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2006 – Planner’s Comments

Each Mountain Marathon has its own culture. As the name suggests, one of the characteristics of the Saunders is that it is always in the Lakes or close environs. This brings its own challenges to the Planner because the area used can be relatively small and well known to a large proportion of the participants.

A small area means that courses will inevitably cross themselves. Thus, one tries to ensure that different legs on a course do not have common route choices. A small area also means that the environmental impact can be significant so a lot of time and care is taken to spread the load. This means not only spreading the courses over the area but also trying to spread the times at which different courses use any part of it.

Those with local knowledge should not be at an unfair advantage. To help overcome this, the map must be as accurate as possible, especially when giving a picture of possible route choices between controls. Several changes were made to the original map. The most significant was the adding of a 30 metre (100 foot) high cliff across one of the possible route choices for some of the shorter courses.

All the controls were placed away from ‘tourist’ features. Again, this was to reduce environmental impact, local knowledge and ‘light fingers’.

The other significant feature in planning is the approach of the Land Owners and Tenant Farmers. We are very grateful for the assistance and cooperation that they gave us. Any restrictions that there were had no impact on the courses.

The area itself is characterised by three deep valleys; River Esk between Bowfell and Scafell, Langdale between Bowfell and The Langdale Pikes, Langstrath between Glaramara and High Raise. There is also the smaller valley of Wyth Burn in the north east. The general aim was to get everybody up on the Fell at the start of each day and keep the majority of the controls high. Most courses had legs that crossed at least one of above features, with a direct option with a lot of climb or a longer option with less climb.

The ground consisted of the very fast area in the south east from Silver Howe over to High Raise but with significant bracken in parts, particularly in the lower regions. This area also had a large number of tracks. The south west corner consisted of the rocky boulder strewn area of Bowfell and Scafell. The going here was significantly slower and the climbs were steep. The area of Glarmara in the north west consisted of many rocky outcrops which slowed the pace. There were a few tracks but they tended to be inconsistent. Lastly the area around Ullscarf in the north east had not been grazed as intensively as Silver Howe so the grass was longer. It was also off the beaten track so there were no paths of any note. However, the going here was generally good.

It may come as a surprise but the first course to be planned is Wansfell/ Bedafell. This is essential because it defines where we can have the overnight camp. This course used line features, like a path or stream, as a hand hold. However, the controls were placed in such a way as to take the teams off this line feature and encourage them to take a more cross country route from there.

The next course planned was Scafell. This was to make sure that we could get the course within the area we had permission for. At this end of the scale, planning is done to try to make the line features the poorer options in route choice.

Between these courses, the others are planned to try to make a gradation in physical and technical difficulty from one end to the other.

This brings us to the Event.

The final results show that there is a negligible difference between the times for Scafell/ Bowfell and Kirkfell/ Carrock Fell and yet there is a significant difference between the courses.

Distance (Km)
Height (m)
Winner’s Time
11hrs 57mins
11hrs 32mins
11hrs 24mins
9hrs 50mins
Carrock Fell
9hrs 48mins
Harter Fell
6hrs 29mins
6hrs 11mins
7hrs 56mins

As it turned out both Bowfell and Carrock Fell were an hour too long. It is ironic that Carrock Fell was felt to be a bit short and an extra control (149) was added at the end of Day2. Without this it would have reduced the time by about 12 minutes.

I have been through all the results and cannot give a satisfactory reason why these two courses were significantly out by so much. On the day, the temperature played its part. I think this is why there is such a gap between Harter Fell and Carrock Fell. Wansfell/Bedafell and Harter Fell are within less than 5 minutes of my predictions. Many of the teams on these courses arrived at the overnight campsite around 1300hours or shortly after, on Saturday. At about this time it started to get hot. The longer courses had to suffer the heat for a few more hours and I think this contributed to the time they took. I have had a detailed look at the split times and these seem to confirm this. As an example, the leader on Scafell was 17 minutes ahead of my prediction at control 133 but ended up 37 minutes down at the camp site.

The final week before the event has a very busy schedule. Controls are placed on the hill, checked, grid references and control descriptions agreed, checked and independently plotted on a map by a third person. In this case we are grateful to Debbie Thomson who plotted out all the courses from their control descriptions and passed on several valuable comments. From this we knew that the feature she identified on the map was indeed the feature that we intended. Despite this there were some criticisms concerning two controls in particular. Control 122 I will deal with now, control 140 is a separate feature at the end.

Control 122

This control was used by Bowfell on Day 1 and Harter Fell on Day2. The area around this control is quite complex and there was concern that it might be too technical for some of those on Harter Fell, who would be approaching it from the north. On the other hand, for Bowfell, approaching from the south, it was deemed satisfactory. To help those on Harter Fell, I decided that it should be hung on the north side of the knoll. This way it would be visible to those approaching from the north. In fact, it was visible to them as they came into Milk Gill. However, what I had failed to do was adjust the control description. It should have read ‘North Side of North most Knoll’ instead of ‘North most Knoll’. This caused a bit of frustration with Bowfell. For this my apologies. But despite what some said, I was not trying to hide it.


There are always some things that happen that you do not take into account, or if you do, you think they will not happen. Here are a selection

  1. The number of teams that decided to go straight up the crags from the Start on Day 1. When I first visited the area, I went straight up to see what it was like. I decided that it was not a route choice I wanted to encourage.
  2. The number of Klets who chose the option … 132, 133, 142, 134 … . I had reckoned that this was not very likely. There will be a more detailed discussion of the Klets course as a separate item shortly.
  3. We wanted to mark as few out of bounds areas on the map as possible. Afterall, there is the general rule that all In-Bound land is off limits. It never occurred to me that some would want to go back through the start on Day 1. I can only assume that they wanted to use the road through Grasmere. Is this in the spirit … ?

In Conclusion

There were several people who asked me about what is involved in the planning process and I thought I would give a little insight into this in my report. The whole process from armchair planning to getting the last control off the hills has taken well over 7 months. We have had some great days on the hills from blizzards to thick mist to brilliant sun. At the end of all those months you see your plans roll out and all the members of the team knit together to produce the final result. My thanks to Bob, Charl and Mark for allowing me to be a member of that team and to all the participants who came in at the end of two hard, hot days on the hills, tired but with big smiles on their faces. That is what makes it worthwhile. So thank you all.

Grid References, Control 140 and Attack Points

Control 140 had more problems than all the others put together. Firstly, it did not work for some on Day 1 and produced an incorrect time on Day2. We discovered later that it had switched itself off sometime on Day 1 and this caused many teams difficulties. Each box has a three letter word written on it. It is there for when a box fails. Simply record the word and tell us at the finish. This I think is something we did not emphasize properly beforehand. On Day 2 it had switched itself on again but with the wrong time! Teams would not know about this when they punched and it is something that can be adjusted at the finish.

At the finish on Day 1, many teams came in complaining that the control was in the wrong place. Below is part of the map around the area of this control. I have simplified the map slightly and added 100 metre grid lines.

There are two control sites marked
Control 140 is at GR 307073 West Reentrant, Top – Used by Klets and Kirkfell on Day 1
Control 152 is at GR 308074 Large Knoll – Used by Wansfell/ Bedafell and Hallin on Day 1

The green area shows the Large Knoll with control 152.
The yellow areas show other significant knolls in the area.
The purple dots show some of the locations that teams had plotted control 140 on their map.

Almost everyone that had problems with this control had the position wrongly marked.

I think that being able to plot a Grid Reference is part of reading a map, which is part of a Mountain Marathon. Personally, I am not in favour of premarked maps. I remember looking at the map of a Klets, who was not one of the pacemakers. Each control was precisely plotted exactly where I had expected it to be. The time he used in plotting the controls was amply rewarded in that saved in finding them.

Finding the control also seemed to be a problem. Below are some of my thoughts about approaching the control when I decided to use it.

From the East (Day 1 courses)
The Large Knoll (in green) is a great attack point. The significance of this knoll is that it is the only one in the area that is on the edge of the steep ground to the south. It is the only one with a steep rocky side on the south. All the other knolls (in yellow) do not have either of these characteristics.

I would probably approach the Control 140 by swinging round the north side of the knoll in green.This would enable me to come down into it. Some may want to use the more direct route round the south, rocky, side and climb up to the control. When I am near the 100 metre grid square defined by the grid reference, the control description becomes important. There are two re-entrants.The description points me to the western one.

From the West (Day 2 courses)
The ponds to the north west of the control are a good initial attack point. From there, pass the group of three knolls (yellow) on my left and swing round along the line where the slope starts falling away which brings me to the control. If I hit the knoll in green, I know I have gone too far. Again, this Large Knoll is important. Even in poor visibility it should be easily identifiable.

Chris Hall