Report from Event Organiser and Race Director (submitted to Fellrunner Magazine)
The 42nd Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon was held on 3/4th July in the North WestLake District with the event centre at Gatesgarth and the overnight camp at Seathwaite. Our thanks to Robert Wilkinson and Peter Edmondson respectively. The courses were planned by Julie and John Ferris Worth who did a great job of making the most of classic Lakeland terrain with the shorter courses heading north into BG Leg 5 territory on day 1 before sweeping back over Honister and then skirting the Gables before descending into Borrowdale. Day 2 saw a more direct route back to Buttermere.The longer linear courses and the score course used an area as far as Scar Crags in the north and the central Scafell plateau in the South. Karen and Dan Parker played an invaluable role as Controllers in making sure the courses were challenging but safe and delivered winning times to our standards. The weather was classic lake district, with all the seasons in one weekend and added to the navigational challenges. Harvey maps provided our usual high quality dedicated mapping at 1:25,000 on Hartex synthetic paper.
When we cancelled the 2020 event, due to lockdown, we thought we were in for an easy year as we rolled over the locations, and most other arrangements with the great understanding from the landowners and all others involved in the event. We couldn’t have been further from the truth as the normal organisational challenges were dwarfed by dealing with a wave of covid related changes we made to allow the event to go ahead within the restrictions which we had expected to be lifted. Our thanks to Martin Stone and the team at Si, who helped move our registration process online at short notice. Some of the changes we may consider keeping for the future, the extended rolling start on Day 2 worked particularly well in spreading competitors and avoiding some of the bottlenecks that can occur with 1,000 competitors starting within a short period. Other traditions were sadly missed and we look forward to a time when competitors can gather round results boards at the overnight camp, watching the leader board change in real time. Our thanks to all participants for their understanding in abiding by strict rules. Fortunately, our strict limits on marquee numbers were not tested as the weather held off at the times competitors were outside at HQ.
The tough terrain, combined with showers on dry ground made for slippery conditions and we had a number of injuries, the most serious of which was a fractured ankle requiring the rescue of one competitor by Keswick Mountain Rescue. Our thanks to them for a highly professional rescue and also the partner of the runner and the teams who stopped to help who all behaved in an exemplary fashion.
This year we trialled trackers from Opentracking for the first time, for the purpose of safety and monitoring Out of Bounds transgressions. Each year the Saunders covers very large territory (upwards of 100sq km) and often includes areas within it that where access is restricted by landowners or environmental agencies or are simply not safe for runners to race over. We take adherence to these restrictions, which are clearly marked on the map, very seriously and have disqualified a number of teams where the trackers clearly showed they have entered prohibited areas.
Following detailed analysis of historical mountain marathon results and winning times in comparable races we have changed our prize policies to recognise category rather than overall winners. This brings us into line with fell races, with separate female and male prize- winners, the vast majority (over 90%) of our competitors are in teams of two and we also have a very large number of mixed teams so these are recognised as a separate category.
We have a complicated formula, also used by other mountain marathons, that seeks to compensate for both age and gender so the normal vet subgroups do not apply. We therefore present 4 equal category winners for each course, except where they are not relevant.
Finally, and most importantly, we would like to thank the small army of hard working and loyal volunteers that make staging this complicated event possible. Many have supported the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon for 10-20 years and it is heartening to see this contribution recognised by our competitors.
Stephen Ross Event Organiser
Roger Smith Race Director
Report from Planners
What an honour to be asked to plan the Saunders! The magnitude of this did not really dawn on us until we saw the marquees up in the field from control laying on High Snockrigg on Thursday evening. It had started to feel like an ever-present occupation over these last two years and we were quite sad to realise that we have no particular reason to keep returning to that stream bend or sheep fold in the loveliest of places that we have got to know.
The Saunders has kicked us out the door in the most dreadful weather these last two Winters trying to stay one step ahead of the very fit controllers, Dan and Karen Parker. We felt confident that if we could lay controls in a blizzard and get them right, then you could all find them in Summer. We can now admit that the control on Round How took us two days to get to in the end. We may have lost sight of what it would finally look like when you all arrived ready to run, after 2 years of buying tiny things to go in your packs. The excited smiles were huge as you started-out through the top gate. Those of you who cleverly went back through the start, we are sorry that we missed you!
We have definitely benefited from post-lockdown-positivity and we are so grateful for all of the lovely things that you have said. Many admitted to being un-hill-fit or not used to the terrain, but all were just really happy to be back out in the hills. As 1/3 of the competitors who filled in the survey were new to the event, it is fantastic for our sport to see new faces, and especially so many younger competitors. There are so many talented young orienteers taking part now and long may this trend continue.
There were only two mild issues that folks brought up and everyone did so in such a lovely way that we thought that we should just take you through our journey with them.
The descent into camp from Gillercomb over Seathwaite Slabs was slippery and rubbly. All that I can say is that you should have tried it covered in sheet ice with ice marbles on top! We had to use this descent for the majority of the courses to avoid the popular paths, on the off-chance that the event had taken place in glorious sunshine when the tourists would have been out in droves. The Hind Gill descent was steeper and use had to be kept to a minimum as in a previous event folks had not kept to wall crossings. This limited our options in what is pretty steep terrain.
The Scafell course did revisit some ground on Glaramara on day 2. Some folks suggested that we could have gone further into the Haystacks area or Ennerdale and not used this side of the valley again. Some very early versions of the Scafell did use Ennerdale and Robinson’s Cairn, but new planting caused access issues, so we kept out of the area in the end and by version 21 of the courses, we had forgotten that it was ever part of the plan.
So it is over for us. The controls were all in by 6pm thanks to all the volunteers. We will have to help next year because the helpers are such a wonderful bunch of warm characters but then maybe Julie will go back to petitioning for the return of KLETs and John will run Fairfield.
We love the event and have learned so much from Dan and Karen. They are hugely knowledgeable and thorough, but kind and thoughtful controllers. Thank you to all of the helpers for their warm welcome back to the team and to Roger and Stephen for asking us.
The two of us met on a start line and have always been happiest running Mountain Marathons together. This was the best thing that we have ever done!
John and Julie Ferris Worth
Report from Controllers
We are finding it hard to think of much to comment on, which is hopefully the sign of a successful and enjoyable event. Course winning times seemed about right – mostly slightly shorter than advertised, but that is probably a good thing given the fact many people are less mountain-fit than in a normal year. The trialling of the tracker technology this year provided some entertainment, but sadly also exposed a number of out-of-bounds and uncrossable wall infringements. We try our best to make the map as clear as possible and perhaps the usual practice of having blank maps available to study at registration would have helped, but in the end, there is only so much we as controllers can do.
This is our fourth year of involvement in the Saunders, and while each year has thrown up its own problems, a pandemic was not one we had ever imagined. The day before the first lockdown was announced we were out checking the control sites around Robinson in beautiful sunshine, still unable to believe that an event four months later would have to be cancelled. There were occasional glimmers of hope in late spring, but it was not to be. Fortunately, the planned event centre and overnight camp could still be used for the 2021 version so no significant changes to the courses were needed. When we re-checked the control sites this year some of the small piles of stones, we use to identify them needed excavating from the grass and there were one or two additional changes to the map needed but mostly it was a matter of picking things up where we left off.
We think that John and Julie, the planners, produced some really good courses and were great to work with. The two of us are lucky to have the flexibility to choose nice days be out on the fells checking sites. With work commitments, John and Julie don’t have this luxury and suffered some pretty awful weather but still remained cheerful and enthusiastic throughout the planning process.
Finally, a huge thanks to Roger, Stephen and the whole organisational team for making the event happen – we know from other events we are involved in how difficult Covid has made things. Despite this we feel that the event still had the traditional Saunders feel which was so nice to see
Karen and Dan Parker
9 July 2021