Some raced in, others staggered in exhausted, but they all pitched camp to pass a rain-soaked Saturday night. In a few hours a tented city appeared as they settled down to recover from a full day of mountain running, only now making use of the heavy loads they had carried all day. In the morning they packed and raced off in different directions for the second day of competition, leaving the field empty again. The annual two-day Karrimor Mountain Marathon had come and gone.
Now in its 27th year, the race is the blue-riband outdoor event for dedicated runners, walkers and orienteers and is designed to 'test fitness, equipment, navigational skills and the ability to traverse mountain terrain in safety'.
Pairs had to remain self-sufficient throughout the weekend after a tiring first day running across pathless terrain and through thick, strength-sapping heather. Map and compass work were essential on Sunday as they climbed into the heavy clouds which hung over the hill tops.
Their aim was to choose the fastest route between a series of checkpoints, set out in valleys or on mountain tops and identified only by one-foot-square marker flags. Runners in the elite course covered over 50 miles and even the shortest course took slower competitors more than eight hours each day, meaning a torchlit finish.
Ned Paul, publisher of the national orienteering magazine, CompassSport, described the race as 'a unique event which can make or break friendships'.
'It's a mix of extreme athletic performance and survival skills and is so addictive more than 5,000 apply every year,' Paul said. 'Next year, the weather, the terrain and the courses will all be different and the challenge will be a fresh one.'
The race was last held in the same area in 1972 when a Norwegian pair won, and one athlete whose memory goes back that far is the 66-year-old, Chris Brasher, competing with Eric Langmuir, who was trying the race for the first time at the age of 62.
After a successful run he said: 'The last three times I've thought never again, especially two years ago, when the tent was nearly buried under snow, but like everyone else here I always weaken and enter again.'
Brasher's supplies came from Harrods and included a flask of Isle of Jura malt whisky, but most runners reduce weight to a minimum and the smallest packs belonged to the defending elite champions, Mark Seddon and Paul Hague.
After day one they were third, 15 minutes down on the leaders, Urs Butikofer and Olivier Buholzer, a Swiss pair who won the race in 1992. The undeterred Seddon and Hague ran strongly on Sunday, finishing in a total time of 11 hours, 36 minutes, well ahead of their rivals, who left with the parting comment: 'The world would be a better place without so much heather.'
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