So, the chances are that if your social circles include hillwalkers, fell runners or masochists then you’ve probably heard of the Original Mountain Marathon. If you haven’t then you can read all about it via this incredibly OMM-heavy URL: https://www.theomm.com/the-omm/#whatsomm
There are plenty of adjectives you could throw at the OMM: ‘prestigious’, ‘iconic’, ‘grueling’… but it’s perhaps best described as ‘definitive’. The Original Mountain Marathon isn’t just a name, this is the most established speed orienteering challenge in the UK. Held annually on the nearest weekend to the October/November border, it’s purposely intended to present entrants with challenging conditions in unfamiliar terrain. And, very excitingly, the last meeting - on 28/29 October 2017 - celebrated its 50th anniversary of breaking and re-making two-person teams of adventurers on the sides of rain-lashed hills.
This was actually my second attempt at not embarrassing myself in front of 2,000-or-so well honed hill people (you can read about the 2016 event here) and consequently I decided that upping the challenge from the “Short” points course to the “Medium” was a sensible progression to make. My race partner for the event, Dave Kirby, had recently run the Yorkshire Three Peaks and so - combined with my laser sharp talent for spot-on navigation - we were cautiously confident that we’d make a team not to be scoffed at.
Cut to the finish line as the sun sets on Day Two. My head’s spinning and I’m trying to calculate how many of our meagre haul of points we’ve lost by crawling in seven minutes after our assigned cut-off point. Dave’s staring exhaustedly into the middle distance with a face that reminds me uncannily of the old man from the end of Inception.
At 174th out of 217 finishing teams, it’s fair to say that we haven’t quite set the world alight.
But, what’s wonderful about the OMM is that it doesn’t matter a bit! Although the final standings can give you a good indication of your progression from year to year - and timings really matter for those incredible people competing for trophies at the top of the “Elite” category - the OMM is more of an opportunity to test yourself against the mountains and their changeable conditions. Can you navigate your way to a vague reentrant on the side of a steep and fog-shrouded piece of ground that neither curiosity nor fate (nor sense) would see you on in any other situation? Can you make consistent progress up and down hill with two days’ worth of food, camping kit and clothing on your back? Can you pitch a tent in a boggy mire? Can you crawl out of your sleeping bag and into wet socks on a bitterly cold morning and still somehow find the motivation to run another six hours? Do you mind spending 12hrs in a one-and-a-half-man tent pressed up against a wet and smelly friend? Then you’ve found your natural home on the OMM!
On this particular year, held in Cumbria’s Langdale valley, the conditions did everything they could to make this an event to remember. The Saturday brought with it dark and swollen clouds, severe winds, torrential rain and low visibility. This lasted until just after all the competitors had managed to pitch their tents in a waterlogged field. Then, to take advantage of all the standing water and sodden clothing, the skies cleared. The following day was still, bright, clear and viciously cold. This combination of definitely-can’t-take-my-camera-out-in-this and got-to-make-up-for-lost-time-and-my-fingers-are-frozen-anyway meant that my pictures from the event don’t rank amongst the most impressive I’ve ever snapped.
However, they still tell a story. Let’s read it together.
Advice we followed all too closely at this year’s event.
One of the real joys of the OMM is the Harvey map of the event space. These will be decorated with checkpoints and distributed to competitors on the start line each day. Looking back on the 50 years of history portrayed in this display was awe inspiring.
Likewise with the event t-shirts, whose designs tell something of the eras in which each race was held.
A savvy bit of analysis from an early OMM race report. It’s true that no matter which category you’re competing in navigation is at least as important as a high level of fitness.
The start line on Day One. It’s exciting at this point to see the dramatic differences in kit throughout the sea of colourful membranes.
Race partner Dave Kirby looking more excited and optimistic than I’ve ever seen him.
The race had not even begun yet.
Morning of Day Two. Given our late starting slot most of the tents had upped and vanished by this point. The previous evening it had been hard to walk two meters without tripping on a guy line.
The start line for Day Two, cunningly positioned in the muddiest spot possible. Clever, clever.
Heading back towards Langdale on a bright, cold morning. This was one of the rare moments of the weekend when the conscious sense of joy utterly eclipsed the physical discomforts.
Crossing a clear Cumbrian stream halfway through Day Two. The checkpoints may be fixed, but your routes between them are entirely in your own hands. Choose wisely. And have fun.
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Take care out there.
Dan Aspel (right) is a journalist and Mountain Leader. You can find him at www.danaspel.com
Visit www.lifesystems.co.uk to find a host of kit and equipment for your next outdoor adventure.