The Original Mountain Marathon 2015, Tweedsmuir Hills
OMMG - that was tough.
Which course are you on? Elite. Ah, you guys are elite, No, but we have entered the elite course. This became a familiar conversation over the course of the weekend of the OMM. If people don’t know me, I am Andy Blackett, i’m pretty good at short fell races, taking multiple race wins this year and coming 2nd in the NE fell running (NECAA) champs 2015, as I found out over the last weekend in October, running around the Tweedsmuir hills, this does not make me elite.
I fancied entering the OMM, having not run it for a couple of years and on my previous outing coming second in B class and feeling that my navigation had come on significantly since then so I was ready to give it a proper go. A Durham Fell Runners club mate, Gwynn Stokes also expressed an interest but didn’t want to enter the B class as he “needed to get some training in for The Spine race” and apparently a weekend running the OMM B class wouldn’t cut it. After a couple of days thought and more than a couple of glasses of wine I agreed to enter the elite course, perfectly aware that it might be too tough for me but excited for the challenge.
Most people I run with will be a little surprised by my lack of confidence that I was going to finish the course, I am pretty good at the shorter races after all, but people who know me well will also know that i’m no good at long races, anything over 4 hours and I am likely to fall apart and once it falls apart there is no putting it back together.
Jim Mann (dragons back winner, 2nd in the Elite OMM 2015) gave Gwynn some advice. “set your watch to beep after 3 hours, then when Andy says what’s that beeping tell him that it’s 3 hours in and he is going to fall apart soon!” Well Jim was wrong, he was out by 5 hours. I held it together for 8 hours before the wheels came off in such spectacular fashion, that the short detour to CP8, 9 and 10 wasn’t even remotely possible.
The Saturday started well, in heavy rain just after 8am, we set off hard from the start chasing Duncan and Shane (who had started 1 minute earlier) so we didn’t cock up the first bit of route choice. As soon as we lost sight of them in the trees we cocked up the first bit of route choice, taking a slightly longer line with a rough climb up a gully, rather than a shorter line with an easy contour. As we dibbed at CP1 Jim & Nic (2nd), Jasmin and Konrad (1st mixed), Adam and Kim (1st) all appeared at the same time - bugger we thought this was going well and Adam and Kim have made up 12 minutes on us and we have only been going for 32! These 3 stellar teams all took off up the hill, leaving us with a dilemma of who to follow to CP2 - we didn’t need to bother worrying for too long as they were all out of sight within a few minutes. On the long leg to CP2, I made a small nav error and strayed out of bounds, quickly realising my mistake and retracing my steps back up the hill to avoid any suggestion that we were trying to gain an advantage. Long climb, quick descent, slip over, twist my knee a bit - all seems fine, good bit of micro nav to nail the checkpoint as 2 other teams were looking lost and following my route. “yes” i’m doing this, I reckon we can get round this.
Next few checkpoints came and went, no drama aside from a rather spicy river crossing - which certainly made us think twice. Then 5-6 was a monster, I reckoned it would take us about 2 hours, but it took us closer to 3, my head started to come off as the thought of starting at 8am and finishing in the dark was pretty tough to deal with. We made another small nav error from 6-7 ending up at the bottom of a large dam and having to climb the steep grassy banking, it was around here, 8 hours in, that everything started to seize up. The small innocuous slip I had had on the way to CP2 seemed to have led to a minor groin strain, which meant I couldn’t get a jog on along the track. My right knee, which was sore after the slip almost totally seized up and made coming down hill agony, I kept getting blown over and howling at the pain. This all sounds a bit dramatic, and to be fair, I am a bit of a drama queen, but it bloody hurt and we were both getting really cold.
Gwynn suggested we were getting too cold so should stop and pitch the tent, I argued that if friends were watching the results come in live then it was fair to try and get to mid camp if we could to stop them worrying, so I walked on. As it got dark I made the final nav error - 10 hours is a very long time to concentrate on the map and came round the wrong side of Notman Law, giving us a longer than planned route to midcamp. I was frustrated with myself, I was sorry that I had let Gwynn down, I was annoyed that I had got the nav slightly wrong when it really mattered and I ripped the map in half in frustration - not an easy thing to do with a laminated map, and it didn’t help our situation much. Whoops.
We got to camp at 18:48, 10 hours 37 minutes after we started. Pitched the tent on a slope, got warm (H18 down vest and sleeping bag were spot on) and dry, got some food inside us and went to sleep holding onto the side of the tent so we didn’t roll on top of each other. In the morning neither of us had the motivation to try and do day 2, so decided to walk back to the car, which involved nearly 1000m of climbing by the easiest route. I was shot, my knee was stiff, but not too painful, but I had zero energy, all the teams making the same climb on the shorter courses were going past me despite Gwynn having all of the kit in his bag - nothing about me felt, or looked elite.
I woke up on Monday feeling like I had been out on the beer on Sunday night, when in fact I had an early night and slept for 11 hours straight. Being a teacher I have the luxury of a week off for half term, lucky really as there is no way I would have been able to teach a lesson today, I have spent the day napping and eating like I have been on a Himalayan expedition for the last month. One day of the elite OMM has broken me, strange - because as I said, i’m pretty good at this sort of thing.
Duncan Archer & Shane Ohly 3rd at the OMM
"I think I can jump that" says Shane, before sprinting down the bank and launching himself across the raging torrent, landing mostly on the far bank, legs pedaling wildly in the foaming water below. We are at the OMM, it is day 1, it rained overnight, and has continued to do so for the first two hours of racing. The river crossings are getting exciting and we are starting to get cold...
For anyone who doesn't know, the OMM is a two day competition, where you navigate in pairs round a course of checkpoints over remote and wild terrain, carrying everything you need to be self-sufficient for the racing and the overnight camp. I've raised the elite class several times, 5th in 2010 (Dartmoor), winning in 2011 (Scotland), 2nd in 2012 (Howgills), all partnered with Shane Ohly, entered but didn't start due to injury in 2013 (Brecon Beacons), and started but didn't finish with another injury in 2014 (Cheviots) with Jim Mann. It is a tough race, and it takes its toll. So after two disappointing years it was time to return and pit ourselves against the challenge once more (each previous time having tried to make a mental note how hard it is, but strangely the tiring memories fade and only the good ones remain!).
This year there was a good field, with Kim Collison & Adam Perry probably favourites, Jim Mann & Nic Barber looking strong, and myself and Shane in the mix with other pairings such as Iain Whiteside & Andy Fallas, Oleg Chepelin & Sam Hesling, and a strong mixed pair of Jasmin Paris & Konrad Rawlik. We were first off (having slipped passed Andy & Gwynn in the start queue - sorry boys), and once the maps finally turned up (!) we gave it what we had from the start. #2 was a long route choice, a classic up and over, or round and up the valley. We went round, but perhaps boldly taking the climb straight on was quicker, as Kim & Adam had caught up with us around #3. We continued to tick off the controls, and the river crossings, before another long leg to #6 where Jim & Nic caught us, we ran together for a while, then they took a different line only to pop up not far ahead near the control. This was sufficient enticement for Shane, who took off down the hill in pursuit, just as my energy was starting to fade. We pushed to get back in touch for a few km, but slowly I faded further, they pulled away, and we battled round the final heathery hills to the finish. 1st Jim & Adam, 2nd Jim & Nic (+7 mins), 3rd Iain & Andy (+23 mins) and 4th us (+33 mins). Maybe we could have done more at the end to stay in touch, but fairly pleased, and the end of a long day where it felt like we were on the edge, only just staying ahead of the weather and running enough to keep warm.
And so to the overnight camp. Usually a case of making the best of an uncomfortable situation, and the organisers hold the event on the weekend the clocks go back, giving you an extra hour in a slightly damp and cold tent, just when you don't really want it. However it was better than last years' sloping windswept field, and we set about putting spent calories back in and relaxing. I felt sorry looking out in the evening around the 8pm cut-off, to still see torchlights adorning the facing hillside as slower teams limped into camp.
We got through the night sufficiently well rested, and eager to do battle once more. Day 2 is always a chasing start, but it was compressed so it wasn't first past the line wins, you had to catch those in front and put some more minutes on them too. We went out hard, and at least did the first by catching Iain & Andy in the 500m to #1 (nav error for them). We then picked up Nic & Jim too (another nav error I think), and as a group of six started to eat up the course, then catching Kim & Adam on the way to #7. Head to head racing at its best! Everyone eyeing each other up, who was looking strong, who was tiring, who would make the route choices, etc. Slowly an order emerged, with Iain & Andy falling back, and the other two teams pulling ahead, as I once again faded in the latter part of the course. It was a case of head down, keep pushing, and try to put another 6 minutes on those behind so we could pull up to third overall. I faded even more, and when Shane asked for the second time if I wanted him to take my bag there was little hesitation. That and some more food put a spring back in my step, and we forged ahead, keeping the leaders in sight across the hills. It is amazing how once the finish line comes into sight you can dig that little bit deeper and find something vaguely resembling a sprint finish.
Overall: 1st Jim & Adam, 2nd Jim & Nic (+9 mins), and 3rd us (+28 mins). All in all we were happy with that, and proudly took our spot on the podium.
Courses and routes: http://www.omm.routegadget.co.uk/rg2/.
PS, whilst browsing for the results from the weekend I discovered that you can already enter OMM 2016!! https://www.theomm.com/the-omm-2016-south/ "The south" doesn't give much away - Peaks, Wales, Dartmoor? Who knows...