Saunders Mountain Marathon – July 2023

It’s Pot Noodle for tea. I’m walking round with plastic bags on my feet, snot in my hair and a tired smile on my face. It can only mean one thing… it’s overnight camp on the Saunders.

After a break from this event for 12 years we found that while time marches on, much on the Saunders stays refreshingly the same. Still challenging, harder than you think it’s going to be, always one tricky checkpoint (invariably the first!). As good natured as ever, relaxed atmosphere, friendly and of course, beautiful… even in the clag.

The Saunders involves carrying everything you need for two days, over, in our case, 20 odd miles, up and down 8000ft, on largely pathless terrain while working out the best routes between checkpoints and finding them. Certainly tough, especially on two weeks’ notice and therefore zero training! However, we’d done lots of walking in the Lakes over the last few months, which we hoped would help. We were up for an adventure though, a weekend of escapism, and ultimately we trusted that might see us through.

The 2023 edition was from Coniston and we were in Harter Fell class. Overnight camp was at lovely Turner Hall in the Duddon Valley, although sadly the Newfield Inn was firmly out of bounds. Weather conditions were showery with sunny spells; up high it was very, very windy, the sort of conditions the weatherman would call ‘severe buffeting’ – we called it ferocious.

The first checkpoint was a Saunders classic – lots of folk milling around in the clag looking for a pond among ponds. John got his nav head on quickly – I’m not sure I found mine at all over the weekend but it didn’t matter as I just had to keep up.

The overnight camp offered chance to socialise (if you had enough energy!) with a beer or soft drink; milk and oat milk were also available. We caught up with fellow Harriers Frank & Liz, saw Phil Ward and John went to the rescue of our tent neighbours who had somehow lost all their gas during the day, boiling them some water for their meal.

We dibbed our way through day two to finish 33rd overall, delighted to have made it. On the walk to the start I’d discovered the sole of my right shoe was coming loose so I was relieved and amazed to get to the finish with it still in one piece. I was utterly exhausted and everything was sore, but it felt great to complete a Saunders again.

Highlights included discovering the brilliance of Drake and Macefield pork pies to give a boost when needed most. Protein, carbs and salt, all in a foodstuff which travelled relatively well. We also enjoyed the deja-vu from the Three Shires/Duddon long/Duddon short/Coniston fell race courses in any direction. Best of all was finding that first checkpoint!

Maybe we won’t leave it another 12 years until we do our next one.

Julia Murfin