The only benefit from having to cancel last year’s event is that we are well ahead of planning for the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon on 3/4th July. We have fantastic locations for both event centre and overnight camp and great courses at every level.
We have spent the extra time looking at how we can make the Saunders even better and provide a challenging but enjoyable experience for all our competitors. We’ve put on a virtual 3-hour or 6-hour training course and we’ve been working on ways to make the Saunders covid secure – full details will be sent nearer the time. We’ve also had time to think about some of the long-standing traditions of the race.
One of the areas that we have been considering is the allocation of trophies and prizes and it this clear that the existing system is not equitable. Historically we have awarded trophies for winners on an overall basis, and then smaller prizes for first three teams in each category and for female and veteran categories. Generally, this means 3 male teams stand on the podium. Out of 41 course winners in the past 5 years only 2 have been female teams.
In most sports, including running, men’s and women’s races might be run simultaneously but are treated as they were separate events for the purposes of ranking and awards. Most people understand that this is appropriate given that men have a substantial physiological advantage. Analysis of winning times and course records in road races of marathon distance and above shows men’s winning times are consistently 10% faster than those of women. We have analysed course records and winning times (since 1980) for 3 major classic Lakeland fell races and there the differential is generally 30% in winning times and over 20% in course records (which are less susceptible to small data sample problems). In long distance events the picture is similar, with a differential of 20% in winning times at UTMB.
We recognise that there is much more to mountain marathons than speed over the ground. Factors such as navigation, route choice, teamwork, planning, fuelling strategy and an ability to operate when tired and uncomfortable are all important. However, these skills can be learned and are equally available to both men and women. The physical differential cannot be removed in the same way. The fact that very occasionally a woman might overcome these hurdles and win a mountain race outright should be seen as an outstanding achievement for that woman, but not support for an unfair system.
Mountain marathons are different to most running type races in that most competitors are in pairs and these can be mixed as well as male and female. At the Saunders we had already developed a formula for adjusting for both age and gender, so it allows us to compare performances across all ages and award overall veterans’ prizes rather than by age group.
The new award structure will be as follows and apply to all teams on all courses (with the sole exception of Bedafell where there will be no vets’ prize), whether individual or pairs.
1st Male team
1st Female team
1st Mixed team
1st Veteran Team
All trophies will be similar and of equal value and there will be no overall awards. In addition, if there are 10 teams or more of a type on a course, we will award a second prize in that category and if there are 20 teams or more of type on a course, we will also award a third prize. In 2021 the first prizes will be slate engraved trophies and the second and third prizes our traditional shot glasses. We will fund the increased number of trophies by removing the kit vouchers.
All teams of relevant ages are eligible for the Veteran category and this has a handicap system which seeks to balance for age and gender, and this will be unchanged. A team can potentially win two categories, e.g. Mixed and Vets and, if so will be awarded both trophies. See http://www.slmm.org.uk/faqs/ for detailed calculation.
We hope these changes increase the attractiveness of the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon to all competitors, existing and prospective. Currently, 32% of our competitors are women and we would like to see a more equal balance in the future. We strongly believe the mountain marathon format, and the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon in particular, is a fantastic event that can be enjoyed by anyone who loves the mountains and relishes a challenge.