Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) 2017

I was desperate to run this year’s OMM. Not only was it the 50th OMM, it was taking place on my doorstep in the Lake District and if I completed it, then it would be my 20th Elite course completion. The problem is that with the fatigue I have been struggling with over the last couple of years at the moment I can never predict how I am going to feel when I race. So I did not want to run with someone who get be upset if I was struggling all weekend. However, I wanted to run with someone who had the potential to be competitive in case I was feeling good. Jim Mann suggested that Andy  Berry might fit these requirements. He had never done a mountain marathon so would be happy to get round, but after setting the 2nd fastest winter Bob Graham Round (I kept up with him for 90 minutes on the first leg before getting dropped) and winning a couple of Ultra races in the Lake District Fells over the summer, was good enough to do really well. Luckily Andy agreed to run with me and we agreed to go lightweight in the hope that I was feeling good and so be competitive, but the key goal was just to get round.

At the end of the summer holidays I suddenly went from being tired all the time to feeling just about normal. I put in some good weeks of training and, in particular did a number of really steady 2 and 3 hour runs and I felt fine afterwards. Suddenly I was more confident we might do OK.

On the Saturday the clag was right down (visibility of 10-20m) and it was windy, and these conditions were expected to last all day. I was happy with this as I thought it would play to my navigational strength and experience. We set off steadily, determined to run our own race. We saw a number of other elite team come and go in the mist and had no idea who we were in front of and who was behind. The key thing was we were both going fairly strongly. Andy struggled for a bit early on as he got cold having fallen in a bog and I struggled on a big climb after about 4 hours. But I had no massive bonk which has been my normal pattern over the last few years. The split times show that by the time we had reached number 8 (after about 5 and a half hours) we were surprisingly in front (although at the time we had no way of knowing this). The next control turned out to be decisive. This was a sheepfold at 570m elevation on the side of Scafell. I was really worried about this control as there were no other features on the hillside, so I knew if we missed it first time then it could easily take ages to find it. I saw two potential ways to find this control. Firstly a compass bearing from the stream we were following up the hillside. This would be about 800m on a bearing and needing to be within 20m to see the control, but the downside was if we did not find it straight away we would have no idea which way to turn to find the control.  Secondly aiming-off a bit to the north and climbing to 570m and then contouring south along the slope at that height. We went for the second option but did not find the control as we contoured round the hillside. We did find Tom Fellbaum and Peter Bray who had been searching for 40 minutes and were giving up as they were cold.  We contoured back at a slightly lower height but still had no success. I then thought of an alternative plan which was to go back to the small path we crossed and pace a set distance from this path to directly below the sheepfold and then climb up to the sheepfold. The distance on the map was 8mm, I struggled to work out how far that was in meters (320m on  a 1:40,000 map) as I was tired. But eventually got it correct and paced the required distance and then climbed. This time we climbed up to about 620m on the altimeter but still no control. We were in quite a lot of rocks and thought it must be close, as we thought that they built sheepfolds near rocks. We separated by 20m so between us we could see more ground and headed south as I thought I was likely to have been a bit short on the pace counting. Eventually I spotted it. My altimeter read 605m. So it seems most likely my altimeter was about 30m wrong despite having set it less than an hour before in Wasdale, which is strange as the altimeter was within 10m accuracy the rest of the weekend.  Next time I am in Wasdale in clear weather I will be back at this sheepfold to investigate. Thomas Wilson and Alistair Masson (who finished 4th) found the control spot-on using the same technique as we tried (  While both the top two teams overnight: Duncan Archer and Shane Ohly, and Tom Gibbs and Paul Tierney found it without too much faffing on a direct bearing. The split times show that we lost about 20 minutes on this control and nearly half the teams who get that far round the course either had big problems finding it or gave up finding it and most of them seemed to have been too low. We eventually reached the finish after 8:33 minutes of running tired but happy to have got round and surprised to be 3rd overnight and only 15 minutes down. We did not sleep much, which is normal when you have minimal kit but we were warm and dry overnight. 

Elite course day 1 control 9 with our route