Mourne Mountain Marathon 2013


…. the journey !


“Under no circumstances are you to run that Hill and Dale Race next week” Those were the final words of my physio after another half an hour of enduring the “Sarah Key Technique”. That’s were Julia drills her heels into the base of my spine. I prefer to call it the “Kamir Rouge” method (Avid followers of global torture techniques will know where I’m coming from !) I had locked a facet joint. I thought that was something you smoked. So no racing. No training. Just rest…. said the Boss Girl at North Down Physio.

From Kamir Rouge to Red Face

Julia’s instructions did cross my mind two days later as I stood on the start line for the McVeigh Classic in Castlewellan Forest, the first race of the legendary Hill + Dale Series. It was lovely. Cold, dark with driving rain and a back that was quietly spasming beneath the waterproofs. As usual in my typical “Inspector Clouseau goes Fell Racing” fashion I got lost, missing a critical right turn close to the finish. I ended up on the distant Bannstown Road. It was dusk and darkness was closing in fast. I reckoned if I ran down the road for a while I would become familiar with my surrounds and somehow find the finish. Not so. In my panic I flagged down a landrover and climbed into what I can only describe as a landfill site. How the lady at the wheel (plump, effervescent, farmer’s wife type and my latest guardian angel) got so much rubbish into such a small space defied belief. But she was my saviour and she drove me back to the forest (not a short drive) and dropped me just far enough from the finish so I could sneak up on it and cross the line without anyone noticing my subterfuge. I realise that my engaging honesty (admittedly months after the event) will probably force an historic disqualification but hey I’ll take that on the chin. I am probably the first man in the history of the Hill and Dale Series to thumb a lift. In a way I am quite proud of my ingenuity. And that’s how my training for the 2013 Mourne Mountain Marathon began.

I don’t believe it !!!!!

** So I bumped into race organiser Eamon McCrickard at the start of the Slieve Martin round a few weeks later. He told me about someone (not me) who had thumbed a lift at the Castlewellan event. How we laughed at this individual’s stupidity. I sloped off feeling guilty and sheepish. Staggeringly it appears I wasn’t the only one to hitch a ride that night ! Maybe he/she was hiding under the rubbish in the same landrover. To be honest I would never have noticed. The lad McCrickard will no doubt be only too happy to verify this information if you require further substantiation.

See you in court

*** Due to evidence revealed after further investigation I have decided that if anyone tries to disqualify me from Race One of the Hill + Dale Series, well, let’s put it bluntly …. there may be legal action suckers. No-where in the regulations does it state that you CANNOT hitch a lift. In fact in the safety section it states quite categorically that, “All efforts should be made by runners to car share”. Which is exactly what I did. In fact next year I may take it one stage further and use a quad bike on the Loughshannagh Horseshoe. That way I may beat Jim Brown.

Electric start…..

The goal was to complete ten of the eleven Hill and Dale Fell Races as an effective kick start for the Lowe Alpine Mourne Mountain Marathon. It turned out to be quite a journey. The actual races, in terms of results, all followed a similar pattern. I would set off hard looking good for the first five or six metres – and then drop back wheezing panting and shuffling to eventually finish at the rear of the pack. I was asked if I would like to join BARF (British Association of Rockclimbers and Fellrunners) … actually I was thinking of forming my own club … BATT (Barely Able Truffling Tailgunners) for all those enthusiastic but less gifted who were destined, like me, to forever trundle in during the fading light of dusk.

Sad night on Moughanmore

But it’s the sad memories of the Moughanmore event that will be forever branded on everyone that took part in that race. At the start I had noticed Denis Rankin warming up. Denis, the Chairman of the Mourne Mountain Marathon organising committee, was not a man I knew well personally, but I had heard so much. An absolute legend and now, at 68, with a recent history of heart trouble and the additional burden of several stubborn and creaky joints, he was down in the Hill and Dale nether regions with the likes of me. The important thing was Denis was still out there. Determined to compete and run in his beloved Mournes. He passed me on the short shallow descent off Pigeon and I remember mumbling something along the lines off, “How is that venerable gent able to overtake me. He has a limp and is 15 years older”. I may not have used those words exactly and may have included some industrial language. Secretly I hugely admired his impenetrable spirit. Denis was pulling away but I was determined to catch him on the climb up Moughanmore and I was within five or six metres of him when the horror unfolded. Denis collapsed – virtually at my feet. At first I thought it was some sort of seizure and didn’t quite know what to do. I had done my first aid and basic CPR but in the classes one thing they fail to do is tell you what a cardiac arrest actually looks like. I shouted for help. It arrived quickly in the form of two descenders coming down from the Moughanmore summit. Caroline Stout and Johnny Cash. A GP and an oncologist plus a member of Mourne Mountain Rescue who was also competing. Just the people needed in this situation. I set off for the summit to make sure the Marshall there radioed down to the start for help and then ran back to Denis. In the circumstances he was receiving the best assistance possible. I headed to the finish to make doubly sure everyone knew that there was a serious incident unfolding on the mountain. Everything that could possibly have been done was done but sadly Denis Rankin passed away on the mountain side. As his daughter Kerry said at the service – where she spoke beautifully – her father died doing what he loved. I noted that it was easily the fittest funeral I had ever been to. Lots of lean, shiny and emotional fell racers who had raced with and against Denis for many decades. The following week at the Millstone Race a huge crowd turned out including many “BARFER’S” who were there to run in memory of Denis and many did the distance non competitively in a poignant mountain tribute . It was a powerful eulogy to a hugely respected man of the hills.

Pyrenean Mountain Puppies

With the Hill and Dale Series over it was back to the ad hoc hill work which was interrupted by a wonderful fortnight’s holiday with the lovely Louise in Collioure near Perpignan in the South West of France. If there’s one thing I love it’s sweating profusely on a baking hot beach to a symphony of screaming babies. Add in an apartment situated right beside a nursery school and a motorcycle scooter park… and .. well… you get the idea ! Nirvana ! Fortunately the Pyrenean foothills were nearby and I made several escapes. Long suffering Louise loves her sun, sea and sand … which is fine as long as I can get my fix of pain. We climbed the 9,500 foot Pic Carlit staying in a refuge the night before the climb. Louise was definitely the only resident with a hair dryer and nail polish in her rucksack !! … but fair play. Despite vertigo, altitude sickness and a couple of unnerving snow field crossings Lou made it to the top. She didn’t complain or swear at me once !

“I’d much rather spend a day suffering in the mountains than sunning myself on a nice beach”, quipped Louise as she forced a smile at the summit of Pic Carlit.

Behind the beach at Collioure there was a Fort. A sharp 200 metre climb to the gates. Ideal for repetitions. I created my very own private Catalonian Hill + Dale Course and enjoyed many happy hours scooting up and down. Something to keep the legs in shape before a return to the Mournes.

Luney Tunes In

My partner for the Mourne Mountain Marathon 2013 was Ian Luney … yes the same Ian Luney who pulled out last year at quite short notice due to a late change in his work schedule. Not Ian’s fault and I have long since stopped inserting pins into the wax doll ! If you read last year’s blog you’ll remember that I only found a partner at the last minute through the MMM website. My advert (“Young looking 52 year old man with powerful thighs and love of re-entrants seeks similar for mountain fun.”) worked a treat ! Thank you Richard Worledge for your patience. But Luney was back on board looking rather prosperous after his year off !! During his one break from the sofa he had managed to Father a child. Sarah + baby Alice are doing well. Dad was still carrying the remnants of his phantom pregnancy !!!!!

The Dream Team hits the hills

There were initial concerns during our first training day in the Hills. A five hour July jaunt in the Loughshannagh area. While climbing Doan Ian’s back started grumbling. Fortunately I was carrying my usual trip inducing mix of codeine and voltarol. Ian was forced to sidestep a few pink elephants on the way home but he made it. As long as his “groin’s don’t pop” he’ll be ok he says !!! God forbid.

Seven Sevens Summit Fever

August the 10th 2013. The day of the Seven Sevens. If you don’t know it that is a 20 mile jaunt through the Mournes ascending the seven summits of 700 metres or over along the way. The weather was perfect. High cloud, a nice temperature and a cooling breeze. I had a game plan. Electrolytes. Take a gel sachet every hour on the hour to make sure the salts and sugar levels remained constant. So why for the first two hours and three summits did I feel like SHIT ? Empty legs, nausea and slight dizziness. Maybe it was the 0650 start ? At that time of the day I am usually still dreaming about Baywatch (yes I AM that old !) and visions of those tight red swimsuits would give anyone the vapours. Strangely the symptoms abated at the base of summit number four – Binian. Maybe Pamela Anderson just doesn’t do it for me anymore.. but then she is 46. I’ll bet she wears industrial strength spandex support pants these days. Funny I saw a pair of those at the Marathon campsite a month later … more anon !!!!

It’s only pain !

The final couple of hours of the Seven Sevens were suffered in lip chewing silence. It really isn’t very good for your knees if you spend the day crushing the cartilage together during a series of perilous mountain descents. Especially 53 year old knees. Some wee bugger had slipped steel wool underneath my patellas somewhere in the middle of the slope off Meelmore. He then tickled my spine with barbed wire. It all made for an uncomfortable climax. The temptation to kiss the feet of the marshals at the finish was overwhelming. But that would have been embarrassing. Job done. There is no doubt about it. The Seven Sevens is not only a great race in it’s own right but is also a perfect preparation day for the BIG ONE !

New map for 2013 Marathon. No place is a bad place to compare and contrast the Harveys with the old OSNI map. Forensic checking for discrepancies essential !
New map for 2013 Marathon. No place is a bad place to compare and contrast the Harveys with the old OSNI map. Forensic checking for discrepancies essential !

Seven Sevens climax ! Slightly unnerving !

The run through Donard Forest to the Seven Sevens finish was very revealing. Completely  exposed was my inability to move quickly downhill. The true fell runners, who had started three hours BEHIND me, were overtaking me in huge blurred numbers in the last few K’s. I felt sluggish and humbled. For an accurate analogy think of Mo Farah racing Stephen Nolan !

The Mourne Mountain Marathon 2013

“The weather is looking good for the weekend” said one, “You’re in luck”. He hadn’t bargained with my clinical OCD. So I obsessively checked the synoptic charts and compulsively discovered that the outside fringe of Tropical Storm Humberto would flick by us on the morning of day one of the 2013 Lowe Alpine Mourne Mountain Marathon. Disorder kicked in when I discovered that this would probably mean thick mist and drizzle on BOTH mornings. By the way who would ever think of calling a storm Humberto ? Is that after Englebert Humberto-dink the legendary Mexican crooner ? The storm originated in the Azores – maybe that’s a clue.

The Mystery Tour

The start point was supposed to be a mystery – a half hour ride away by bus we were told. So when the driver bounced into the Tollymore Mountain Centre at 0800 shouting “Any marathoners for the bus for Leitrim Lodge” it sort of blew the mystery element ! Not the kind of bloke who would have lasted long under interrogation. I suggest that you would only have had to say “waterboarding” and he would have traded all national secrets. Anyway we were all funneled onto the bus. Personally I didn’t really think they needed the alsations.

OMG !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

OMG !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Day One… Who’s idea was the “F” in Fog ! (Play on words .. got it yet ?)

The organisers were delighted. Notably a chuckling Mark Pruzina and course planner Terry McQueen. You could see sweet F.A. at the start. A lovely combo of clag, mist and drizzle. “This’ll sort your navigation out”, they chirped, “It’s how it should be” they chorused as they huddled under a warm blanket sipping Hot Bush. But they were right. It certainly was a test… notably for the first five or six controls. One look at “narrow re-entrant, middle part” had me scrambling in my dry bag for an early hit of Imodium. Magically the mist dissolved and good vis accompanied us on the second part of the day. One control was described as “Between ponds”. Well it was between ponds but it was so mega boggy it felt like it was IN a pond. Luckily I had packed my armbands, and, with the help of a short rope and a lifebelt, we nailed it. Then our friendly course planner sent us up Slieve Muck. We hadn’t visited the delight of the “Hill of the Pigs” (Muc is Irish for hog … you’ve just been educated) for a couple of years and, of course, the clue is in the title. Climbing Slieve Muck carries all the fun of a naked wallow in cold pig swill. But, hey, it’s all part of the craic !

Partner Peril !

By this stage, and by his own admission, my partners legs had “blown”. Of course he blamed me. I shouldn’t have run down Eagle to Windy Gap. He had been forced to follow and the old pins perished. I explained to Ian what had actually happened. Due to his carefully balanced marathon preparation diet of pizza, pies and chocolate buns he had ended up a little “top loaded”. I quickly talked him through the main elements of Newton’s Laws of Physics. Basically the extra weight in his arse had exponentially “downloaded” through his quadriceps leaving him, medically speaking, bollocksed ! Fortunately Ian recovered slowly and we made it to the day one finishing line in a respectable time. The old duffers had made the campsite !

Silent Valley Oasis. Just needed a palm tree.

Silent Valley Oasis. Just needed a palm tree.

Campsite Cameos !

What a campsite. Silent Valley. Manicured lawns. There was even a foot spa…..a clever Paddy Mallon design…. basically a tap beside a skip. Aaron Shimmons asked for a leg wax. Maybe next year. The weather was stunning which definitely encouraged sociability. The craic was mighty ! Happy campers. Ian had warned me that there was a publicity seeker called Mike who was desperate to appear in the blog and, if he saw me, would try to make an impact. When a stranger appeared in front of me, dropped his trousers, and displayed his (tidemarked !) Speedos I knew this was the man. I’ve embarrassed him enough so it would be unfair to reveal the full identity of Mike Nangle, Managing Director of DNT Chartered Accountants. Later in the evening he sashayed over wearing a bizarre pair of silver paisley leggings. They had obviously been stolen from Liberace’s wardrobe. I’m sorry but the question has to be asked. What was Mike Nangle doing in Liberace’s house ?

Steve Spence and Aaron Shimmons were in a tent nearby. A little too young and trendy for the likes of us, the Stadler + Waldorf outfit, to communicate meaningfully with. Aaron has a good reputation as a fell racer. I think I have found his secret … or is it a hindrance ? Does the large smearing of gel in his hair act as a slipstreaming device or does it slow him down. Mmmmmm !

Day Two….. MMM means Mourne Marathon Mist !

By morning the beautiful overnight campsite weather had been replaced by more mist which was wrapped ominously around Binian. It was more of a Sea Haar and as we huddled around the start box you could see it creeping up from the coastline. More fun during the early controls was guaranteed. Again course planner Terry McQueen could be seen cackling as he breakfasted on raw intestines and a pint of iced yak’s blood. Mike Nangle and his partner Gerald Mahon had finished Day One behind the Dream Team of Mark Robson + Ian Luney. Nangle had a look of icy determination on his face. I just knew he was determined to beat us. Despite two comic falls as he tried to remove the silver paisley tights which appeared to have been melted onto his skin – he set off for the start with his mind in the kill zone. I heard later from Mike’s partner Gerald that they had made up good early time in the beastly haar enveloped climb up Binian. “No danger of us getting lost”, quipped Gerald, “It helps when your partner is a foghorn”

Home at last !!!!!

There’s no doubt about it there were some tough controls on day two. Good old Terry McQueen, when he isn’t feasting on entrails, secretes those little orange flags in all sorts of evil nooks and crannies. This year I am going to steal his Christmas presents, hide them all over the Amazon jungle, and give him my old school Atlas. Now you’ll see what it’s like matey !!!!

But what a wonderful journey it was on day two. A beautifully mixed up course with loads of route choices to make. Yes the start was rather testing … like most of the field I won’t forget Binian for a while ! But we made it and it was a hugely satisfying weekend. Massive thanks to my partner Ian Luney .. without whom I’d probably still be stuck in a bog somewhere with bottom lip trembling. A great adventure but it wasn’t without pain. At the finish my thighs were screaming like the front row at a Justin Bieber concert and even worse was the smug look on Mike Nangle’s face … he and Gerry had beaten us by a not inconsiderable margin. The only disappointment, Mike said, was that he had laddered his silver tights but he wasn’t too worried. Mike was sure he could get another pair on-line from Victoria’s Secrets.

Thanks guys … and Denis.

The Lowe Alpine Mourne Mountain Marathon is all about the volunteers. From Chief Organiser Jim Brown, Course Planner Terry McQueen, Paddy Mallon, who married humour to his campsite management, the patience and affability of Frank Morgan, the arid wit of Mark Pruzina, transport manager Gerry McAlinden, and Treasurer Kerry Hall. All brilliant. The atmosphere at the event was wonderful. The organisation top class. Of course the 2013 event will always be remembered with considerable poignancy. The death of long time Chairman Denis Rankin must have been such a savage and emotional blow. I’m new to fell running but I have heard so many tales about Denis and when I saw him I have to admit to being a bit awe struck. Jim Brown had known Denis for ever and made a touching speech during the prize giving on the patio at the Mountain Centre. Dawson Stelfox announced details of the “Denis Rankin Round” a tough challenge with the goal to take in all the peaks over 400 metres in the Mournes. A crack relay team did a test run in just under 24 hours. But it was Denis’s wife Madeline who captured the mood “Denis has brought us the sunshine. He’ll be looking down !” It felt like the perfect phrase with which to end the Mourne Mountain Marathon of 2013.

Peat and grime removed the sweet smelling duo celebrate completion.

Peat and grime removed the sweet smelling duo celebrate completion.


About Mark Robson Broadcaster SKY Sports

I have been a professional sports broadcaster for over 30 years working for a variety of channels including the BBC, ITV, Eurosport and, currently, SKY Sports where I commentate on rugby union and football.
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9 Responses to Mourne Mountain Marathon 2013

  1. Laura Hamill says:

    My partner and I also completed the MMM at the weekend. This is a hilarious, heart tugging account of what we fell runners have experienced this year in the lead up to the 2013 MMM. Mark, your personal descriptions of pain and steely determination ring true for many of us. I laughed out loud at your antics and filled up as I remembered Denis, an inspiration to us all. So many struggle to comprehend our love of the mountains, the sheer toughness of fell/mountain racing and events like the Seven Sevens and the Mourne Mountain Marathon but your blog sums it up beautifully. In spite of the toughness, we still manage to banter and laugh at the comic falls and bog sinking exploits we witness and endure. Fell runners are among the nicest bunches of people I have ever had the pleasure of mixing with. I have never experienced such a warm bunch of athletes that look after each other so well. What we do is extreme so in spite of the competitiveness of races, we look out for each other. I will never forget my first Hill and Dale Series during the Loughshannagh Horseshoe race. It was a shocking windy, rainy night and we all set off in our wet gear. We will never forget the hilarity of a certain person trying to shed their wet gear in the middle of the race by absentmindedly casting aside running shorts as well as waterproof leggings resulting in completion of the race in just a pair of briefs. Just goes to show the concentration required to focus on the ever-changing terrain in front of you ;-). At each summit it was hard to pick a direction never mind stay on it! Once I reached Doan a powerful gust of wind caught me, sending me backwards towards a rocky drop. Suddenly I felt a hand grab my outstretched arm. A fellow racer pulled me back on track and held on to me until we descended far enough for the wind to subside and enable me to run in a rather wobbly straight line.
    We are probably the best fed athletes after a race. It’s not the first time the thought of a large slice of fruit cake and a hot cup of tea waiting at the finish has spurned me on! You have never seen a pile of sandwiches and wraps disappear so quick!
    The spread waiting for us at the Tollymore Mountain Centre after completing the MMM was a credit to the organisers. The T-shirts and car stickers are great. Love the contour lines to represent the mountains and navigational side to the race.
    Thanks Mark for this entertaining blog, you made my day. Thank you to all the superb organisers and marshalls for such a brilliant weekend.

    • Hi Laura
      Not sure if I replied to your kind comments on my blog. If I did then it’s the peat getting into my brain ! Just to say thanks very much for taking the time to post a reply. It really is lovely to get positive feedback …. And yes we are all certifiably strait jacket mad. Good luck with your training and be sure to say hello at the Hill and Dales … Work will prob limit my appearances this year but will be at a few …maybe more than a few. Well done on finishing the MMM .. It’s always a major achievement to get to the end. It is, as you well know, bloody hard work. And yes they are great people that nutty fell racing community. Wonderful energy.
      Cheers Mark

  2. Simon Hodge says:

    Well done. I missed out this year and had the pain of knowing my normal partner and brother was competing without me. I took part in my first MMM in 2011 sort to tick it off but got hooked and competed again in 2012. A fabulous event. I’ll hopefully bump into you some year at in the future.

  3. Gerald Mahon says:

    great blog Mark, thought I had already posted a comment but it seems to have disappeared into the ether! Really captures everything about the whole weekend and the build up.

  4. Paul daniels says:

    Hi mark. Great account of MMM again. Had me crying with laughter in places. I now look forward to reading this each year after the event. Sadly I didn’t have anyone stupid enough to do it with this year. I have done it 4 times with 4 different partners. They either get injured or too slow. Another MMM competitor said I was like the Elizabeth Taylor of the event. Who knows for next year.

    • Hi Paul. My partner Ian Luney has managed to get his wife pregnant … again – baby due September so I am currently partnerless. Was wondering what your plans are ? Problem is I am quite slow … the good news is I don’t injure too easily !!! My past partners have hooked up. I do have a mate who MIGHT be able to do the MMM but he won’t know till late June. He has given me licence to search for another possible victim !!! Nice of him. Let me know what you think even if it’s only a maybe or a possible option at this stage. My nav is ok but is in constant need of sharpening and I’m more of a lumberer than a sprinter ! I would promise to give you an easy time in the blog though ! Cheers Mark Robson

  5. Hi mark. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog though did feel pangs of jealousy that I did not enter this year. You really captured the spirit of the event. I did however celebrate on the final evening of the MMM with a few friends who entered and they filled me in on all the craic washed down with lots of the black stuff which only served to make my frustration greater. I caught up with you at a couple of the Hill and Dales this year before my gammy leg decided I needed a break and that was that.
    Really well done on completing 2013. I look forward to catching up with you next year at the Hill & Dale races…..( or is that pain and hell races)

  6. Mal Wallace says:

    Well done Mark and Ian. From sadness to triumph and a great description of stumbling about in the hills. By the way, nice colour shirt in the end shot and spotted Ian sporting his very own Joey!
    Loved it!

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