Kong Mini Mountain Marathon 2020 Series – Round 1

It felt good to run with purpose once more

Every run inherently has a purpose. Whether easy miles to stretch out legs, encourage recovery, rack miles or unwind the mind; intervals, fartlek, tempo or repeats. There is always purpose.

Yet running with purpose can be harder to achieve. Running with all senses alert, adrenaline drip feeding with regularity, focus set on the task in hand.

I’m the first to admit that my mind often wanders on training runs, podcasts being the escape required for many sessions, unless putting the hammer down. For the majority of runs I opt for out and backs, in order to commit myself and reduce the temptation to call it a day or skip elements.

Sunday had purpose

KONG RD 1 2020 04With the Type 2 Fun Run firmly on my mind, navigation and a different strategy are two things that need to be explored, honed and refined. Relying on a skillset developed some 10 years ago but rarely practised is not going to make the most of the time spent in the confines of the race. It could increase the severity of Type 2 Fun, as well as create scenarios I will later regret.

The Kong Mini Mountain Marathon series had appeared a few times on my Twitter feed and 4 hours of self navigation point scoring in the Welsh mountains on offer for round 1, I was tempted. Close to applying, I was talking to my friend Katie, a local to the area about it and it turned out she too was considering taking it on. When both schedules lined up, it was game on.

Team 10 was formed

I should point out we were Team 10 purely down to the number we were allocated….. there were 5 teams in our mixed category.

An early start, my drive from Milton Keynes to Aber Falls started at 4am on Sunday morning, an empty 220 miles stood before me, my only company the recently discovered Dirt Church Radio. A fresh flask of aeropressed black Trail Coffee (Classic blend) to sip as my mind took in podcasts featuring Ruth Croft and Damian Hall. Rocking up to a que of cars, with sleepy faces emerging in all manner of running kit, it was a time to inhale fresh air prior to Katie’s arrival.

Kitted up, winds were strong at the valley floor as we went through registration and kit inspection. It was a day for the waterproof hardshell to remain on. Walking up to the start location, runners already ‘live’ tore past us.KONG RD 1 2020 03

The format of the Kong Mini Mountain Marathon is simple

You have 4 hours to rack up as many points, from a series of unmanned checkpoints over the surrounding mountains. Each electronic box, which records your presence via a dibber you insert to confirm you’ve been there, is housed in an orange and white orienteering flag. They may be on a gate, in a crag, on a summit, anywhere!

The route, bar avoiding out of bounds areas, it’s entirely up to you. Higher scoring locations often require greater commitment or fitness to obtain. Rack up easy points or push further for the power punchers?

However, you need to keep something in mind.

From the moment you send your dibber into the first control box, time is working against you. Return to the finish over 4 hours and you will pick up penalty points. Really blow your time and they will increase.

Route planning, the ability to read terrain and using the course to your strengths are all part of the game, as is the simple task of time management. Add a field of others runners appearing from all directions, where you’re unaware of their route, score or aspirations, your mind playing tricks, weather throwing high winds and low visibility in your path….. it soon becomes a REAL challenge.

So yes, simple

KONG RD 1 2020 05Yes it was bleak out

Heading up into the hills, the wind was fierce, cutting through layers, making gloves, hat and hardshell mandatory to keep the elements bay. It wasn’t that it was bitterly cold, but combined with a strength that would routinely blow both of us sideways and moisture, coming straight off the sea, it cut through like only the an island/coastal nation knows. Wet without realising you were slowly getting saturated, as the jacket remained dry on the exterior.

Clouds continuously rolled in, reducing visibility, breaking in the distance, before surrounding all directions in a sea of white, cutting us off from the wider world. Such conditions can be taxing on the mind, leaving you questioning your judgement and disorientating.

My first mountain day since November, my calves and achilles screamed as we pushed up the first ascent, unaccustomed to the continuous height gain. Our pace was pretty constant, running where things were relatively flat or descending. It was as much a social as it was a race. We had no goal other than to make it to the end around the 4 hour mark, tick off some points and catch up with one another. The last time I saw Katie (wearing the blue beanie) was at Glencoe Skyline where I ended up capturing her and the safety extract Pablo off the course when he was injured early on in the race

Progress was steady, allowing us to observe the variety of line choices, some greater than others. Our intention was to have a good day out.

The first two hours took a while to pass, half a Moonvalley Me bar and a Spring Energy Long Haul Gel my sustenance. As we hit the back end of our run (relative to the map) the groups of runners that had been present in the early miles were now gone, CLAG and bog now our companions.

And there were a lot of bogs

For two people that top out at 5ft 7″ these and gorse tussocks provided ample plyometric training for the coming weeks.

1 hour to go and the conditions started to take their tole, extra layers were applied and my spare ionv-8 Extreme Thermo Mitts I’d carried in my pack put the biggest grin on Katie’s face. Given the nature of the race and anticipating we’d be at a steady pace, rather than flat out, I’d opted for a heavier weight Jottnar Hymir, made from Polartec NeoShell, to provide some added protection and offer greater thermal retention.

Summiting our final ridge, scores of runners could be seen in the distance, all collating on the finish. Our pace intensified, wanting to hit the 4 hour cut off where possible. Charging along a grass covered decline, legs running relatively free, mind firing with the sensations of speed and alert to the fact that a stumble could lead to pain. Across the final scree, which for the first time wasn’t greasy and akin to playing roulette if you misplaced your foot, the path down to the finish was there to run hard.KONG RD 1 2020 01

And run hard we did

Excited faces of those walking up to view Aber Falls (which looked pretty epic) caught our eyes as we meandered around them and other runners on the fast flowing fire road. Clocking a building in the distance, I mistook this for the toilet block from the start location. We ran past this and found another CP. We were further off than I thought!

Tempo high, we ran on, willing the car park to come into sight, our time calculations…. who knew what was correct at this time?!

But here’s the thing. We had no idea what the penalties were for running over time, neither of us had bothered looking, as it wasn’t high on our agenda.


We’d finished

Walking back to Aber Falls hotel, it was time to recount, relax, catch our breath and look forward to the party. And I do mean a party. See, there was soup and a seemingly endless supply of cake available once we’d handed back our Si Entries dibbers and collected our timing sheet.

And I was peckish

I’m really grateful for Katie having the courage to spend our first time running together on a self nav day out. We worked as a team, though I will admit I tended to lean more towards using the map than bearings (something I need to start using more regularly now) and has me thinking about more adventures this year.

By the skin of our teeth we won the mixed pairs category!

The Kong Series of Mini Mountain Marathons is pretty spaced out, with the next round in the Lake District in April, and the final two not till August and November.

For what the day offered it was also a bargain

Cheers to the organisers and route setters

Special mention to Neil Talbott from Ambleside AC with an amazing 740 points / 22 check points! He almost ran them all!!!!