to set up Sarah's lightweight tent.  Luckily, at least 200 other tents there were the exact same model (not even joking) and I asked my nearest neighbor for help!   Once it was set up, I also managed to lose it for a while after heading over to refill my water bottles.  Well, I didn't lose it, I lost myself.  I was standing in the middle of the sea of tents and had no idea where mine was.   A guy near me saw my confused look, and asked rather unhelpfully, "Is it green?!?".

Klets winner Karen Nash relaxes in her tent.
 My new cat food can stove worked like a charm, with 3 oz of fluid I was able to cook 3 meals with enough left to do 2 more.   To save washing up, after boiling some water I cooked and ate my meals out of a ziploc freezer bag.  That also worked fine until I made hot chocolate...trying to drink it out of a plastic bag wasn't terribly smart, especially considering I was laying inside my tent!  I guess I was too tired to think of mixing it in my water bottle?!?

A gentle rain waited to fall on us until late evening when everyone had set up their tents, cooked supper, and chatted up the day.  By that time I was happy to just lay in my tent and be horizontal for a good long time.

Sunday was another nice day, still attempting to get a suntan with just shorts and a t-shirt even atop the hills.  The ground, if it is possible, was even rougher than the previous day. But perhaps I was just tired after 10 hours out the day before!   All the Klets started together and that was the last I saw of them running into the distance.  After estimating I had covered 35 kilometers on Saturday, I still had over 20k to cover the second half of the race.

Wast Water was perfectly calm as I ran around the bottom of the lake and then steeply up the other side.  Once atop the hills again, I took a better line around the forest to the next checkpoint than the competitors around me (hah!), avoiding a long ferny descent and running along a stream instead. The clag was coming down over Scafell but I managed to stay out of the clouds and rain free all the way to the finish.  The final scree descent from the shoulder of Scafell Pike was brutal, but the sea of cars was already in sight by then and I knew I would finish in time.  Final time was 16:11, all controls found, and I wasn't last!
Results are here
Find your event photo here, obviously they're hoping you buy it! 


  1. Hey Dawn, well done on the Nav and not a bike in sight! ... don't get me going on the wet bit ;-)

    1. Mike, I think I my feet are just getting used to being soaking wet all the time. But at least I didn't have to cross any really deep rivers like you did!

  2. Nice one Dawn!
    Well done. That's a hard course in a tough area.

    Great write up too.

    The hot chocolate bit made me smile.

    1. The scenery made it all worthwhile! But yeah, not all ideas are good ones...hot chocolate needs a cup!