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Every year, as the summer holidays draw to a close and we prepare to head back for another year of work, CUOC begins the annual migration across the Irish Sea for the Mourne Mountain Marathon, a two-day test of endurance, mountain navigation, and how many people can fit the the Pružina house. For the third year running, we saw a healthy increase in the number of CUOC/DRONGO teams, and there are no signs of the growth slowing down. This year's contingent consisted of Helen P and Fiona P, Lily and Elizabeth, Jeremy and John, and Paul with Phil infiltrating from LUOC. Rona from Edinburgh considered running the event, but then realised she would prefer to look after Max the dog, so came to help out instead.
People arrived on Thursday night and at two-hour intervals throughout Friday. After Paul had picked up Elizabeth and Lily, they found themselves with nothing to do before getting Jeremy, but not enough time to go home, so went for a walk up a hill, before doing a speed-run on Belfast IKEA in 11:04. When everyone arrived and had had dinner, a frenzy of packing began, sorting out kit and cutting down on the grams left right and centre. Paul had discovered that chocolate rice cakes gave the most calories per weight of all the snacks in SuperValu, so decided to subsist solely of these, combined with fruit and nut mix, for two days on the hill, while Phil had a craving for chocolate peanuts, and required a special trip to a far-away shop, as all the shops in Comber were out of stock.
On Saturday morning we got up dark and early and headed down to the event centre at Attical GAC where we were kit-checked before travelling to the start on a very old, dodgy bus where the speedometer and rev-counter didn't work, and not even the driver had a seatbelt, but it was ok because he went really slowly. When we arrived everyone started quite close together and we headed out onto the mountain. The first day's courses stayed in the Eastern Mournes, which are steep and dry(ish), with lots of areas of good running, and a decent number of paths. After a misty start to the morning to fog seemed to lift just in time for climbing each mountain, and the conditions were excellent for running. There were some interesting route choices, especially around the cluster controls, and everyone had fun, before arriving at the campsite at the Happy Valley on the northern side of the mountains.
We all set up our tents and gradually had several rounds of dinner over the course of the afternoon, including a blackberry picking session, where Rona got very excited to feed berries to Max. Eventually it got dark, so we went to bed. However, the weather decided that it wasn't bedtime yet, sending some extremely heavy winds to keep us awake for several more hours before finally dying down.
In the morning we were awoken by the sultry tones of 'The Mountains of Mourne' sung by an organiser,and rose from the tents to absolute carnage. The winds had done their damage during the night, and several teams had been forced to abandon the mangled wreckage of their flimsy ultralight tents and head for the marquee, which itself had taken a battering, with a 5cm stake snapping in half. Luckily, we had all arrived early back after the first day, and managed to snag the most sheltered spots, in a hollow by the hedge, and all our tents lived to tell the tale.
After eating breakfast and decamping, we went off to start the second day. This time, the courses headed back through the Wild Western Mournes, a vast expanse of tussocks, peat hags and turf cuttings, where paths and short heather are like gold-dust. The courses again were good, giving some more challenging choices and a fun cluster with four controls all around the summit of Hen Mountain. The final run in to the finish was 1-2k (depending on course) along a slightly downhill tarmac road, which seemed to go on forever, but eventually ended with showers and soup, which were wonderful.
In the results, Paul and Phil won the Elite Class, John and Jeremy were 6th on the B, Lily and Elizabeth 19th (4th female) on the C, and Helen and Fiona won the D. Full results are here.
After it was all over, we headed back for an evening of pizza and dealing with kit, before everyone headed home on Monday. Well done to everyone who competed, and here's to even more CUOC teams next year!
This year's SHI was organised by PFO at Hurstwood in Lancashire, a big area of open moorland with some very complex mining spoil. The first electronic edition of the map was traced lovingly from the hand-drawn version by Helen and John Ockenden, but for this event a newer version was used, meaning they got no credit at all. The individual courses all consisted of several sections of shorter legs in the mine workings, linked by long legs across tussocky moor, which meant they were at almost all times difficult navigation or difficult running. We experienced the full range of weather from heavy rain to threatening heavy rain, but the terrain was surprisingly dry, without much bogginess anywhere. Paul came 13th on the M21 for Ireland, while Fiona was 2nd on W20, and Aidan 5th on M20 for England.
After the race everyone went back to the outdoor education centre where we were staying, and sat around all afternoon until it was dinner time, where we were disappointed not to be supplied with pudding - various solutions were employed, some opting for buying cakes, while other teams were prepared in advance and had made cakes at home beforehand. After that the Scots, Irish, and fun English men went to the pub, and everyone else went to bed.
The next morning the relays were organised on the same map, this time at 1:7500 which made the tricky mine workings a lot easier to read. The courses all included a lap of the reservoir, running though some pengaluscious open woodland, which made a nice change to the bleak moor. Aidan's team (ENG A) won the Men's, Paul's team (IRL A) was 8th, and Fiona's team (ENG A) came in first place in the Women's.
During the relays a couple of DRONGOs turned up, who had run the SHI courses the afternoon before. Pavel, Ben S and Dan had made an all-DRONGO podium on the black course, although this was helped by the absence of any other competitors. After this, Dan and Pavel went to camp overnight at control 16, while Ben took the sensible option of not camping at control 16.
5 CUOCers travelled to the South West for the British Sprint and Middle Champs. Saturday saw the Sprint Champs taking place at Bath University, which proved to be a good place to host a Sprint Champs, which pleased CUOC. Unusually for a British Sprints, the starts were all on time and everything was very well organised, which pleased CUOC even more. The morning qualification stage largely made use of the accommodation areas to the NW of the University, with a short section across the main parade to give a taste of what was to come in the finals. Fiona, Aidan and James A all successfully got through the qualification stages to reach the elite finals.
The finals criss-crossed the multi-level main university parade several times, giving interesting route choices of level as well as direction. As with the qualifiers, the finish was in the middle of the athletics track directly below the assembly area building. The elite finals were held first, turning them into an interesting spectacle for the rest of the competitors finishing their lunch. Fiona and Aidan both finished an impressive 4th, whilst James A was 11th.
Despite wearing CUOC stash on the [spoiler alert] Middle Champs Podium, which CUOC approves of, the above CUOC athletes ran for their home clubs, which CUOC frowns upon. A battle was therefore fought in the CUOC ranks for the title of ‘highest placed CUOC athlete running for CUOC’, with a long line up of an ill Rowan and an ill Jeremy competing.
At the Sprint Champs, Rowan took this prestigious award by 2 seconds in the qualification round, although Jeremy and Rowan were competing in two different heats on two similar but non-identical courses. Unfortunately, these 2 seconds meant Rowan made the B final, whilst Jeremy was in the C final, so no actual head-to-head competition could take place. Jeremy went on to take 3rd place in the C final, but this did not make up for the disappointment of his earlier defeat.
In alumni watch, an unusually uninjured Ben Windsor took 13th place in the elite final, almost certainly making him the highest placed person not to use SIAC, whilst Sarah Righetti was the highest placed DRONGO on the women’s open.
Overnight Rowan chose to stay with the DRONGOs in Street YHA, whilst Jeremy’s and Fiona’s families independently chose to stay in Cheddar YHA, home of the legendary cheese, although disappointingly almost none is actually made there.
Sunday was the Middle Champs. The Middle Champs only had one course for M21, preventing heats ruining a proper competition for ‘highest placed CUOC athlete running for CUOC’ and setting up “the match for the ages” (Oscar Wilde, 2019). After some pre-race trash talk about the importance of Rowan’s and DRONGO’s pre-race pancakes, the competition began. Jeremy started first, having a slow but steady race, very much enjoying being in a runnable wood with contours. 10 minutes later Rowan started. He went out fast, not slowing down for anything, including trees. CUOC suspects the area may have to be remapped for the newly created clearings. Eventually one tree fought back, cutting Rowan’s eye, but Rowan did not let this distract him and kept going fast. About halfway around, Rowan’s shoes fell apart, with the soles detaching from the top half of his O shoes, giving him Pac-Man feet. Not letting this stop him, Rowan simply ran on in his socks. However, Rowan was slowed down sufficiently for Jeremy to take the title, although Rowan was still within a few seconds of the fastest run in time.
The woods hosting the Middle Champs “Stockhill Woods near Wells in Somerset”, which proved to be variably skogalicous, if a bit small. Many pits and trenches kept many controls well hidden, although navigation was made easier by a large path network. The smallness of the area meant the planner had to use a double-sided map for the 6km M21 course, although the route rarely went through the same area twice.
The M/W20s class proved to be very successful for CUOC, with Fiona and Aidan both taking 2nd, whilst James Ackland took third.
In alumni watch, Ben Windsor, still not injured, was once again highest placed DRONGO, taking 6th on M21, whilst Miranda Leaf was highest placed DRONGO on the W21.
Older news is available on the news page