During my recent lily-livered grumblings about the weather, I made reference to the Original Mountain Marathon, which took place in Borrowdale over the weekend.
As many of you know, the event was hit by torrential rainfall… rivers burst their banks, normally burbling becks became raging flumes and paths and roads were reduced to waterways.
Admittedly glad that I cancelled my plans to head to Cumbria at the weekend, I was angered by some of the media coverage it prompted … the insinuation that the organizers of this established event had been irresponsible and were solely to blame.
Thankfully, the balance was restored a little today by a piece in the Independent penned by Richard Askwith, author of “Feet in the clouds: A tale of fell running and obsession’.
Now, I am not a fell runner and I have nothing but admiration for those who are fit and determined enough to run over the fells. But I do understand the rationale of immersing yourself in the rawness of the mountain environment in a bid to shake off the shackles of the day-to-day. It’s essential catharsis for me, and this point is effectively made in Askwith’s article.
I’d imagine that many of you watching the scenes of flooded cars and waterproofed runners leaning into wind and rain will have remembered your own days in wild weather. These are the days that remain crystallized in memory, rather than melding into a collective mulch of more comfortable mountain experience.
I recalled a late November weekend in Langdale a couple of years back. I had just bought my Akto and desperately wanted to give a try. The plan was to take the high route towards Wasdale and spend a night in the shadow of the Scafells.
I had a pleasant enough evening in Langdale learning how to pitch the Hilleberg and had a comfortable couple of hours sleep, only to be woken by a thunderous storm. Still raging in the morning, I packed my soggy kit away still determined to make something of the weekend.
The signs were not good, though. The track up Mickleden was a river and I shifted my route to Stake Pass where the route was really waterlogged.
I pressed on and headed to the Langdales and more familiar ground. Shrouded in thick cloud and eyes stinging from rain, I was forced off the mountain having been blown off my feet numerous times.
The floor of Langdale came into view and huge pools of water had gathered in hollows. Sheep took refuge behind stonewalls and huddled on islands or marginally higher ground in the fields.
A vivid experience, yes, but it forced me to take responsibility for my actions.
This, I believe, is the key point that was lost in the media coverage of the OMM over the weekend.Askwith, too, picks up on it. Although conceding that it would be glib to ignore the concerns of the emergency services who criticized the organizers of the event, equally it would be wrong for participants to feel that their safety was in the hands of the organizers.
Given the media furore, then, are we to conclude that our emerging health and safety conscious, risk-averse society has no room for fell running and mountain walking?
In his conclusion, Askwith suggests that the only place for safe exercise is to join the blank-faced throng in gyms up and down the country. (Well, you can always programme the cross trainer on a mountain setting, can’t you?)
You’d better drive to the gym rather than cycle, though… it’s far too dangerous on the roads afterall.