The instructions on the event card were that the event was in Oban - I had not
the faintest idea that it was going to be on Mull. In fact Nev and I opted to
dive into a pub in Oban for a quick swifty when we arrived at about 7:45pm,
before going to the car park. Half an hour, eh? What was the worst that could
happen? As we finished our drinks I sent Steve a text message telling him we
were having a pint, and his reply read "see you on the 8:30 ferry". Hrhum.
Perhaps not. We dashed to the car park, unloaded everything, and ran (okay, sort
of walk-jogged) to the dock just in time to wave the ferry off. Hrhm. Next one
at 10:30 - back to the pub.
Once we arrived on Mull (approaching midnight), we were ushered onto the Mull Miniature Railway for the ride up to Torosay Castle. The 8:30 ferryload didn't appear to be offered this option - the organisers had obviously correctly assessed that us 10:30 people would have had more time in the pub. Or, erm, more tiring journeys.
Once we got to the campsite we danced around the tent slapping each other like crazed maniacs, until we found the midge repellant Nev had wisely suggested buying on the way. We elected not to drink the bottle of wine that I had wisely suggested buying on the way, and instead went to the main tent and registered. There was an amusing sign in the registration tent which read "Warning: Magnetic rocks in this area can cause 180 degree deviations - demagnetised compasses are available here". Sadly, team ethics prevent me from commenting on whether any member of our team did anything at all funny in relation to this sign Nev.
By about 1am we were in bed - we had an 8:45 start the next morning, and so intended just doing all of our packing at the time. A strange sort of conversation was crescendoing somewhere else on the campsite, perhaps five or ten tents away. We heard snippets like "no, THAT pole"; "I've already f*ing done that, I told you to pull the pole through" and "stop being such a c*nt, I already zipped that up". The voices became a bit more muffled and a strange rustling noise ensued, accompanied by the odd dull thudding, and some "ouch" noises and groans. After about ten minutes (and much giggling from other tents), they appeared to have come to some sort of conclusion about their differences and after a bit of more muted grumbling, the campsite fell quiet.
Until about 5am, at which time a gentleman played the bagpipes at full volume, to remind us that three hours sleep was plenty, as we had to be ready for our start in three and a half hours.
We too were bussed to the start - I think all the teams started at the same place, though I'm not quite sure. We spent quite a while (probably nearly half an hour) checking the coordinates and marking the map - as we weren't really racing, we thought we might as well at least try and do the navigation part right.
The first checkpoint (http://www.lamm.co.uk/2005/MapOfArea/MapOfArea.html and click "N" for "Nuggets") was on the top a bluff just east of the start. We noticed hordes of experienced marathon participants heading off towards a clearly marked path near the road, and used our skill and judgement to march straight up the hillside in a bee-line for the checkpoint instead. After about twenty minutes, we couldn't see anybody at all. In fact, it was quite hard seeing each other.
As we approached the summit of the bluff, the "re-entrant", whatever the bloody hell that is, appeared not to be there. We heard voices after a few minutes (thank goodness) and then some nice ladies popped up over the brow of the hill, and told us that a "re-entrant" was where a small valley curved back into the hillside. Ah, just like this one here! What's that red thing?
Off to (2) in high spirits, as we felt that we'd made a reasonable job of finding that one. We made a reasonable job of finding the second too. We headed along the north-east side of loch Airdeglais on a marked path - once we were there, it seemed there was an equally nice unmarked path on the other side, which would have been handier. It would also have not been trampled for several hours by other teams running up and down it. The path was of an interesting consistency - it appeared to be composed of tangled clumps of spongy grass, above about a foot of wet bog. For a little while you'd bounce along it nicely, but then every so often you'd end up to your knees in mud. We found (2)quite easily, and realised the huge value of coming DOWN onto the checkpoints, rather than up. It's much easier to see something if you're looking down onto it than wandering around somewhere underneath it. Unless you have some sort of clever electric X-ray vision thing. You're probably not allowed them.
(3) was a deceptively simple squelch across some mud, and (4) was a steepish 200m or so climb up a tussocky slope. We met some nice ladies on the slope who were in our group and had actually started an hour before us, so perhaps we weren't actually doing all that badly. This perked us up no end, though I understand that Nev is perked up significantly by ladies even talking to him these days. I didn't introduce him as my dad this time, which no doubt improved his chances.
After slightly misjudging where (4) was (we rather confused "north" into being synonymous with "straight up this slope", which it wasn't), we fairly easily worked out where we'd gone wrong, and headed over there. This was all going so well, we stopped for lunch.
During our initial half-hour glance at the map, we'd decided that (5) and (6) were going to be the tough ones. We had a borrowed altimeter with us (thanks Nick!), and so instead of gaining the ridge and coming down to the lochan, we decided to contour around the hillside until we met some nasty rocks, at which point we'd head up and east to (5). This went largely according to plan, except for the fact that (5) wasn't where it was supposed to be. Nev, an expert rock-climber, clambered onto a nearby rock to get a better view. For reasons as yet unexplained, seconds afterwards he fell directly onto my head. Following a brief exchange of words, we thought our best plan was to split up in the thick fog and take full advantage of the complete lack of mobile phone reception and poor accoustic range that the rocks offered. I wandered further up the ridge (south), and Nev moseyed north a bit. It was at this point that we realised the huge value of coming DOWN onto the checkpoints, rather than up. It's much easier to... wait a minute...
(6) was where we went terribly wrong. There appeared to be very few navigational clues, and the fog was getting thicker by the minute. We contoured around the hillside and then turned west at the point where we thought the lochen was - needless to say, it wasn't, and there were also plenty of hillocks around us which appeared to be much higher than we expected. The altimeter told us we were at 420, when the highest point on the map we could find was 400. The lochen looked to be at 390. Were we nowhere near there at all? We blundered around hopelessly, becoming less and less aware of where we were. We couldn't see anything, we didn't really trust the altimeter - every so often we caught tiny glimpses of the surroundings as the cloud blew over, but they just weren't long enough for us to get a grip at all. We wandered around, getting more and more tired, for probably around 45 minutes before discussing what we might do _instead_ of finding this lochan. Could we just carry on to the next one? But where the heck was that? All of a sudden the cloud blew away completely. We were sure that the lochan would appear, but it didn't at all. We spotted quite a few people around the place, and started somewhat blindly heading towards them in the hope that they were in our group. Next we tried looking for vantage points, but even that didn't afford us much more information. We started again, more methodically, looking at the map and comparing where we were with the features we could now see in the valley. We appeared to be almost on top of this damned lochan, but it was nowhere to be seen.
We wandered further up the hill, and it was at this point that we realised the huge value of coming DOWN onto the checkpoints, rather than up.
The last three checkpoints were easy - they took us pleasantly in the direction of the halfway camp. We pitched the tent, stuck radio four on and opened our beers. Everyone else seemed terribly badly prepared. It seemed that we'd taken a shade under nine hours that day - the leaders were home somewhere between five and six hours, so we certainly weren't winning. But hey, we weren't last!
The next day was going to be problematic - in order to catch out 1920 flight, we unfortunately HAD to be on the 1pm ferry from Mull. This meant being back at the start before 12. The marshalls told us that the course would be roughly 60% of the length of Saturday's, so if it took us 6hrs, we'd have to leave at 6am. The earlier we could leave was 6:30am, so we did.
We reached checkpoint (1) at about 8:30am. The next one was across country and a 500m climb - we did some frenzied maths (the midgies were tearing us limb from limb) and realised that there was no way we could finish the whole event. When we'd discussed earlier the possibility that we might not make it all the way through, we had been of the opinion we'd manage checkpoints two and three but, well, by (1) the spirit had somewhat left us. I think partly we were a bit demoralised about not being able to complete the day time-wise, but to be honest I'm not sure we could have done it anyway. I had open blisters on both heels, which I'd tried and failed to stick Compeed to (my feet/shoes/socks were just too sopping wet for the Compeed to stay where it was supposed to) and Nev was grumbling about his knees. I think we were both much more fatigued than we'd expected - the pair of us had felt quite well on Saturday evening, but Sunday morning felt much less like a new fresh day, and much more like we'd just been dragged out again on Saturday afternoon.
We dropped back down to the road, and started heading back to the camp. We'd wildly misjudged just how far it would be on the road - it actually took us nearly three hours to get back to the Friday night camp, by which time we were really very tired, and very sore. We made the 1pm ferry (just) and after a few air traffic control hiccups we got back to our respective homes just before midnight. Our plane was full of people hobbling - most had been doing the Caledonian Challange, but there were quite a few LAMMers.
I enjoyed the whole thing thoroughly. It's great to be a part of what is really a major national sporting event - there's a wonderful friendliness between the real hardcore runners and us hapless part-timers, and a genuine feeling of camraderie across the whole field. Even the people on the longer courses who ran past us while we were too tired to walk any further managed to bloody wave and chirp "hello".
So what did I learn. Well, I think I slightly underestimated the level this event runs at. I don't think I'm hugely "unfit", but I'm certainly not "fit". Even the novice class at this sort of event is geared at somewhat "fit" people, not just us hapless outdoor types. So maybe I need to run a bit more to get a bit fitter for next year. I learned that my boots don't quite fit, and that I should check much more carefully for blisters-on-the-way while my feet are dry. I learned that during a mountain marathon, your feet are almost never dry.
We can finish this damned thing, though, and we'll be back next year to prove it...
Chris Rae, 25 June 05