This weekend we competed in the OMM. While this may sound like an intricate yoga position, it is in fact a two day running event – the original mountain marathon! Held in the Lake District, this annual event changes location each year and requires teams of two to navigate a challenging course with all the kit necessary to survive a night in the mountains.
The first disappointment of our weekend was an absolute run on t shirts from the OMM shop which nearly left us topless for the weekend. Add to that the fact that vast amounts of beetroot juice have adverse side effects, and we were off to a bad start.
This is perhaps one of few races where people rush over the start line only to immediately sit down. This is to look at a map and plan their course for the day. Competitors choose to run between checkpoints worth varying scores in order to accumulate a score within the allotted time. Map and compass replaced the tools of our normal daily lives (stethoscope for Merlin and crayons for Alex) and became vital as we made our way into the maelstrom of 65mph winds that drove cold stinging rain into our young tender faces.
The wet ground and wind didn’t bode well for Alex, who handled the mountains about as well as he does a pint, taking quite a few spectacular tumbles. The thick fog meant that good navigation was key as we spent the day with a 20 metre radius of vision in which the ground around us appeared to metamorphose between ridges, crags, bogs, rivers and scree. Low temperatures on the higher peaks led to shivering knee caps for merlin and blue lips on Alex, but we were not deterred as our bearings led us miraculously to the first few points. Things took a turn for the worse though as we searched in vain for a point labelled ‘CK’ which seemed to be laughing at us from within the dense fog. We were so upset by its unreasonable teasing that we plan on burning all our Calvin Klein underwear when we get home.
Shivering knees began turning into cramp and we finished a slightly disheartening and very wet afternoon by crossing the line to camp in 83rd/220 in our category. The camp was great – like a music festival. Just without the music. Alex gave it a solid 5/10, but there was cake. Cocooned in sleeping bags we consumed a total of 4000 calories each that night and probably drank the contents of the lakes after which the district is named. Come dusk the side of the mountain looked like a sea of Chinese lanterns ready to float away as the mass of tents harbouring its bedraggled runners gave off a faint glow – and the tents certainly could have floated away in the wind that night. Our greatest discovery was that when it’s pissing down outside, empty food bags can make excellent receptacles during the night, although there is a science to getting the fill level right…
A good nights sleep was only broken by intermittent barking sheep. The sun actually rose on this fine morning although temperatures were still low. But after a fine breakfast of porridge and sultanas, and some leftover spagbol – the joyous marshals sent us across the start line and back into the race.
As our legs got into rhythm, we found ourselves running with greater ease than we had the day before – overeating and sleeping seems to pay off after all! With our heightened spirits we made the decision to take quite an ambitious route that incorporated a lot of distance and a lot of altitude. We would soon see if it payed off – well in 5 hours.
There is a great deal of satisfaction associated with being self sufficient and dependent on your team mate. The fact that he may be carrying your food or tent is incentive for getting him as well as yourself to that finish line. Things work particularly well when we struggle at different points, so that one of us is always feeling stronger and able to push the other one when things get tough. Things certainly did get tough with a few extremely steep climbs that were matched in difficulty by their downhill counterparts. Our legs burned on these, as did our skin with the hot October sun beating down on our faces – still better than the stinging rain the previous day though!
Our pain was overcome by the fruits of the jelly baby tree, which grows in abundance in the Lake District. Race rules state that both team members must run across the finish line together, so it was a good thing we found some of these squirrelled away in Alex’s bag, as Merlins legs were beginning to give way and Alex was swiftly losing the strength needed to carry him. The mornings route choice was having its toll on both of us.
Somehow, two days after we had set of on our jog around the hills, two sets of feet crossed the finish line and skidded to a halt in the thick mud. As if we had just done our weekly shop in Tesco, one of the race marshals printed our result on a paper receipt. We had come in 2 minutes late. Damn. But we had also come 12th that day. How?
We will now share a trade secret that will change your approach to mountain marathons (if you have such an approach). Most runners choose to spend their hard earned currency on light weight tents, sleeping bags and fancy backpacks. Heavy sleeping mats are set aside for squares of bubble wrap to get you through the night, and food is cut down to minimise weight. Partly due to circumstance of not being wealthy investment bankers, we carried two of the biggest bags on the hills – we only have big heavy sleeping bags, and we implore you to replace your mattress tonight with bubble wrap to see how you sleep! So while other competitors crawled out of their glorified bin bags in the morning, having spent half the night trying to keep it up (the tent), we stepped out of chateau mouton fresh faced and with a spring in our step. And those heavy sleeping mats give you some momentum when gravity takes control!
It may also have had something to do with jelly babies, and luck. A lot of that. So next time you see a bedraggled mountain runner remember: he’s more afraid of you than you are of him, and you should just offer him a jelly baby!
If you’re up for a challenge and a bit of fun, you can enter next years race here: https://theomm.com/