A couple of weekends ago, we stayed at Lumley Fee Bunkhouse, just outside of Kendal, with a group of friends for a weekend of walks, drinks, catching up and good food. It was fabulous! We can’t recommend the bunkhouse enough, it was simply stunning!
A few weeks ago (I know, we’re a bit delayed) the Tall Ships Regatta came to Blyth and the Northumberland coast. We weren’t able to get down to the port and see them up close, but we had a brilliant day at Seaton Sluice harbour, watching the ships sail out into the North Sea, towards Norway. They were a truly spectacular sight.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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…)
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…
On our continuing mission to seek out new hills, far from civilization, the next target was The Dodds – the fells making up the northern end of the Helvellyn range. Fortunately we know people who live in Threlkeld, which removed difficult parking issues, and provided us with a BBQ to come back to in the evening.
Setting out a little later than planned, we crossed the A66 with ease (not something you hear every day), and started the climb towards Threlkeld Knotts. If you haven’t explored this area I’d really recommend it. Although part of its appeal is that it’s much quieter than many of the surrounding areas, so don’t all rush at once…
Threlkeld Knotts is a hidden gem. Much like my other favourite Lakeland fells, it’s not the biggest, but offers excellent views just off the beaten track. It also provides an interesting route up Clough Head, passing a couple of disused quarries. The higher, smaller quarry contained a couple of locals pissing about on dirt bikes which looked like a cracking way to spend a sunny Saturday morning. From then on we saw no one until the final traverse onto the southern flank of Clough Head.
Neither of us have previously explored these fells, which is where a large amount of the appeal of The Wainwrights lies. Clough Head provides unparalleled vistas across to the Northern Fells, with bonus views of the Eden Valley and the Pennines. What’s not to love? We also bumped into a group reccying the Bob Graham round – good luck to them for their attempt at the end of the month.
The joy of the Dodds is that once you’re up, the hard work is pretty much done. There’s a bit of a sting getting onto Great Dodd, but really it’s comfortable yomping the whole way along. The problem is that it’s totally exposed, with Lucy being blown all over the place on the summit of Great Dodd.
Watson’s Dodd is, by comparison, nice and gentle – an extended plateau protruding between Great and Stybarrow Dodd. Unfortunately due to the BBQ in the evening we had to turn around. Skirting around Great Dodd, we dropped onto Mosedale Beck to join the Old Coach Road back to Threlkeld. At Mariel Bridge we were treated to a parade of green-laning Landrover Series who kindly offered us a lift to Dockray. It’s a shame that was the wrong direction as it looked awesome.
It looked like there was a quick cut from the Coach Road back to the track to Threlkeld. It doesn’t exist. We took a bearing which should have dropped us right on to the cut, but found nothing. Before accusations of crappy navigation are thrown around, my nav is not that bad, and Chris backed me up when we got home; obviously he’s had the same idea in the past, with the same result.
Finally we were tramping back up past the little church in Threlkeld to enjoy a well deserved BBQ. Nipping back into Kewick we availed ourselves of the excellent beer selection in Booths, and rounded the day off with a tasty 7.5% bottle of Halcyon.