2017 saw The OMM* (Original Mountain Marathon) celebrate its 50th year, so it seemed ridiculous not to enter. Max and I entered the Elite class which is 85km of true mountain running and orienteering. The OMM is a massive event and it dwarfs all other mountain marathons with 2000 competitors and I should have been raring to go, but it was going to be a bitter sweet outing for me as it would be my last run for 3 months due to an old stress fracture. Still, I was about to spend two days in my favourite running event format along with Max, so I was certainly planning to go out on a high.
We woke to find the forecast had been spot on: Clag from 450m and windy, but it was reasonably warm for the time of year and we set out as the drizzle started. Langdale is my favourite part of the lake district and the course was set between Langdale and Wasdale so it was pretty much perfect, but certainly lumpy. We made good progress on the first climb, nailed the first check and headed up over Sargent Man for the second check which again we hit spot on despite the poor visibility. The line from 2 to 3 involved a lot of contouring and I was pretty sure we had it spot on. Just as Max uttered “Can we just check we’re on the right line?” Jim Mann and his team mate came past like a bullet with Steve Birkenshaw and his partner just a metre or two behind. Max and I got caught up in it too and it was truly exhilarating. Racing across in those conditions watching the two teams duke it out was really something special. We lost them in the clag 5 or 10 minutes later and Max was struggling with a foot injury he’s yet to get to the bottom of.
Cracking onto check point 3 it was really Disorientating. The poor visibility meant we were running on a bearing guesstimating how far we’d come. The direction you’re convinced you should be going in just doesn’t match up with the bearing, but the compass is always right. Max’s foot was getting worse and we lost concentration and drifted along a trod that was heading too far west. Teams were appearing from strange angles I couldn’t get my head around, but we final got back on track and found Nicky Spinks and her team mate wondering around looking for CP3 too. CP3 tagged we’d lost some time, but I was happy as we’d worked reasonably methodically to rectify the problem so it was looking good. Straight off on a bearing to 4 we found it with reasonable ease, albeit not the best of lines.
Max’s foot pain was persisting and I was cold to the shoulders. The rain and wind I’d expected to ease off had enabled an insidious creep of cold into my bones. Stopping to add a layer, fill water and take stock it was clear Max was struggling. As we headed to CP 5 he made the wise decision to call it a day. It’s a really difficult thing to do when you have another person in the team. You don’t want to let them down or ruin their fun. Of course this is never the case. There are so many moving parts in paired endurance races that you just have to take it on the chin. Our race was over.
Max wanted me to continue and I was having so much fun we decided to split with Max heading back to camp and me continuing on my own. Both being highly experienced in the mountains and carrying the kit for an overnight stop meant that the risk was really low. There were thousands in the area who could pass on a message, there were safety points all over the map so we split and I cracked onto check point 5. I was gutted for Max and the race in general, we’d really been enjoying ourselves but an injury is an injury. The next big climb revealed my Dragon’s Back tent buddy Marcus Scotney and his wife Jen as our courses had us taking down the same check point. Appearing from the mist is was great to see them and have a quick chat as we scrambled around for CP5. Tagged with reasonable efficiency I cracked on for CP6 only to find that the path that would serve as my collecting feature wasn’t as obvious as it looked to be on the map… I overshot it. I managed to catch and correct myself and get back on a fast running trail. Happy days, now I just had to find the path junction that would lead me to Seathwaite tarn which would form my attack point for CP6.
I was pretty happy with my nav. I’d chose to go around rather than down a very steep mountain side and up another one. As I hit a very clear path I was alongside another pair on the Elite course and the speed picked up…. It just didn’t feel right though. We were descending too much and I’d expected to see the tarn a few hundred metres ago. A map review showed I’d headed down the gill that ran through the valley that separated the very descent and climb I’d planned to avoid! There was nothing for it but to straight line up the Seathwaite fell in search of the tarns and CP6. Sadly the disaster didn’t stop there. The fell top is a series of lumps and bumps around 10-15 vertical metres each. In clag it was just impossible. There were a number of bodies of water that I now know to be too small to be classed as tarns on the map. There must have been 10+ teams circling around a 500m squared area. I must have lost ~45 minutes before finally locating the CP on an island that I had to wade out to in order to dib.
All was not lost though, despite the frustration I was still having a cracking time and had bumped into Jonathan Whilock and Bryan Carr – a pair I’d spent most of day 2 of the 2014 OMM along side. It was fantastic to catch up and we headed out to CP7 together only to be timed out. The OMM is no picnic and the Elite class really affords little margin for error. Simply put I made too many. Given our location we decided to head back to Langdale. We’d had an awesome day out and it was really fitting for my final run to be at such an incredible event. The organisation was really first class. I’d totally recommend this event to everybody (despite the time of year!) taking on a score class so you can decide when to call it a day, or even one of the linear course is just a perfect way to spend a weekend. Many people fear the navigation, but you really needn’t… you have a go, you do your best and whether you finish or not, you’ll certainly have chalked up an adventure! We'll certainly be back!
* Formerly the KIMM (Karrimor International Mountain Marathon)