It’s just two weeks until my first Original Mountain Marathon experience. When I first heard about the OMM it sounded mythical; a weekend spent on the side of an exposed and windy hill in Great Britain at the end of October – just as winter sets in. No support — drinking from streams, finding your own way with a compass and carrying all you require, while battling the elements. “It’s usually extremely cold, and extremely windy,” I was told.
I’d been captivated by the pages in Running Magazine; faces grimacing while day-glo oranges and greens of waterproof kit popped against a blanket of grey. In flicking through photos of OMMs past, I could almost feel the cold numbing my nose, the drizzle wetting my cheeks and 2000 metres of ascent across 45km taunting my legs.
The Stuff That Legends Are Made Of
The legend of the OMM goes before it. The extreme two-day race started in 1968 to combine fell running, orienteering and wild camping.
The 2008 edition found itself on national news when gale force winds and rain reportedly left competitors ‘stranded, cold and tired.’ Hundreds and ‘into the thousands’ were apparently in danger.
While around a dozen were hypothermic and some returned to their parking spot to find their cars submerged completely in water, to some participants, the reports of disaster apparently all felt like a bit of a storm in a teacup. Because this race is not about comfort, and participants are suitably equipped, both physically and mentally – and yet, that infamous year, alongside reports that ‘it’s always cold and wet’, somehow, just adds to the folklore of this truly original event.
Finding a Partner
I was captivated by the prospect of all this coldness, apparently, so I signed up with a brilliant orienteer, and then, alas – she had to pull out. After a small window of opportunity to throw the whole idea to the dogs, because it’s a silly idea and October is for hibernating and eating early Christmas chocolate, in stepped my boyfriend in a brave and heroic manner to save the day and deter such safe thinking.
For him, a conversation that started with ‘I’m not sure I want to be wet and cold’, turned into multiple Sunday evenings spent on the Wiggle website and gram-weeny blogs in anticipation of the “ultimate test for couples”. I jest. The truth is, this turn of events is just dandy because I get to put more stuff in his bag. Still jesting of course, but probably true.
With my partner switched; mixed-pair at-the-ready style, all we had to do is wait with baited breath for the big location reveal — which happens a few weeks out of the race each year, with a drumroll and great deal of whispering preceding it. In 2017, it returns to the location of the storm of 2008, the Lake District, to mark the 50th anniversary event by honouring founder Gerry Charnley, who has a memorial below the Esk Pike fell, itself located near Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak.
I’ve Grown a Backpack
To prepare for the OMM, I have been — for the first time in my life, running with a 25L backpack. I’ve rather taken to my purple n black OMM race pack. Running with it at every chance I get, from weekly running club runs to races (including a half marathon in bogs), in the hills of the mendips and, on one weekend, across the Lake’s fells — including the big windy Pike.
As such, I’m now used to phrases such as “what’s in it? — I’ve got a tyre in my car if you want – ha!” and “You know you can leave that bag at the club right?” Alongside some suspicious glances on the commuter train as my bag wafts out funky odour units of another sweaty weekend spent running.
I’ve also been orienteering, with varying levels of success. This last weekend I engaged in my fourth solo orienteering orange course, to bring my total (including with partners) orienteering experience up to lucky number seven. In my vast time as an orieneteerer, I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as an orienteerer (“it’s orienteer, you wally”), and that it’s practically illegal not to wear a pair of ripped bloomers, and most importantly, that wearing your compass around your neck will instigate sniggers and pointing.
To celebrate this new level of knowledge and expertise, I bought myself a seventy quid Silva thumb compass. Well, it did have rainbows on it. This purchase occurred minutes only after discovering that the compass I’d been using at a beachside race was flipping flipped; so north meant south while south meant north. A hilarious turn of events for a newbie, you can imagine. The result? Me insisting that the massive bright blue section on the map could not possibly be the sea, and subsequently being laughed at by a man in bloomers. I never thought I’d part so speedily with 70 smackers for a navigation device without batteries.
But the truth is, in my seven-strong orienteering race experience, it’s hard to pick a favourite between the brambly runs and bloodied legs of my very first taste of distinguishing a depression from a knoll at twenty feet, to a recent attempt where it took me — ooh about one hour longer than the average person to ‘navigate’ the grounds of a college only to arrive back to find everyone clearing up. But, however much I bodge a course, I refuse to give up – and always emerge with a silly grin.
So bring on the OMM. Two weeks to go until the gales, the sheep poo, the boggy shoes, the bit where I clumsily orientate myself ‘around the map’, the bit where I get really, really cold and, very likely, the bit where I attempt to crawl into my boyfriend’s sleeping bag at 3am because it’s a better one than mine.