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3.40am. Saturday. The alarm goes off. I am awake instantly, dress quietly and leave the room. Tom is dressing downstairs, he got here at 11.30pm. 4 hours sleep and then the Karrimor! We leave the house in driving rain and wind. The drive up the M6 is gusty, wet but quiet of traffic at this time of the morning.

7.00am. Caldons campsite, the event venue. In the dark and rain we check our packs. Tent, stove, compass, headtorch. We cram our food into our rucksacs and set off on the 3.5 kilometre walk to the start. We are in plenty of time and let the late starters run past us, burning off their energy just reaching the start.

8.29am. The whistle blows, 12 pairs of teams in 6 classes surge forwards. The adrenaline causes me to begin to run too fast. I have to slow myself down. We will be out for nearly 7 hours. No point wasting energy now. Let the fit ones get away. After 2 minutes we pick up a route-description card for the B class. This is a list of 5 check-points we must visit in order and we stop on a bridge to plot the route onto our map. The rain makes the map soggy and by the time we are plotting the last controls the pen will not mark the paper.

To get to the first control involves crossing Gairland Burn swollen by a night of torrential rain. We follow it high up towards Loch Valley until it is possible to wade thigh deep through the water, close together for support. Later, on "The Dungeon Hills" we ran over flat granite slabs covered with boulders aptly named "The Devils Bowling Green." The water poured off the slabs adding to the already brimming streams. At one point as we passed an edge a stream blew up into the air as the South Westerly gale blasted up the crag.

Midday. Hours of wading through bogs, stepping over uneven tussocks of grass, fording streams and lack of training. (Well I did have flu in the middle of the training season!) are telling on me. I am tiring. Re-fuel on high energy food bars. Why are they always so dry? It's really difficult to breathe, walk uphill and eat at the same time

After a steep climb we are on the, "Range of the Awful Hand." It has stopped raining but there is thick mist and strong wind. This suits our navigational strength and for the first time in the day we leave the crocodile of competitors and make our own choice of route, contouring around Kirrereoch Hill and the Spear of Merrick. Using Tom's altimeter we begin to traverse at 600m and rise to 750m We cross steep scree slopes and wend our way up through crags until we emerge into the wind at Black Gairy. We follow a short section of fence to another contour in the full wind that brings us onto the track for the run downhill to the last control. As we descend we can see wind battered competitors coming off Merrick, the highest hill in the area and we wonder how much longer they had been because of the fierce winds up there?

A 9 minute descent from the last control leads us into the finish funnel at the overnight campsite at Culsharg's Bothy. We had been out for 6 hours 34 minutes. We find a bit of raised ground in a boggy field. The forecast is for worse weather on Saturday night! We change into dry clothes and put on the stove to make some food, rest our tired limbs and watch the other competitors straggle in.

Day two. 6am. The night had been wild. At 11.30pm there was a rushing noise followed by a bang as the wind hit the campsite. Immediately afterwards the rain started and kept up it's downpour until just before reveille. We were snug in our tent and slept quite well. I dragged myself out of the tent and went to collect our control card for that day. We were 86th out of 300 overnight.



Breakfast of porridge and complan eaten with difficulty, (I hate porridge) sacks packed, tent put away and we are ready to go at 8.40am. A mass start of about 50 pairs. It does not really encourage individual route choice. Everyone gets into a crocodile and follows the person in front. Immediately after the start we have to wade thigh-deep through a river. So much for keeping my feet dry with my Gore-Tex socks.

For the first two controls we cannot do anything but follow the main route but between two and three a choice opens up. Most teams opt for a long climb up to the Nick of Curlywee and follow on, heads down. We choose a longer route but are able to run along a forestry road that brings us to a track that leads up to the other side of the Nick. This way we only have to climb the necessary height not extra. The rain is pouring down now and we overtake team after team who are walking, heads down in the awful conditions. Underfoot the track is trodden into a quagmire and every footstep is in slippery, ankle-deep mud.


It is in these conditions that psychology comes into play. When the conditions are bad your mind starts to question what you are doing there. The uncomfortable conditions, the pain in your legs and lungs, the weather, all make you look inwards and concentrate on how you feel. Talking stops, navigation stops, you follow the person in front and question why you are there. If you are able to recognise this, keep communicating and navigate you can make decisions that enable you to pull away and make time on others. We did this and as we slogged up the muddy track Tom told me about a film he had seen recently. At the top we split from the others, contoured round the hill and hit the third control spot on.

The main group disappeared into the mist. We headed to a forest corner and then took a compass bearing. After three kilometres of dead reckoning we hit a stream. From here it was a quick run down it's banks, the path gradually becoming more worn and muddy as other classes met up. We had not seen any other competitors since leaving the forest corner but now we began to encounter teams from other classes converging on the last control. A slithering, slipping but fast descent down muddy slopes led to the track and final control from where it was a fast 2 minute sprint into the finish.

Our time on the second day was 4 hours 53 minutes. This gave us a combined time of 11 hrs 28 minutes. We travelled a total distance on the ground of 53 kilometres plus another couple of kilometres in ascent. It was all over, all bar the soup and sandwiches. We will be back next year and hopefully we might even do some training!

By Dick Gerrish. Kendal , Cumbria.


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