OMM 2017 – 50th Anniversary of the Original Mountain Marathon: Day 2

Day two began in stark contrast to day one. After an evening spent hiding in the tent from the ceaseless drizzle, Sunday’s morning began crisp and bright, if not a little chilly. The tactic of leaving our clothes on throughout the night to dry off had paid off – no putting horrible cold damp clothes on for us! Getting the stove on, we got the coffee on the go before turning to breakfast. Today’s choice was yesterday’s pudding – and in actual fact much more palatable that the usual porridge we had gone for in the past. Yum. Finally, all was sorted, so we struck the tent and saw to our ablutions, ready for our 9:30 start. I think this was the first time on the OMM that I have been glad of a slow start to day 2, but it has to be said, Cockley Beck was glorious that morning!

The strapping on my left foot had loosened significantly since the beginning of day one, and I approached the running with a little trepidation. Understandably, Chris wanted to push the pace, but my foot was really having none of it over certain terrain. Uphill was generally alright, as was along, but contouring fast was pretty much out of the question.

Picking up our map at the start, we looked at a probable route with a variety of possible quick ways out, or extra loops to add depending on how we (really I) were moving.

The start of the day was familiar as we took the racing line from the Old County Tops up to the saddle between Grey Friar and Great Carrs. The initial plan had been to skirt round Grey Friar to pick up a 10 pointer, but on the way up we decided to ignore it. The effort required to get there just wasn’t worth 10 points, and so we pushed on to Brim Fell before dropping off above Low Water to pick up our first 30 pointer. From there it was a quick double back but on a lower contour to pick up another 30  from the hummock above Gill Cove Crag.

Thus far the day had been sunny, and as soon as we had dropped off the top to the first check point, we’d warmed up considerable, and so it was off with the jackets and down to mesh and a wind shirt for me. I’m not sure if running around the lakes in nothing but a string vest is a good look for anyone – maybe I’ll ask Stu Smith one day for his esteemed view on the matter :).

Wardrobe issues solved, we pushed on toward another check point just above Levers Water. This involved almost a km of contouring which slowed me right down – Chris seemed to be moving very well – no surprises there – but my frustration with my own body was increasing. The sun was well and truly up and it had turned into one of the best autumn days in the Lake District I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.

Dibbing the next check point, we dropped quickly down on to the Eastern bank of Levers Water and skirted round to hit the saddle point south of Sunlight Crag. Up and over we went, trailing just behind an older team. The descent down to Red Dell Beck was slow going – PhD work and injury was beginning to really starting to punish – but no rest for the wicked; it was straight up the other bank to pick up the check point seated on a picturesque little knoll. A quick sausage roll, minus most of the pastry, and we got moving again to head over the southern tongue of Wetherlam to drop our way down into Crook Beck.
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A little more contouring, and a fair amount of descending brought us to the next check point nestled under a boulder just below Red Gill Head. All I remember is enjoying the day, but moving much more slowly than I wanted. Story of 2017’s running really…

The next stretch was a bit boggy; slowish going; soothing on the ankle. Our destination was the disused mines east of Wetherlam, with a stiff pull up the flank of Wetherlam to a fork in the becks. The day was getting along nicely, we were about three and a half hours into our six hour day, and despite the slow movement, I was reasonable happy with how things had gone. I think Chris was understandably a little frustrated, and for that I am sorry, but we both knew I wasn’t fighting fit.

Eventually, the beck hove into sight, and the steepness of the climb suddenly felt very real. Off up Wetherlam we went; there was a team of lads about my age with us at the start, which spurred us on to push the pace. The check point was found without any real problem and the real work began. There is some masochistic joy to be found in the persistent uphill grind and Wetherlam provided that in spades. However, this was likely the last big climb of the day so we pressed on using hands and feet as the gradient increased.

Ah, the summit. Then some cheese and trying to turn the legs back on to run. Our next point to hit was in a small saddle between Wetherlam and Black Sails. This went quickly and we turned back to the path to find our way to the Prison Band. From the base of the Prison Band we turned north to descent toward a large sheep pen. We were back in the wind and into the shade, so it was zips up and sleeves down for a period.  Again, my lack of downhill speed was frustrating – thank you Chris for putting up with a slow Johan.

One thing to come from the OMM this year was that we were now visiting little dales I’d never been to before, seeing lesser travelled areas of the Lakes, which was grand. I find great pleasure in leaving the beaten track and this little valley was beautiful. Maybe a spot for a bivvy in the future?

Checking the time and continuing north,  we discussed the options for returning to the event centre. Chris was still considering heading around Pike of Blisco to pick up a few control points. I was keen to just hit the road and get back via the end of the Old County Tops via Blea Tarn. “We’ll just see what’s going on with the time when we get back to the top” said Chris. “Yeah, fair enough”…

Summitting onto the ridge above Three Shire’s Stone, we dropped quickly down to Wrynose Pass. As we approached the layby at the top, Chris proclaimed “ah fuck it, lets go home” – “yep, sounds good mate, there’s no way I’ll move fast enough over Pike of Blisco to pick up those controls. Let’s just head on back and enjoy it”.

So off we went.

It was a nice jog down Wrynose Pass, getting out of the way for the usual flock of Sunday drivers from time to time. At the bottom of the pass, it’s a turn to the left to head toward Blea Tarn. My lack of fitness was telling; I should have been moving a little faster given the terrain, but it was nice to enjoy that path without having endured the rest of the OCT just before. We passed a few families who were friendly enough, and kept the pace up as we turned round the tarn. Chris went into some bizarre auto pilot and tried to take us off along the southern bank of Blea Tarn.

At this point we were moving, trying to keep the pace up, but not killing ourselves. We knew we had time to get back and I think both of us were really just enjoying the good weather and company. Not so for a couple of teams we saw – a pair guys came running past, obviously late back to the finish, trying to get back through Wall End Farm to cut the large corner created by the road and track. Oops, not possible, but it did give us a warning as we were thinking of trying that route for ourselves.

A final quick jog past the Old Dungeon Ghyll brought us home. Well dones were given along the track back to the event centre, which was encouraging. Also encouraging was that the parking field the car was in wasn’t a complete quagmire – not quite the same circumstance in the camper’s parking field.

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Eventually, we reached the finish line and dibbed in to finish our run. Hot juice and tea was waiting to lubricate our parched throats ready for chatting on with friends and acquaintances inside the marquee, where we joined the queue for bangers and mash. Excellent choice of post-race food this year by the way OMM.

Mooching about, we bumped into Stewie Smith and Barefoot Aleks with whom we had the classic conversation espousing the virtues of Brynje base-layers (they’re awesome by the way). Eventually, Kip and Dan rolled into the tent and we spent a few minutes catching up over food and a beer, before Kip was bundled away by some other Imperial College Mountaineering Club members who he’d caught a lift up with.

Lucy and Jim appeared and so Lucy, Chris and I hobbled back across to the car to start heading home. Yet again, I was glad that we were parked in the not-camping field as it had turned into a quagmire and so escape out of the field was trivial. But then Langdale was completely snarled up! There was a quick conversation as we entered Chapel Stile and stupidly I elected to stay in the valley rather than take the back road to Grassmere. No bother; the company was good and we didn’t have to be anywhere quickly, plus the drive back really wasn’t too far.

A quick stop at Chris’ for a cup of tea was all the weekend had left for us before heading home for a hot shower and a comfy bed. Overall we’d placed just in the top 1/4 of the field and, all things considered, I was very happy with that. There were a couple of mistakes made, but lessons learnt and so all-in-all a very good weekend.

Once again, thanks for reading – we hope you’ve enjoyed the tale.

 

OMM 2017 – 50th Anniversary of the Original Mountain Marathon: Day 1

Race Report – OMM 2017 Langdale – Day One

This year’s OMM was always going to be a tough one. As it was the 50th anniversary, it had to be an unforgettable event which, in the language of mountain marathons, means utterly brutal. I think it delivered, so well done to team OMM for yet another “enjoyable” and enjoyable weekend away.

I’ve also been carrying a foot/ankle injury since the Old County Tops in May, and as such I’m a little fatter, a lot slower and considerably more cautious about pushing it to the limit than I would normally be; not that that would stop me completely.

The run up to the OMM had felt a bit odd, partly because I hadn’t been putting in the usual training miles for the event, and partly because I didn’t want to let my esteemed running partner – Chris Swanepoel of Kong Adventure and general Keswickian fame – down with my running performance. We’re both competitive with this kind of thing and I knew that my performance was bound to be sub-par this year.

Fortunately however, Chris was happy to run the OMM with me in the knowledge that I was going to be slow, saying that he’d prefer to run with me as long as I gave it my best shot. I said of course I would, but that my ankle was still dodgy so I might have to pack it in if it got too sore (luckily it never did).

To give a brief explanation of mountain marathons – they are a test of navigational and general hill running skill, which take place over two days with an overnight camp in the middle. Competitors can either compete in linear (check points must be visited in a specific order, fastest team round wins) or scored courses (many check points are available to be visited in any order but have varying point values and teams have limited time; the team with most points wins). Teams have to carry all their equipment and food for both days and the overnight stop. In short, not just a quick weekend bimble.

As this year’s OMM was starting from Langdale, we thought we’d take advantage of the close proximity of Chris’ house and stay there on the Friday night, rather than the usual extra night of camping before the race. This was aided by the fact that we had a late start (10:15 to 10:29) which meant we could have a nice leisurely breakfast on the Saturday morning before heading down for our start of the race. It also meant we ended up parked in the registration only field which was a huge bonus at the end of the event – the parking field for those who had to camp at the event centre was all churned up and muddy by the time we came to leave.

After arriving in Keswick at about 5 on Friday evening, I wandered over to Needle Sports to go and say hi to a couple of guys there. I managed to catch Harry Ellis, which was nice, as we hadn’t seen each other since both he and I left Keswick at about the same time just over 3 years ago. Still, it was just like it had only been yesterday that we’d been out climbing together and it’s something I really appreciate about the community in Keswick.

Having caught up with the available Needle Sports contingent, I headed back over to Kong Adventure (I always want to call it planetFear) to catch up with Chris and Dan and purchase a few last bits and pieces. I ended up with some nice socks and a pair of the new(ish) Inov8 Mudclaws, both of which I was very grateful for on the event, the shoes especially. Eventually, Chris’ shift finished, so we bundled into the car and headed on down to Langdale to register, ready to arrive and start in the morning.

Getting into Langdale was a bit of a faff-on – it usually is anyway – and, with the increased traffic because of the OMM, we enjoyed some entertaining night time country driving. There were no major incidents though, and we parked up and headed into the event marquee to see what the craic was.

The OMM usually has a buzz about it, but this year felt considerably more busy than the last two. Chris bumped into a few friends of his (you can’t go anywhere in the Lakes with Chris without getting stuck in conversation with someone or other) and I managed to have a quick chat with Steve Willis – long time orienteer and one of the many faces you look forward to seeing at the OMM. We finally extricated ourselves from the marquee, after having picked up a few 50th anniversary bits and pieces, and made our way back to Keswick in the dark. Langdale had quietened down a fair bit by then, but we still opted to take the back road over to Grasmere rather than head all the way out to Ambleside.

It had gone 8 o’clock by the time we rolled back in to Keswick (as we’d forgotten to pick up a few items from the shop when we were there earlier). Thankfully Racheal had prepared tea for us back at their house, so that once we got back (not far off 9), we got sat down and stuck in to a good, hearty Bolognese (washed down with a pint or two – proper athletes like). The usual catch-up and banter ensued until we decided to hit the hay, somewhere between 11 and 12, ready for a relatively leisurely getting up time of 7:45.

Saturday morning arrived – grey and sullen – although near Keswick it didn’t seem too bad. The forecast had suggested that this would be the case and the weather could have been worse (oh, how we were to learn). A good breakfast, morning coffees, final packing etc. etc. and we were off to Langdale to “enjoy” the 50th anniversary of the OMM!

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Popping out of the bottom of St John’s in the Vale on to the A591, I suddenly realised that I’d forgotten my squidgy water bottles which I had carefully filled with mountain fuel. Swearing about how much of an idiot I was, Chris said not to worry, just pull up opposite the Co-op in Grasmere and get a couple of bottles of Lucozade. So that was that, and we headed back over the back way into Langdale without any further trouble.

Parking up, we were glad to be late re-arrivals. You could clearly see that the other parking field was not in a good state already, and this was before anyone had really started leaving. Getting out of the car and putting on my shiny new shoes (never race with new equipment kids, ahem…) the wind was a little biting if truth be told, but you know what they say; be bold – start cold. Down on the valley floor it wasn’t too bad though, and there wasn’t any real rain to speak of.

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Off we trotted toward the event marquee, only to be directed away from it at the last minute toward the start line, providing a nice little half mile warm up before the main event. I should have known really. The 3rd time out this time and the start line is never at the centre proper. But again, it wasn’t too bad at this point, so we didn’t mind all too much; what’s an extra half mile of nice, even, flat track when you’re staring down the business end of the OMM?

We arrived ready to go at 10:20, pretty much spot on there with our timing, and lined up into our designated start queue. I say queue, we were the only ones there for the Long Score at that particular start time, and tried to steal a sneak preview of the map while it was sat about 2 meters away on the floor. A claxon was sounded, and we stepped forward to be handed the map. This minute with the map before the start would be vital if the wind wasn’t blowing, but it was, and so we had to wait to start before we could crouch down and assess our options. Finally, we were allowed to start, Chris punched our dibber in the start box and we scampered over to a slightly sheltered side to try and make a plan.

As usual, there were a scattering of control points from 10 to 50 points available, but then there were a couple of 70 pointers out around Ennerdale and Pillar! I discounted them but Chris was super keen to head out and try and pick them up, so we compromised and made a plan with a cut off to turn back to the overnight camp if time was looking tight.

As this was the 50th anniversary, it was always going to be one to remember, and the course planners (thank you Mr Falkner) provided us with a nice steep uphill climb straight away on to Martcrag Moor and the first control point, giving a little shy of 500m climbing within about the first km of racing – vicious. From there, it was a quick descent down Stakes Beck to where it meets Langstrath and the next control nestled within a smallish sheep pen. The weather was still holding reasonably well at this point, and my chosen clothing system of good old Brynje sex-mesh under a set of OMM tights and a windshirt was working a dream.

Straight away it was back off up a hill toward Bull Crag and the third control point hiding somewhere on one of the indiscriminate knolls. On the way up we passed Kip and Dan – two of my friends from my Imperial College days – racing down the hill. It turns out they’d made a navigational error and headed to their 4th rather than 3rd control (they were competing on a linear course), but that’s a different story. The clag was starting to come down a little bit and it was pretty indiscriminate up there. Fortunately, Long Crag was visible and we could take a rough back bearing to narrow down the search and it didn’t take long to find the pesky blighter.

Immediately, we started descending again, this time down the back of Sergeant’s Crag into Greenup Gill and the next control point. This one was pretty easy and we dropped back below the cloud line for a little while. The weather was still just about holding and we were moving well; my ankle had been strapped pretty well before heading out and for the time being it was holding.

But no rest for the wicked! We’d picked up a 40 pointer and a 50 pointer on this little excursion but there was a lot more day to go. Back off up the southern flank of Sergeant Crags we headed to drop back down to Langstrath just above Black Moss Pot. No swimming today though, as our route took us straight back up the other side of the valley onto that indeterminate wasteland better known as Rosthwaite Fell. We’d passed through a little cloud on the way over the shoulder of Sergeant Crag but now the weather really started coming in. However, the mesh/windshirt super combination was still keeping me comfortable and the fourth steep uphill of the day was keeping me nice and warm.

Cresting Rosthwaite Fell, a nippy wind made itself know. There were three controls to pick up here; the clag was coming down quickly and we needed to keep moving and keep sharp. The first control fell quickly – it was only a couple of hundred meters from a fence corner on an easy bearing – but the next proved more elusive. Chris seemed half aware of where we were, and I knew where we were in theory, but the feeling of running around features and hills you know but knowing you’re there in a purely academic fashion was bizarre.

Finally, we descended slightly around a knoll and bumped into another team looking for the same point. A short conversation later and we headed up the gill we were stood next to, which did indeed prove to be Comb Gill, and thus dropped us directly onto our next control. Whilst the clag was bad and the wind was driving rain, we were still in our windshirts, although the thought of putting on a waterproof had now crossed both our minds. It was grim up there, but good fun!

Just one more control to find! Then we could drop off Glaramara, and get out of the shit…

Taking a swift bearing and making good note of the features to follow, we set off towards Hind Gill. We were looking for a track followed by a path; if we hit the gill we’d gone too far. No track (something that may have been a track). Possibly a path? Definitely the gill… Not really sure. We knew that we weren’t far away so we headed slightly uphill. A couple of knolls presented themselves and we knew we were close. A team appeared out of the mist and accidentally signposted the way to the control – we weren’t more than about 20 meters away in all honesty, but it did speed up the search. Punching the control, Chris insisted (I didn’t offer any resistance) that we don waterproofs (matching OMM Aether Smocks) and we then got shifting as fast as possible do get down out of the wind and driving rain.

We crossed Hind Gill and found the path downhill toward Seathwaite. Still, I knew academically where we were, but with absolutely no recognition of the surrounding landscape. The mudclaws were working a treat and as we dropped below the cloud, Seathwaite valley and farm appeared below us. Ah! Then I knew where we were properly, and also that we had to head back up the other side of the valley up Sour Milk Gill to pick up our final 50 pointer.

For any who have never been up to Gillercombe, it’s pretty much a slog any way you look at it. This time was no exception, but at least I didn’t have a bouldering mat on my back this time! Eventually, the marsh at the top appeared and we squelched our way across to the sheepfold. Time was starting to feel tight – at this point we had about 2hr10 left – and I was getting twitchy. We said hello and thank you to the marshals waiting there; they told us that time was running a little tight, and that our next planned control was going to be taken down in the not-too-distant future.

Green Gable was next on our list. Time was feeling tight, but there was a 40 pointer which looked reasonable to find. Until we started going up the hill.

A never ending ascent into yet more clag drained my enthusiasm for heading off back down the other side of Green Gable. Chris was pushing to go and find it, but as the gradient started to ease conceded that we’d missed the feature we were looking for and, that as time was getting really tight (1h40 left before our 7 hours were up!), we probably should start heading back.

We hunkered down on the ground briefly just in the lee of the hillside to work out the fastest way back. Down to Styhead tarn, across to Sprinkling Tarn and over to Esk Hause seemed the most direct option. The plan as we were setting off was to stay on the path and head over Bowfell to eventually drop into Mosedale.

We moved fast all the way to the ascent up to Esk Hause, slowing only because of the gradient. I was not keen for Bowfell, not another hill, not today! So on the uphill I had a little study of the map.

“Why don’t we head up Esk Pike (we’re practically there anyway) and drop off the front? There’s even a couple of 20s to pick up on the way down, and we know that section half-reasonably well…”

“Yeah alright, that’s a good idea”

And off we went again…

Back off of the path, and the clag started to make a difference. It’s bleak around upper Eskdale, even on a good day, but running on a bearing in the clag and wind made for an interesting experience. It actually went quite well and we found our first control point in good time. The marshal who had been posted there for the day was not looking happy and I didn’t blame him – the weather really was wild – so we said thank you for sitting out there all day and disappeared off into the clag again.

It felt almost like the home stretch then. There was one more control to get on the way down and then we could get ourselves onto the path down Mosedale to Cockley Beck – a track we both new all too well.

More stumbling along in the clag brought us finally to the last checkpoint. We were pretty much at the end of our 7 hours at this point, and all thought was on getting back as quickly as possible. There was a 40 pointer just a little further down the track we were on, but in the wrong direction for dropping into Mosedale. Annoyingly (in hindsight) I thought that the penalties for being late increased from 1 point to 2 points to 5 points, as they do in the OMM Lite events. If I’d read the information on the map (RTFQ!) I’d have realised that it was a flat 2 points lost per minute over your time, and in that case, it would have been well worth our while to pick up another 20 pointer close by, and the 40 pointer! Idiot!

But never mind; it’s one lesson I’ve learnt the hard way, and one I won’t forget quickly.

Scooting along Lingcove Beck we knew we were looking for a track on our left to drop into the top of Mosedale. I knew from the direction of the track, and the bearing of a beck we’d just crossed that it wasn’t far away, so we kept the pace up in the hopes that we’d find it soon. Unfortunately, we ran past it, and almost to the 40 pointer, but in our false understanding of the penalty system we just turned back with a little care to find the track proper. Thankfully, it only took a couple of minutes to find so we picked the pace up again to “enjoy” a slippery descent down to Cockley Beck and our campsite for the night.

As we neared the end, the road appeared on our right, and Lucy and Jim could be seen waiting there to take a couple of action shots. However, Chris had the race line in his sights (don’t forget this is part of the OCT and therefore a descent we knew reasonable well) which involved not going onto the road. Waving, he tried to get Lucy and Jim to head down to see us appear onto the road – something they just about managed to make. My legs were not happy by now, I was (and still am) way out of shape, and we’d been out for over 7 hours. Pacing down the road, we pushed to the finish to dib at Saturday’s finish line.

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What a relief! It was getting dark; the weather, whilst not a foul as on the tops was still pretty grim and all we could think about was getting the tent up and warming up a little bit before sorting tea out for the night.

As it was the 50th OMM, there was cake in the check-in tent (mmmm). We got our results from the marquee, and we were somewhere around 46th-ish. Not too bad considering we weren’t expecting to be competitive. My foot had held on reasonably well for the day, but it had been a bit of a drag.

All that was to be done, was to find a reasonable spot to pitch – not an easy task this year it has to be said. All the dry ground was sloped, and all the flat ground was bog. Eventually, we found a small patch that was flat and not too damp. Great! Pitching up we settled in for the night and actually felt pretty comfortable. One useful lesson from this year was actually to leave the race clothes on – especially as I was wearing mesh base-layers, everything dried out quickly, kept us warm, and we didn’t have to worry about putting on soggy clothes in the morning – bonus!

Thanks for taking the time to read this far. I know it’s been a bit wordy, but I always think it’s worth trying to convey the ups and downs of an event like the OMM. Really, that’s the answer to “why do you do things like that” – because it can be really shitty, but at the end of the day, when you’ve been out trying your best, it’s great to pitch up and enjoy an evening with an old friend and look at what went right as well!

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(OMM day two to follow soon)

OMM 2016 – Glentrool

Another October; another OMM. This year saw me pairing up with Chris Swanepoel of Kong Adventure in Keswick. I had already competed with Chris at the Autumn OMM Lite earlier this year, and our previous outing had seen us over-cook the run slightly, covering more than 100km over the weekend. We’d subsequently picked up some fairly hefty penalty points, but overall our performance had left us feeling positive about our teamwork and decision making, or at least that we knew what not to do.

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Rocking up to Glentrool in the late afternoon on Friday; having taken Friday and Monday off for the OMM; we headed straight up the event HQ so that Lucy could receive her briefing for the weekend. This left me hanging around until Chris arrived which wasn’t too much of an issue; there are always plenty of people to catch up with, and the setting sun lit up the surrounding landscape in a way we could only hope for over the next couple of days.

Chris arrived just as the evening light was going, and we spent a few minutes chatting on before coming up with a plan for the evening. Setting up our base-camp tent, we headed back to the event HQ for our pasta party, which was followed by a burger and chased down with a couple of pints – only the healthiest scran for elite athletes such as ourselves *ahem*.

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(For those of you who haven’t competed in the OMM, you have to carry a tent for the overnight camp on Saturday, but it’s a huge advantage to have a larger, more comfortable tent for the Friday – and possibly Sunday – night, as you then don’t have to pack up a tent on Saturday morning which is probably damp and heavy.)

Getting up on the Saturday we got our chops round double bacon butties for breakfast, a big mug of coffee, and started our long walk to the start point. We discussed possible plans, agreed again on tactics, and I tried to keep myself calm; after placing 3rd last year, I’d put a lot of pressure on myself  to do well this time round – possibly a counter-productive way of thinking…

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Getting our maps, we (I) dibbed the starting box, and we moved to the side to look at check point values, and estimate our route with Chris’ pre-prepared knotted string. Linking the 50-pointers through as many 40- and 30-pointers, we decided on a route quickly and set off up the hill.

I’ll try to avoid boring the socks off of everyone here with tedious route descriptions, and go for a nice snappy summary of Saturday’s running: tussocky and claggy. Most of the day was spent in a 200m wide dome of grey, but when the cloud did lift the views were second to none!

Taking some conservative navigation around Loch Enoch set us back a little, but was better than getting lost in the mist. We’d also forgotten to eat enough, so at about this point I started to bonk; setting us back even further.

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But then good fortune; the clouds lifted a little and we were running on some of the faster tracks of the weekend. This allowed us to quickly tick off a couple of big-pointers on the way to the overnight camp.

With just under an hour to go we were getting close to camp, and were presented with a navigational decision. The String told us that we only had enough time to pick up one of two checkpoints – either a 40 or a 30 – plus a 20 on the way back in, and so we plumped for the 40-pointer. The route to this check point was straight up the side of “Nick of the Gulley”, which after 5 hours of running was not a pleasant option, but manageable. We blasted up the hill to the level at which we had to traverse, overtaking many parties in the process, with one chap asking if he could hold onto our bags or stay in our slipstream. Chris kindly informed said chap that his slipstream smelt a bit of peanuts, not something I’d noticed fortunately, and we were on our way.

Traversing into the gully to find the 40-pointer, we checked the map and description as we descended, but failed to spot the control and kept descending.

Ooops – error.

We arrived at a boulder at the bottom of the gully just above the treeline which was accompanied by an excited “ah, here’s the checkpoint!” from Chris, only to be followed by a “er, that’s not the right checkpoint” from me.

Both our hearts sank. Shit. What do we do?

I had a little scout up another trod coming in along the bottom of the line of crags, but saw nothing. Chris had started reading the description again and was up for having a search of the area for the control.

I made my worst mistake of the weekend here by insisting that we leave and just get home. After the penalties of the OMM Lite I was twitchy about timings, and had failed to take into account the fact that the final 3km were going to be very fast going, being metalled road and hard trail.

Looking back, it’s obvious that we should have spent 10 minutes checking the area. Talking to other competitors at the overnight camp, we realised that we must have passed within about 20m of the control point, but there were also comments that it was a little difficult to spot.

Sitting at home, writing this piece with the benefit of hindsight, I find it all too easy to kick myself for a rash decision to move on. At the same time I have to recognise that I was worried that we would never find the control, and waste precious minutes; in different circumstances, leaving would have been the correct call. But making the correct choice under pressure is what separates the cream from the crop, and I made it wrong in this instance. Annoyingly, it was these 40 points which ultimately dropped us 6 places in the rankings. Lesson very much learnt – if you’ve gone to the trouble to get to a 40- or 50-pointer, spend a few minutes searching around if it’s not immediately obvious!

Back on track, and cursing the illusive control point (point AI if anyone has a copy of the map and is interested), we blasted down the road and onto the final trail. To soothe our sorrows, the race organisers had kindly placed a booby-prize 20-pointer on the way home, and picking it up about 5 minutes after landing on the road confirmed that we were going to be back with time to spare.

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Happy days. Arriving at the camp site in the worst rain of the weekend (which was pretty innocuous in reality) we dibbed in to be shocked with a 9th place ticket. Hmm. Not the start we wanted, but checking the score board, there wasn’t too much in it between 9th and 3rd… By the end of the evening we were down in 11th place, but ready for a fight on the second day.

Putting the tent up under some trees provided a little respite from the prevailing conditions, and we proceeded to stuff as much Extreme Food down our faces as possible, before retiring to our surprisingly comfy, X-Frame supported beds.

Sunday started with the mandatory bagpiper for OMM events held north of the border. A nice wake up call for 6am, but as we weren’t due to start running until 9am we stayed in “bed” for another hour until restlessness forced us into action.

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Wriggling back into yesterdays damp, but slightly warmed clothes (we’d put them in our sleeping bags overnight to try and get them to dry) we emerged from our polyester cocoon to begin eating, packing up and getting ready to go. As 9am rolled round to greet us, we found ourselves on the start line, picking up our map and getting ready to attack day two.

Making our plans fairly quickly through the use of the string, we set off at a brisk pace. The start of day two flew by without any major hitches, and as we were on a later start, many of the popular paths had been trodden in, making the going a little easier.

Not for long though. The way to the 3rd 50-point control was either via a circuitous climb up by a river followed by some hefty bog-bashing, or via an incredibly steep climb directly up a gully which would drop us almost directly onto the control. We opted for the steep gully option, and I’m happy to say that it worked pretty much perfectly! Bonus.

From here, more tussocky joy awaited us whilst we whipped (alright, stumbled) round to gather the next few controls and begin heading home for the final time.

Handrailing along a fence, the clag descended just as we were about to begin our final climb. This was particularly bad timing for us, as the grey and muffled atmosphere made our ascent into the cloud feel almost never ending. Step, step, step; check bearing; check vague hillside; step, step…

We finally arrived at the saddle point between Lamachan Hill and Larg Hill, still in the clag, followed closely by; “Looks like the saddle point Chris, there should be a track somewhere around… oh, here it is. Excellent!” Time was starting to run out though, and we had just over an hour to get back to the event centre which was about 10km away – but all downhill, thankfully.

With time pressing, we flew down the hill from Nick of the Brushy, taking a “short cut” to the gravelled forest track through a firebreak. It was definitely shorter distance wise, but I really do hate firebreaks!

Both Chris and I went into surprise bogs multiple times, often to the knee, or both knees, or even both knees and an elbow. Exciting stuff! Plus all the branches invariably spearing you as you shift from the main firebreak to the narrow rows between the trees when a large fallen pine invariably blocks your path. It’s never fast, but it is an adventure, and cursing under my breath as a write this, I know I also have a smile on my face recalling that adventure within an adventure race. It was fairly obvious that a few other parties had suffered similar fates, and bursting out onto the forest track we were greeted by a number of teams jogging almost casually back to HQ, who fortunately seemed quite entertained by our expletive-laden arrival.

From here on in it was just rapid descending, stopping only to pick up the final two 50-point controls on our way back. Crossing over Water of Trool with about 15 minutes spare, we suspected we may have just gotten away with it! There was a 20-pointer to pick up in the penultimate field, but by this point I’d given up caring and just wanted to finish, so we made a bee-line for the finish instead and crossed the line with 2 minutes to spare, tired, muddy, but extremely happy with the day’s running.

In hindsight, we could have easily picked up the 20-pointer, and we’d only have lost a couple of points for being late. We could have also taken a better line up on to Lamachan Hill, heading up between Scars of Milldown and Scars of Lamachan, which would have also added another 10 points onto our score, but these are minor quibbles with an otherwise well-executed piece of navigation.

Interestingly (or at least for me), my PhD supervisor used to compete in mountain marathon events, and his interpretation of the available route pretty much matched my own decisions; a vast improvement over a year ago where virtually every decision I had taken was torn apart mercilessly. But I digress…

I’d like to thank all of you who made it this far for reading. I hope it hasn’t been too waffley, as I feel events like these need a little fleshing out for proper armchair appreciation, and I hope a few may be inspired to come and join in with the suffering fun on later events.

I’d also like to thank the OMM team who make these events possible; once again it’s been an excellent event.

And that’s that

Until next time

Ta Ra!

Stanley Ghyll and Birker Force

With the OMM 2016 just round the corner, I’ve been trying to get out and about a little more to get some miles in my legs. The first run of much interest for a while took place this weekend when we went over to Eskdale to celebrate my brother and my birthdays (our birthdays are just 16 days apart).

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The original plan was to get up early and head up via Eel Tarn and Burnmoor Tarn to hit Scafell Pike, and descend back down via Scafell, Slightside and the Great Moss. I’d anticipated about 3 to 3 and a half hours for this round, which would have worked out quite nicely if I’d woken up early. But as Saturdays often work out, we ended up sleeping a little longer than expected, and by the time we were up, fed and watered the 4ish hours it would take for the run and subsequent cool down/shower would put me way out of sync with everyone else.

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Not wanting to pass up my opportunity to run in one of my favourite Lakeland valleys, I had a quick peruse of the map for a shorter route which would provide a bit of ascent and excellent views. I settled on a classic round (for us), joining the riverside path as quickly as possible from Christcliff, running down (West) to Stanley Ghyll, up Stanley Ghyll, East across the tops above Birker Force, back down to Low Birker, and back along the river.

I won’t blather on about the views, which were exceptional as always. I will be just a little nerdy, now having a running watch, and say that I was out for 56 minutes, with an average pace of 6min30/km. So now, I’ll leave you all with a few photos of my run. Enjoy!

Oh, and see you at the OMM…

 

Phantom 20 follow on review

Following my sparkling endorsement of the phantom 20, I have found a fairly fundamental issue with the phantom 20. I still consider the carrying system (i.e. the yoke system to avoid asymmetric loading whilst running) to be exceptional, but the issue is related to the back panel.

During long runs (longer than about an hour), the thin foam panel which should reduce or prevent abrasion works its way out of its sleeve in the back of the pack. This is probably exacerbated by the presence of a bladder, but especially for Lite events, a bladder is an unavoidable necessity.

The result is excessive chaffing on the lower back which has happened every time I’ve used the bag fully loaded. The nub of the issue is that the foam back panel is too soft and therefore rucks up during a run, and coupled with a top-flap which is insufficiently secured, the foam rides out of the bag over and over again.

The solution is pretty simple; add a few grams to the bags’ weight. Increase the overlap of the flap at the top with the panel below, and add more Velcro. Three times the amount that’s presently there would make a reasonable start by my reckoning. Add some sticky rubber to the foam back panels, and increase the rigidity of the foam back panel to prevent or reduce it from riding up whilst running.

On that note, I’m off to make some changes to my bag. And to OMM – it’s frustrating; the Phantom 20 is so close to being an excellent bag. Please, please, please sacrifice some grams on the bag, and fix the one issue I’ve been banging on at you about for over a year!

OMM Lite/Bike Autumn 2016

After two unsuccessful attempts at placing first in the OMM Lite Long Score, this time round felt as though it may be the one. I had convinced Chris Swanepoel to be my running partner, on the assumption that if I was running with someone who was a stronger runner than I was, then it was likely that we would be able to cover more ground, and thus stand an excellent chance at placing highly/first.img_2659
I have to admit I was a little nervous; when we ran the Old County Tops together Chris was in much better shape, and I could only feel like I’d let the side down. I really didn’t want this race to be a repeat of that, especially as we’re running the OMM together in October. The OMM Lite was an excellent chance to calibrate our pacing, route planning, and get Chris used to OMM format events.img_2665
This, it turned out, was an excellent idea. We eventually placed fourth overall, but covered way more distance than anyone else we talked to – over 100km across the weekend!
Our troubles started on the Saturday. Running wise, the weather was excellent; not raining, clear skies, and a nice breeze to keep us cool. However, and this is really stupid, having almost cleared the course on the Spring Lite whilst being much less fit, we assumed we’d be able to repeat course clearance again. Which was wrong. Very Wrong. img_2666
Running on the assumption that we were going to get to every check-point, we very quickly planned a route and set off. As always, the first checkpoint felt sooooo far away, but after dibbing for the first time, the wheels of the machine started to turn much more freely. Soon, we were blasting round our chosen route, picking up even the awkward controls, and even passing teams we’d passed already due to our wiggling path. It felt good! It always does when you’re moving well…
As three and a half, and then four hours passed, it became obvious that we weren’t going to get everything. We were at top of the course about then, so had to start making provisions to get back to camp. Ditching an attempt to get a difficult 50-pointer, we headed  toward the start of what would have been our second loop. We were both running low on water as well; fortuitously we found a water-butt full of rainwater and, without any better options, refilled our bladders.
The end of Saturday was an exercise in suffering. We started up a path which looked like it would cut off a reasonable corner, only to find it was overgrown and virtually impassable, so had to turn back and go for a serious hike up the road. We then followed a path through the forest, which should have dropped us about 300m from a control, but this time the path disappeared almost directly after a foot-path sign. Stumbling through dense vegetation and lumpy, boggy ground, we made it back onto a major track, only to struggle with the problem of not knowing where on the track we were. Fortunately, a cyclist bombed past us on the major trail, and we picked up the run again.
Eventually, and after a serious conversation, we pushed on to grab a final couple of check points. We were going to be late, but these points would tip the overall balance into the positive. Forest tracks are hard going at the best of times, but with the clock ticking, and a voice in the back of your head saying “Go home! Go home!” this final leg was a serious test of how deep we could dig. Picking up the points, we made swift time down through the forest, and to the base of the hill up to Cropton.
Here, the hill made us pay, and at the end of 60+km it was slow and painful. Chris had his watch on, and said at the end that the hill on its own had cost us somewhere around 50 to 60 points, slowing us down just as we had to get back. But we were back, and not feeling too bad, all things considered.
A pub burger, a pint, and a good sleep got us ready and raring for the next day’s challenges.
A Sunday morning breakfast of Extreme Food and Mountain Fuel porridge filled us up ready for another 5 hours of running. This time round, we planned to pick up big points where we could, with contingency plans for heading back if we were running behind schedule. We also both felt surprisingly fresh considering the previous day’s running.
Hatching a plan, we set off down the Hill of Despair towards our first check point, which was our final check point from the Saturday. Cogs were turning as we made our way, and before long I asked Chris how much it was worth. 20 points! Is that all? I’m not dragging back up that long slog, let’s go along the lower road and pick up these 10 pointers instead. Just as many points, flatter running. Great!
All-in-all the running was going well. We hit our check points at, or even just before expected, and were feeling strong at the furthest most point with about two hours to go. It was here that we made our final error.
Experience was telling me that we should be heading back, pretty much the fastest way possible. Chris was excited, and had a loop of high value check points firmly in his sights. We sat for a couple of minutes looking at the maps, and against everything I know, I agreed to continue on with Chris. It was easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm; we were running well – it seemed completely feasible.
The mid-day sun was beginning to take its toll though. I’m not good in hot conditions, and there was little to no shade around this part of the course. Running started to slow. Navigation was still pretty good, but a single error, followed by another confusing woodland section compounded matters. Psychologically, I was beginning to feel the strain, but the only way out was onwards.
Dibbing at the penultimate control, home was in sight. We were still shifting reasonable, although I was really starting to feel like throwing up. Chris, being South African, wasn’t bothered by the heat. Damn Northern acclimatisation, it’s usually good for sports like the OMM, but not this time.
Approaching the final control before home, we arrived to find it being packed away! “It’s after 2 now” we were told. Fair enough, but what about late arrivals like us, and amusingly, another team behind us. The final push began.
I’m pretty sure I whimpered a little when Chris demanded that we pick up the pace again. Oh dear, I’m dying. This is horrible. The team who were behind us peeled away up an obvious track, which, in hindsight we should have used. In my absolute certainty in my navigation, I said we should continue, and pick up a smaller, but more direct track. It never showed. We fortunately came across the next track along, and took it up the merciless hill back to the finish. Finally, we were just outside the camp, and pushing through everything, we trotted back in to finish on 300 points for the day, after a rather hefty fine of 150 points!img_3688
I’d like to say I could have given more, that we could have made it back a little faster, but I couldn’t. Chris didn’t seem bothered by the heat, but I get a feeling that we’ll be in reversed roles on the OMM. Cold and wet is my forte.
To look at the positives though – we placed especially well, considering all our mistakes and 240 penalty points. More than that though, we ran well together, kept pace together, and proved that our route finding skills, although the planning could do with a little tweaking, were generally pretty damn good. It’s also left me feeling like I won’t let Chris down on the OMM, which is important. I was upset with our time on the Old County Tops, and I knew that one was my fault. img_3692
As always, the campsite was good, the vibe was excellent, and there were plenty of old friends and familiar faces to catch up with. Good work OMM, keep ‘em coming. We’ll be there again. (Until I place first on the Long Score; guess I’ll switch to bikes after that…)

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OMM Lite / Bike Photo Blog

Hey everyone,

I feel that we must apologise for our absense recently – I’m putting it down to work and just being generally busy.

We’ll be catching up and bombarding you with retrospective posts over the next few days, so be prepared to indulge in our antics!

To start with; last weekend was the OMM Lite/Bike in beautiful North Yorkshire. I went down to support Johan again and reprise my role as photographer, helping out the OMM team with a few shots out on the course and at the start/finish.

This was Johan’s first event with his new partner Chris from Kong Adventure in Keswick, a team that I think are going to go far. They came 4th overall in the Long Score, not bad for their first outing! I’ll let Johan fill you in with all the gory details though!

Now for the photos…