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Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon Report - Corney Fell 2013

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Writing a short report about Corney Fell SLMM 2013 feels a little overdue now...

Two weeks have passed, but the experiences, the scenery, the mountains, the becks and the crags, the climbs and the descents, the camaraderie, the challenge of the Kirkfell course and the desire to enjoy every moment of one of the best mountain marathons in the UK are my reasons to write my thoughts down.

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This event had a number of firsts for me. It was my first time on the Kirkfell course – the shortest of the hard ones; It was my first time of running with Steve Morris, my team mate, in one of these events; It was also my first time on these fells with some degree of orienteering confidence.

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However, I had some demons to overcome too. I recorded my only DNF experience ever in one of the lower courses two years before; I had competed with another new team mate in a similar race previously and we had encountered some difficulties due to not being evenly matched; I had also been over these fells in colder, wetter, nastier conditions and during the night for the first edition of the “Marmot Dark Mountains Mountain Marathon 2013” where, due to extreme weather conditions, we had to retire and make good mountain sense prevail.

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As usual travelling from Norfolk to the Lakes meant a long long journey. A positive in all of this was the fact I managed to stop and see my friend and gear coach, Steve, from Castleberg Outdoors. We met in the morning with Steve Morris at the registration base by White Combe, South West Lake District. Our start time was quite late. This gave us time to check our equipment and day one plan. We chose to carry one lightweight, cosy tent. We chose to carry plenty of food and all the mandatory equipment. As we awaited our start time we saw that the planners were sending everyone either up White Hall Knot (311m)or Black Combe (587m)... this is from 75m as well!

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As we received our checkpoints details at the start and marked on the map we saw that there will be some challenging climbs and route choices during day one. As expected our first control was at the top of Black Combe.

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Off we went and I must admit that there was not much running in the first part of our SLMM 2013 adventure. We climbed and climbed to descent and descent. We followed some good lines as we will find out later at the overnight camp. The weather was warm, with a light welcome breeze. The terrain was quite firm in spite of some boggy areas to be crossed. Our choice of gear soon came to prove vital. I was wearing an old pair of Salomon Speedcross 3. They were quite warn, but comfortable. I did not want to experience blisters as in my previous LDWA 100. Steve had chosen a pair of Inov-8 Mudroc. An aggressive shoe which, in this occasion, seemed to cause a lot of problems and blisters. Steve’s orienteering experience had made him chose to wear long tights and a long sleeved top. I had decided to wear compression shorts and a short sleeved technical t-shirt.

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The most memorable section during day one was the section between Buckbarrow Bridge and Seat How with the crossing of  Stainton Pike and Yoadcastle. The heat was taking its toll. As we reached the top of Burn Moor, just before checkpoint 6, we could see the mid-point camp. How could some competitors have already pitched their tent! The late start and the slow going pace meant they would be enjoying their beer far earlier than us!

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We kept going while Steve’s blisters got worse. At the same time we hit each checkpoint without making any navigational errors. We reached the camp location just before 5pm, 7h32m from start. We were pleased because we had had a great day on the hills, but soon after cooling our feet in the beck we started talking about the plan of action for the following day.

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We pitched our tent and cooked our food. The campsite was buzzing with excitement while the last few competitors made their way. I decided to go for a walk to see if any my friends were there... and there the worst nightmare came through. Another competitor had not put one of his titanium pegs safely in the ground and as I walked barefoot, I cut my foot quite badly. One horrible thought kept crossing my mind: “would I have to quite and get another DNF again!” At this point I appreciated why the organisers insist each competitor carries a small first aid kit. Surgical wipes, plasters and blister plasters and fresh air would give me a chance to finish... but I would have to be patient until morning and reassess the situation. The cold beer and the company of Steve and his friends helped me forget my worries.

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The campsite started waking up early... by 6 am everyone seemed to be having breakfast and packing up. Another glorious hot day was about to start. My foot seemed better and Steve and I were keen to a) run a lot more and b) gain a good number of places on other competitors. We marked the checkpoints (red line on map).  The highlights of day two were crossing towards Cockley Moss and Hesk Fell between White Pike and Yaodcastle. The route was more runnable than day one and we realised that, in spite of the heat with no breeze, we both were pushing for a good finish. Going over Hek Fell to the top of whitfell. An awesome climb! As we pushed and kept finding good lines we caught up with many competitors who had started far earlier. Keeping hydrated and well nourished was a key to our strength during day two. Steve also decided to ignore his pain and blisters so that as a team we would do well. As we reached along some beautiful ridges and reached the top of White Hall Knot, we looked down and rather excited and terrified we realised that to reach the finish we had a short, but very steep descent through thick heather. We just gave it our all and finished in just more than 4h in 44 position out of 85 teams. This time we finished just 1 hour behind the winners. A real success. Unfortunately, we only climbed to 71 position overall due to our very slow day one.

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In conclusion, the Corney Fell 2013 was a great success for Steve Morris and myself. We finished and managed to share our story with fellow competitors and friends. I hope that through my words and photos you too will gain an insight into what Mountain Marathon Challenges are all about. They require a great deal of skill and determination and, if you are up for one, the RAB Mountain Marathon and the OMM Mountain Marathon are coming up respectively at the end of September and October.

I would like to thank Castleberg Outdoors once again for the advice and support in choosing gear which works. The piece of kit I rated highest during this event was the Salomon Exo S-Lab Short Tights, in spite of the “white” colour – Kilian Journet’s favourite... not mine!

By Carmine De Grandis