Thursday, 8 February 2018

Kong Mini Mountain Marathon - Bethesda

Round 1 of 4 in the Kong 2018 series was held from Bethesda. Each race is a 4hr navigation challenge of the score variety - so you get to chose how many check points you visit within the 4hrs and are awarded points for each. Being held in early February always runs the risk of it being chilly, and this weekend promised no spring warmth.

Snow on the ground above 500m or so and the ground frozen much lower down meant that my toes were positively frozen before leaving the car park. The good news was that the hills looked inviting and the day promised to be clear (unlike the previous day when the course setters must have got drenched).

Tim and I walked the 1km or so to the remote start and quick smart Tim was away. I loitered a bit, had the first of many kit faffs, then dibbed and was handed the course map. There was only one way to set off so no need to hang around pondering the map - I did this as I moved. Crikey - the course area was massive. I pretty much folded the map in half and never looked at the right hand side - far too ambitious for me to think about heading all the way out to the eastern edge of the map.

I devised a route that would take in 8 or 9 check points and tried my hardest to ignore my feet - they weren't warming up despite climbing over 250m to the first check point (CP). Dibber dibbed. Tick on the map and having already planned my next CP (I'd even taken a bearing too so I didn't beeline for the wrong hill!) I set off. A downward slope over rough terrain (no path in sight) and my poor map reading hadn't accounted for a gully - this didn't make for fast progress.


I had plenty of people to vaguely follow here, but knowing that some might not be taking the best lines I kept my map out. There's another faff - how to hold a map with big mitts on and no where handy to stuff it when not needed. 1.5km and another 150m climb later I'm scrambling over icy rocks to the next CP. Easily found and my route to the next CP in mind I set off in the right direction.

It's about now that I'm still not feeling warm (except hands, and yet another kit faff to stash the inner down mitts - this made stuffing the map away a little easier as my mitts without inners are massive - hand warmer already in there neatly joined by map and hand). I'm also feeling a bit off. Is it the cold that is messing with my head, or am I not feeling right?

I continue to the next CP - a rough tufty grass traverse round to a narrow ravine. I'm doubting my nav even though I can't have gone wrong. My head isn't in the nav game today for sure. I dib this CP then seriously ponder turning back.  I check my watch and see I've only been out about 55mins. Blimey, I can't go back yet. Only 3 CPs found....my minimum aim in these events is always 5. That seems a nice number. I can easily retrace my steps so far and the next CP is again around a rough traverse. Even if I go at walking pace it's only 1km away so at that point if I turn back I'll only be about 5km from the finish....tonnes of time to just walk. Oh the conversations that go on in my head!

I pick up a bit of pace having found a trod that is traversing straight for the sheepfold and the CP. Great. 4 CPs dibbed and at least another 3 look well likely to get a vaguely respectable not-last-position. The climb out of the last CP is brutal - 100m over less than half a km. No trods either, just tufty frozen grass and delightful spiky gorse stuff at ankle height.

I'm on a hill I've been on before so gaining the high point and dropping over the other side gets me onto a path I know. Turn right then the next CP is down a steep bank on a river bend.  On the climb though I really start to feel pretty rubbish. I'm too hot but taking a layer off puts me really cold. I feel sick and actually really alone. There'd been a few other runners close by for a while but now I'm really alone.

I check the map. The CP on the river bend would have me lose about a good few hundred metres in height only to have to regain it again. The ground is really rough and steep. I decide to give it a miss. It just doesn't feel right for me so I trundle along at a snails pace, mostly walking, back around the flanks of Moel Wnion. More map checking, more kit faff. Am I hungry? Will eating take the sick feeling away. I try a well tested chocolate bar and in it's semi-frozen state it goes down and stays down. Phew. But over the next 15-20mins I don't feel any better.

It's about now I have a serious talk to myself. Firstly I need to stand up and move. Just get moving and go somewhere.....preferably roughly back towards the finish. Looking at where CPs are there are two that I should be able to get but scanning the hillside I really don't feel up to the long steady climb/traverse to one. Scrap that then.

All this time, with me feeling rubbish and not really being very successful in gaining many CPs I keep reminding myself that I am so lucky to be in the hills. They truly are resplendent and stunning with the snow covering them high up. The sunshine is out and I make myself believe I'm warmer than I probably am. I really do appreciate being in the hills and am thankful we went to do the event.


So, I now have one final CP in mind to get. Even walking I have loads of time but I keep trying to run. Even on downhills I feel really not right so keep stopping to admire the views and return to walking pace. Then comes the wet marshy bogs across the saddle area....bugger, my feet were kind of feeling a bit warm but are now plunged into icy cold water. Even where no water seems apparent the ground is sodden and splashes with every footstep. This probably only goes on for about 200-300m but it feels way longer.

Focus. Next CP will be my last. I drop down to a river in a gully and firstly realise that the CP is further away than I thought. My concentration clearly isn't right today. Then, two guys pass me and one semi-falls in the river. It isn't that deep but I'm not confident crossing it. I sit a little, the guys speed off up the hill, and as I'm crouched down chastising myself for being a wimp another guy appears. He offers to help me cross but there's no point - I'm coming back this way so I need to do it alone or not at all - he deftly leaps across some icy slippy boulders and is away up the hill too.

Nothing for it but to write this event off as a decent few hours in the hills. I really did love being there, though would have preferred to feel warmer, and not sick!! I return to the finish then the long kilometre on the road back to the van. Soup, tea and cake help console me as I await Tim returning.




Thanks to the Kong organisers, cake bakers and soup makers. Nav events are fabulous and I'm looking forward to our next adventure in Wales in a few months.