Toeing the line with Charlie Sproson (Mountain Run, course designer for Dark Mountains, RAB MM, Marmot 24 and others) to run the Elite OMM course, I felt like it was going to be a pretty special weekend. In my usual blasé style I’d suggested the Elite when Charlie agreed to partner up with me. As usual I figured; “well other people complete it, so we should be able to too”. It’s not an unreasonable assumption, we both completed the Dragon’s Back in 2012, we can both navigate (Charlie better than I!) and have done many a long event. When Charlie dropped into conversation that the distance for the OMM Elite would be 42km as the crow flies each day I was surprised… And a little less gung-ho! Due to the terrain and all other considerations, even the top level courses at Mountain Marathons are never that long, and you never quite go as the crow flies, so this meant it was going to be a pretty serious task to finish.
We had a few beers the night before and chatted with one of the owners of OMM itself which was great. Understanding the people behind the brands and how they view the sport/ the community is always very telling. I was really impressed with Iain’s view on the community and how they as a business are looking to help drive the sport forward. Some interesting announcements to come!
Finally ready after some good honest faffing, we set off and immediately got caught on a poor path. The map itself was a shocker, a 1:25000 shrunk to fit a 1:40000 scale, laminated on one side only. The result was a map with too much detail on it but none of which one could really see; the contours were very faint and it was near impossible to read the spot heights/ count contours. We crashed through what was meant to be a forest path (the forest had been removed) and it was slow going…
Charlie was moving really well and I was struggling to keep up for four reasons; firstly I was slower, secondly I was trying to get to grips with the map and read it on the move, thirdly I was slower, and finally, because I was slower. However, as a pair this didn’t impede us too much; I don’t get demoralised by always being 10 yards behind and if anything it makes me run harder knowing I have to keep up. I hoped that the roles would be reversed later, but at that moment it was good to be moving and good that Charlie wasn’t always waiting around beckoning me, or jogging along side saying; “you can do it!” Slipping into that approach as our default was really good, it meant there were no uncomfortable or crossed words, and it also showed Charlie meant business… the race was on!
Day one was enormous. The ground made it extremely difficult to find a rhythm or get going on. I found this particularly tough as I don’t have anywhere to practice locally on really rough ground. We had miles and miles of tussocks, peat hags, heather, shin stripping bracken and boggy patches coupled with squally showers and silly winds to deal with. When gusting the wind was enough to knock you off your course, the rest of the time it was just a major annoyance.
Wind is my least favoured of the weather conditions; it just grinds you down – all weekend it was relentless and rarely at our backs. At one point we went wrong by about 800m down the Pennine way. Once spotted we worked out where we were and decided to head back up. It was uphill, but it was on the stone slabs of the Pennine way and we had the wind behind us. Over the course of those 10 minutes my morale when through the roof. We were back in the game and running well. The wasted time was forgotten and the spring was back in the step. There were other similar moments over the course of the weekend; the sheer joy of finding a long runnable trod to break up the devastating relentless tussocks.
Charlie was coping well with the rough ground though and was keeping us moving well. The terrible map had dealt us and others a harsh lesson in the woods – we took a fence line rather than the ride and wasted 15-20 minutes getting on it; apart from that though and maybe 5 minutes at the start we’d acquitted ourselves well and came into camp in 9 hours and 39 minutes. By the time we left the barn to pitch the tent it was pitch black and the wind was blowing harder than ever. Tent up, food in, bit of socialising whilst we rehydrated then it was off to bed.
I’d chosen to go light and was just about on the edge of my kit. Sleeping in my bag, down jacket and water proofs. If it had been half a degree warmer then I’d have been perfect, but I still had a good night of sleep and was ready to crack on in the morning.
The night itself had been incredibly windy and the morning continued in that vein. We’d placed 11th on day 1, although technically 10th as Steve Birkinshaw and Adam Perry had lost their dibber after one too many trips on the treacherous tussocks. There was never any doubt that Steve and Adam had completed the course so 11th is how we saw it.
We were just 15 minutes away from 7th though so we knew a good second day could see us in the top ten. Given the competition that would mean we’d had a really good performance. The OMM attracts an international field and a top class field; this year was no exception. Top Estonian Team, Sander Vaher & Timo Sild, Duncan Archer & Jim Mann (5 times LAMM Elite Winners & several times winners of the OMM Elite), Oli Johnson & Neil Northrop, John Ashcroft & Andy Fallas, Steve Birkinshaw & Adam Perry and top mixed team Jasmin Paris & Konrad Rawlik, amongst other very strong runners & teams.
Having noticed Jasmin and Konrad out on the course and seeing them move across the ground we could tell that they were excellent orienteers. We’d slipped back from them through slightly less efficient lines (by this I mean hitting a hill brown 10 metres to the left or right of them – yes, it’s that marginal) and my inability to really get going. Still we started focused and headed out on a shortened course (the organisers had decided that day 1 had been a little too long for all the linear courses).
We lost some time on the first control but started to work well across day two. We knew Tim Laney and Lizzy Wraith were chasing us and that Tim was an outstanding orienteer with a talent for spotting great route choices. After the first control we went direct and rough whilst they went for the longer path. We managed to stay ahead and found ourselves running almost in parallel with Jonathan Wilock (2 Rigby rounds this year!) & Bryan Carr (who in their own words were second day specialists used to taking places on day 2) They had placed 13th on day 1, an hour behind us. Given our relative positions and our distance from the podium we effectively spent the day together, 4 heads deciding on the macro route choice and there was always one of the four of us that would get us going again after a climb. We pushed each other and I’ve no doubt that Charlie and I benefitted from their company and their tenacity.
The wind continued to be horrendous and as we left checkpoint X it wasn’t’ long before we crossed paths with Tim and Lizzy who had taken a completely different line to the control; a line that was a full 25 minutes quicker than ours – top marks Tim! We weren’t far from the finish, just one more big climb and a rough decent through the control to the road. I’m not a huge fan of road, especially not when I’m wearing X-Talons, however it was a welcome relief. It left just a short climb to the final control and a flat track run to the finish and glory!
We missed the chips, but there were a few pies left and we caught the winners being presented with their spoils. Overall I loved it: the partnership with Charlie had been a real success, I’d packed and managed my kit well, had contributed to the navigation and had met some fantastic new friends. Our only issue at the end was that we figured the SI results system had been set up incorrectly as it was showing us in 6th place. Post event we found that it was indeed correct! A couple of people had been knocked out and others we’d simply beaten on the day. Given the line-up we were very happy. Results are here:
There aren’t really any secrets to MMs, Top of the list is navigation, a good line can save you enormous amounts of time, the ability to make quick decisions, to challenge each other in a constructive way and listen to your partner’s suggestions even if it is just to confirm your own thoughts is key. You need to get your kit weight right, work well as a partnership, and only then does it come down to how well you can run. Finally, always be aware that it’s a two day event – too many teams struggle on the second day, so dig in and remember that a minute on the second day is just as long as a minute on the first day!
So it’s the end of the 2014 MM season and I’ve certainly had a blast. I’ve found two new partners that I would happily take to the fells again with. We’ve proved competitive (third in the RAB long score with Matty Brennan and 6th in the OMM Elite with Charlie) and best of all I’ve had a real blast with them. I’ve met loads of new friends and improved my navigation in both skills and confidence.
There is no doubt that, assuming I can get the partners, the MMs will be the first events in my race diary next year. I’ve got a few other pressing scores to settle; UTMB is the main event, but I’m yet to decide whether I try to race it or if I have a blast out there with Tin and treat it as a great adventure. I’m also planning to have a go at the Paddy Buckley, but when I do it will be unsupported. One of the principle things I have to look forward to though is the one race I’m not actually doing; as the Dragon’s Back returns I will be on the crew and can’t wait to facilitate others on what is, in my opinion, the ultimate challenge and event.