Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon 2014 (by Alan Blanchflower)

While sitting around the campsite on the alps trip last year, Clare suggested that I should sign up for the LAMM – a 2-day mountain marathon, held at a secret location in the highlands of Scotland in June. Having done a fair amount of orienteering, I quite fancied having a go, all I had to was find a partner. I mentioned this to Frodo one evening at Calshot and he instantly volunteered.

Over the winter I thought about doing some training runs, but never really got around to it. I finally managed to do a serious distance the week before the event – but managed to break my old orienteering shoes in the process.

Thursday morning came, and with it the excitement of the location announcement. All we knew until then was that it was around 90 minutes drive from Inverness!

At 1 o’clock, the LAMM website was updated with the location – Strathcarron, just south of Torridon. I quickly printed off the final details and set about packing the few remaining items before meeting up with Frodo, DAJ and Clare and setting off North. We stayed overnight at Burton services (4 of us in a room for 3), and went on to Tebay for breakfast. Lunch (and last-minute shopping) was taken care of in Aviemore before heading on to Inverness and across to the event centre in Strathcarron.

Base camp tents went up, we registered and received start times of 08:07. A quick browse through CompassPoint’s mobile shop (Including new shoes for me) and we set about final packing and weighing for the race. Final pack weights were:

Alan:      5.5kg

Frodo:   6.3kg

Clare:    5.5kg

DAJ:       6.4kg

We all saved weight by carrying a small bottle to fill from streams as we went rather than starting out with a full day’s worth. With everything ready for the off, we went over to the event marquee, with Wilf’s cafe and some local beer where we met up with Max, Liz, Amanda and Sam.

6 o’clock Saturday morning and we wake to the sound of bagpipes. A bright sunny day with gentle breeze greeted us as we had breakfast before collecting maps and walking off to the start. Those on the ‘B’ course got bussed to a more distant start – while the ‘A’ and Elite courses were then taken by minibus even further off the map in fact! We set off, received the control descriptions and quickly marked up our maps. Our first leg saw us climb 400m over its 3km length, so we took it gentle and concentrated on the navigation. Leg 2 had us contouring around the foot of An Ruadh-Stac before dropping down along a good, runnable path. Cunning navigation between the next few controls saw us catch up with a team that had overtaken us and we arrived at control 4 in good time.

The description for control 5 was “Summit”. No escaping the ascent on that, so we started the climb up Beinn Liath Mhor – our Munro. As we started the descent to the col, I was suddenly struck by severe cramp in first one, then the other leg and we had to rest for a couple of minutes. We traversed carefully around Sgorr nan Lochan Uaine (the course winners went straight over the top!), collected our last couple of controls and ran into midcamp at the head of Loch Coulin in a time of 6:44:56 – at that point 4th, but only out of 4 finishers.

Campsite
Campsite

After getting the tent up and cooling off/washing in the river, we fired up the stove for a brew and waited for the others. DAJ and Clare came in next having completed “the most difficult D course I [Clare] have ever done” (Not helped by a misprint on the control descriptions) in a time of 8:15:52. Amanda and Sam got round the B course in 8:29:44, while Max and Liz just beat the rain with a time of 9:57:44. We had supper (mostly couscous, although Frodo had a freeze-dried chicken curry), and when the rain came, we all header for our tents and tried to sleep, but the sound of rain, humidity and midges conspired to restrict this.

Overnight standings:

Pos Name Time
B Course
1st Andy Charlton + Bryan Wakeley 05:13:12
48th Amanda Pickard + Sam Cooke 08:29:44
52nd Malcolm Streeton + Liz Tier 09:57:44
C Course
1st Patrick Wallis + Paul Williams 04:46:29
17th Alan Blanchflower + Frodo Stickel 06:44:56
D Course
1st Daniel Sutherland + Lachlan MacLeod 06:32:38
18th Clare Johnson + Dave Johnson 08:15:52

The piper returned at 5am on Sunday to rouse us and set us on our way for day 2.

Though initially raining (including a stunning double rainbow over the campsite), it cleared up before we started and a bit of a breeze picked up to keep the midges down. Armed with day 2’s control descriptions, we soon found that our permanent markers would not write on the damp maps! Fortunately they dried out part way along the second leg. Day 2 had some much nicer running terrain than day 1, including some steepish descents on soft ground where a confident/reckless approach saw us pass several other teams. After punching the final control (Number 149, keyword “FUN”), all that was left was 2km of flat forest track before we got back to the event centre. We had finished!

Alan and Frodo
Alan and Frodo
DAJ and Clare
DAJ and Clare

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we finished, we were handed a voucher for Wilf’s cafe, so we went to pick up some food before setting ourselves down by the finish line. As soon as we sat down, we saw DAJ and Clare running in and they soon joined us. We stayed to watch the prizegiving and 20th anniversary celebrations – Amanda and Sam arrived just as the sparkling wine was being handed round, unfortunately having had to retire. With the long drive ahead, we got changed and took down the tents just as a shower blew through. As we were about to set off, we saw Max and Liz arriving to finish the B course.

Pos Name Day 1 Day 2 Overall
B Course
1 Andy Charlton + Bryan Wakeley 05:13:12 (1) 05:09:43 (1) 10:22:55
44 Malcolm Streeton + Liz Tier 09:57:44 (52) 08:39:43 (41) 18:37:27
C Course
1 Patrick Wallis + Paul Williams 04:46:29 (1) 04:59:23 (1) 09:45:52
14 Alan Blanchflower + Frodo Stickel 06:44:56 (17) 06:01:41 (16) 12:46:37
D Course
1 Daniel Sutherland + Lachlan MacLeod 06:32:38 (1) 04:36:50 (1) 11:09:28
16 Clare Johnson + Dave Johnson 08:15:52 (18) 06:20:08 (18) 14:36:00

We left the campsite at 4:15pm and I eventually arrived home at 4:15am, very glad that I’d booked the Monday off work! Legs were stiff for a couple of days but soon eased up. The blisters on my heels from not re-tightening my shoes when they got wet on day 1 are more annoying, but have healed significantly already.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s event, and thinking about moving up to the ‘B’ course – although that would involve rather more training. It would be great to see more Wessex people there, you don’t need to be super fit, you just have to keep moving. In terms of equipment, a lightweight tent is the main thing to have, as most of the weight saving is achieved by carrying less, rather than buying lightweight kit. The most useful piece of kit was my altimeter watch, which stopped us drifting too high or low while contouring round looking for controls.
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