The A course at the OMM

Why did I enter Richard and I for the A course at the OMM? It was a really long way and almost resulted in a failure of our sense of humour on numerous occasions!

The weekend started well. I took Friday off work, so we had a leisurely day and managed to arrive in Sedbergh well-fed and relaxed. We got to registration well before it closed and had a sociable evening before heading to the campsite for an early night.

We woke up on Saturday morning to dark, clear skies. The wind was blustering around the valley and the temperature was sub-zero. Just before heading off, I realised how cold it was and decided to put on another long-sleeved top; this was very much the right decision.

Queuing up in the A course lane I was still fairly relaxed, then we got the maps. I saw the route, then I checked the map scale and realised… this was going to be a long day.

We set off over Arant Haw. The conditions were beautifully clear and the early morning light was fantastic.

Pretty and pretty cold!
Looking over from Arant Haw we spotted this lake seemingly showing us the way… except it wasn’t; our route was much hillier!

It was also very very cold. I was having difficulty slurping water through my platypus tube and then I realised that I was slurping water through a tortuous mosaic of needle-shaped ice crystals. Still, the scenery was pretty and the wildish ponies were lovely :-).

Pretty ponies on the fell

As the day progressed, I took less pictures, mainly because it was too much effort to get the camera out. The course halfway point was approximately coincident with us crossing the road from Ravenstonedale to Sedbergh. After this point, there was certainly no point in taking pictures because I don’t particularly want to be reminded of the endless slog across the moorland over Wild Boar Fell, Holmes Moss Hill and Baugh Fell. The terrain was exhausting to run over and just went on forever. It was also mentally exhausting because the crossing was only 2 km from our mid-camp, but we were taking a 17 km diversion to get there!

We finished day 1 in 6hrs 53 and arrived at the midcamp to windy, but dry conditions. We ate and warmed up in our sleeping bags and even managed to be a little sociable before the cloud came in and the misery of the midcamp in a one man tent commenced. The OMM camp is miserable. It’s usually wet, in fact everything is usually wet, it’s dark, it’s cold, you can’t find your friends amongst the thousands of competitors and to add to the misery, the end of British Summer Time means that is prolonged for an extra hour! Our only source of comfort was watching the lights of A course competitors still coming in over the fells late into the night; I was very grateful to be at the campsite, rather than still out there on the fell.

Midcamp misery.

Sunday dawned. I was hoping for a nice 6 hr run along ridges to the finish. Guess what? It didn’t happen. We started the day with a short loop on the nasty terrain to the east of the Ravenstonedale to Sedbergh road, then we headed west of the road and climbed a 200 m hill to reach a control, after which, we descended losing all the height gained. This set the scene for the rest of the day. There were at least 6 very steep climbs all with around 130-150 m height gain and all with really steep descents. We were basically traversing the side of a huge hill and each of these ups and downs were spurs coming off the hill. Looking to the north, the ground was flat and a number of times I looked over and thought, “We could just hitch a lift back from over there”. It turns out that Richard was also wondering if there was a bus. At one point I declared that my morale had reached about 2/10 and Richard responded with a similar comment. We were feeling particularly miserable at this point because the course did a loop on itself, so we knew that we were going to visit this exact location sometime later. To matters worse, that section took forever with a few steep climbs and a tricky control in a re-entrant.

One of the 150 m climbs on the second day. This photo does not do the steepness justice!
Another of those 150 m climbs … and yes, we had to go straight up it!

Once out of the loop, and after another 3 km of slog, we reached a control and Richard declared that there was only 6 km left and one hill. It was quite an elongated hill, but nevertheless the end was in sight. And the last 4 km went really quickly as we ran down the final hill looking forward to soup at the finish. Whilst I was hoping for a shorter day 2, we were actually out on the hills for exactly the same length of time as day 1; 6 hrs 53.

Richard and I at the finish (thanks to Dave Ellis for the photo, and thanks also to him and the rest of the Mountain Rescue Team for braving the weather and being on stand by in case of any incidents)

The download from our GPS tracker showed us running 38 km (23.6 miles) on day 1 and 32.2 km (20 miles) on day 2. We don’t know what the height gain was, but the estimate on the courses was 2200 m on day 1 and 2300 m on day 2.

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And onto the results. This is the A course; we were competing against some of the best. There were nine mixed teams and we came 5th! We were 17th overall out of 29 that finished… 11 teams retired and 12 teams were disqualified.

It’s too soon to reflect on the weekend yet. I’m really glad we finished, but it was a really long way.

A successful OMM

The Original Mountain Marathon, commonly known as the OMM, was in Perthshire, Central Scotland this year. As the OMM website states, this event is the premier UK event to test teamwork, self-reliance, endurance, outdoor and navigational skills and this year was no exception.

Richard and I had entered the long score in hope of avoiding the lengthy caterpillars of teams trawling across the mountains. This meant that there were two long mountain days ahead of us; 7 hours on Saturday and 6 hours on Sunday. As soon as we arrived at the events centre in Comrie late on Friday night, the wet weather that makes the OMM what it is, descended upon us.

Saturday morning came too soon and by 8.15 am we were sat on a bus. We mused that a coach trip around Perthshire would be nice, but unfortunately the bus stopped all too soon at St Fillans, located at the end of Loch Earn, and from there we were shephered a few kilometres up a hill to the start. At this point we had no real idea of the type of terrain, or the height of the mountains, as the cloud was hanging low causing the visibility to be pretty poor. We set off into the hills at 9.19 am after spending a little time with the piece of string working out the route we intended to take. This was simpler than usual because almost all of the controls were worth 20 points. After our late arrival at the mid-camp earlier this year at the Rab MM, we were sure to give ourselves a number of options at the end of the proposed route so that we could shorten it should that be necessary.

From the start we headed north towards Meall Reamhar along a track and then headed off into the terrain and into the cloud. We found the first control, on a stream, without difficulty and soon headed onto the second. This control proved significantly more difficult as you can see from our GPS track. The visibility allowed around 50 m of vision and so we carefully followed an old fence line until it changed direction and from here we took a compass bearing and ran about 250 m into bleak, gently undulating bog. The control description stated that we were looking for a hilltop. We visited all the hilltops in the area (along with a number of other teams) and found no control. Were we in the wrong place? or was the control in the wrong place? We ran back to the fence and re-located off a different part of it, and when that didn’t yield our control, we decided to continue regardless. This was a good tactic as it turned out that the control was in the wrong place (it was actually on the side of a hill) and we were awarded the points anyway.

On the run

We continued to visit controls and collected another 80 points ending up at our most westerly point near Loch Breaclaich. From here we changed direction and started to head eastwards in the direction of the campsite; a straight-line distance of 15 km away. Along the way we collected a further 110 points. By this point the rain was really heavy and the wind was cold and blustering. We were completely soaked through and it was very easy to get cold if the pace slowed. At one particular control the navigation became quite tricky and we slowed down to make sense of the bog around us that was surrounded by cloud. We wandered back and forth a few times (see the second ‘blip’ on the GPS track!) and eventually decided to give up. We started to walk away from the expected control site and after a few minutes, we stumbled across our control! This was luck, not judgement!

Route taken on day 1

We ran into the mid-camp in 6:49:05. Despite being 10 minutes early, Richard quickened the pace in the final few kilometres so that we stood a better chance against other teams who may have scored a similar total to us! I was very glad to get into camp and after a short rest we walked through the puddle-covered field/bog to find a place to pitch the tent. Thankfully we found a site that was slightly higher than the remainder of the campsite and slightly less waterlogged. I’d never been so wet after a mountain marathon before and the practicalities of getting dry and warm are not straightforward. After shedding waterproofs, we got into the tent and realised that water was literally draining from our clothes into the tent! After swopping wet clothes for dry ones we wrang out our running gear, inflated the balloon beds and got into our sleeping bags to get warm. This took a surprising amount of time as almost everything was slightly damp. On days like this you are reminded that coping with the elements is one of the more important challenges that the OMM provides.

We were happy with our performance on day 1. Our GPS tracker stated that we’d covered 35.6 km. We were in 15th place overall and 2nd mixed team with 250 points. We were also in the chasing start the following day, with an exceptionally early start time of 7.06 am!

Richard perusing the route on Saturday evening in the tent

Sleep was broken. I couldn’t get comfortable and Richard had unfortunately placed his balloon bed on a thistle. The wake-up was early, 5.15 am! We walked to the start in the dark and it only just became light as we left the start box. We paused to chart our route for the day and then set-off along a flat track leading to an easy control in undulating ground. From here we ascended towards the top of Meall nan Oighreag collecting 20 points on the way, another 30 just over the brow of a col and then a further 40 by descending a significant distance. Given our time constraints of 6 hours, we decided to miss out the next control, but at the last minute Richard decided that we were nearer than he originally thought, so we detoured to gain a further 20 points before traversing towards Creag na h-lolaire and then down to a number of controls lower down. As we neared the finish we had time to visit a 10 point control before racing into the finish. Again, although we thought we would have enough time, Richard pushed the pace right until the finish and we arrived in 5 hrs 52 with a total of 240 points for day 2.

The view over Loch Tay
Route taken on day 2

After regaining our breath and chatting to friends, we collected our cup of warm soup and then headed off to the bus stop, suddenly realising how much our feet/knees/ankles ached. We’d covered 29 km on day 2, totally 64.6 km (40 miles) for the weekend. But had we done enough to improve our placing?

Prize giving!

It turned out that our main competitors (our friends Adrian and Ellie) were a little late in, which meant that we ended up 12 points ahead of them, and also 20 points ahead of the next team in, who were also in the mixed class. So, we won the mixed class and came 13th overall. It’s about time we had a good run!

Finally, can anyone identify this:

Is this a slime mould?

OMM Training Continued

While I was Yorkshire 3 Peaking last weekend, Chris went for a run on the Pennines for a few hours. He liked the terrain underfoot and constantly changing vistas so much, we went back yesterday…

…to have a stab at simulating Day 1 of the OMM!

Rather disappointingly, the weather was fine and visibility good. Fortunately however, as those of you who have ever had the pleasure of wandering off the Pennine Way will know, featureless peat hag looks very similar to featureless peat hag, which is a great help when you’re looking for pretend control points in featureless peat hag! Cleverly, we got ’round this problem by using streams as handrails, given that these were the only features not made of peat. This led us to the discovery that streams are sometimes streams and sometimes not, depending on how they feel, and are sometimes mapped and sometimes not, accordingly to some random formula that was obviously way beyond us ever figuring out.

Anybody seen any peat hags?!

My navigation is well known for being a little dubious at the best of times, but I can honestly say I have absolutely no idea how you’re supposed to micro nav through that stuff. Tish – you should get yourself out there for some ML practice and put me to shame!

Definitely a stream this one

Navigation aside, we had a reasonable day. 31km in 8 hours or so is a bit slower than I would have liked, but we lost a lot of time trying to figure out what we would do if the vis was bad or it was dark and we had to find the ‘real’ controls. We were carrying good speed when the ground allowed and both felt we could carry on for another couple of hours or so if needs be.

A tired Chris in a spoil valley from the old mine workings (a feature!)

Looking at the Dartmoor map (cheating?!), there seems to be a greater variation in height over smaller distances in comparison, and not so many potentially fickle streams, so I’m reasonably confident my nav will be up to it. I’m hoping there might be a little more in the way of runnable stuff too, so we should be okay on balance.

Moody sky from Knock Old Man

Feeling tired today, but no major aches or pains, so we reckon we’d be okay for Day 2 once we loosened up a bit.
No point over-doing though, so tea and biscuits are the order of the day today!

OMM Training, the story so far…

Not much to say really, but I have been getting out and about recently in a desperate attempt to not be extremely rubbish come October 30th. So far, it’s not working – I’m now just tired and extremely rubbish!

In addition to the usual Blencathra’s and road runs, I managed a couple of longer runs last week. Three and a half hours or so ’round the Haweswater Horseshoe, and four hours or so High Row/Helvellyn/Glencoyne. All sounds good, but it doesn’t even add up to Day 1 yet.

No pics either I’m afraid, having temporarily misplaced my camera. ‘Tis relocated though, so hopefully get some nice shots of bog over the next few weeks…

To summarise – I must do more, for longer, with more ascent, and over worse terrain.

In conclusion – oh dear.

OMM 2009

This was my third attempt at the OMM. The first time I failed to start after catching a virus a few days previously and hence spent the whole weekend in a sleeping bag in a tent. The second time, we failed to finish because the race was called off due to the weather. This time, I was wondering whether yet again I would not complete as my partner decided to postpone the next great mountain marathon due to injury.

But all worked out well, I ended up running with Mark from the Dark Peak Fell Runners. He kept reminding me that he was much older than me (by almost twice), but he was still pretty quick and having run the BG round last year, he was pretty fit. We met a couple of hours before the race began at the registration desk.

Just to remind those folk who aren’t in the know, the OMM is generally classed as the hardest mountain marathon of the year due to the weather, dark nights and often wet conditions underfoot. I had opted for the B course and Richard had chosen the elite course with Alex (with whom he ran the Saunders MM). Both courses were line courses, (i.e. find the controls in the correct order), the B course was about 50 k and the elite was about 70 k, over the two days.

Mark and I had a ridiculous start time, 11.52. This was very late, we were almost the last to start. This was good, firstly because the cloud lifted and secondly because by the time we got on the fells there was a path the width of a small country road along the most obvious route. Unfortunately the ground had got somewhat churned up by the many feet which had previously passed and hence it was rather hard work at times. I lost count of how many times I fell over and I am still trying to get the peat out of my finger nails! Nevertheless we ploughed on and finished the 26 km in 4.75 hrs. We might have been a bit quicker if Mark hadn’t packed all but the kitchen sink.

At the campsite, we put up the tent and then the heavens opened …. the rain eventually stopped when it got dark. It was pure chance that I found Richard wandering around the results, otherwise I would never have spotted him in his little green tent amongst all the other little green tents. It was a cold night. I wore everything – tights, waterproof trousers, thermals, jumper, gloves, hat and I was still chilly. I’ll take the heavy sleeping bag next year. We were second mixed team overnight and 17th overall.

The second day was slightly shorter, but with more climb (although the amount of climb was not huge compared to other mountain marathons). We trudged on, although I think we both were a bit tired. Our time for the second day was a bit slower than our first days time, which may have reflected our level of tiredness, but may also have reflected the fact that we were trail-making all day, as only 16 teams had gone before us, compared to the 230 teams the day before! We finished in 5 hrs 20 and collected 26th place overall, 4th mixed team.

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I have posted some really bad pictures of the maps (sorry) and also a picture of Richard … this is what running the elite course does to you! We didn’t take the camera on the course … we were running light.

Richard and Alex did extremely well and completed the elite course in under 13 hours and finished in a highly respectable 18th place.

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A very wet day around Borrowdale

You were probably wondering whether we were there [ed, Original Mountain Marathon; OMM] or not … of course we were!

We knew the weather forecast was atrocious, so we packed our wellies along with our mountain marathon gear before heading to the Lakes on Friday night. We arrived very much in the dark after fish and chips in Wetherby (the greatest fish and chip shop in the UK). The parking field looked rather muddy, but the wheels seemed to stick as we rolled to a nice spot next to a wall. We put the tent up and literally fell into it, although sleep was not forthcoming due to the winds which were causing a nearby tent to flap uncontrollably.

Saturday morning came soon enough and as always we were almost late to the start (this happens regardless how early we get up). Once at the start we learnt what “bad weather courses” actually meant. In actual fact the courses were even shorter than the bad weather courses which had decreased the course length by 1 control. These bad weather courses decreased the courses by 3 controls … there were only 8 in total!

So we set off up the first hill, which was fairly breezy, but not too bad. Then at about 10.00 the rain started. The winds slowly increased and by the time we were ascending Lingmell and later, Great Gable, the winds were pretty strong and the rain was lashing. At times I didn’t know where my feet would land. Nevertheless we soldiered on feeling like this was the real thing, it was a real endurance challenge. After a while longer we began descending into the Buttermere valley. This was rather exciting. Deluges of water were lashing both down the sides of the mountain transecting the paths, but also lower down, the path literally turned into a river. Nevertheless we ran on and were soon at the finish. As soon as we’d punched the finish control we realised that people were putting their tents up straight away before downloading dibbers. We presumed this was because of the necessity to get a high camping spot on the field. We followed suit and pitched the tent and then went to download. The man hanging around download informed us that the race was cancelled and that we should return to the events centre. We couldn’t even go to the loo, as most of them had blown over! We took the tent down and then headed into the barn to find a few hundred people and then after a quick chat to Alan, the owner of the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd, we headed off from Buttermere, over the Honister Pass back to Borrowdale. The rain and wind going over the Honister Pass was remarkable. Horizontal rain, gusty winds and the sheet of water on the road was quite a site. Every so often a gust of wind would literally blow everyone over … the sight looking down the valley of people huddled together was quite incredible. Nevertheless once we reached the top near the mine the worst was over and we jogged down into Borrowdale. We passed a few floods before reaching the events centre, but then as we approached the parked cars along the road, we realised that the water was between knee and hip deep. In fact I’m sure a Nissan Micra on the side of the road kept changing location slightly throughout this time. At this point we were a little concerned about our car, but after walking past the car parks we decided that it was probably ok. We headed for the events centre barn, downloaded the dibber, ate soup and then pasta and then at about 4 pm went to the car. The car was fine. We took off our wet gear and got in and that is where we stayed until 6am the following morning. Throughout the whole of this time it had been raining torrentially and in the car it sounded even worse. Although our car was fine, the water was flooding parts of the field we were in and so I was slightly apprehensive how we would fair until the following morning, especially as the weather forecasts on Radio 4 were not positive. We ate weetabix for tea and got into our sleeping bags to keep warm. It was quite surreal seeing various cars around with lights inside – I think this was probably a world record for the greatest numbers of people sleeping in cars in a field! It was also surreal hearing on the radio that 1500 runners were stranded … the truth was that most of these if not all, were quite safe. I didn’t get a good nights sleep, as I was keen to be looking out of the windows every hour to check on flood water, but thankfully there wasn’t a problem. In the morning we surveyed the scene, met up with old friends and became amused by the BBC reporters around (especially the scene of the reporter filming a chap trying to move his car and thinking that he was stuck – when actually he had his hand brake on!)

We managed to get our car out of the field after a few hours and we drove back through very wet (and flooded) Cumbria.

We had a great day on Saturday and were disappointed that the event was cancelled, but we suspect the pressures of flooding at the midway camp prevented the race from continuing.

:star: I had a fantastic time! :star: