Saturday, 24 November 2012

Grampian Mountain Challenge

Last weekend I took part in my first mountain marathon - the Grampian Mountain Challenge in Glen Dye, near Aberdeen. Having not done any of the more well known ones like the OMM or the LAMM, I'm not really in a position to do any comparisons. It is enough to say that it was very enjoyable and totally knackering - two vital ingredients I would say.

Photo from Ian H (see more here)
The courses started on Day 1 (and ended on Day 2) with a short orienteering section in Glen Dye (maps and routes here). The navigation was not difficult - anyone who is comfortable reading a map when out in the hills would have been able to complete the course. However the regular orienteers had a definite advantage. Being able to cope with a 1:10000 scale map and detailed contours helped particularly when tired at the end of the second day.

Photo by Ali Robertson (more photos here)
But that section was only 2-4km, depending on your course. We were soon hitting the heathery slopes of Clachnaben in the blinding winter sunshine (maps and routes here). It was by far the roughest terrain that we encountered during the whole weekend but it was an early warning sign that this was no easy ride.

Photo from Donnie Mann (see more here)

One highlight of the course of Day 1 was reaching the summit of Mount Battock. Sometimes these orienteering-type races can be in nice places but you spend your time skirting round the side of interesting hills. Although the climb was a tough one, there was some pleasure in reaching the top of the corbett and taking a moment to survey the gorgeous Deeside hills.

Personally I struggled over the last section. I had totally forgotten to eat anything up until 90 minutes and I paid for this once I hit 3 1/2 hours. Also that is about the limit of what I'm able to do at the moment so it didn't come as a surprise. I added on some extra distance to try to get some nicer runnability - a decision that probably cost me some time. But soon the campsite came into view and all was well again.

The view down to the campsite.
Photo from Ian H (see more here)

As is often the case in winter, a sunny day is actually much colder than a rainy day. Unlike many mountain marathons, the Grampian Mountain Challenge transports your overnight kit to the camp. This was frankly essential given the amount of layers I needed to warm up. To add to the luxury, it wasn't long before the volunteers from the local scout group were heating industrial quantities of water to provide us with all the tea and coffee we needed. I took a short nap and then enjoyed the evening huddled in the marquee with the other competitors discussing the route choices of the day. With a hot meal, beer and a heater - what more could you want?

Photo from Ian H (see more here)

We were up and off at first light, keen to get going and get warm! The first control was at the top of the nearest summit. My concerns about getting through the day disappeared as the frosty ground made it easier running and the stunning views kept a smile on my face.

Photo from Donnie Mann (see more here)

I pottered well through the first few controls taking more direct lines than I had the previous day in attempt to keep the km count down. The control with the best view on the day 2 course was on the crags just off the top of the Hill of Edendochter and so it was no surprise to find a camera man there!

Photo from Sarah Dunn (see more here)

The end was in sight but the long course still had a tricky control on a stream to get to. It wasn't the location that was the problem but the peat hags on the way there and the steep heathery slope on the way out made it a challenge. I had been eating jelly babies right from the start and had taken two stop prior to this leg with take on cereal bars so at least I was better prepared for the slog this time.

Navigating the peat hags
Photo from Donnie Mann (see more here)

With a final 'fast' descent down a path, the hillside disappeared from view and attention focussed to the final orienteering section. The change in scales of the map fooled me to start off with, but I soon got into a rhythm (a very slow one) and was able to enjoy some of the best orienteering that Britain has to offer.

And that was the Grampian Mountain Challenge. Stunning, cold, enjoyable, tough, luxurious, fun, exhausting, highly recommended.

I forgot to mention the results (here). Not many women entered the long course and no one else as a solo runner. I won a lovely brown jumper - thanks to the race sponsors for such generous prizes.

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