"Race The OMM, Tim - you'll love it", they said. "Orienteering, mountains, and adventure" were promised. What my colleagues failed to iterate, was the challenge, the weather, and the bogs... all of which feature aplenty on a marathon running event in western Scotland!
Perhaps a little naive of the reality, and of the scale of The OMM (particularly for a cyclist who runs at most once a week!), I signed up... Team Wiggle were headed to Glentrool - in the Galloway Mountains, Scotland.
The concept of the Original Mountain Marathon is fairly straightforward - there are point weighted checkpoints dotted around remote mountain locations, and their location is marked on a map. Competitors receive the map on the start line, and need to visit as many of the checkpoints as they can, in a set period of time. The event is over two days; and competitors get a fresh set of checkpoints, map, and a new time limit on the second day. Between the two days, the teams of two camp in a remote mountain campsite, and for the duration of the event they need to carry with them the camping kit to do this. Put simply, this is an orienteering running marathon; on challenging terrain, and with a fairly sizeable rucksack to carry.
I'm not too bad at map reading; I actually started out cycling doing very similar orienteering events to this, on a mountain bike. That latter point probably signals my biggest hurdle for the OMM - I'm no trail runner!
Trail running, and even more so Fell/Mountain running, are a real skill. Throwing yourself down a mountain, at the fastest pace your legs can manage; whilst having the reactions to place your feet on the right patches of rock, grass and bog, is an art. I'm not that artist - but after weekly trail runs in the months leading up to The OMM, I felt confident that my race partner Ben and I, could finish with a respectable result.
The OMM didn't fail to provide a challenge. Running is only a minor part of the race; you should also expect climbing, scrambling, bog wading and river fording.
Also expect map reading and compass bearings; and a lot of scouring of marshland, for a checkpoint marker the size of a T-shirt, on a mountain the size of... a mountain!
Ben and I managed to attain a decent position on the first day of the event; despite some significant delays wading down rivers, and missing the turning for the one piece of surfaced track on the entire route.
Saturday evening was spent trying to refuel body, and prepare mind; using freeze dried meals, brioche and tea. We knew there were more unexpected challenges to come...
The second day was less of a personal success for us... After finding our first few checkpoints fairly easily (if you can call marching up a boggy mountain side easy); we then stumbled on one major pointer.
We (quite literally) spent an hour stumbling up a bog staircase on one mountain side; then stumbling around in the bog on top of said mountain; only to have to return down the mountain side empty handed - so we could run back to base in time to be within the time limit...
Must. Bring. Binoculars. Next time...
A challenge for body, mind and kit
Finding a checkpoint in thick fog was a challenge to our eyesight and minds. 'Running' or scrambling to that checkpoint, up the side of a mountain, was a significant bodily challenge.
However, without good kit, and the right kit, there's no way you could run up back-to-back mountains; on back-to-back days!
Here are my Top Ten pieces of kit for The OMM
- OMM Classic 25 Marathon Pack - this great little bag is lightweight, comfortable to run with, and features some neat little design points - like the mesh stash pockets for waterproofs on the outside.
- OMM Kamleika Race Pants - running through bracken, bog and boulder fields, in the rain, requires your waterproof trousers to fit well and keep the water out; they also need to let your muscles breathe though. These are superb for both those things.
- OMM Kamleika Jacket II - the four-way stretch and lightweight fabric of this running waterproof jacket, makes it perfect for ultra-running.
- OMM Rotor Smock - The OMM is all about stripping back unnecessary kit, and packing light. This insulating smock is ideal for the overnight camp; adding loads of extra warmth if you're packing a lightweight sleeping bag.
- Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX shoes - I love these trail shoes (read my previous blog on them here). Definitely capable of bogs, too!
- dhb Run Tights - protecting your legs from the cold and wet is vital, and these affordable dhb tights did the job faultlessly.
- adidas Terrex Solo running tee - the merino wool in this running tee's fabric, means that it stays warm, even when "Scottish" wet!
- GripGrab Running Expert Gloves - these were ideal for keeping dexterity in my hands, when the freezing fog was blowing in on the top of the mountains.
- CEP Compression Socks - keeping your muscles stabilised, and keeping the blood circulating, is essential on hill running and multi-day events. I'm a big fan of the CEP Compression range.
- Nordisk Ven 2.5 Sleeping Mat - finally, make sure you get a good night's sleep on the Saturday night. This 3/4 length mat from Nordisk is ideal for insulating you from the cold mountain ground.
A mountainous challenge
Calling the OMM a running event wouldn't do it justice. This is a race containing many other physical challenges, and many mental puzzles too.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of testing mind and body in the mountain wilderness; and the kit that I took with me was certainly thoroughly tested, too.
Sign up to The OMM in 2017, and embrace the endurance!