Mourne Mountain Marathon 2016

The overnight camp. Tents packed with throbbing thighs.

I was supposed to be tapering for the MMM. The Seven Sevens in August was in the diary to prove to myself that the legs were strong. So there I was using the Mourne Wall as a granite pulley system grasping the dry stone brickwork with both hands to help me haul myself up Bernagh – the Seventh Seven on the route.

The Battleground

The Battleground

Legs are supposed to me made of muscle bone and sinew. Mine felt as if they had been injected with wallpaper paste. But you keep going don’t you ? As I stumbled down the Glen River path towards the sanctuary of the finish line, Ian Bailey, the soon to be record breaking winner, who had started several weeks after me, levitated past and I swear that the great man wasn’t even perspiring. Bailey beat me by over THREE HOURS which means that he could have included a family picnic as part of his race route and still beaten me comfortably. The MMM was but five weeks away. I had every right to be nervous.

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That is me at the rear and totally overdressed. All the gear and no idear ! .. And being beaten by a pensioner. To be fair to both parties that pensioner is local fell running legend Ricky Cowan. 

Trickie Rickie’s Quickie

To be honest, as usual, the season hadn’t gone well. I really thought 2016 would be a breakthrough year. Ricky Cowan was a constant thorn. I wouldn’t say Ricky was old but he was one of the few to actually witness the Big Bang. As evidenced by the above photo the great man of the hills was still doing enough to beat Robson a man ten years his junior. Ricky has met the Queen (Victoria) and took his Mountain Leader assessment alongside George Mallory. Maybe I should consider retirement.

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The Mourne Mountains. A playground for the insane middle aged.

MMM and KGB! I Don’t believe it!

This was all very disappointing as I had put a cunning plan in place. Shortly after last years MMM I kidnapped a member of the famed Newcastle AC club. The poor girl thought I fancied her but the truth is she had been identified as the perfect training partner. Someone who could help me improve my fell running times and also make the odd cup of tea. Victoria Canavan was her name. The fell running community was in uproar when they discovered that one of the posh gits from the BARF club had moved in on the local talent. But I wasn’t stupid. It was a pre-meditated strike. This was a girl who was suspected of being part of the Russian doping scandal. In fact, in the Mourne area, she was known as Victoriana Canavanavich. It was all state run apparently. Joe McCannavanavanavich of the Newcastle Club had been spotted lunching with Vladamir Putin at O’Hare’s Bar in the Main Street. And there was talk of EPO which made me giddy. I knew I couldn’t get better on talent alone – mainly because I didn’t have any ! Drugs and romance. The perfect combination.

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Zaphod Beeblebrox ? Or Canavanavich suffering from Stockholm Syndrome ?

Pain in Spain

We went for a training week – sorry romantic break – to the Picos De Europa range of mountains in Northern Spain. It was there, according to her, that I tried to kill my Russian girlfriend – the sort of thing you normally leave to Bond. A jolly day out was marred slightly when our route back to the car – via a precipitous and narrow mountain path – was blocked by an impassable Avalanche. We were four hours into our jaunt and close to salvation.

But sure it was a nice sunny day. What could possibly go wrong ? As I uttered the words, “Sorry dear there’s nothing else we can do but go back the way we came” we heard the first cracks of thunder. Within minutes we were engulfed in a full blown blizzard. Canavanavich’s mood changed.

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The Russian in the blizzard smiling through veiled frozen tears.

In fact she went all Siberian. But I didn’t panic. Victoria, apart from telling me a hundred times, through a veil of freezing tears, that we would die a horrible death in the wilderness, kept her composure. I knew I had to save her. I used every ounce of mountain craft to keep my new love alive. Chivalry…? No not really. The Russian had not yet revealed the name of her EPO contact. I had to keep Canavanavich breathing.

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Can you spot the horse’s arse ? A welcome break in the Picos De Europa. Canavanavich must still be alive. She’s taking the photo.

Into the Valley of Death

Things had looked a lot better in early May. The Annalong Horseshoe Fell Race had been successfully completed. A 13 mile jolly through driving rain and fog thicker than the skin on the school custard. Yet again I went about my humble yet heroic business of helping people in a crisis. Coming off Cove I heard the cries of the Wherethefuckarewe Tribe lead by local international star Paulette Thomson. A bunch of hardy and experienced competitors who had slipped off the racing line. If I hadn’t got them back on course Thomson and Co might have accidentally won the Annalong Valley Cliff Diving Championships and met a grisly death under the Cove crags. Being a hero goes against my modest inclinations.

The truth is getting a body off the mountain is such a pain. The bloody thing weighs a ton. Better to keep folk moving. Until you get near the finish line of course. Then all bets are off. The real Robson emerged. I was with the Russian. We encountered a group of Southern Irish hill walkers at the North Tor of Binian. The last climb. One hiker yelled through the clagging mist and screaming gale, “Is this the way to the car park ?” I remember thinking “I wish I had packed the small revolver” – and shouted back, “I’m here to race – not to save lives” Where had Mother Theresa gone ? The Russian was horrified. No gallantry medal for me. Instead I had made Victoria Cross.

But the miles were in the legs although I had picked up an injury. “Right Thumb Knuckle Lock” incurred through feverishly gripping the compass for over four hours. Anyway job done and nobody died. As far as I know. 

Great weather and perfect vis for Day One

Great weather and perfect vis for Day One

THE BIG SHOW – MOUNTAIN MARATHON TIME

The Course Planner Terry McQueen once again thought he was Steve (although his dress sense would suggest he is more Alexander). By his own admission the “B” course was “Right on the edge” McQueen didn’t elaborate but I suspect he meant “Right on the edge of sanity”. Brutal stuff on day one with 1,500 metres of climb and some kinkily placed controls.

Try finding that wee orange flag in THICK FOG !

Try finding that wee orange flag in THICK FOG !

McQueen is a closet vampire. The sun rose at the campsite on the morning of Day Two and the crusted dried blood at the corners of his mouth revealed McQueen’s night time habits. Here is a man who likes his jugular. Terry had howled at the moon keeping the tented residents awake but it worked. On Day Two he had his wish. Thick fog was rolling in with the promise of rain. The mist would soon be down in the valleys.

A test of the navigation on Day Two

A test of the navigation on Day Two

There was an unnerving mix of alligator infested swampland and mudslide descents. There was also an evil four control “Super Cluster” on the top of Bernagh. One description read, “North Tor, extreme NE, base”. It would have been easier to find Atlantis !!!! Another said “Boulder” when it was actually a pebble. And all in thick murky mist. This was like doing a Rubix Cube blindfold. A malicious cackle drifted through the mist. Mean McQueen.

Canavan demonstrates perfect map marking body position. Robson eases the pressure on his piles.

Canavan demonstrates perfect map marking body position. Robson eases the pressure on his piles.

And then there was my Marathon partner. I had reduced her to screaming silence. Victoria had demonstrated remarkable patience alongside the “Meldrew of the Mountains”. She only threatened to kill me once. Staggering patience over 45k (with over 8,000 feet of climbing !) But, incredibly, our combined skill set of grump and guile ended up with Robson and Canavan on top of the podium. Amazing isn’t it. We won the Mixed Vets. And there was me thinking a mixed vet was a transgender animal surgeon. You live and learn. My first prize of any kind since finishing an excellent third in the year eleven sack race in 1971 (the rest of the field stumbled and fell – idiots !)

We never quite got the hang of the strapping system on those damn rucksacks

We never quite got the hang of the strapping system on those damn rucksacks

After two days of steep climbing, puffing, panting, scrambling and sliding we felt like the survivors of a sparring session with Conor McGregor. Peat and Heather were encrusted beneath our fingernails. Lovely couple Pete and Heather.

A successful outing then for Robson/Canavan. Butch and Sundance ? Hinge and Bracket ? Or maybe the Crankies. I’m Jimmy – the irritating one.

Next ? K2 on a tandem.

Next ? K2 on a tandem.

Elsewhere the powerful combo of Joe and Gwenda Kenneally showed that a husband and wife can win their category without domestic violence. Mixed Vets winners in the “C” Class.

Joe and Gwenda get their prize from Kerry

Joe and Gwenda get their prize from Kerry

While my old nemisis (or is it nemisi ?) Nangle + Mahon again finished the “C” class. Astonishingly they remain competitive without doing any training whatsoever. The evidence to back that up is there for all to see on Facebook where Nangle’s posts ALWAYS include a large pint. Maybe it should be “Off Your Facebook” ?

Dastardly and Muttley or rather Mahon and Nangle

Dastardly and Muttley or rather Mahon and Nangle

And then there was the “B” class pairing of John Keating and Ian McCracken. Both members of Mourne Mountain Rescue. They know every nook and cranny. The gynecologists of the hills. But McCracken was injured. Coming off Binian on Day One he went over on his already gammy leg and let out a cry of pain. Being members of Mountain Rescue they could have easily called for help by phoning each other. But on they went. At the campsite McCracken’s ankle swelled up alarmingly. It was the size of Rathlin Island. But he soldiered on alongside the eternally optimistic sympathy free zone that is J.Keating. To finish was a feat. 

McCracken is on the left of picture - the expression on his face proof that something is swollen

McCracken is on the left of picture – the expression on his face proof that something is swollen

Yet again it’s many thanks to the MMM team who once more put on an amazing beautifully run event. Now we are off to Jackson Sports with our £50 vouchers. If you do codeine Mr.Jackson a bulk order is coming your way !

Running uphill and downhill through the rugged Mournes over and under summits through gulleys and marsh while trying to navigate - in a constant exhausted state - over two days and carrying all your gear including tent and food. And sometimes you can't see anything - and then it rains. Apparently it's fun. See you all next year for more happy truffling.

Running uphill and downhill through the rugged Mournes over and under summits through gulleys and marsh while trying to navigate – in a constant exhausted state – over two days and carrying all your gear including tent and food. And sometimes you can’t see anything – and then it rains. Apparently it’s fun. See you all next year for more happy truffling.

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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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2 Responses to Mourne Mountain Marathon 2016

  1. arnold huddleston says:

    Well done Mark and Victoria, excellent result and another great and funny blog.

  2. Thanks Arnie hopefully will see you and Peter in the future at the MMM

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