1999 LOWE ALPINE MOUNTAIN MARATHON - Jim Hutton

As usual, the build up to the LAMM was fraught with a frustrating frenzy of packing and re-packing the rucksack. I seemed to spend each evening in the week prior to the LAMM preparing in some way for the race, making sure I got all the right bits and pieces together and looking to save weight wherever possible. I still carried too much. I decided to take a bivvy bag instead of a sleeping bag and that seemed to work out just fine; I wasn't cold at all. But I seemed to cancel out the weight saving by taking too much food, or rather, forgetting how little you actually need and finishing the race with a sack full of uneaten grub.

I set off from Portsmouth at 1230 on the Friday and drove to Bath to pick up Tim Laney (my MM partner). Traffic was as usual pretty awful and after lots of jams we arrived at the mystery campsite at 2330, pretty tired. We were immediately attacked by a million midges and life got pretty uncomfortable until I covered myself in repellent. We were not told where the event would be until 1800 on Thu night. This was to make it a surprise and also prevent people training in the area prior to the race. We were told to head for Tyndrum, which is about half an hour north of Loch Lomand. When we got there, we found a sign telling us to drive to Bridge of Orchy then on arrival another to tell us to follow a winding road to Loch Tulla where the campsite was. Quite a mystery tour, but it wasn't over there. We were then given a ticket with 0900 written on it and told to go and camp, then meet at the time on the ticket the following morning ready to run.

We got the tent up had a meal then hit the sack about 0100 getting up again around 0700. It was a beautiful morning, clear skies and sun beginning to warm the day. The midges were also enjoying the prospect of feeding on about 1000 odd people who had turned up as their unexpected breakfast. We ate and drank lots ready for the day ahead then boarded our bus at 0900. The Elite and "A" class had to get on a separate bus and we were driven round into Glencoe to the car park at the bottom of the chairlift. From there you could see Buachaille Etive Mor bathed very clearly in the warm sunlight and it reminded me of a family climb up there in the summer before last. Anyway, we were given a map each and told we could start when we were ready. Tim and I quickly sorted ourselves out then set off. What followed was over 8 hours of hard running and climbing over some huge mountains. We climbed over 2500m (8000 feet) and covered about 35 km in distance. We crossed boulder fields, traversed knife edge ridges, tumbled down scree, slipped down grassy slopes, climbed up hugely steep slopes and ran pell mell down mountain sides. Our thighs ached, our feet were torn and blistered, our backs rubbed raw by the rucksacks and we sweated hard for every mile. On and on we went until at last we could see the campsite. By now the sunshine had been replaced by a steady drizzle and we were left with a 500m descent off a wet mountain which severely bruised the legs with the impact of every stride, making the final mile along the track to the campsite a fairly tortuous affair.

On arrival we collected water from the burn, pitched our tent and put on some dry gear over our wet stuff so that our bodyheat would dry out our running kit. Once inside our sleeping bags we got the stove going and had a couple of hot drinks and some pasta to warm us up and replace our lost energy. By the time we had taken a nap it was about 2130 and time for another meal and a chat with all the other runners. Finding out what routes they had chosen, had they had any problems and where had they finished. I had found the day quite hard. There had been a lot more climbing than running and I had never really got into my stride. Tim was stronger on the hills, whereas I just hung on paying the price for living in the flat south and not doing as much hill work as I might have done. We were lying in seventh place but well over an hour down on the leading team (the Powell brothers) who had run extremely well.

Next day we tried our best to stretch out our aching muscles before setting off into a coldish claggy morning that promised lots more climbing and a lot of ground to cover before we hit the finish. The weather gradually deteriorated, it was fine for running in but you didn't want to have to faff around in it looking for checkpoints or studying the map as you soon got pretty cold. That said, the ground was a lot more runable and we kept up a steady clip, slowing only for the climbs which we tried to conquer at an even pace. Route choices were not instantly visible on the map and we were constantly fine-tuning so that we didn't have to run further or climb higher than we needed to. Even then there were route choices which we didn't even consider that proved faster on the day. Scenic views would appear tantalisingly between cloud fronts then just as quickly would disappear before we could take advantage of the revelation. On and on we went, passing lots of folk striving to complete their own courses, quick words of encouragement are exchanged then they are gone, replaced only by the sound of your feet splashing through the peat. Deer were plentiful, always there but never too close, clearly intrigued by this invasion but not nosy enough to get too close. Twice we came over crests downwind of a herd and we would be on them before they knew it. The young calves, only a few days old would sit tight, mystified at our presence whilst the Hinds would scatter and circle warily watching our advance through their grazing ground. We were no threat to them and we were careful not to get too close to the calves, bonny as they were.

After 5 and a half hours we crossed our last river before reaching the finish line. We had kept our seventh place and were pleased with our overall performance. I had run better on the second day whilst Tim had felt a bit rough for some time, but thatís the way of Mountain Marathons. It is a team event and you have to look out for each other. Over reliance leads to problems in navigation, feeding, drinking and ultimately your ability to finish the course. We had both been reminded of the sheer scale of real mountains and were in awe of a great two day experience.

The post race meal was quite superb, only matched by the second meal 4 hours later at a transport café near the border. The 10 hour drive home was painful. But then we knew it would be.

Next race is a 3 day event through the Verdon Gorge, France, in early July.

Jim Hutton