“Do you want to come to Font with us?, said Sophie “There’s probably still space in the gite” “Thanks, but I am doing the OMM”. “Ah yes I used to do that- have fun!”
A week beforehand all the forecasts agreed it would be gorgeous winter sunshine on Saturday and hideous on the Sunday. The event varies in location each year and on this occasion was based out of Sedbergh, accessing some fantastic grassy running. Ah well maybe the front coming through would be delayed and it would be gorgeous on the Sunday too, I thought. 23 years since my first OMM- probably done about half of them in that time- and I was still waiting for 2 consecutive good days. Unfortunately the forecasts were spot on and I am still waiting! However initially on the Saturday brilliant primary colours raised our spirits with the low sun, golden bracken, cobalt sky, frosty grass and autumnal leaves. It was easy to forget the cold feet, mud, bog, tired legs and wooden fingers that would become our inevitable companions before the weekend was out. We were doing the Elite so we knew it was going to be a character building weekend.
My partner for the weekend was no stranger to suffering. Steve Pyke aka Spyke is very understated, but with records for Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu, all the Munros in a continuous push and the Tranter Round, to name but a few, this was just a gentle weekend jog for him. Our preceding weekend running together was in NW Scotland when he attempted and very nearly got the long standing record of most number of Munros in a day. He was super strong and with better weather would definitely have got it. On paper we were very similar speed (though my longest run this year was 12 hours as opposed to his 20), and we often finished within a minute or so of each other in races of several hours. There were other runners entered who were quicker than us over races of 1-4 hours, but this was an event of a different magnitude. We were one of perhaps half a dozen teams who had a chance of winning it, but like the Grand National, it is notoriously unpredictable. I personally thought Chris Near and Tim Higginbottom were the favourites, though last years winners Shane and Duncan were likely to be strong too.
But the OMM is not a fell race- route choice, pinpoint navigation, overnight kit selection and weight saving are all essential. Our packs weighed 3.75kg each and contained tent, sleeping bag, stove, 36hrs food, spare clothes and emergency kit- not heavy but a very different experience to a shorter event with a bumbag. Whilst occasionally top fell runners win the OMM (eg the Symonds brothers or Morgan Donnelly) it is more often teams containing excellent orienteers/good runners that do so eg Duncan Archer, Steve Birkinshaw, Al Powell.
All was going well and we seemed to be moving well. But we were somewhat perturbed after 90 mins to see John Rocke and partner storming past us uphill, having set off 10 mins after us. I remember thinking either they are either going to win or drop out as a result of overcooking it. Either was possible- he and his partner have won every other class in the OMM over the years. They dropped out later…. 3 hours in we had covered a decent chunk of the route having done a big arc of the Howgills- we felt good and the cold sun was our constant friend. There was a compulsory road crossing and what looked like a series of easy controls to find heading up towards Wild Boar Fell. I was heartened to see, on the Route Gadget software after the event, that the schoolboy error we made next was also done by several other top 10 teams. A few degrees off course, running with several other teams (different classes as it turned out) took us to the wrong control. We had caught 2 other Elite pairs and we all lost 10-15 mins sorting it out. Bum.
Wild Boar Fell has a curiously large flat top and the next control was very steeply off the back. From here on the ground became much more tussocky and the controls widely separated. Tussocks are always a feature of an OMM and luckily these were merely a hindrance rather than the show-stopping monsters I had come across in the Elan valley in 2010 with Al Powell. I can remember being totally unable to run on flat ground as they were so big and the intervening bog so sapping! Teams spread out and we kept a steady rhythm. Spyke was maybe a tadge slower towards the end of the day so I did the nav and oops a lack of concentration by me after 6 hours running cost us another 10 mins or so.
We were in 6th place overnight, not ideal but not too bad. “Is it cold out there?”, asked Spyke from the tent while I was outside sorting things out- “No not bad really” I said, then picked up my muddy socks I had changed out of- frozen solid! Modern kit makes a massive difference- I was lucky to be wearing some sexy bits of light RAB kit- a Xenon Jacket with Primaloft filling and a prototype Pulse Smock, with a Powershield plus membrane, were particular favourites. It amuses me that no manufacturer has ever produced a mat system that rivals my bubble wrap. A double layer cut to fit the whole footprint of the tent weighs less than 100g for both people- nothing else comes close. I slept well and was warm.[caption id="attachment_4263" align="alignnone" width="200"] Xenon Jacket[/caption] [caption id="attachment_4265" align="alignnone" width="200"] Pulse Pull-on[/caption]
Maritime mingfest morning as predicted, actually warmer than the day before but certainly didn’t feel it- it was maybe 5 degrees and driving rain on the tops as opposed to the freezing but sunny day on Saturday. Blistered feet crammed into wet shoes for another days abuse. Compass out this time and all was good as we reclimbed Wild Boar Fell, in the fog this time. We were frustrated by the following checkpoint, described as stream junction, which was actually on a spur. However the next one was the one we had inadvertently visited the day before so that was easy!
Road crossing again and so back into the Howgills for a massive leg- certainly a couple of hours we thought. Obviously an important decision to be made. I am sure it was deliberately planned, as the straight line route between controls involved a lot of ascent and descent. Essentially we needed to head due west and all the major valleys in the Howgills run north to south. We both agreed that a significant diversion to the north to avoid most of the height difference would be better. You need a good reason to avoid the straight line route between controls and a large number of contours seemed to be a good reason. Unfortunately they don’t mark all the bogs on the map and the one thing steep climbs and descents don’t normally have is bog. It was heartening to see afterwards that the eventual winners of the Elite OMM 2012, Bjorn Rydvall and Aaron Prince from team Silva (read top orienteers and very fit boys) also made the same mistake. Shane and Duncan, eventually 2nd , took 16 mins out of them on that leg.
Mingfest turned into major mingfest as the route took to the highest ground over the Calf and eventually home. We reversed roles from the day before and Spyke was now the one who was a tadge quicker- no surprise from a man of the utmost stamina. You always vary in speed over the weekend compared with your partner. But overall we were very compatible speedwise and it was a pleasure to beast myself in the British hills with such a solid and dependable running partner. Our nav could been sharper- neither of us have any pretensions of being an orienteer.
We remained 6th overall and were the first Vets team. I put the £83 OMM clothing vouchers I won on eBay- I only got £41 but that’s a decent night out and I’ll stick with my RAB kit thanks! Next year? Hmmm- suppose so; Spykes up for it, but it is often type 2 fun and my blisters have only just sorted themselves out! No doubt by the summer I’ll have forgotten all the pain- besides having now come 7th, 6th, 3rd and 2nd in this event in the last few years the competitive me probably won’t let me miss it. Suspect if I ever did win it that would the last one. Then I can go to Font- or maybe I will anyway- besides, the competitive me is going to get its rat properly fed this winter ski racing. That IS type 1 fun!