MOURNE MOUNTAIN MARATHON 2015
“The credit belongs to the man in the arena. Whose face is marred by sweat and dust and blood. His place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt.
Alfred Hitchcock, noted for his love of the Dark Side, would have been thrilled by the attacks of the killer buzzard. Identikit scenes from Hitch’s fabled horror “The Birds” were being played out just up the road from Mauds. As families bought pokes the crazed bird swooped in the nearby forest. The local residents were terrified and parents kept their children close. The route for the Millstone Hill and Dale race in May had to be altered …. taking us up the Granite Trail…. to avoid the psychotic creature.
The buzzard had attacked several folk on their training runs. One poor lad needed multiple stitches in his bald pate. Apparently the buzzard took particular offence at the follically challenged. I was nervous and came over all Tippi Hendren because I myself come close to the baldy bastard category. Should I have a “Wayne Rooney Weave” or run under an umbrella ? “Man Up” I thought so I ran the race wearing nothing more than a protective yellow helmet. At least it would save me from concussion during the race. I’d been making downhill head plants a speciality. Marathon Men … And Women … need courage and I wasn’t going to let the ragged talons of a bi-polar buzzard affect my preparation. As usual the wonderful Hill and Dale Race Series provided the bedrock for my Mourne 2 Day build up. I could handle the scratch marks.
PEA SOUP FOR BREAKFAST
I decided to take a more “goal oriented” approach to this year’s Mountain Marathon. Do as many Hill and Dales as possible. Climb a few Munros. Do as many legs of the Denis Rankin Round as possible. http://www.denisrankinround.com Go for a PB at the Seven Sevens and, for the first time ever, (well I am 55, it’s about time!) enter one of the mid range races. I went for the classic Spelga Skyline a 13 mile rumble round the Western Mournes. I woke on the morning of the race…. the 4th of July – right in the middle of Ulster’s baking summer.. and slowly parted the curtains. Rain and Fog. “Get dressed wimp” I screamed internally. “Go back to bed” I screamed outloud.
On the drive down from Bangor to the Mournes the fog became as thick as an Eskimo’s jock warmer. The temptation to do a joyrider style “Rathcoole Special”handbrake turn was almost overwhelming. I arrived at the Spelga Dam Car Park where I found several fell running luminaries doing the handbrake turn I had fantasised about ! I thought the only rubber you tough boys burned was from the sizzling studs on your Mud Claws. Not as flinty as you thought…Eh ! No names guys but you know who you are. One highly rated fell racer, whose name has been obscured to prevent embarrassment, wound down the car window… peeked out… wound up his window… and drove off !
So there I was. Mark Robson the one paced truffle pig surrounded by the cream of Northern Ireland’s fell runners. Well I think I was surrounded by them. I couldn’t see them. But I was glad I started. I hooked up with Patricia McKibbin and Tim Kerr and we conquered the route as a team shuffling in at the back of the pack. The Course Sweeper, a man of camel breath but a kind and considerate sadist, cracked his bullwhip within earshot just to make sure we beat dusk. The only thing we beat that day.
The mushy pea soup backdrop of early morning was but a foggy memory by then. Remarkably it lifted quickly and completely about an hour into the race. As the eloquent Mourne Mountain Marathon Chief Organiser Jim Brown put it, “It was as if God had pulled back a huge duvet”. I know you’ll be in shock right now. It was the purest test of my expert journalistic skills to get the words Eloquent Jim and Brown into the same sentence. OMG I’ve just done it twice ! The good news, from a personal point of view, was that the Spelga Skyline had just been removed from the tick list.
THE COLOUR PURPLE
The Spelga Skyline Race Director was Aaron Shimmons a member of BARF. Yes… as in BOKE… but that’s the joke … I think ! The Belfast Association of Rockclimbers and Fellrunners. You may have seen them in their Purple running vests. Anyone who has read “The History of Witchcraft and White Magic in the Mourne Mountains” will know all about BARF. Can I further recommend “Human Sacrifice Isn’t All Bad” for additional information. Many times over the years members of BARF had slithered in my direction tempting me into joining. They promised mystical powers and the guarantee of one pound off my entry fee at ALL races. Mystical powers I could take or leave but the financial benefits fitted the budget plan of a tight arsed North Down Ulster-Scot. I rabidly filled in the entry form. Signed it with a drop of blood and I was in ! The sinister looking but rather friendly BARF committee suggested I write a post on their web site to encourage others to sign up. The post is below:
MUMBLINGS OF A NEW BARFER: I used to admire those Purple People from a distance. I marvelled at the way they shone with such vibrant health. They never seemed to sweat. They were so smooth even the wettest peat refused to stick to their legs. I would end races bedraggled, puffing and drenched. If I joined the World of BARF would I too glide serenely across the Fells of Ulster…? But what if I was joining some bizarre cult ! A coven of Purpley mudclaw clad witches and wizards. But I was drawn into the vortex. For years I had resisted. Intimidated by words like “Ultra” and “Run”. Then one of the more shadowy club members whispered in my ear, “Just joining BARF will make you quicker”….. “It’s Magic !” he said as he sat hunched and muttering over a boiling pot of frogs. I took the plunge. I even enjoyed the blood letting initiation under the full moon on the summit of Donard. As the BARF members danced naked around me I at last felt that sense of brotherhood that had been missing from my life.
The Seven Sevens on August the 1st 2015 would be my first outing as a fully fledged BARF member. On the day of the event I felt a strange spiritual tingle. I had done no extra training but I still managed my quickest ever time for the event. Those incredible men and women of BARF were right. Results don’t lie. I had entered their esoteric world with, literally, a skip in my step. “Welcome to BARF”, said their hooded leader. “The benefits are vast …. the Fell Warlocks will reveal to you the many secrets… as long as you pay your annual sub… and you will learn from the Great Masters of the Bog… BUT… don’t ever try to leave !!!”
VICTORIA’S SECRET !
The Denis Rankin Round is an 86 kilometre challenge with 6190 metres of climbing taking in all of the Mourne peaks over 400 metres. It’s in memory of Denis Rankin a pioneer of fell running and mountain marathon’s in Northern Ireland. Tragically Denis died during a fell race in 2013. The challenge is to complete the Round within a 24 hour window… which is, of course, impossible and complete madness. Bugger that I thought. Instead I’ll do it my way. Picking off each one of the five legs on separate days over as many summer months as possible. This didn’t quite go to plan. One week, while feeling particularly resilient, I planned to do two legs on CONSECUTIVE days ! Tuesday was lovely. The sun was out. I bum shuffled the 15k from Silent Valley to Deer’s Meadow. Feeling good. Unfortunately, while out for a recovery ice cream in Newcastle, I ran into former Mountain Marathon nemesis Vicky Canavan. It was then that I discovered one of Victoria’s Secrets. Her self patented post run recovery nutrition of double Gin + Tonic and red wine smoothies. Whoops !
It got worse. Thanks to bloody Facebook and Strava the word was out. I woke feeling somewhat tender and scrambled. There was a message. It was from Kathleen Monteverde. A noted fell running distance specialist. “I see you are doing a Denis Rankin Round Leg today. I’d love to join you” I felt like the man who has just spotted his assassin in the crowd. Deer’s Meadow to Slievemartin was the route. 15.5k. I did my best. I really did. The start was uphill. The slopes of Pigeon. Kathleen was off. Running. Chatting merrily. I panted, clutched my heart intermittently, and did dangerous amounts of industrial arse blowing. Kathleen was making sure we were keeping within the time frame allowed on a “proper” Denis Rankin Round. So I dug deep and found the Killian Kornet within. We whizzed across the turf. Skipped over the hags. Soon we were on the summit of Slievemartin. I expected a representative from the Guinness Book of Records to greet us. But no ! Instead a grimace from Monteverde. “Oh Dear ! 3 hours 55 minutes” Kathleen scowled, “Couldn’t expect much more I suppose. We did walk most of it.” There was a hissing noise. It was my ego deflating. Crushed …. again !
Johnny Cash’s Out !
Nightmare ! Ten days before the Marathon my trusted partner Johnny Cash gets injured and pulls out. A serious thigh strain. Cash strapped – quite literally ! I was gutted for him… and for us. Johnny had scheduled in the Mourne 2 Day as part of his preparation for his season’s goal – the Berlin Marathon. Tears all round. Johnny also knew that if he HAD started the Marathon carrying an injury – and pulled out halfway through – I would have sliced him, diced him and fed him to that f****** buzzard ! Good decision JC !!!
John McBride, a man of considerable mountain experience, agreed to step in at short notice. McBride’s presence carried several benefits. A fantasy fulfilled – at last I had found an attractive older man… and it was also excellent news on the Vets Handicap front. Last week Stephen Hawking tried to code break the convoluted mathematical machinations of the Vets system – but quickly gave up and instead focused on the much simpler multiverse theory. Anyway… no matter … lots of juicy minutes to be shaved off our time. John is 60 (I had him carbon dated to be sure) and apart from the false teeth, titanium hips, plastic knees and leaky prostate (dangerous in a small tent) was in excellent shape. He mentioned that his revolving hairpiece could be an issue in high winds. I packed the duct tape.
Following far too many catastrophic training days I had selected a pair of Salomon Fellcross shoes for the Marathon. It was about time. I’d been farting and falling and sliding about in my old Speedcross’s for far too long. They aren’t terribly well suited to the fells. Try running on greased seaweed. My colour coded black and blue buttocks were proof. Like something you’d get after a weekend of S+M social with Max Moseley. The Fellcross my friends. Go for the Fellcross.
Followers of this annual blog will know all about the devious Course Planner Terry McQueen. His range of cunning clues and control flags hidden better than a Nazi Gold train has made him about as popular as gangrene. He loves others to suffer. What Terry really wants is for a vicious Atlantic low to smash into the Mournes just in time for the Marathon. A biblical storm but there’s nothing biblical about his approach. Avid readers will know all about Terry’s Voodoo prayer mat. He woos the weather Gods with maniacal mantras. This summer Terry sacrificed SEVEN goats. Terry was thwarted. A high settled in. “Drat and double drat. My dastardly plan has been foiled again” wheezed McQueen.
Terry does have his uses. He managed to negotiate a late drama when Stormont announced that no Orange Flags were to be flown in the Mournes outside the July fortnight. That was good …. but Terry later embarrassed himself yet again. It’s becoming a habit. Yes… he had set fabulously challenging courses. Definitely the toughest yet. Yes … he had good reason to be pleased with himself. But when he sprang from the Organiser’s tent at the campsite in his high heels and spray on denim shorts shouting “I’m so Money Supermarket” … well, he just let himself down. Terry … you’re better than that.
Robson and McBride were all set. A combined age of 115. Gold dust in the Vets Handicap. We had brought the essentials. Denture fixative. Incontinence diapers. Just the things we knew we’d need. McBride would be the perfect foil. John was noted for his mountain craft …. and, perhaps just as important, his patience and sense of humour. The C class, over 35k, included 2000m of mostly steep climbing and what felt like 500 miles of tussocky boggy terrain. Thanks McQueen. Terry should have played Lawrence Olivier’s role of the demonic Dentist Dr.Szell in the movie “Marathon Man”. It would have been a perfect casting. Good vis made for excellent racing conditions but it was hard going. There were lagoons of lactic acid at the campsite. It was most certainly a serious challenge.
Nightsweats followed. Terrifying dreams of vertical climbs and peaty quicksands. Actually it was just an accurate reflection of day one and day two brought another combination of soggy marshes and plaintive cries of “Up there ? You’ve got to be out of your mad cow diseased mind”. Robson + McBride were on fire. Slowed only slightly by the weight of their saturated surgical stockings. John was by far the stronger member of the fledgling duo on day two. With McBride at the helm the terrible two ploughed on and by day’s end they had beaten, by just over two minutes, the dreaded bete noire combo of Mike Nangle and Gerry Mahon who had gloated mercilessly when they pipped the world ranked Robson/Cash pairing in 2014. I could also have gloated in victory but I find the fell racing community a humble bunch so for me it’s a simple handshake and a consoling “Bad luck boys”. Although Nangle, on hearing the news of his defeat, did look as if he’d just washed down a lemon with half a pint of vinegar. To be fair that could be Mike’s normal expression.
It had been another epic weekend. Yet again the Mourne 2 Day had been superbly organised by the unfailingly efficient and consistently humourous organising committee. The courses were, by common consent, proper hard core. Post event a traumatised Robson + McBride returned to their respective care homes. Robson was so knackered he didn’t even have the strength to chase the nurses and slept soundly after a rejuvenating bed bath. McBride, an inspiration throughout, deserved a night of rest and carbohydrate re-loading. He was last seen slurping Complan through a straw.