Driving through Glen Shiel last week, heading towards the LAMM event centre, we were met with ominous clouds, drizzle and some very big hills. Despite the dramatic surroundings my mind was still elsewhere, however this would soon change. A bit of discomfort and physical pain in a beautiful setting was exactly what I needed!
The basic premise of the LAMM is it's a 2 day foot race across rough terrain for teams of 2. Teams have to be self-sufficient, carrying all kit (food, tent etc). When you cross the start line you're given a map and a list of check points and details of the mid camp. The check points have to be reached in order but you can choose the best route between points. The harder the Class (Elite, A, B, C, D) the further the distance, higher the ascent and greater the route choice. Once you reach the mid camp, eat and rest as much as possible. On day 2 you have to do it all again!
We were entered into the D Class. Which is the shortest and easiest course and literally a 'walk in the park' compared to the A and Elite courses. Those guys are super human but back to walking in the park. Despite the warnings of strong winds, heavy rain and potential wintery flurries we had perfect conditions. Cool and clear, enough wind to keep the midges at bay, a little boggy under foot but still run-able if the legs allowed. We even had a brief snow flurry on day 1 to make carrying the heavier kit worth it.
To cut down the effect of following a snaking trail of competitors the organizers go to great lengths to mix the different courses up, giving different start points and times to teams. D Class was bused down the road to the Cluanie Inn and then the fun started.
This was our third mountain marathon together and we've managed to work out how not to 'debate' navigational 'choices' and how not to get too distracted by other teams. There's always the temptation to follow others or make your route choice fit what others seem to be doing. But you're never sure if people are on the same course as you or if they actually know anymore than you!! (most do though!)
Day 1 involved a few river crossings and lots of rocky contouring. Our biggest hill of the day was Beinn-an-t-Socaich, just short of a Munro but I'm not going to complain about not having enough ascent! The mid camp was bathed in sunshine when arrived. So with the tent up and food on the boil we got to stretch out and relax in the warm afternoon rays.
The atmosphere was friendly and it was great chatting to other teams and seeing the crazy routes that the tougher courses had taken. As the green sea of Terra Nova tents grew the temperature began to drop and competitors continued to run in. By 7pm the organizers announced the details for the following days 'chasing start'.
If you finish within 90 min of the course leader then you qualify for the 'chasing start'. This means you set of at intervals relating to your finish time, therefore who ever crosses the line first is the winner. To add to the excitement you have to wear a number so everyone can see where you are in the line up.
To our surprise we'd just managed to sneak into the 'chasing start' by about 2min! Neither of us wanted to risk embarrassment and be told that the numbers don't go down to 30 or that it was mistake, but encouraged by our neighbours we queued up and collected our number. A very proud moment! But now the pressure was on. As we were going to be one of the last teams in the staggered start we'd have the advantage of being able to see other competitors but also the worry of being shamefully late back to the event centre. Our plan was to try not to loose any places and savour the moment of actually being in the chasing start.
As is tradition we were woken up with the sound of bagpipes at early o'clock. I'd not slept that well due to being a little cold but despite that we both felt pretty good. After braving the trench toilets it was time to line up and start 'racing'.
On reaching the first check point D28 came over a hill from a totally different direction to us. This would set the mood for the follow hours. We constantly leap frogged each other and would often loose sight as we would chose to contour and they opted for the up and over. Two hours in we passed D26, we couldn't believe it, we were actually racing in a mountain marathon, and it felt fantastic.
We were feeling confident that we'd gained a few places and would be able to finish before D28 who by this time had become our main competition. It didn't matter that neither of us were on for a podium position, we were in our own race within a race. Then the realisation that we'd made a crucial error. The same error that we made last year in fact. We'd incorrectly marked the final check point and were over 400m metres out.
D28 confidently ran passed us as we re-marked and double checked the grid reference. It was hot and we had both been popping glucose tabs for the past 45 mins. The final decent had turned our legs to jelly. Salt was stinging our faces and we had no water left. It was less than a mile to the finish and our competition was still within sight.
That's when my competitive streak kicked into over drive. I grabbed Jane's hand and literally dragged her towards the finish. We managed to catch them and as we passed I think Jeremy (D28) wanted to do the same with Johanna (D28). He obviously thought better of it. I on the other hand was willing to risk my relationship to gain that extra place!! Jane thanked me afterwards.....
We crossed the line in 24/106 place and 5/20 female team. An unexpected result and we couldn't be more pleased. We sat with Jeremy and Johanna scoffing complementary Wilfs and dissecting our personal race. Thanks to them for great running on the Sunday and thanks to the LAMM team for another excellent event.