Planning this event proved to be a very much more difficult task than I had anticipated.  At the back end of last year we were looking for a suitable area for the event and I suggested the area south of Glen Shiel.  I had done a brief map exercise and felt that it had what was needed.  There seemed to be several legs with good route choice options so I suggested to Martin that we try for it.  What I had not appreciated at the time was that it was going to be so difficult linking the legs that I had identified.  The area last year at Blackmount enabled me to take the routes up high, and keep them there, as there was a ridge that went from the Ski slopes of Glen Coe down to Loch Etive.  The area of Glen Shiel consisted of isolated lumps.  This meant that it was too easy to produce courses that meant constantly having to go up and down 2000 foot (600m) or more.  Another problem was that there was an area in the middle, at the east end of Druim Fada, around GR9209, which I would describe as 'dead'.  It offered little in the way of choice but had to be crossed by most courses.


Originally, I had wanted to put the Elite up the Forcan Ridge to the Saddle but as time progressed it became obvious that this was an option that did not lead to satisfactory legs thereafter.  We also had restrictions on the use of the ground south of Glen Shiel village that meant we were restricted to the East and West ridges leading to The Saddle.  Then there was the problem of the Novices.  We had wanted to put the Mid Camp at Arnisdale but the distance would have been too far for them to go from Glen Shiel.  This, along with our desire to use Barrisdale meant that we ended up with two starts.  Barrisdale is probably the best terrain in the area.  It is technically quite complex and was ideally suited to Elite and A.  I would have liked to put B onto this ground but this would have created a logistic problem of getting the additional numbers across Loch Hourn.


With all these problems there was a constant re-evaluation of the courses by Mark and I right up to the last minute.  We held several brainstorming sessions where we thrashed out the options available.  There were two main difficulties.  Firstly, to keep within the distance and height constraints that we had set and secondly to pick control sites that were fair.  The latter caused severe problems in the area around Sgurr a' Bhac Chaolais and Buidhe Bheinn.  All the features on the map were on the ground, if you looked carefully, but many of them were ambiguous or there were similar features close by that were not mapped.


Fine Tuning

Because of all these constraints, I was not able to tune the courses in the way I would have liked.  Normally, you can adjust the position of a control by a small amount so that one route choice is the preferred option.  By doing this you can make it so that the best route may be to contour on one leg and go direct on another.  This year there were a large number of legs where this tuning was not possible.  We just had to accept the one possible location for the control in that area.  This means that it is important that the site is fair, accurately described and represents a feature on the map.  A lot of effort goes into this aspect.  Every Control site is visited by at least two people independently.  They must agree that it is in the right place and that the description fits.  Mark and I then agree on the Grid Reference on the map and at least two other people plot the Control sites and agree that the location plotted is the same as that agreed by Mark and I.  Because the Grid Reference defines a 100m square, it is important that the description is not ambiguous.  Thus, if a Control site is described as the foot of a 20m Crag, then there is only one large crag in the Grid Square.  If the description is S Stream Bend, then there is more than one bend in the Grid Square with the control on the most southerly one.  Another issue is caused by steep ground.  It is very easy to have a height difference of 50m in that 100m Square.  To help describe the location as accurately as possible we often give the height of the feature.  This height is always the height as indicated by the map.  This means that the map has been checked against ground local to the control.  Sometimes you have to look at the fine detail to ensure you are in the right place.  As an example, Control 107 on A Day 1 at GR963060 was described as Reentrant 300m.  If you look carefully at the map you will see that there is a small spur below the crags at 300m an the East side of the reentrant.  Also, below the control site, the reentrant is narrower.  This sort of fine detail I would expect a team in the top courses to be able to spot.  To give two other examples

1.  D Day 1 Control 131.  GR879113 Stream Bend.  Mark and I had discussed finding this under bad conditions and come to the conclusion that it was fair.  Planners always pray for low cloud in these events and my prayers were answered.  However, I had not anticipated that the visibility would have been so poor.  Some teams reported it down to 5 - 10 metres.  In these circumstances, I think that this control may have been a little unfair for D.  The problem was that if you took the contour route from the previous Control (137 GR 892106 Col), you came over the saddle to the east into a complex area of undulating terrain.  You would have had to be very confident in you navigation to be able to hit the control accurately.  Possibly the best option in the conditions would have been to climb from 137, the Col, go to the west of point 643, and pick up the burn, a distinct line feature that would lead straight to the control.

2.  Another control that seemed to cause problems but that I think was fair was C Day 1, 123. GR888079 Spur 600m. The best way to approach this in the conditions, was to find the twin lochans on the ridge and use this as an attack point.  If the lochans had not been there this control would not have been suitable for C.  The trick was to read the map carefully.  The 610m contour was at the edge of the lower lochan.  Many people seemed to have walked out on the spur without thinking that they had to drop 10 metres (30feet).  The spur was flat at about 610m, then there was a crag and below that the control on the 600m contour.  The distance from the lochan about 150 metres.


Earlier on, I mentioned that it was not possible to tune many of the legs this year so that a particular route choice was the best.  An example of this was Elite Day 2 second leg.  We had great difficulty finding a suitable control site for the first control.  The main problems were either ambiguous sites or routes out of them meant getting snarled up in crags.  This meant that this control could not be placed where I could tune it for the second leg options.  Talking to the teams afterwards, I now think that the best route would have been on the south side of Beinn Sgritheall.  This seemingly horrific route through all the scree turned out to be better than expected.  There were several small animal tracks a large part of the way which made this a better option than the northern route I had preferred.  This is the only real difference of opinion that Mark and I had over the optimum route and he turned out to be right.


Where route choice is concerned, there is a tendency for tracks to take the eye away from other options.  An example of this is C Day 2 first leg.  This was a control whose position I could tune.  The first problem was I wanted a site that would make it unlikely teams would use the west side of Beinn Clachach.  This had a lot of large crags and needed to be avoided.  The next point was I wanted the track to be an option but not the best one.  The position of the control had a natural line leading to it, the ridge coming in from the south west.  This lead straight to the control and was good, if steep, going.  The track option was longer and involved some detailed navigation in from the north west.


Analysis of Speeds

At the end of an event like this I feel that is is important that a proper analysis is done to see how expectation compared with reality.  One aspect of this must be feed back from the teams taking part and all your comments have been gratefully received.  Constructive criticism is always welcome and we would be happy to answer any questions that may still be answered.  Below is some more detailed analysis of the overall performance of each class.  One commitment we did make was to plan courses that enabled transport to get to Glasgow and Inverness within time to catch connections to the South.  This put a planning constraint on Day 2.  You were told that we would plan courses so that all teams should have completed within 150% of leading time in E, A, B and 180% of leading time on the other courses.  I put a cutoff time of about 1400 hours on Sunday.  As it transpired, we achieved this commitment.  However, did you select the right course ?  There were several teams who went over these limits by a sizable margin.


In planning I used the empirical speed values derived from last year to estimate the times for this year.  The comparison is shown below.










Day 1

   Day 1

Day 2

  Day 2
















































































































































The table shows how my estimate compared with the actual times taken by the Winner and the mean of the fastest 3 on each day.  Looking at these figures, E, B and D are in excellent agreement with my estimates.  C was faster and A longer.  The fact that the A winners took nearly 13 hours concerns me.  If you look at the relative difficulty I cannot explain why A should have been so long.  The same happened last year.  I do not wish to take away anything from the great performance of Janice and Andy, but maybe the standard of teams on this course needs improving.  There look to me to be some good performers doing B who should try their hand at A and push the leaders harder.  Some of these teams may even have produced faster times on A than the actual leaders.  So next year go for it.


There are all sorts of people to participate in Mountain Marathons.  Ifor and Alun Powell retained their crown with brillant running, especially on day 1.  The lead they had was impressive and although Mark and Mark pushed them hard on day 2 they could not quite close the gap.  This year I would just like to highlight the other end of the spectrum for a change.  The Novice class is designed for those new to this type of event and we try to 'hold their hands' and give them the necessary experience.  I was taken by the cheerful and positive approach of Terrie Sawyer and Anne Wilkinson at the start.  They had never done anything like this before.  They were still in the same frame of mind when I saw them at the Mid Camp and continued that way to the finish.  If we continue to attract characters like this, events of this nature are assured of a long future.  Spread the word.  It may be hard but is can also be enjoyable !


Electronic Punching

Martin knows that I am not totally convinced that electronic punching is the ideal that it is made out to be.  The system we use was designed for orienteering and has several 'features' that make it less suitable for Mountain Marathons.  For example:


1.  There is a problem in the software with running times of more than 12 hours.

2.  In orienteering, the control box is normally mounted on a 'T' bar.  We lay it on the ground.  This means that it can be accidentally turned upside down.  In this position, the Si Card does not work.

3.  It takes a few days to prepare all this electronic equipment.  This is an additional burden on the Planner, Controller and their assistants.

4.  2 control boxes went defunct.

5.  1 box seems to have been misprogrammed.  My fault.


To me the only advantages are that you get your split times and we can easily check that you have visited the correct checkpoints.  I see no problem in using it at start and finish and places like the loch crossing for E and A but is the technology that valuable?



Minor Problems

There are some other problems that we need to address and teams should be more aware of.

1.  The control descriptions erroneously showed a number for the Start Control.  This threw some people who started looking for another control after they had started.

2.  The chasing start on day 2 does not have a Start Control.  This is because we already know your start time and the clock is running from the moment of your allocated start.

3.  We need to ensure that the controls are sited in such a way that they are easily visible from a reasonable distance.  There were a couple of controls that I heard were difficult to see.  The nature of this competition is that the Control Kite is laid on the ground.  This I am happy with.  However, I do feel that we need to be a little more careful in how we lay them on the ground.


Thank You

An event like this can only happen if a lot of people devote the time and effort to make it happen.  We are dependent upon their enthusiasm and support.  In the first place there are the landowners.  It is very important that we understand their concerns and are accommodating.  As long as we do this we will be welcome.  The support we had this year was magnificent and this is a tribute to the hard work that Martin does to explain what we are about.  After this come the cooperation of the local people.  There are many involved but I would like to mention Donald Cameron, the stalker at Kinloch Hourn would gave us great assistance on his estate, Stephen Miller, the stalker on Barrisdale, who was the main boatman across the loch and provided ferry services prior to the event and Len Morrison, the boatman at Arnisdale, who provided the emergency phone number and additional boat assistance (and does an excellent B&B).  Then of course the are the Event 'Officials'.  Going back to February, I damaged my leg so badly that it took me 2 months to start to walk properly.  If it had not been for Mark doing more than his fair share on the hill we would not have done nearly as much as we did. That and the positive way in which he controlled the event were definite plusses.  In reality, the planning was a joint effort and credit is due to him for all the help he provided.  As I indicated earlier, you must know the ground if you are going to plan an event like this.  I spent 20 days on the ground and Mark did about the same.  It takes a whole week to set every thing up and you cannot do this on your own.  All those volunteers who helped I thank wholeheartedly.  In particular, an old friend of mine, Niall Watson, knew several of the local people and gave a lot of assistance in getting permissions.  He also spent the week prior to the event helping Mark and I.  When it is Gale force 9 and horizontal rain, you need all the willing assistance that you can muster!


Lastly, many thanks to all of you for participating.  Hope to see you all again next year.  I shall not be planning.  It is my belief that an event like this lives by its ideas.  Another planner's ideas will give you a new aspect and new problems.  What about you?  Martin is waiting for your call.  All the best.


Chris Hall




Controller's Comments - Mark Hawker


How do you plan a mountain marathon on an area where everything starts at sea level, rises to 3000 feet then drops back to sea level again?  The answer is “with great difficulty”.  On an area like Glen Shiel the easy bit of planning is in achieving technical courses which will test people's navigational and route choice skills.  The harder part is in ensuring that these courses are within the physical capabilities of the majority of competitors within a course.


 I believe that what you ended up with as competitors were challenging courses that made excellent use of the terrain but didn’t have excessive climb.  What you would not have been aware of was the amount of effort Chris had to put in to get the courses into this state.  All of the courses went through several versions from the original armchair ideas through to the final design, with most changes aiming to reduce the amount of climb while still keeping as much route choice as possible.  I would like to thank Chris for all of his effort and hard work and to assure him that the many late nights he spent pouring over the map were worth it in the end.


As usual Martin and the team did a great job organising the event and making sure that everything ran smoothly on the day.  It made my life as Controller so easy to know that this experienced bunch had seen it all before and that I was best just to stay out of the way.  Thanks to you all.


Now I’ve said my thanks to the team I have to have a grumble to you the competitors. About 40% of the teams arriving at the closer day 1 start were arriving late.  While a few had genuine reasons most just had not managed to get organised in time.  It was also obvious that many people just assumed that the use of electronic punching would mean that arriving late would not penalise them.  This caused a lot of problems for the start team and was unfair on the teams who had rushed to make their start.  In future please do not assume that start time is a guide figure.  It's hard enough to organise this type of event when people do follow instructions.


Finally a warning for future controllers - if you want to avoid complaints from ALL of the female competitors then check that the loo trench is not too wide!


Mark Hawker