Thursday, 30 September 2010

A Small Scale Delight

The Rab Mountain Marathon 2010, The Eastern Fells

The Mountain Marathon season has barely started for me this year, but if there was one event to do, the Rab was the one. Cool, but clear and dry conditions made for a stunning weekend of upland, off-piste running, and as always, there was the huge privilege of being in the mountains for a whole weekend. Liberated by the unbearable lightness of modern day kit, from super-lighweight tents to the humble zip-lock bag, we were in for a two-day journey through the mountains of the mind.

As Day 1 drew to a close, Penny and I were nothing short of confused. With our carefully calibrated piece of string, we had mapped out a route that should have stretched us in the six alloted hours of running. After five, though, we'd made too much progress, and were marooned between a distant checkpoint, high up on the steep slopes of Place Fell, and the lure of the finish. In the end, we opted to finish early. But as Kate of Tea and Cake has rather bluntly pointed out, if you stay out too long, you're crap, and if you get in too early, you're crap. I guess on that day, we fell in the latter category...

In any case, our string theory worked better on Day 2, and we squeezed into the finish with a few minutes to spare. Much more satisfying. And with a third place in 'the ladies of a certain age' team category, we were chuffed to bits.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Longest Day

Bill Williamson's Ramsay Round

Bill and Ian on the climb up Stob Coire Sgriodain

In life, we all have our mountains to climb. But for Bill Williamson, there have been more mountains than most. A year or two ago, Bill made an attempt on the greatest of all Mountain Trilogies: the Bob Graham, the Paddy Buckley and the Ramsay Round. All in one year. With the first two of these in the bag, it was the Ramsay Round that remained elusive. By far the toughest of the big rounds, this 56 or so mile loop of Scotland's most challenging mountain terrain was proving a tough nut to crack.

Ian Charters and I were Bill's pacers over the least challenging of the Ramsay Round legs- a 17 mile run taking in a few Munros including the mighty Beinn Na Lap. 'Least challenging' is perhaps a funny way of looking at it though. The terrain is as challenging as you could find in the UK, and the degree of remoteness is breathtaking. Staring around the room in the Rucksack Club hut the night before, it positively radiated with Legends of the Fell. Yiannis Tridimas, the Zen Master of Endurance ("Your trouble, my friend, is you have a low tolerance of pain..."). Alan Lucker, veteran of the UTMB and a host of other self-effacing but miraculous ultra-distance mountain runners like Bill and Ian. Even the support crew were semi-professional (the eponymous Wynn Cliff). I wasn't sure I could keep with Ian and Bill on the day, but in reality in this remote environment, there really would be no choice.

Charlie Ramsay and Yiannnis Tridimas

At the start of Bill's run, an engaging figure introduced himself as Charlie Ramsay. He'd taken the trouble to come and see Bill start, and, as with most central figures in the sport, turned out to be captivating and enthralling. It was a rare privilege to meet Charlie.

At six in the evening, Bill rounded the shores of Loch Treig where we met him for the next leg. Bill was in great shape and although the weather closed in shortly after getting up high, things were going well. The descents were tough, though. With head torches on, it was almost impossible to judge whether you would be landing on stone (hard), heather (disarmingly springy) or jet-black, still, leg-munching runnels full of icy water (which claimed a leg from each of us). It was best just to slither, and fast.

After the long, wet run through bog-lets and rivers, the wandering trace of a headtorch signalled that we about to deliver Bill to Yiannis, Will and Alan for the next leg over the Mamores. It was looking good- Bill had navigated impeccably and was very sharp despite deteriorating conditions. As the two Ians, Pauline and I took the low road for the 2 hour walk out, the wind started to pick up, and the rain slashed down.

After the crushing doubt of the previous day, I woke refreshed after a mere 3 hours sleep. But it had been heaving it down all night. For a while we pensively waited to hear news of Bill's arrival, but as the minutes ticked away, we knew. The weather had beaten him again.

Bill completed the Ramsay Round in conditions that would have flayed the lycra off most mortals. In those conditions, 26 hours was no defeat, but a shining example of mind over matter. And for me too, grappling with uncertainty and doubt in the foothills of the mind, it had been an unparalleled opportunity disguised as an impossible situation.