Last Saturday I attended the Rogue Runs Mini Mountain Marathon in the Brecon Beacons, Wales, UK. It was a really nice day out. The weather was excellent, the people were very friendly and the atmosphere was relaxed. All in all, I can’t say too many good things about this race and the organisation.
My main goal for this event was to 1) understand the mechanics of how mountain marathons work, 2) test out the gear I intend to take to the OMM, 3) test my chops at doing navigation, 4) get in the miles on rough ground, 5) have some fun!
I think I achieved, if not exceeded, all these goals.
The day started pretty early. Pete and Thursten picked me up around 5:30 AM and we drove from Winchester to the Brecon Beacons (thanks Pete for driving). That time of day we made good time and arrived just after 8 AM.
It was pretty chilly and wet from the dew. We checked in, got our dibber, maps and started to transfer over the control points for the “short” liner course onto the maps. I had a bit of a bonner start to the day of nav where I got the compass the wrong way around so I was 180 degrees off a bearing. Lesson learnt!
We checked into the start and went on our way. The first part was very steep and hot. I was pretty winded and didn’t warm up at all, which didn’t help. We saw plenty of other runners heading towards the first control, which was mostly along a well marked path.
The first three controls went well. Pete and Thursten did the lead nav on them (we decided beforehand to have a single Lead for each control who would make the decisions about what route to take. We did it in alphabetical order).
For the fourth control it was my turn to navigate. It went pretty well. I had a decent bearing and I could see in the distance a bump in the hill I was shooting for, so it was more or less just keeping that in sight and running towards it. There was a tricky river crossing and some contouring around a hill which I used my altimeter watch for, but once that was out of the way we just had to climb to the top of a plateau. The actual sinkhole the control was in was deep and very difficult to see, even though we were about 20 meters away from it. A quick bite of a PowerBar and we were off again…
Next control was also fine. At this point we decided to go up to the top of the peaks to see the view under the principle that we were there to have fun. So, we went off the prescribed race route and up a large hill with the plan to eat lunch at the top. Once we got up there the view was stunning and we ran into a lot of hikers not taking part in the marathon.
As we came back around to head down to the next control we had descended too soon. We had seen a large peak as we were walking and we had assumed that was the highest point, not knowing that there was another, higher hill behind. Pete identified that we were on the wrong part of the hill by checking the bearing of the contour up the hill (a good trick). There was a river, but there was not many other features to get a reliable back bearing from, so we headed back up the hill and found the saddle between the too large peaks. Once we were there, then we were back on the map. We decided to head to a control on the map that was not part of our course so we could have a reliable point to navigate from.
We found control #59 and from there we went downhill to the next control on our course (#58). Pete and Thursten did a good job of nailing the navigation straight to the location, however, when we went up the gorge where we thought the gate was, we did not see the control. I had noticed that the map said the control was at a higher altitude than what was registered on my watch, so I had another look using my altimeter watch and found the control.
From here I was navigating the next control. I took us straight up and over the hill on a direct bearing and we were moving pretty well until I ran us into some very deep and wet boggy grassland. Doh! Was VERY tough going and I was hoping it would thin out, but it didn’t so I redirected us down a matted grass track back to the river. We crossed the river and eventually found the control around the other side of a hill.
The final control and run to the finish were pretty easy because we were on the same trail we came out on. In fact, we saw the last control on our way out at the start, so it was fairly low stress and we tried to jog it as best we could with sore legs and feet.
In the end we came in last place due to our detour. It took us a total of 383:07 minutes on the course (A bit over 6: ½ hours). Not great, but I think we were happy with the run overall. Was nice to get to the finish and get my wet shoes off and enjoy some water and food.
That night Thursten booked a nearby pub for dinner. We had a few pints, ate dinner and watched some Rugby on TV. I was nearly ready to curl up and go to sleep halfway through dinner, but got a bit of a second wind. By the time we went to sleep, I was well exhausted.
The next morning we got up, I tested my porridge, we put away the tents and headed home, stopping at Starbucks on the way.
GPS data of the run (until the battery ran out)
What I learned
- Just because you can see a high peak, doesn’t mean it’s the HIGHEST peak
- I seem to consistently think we travelled further than we actually did until I was able to get my bearings
- When looking at the route between controls, be sure to keep looking for intermediate features to help navigation. Most of the navigation was done by sight and not bearing, so if there is a choice of controls, it’s probably best to find a path to a control where there are obvious features in between to use for navigation – it just makes life easier
- When you get into heavy going boggy high grass, stop and change direction immediately!
- If you lose your bearings, then check out the angles of hills and other features, like rivers to get a good feel about where you’re at
- Couple of other tips I learned: when there is a ridge by a river, it’s likely there will be some sort of trail on it. Sinkholes will have short lines perpendicular to the contour line to indicate the direction of the elevation loss
- My altimeter watch worked great and I didn’t have to recalibrate it all day. An essential bit of kit
- Try not to mark up the map with linear lines from the start because 1) you never run on linear lines and 2) it blocks you from seeing some map features. It was good to figure out the distance between controls and the altitude, so will mark that up in the future, but do so on the border of the map. I need to come up with a map marking strategy (a future article).
- I packed the right food for the trip during the day, but I didn’t eat it all, and was hungry at the end. Next time I’ll eat more and more often. You can never really eat enough
- I didn’t like the porridge I took. There was too much of it and it was not very tasty (plus we put too much water in it). I think I’ll take a stab at making my own instant oatmeal to take and maybe even some homemade couscous meals.
- My hydration and filter system worked well, but I didn’t take on water when I was running low, thinking that I could do it later. Next time I’ll take on water when the opportunity presents itself and consider carrying extra water in my spare water bottle during times we are away from fresh running water
- I didn’t have a good place to put my map. I liked running with my hands empty and ended up stuffing my map in the backpack strap across my chest, which worked pretty well. Next time I’m going to consider using a chest bag with a zipper so I can more easily get to stuff I need, without the risk of it flying out and losing stuff.
- I’m definitely going to try to lighten the load more, I was fine with the weight on the day, but it was hard to close my bag. I need things that take up less space, plus the OMM will have more ascent so lighter is better. I’ve already bought a balloon bed from the original founders (who by happenstance are the ones who organised the mini marathon). Very nice people!
- Make sure I stretch and warm up before I start
In conclusion, I had a great time and would do this event again in the future. I would recommend it to anybody who would like to test out if mountain marathons are right for them.