Original Mountain Marathon 2017 Langdale

“There are only 60 places left and you have just a few days to find a partner and register” said one of my ‘Project Awesome‘ friends. The ‘OMM’ has been on my wish-list for years but due to injury or other commitments i’d never done it. This was my chance if only I could find a partner!

Some would pick an OMM race partner on fitness or maybe navigation skills. My priority was to find someone who would keep their sense of humour when cold, wet and lost – conditions that seem inevitable in the race. My good friend Michael was open to some persistent persuasion and joined me!

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

What is the OMM?
The Original Mountain Marathon is a 2 day self-supported orienteering race hosted somewhere in the rugged areas of the UK. This year the setting was beautiful Langdale in Cumbria. There are many different categories, including the ‘Elite’ 85km linear race. I signed up for the ‘easy’ Short Score which is a timed event that turns out to be quite tactical. Five hours on day one and 4 hours on day two – score as many points as you can from various checkpoints scattered around the hills but incur penalties for running over your time!

Kit
Considerable thought, effort and expense can go into acquiring and packing the gear. There is a long(ish) list of mandatory items that you need to bring including a proper tent and stove and emergency rations. The goal for many competitors is to pack the lightest (and smallest) possible items even if this means they might be cold and uncomfortable. I saw a lot of bubble wrap that supposedly replaces a proper sleeping mat?!

OMM kit

My aim was to not buy any new kit. My bag was one of the biggest that I saw!

The Start
After a little bit of an epic drive with the wonderful Rebecca, Charlotte and Leanne we arrived late on the Friday night, pitched our tent and then enjoyed the ‘Pasta party’ and a beer. This was everyone’s first OMM and there were a few worried looking faces (mine included). Had a decent night’s sleep myself though despite it being fairly blowy.

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

My partner Michael and I had a relatively late start (10.30) so we mainly watched all our friends and most other competitors head off before us. The weather looked pretty grim as we hit the start line, a bit of light rain and menacing cloud on the hilltops. The rainbow was very welcome.

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

Race – day one
At the start line we ‘dibbed’ our timing chip, got given our map (one each) and we were off! Well, to be exact we knelt down by a rock and tried to plan what the hell we were doing for 5 minutes. A sketchy plan made we headed off and quickly hit a lung-bursting ascent and the further we climbed the more inclement the weather became.

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

We quickly learnt that the organisers were not going to give us an easy time finding the individual checkpoints. They were generally in a dip or crevice and because the maps were 1:40000 we could only really identify a general area. The thick (very atmospheric) mist only added to the challenge. What was a help was seeing a gaggle of fellow racers heading for areas off the path!

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

At the top of the hills the wind and rain was ferocious and we were soaked through before midday. A few hours in Michael started to develop some cramps that only seemed to get worse as the day went on. It was also becoming clear that we were unlikely to get to the finish within 5 hours.

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

It is notable that the ground conditions were incredibly boggy and that wet feet was a feature of the entire day. I wore trail running shoes (a good decision) and was lucky that I didn’t suffer any blisters. I did wonder a bit how long it takes to get trench foot?

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

We eventually crawled into the overnight camp over an hour late to find that we had gained 150 points but been deducted 128. A bit of a blow!

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

The Overnight Camp
In what seems like an act of minor cruelty the designated overnight camp was basically a bog with most of the dry bits being on a major slope. Michael and I managed to find some slim crevices to put our little one-man tents and try and sort ourselves out. A priority was to get some hot food down our neck which led me to panic slightly when Michael told me that he’d brought the wrong fire-starter for the stove! Luckily a friendly competitor lent us a lighter.

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

I made the controversial decision to just keep on my damp clothes and hope they dried out on me (fine as it turned out) while Michael laboriously took off his wet stuff and put on his dry stuff. This included some hilarious (to me) grunts, groans and yelps coming from his tent. By the time we’d eaten and warmed up it was about 1800, we were so tired though that we just got in our sleeping bags and snoozed or went to sleep. I have to say that my tent was snug and I was perfectly warm over night. It was a tad steamy for a bit as my clothes dried out. In the morning I did, however, still have to put on soaking wet and cold socks. Yuk. Michael, on the other hand, had to put on cold wet everything! Yikes.

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

In contrast to day one, the morning was beautiful and clear, though cold. We had another late start time which meant that we had quite a bit of hanging around. In the end it meant that we were possibly the last competitors to cross the start line.

Race day two
Michael and I were fairly exhausted before we even set off and having learnt our lessons on the penalties of being late we decided to keep the plan simple today. Just get to the finish on time and don’t worry about racking up a basket of points. The race map told us that we could pick up 2-3 checkpoints without going out of our way too much.

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

After a very short walk along the road between Hardknott and Wrynose passes we forded a stream and headed up the stiff climb of Cold Pike. With our tired legs, this was a bit of a tester and seemed to go on forever. The blue skies and clear views were gorgeous though and this was easily one of the clearest days I’ve ever had in the Lake District.

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

We spent what seemed like ages trying to find our first checkpoint and eventually gave up. This seemed particularly galling as the weather was clear and there seemed like few excuses. Damn sneaky organisers! To my utter surprise but complete delight what I did find was my wonderful work colleague Nicola who was out walking with her husband! A fantastic coincidence.

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

In the end we only completed two checkpoints on this day and came in nearly an hour early. We did manage to jog in the last half kilometre and ran triumphantly through the finish line. We did our last ‘dib’ with the timing chip and picked up the finishers badge.

You do get a cup of tea, ribena and a bangers and mash dinner for getting to the end! What was even better was meeting up with our friends and swapping horror stories about the horrific weather or how few points we may have scored.

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

Going into this, I did think that finishing at all would be good and not being last would be fantastic but i’ll be honest, I didn’t hold out much hope for the second goal. We had walked, rather than ran more or less the whole thing. On day one we had lost most of the points we had accrued and on day two hardly scored any at all. We ended on a grand total of 62 points. What I hadn’t reckoned on was that loads of folk on the ‘short course’ were late on day one, some even had negative points. We finished an almost respectable 114th out of 138 finishers in our class. I heard over 150 teams had simply pulled out the first day. Sometimes, just persevering can do it.

OMM 2017 Langdale, Lake District

Would I do it again? Of course I bloody would. I really hope to be back next year, fitter and more experienced!

Massive thanks to Michael for being an awesome buddy. Thanks to all my other friends from Project Awesome that were there, you are inspirational!

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Giving up races

Organised races are not cheap. With the exception of some club based events, most professionally organised races cost £30-40 or a lot more for obstacle races or triathlons.

I’m really starting to question whether this is good value for money for me? What do you pay for in the average running race? An accurately measured distance, an official time, sometimes road closures and some kind of goody bag with t-shirt and medal.

How many of these things do I want or need?

  • Accurately measured distance – I feel that google maps can do a decent enough job here + fancy apps do an even better job
  • Official time – I have a watch or said fancy app (MapMyRun)
  • Road closures – This is often pretty good actually and I can’t organise this myself
  • Goody bag, t-shirt and medal – I have quite a few medals knocking around, none in pride of place. With very rare exceptions, the t-shirts [a day-glo long sleeved nike run shirt has been brilliant] are usually charity shopped either because the size is wrong or I don’t like the design. Not much in the goody bags that I’d miss!

In the plus column I could also add that running in large crowds can be pretty cool an add a sense of camaraderie. Supporters can also be great, even if they are not mine.

All in all, the only thing I’d want is the road closures and i’m not sure this is worth the £30-40 entry fee.

In 2015 I did ‘The Major series’ and the ‘Loch Ness Marathon’ both of which cost forty odd pounds, but these types of thing may be the exception. With the marathon an official time was really important to me and with obstacle races, they are things that would not be possible to organise myself.

In most road or trail races though, i’m really just ‘racing myself’ and unless i do a route multiple times any specific time is meaningless. Let’s be honest, i’m not going to be winning any of these things.

IMG_2187

Organise my own ‘races’?
Inspired in part by all the adventurer type people that I read about and talk to I feel a lot more confident about just striking out on my own or getting a group of friends together.

I picked up a free book recently (Good Run Guide) describing 40 amazing looking trail runs in the UK. I might be better off targeting some of these or even making my own routes. The entry money saved could be better used on either more trips or some fancy kit that I lust after (or saved???).

The Lure of the Tough Guy
Before giving up the organised event game, an opportunity came up recently to enter THE TOUGH GUY race in January 2016. I’ve been hankering to do this for years but wanted to do so in a team rather than just on my jack-jones. It is eye-wateringly expensive but i’d only regret it it if I missed it. Yes, i’d regret not being immersed for 2-3 hours in possibly actually freezing water and covered in oozing mud. Yup, crazy is as crazy does.

Apart from this one time though, i’m out……for now…

Microadventure: Cycle, run and bivvy at Houghton Forest

This microadventure started with the unusual motivation of needing some new trail running shoes. I had been very happy with my Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes that i had run almost to pieces. When I spotted an event that included a complimentary pair it seemed a no-brainer to sign up.

The SupBikeRun Night Trails offer a 2 hour off road mountain bike in Houghton Forest and the South Down’s followed by a 5-7.5 km trail run. They let you borrow a bike and give you the trainers.

Houghton wood #microadventure

Mountain bike
It was a long drive from London to a small parking bay near Arundel, Sussex and with a bit of traffic congestion I arrived only just in time. With barely any time to say more than ‘hi’ to the three other travellers I found myself quickly paired up with a mountain bike (with ‘fat’ tyres) and we were on our way!

Houghton wood #microadventure

I do a fair amount of exercise but I do hardly any cycling and this was a tough two hours up and around the south downs. The paths were often slippy and muddy and there were a few proper savage climbs. I may have even pushed the bike up a particularly tough bit.

It was, however, pretty cool to be doing this on a crystal clear night under the stars. Finding our way wasn’t too big a problem as we had some powerful ‘exposure’ headlights illuminating the path. I’m told we did a figure eight but to be honest, if our guide Sam had left me behind I may still be up there now! The last section was a fab single track downhill through a tight packed wood. Definitely the highlight for me!

Houghton wood #microadventure

Trail run
It may have only been two hours in real life but it felt like midnight by the time we got back to the cars. Here we had an energy giving giant cookie and a slurp of water before being handed our brand new trail shoes. I was pleased to get a nice blue pair!

Houghton wood #microadventure

Head-torches on, off we went for an invigorating 40 minute trail run through the forest. I’m glad that my new Alpkit headtorch gives out a good 190 lumens as care really needed to be taken with footing with numerous tree roots and branches were there to trip the unwary. Somehow I got through it with no twisted ankles and the shoes turned out to be a perfect fit and really handy on the slippy surface.

Instead of going on forever like the cycle, the run seemed to end before I knew it and we were back at the cars. All good though, what a cool adventure! Shoes showed at least some muddy respectability by then too!

Houghton wood #microadventure

Houghton wood #microadventure

Bivvy in the woods
Feeling a bit tired but far from ‘smashed’ after nearly three hours of zooming around I now had to decide what to do next. I had brought along my #microadventure kit bag but had planned on seeing how I felt on whether to try and stay out or not.

I have to be honest, much more than my previous adventures, I felt really really nervous about this one. If I was nearer to home I may have even gone there, but thankfully I found some ‘steel’, ‘manned-up’, grew a backbone etc. and went for it.

Shouldering my bag I started walking up the gravel path, scanning the forest to side of me for a suitable spot. I wanted somewhere flat(ish) but next to some trees so that I could set up a shelter. This proved a harder set of criteria than I would have imagined. The ground was either clumped with brambles or on a severe slope. Not quite despairing, I carried on till I found something suitable.

Houghton wood #microadventure

Once I picked a spot and had started putting my ‘basha’ [tarpaulin shelter] I relaxed a bit and my nerves went away (for now). Despite only being about 10 metres from the path, my camouflaged basha (plus real leaves scattered on top) made me feel I would be hard to spot from the path if an early morning walker came this way.

The sky was clear now, but rain was due in the morning and I was pleased to be prepared for the worst. By the time I was ‘in bed’ it was 2130 and time to sleep, I was certainly tired enough. It is a bit of a creepy cliche, but the fairly continuous calls of owls did get me nervous again. I wasn’t sure if it was one owl moving about or several answering each other but at one point the calls seemed to be approaching me. I also heard the call of something else, possibly a fox (probably not a werewolf). For a city boy like myself this is all wonderful and at the same time, quite unsettling, especially on my own.

Despite all this, I DID get to sleep and only woke once or twice. It was a cool night but far from bitter and I was cozy and warm. There really is something cool about sleeping with a night breeze on your face.

Not sure it is in the spirit of wild camping but I actually set my alarm for the morning as I wanted to get home as quick as I could. In a mere 15 minutes I was all packed and in another 15 I was back at the car, making myself a quick coffee on the stove before heading home.

What a super evening and night of adventure!

The Major Series – 2015

Over the winter i’ve been enjoying taking part in a number of trail runs, the Wildman and the Iceman. As fun and muddy as these are it is time to take it up a couple of notches and tackle ‘The Major’.

The Major 2015
Yes, I am carrying a log, what of it?

Billed as an obstacle race, I think of it myself as more of an extreme 10km trail run. There are a few man-made obstacles but mostly the challenge is to be immersed in cold rivers and mud for extensive periods. There is still plenty of running and a number of stiff little hills to help the leg muscles burn.

A tad muddy
A tad muddy

When I did this race in March 2013, not long after I started doing BMF I did it in 1:54:00. This time I managed1:12:59 and a much more impressive position of 55th out of 1545 finishers. Obviously I am considerably fitter than last time but my position was helped a lot of setting off in the first wave where, at most, I may have had 100 people in front of me. This is important as there are quite a few bottlenecks on the course where you literally have to queue.

Despite having over 40 of my BMF Hyde Park buddies also running the race I found myself running and finishing on my own. Still kind of wish I had someone to high five at the end.

All told though it was fantastic fun and I’m really chuffed with my time and placing. I look forward to tackling this again next year. Or maybe I should do ‘Tough Guy’ instead?

Wildman 2014 – 15km trail run

I did the 10km Wildman, run by ‘Human Race’, last year so I had a vague idea of the first two thirds of the course with the final 5km set to be a bit of a mystery.

I was also starting with my friend Matt R, who I knew to be pretty quick. Having said that, I’ve been training hard recently and for once wasn’t really fearing the numerous climbs that I knew we would have. Still, my money at the start was on matt.

wildman-before

With all the recent rain the course was muddy but not exeptionally so and most really glutinous bits could be avoided. In addition to this I was wearing my trail running shoes and I felt it made a big difference to my speed, especially on the downhills where I could go fast in safety.

It is good to note that the ‘million’ squats and sprints that I do in my normal training pay off when assaulting the numerous stiff climbs. I wanted to start steady and then maybe ‘go for it’ later on, but I found that even my regular pace meant that I started to get ahead of Matt after the first few kilometres. I didn’t read much into this at the time, knowing that he too was saving energy for the end and he could well catch me up..

The end of the 10km brings you back to the start point and at this stage I was feeling pretty good. It turned out to be extrememly wise to keep something in the tank for the last 5km as suddenly the climbs became extremely steep and the paths a lot less defined. It also included a fine water feature to plunge through for dramatic effect!

jason webber
Fun in puddles

I really felt that Matt was likely to charge past me at any point which in turn really helped me keep my pace up right to the end. It was with great relief that the finish line finally came and in what now seems a pretty good time of 1:22:36. The winner only managed 1:04, which seems almost close!

Matt came in 6 mins later but it looks like we are still friends! A fun race, hopefully something that will be in my annual calendar.

wildman-after