Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon 2017

Jenny Kent and Liz Heaton completed the Wansfell class in the Saunders for the first time this year, finishing at 1.30pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon after 11.5 hours of running/walking/scrambling around the Loweswater Fells over two days.
The start on Saturday morning was allocated a week before the event at 08:38am, meaning a 6am start from the Premier Inn in Cockermouth where they’d stayed the night before. After registration at assembly (a field with a marquee in it), there was a 50 minute walk to the start on the north shore of Ennerdale Water. The clouds had lifted from the summits by this point and it was looking like a lovely day. The first day involved finding 9 controls spread over a 10.9km course (straight line distance). No GPS devices were allowed, so armed with only a map, compass and disposable camera and carrying everything we needed for an overnight camp we set off for a big adventure.
After finding the first control on a knoll above the lake, there was a steep climb to the second, very satisfyingly located at the trig point of Great Borne (Herdus). We then followed the ridge to White Pike, before dropping down to another cairn and then through a bog to Gale Fell. It was rough going coming off there, with rocks, heather and bilberry bushes on a steep slope – the berries were tasty but really had to work hard to stay upright and felt like a very long leg by the time we got to the next control (well-hidden at the source of a stream). A steep downhill bracken slide involved more falling over than staying upright but we quickly got down to the path around Crummock Water and a nice spur overlooking the lake. The final leg of the day followed the path northwards into the woods and then along a fence to a gate, which was only 100m from the finish and our overnight camp – almost 7 hours after we started.
It was drizzling as we entered the woods, after staying dry and clear all day. We put our tent up quickly, after a bit of a fight in wet and windy conditions got the stove lit and tea and meals heated up, then changed into dry clothes and huddled in the tent for a couple of hours. About 7.30pm the sun came up and everyone emerged from their tents for a drink and chat, which was lovely.
We slept surprisingly well in the super-light sleeping bags on a thin layer of radiator insulation, only waking up cold once. The loud-hailer squealed at 6am and we put our wet running gear back on (pretty disgusting), went to the loo and collected the control descriptions for the day, then made tea and porridge. It started raining again so we got back into the tent to mark up the maps and look at route options and pack our bags (very cosy!). There was a flood of people heading to the start at about 7.50am, we took our time packing up and ended up starting at 08.30am.
A river crossing within 50m of the start meant that it didn’t really matter that nothing had dried out overnight! We had a relatively gentle climb up to Little Dodd to start, followed by loads of contouring (on sore feet) round the side of Blake Fell to the summit cairn of Carling Knott. Lots of skylarks here, including one that shot up from just in front of me. We dropped down to a re-entrant and then around the side of a valley and up to a cairn at the top of Sharp Knott. There was a good, if a little narrow and rocky, path on the side of a steep valley which led round towards the next control, after climbing a fence and descending steeply to a sheepfold in the valley – a lovely spot full of foxgloves. Although I was eating a cheese sandwich, after we climbed out of the valley I was running on empty and needed jelly babies and a cereal bar. I followed Liz for the next 20 minutes or so and then got some energy just in time for a steep climb through a forestry commission plantation up onto the summit of (some hill or other). I’ve never been happier to see a cairn as it was all downhill from here, with two more controls and then a run into the finish – we even managed a little sprint and were all smiles as we crossed the line after 4.75 hours.
After downloading, we enjoyed the prize-giving and then enjoyed the wonderful hot food, tea and cake supplied, sat in a field and basked in the satisfaction of getting back in one piece and still being great friends!


Day 1: 14.8km (straight line), 18.4km (running line), time 06:49:59 – ending in 59th place
Day 2: 10.9km (straight line), 13.1 km (running line), time 04:41:35 – ending in 58th place out of 71 starters
Thanks to Chris Heaton for the photos at the finish.
Jenny Kent