The 53rd OMM
by Pip Haworth
My alarm went off at 4am on Saturday morning….
We had originally planned to camp at the race the night before, but plans changed and me and Finn ended up in his kitchen at 10pm re-packing our bags and double checking that we had actually remembered the tent pegs.
I dragged myself out of bed and downstairs for a quick cup of tea. Then, armed with coffee and a flask of porridge, we got into the car in the pitch black and headed to Langdale.
Let me give you a brief rundown of what the OMM entails. It’s held over the last weekend in October, when the clocks go back, and is in a different location each year. You are completely self sufficient and have to carry everything with you, including a tent and sleeping/cooking equipment for the overnight camp where there are only toilets and water provided. The event is done in pairs, and there are various different courses on offer. We had opted for the medium score course which means you get given a map at the start line with control points marked on, each worth a certain amount of points and you run around for 6 hours, trying not to get lost and collecting as many points as you can using only your map and compass, before running to the camp location and trying not to get back late otherwise you lose points. On day 2 you get a new map, new control points and 5 hours to get to the finish. All of this usually in really terrible weather…. Sounds like my kind of fun.
We arrived in Langdale at half six, registered, ate porridge, shared a bacon butty and more tea, said hi to some friends then grabbed our kit and headed down the valley to the start line 2km away.
“Have you definitely got the tent pegs?”
They were at the bottom of my bag and i wasn’t pulling everything out to check, I told Finn he could go full OMM and use his spork and toothbrush to peg out the tent if i didn’t have them.
We went through the start line at our allocated time, grabbed our map, dibbed in and I would love to say we ran off heroically, but instead we sat on the grass like everyone else and planned our route.
Neither me nor Finn had ever done a mountain marathon before, but we’ve done our fair share of ultras, fell races, multi day walking trips and we’re both working on our mountain leader awards, so we both like to think we’re pretty good at navigation.
As we headed up our first climb and neared our first control point we watched about 100 people scatter in different directions and there is nothing that makes you doubt your ability to navigate more. We left the path and started to search and after a few minutes of getting used to using a Harveys map (we’re both OS fans) and noticing where there was a condensed spot of participants, we gained our first points. That was the easiest find of the day.
We headed further into the fells around Crinkle Crags where the clag was down to the ground and a fine rain had set in. We blasted out a few more control points, getting the hang of it now and keeping a close eye on the time.
At some point around midday we hit our low. The rain had turned heavy and we were dressed in all of our waterproofs, gloves and buffs and we had temporarily misplaced ourselves in a boulder field. It took a lot of staring at tiny contour lines on the map and trying to match them to the ground before we realised where we were. We finally found the control point we were looking for and dug into some snacks to perk us up for the next leg.
We eventually ended up around cold pike, searching for our last control point of the day, we had an hour left and were searching for a bit of crag marked on the map. The reality was, there were several crags in the same area and in the clag everything looked the same. We circled round and round before another competitor gave us a subtle hint, and jerked his thumb in the right direction. After another 5 minutes, we finally found it.
I looked at my watch, only 40 minutes left, we better get a move on.
The OMM is a running event, but there are plenty of people who set out with only the intention of walking, and to be honest, whatever your intentions, 90% of your event with be walking, the other 10% will be spent sprinting down a hillside trying not to be late back. We legged it through the bog, down the fell, into the bracken, over two fences and onto the road and made it…. Only four minutes late, so that’s 10 points lost. Not too bad.
There weren’t many people in camp when we arrived, a staggered start and everyone out for different amounts of time means that camp fills up slowly. It was 2pm, we found a flat-ish spot uphill and out of the bog, popped up the tent (I did have the pegs) and made some food while letting our kit blow dry on the fence. Then we went to bed for two hours. When we got up camp was packed, we made dinner and sorted ourselves out for the next day, listening to conversations outside the tent of people coming in late because they got lost. It had been a brutal day out in the fells.
On Sunday morning the day is started with at 6am with a bagpiper walking through the camp just to make sure everyone is awake after the clocks changing. We were up half an hour before that, It may have been something to do with sleeping for 11 hours which I’m pretty sure is classed as cheating on the OMM. We ate our porridge and packed up in the dry, another miracle, before heading to the start line for 7:30.
New map, new control points. Our first two were nice easy finds with the cloud staying high and the rain holding off. We took a long grassy descent down to the river Esk and picked up a big one of 40 points. We followed the river uphill and into Great Moss, situated around the back of Scafell Pike, and took a moment to appreciate a rare spot of sweeping wilderness in the Lake District. We bagged another control point in the valley before realising we were half way through our time and 2 and a half hours wasn’t much to get back into Langdale. We decided to skip out a nearby control point despite its tempting 40 points, it would take too long to get to it and in our desperation to get some ground under our feet we breezed right past another but didn’t have time to go back.
We tromped uphill to Esk Hause and into the clag where a freezing rain began to fall and a strong wind was ripping over the saddle. We stopped to throw on all of our layers and eat a handful of Haribo before pinpointing ourselves on the map to find our final control point which wasn’t far away, but we could barely see five metres in front of us. We took a bearing and looked up just in time to see a break in the cloud, we were looking directly at the place we needed to be. We ran over and bagged our last points. I looked down at my watch, one hour to go, and a tricky descent ahead so me and Finn picked up the pace for the final leg. We ran as fast as we could down the slippy slabs to angle tarn passing plenty of competitors who clearly had more time left and were moving at a far more relaxed pace. The rain became heavier and heavier and the wind stronger as we dropped over the last saddle and the finish line came into view, although then it became clear that we weren’t going to make it in time. Our new goal was to loose as few points as possible.
We ran the last few kilometres along the valley and into camp, only 10 minutes late.
We scored a total of 308 points (after our time penalty’s had been taken off) and placed 111th on the medium score and 23rd in the mixed category. Well done to everyone from the club who took part in the event, what a brutal weekend it was!