The OMM 2015
The OMM is such a huge event it would be difficult to do it justice with a simple race review, so instead I’ll try to give a bit more background on the event and give some extra details that would typically be omitted from a simple review.
OMM stands for Original Mountain Marathon, it is the successor to (although in effect the same as) the KIMM, or the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon, which began in 1968 and has run every year since. The name change came in 2006 following the sale of the Karrimor brand. Today, OMM organizes numerous mountain marathons throughout the world, with the biggest event (The OMM) taking place in the UK towards the end of October.
To begin with, let’s establish what a mountain marathon is for the uninitiated. The name itself hints at what such an event encompasses, but it doesn’t quite capture everything. Essentially, a mountain marathon is a two day race over mountainous terrain, where competitors must be completely self-sufficient (i.e. carry everything needed for the two days, including the mid camp after the first day). Competitors are issued with a map at the beginning of each day which details the points (or controls) that must be visited and the end point. Competitors are free to take any route between the controls they wish, and are constantly faced with difficult decisions regarding whether they should take a straight, but steep route which involves a lot of climb, or a longer route with less ascent. Essentially, competitors spend their weekend trudging through bogs, tussock grass, heather, scree, heathland and steep sided grassy slopes. It’s fun, honest (and you even get to run sometimes)!
The OMM offers multiple courses to cater for all levels, all of which must be completed as a pair. Three score events are offered (short, medium, long) which are traditional score orienteering events. In these events, every control point is allocated a certain number of points; competitors are given a certain amount of time (depending on their course) to gain as high a score as possible over the two days. Time penalties are given for late returns, so careful planning is required!
Five linear events are also offered (Elite, A Class, B Class, C Class and D Class). For these courses, competitors must visit each of the controls given on the map in the order they are numbered (The C Class is slightly different, in that there is a score section within the linear score). Course lengths and typical winning times are given below:
· Elite 80 km 12 hrs
· A class 65 km 11 hrs
· B class 50 km 10 hrs
· C class 45 km 9 hrs
· D class 40 km 8 hrs
· Long Score 7+6 hrs (day 1/2)
· Medium Score 6+5hrs
· Short Score 5+4hrs
In addition, as the courses get longer, the amount of climb is also increased. Having done the A Class for the past two years, I know that it is normal for this course to have comfortably over 2,000 m (6,562 ft) of climb per day. It's also worth noting that the course lengths should also be taken with a pinch of salt; route choice plays a big role here and it would be impossible to actually complete the courses in the lengths given (the A Class for instance is probably closer to 80 km).
The event is really friendly, with a huge range in abilities across the courses. Mountain marathon competitors are often joked about enjoying folding themselves in half and sleeping inside of plastic bags and existing on modest food supplies (which is certainty true of the front runners), but there are many people, particularly on the shorter courses, who walk the entire race carrying 50 litre + packs (and this year, I even saw somebody cooking bacon at the mid camp!).
Now you’ve had a very quick introduction to mountain marathons, I’ll crack on with discussing my experiences on the 2015 OMM in the Tweedsmuir Hills.
Having completed the A Class course in the Cheviots in 2014, my friend and OMM partner Mark Stockton (of the Cosmic Hillbashers and Grampoc) and I knew we had it in us to do the same level of course in 2015; not quite naïve, brave or foolish enough to step up a level to the Elite course. Despite the 2014 event being the hardest thing I have personally ever completed, I really enjoyed it, and I knew I was fitter this year so couldn’t wait for 2015, especially after a decent performance in the Pentland Skyline race just two weeks before. Mark and I have slightly different philosophies for the OMM; I don’t like carrying a lot on my back, so I am very minimal in my approach. I am slightly obsessive about this (perhaps a little too much for my level!), and weigh all my kit (see my kit listing below). Mark on the other hand, whilst only taking what is necessary, definitely affords a few more luxuries than I. For instance, I take an OMM Mountain Raid 1.0 sleeping bag and sleep on a bed made of balloons. The bag weighs just 360 g, and is probably about as warm as you’d imagine; in fact, OMM do not even give a comfort rating for the bag, rather, they pretty much tell you that if you buy it you know what you’re letting yourself in for (i.e. you will be cold, but won’t die). Mark carries a rather more sensible down bag. I carry a Petzl e-lite headtorch (26 g), Mark carries a much heavier headtorch with a battery pack (although it does give out far more light than the 26 lumens given by the Petzl). You get the point, I won’t labour it. Lightweight kit does often attract a premium price, however OMM has a product line that is designed exactly for events like this and they are very competitively priced (and great quality).
We arrived at the event centre on Friday night, the day before the race began. Registration was slick, and after browsing the popup shop and eating some pasta in the barn set up for the event we got into the tent to get some sleep. It’s important to get a decent sleep on the Friday night because it is unlikely you will the following night. I tend to take a down sleeping bag, comfortable sleep mat and a pillow for the Friday night, luxuries I don’t afford myself for the race.
Saturday morning, we are up early, put down the tent in the rain and put it, still dripping wet, in the car with the rest of our kit. We get our running kit on and make our way to the start line. Competitors begin with one-minute gaps between them to discourage teams from following one another. The race start was delayed due to a mix up with the maps which was slightly infuriating as we stood alongside a few hundred other people in the chilling rain. It’s rare you begin a race dripping wet, but the start line was about 30 minutes from the car, so there wasn’t too much choice. We did ask the marshals at the start line if there were bad weather courses on (where the courses are shortened due to poor conditions) but were answered with a question, “what bad weather?” asked by a tough looking women who seem to have barely noticed the heavens were open.
(For a better quality map, check out the RouteGadget link at the bottom of this page)
Before we knew it we were off, navigating to control one. Mark is a much better orienteer than I am (and it turns out, much better over this very rough terrain than me), however I always ensure I have consulted my map and given my opinion on route choice. This year, my opinions rarely varied much from Mark’s, however, I’d wager that I saved us a good few minutes over the course of the weekend with some suggested modifications to Mark’s route choices (to clarify, Mark was definitely the navigation mastermind, I don’t want to take too much credit here!). Navigation was fairly straight forward between the Start – 1 – 2, however 2 – 3 was an epic with 11 km as the crow flies between controls with a hefty collection of rough, steep mountains in between. 3 – 4 was an interesting leg, pushing on through a wooded area, through a narrow fire-break so overgrown it resembled Jurassic Park.
The day continued with a whole lot more of up and down without a path in sight, through the beautiful Tweedsmuir Hills. About an hour before we reached the mid-camp the rain eased off meaning our clothes started to dry out – quite handy before getting into a tent for the night!
Once at the mid camp, we pitched the tent and switched to our dry clothes. A common trick employed by competitors is to take a couple of plastic bags for the inside of your shoes. This means you can put your warm dry socks on at the camp, and put our shoes back on to walk around in without your shoes drenching your socks. We were using a Nordisk Telemark 2 LW tent, and it was brilliant. It is very light (under 1 kg) and pitches in about two minutes. As my tent is the red version, it also makes it much easier to spot in a sea of hundreds of green Terra Nova Laser Competition tents.
Once we were set up and had eaten (mostly Mountain House dehydrated meals with water boiled in a Trangia 500 ml kettle on a MSR PocketRocket stove), we dragged ourselves over to the small open-sided barn to see how we had placed on the first day. To our delight, we had finished in 8th position (out of 38 starters) meaning we would be part of the chasing start in the morning. This means a slightly earlier start than normal, however given that the night was the longest of the year (the clocks go back an hour), and we were anticipating a chilly night we were happy with this!
Sleep is tough during a mountain marathon, and very broken. There is a myriad of reasons for this, so it’s probably easier to list them:
· Your legs will almost definitely ache, so getting comfortable is difficult.
· It’s cold.
· Your tent will almost definitely not be on a perfectly flat area. Not too big a deal? Well, when your tent has a silky-smooth floor, much like your sleeping mat (Balloon Bed - https://www.balloonbed.com) and your sleeping bag, you do end up sliding around all over the place and waking up with your face pressed against the side of the tent.
· It’s really cold.
· People aren’t necessarily quiet when you’re trying to sleep. Some people are still finishing their courses into the night, so they are setting their tents up and chatting away when you’re trying to sleep. Earplugs are handy!
· It really is really cold! I’m not looking for sympathy, this is my hobby! I made the conscious decision that I would rather be cold and have a light rucksack than be burdened with a heavy pack all weekend. I basically put every item of clothing I have with me on; this includes full waterproofs, gloves, a thin hat and a buff over my face.
Day two started with a wonderful sound to wake up to; an extremely loud piper who strolled right alongside our tent, seemingly just next to the ear which definitely had an ear plug in it at the beginning of the night. The piper was accompanied by the most enthusiastic man alive MCing on the megaphone with motivational messages to encourage us all to get up.
(For a better quality map, check out the RouteGadget link at the bottom of this page)
After getting our Day 2 map on the start line (on time today), we were straight uphill for an unavoidable, extremely steep 240 m climb. We did manage to get on a couple of rough tracks during day two and even a road/drive for about 300 m which was great for tired legs. This was very atypical of the event. The remainer was spent wading through bogs, heather and the rest. The hills continued relentlessly; at one point on the way up to control 5 we were on our hands and knees, crawling up a 50 % + gradient. Again, the navigation went fairly well with only a couple of minutes lost looking for control 6 in a valley full of mounds which resembled structures that only a Telletubby or Hobbit would happily occupy. For me, the best bit of running of the day came in the final few kilometres, running through a small wood to control 9, through a very muddy fire break, where I could practically smell the cake I knew would be waiting for us in the event centre at the end. Mark encouraged a fast final kilometre by teasing “come on, I know you can run a 3 minute km”. Whilst that wasn’t achievable today, we definitely sped up.
We finished the day in 11th position, which unfortunately pushed us down to 11th overall (out of 38 starters). We were aiming for a top third position which we achieved, but a top 10 would have been nice!
The OMM is an absolutely brilliant weekend. It’s brutal, it’s tough and it’s mentally draining. It’s difficult to encourage yourself to eat enough to even begin to make a dent on the 10,000 or so calories you’re probably burning each day, and it can be quite difficult to motivate yourself psychologically to keep moving, but it’s worth it! I would encourage anybody who has read this and found it in anyway appealing to give either the OMM or another mountain marathon a go. There are a whole load in the UK, and each of them have slightly different formats to suit everybody with a vague interest in this sort of thing.
Strava Day 1 – https://www.strava.com/activities/420420402
Strava Day 2 – https://www.strava.com/activities/420420419
RouteGadget – https://www.omm.routegadget.co.uk/rg2/
- Chris Cowley