History of the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon.
The Ken Ledward Years 1979-1987.
The first Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon was held in 24th-25th July 1978 at Ambleside. It was conceived as a test of stamina, self-sufficiency, navigation, camping skills and the ability to run or walk competitively over the rugged fells of Lakeland. Bob Saunders whose company designed and manufactured tents sponsored the event. In 1979 Ken Ledward, then a 46 year old outoor instructor at Outward Bound, Eskdale, and in the process of establishing his own company Ken Ledward Equipment Testing Services was approached to take over from David Meek to organise the event. The interview below which took place in October 2015 reveals how he became involved and how he approached and planned the SLMM.
The past is a different country and in terms of mountain marathons there are obvious differences in aspects of organisation. Punched controls, manned controls, handwritten and typed documents – all very lo-tech. Yet during the Ledward years a template for running the event was created which it has retained to the present.
How did you become involved with the event?
I was working for Outward Bound Eskdale at the time and field testing gear for a few outdoor equipment suppliers and had done some tent designs for the Antarctic. Bob [Saunders] had met me about these. He said we’ve just had a bit of a disaster we have just run our first Saunders MM and it did not go too successfully due to the organiser having too much other work to do, so could I step in at the last minute and that was it. At that time I just got to know a man called Jim Allen who was establishing a campsite at Park Foot on Ullswater. It fitted in conveniently because he told me he had two fields he didn’t know what to do with. So I thought that’s an ideal gathering place without doing any more ground work. It was the first one I ran – the second of the Saunders Series. I went on to organise the next ten events. The last one in 1987.
What was your relationship with Bob?
I did some tent testing for him because at that time I was also working doing a voluntary park rangers job for the National Park. So I was here, there and everywhere. I had Bob Saunders tents in places where nobody else saw them. This gave me a very good input to all the landowners and farmers because I was moving around all the time. Getting permissions was never a problem.
By the time you became involved with the SLMM the KIMM (now OMM) had been running ten years. Did you have a different vision on how a MM ought to be?
I had been running in the top class of the Karrimor so I knew from my own fellrunning background how the thing should go. I said to Bob we should make this totally different from the Karrimor which can be a survival course. And we should introduce a social event to the overnight camp. And so we established from the very first one I did to bring in milk and drinks.
At what point in the calendar did you start planning?
About February. Because I was working in the hills all the time I could have started anytime but February was the best time for me because the cross country ski courses we were running fitted in nicely – nice and staggered. So I could be out any day to suit other programme. I cost Bob nothing in all the research I did because I was in the area. Once I decided where an area was going to be I could ensure the courses operated in that area.
What were the main factors determining the venue?
In the early days we didn’t have the need for vast areas because there weren’t that many competitors. The main need was to have easy vehicle access to the main venue. ..and always a back-up for getting vehicles off the field. So we always made sure we had a tractor.
What were the issues with running an event in the National Park?
You had to get permissions. The National Trust and the planning Board were the two bogies. The National Trust in particular. In the early days they didn’t use to charge us anything. For the last couple of events I ran they use to ask for donations and I would just pass that along to Bob to deal with. But we didn’t have any trouble clearing. I only ever had one really serious problem with the water board for permissions. I wanted to put some checkpoints up below High Street at Blea Water so the water board had to be approached. “Where do you want to put it?” I said, “There’ll be a tent at a checkpoint with two or three people in it and they will be there probably one or two nights depending on whether they go up there the night before.” “Oh no, “he said, “That will affect the water supply.” At that time we had a man called Tom Pape of the Backpackers Club, he organised all of the checkpoint marshals and we had very reliable good people who would camp out and would never leave litter, never soil the area. Anyway this guy said to me, “But they may foul the water. It’s a drinking supply.” I said, “They wouldn’t but are you going to move the sheep off the fell because they don’t know about this.” He then summoned me to a meeting at Stricklandgate in Kendal. He said, “We need to talk about this in more detail.” That was the only one who ever phoned me up. He said, “We need a guarantee that they won’t foul the water.” I said, “Well our people won’t foul the water. You tell the sheep.”
Having established a centre what were you looking for in a mid-camp location?
I would look at the area I could cope with in distances so that the maximum distance would not complete the area of the route. I would put in dog legs. Specifically I would put in drop out points for people who were finding it too much so they could make their way back to the venue or to the mid camp. I never made it a stipulation you couldn’t camp out. In the KLETS class I said you could camp wherever you want. But those others in the lower classes Bowsfell and Wansfell I wanted to know where they were all of the time. You have a lot of people who enter these things and they haven’t a clue what they’ve got to do. They can read a map but can’t relate the map to the ground. So it was important to have the distance of the mid-camp that was possible in a straight line to allow those who decided to drop out at mid camp to get back. We never offered transportation. If anyone dropped out they had to do their own thing.
How did you manage the final recce of the routes?
Throughout my time in fellrunning I have known runners now not competitive but want to help out. So I would get a whole team together and we would recce every route and I would have the fastest runners doing the Scafell route and KLETS route and find out what the optimum times would be. So I would know months in advance how long each of the events was going to take. But then I would not allow those people lacking the obvious skill to enter the event.
How did you mark out the controls?
We use to put a post down. And Tom Pate would work very hard to find out from those people who volunteered to do a check point to nominate whether they wanted to do a high, exposed, craggy checkpoint or whether they wanted something in a valley then Tom would confidentially tell them where the checkpoints were located one month beforehand. So they had the opportunity to go out and check them out if they were not all that confident.
Who was in your team?
I had a magnificent team of people who volunteered to help – fellrunners or people who had been fellrunners but still wanted to retain contact although not now racing themselves. My most wonderful right hand man was Les Ashscroft who was a joiner from Broughton Mills. He was a moving force when I first developed the Duddon Fellrace. My son did a bit of fetching and carrying. Jim Garnett and Barbara Turner looked after the entries. Tom Pape ran all the checkpoints. Jason Pratt monitored all aspects of the KLETS class. Ron Kenyon was the main organiser of the timekeepers. Then Bob would have five or six people he knew who would do the registration at the start and finish. Everything had to be written down. Lists! We use to use polythene sheets to put everything in. The book keeping was done by Bob. He had very little book keeping to do directly with the event, but did appear to organise hospitality events for journalists and friends. I always had a mountain rescue team unofficial stand by because they can only turn out when the police notify them. I always made sure my colleagues and the mountain rescue teams knew where we were going to be and in case we needed a hand. By involving them wives and girlfriends and children would help out. Marshalling cars into fields was probably the biggest job we had on the weekend itself.
On the weekend of the event what time would you start?
We would be at the event centre very early in the morning. If possible camp over the night before so I was there crack of dawn. The thing you had at Karrimor people arriving after midnight we never seemed to have that problem with the Saunders. We’d say what time start time was and what time you had to leave and people didn’t come after that time. Thinking back now it was an easy ride for us. Nothing was very difficult. You just had to be at a certain place at a certain time and the pre planning worked almost always. We put the basic essentials down and everybody seemed to co-operate.
Where did you like to be when the first competitors set out?
I’d be on the run out. Somewhere along the run out. That’s where you’d get a very good feel if people have no clue as to what they are doing. You can give them a bit of a prompt. “Are you sure you’re going the right way?” Les would operate the actual start. I had four different time keepers over the years. My wife would be there of course to tidy up and provide the helpers with a snack.
How did you manage all the aspects of complex organisation?
It was like a mechanisation. These elements were all developed individually and when you said go they all moved together. And it did flow. We only had a very few hiccups in all the time I was involved. You’ve got to have a team that is committed to the whole event.
Do any particular years stand out?
I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. I knew that before anyone had run any of the courses I had run every one of them. So I knew beforehand what the answers were going to be to the questions.