After last year’s foray into the world of The OMM, a mythical land that is inhabited by the beardy weirdies (or so I thought), I returned, wiser and ready to take on the Long Score. I was accompanied by the nemesis of my early naval career, a physical trainer renowned for his killer sessions. I say that – they were tough in the moment but as they were well prepared they did no lasting damage unlike some of the crap gym body pump sessions I’ve tried recently and been unable to move after. I had made this my A race and got some good training behind me. I didn’t lose as much weight as I would have liked, I didn’t pack as light as I would have liked but we were determined and had our plans in place.
We were lucky to drive up from the South and register on Friday arriving at around 2000. Traffic was really bad with the torrential rain causing havoc to northbound commuters. Registration was easy, we weren’t lured by the tempting offers in the OMM shop (and I’d already pre-ordered my goodies for which I was grateful – the OMM tee which I didn’t get (a long sleeve tech shirt) looked well designed).
We stayed in a B&B (Victoria Cottage) down the road in Saltcoats. We checked and sorted our kit and got a very comfortable sleep followed by an excellent breakfast! We left early enough (just) with our bellies full of Scottish breakie – not sure that’s a recommended fuelling strategy!
The OMM is an iconic event which started in 1968 and I highlight here (we may have not had as many paths as in the video). It is the ultimate mountain challenge combining fitness, navigation, hill skills and camp craft with resilience. Do you carry more to suffer less?
We had a 2 mile walk up hill to the start – an interesting way to ease into the day ahead. We arrived on time for our slot, checked our laces and queued up to leave. At a minute to go we were given our map – we had a quick planning session although we knew there was only one path heading up towards the first control. We found it fairly easily although there a was steady trail of people heading towards it. It also helped get my eye in, despite running lots of days on Harveys 1:40k maps I wasn’t fully comfortable with the scale all weekend as I’d been on 1:10k more recently.
The first hour or so went really well, finding the controls easily and the terrain was quite runnable. I had hoped we could do 12min/km as this was my Dragon’s Back pace and is very similar to Bob Graham pace. While we did this for a little while the terrain soon became boggier, hillier, and rougher. Tussocks, babies’ heads, scratchy rough heather, waist deep holes in the peat, streams, and sphagnum moss all got worse with every step deeper into the Muirshiel country park and we slowed towards 4Km/hr (15min/km). We moved well with purpose all day.
I made one stupid navigation error which cost us around 20 minutes I think. It was so refreshing to be ‘out there’ without GPS and when we drifted off course, contouring towards a mirror feature, I relocated first time. I was disappointed with this mistake as I knew we were drifting with map and compass not tying in but couldn’t work it out until it was too late.
Not my photos – found in the OMM photos folder.
We recovered from that error and mopped up as many points as we could and got to the overnight campsite finish in the North of the Muirshiel park just as it started raining.
I will at some point have a look at our tactics and strategy compared to the pros. There is a certain amount that is down to fitness and strength but could we have made more points for our fitness? To give you an idea of how tough it was here’s Tim Wiggins’ blog from the ‘A’ Course which is similar in length to the distance we covered in the long score except it is linear rather than time based and if you miss a control you are disqualified meaning long days are very possible. The score courses have a fixed time limit in which to collect as many points as you can with more for the ones that are further away or maybe it’s a trap! The good thing about the score course is that you get to camp with the points you have when you get there whereas the linear courses can result in a long cold day or a DQ.
We’d actually had a very pleasant day in the hills, I ran in a base layer and tights. We moved well. As we arrived it started to rain. I ran through it until checked in (6:53 – 7hr time limit) and then got warm kit on. We got the tent up and got our admin together. I am grateful to Sean for his water ferrying and admin. With a very small 500g tent (Nordisk Lofoten 2 ULW) there isn’t much room. I had done the initial cooking and proceeded to get into the tent to stay as dry as possible and warm. Sean followed slightly after but was getting cold – I had too undo his laces. Soon enough we were tucked in and fed. It was soon dark. The OMM camp is something to be endured. Last year I was in the Nordisk Telemark 2 which was slightly larger and fit my Alpkit Numo mat. The mat didn’t quite fit my tent and so I was forced to use the back pad of the OMM backpack. We were in bed by 1730 and up at 0700 with an hour clock change. It’s a long time to be uncomfortable over 14 hours. The wind increased, it rained far more than the expected showers and condensation soaked the inside of the tent. The outside of my bag was wet, the wind dripped cold condensation onto my face through the head hole in my sleeping bag. Yet inside my bag I was and dry. I was not comfortable! It was cramped; my knees, ankles and hips ached. The dawn chorus roused us at 0600, Jon Whilock (legend from the Dragon’s Back) on the bagpipes gave us a traditional Scottish wake up call. We also heard someone get wished happy birthday! I lay nursing my bladder until 0700 when we sprung into action, stove on, wet shoes on, and a trip to the loo. All fuelled and packed up we walked the 15 min to the start just as the heavens opened.
We started with our gore-tex on and headed uphill. Soon the weather improved and we stripped off although our battle with the bog continued. We made another silly mistake (which is almost undetectable on RouteGadget) but it didn’t cost us much time as we just changed plans but wasn’t optimum. When we reached the paths to cross the road we showed our fitness and bashed out some fast Kms. We had a quick skirmish around the southern area to use our time up. Once more we timed our arrival well arriving just before our 6hr day 2 time limit including a 6:40 last mile!
We were given hot squash, a tandoori wrap and some tea to devour sat alongside fellow competitors and mountain warriors. What an adventure! It was two of the hardest days in the hills I’ve ever had. Thoroughly enjoyable but bloody tough.
After a comfortable sleep fuelled on by a chip supper we made our way back home. By Tuesday my foot was hurting and I went to the doctor on Thu. A month off is the sentence. A shame as I was looking forward to taking training up a gear. It’s long enough from any A races though that I can just concentrate on not rushing back and recovering properly. For the past 4 weeks I’d worked with Jason Battle at http://www.performancecoaching.me I’d never considered a coach and the interaction I had, with targeted training plans would make me consider it on my return subject to financial approval (it isn’t cheap). I could see real improvements in the way I was training but the downside is that you still have to do the training yourself!