The Original Mountain Marathon Brett and Miles Journey

The journey starts.  Miles posted a request for a running partner to take part in the OMM 2011.   I thought it sounded like a great idea, 2 days in the hills somewhere off the beaten track in the UK.  After all I was reasonably fit, I had most of the kit I would need and it was a different challenge.  In the past I have tried my hand at a number of different athletic challenges, Triathlon IRONMAN, the London Marathon and a 2 day mountain bike event, so this was just another event to chalk up. Or so I thought…

Self reliance is everything. Founded in 1968 the OMM is the originator of the 2 day mountain marathon type event and is for teams of 2, carrying all clothing, equipment, tent, sleeping bag and food for 36 hours.  The idea is to navigate through a series of check points for 2 days making your own route and including an overnight camp.  Teams are totally self supporting, no GPS or outside support is allowed and teams NOT arriving at the overnight camp are assumed to have camped safely.  The instructions for the event read ‘If you get injured your team partner is your first source of help and assistance.’

Marathon length days. There are 8 different classes, the longest being the Elite which is literally two consecutive marathon distances each day and with c2,500m of ascent over the two days.  This is the premier UK event to test teamwork, self-reliance, endurance and navigational skills. The reputation of the event is worldwide and every year entrants come from between 12-14 different countries. The Central Scotland 2011 event was the 43rd of its kind.

Mountain experience essential. The OMM has a history of competitors struggling with adverse weather, notably in 2008 the event was cancelled due to extreme weather, so it was no surprise that the organisers were keen to establish my mountain experience credential.  Having assured them that I had the pre-requisite ability to survive we were allowed to enter the C Class, A, B and Elite race classes are reserved for previously OMM qualified runners only.

No marked course.  Unlike other races there would is no marked course it is entirely down to competitor’s navigation skills to get from the start to the night camp and from there to the finish through all the requisite check points in the correct order.  Additionally, no prior planning is possible as the map is provided on each race day

What you need is a helium filled rucksack.  I realised that a little more effort beyond running was required to be successful at this event.  Kit choice and being as light as possible was essential.  Suddenly, most of my kit was relegated as too heavy and I had a large shopping list of must haves.  Some £700 lighter in the pocket I had shaved off just over 1 kg of weight to carry.  For another £400 I could save another 0.5 kg but decided that my pocket was light enough.  I wondered whether helium balloons on the rucksack would be allowed

Effective navigation could save hours. It was years since we had both had to use a map and compass, GPS is king but not at the OMM.  I decided to do so race based navigation practice on a misty day in the Lake District doing a 13 mile race with over 2000m of ascent up and over Scarfell.  5 hours latter having come off course twice and put in some extra miles I struggled over the line of the ‘Great Lakes Fell Race’ 2.5 hours after the winner.  That was in June, in October at the OMM I would have to do the equivalent of this event on both Saturday and Sunday with all my kit.   A dreadful realisation was starting to dawn, this was going to be the toughest event I had ever done.  After running every Saturday and Sunday for between 2 – 4 hours on the North York Moors and some Orienteering racing I felt more prepared or at least thought I could survive.  I reported my progress to Miles and he carried out some navigation training of his own with a coached training session.  Individually we were prepared but had never worked together except for a short orienteering race a few weeks before, the difference in our approaches was something that would cause a little friction on the OMM but fortunately if we did disagree we were still entirely successful at finding the check points.

Race Day 1 – The tip of the iceberg.  The build up to this event is like the base of an iceberg, you don’t see it, it’s huge, don’t do the right training and your sunk before you start.  This event is not a turn up and have a go, its serious, it’s also potentially life ending, navigate off a crag in bad weather and it could be more than the end of your race.  So bag packed, enough to survive in the hills for 36 hours. We said goodbye to civilisation and set off to experience a whole new world of pain and exhaustion.  The weather started with light rain, this progressed into heavy rain with high winds.  I quickly changed from Shorts and T-shirt to being covered from head to toe in Gortex.  My feet remained dry for about the first 30 minutes of the race and then remained sodden and numb with cold for a further 10 hours.  Having managed to find all the check points on the first day we arrived wet and hungry into the half way campsite.  The campsite looked like a mass protest outside St Paul’s Cathedral, with mountainside replacing the cathedral and mud replacing grass and pavement.  I had the tent up in 10 minutes and I was inside a few moments later struggling for 1 hour with blowing up my camp bed.  Miles meanwhile was busy at the stove successfully delivering hot drinks and re-hydrated meals from the contents of our bags; that’s was less to carry tomorrow!  I can with some certainty say pot noodles had never tasted so good!  But the miniature of whiskey was sublime.

Race Day 2 – Or I don’t want to get up its dark, cold but I need the toilet.  After a poor nights sleep, broken by my cold shivering body and itchy feet; as they defrosted and the sudden deflation of part of the balloon bed we were exhausted.  However, I made my way to the toilet queue.  This starts early; it’s the combination of high energy foods and exercise that leads to a more effective laxative than any other product on the market.  Top tip to anyone who wants to do the OMM don’t forget to bring your own tissues; toilet paper is in high demand!!  All packed up with a bag that mysteriously felt heavier than yesterday we were ready.  We headed for the start line driven on by the thought that we had only up to 8.5 hours of pain waiting for us before we would get back to civilisation and a decent meal; there’s a positive mental attitude for you.   I tried to ignore the various pain I was in while Miles summarized his, its always good to get the moans out of the way before you start a race!

How did we do?  As first timers and unproven team members we were just satisfied to have experienced the OMM.  Saturday we were out on the hills for nearly 10.5 hours some 7 hours behind the 1st team in our class but over 60 teams had dropped out over the day so we were at least finishers.  Sunday we had only 8.5 hours to achieve the same distance due to the event deadline. We knew we were up against it and it all hung on pin-point navigation and improving our progress across mountains, streams and bogs that stretched between us and the finish.  After 4.5 hours of hard going we made the 3rd checkpoint before we found we had timed out and were out of the competition and we still had 2 hours of walking to get us off the mountain and back to the nearest competitor collection point.  Over 40 more teams dropped out on day 2.  We may not have completed the entire event but neither had nearly half the Class C Teams but we had at least finished day one.  Most importantly we had managed to raise over £1000 for North Yorkshire Youth a local charity to where I live and where Miles works.  All the money we were pledged has gone to help disadvantaged children in Yorkshire aiming to give them a better start in life.  I thank all our supporters for their kind gifts.  As I write my body is still suffering the ill effects of the event, but at least there is no toilet queue.

Regards Brett