Marmot Dark Mountains 2019

20th Feb 2019

We have loved reading about your Marmot Dark Mountains 2019 experiences! Here we share some of the stories:  

More from our Mountain Marathon correspondent Chris Baynham-Hughes:

Marmot dark mountains holds a very special place in my heart. Since my first taste of this event back in 2014 I have been hooked. That night we spent over 15 hours in every weather condition except sunshine, and were just minutes away from getting into our emergency shelter at one point. Putting on everything we had, my race partner and I went on to face 2-3 foot deep snow drifts on Bleaklow, 60+mph winds across to the finish only to find we’d incorrectly punched the final check point and thus were DNF’ed. Despite this result, it still ranks as one of my proudest moments in running. Marmot Dark Mountains has become a true test of mountain craft for me and is the first event on my calendar each year. 

Marmot Dark Mountains 2019 Steve Ashworth27

Marmot Dark Mountains 2019 ©Steve Ashworth

Lowther Castle provided a stunning backdrop to the seventh edition of this event and race planner Gary Tompsett had devised a cracker of a course. MDM generally stays away from the higher mountain peaks given the time of year, but in return it delivers plenty of challenge in both terrain and navigation, especially when combined with the dark. 

Looking at the map from a score perspective, it became a real head scratcher as to how one could maximise points. Placement catered for route choice options between check points (CPs) and forgoing a couple of CPs in favour of accessing a cluster didn’t always yield a huge difference given the effort involved, thus sharp strategy and decisive on-the-fly planning were necessary to rank highly. This made the course interesting to the armchair planner as much as the competitors; it also ensured the playing field is levelled between the racing snakes and the navigators. 

Running warm has proven to be a winning race tactic year on year. Competitors who had DNF’ed told a familiar story; struggled to find a check point, had to slow down/ retrace steps in the search, became too cold and even when they eventually nailed it found they simply couldn’t warm up again. Helsby running club pair Steve Riley and Jake Holmes ended up sat in their bothy to warm up after this exact scenario. Given how it ended and the fact it was the first mountain marathon Jake had attempted, it would be fair to expect he’d be put off by the experience. Speaking with him after though he made it clear that he fully intend to return:

“I’m hooked! I learnt loads: 

Lesson 1: Manage yourself. 

Lesson 2: See lesson 1!”

The addition of a bothy to the kit list is easily one of the smartest moves I’ve seen by an RD. It’s easy to question the addition since each team also have to carry a tent, but by the time teams admit to themselves that they need to get the tent out and warm up it is probably too late and too fiddly with no feeling in their hands. Combined with GPS tracking and an SOS button, these additions account for a serious reduction in the risk of heading out in January conditions; making it a perfect training ground for low visibility navigation and events like the Spine. 

The mountain marathon community draws teams from various backgrounds; the most common routes in are ultra runners with a preference for mountains, fell runners that can navigate and orienteers looking for a longer challenge. However you find your way into the sport, I feel safe in saying that you’ll be hooked; the opportunity to combine mountain craft, athleticism, navigation and planning skill is deeply compelling. A true challenge. A real adventure. 

Rather than just take my word for it, we’d love to hear your stories, the events and incidents that stand out and those wonderful ‘mountain marathon moments’ that bring you back to the sport time and time again. Maybe it’s the rookie errors (I wore Yeti gators and hiking boots to my first one and even packed my electric toothbrush!), the day when everything went right, the battle with other teams, the ones that felt like survival; share those gems you’ve deposited in your emotion pension and we’ll publish the best ones.