Marmot Dark Mountains 2016 Race Director’s Report

3rd Feb 2016

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Above: This photo sums up Marmot Dark Mountains™ better than most. © Steve Ashworth


The hail is hammering on the village hall roof. It’s loud. Loud enough to make me give up on any pretence of sleep. It has just gone 0200 and I’ve decided to try and snooze on the floor. Twenty minutes pass, but after a coffee-fuelled build up to Marmot Dark Mountains™, I am wide awake. 

“Race Control, Race Control, this is Skiddaw House over”! The radio chatters into life, and despite having total confidence in the team still up, before I know it, I’m striding across the village hall to respond, “Skiddaw House, this is Race Control, go ahead over”. 

The 4th edition of Marmot Dark Mountains took place this weekend and the competitors have once again proved that experienced mountain runners can safely participate in an overnight mountain running event, even in the dead of winter. Whilst the competitors' experience is the principle reason that they remain safe, there are many layers of safety management mitigation that go into the preparation and planning of the event. Our own VHF radio network set up for the event in the Northern Fells is a good example; it is not essential, but it does allow me to communicate with the entire event team deployed to the hills and to our two managed refuge points at Skiddaw House YHA and Lingy Hut bothy.

The weather forecast for the event was looking challenging long before competitors starting arriving in Mungrisdale. For the event team placing the checkpoints on Friday this promised a fairly tough day in the hills. However, there was a reasonable weather window and with a large and experienced team on the job, all the checkpoints were in place well before dark

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© Steve Ashworth

The Event Team – Thank You
As I said in the prize giving ceremony, small events like Marmot Dark Mountains™ are reliant on the goodwill and support from the volunteer event team. There was a truly excellent team at this year’s event. The 'advanced' team were busy placing checkpoints on Friday and the 'core' team arrived on Saturday to help with the huge number of pre-event tasks; from re-organising the village hall, placing traffic warning signs, erecting the start/finish gantry, catering prep… the list just goes on and on. Of course, all this needed to be reversed on Sunday afternoon!

Whilst we have a brilliant team of regular volunteers, this year the professional team supporting all our events has grown with Sue Dowker and Helen Samson now working part time in our Kendal office, and Kate Worthington also working part time from home in North Wales. With the addition of Sue, Helen and Kate we will be able to have greater continuity at the events and the processes like registration (whilst not exciting but obviously crucial to the management of the event) can be streamlined and managed more efficiently so that minor problems and questions don’t always come back to me… I’m often the decision making bottleneck in the system! 

It is a pleasure to work alongside this team of professionals and volunteers, and I want to reiterate my thanks to them for their excellent job, and extend the thanks of all the participants to them.

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© Steve Ashworth

Marmot and Petzl - Thank You Too
Marmot have supported the event since the first race in 2013. Both Marmot and I have wanted the participation to grow, but we have not wanted to compromise the nature of the challenge. For the first three years the event has hovered around the 100 participant mark, and it simply would not have been financially viable without the support of Marmot. The participation has doubled for 2016 with 200 entries, which is fantastic and means the event is in a much better position to continue into the future. Petzl have also been a fantastic brand to work with and all the event team receive a free Marmot jacket and Petzl headtorch in return for their time. As the Race Director, I can be confident that the team will be able to see what they are doing, and be warm and dry during the event. Many thanks to both Marmot and Petzl.

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© Steve Ashworth

Competitors – Thank You As Well! 
Compared to the average mountain walker or runner, the average competitor at Marmot Dark Mountains™ is significantly more experienced and capable, and this has ben demonstrated time, and time again by the sound mountain judgement displayed by the competitors. It doesn’t matter whether they are racing the elite or taking on the challenge of the C Course for the first time, competitors are actually very good at recognising when to push on, and when to call it a day. 

As Andrew Higgins (competing on the Elite course with Adam Stirk) put it, “…one of the best challenges of sound mountain judgement, endurance and skill that I have ever had the pleasure of competing in. By retiring with windburned eyes after 8.5hrs of pretty full on fun - I think Adam and I passed the test, despite not completing the challenge. We will be back...”

Likewise, a relatively novice team on the C Course made the decision to camp for the night rather than continue after becoming disorientated in the night. That was the right decision and shows a high degree of common sense.

Bottom line for me as the Race Director, is that I have an enormous respect for the competitors and their willingness take on the challenge presented by Marmot Dark Mountains™ Bravo to you all!

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© Steve Ashworth

I am fairly obsessed with the details, and believe that focusing on small details is great way to ensure that overall event runs well. Clearly the event was a success, but there were a few things we could improve:

  • The hall was too small! The jump to a ‘sell out’ 200 entries this year is most welcome, but Mungrisdale village hall had already been booked and the planning largely completed by the time the scale of the entries became apparent. One of the impacts of the increased numbers was the loss of our dedicated sleeping room, which was not optimal. We will look for a larger venue for 2017.
  • We will also look for a venue with hardstanding for car parking. This just makes life so much easier for everyone (competitors and organisers) involved in the event. 
  • The maps were excellent, clear and tough and I’d like to thank to Harvey Maps for this, but it was frustrating that last moment tweaks to the course planning we not fully represented in the final maps (for example, some control descriptions were slightly out, and one control had the wrong code by one digit). This is a process management issue and I’ll be reviewing the entire process to trying to eliminate these mistakes in the future.
  • The new GPS tracking system and interface was overall, a great success and added enormously to the event both in terms of improved safety and interaction with friends and family watching the event. However, the public side of the system froze after midnight for a few hours. The private admin interface was still working, but it became very difficult to follow the race on the public side. Using the new interface with our own race maps as the background was a step forward, but we clearly have some teething issues to resolve.

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© Steve Ashworth

The provisional results are available HERE. Please let us know if you spot anything amiss. We are aware of a few minor errors, which will be corrected in the next few days. 

With a few days reflection, the stand out performances for me where Kenny Leitch & Keith Masson on the Long Score (1st overall and 1ST MV) and Ellie Salisbury & Adrian Moir on the Short Score (3rd overall and 1st MIXV). Of course, it would be easy to focus on the course winners, but I think the kudos of winning a Marmot Dark Mountains™ course is sufficient... that said, I can't help but congratulation Tom Gibbs and Sabrina Verjee on the Elite course win.

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© Steve Ashworth

GPX Download and ‘Replay’
For the first time this year we provided GPS tracking for the competitors (and the Event Team deployed to the hills). Overall, this was a great success and added significantly to the event safety and made for some great dot watching for friends and family back home. Whilst there were some problems viewing the live track (as discussed), the introduction of live tracking was a success and we intend to include this in all further Marmot Dark Mountain Events.

Of course, the introduction of the GPS tracking means that all the competitor’s routes are now publically available and any navigational mishaps are there for public discussion. It is also obvious that a few teams strayed through the fringes of our Out of Bounds Areas. This information is there for members of the public to see, including the landowners who grant us permission. Gaining permission for the event is rapidly becoming more difficult and onerous, and some of the Out of Bounds Areas are an important condition of access with the landowner (some are for obvious safety reasons). I can reiterate how important that respecting these Out of Bounds Areas is for the future of this event and many others who may wish to use the Northern Fells.

According to a strict interpretation of the rules, any team straying into an Out of Bounds Area would be disqualified. However, I have decided that on this occasion, as no meaningful advantage was gained, to leave it, but please be warned… I am watching you!

If you would like to download your GPS track as a GPX file, or watch a replay of your route (or any other team), please follow this LINK.

Photo Galleries
Steve Ashworth was our official event photographer and he did a great job in very challenging conditions. You can view his gallery of images HERE.

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© Steve Ashworth

Economic Impact Survey
It would be extremely helpful if as many participants as possible would complete this economic impact survey. It will only take 2-3 minutes. We are asking participants to complete this survey so that we can clearly demonstrate to organisations (like the National Parks, National Trust and major landowners) the positive economic impact events have on the local economy at a time when many landowner organisers are dramatically increasing the fees they charge to events. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT. The survey is HERE.

Lost Property
We have found the following items whilst clearing out the hall:

  • One group shelter
  • One women’s fleece top
  • One fleece neck gaiter
  • One bum bag (full of gels and sweets)
  • One first aid kit

If you think any of these items are yours please contact us with a description and we’ll arrange to return them… if no one has claimed them within two weeks they’ll go to the local charity shop!

I’d like to thanks the residents of Mungrisdale for a warm and friendly welcome and to Joey’s Coffee for the superb beverages! See you all in 2017

Shane Ohly
Marmot Dark Mountains™ - Race Director