Page last updated at 19:57 GMT, Sunday, 26 October 2008

Police 'warned' of race concerns

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Runners were waist-high in water at some points (Video courtesy of mountain marathon competitor Jeremy Webb)

Organisers of a Lake District run had been warned about concerns over treacherous weather conditions before the event, a senior officer has said.

Cumbria Police Supt Gary Slater told the BBC the organisers were experienced but he was "disappointed" the Original Mountain Marathon went ahead.

A major rescue effort was mounted and all 2,500 participants were found safe.

However, those connected with the event claimed the severity of the situation had been blown out of proportion.

Race organiser Jen Longbottom defended her decision to go ahead with the race.

"People are thinking we are bunch of amateurs who were taking school kids out on the hills," she said.

"These are not school kids. A lot of them are in their 40s and 50s who are responsible people such as doctors and lawyers.

"They have had many many years of mountaineering and walking in the UK and the Alps. They are an experienced bunch of guys."

Thirteen competitors, suffering a range of problems from hypothermia to head injuries, were treated by Cumbrian Hospitals.

A spokeswoman for Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle said most had been discharged.

However, one of the first rescuers on the scene had claimed the area could have been turned into a "morgue".

Mark Weir, who owns Honister Slate Mine, which provided overnight shelter to about 300 stranded runners, said: "On a good day, this place is heaven on earth. In extreme freak weather like this, it is hell."

He said the authorities needed to seriously think about setting up a dedicated mountain centre for England in the area.

He said: "We have come within inches of turning the Lake District mountains into a morgue. We need to learn from it."

Supt Slater said Mr Weir's comments were a "little exaggeration", but the adverse conditions had "certainly" been brought to the attention of the OMM before the two-day event started.

Man battles the weather conditions

He said both police and the mountain rescue teams had warned that the event should not be held because of the atrocious weather conditions.

He said: "They're experienced race organisers. This is a hardened race of people who come throughout the country and that have very specialist skills.

"However, common sense has got to dictate what we do in these circumstances and as I've said it's disappointing that the race did go ahead, despite the concerns that we and others had raised."

According to an adventure sports website linked to OMM competitors were largely unaware of the media attention.

'Quite normal'

"It’s quite normal for retiring teams to camp out on the hills and make their way back to base in a mountain marathon and the ethos of the race is that those taking part are primarily responsible for their own safety," Rob Howard, of sleepmonsters.co.uk said.

"In contrast to the judgements made by the ‘outside world’ who didn’t understand the nature of the OMM or have the right facts about what happened, none of the racers we spoke to were critical of the event and the organisation."

Competitor David Adams, 61, of Stratford upon Avon, said he decided to pull out three hours after his 8.25am start time when he feared the area would begin to flood.

"It's a great shame it has put pressure on local resources and I will be making a donation to the mountain rescue teams.

Map

"But the competitors are experienced and responsible and are required to take spare gear. This competition is very well organised."

The emergency services and the RAF had to be brought into action to rescue stranded runners.

About 743 runners sheltered in farms, former mines and a school overnight after the race was called off on Saturday.

While more than 1,700 people had been unaccounted for overnight, many had found shelter and all were equipped with tents and food, the race organisers said.




SEE ALSO
Missing mountain runners located
26 Oct 08 |  Cumbria
Tough challenge of mountain race
26 Oct 08 |  Cumbria
Bridge demolished in flood plan
19 Jun 08 |  Cumbria

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