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!

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…

 

Old County Tops

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After getting home from the OMM Lite and turning on my phone, I discovered that I’d received a missed call from the one, the only, Chris Swanepoel. Chris was the manager of planetFear (now Kong Adventure) in Keswick while I was working for them, and we’ve stayed in contact ever since I left to do my MSc in 2014. I’d been thinking of calling him and asking if he’d be interested in doing the OMM with me this year anyway, so I was interested to find out what the craic was. To cut a long story short, Chris wanted to know whether I’d come and race the Old County Tops with him, and I wanted to know if he’d come along for the OMM. We both said “yes of course”, but I had to warn Chris that I was basically confined to barracks due to a foot injury which only seemed to be getting worse, and wouldn’t be able to get any training runs in beforehand.

Skip forward a month, and the Old County Tops were looming (both literally, and figuratively in my mind). For those unaware, the Old County Tops is a fell race which summits each of the highest peaks in the old counties of Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire (Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and the Old Man of Coniston respectively). Each peak on its own is usually considered a reasonable day out by sensible folk, so to summit all three, adding on the distance between to start and finish at the New Dungeon Gill in Langdale, was going to be an interesting endeavour.

Interesting proved to be a fairly accurate assessment. The race is around 37 miles long, with somewhere around 10000 feet of ascent (or 3000ish metres), and we’d decided to set our sites high and aim to get round in 8 hours, although not entirely expecting to achieve this.

It’s a good job we weren’t too tied to our expectations as we ended up coming in at around 10 and a half hours! I hold my hand up to say that this was really my fault. Chris was running much more strongly than I was, and whilst we had a nice strong start up and down Helvellyn I began to suffer a little on our way up to Scafell. I just couldn’t get my legs to start firing properly again after a steep descent off the front of Helvellyn, and was starting to feel better when the rain set in.

Despite the race being held in mid May this was a true Lakeland hoolie, and to compound matters it seemed that my waterproof top was all but that. Hypothermia reared its ugly (but somewhat too familiar head – I should probably do something about that), and Chris mistaking my odd behaviour for hunger tried to feed me through the cold. Eventually, I just sat down and put on my waterproof trousers to try and trap a bit more warmth, and by the time we were at Angle Tarn I was almost back to “normal”. Some legend of a race marshal had a cup of tea, and after a couple of biscuits we were back on our way.

I’m actually quite proud of our descent off Scafell Pike. Visibility was low, and the rocks are magnetic, so the original plan of using a bearing to get us down past Esk Buttress wasn’t entirely possible. At this point, the entire reason Chris had invited me along – my navigation skills – came in useful. We’d joined a couple of other pairs trying to take the direct line down to the Great Moss, but with clouds swirling it was proving difficult. It was a case of taking half a minute to have a look at the features available, and I managed to drop us down through a small saddle onto a trod down. We did end up just a little further round than I’d hoped, but that was ok as it actually ended up giving us a better line to the path down to Cockley Beck.

From Cockley Beck onwards it was just a pure slog up Coniston Old Man and back to the Three Shires Stones. I had to sit down once or twice on the way up, which really isn’t typical for me, but we could all but taste home. I ate as much as Chris would allow on the road down from Three Shires Stones, but my legs were suffering. Chris was as well, but at the moment he’s just a much better athlete than I am, and was in much better form. Unsurprising considering the two months off I’d taken due to injury after my Byrness – Alwinton run.

As the New Dungeon Gill came into site, and we could see some guys who had split off from us just after Blea Tarn crossing a field in front of us, but not ahead. Chris urged me to start shifting “we can’t let those guys with the poles beat us on the last stretch”, and so we dug deep, and for the first time I left him behind with nothing he could do about it. Always save those last beans for the finish!

All in all, it was an excellent experience! Thank you Chris for inviting me along, and I’m already excited to try again next year. Hopefully, I’ll have trained a bit more for the next one, and my clothing will not produce any surprises!

The Old County Tops is an excellent day out, and I have a lot of respect to the top boys and girls, as well as all who completed or even entered. Definitely my hardest day out yet, but with the Spine Challenger lurking in January, it’s going to be far from my hardest outing ever…

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OMM Lite / Bike Spring – Peak District

This year’s Spring OMM Lite was based at Parsley Hay in the western Peak District. Once again, an excellent event put together by OMM, but where to begin? As usual, the food, beer, shop and masseurs were top notch, and the atmosphere inside the event tent was always what you wanted; upbeat and friendly!

It’s not the shop and beer we come for though, but the running. Firstly, it has to be said that the competition is really stiffening up. Kip and myself finally place 3rd in the long score, but only on time difference! Watch this space for Sam Atkinson (one of OMM’s new brand ambassadors), as he’s already someone I worry about seeing out on the course, and only 17! Here’s to hoping he finds beer and girls over the next year…

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For myself though, I thought it was both the toughest OMM Lite I’ve competed in so far, but also the best I’ve run in an OMM Lite. It’s also the OMM Lite which has played least to my strengths. Having been a climber for almost 10 years, sharp uphill walking and off-road terrain is not really a problem, after all it is the bread and butter of a Lakeland climbing career, and as such these conditions often give a chance to gain a slight edge on the competition. The ability to stomp uphill for prolonged periods of time without major issue has left many behind over the past year or so, but it was not to be this spring.

The course this time round was flatter and had proportionately more hard pack trail and road. This meant that we did end up running further than on previous events, but then again, so did everyone else. Inclines were shallow and steady, grinding down endurance, and descents were rarely the picky, skipping, fell-like descents which can be used to great effect.

That is not to say that the course wasn’t fun. Steve can always pull something special out of the bag, and this was no exception. I’m not so au fait with the western Peaks as I am with their eastern counterparts, due to living in Sheffield last year, but views were no less spectacular. Instead of gritstone escarpments jutting out of the hillside at regular intervals, you’re treated to wider open vistas and rolling hills. Of course, these rolling hills prove to be a sapping experience to run over, but that’s what the OMM is all about; if you’re comfortable while you’re out running, you’re not running hard enough.

I’m not going to go into detail about the course, we covered far too much distance for a blow-by-blow account, but I’ll try and summarise as best I can.

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Saturday morning started cold and fresh, with some serious frost on the tents (certainly for April), but as the sun came out it started to heat up. At the start line this resulted in quite a nice temperature, but by noon this had heated up beyond both Kip’s and my own comfort zone. Nevertheless, we pushed on remembering to drink plenty of water, and were comfortably further than half way round our planned circuit by 3 and a half hours. The extra time allowed us to reduce the pace slightly which was critical in the mid day heat, especially as it felt like our water was running low.

Another couple of hours running found us descending towards the A515 and the Tissington Trail with plenty of time to spare. We’d been chasing down a pair of runners for the past couple of miles from Roystone Cottages, and as we dropped onto the A515 we saw them wandering up past the turning we were taking to get home.

“Where are they heading to?” I asked incredulously “Home’s that way… fools”.

Turns out that they weren’t fools, there was a 10 point checkpoint just up the road, and in our excitement we’d missed it through extreme tunnel vision, hell bent on getting back for a sit down and a brew. On the plus side, we had so much time in hand that we almost sauntered back, half considering stopping for an ice cream on the way. Good job we didn’t though, as it was our time in hand by the end of the competition that won us 3rd place. OMM Lites are getting tough!

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Back at the event centre I made sure I was booked in for my customary leg massage. I was, at 5pm, having spoken with Emma yesterday (it’s always who you know), but when the time came I mentioned my foot injury to the masseur and he decided to have a look at that.

It feels like a good job I did mention my foot; after not very long of prodding and pushing he started applying pressure in the area which had been painful previously, and boy did it hurt! I’d like to think that I’m fairly hardy; apparently my face was an absolute picture! In all fairness, my foot did feel a little better afterwards, and it seemed to have some shape back. I was also instructed to find a decent local physio, and as chance had it, Stu’s wife is one of the owners of Smart Fitness here in Newcastle.

Amazing what happens when you just talk to people. I’m off for my first appointment next Thursday which I’m very excited for. It’ll be nice to feel like my legs are working at 100% (or that’s what I hope we’ll achieve), especially with the OMM and the Spine Challenger looming on the horizon.

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Sunday started damp and cold. The circuit this time was mostly to the North and East of the event centre, as opposed to South and West on Saturday. We only had five hours this time round, and with 18 points between us and 3rd place, (we finished 4th on Saturday), there was serious incentive to get cracking!

I always carry an OS 1:25k for the OMM Lite events as it gives finer detail, and by chance the event centre was just over the leaf for most of Sunday’s circuit. Kip was therefore given command for the first ten minutes, but was so excited we ran down the wrong fork of the Tissington Trail initially. Don’t worry Kip, I’ve done much worse (Dark Mountains, ahem…), and credit where credit’s due, he picked up on the mistake very quickly and we backtracked and were back on course in just over 5 minutes.

Sunday was a new world of pain, it always is, and it’s Sunday that really defines the final outcome. Saturday’s 1st place runners found this out to their detriment, struggling to keep pace over the second day having put their all into clearing the course the day before (with a time penalty unfortunately).

Kip also had holey socks; rather than allowing him to walk on water, it meant we had a couple of breaks as we repaired his painful heels. We also saw other runners much more over the 2nd day, everyone chose (almost) the same route until check point 27/28. I sent us to 27, as it looked very slightly more painful than 28, but with the option of doubling back to 28 which wouldn’t have been possible the other way round. This was the leg that really started to test us as well. Back to the rolling grassy hills, back to the leg-sapping gradual inclines, and back to one foot in front of the other.

We finally dropped into Monyash (what an excellent place name by the way), and had a quick discussion. We had exactly an hour to go; Kip was wondering whether we should just head back, but there was a 40 pointer within reach! It would be tight, no doubt about that; 20 minutes per leg left basically no breathing room for anything, but those that dare, win! I convinced Kip we should just blast it out, “come on mate, we can do this”, and off we set at the highest pace of the entire event.

Picking up the 40, we had a long uphill slog up Moor Lane to get over the brow of the hill and start our final descent to the final checkpoint before home. Run, walk, run, walk, run, walk… Are your legs screaming yet? Eventually we were on our way back to the Tissington Trail (yet again), and joining through a gate Kip thankfully spotted right next to the final control!

Right! 22 minutes! Let’s get back!

Off we went, jogging at a fair pace, but my body had decided now was the time to start complaining.

Mother of god! I’d been leading the whole way round, having done a few of these before, but Kip could just turned off the pain and keep shifting. My legs were having none of it, and kept seizing every couple of minutes. We were back to run, walk, run, walk, but on the flat!

“I’m so sorry Kip, I want to keep shifting”

“It doesn’t matter, just keep moving as much as you can, we can do this without a time penalty”

Aside from the first OMM Lite, at the same time last year, these final two miles were probably the most painful I’ve ever completed. The sight of the café on the trail just before the event centre was the best thing I’d seen all weekend, and we dug in as hard as possible to keep moving to the steps down the bridge.

Another pair of runners had reached the steps just before us, and we had two minutes spare! Come on, come on, come on, get shifting. Hitting the bottom of the stairs, it was time for the reserves to be utterly consumed. Sprint past the unwitting couple ahead of us, and into the field.

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There’s nothing better or worse than the feeling of sprinting on empty legs. We made it with two and a half minutes to spare, and I didn’t quite throw up. Bonus.

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Afterwards we repaired to the tent for some excellent scran (thank you to the caterers, cracking job), tea, beer and more cake than your body has room for. Prize giving came and went in its customary fashion, and I annoyed all and sundry by talking at them about nothing for far too long. It was excellent to catch up with some familiar faces from past events, and even Simon, my neighbour from back home in Lancaster was there for the OMM Bike! Excellent times.

All I have left to say is that it was yet again a pleasure and a privilege to compete and meet everyone again, so if you’re an OMM Team member or a competitor and reading this, thank you for an excellent weekend.

If you’re not either of the above, sort yourself out, and we’ll see you in September!

Post by Johan