Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Very Ominous OMM

The Original Mountain Marathon is a two day challenge that combines navigation, hiking, fell-running, generally being wet and muddy, camping and the ability to select and carry all the kit you require, but only the kit you require. Becca (my OMM partner and very tolerant girlfriend) and I had started off being very strict about all the stuff we wouldn't take. My one luxury item would be a camera,
Unfortunately this does not all fit in an 18l rucksack
nothing else non-essential. I tried several times over to ram all the essential kit into my trusty (and very light) Inov-8 Race Pro 18, but eventually I had to give in and up-size to a bulkier, 30 litre model.

As the main event drew closer, and the weather forecast became very real, more and more "essential kit" was added to our list. We had gone from deciding to take the absolute minimum to "Sod it, let's just take everything and be really warm! Let's also take loads of chocolate.. and extra meals". Soon enough, even the bigger pack was full to the brim. I'd been trying to convince Becca for weeks that we really wouldn't be running very much with this much weight but it wasn't until the night before, when we did our final re-pack and kit check and she loaded it onto her back, that she finally agreed with me.

As we started the 3km hike through the forest to the start, we couldn't help noticing how small everybody else's packs were. I maintain that the same size pack looks much larger on me at 5'not a lot" than it would on a 6'+ man but nonetheless, it seems a whole lot of space and weight can be saved by having specialist gear.

We had tied knots in a bit of string to estimate how far we thought we could travel each hour. Once we had the map in hand, we laid the string out to assess our best route choice. Unfortunately it only just reached from the start to the finish, in a straight line. Bugger.
Becca made herself team leader (for navigation). But she
was actually quite good, so I allowed it to continue..

At the top of an actual mountain, and it's STILL a bog
I realised very quickly that trying to totter across dodgy terrain and keep my feet dry was entirely pointless; within fifteen minutes we had already trudged through calf-deep mud and walked through a river. It didn't take long to find our first control, a bonus is that they do put them out in the open rather than hiding them somewhere completely invisible like in orienteering events. In fact we spotted one control from about half a kilometre away as so many other OMMers were gathered right next to it, no ninja skills here.

The terrain was almost entirely tussocks and bogs, which was not easy going underfoot but we made better progress than expected, navigating accurately and not deviating from our course. Becca favoured the 'straight line approach', which involves ignoring footpaths and just tackling any obstacle in front of you, regardless of difficulty. Fortunately, towards the end of the day we did find a good trail and managed to pick up the pace, getting into the finish with about fifteen minutes to spare.

We'd managed to get to the overnight camp in a rare moment when it wasn't raining. Minutes after getting ourselves and our kit in the tent, the skies opened. The weather was absolutely atrocious. Since we only had one set of dry clothes each, we decided that whatever happened, we would stay in the tent. Becca came up with a toilet solution which included very clear instructions: "Place plastic bag (with no holes) in cup, place cup on area [pointing to crotch], wee, tip wee bag outside tent. Remove bag and discard". I wasn't sure about drinking my hot chocolate out of the wee cup afterwards and I had visions of misfire and pools of urine inside the tent, but it did seem like the most sensible solution.

Someone obviously didn't have a great night's sleep..
The wind was battering the tent so fiercely and as the flysheet was being buffeted against the inner, rain droplets were coming in. Neither of us fancied getting wet in our sleep, so we cracked open the survival bags and got inside, in our sleeping bags. They might have been a little bit rustly, but we were both toasty warm and dry!

Luckily, I didn't need to wee until the morning. I decided to go barefoot whilst it was still just dark enough to get away with it and squat at the edge of the field. Becca's wee bag was laid in the porch (on MY side of the tent) offending me. It was just there, flapping about, contaminating the tent. She didn't appear to be in any rush to dispose of it. We had a proper bin bag and everything!

We thought we would have lighter packs on day 2 with half the food gone but with so much wet kit, I think they were even heavier. In addition, the survival bags which had been vacuum packed into tiny parcels were now vast, uncompressible monsters. We couldn't get rid of them as they were compulsory kit so they got strapped to the outside of our packs.

On arrival at the start, we saw that our time had been cut from 5 to 4 hours due to the weather (and something to do with getting people's cars out of the field at the end and tractors being involved). We had already been worried about getting back in an hour less than the previous day, let alone two!

We had a good start but had a couple of issues getting over to our second control that cost us some time. From there it was a race against the clock. Gusts of wind were so strong we were being swept off our feet; it was a true girls vs. mountain weather battle. Becca led a kilometre stretch on just a bearing as we trekked uphill through thick fog, we came out exactly where we needed to be, finding the footpath that led us off the mountain.

After one more climb leading to a final control, we were on the home stretch and already out of time. We arrived at the actual finish 48 minutes late. It would have been perfect for five hours but 48 minutes in time penalties cost us all the points we had gained on day 2 and even eaten into some of our day 1 points. Not ideal. Despite this, we weren't last, which was a big relief!

Drenched, muddy, tired and weather-battered, I very firmly asserted that this had not been my most favourite experience (I worded it differently at the time) and that I didn't think we should ever do it again. Bizarrely, once we had been towed out of the field by a tractor, gotten back to the pub, had a hot shower, eaten a mammoth lunch and taken a nap, it suddenly didn't seem so bad after all.

We wore our OMM t-shirts with pride at breakfast the next morning. The only other guest was a chap who had apparently done dozens of mountain marathons and he informed us that this one - in terms of terrain and weather conditions - was just about the worst he had ever done. If that was as bad as it gets, maybe, just maybe, we could try again next year..

1 comment:

  1. Very glad you got through ok! Sounds like a very, very hard challenge!