Monday, 1 April 2013

The Original Mountain Marathon - The OMM

Thought I'd write a note about my OMM experience, as a few of you have been asking and because it was pretty brutal.

What is the OMM?
The OMM is a two day mountain race run in pairs, where teams carry all of their equipment with them - food, tent, sleeping bag, stove, safety equipment ...filling up your water from streams and navigating your own route to check points.

I entered the A class ( the second highest class, below elite) with a friend called Ed. Our course was 65k over the two days, as the crow flies, in reality though you run far further, as the best route is rarely in a straight line and you often try and skirt hills rather than run over them to try and cut down on the 5k of climbs. 

My preparation
I tried to train for the event, building my weekend runs up to a 15m Saturday and 18m Sunday, both run with 6-8kg rucksacks, but it was nowhere near the intensity of marathon training and probably still not enough, especially as Ed, my teammate was running 70mile races and placing in them.

My toothbrush

The Race - Day 1
My bag wasn't too heavy with tent etc. 5.5kg or so and I felt pretty good in the morning, although our 7.50am start meant that we were the very first team - a distinct disadvantage, as you are the first to navigate the route with no one ahead to act as markers, you have to create the paths through dense terrain, rather than following others and there was also a beastly headwind that dissipated through the morning. The temperature was -ve, but it was bright and clear, which was good for navigation, although after the first hour or so it was evident that Ed was so good at nav and so fast, that my role was just trying to keep up. We set off and within five minutes I was already thinking that my legs were burning quite a bit. Thankfully you walk most of the hills, at a pace, but due to their uneven nature, their steepness and the length of the race, running them would be suicidal. Still you're out of breath on them so it's hardly a break and Ed seemed to be able to read a map and stroll up them at the same speed as my striding explorer pace.

The first hour and a half flew by. We were making good progress, the intensity of the wind was quite fun, as you would run at an angle to avoid being blown over and the scenery was beautiful, but I started to progressively tire from this point, By 2.5 hours I was starting to feel the tiredness in my legs and the hills were starting to catch up with me. At four hours I felt pretty broken. My fitness was ok, but I wasn't physically unprepared for the nature of the running - you rarely run on paths and to avoid running over each hill, you often skirt the sides, when involves running over uneven terrain at an angle. One leg is load bearing and due to the terrain you repeatedly are turning your ankles. Most of our running skirted clockwise and the tendons on the left hand side of my leg were knackered. You'd fall over at least once an hour, jar your legs repeatedly and I was finding it hard to trust my footing, with tired legs. The last two hours was either running through tufty bogs, reed beds or up steep hills. I'd been eating eat natural bars, as I like them and I thought their balance of nuts and fast/slow release cards would even my energy out, but I possibly wasn't eating enough and definitely needed more refined sugars. The last hour and a half was really tough. I was running throughout, but far off Ed's pace, falling in an ice cold bog with a mile and a half to go certainly didn't help, but we made it back in just over six hours. Day 1 - 23.3 miles (as the crow flies) on a course with 2200m of climbs:

At the finish we found out that we'd already been overtaken by a team that set off almost an hour behind us (the only team we saw during the last 5 hours of the race.) Thankfully they were a team that should have been in the elite category and we ended up in sixth place for the day, a prize position, and pretty good given my inexperience, my demise and the disadvantage of starting first.

Ed the speedster

The Camp
We were finished by 2pm, which gave us 19 hours until we were racing again - a huge amount of time to be a field with just water and toilets. We set up our tent, put on the rest of our clothes (for me this was one baselayer top, windproof trousers and a pair of socks with plastic bags on), I wasn't warm until we started running again the next day, but thankfully wasn't too cold either. We then started trying to eat as much as we could. I was surprisingly unhungry, but the warmth of my couscous and custard was greatly welcomed. Having eaten everything I'd brought I was somewhat concerned it might not be enough, as Ed was 1,500 calories or so up on me, I didn't feel undernourished though, but in hindsight it was nowhere near enough. Having chatted with our lovely neighbours for a few hours, we then prepared for bed. It was crazy early - going to bed  with the light, but with no fires and minimal clothing most teams tried to sleep to try and save energy and keep warm. I laid out my emergency blanket, the map from today's route and unfolded the support mat from my rucksack to sleep on and cramped into the smallest 2-man tent I've ever seen tried to sleep in. I was fully clothed - windproof jacket and all and I managed to get warm and feel my feet for the first time all day.

The Race - Day 2
The second day is a chasing start -  the quickest team setting off first, with teams starting the same number of minutes after them, that they finished behind them on day 1, first team back wins. Still unhungry I forced myself to eat my two porridges and malt loaf and then prepared for our 7.45 start. My legs felt ok, although the tendons above my ankles still felt tender. We were certainly within reach of third place - 20 minutes, but also had several teams within 20 minutes of us. Day two is meant to be an easier day - 5 hours, as opposed to 6 and it started out that way, avoiding the bog and getting straight into the hills. We were going well, using our ground speed to run round some of the larger climbs and trying to ensure that we skirted anti-clockwise to protect my left leg, but 2 hours in I was starting to feel tired and by 2.5 hours I had hit the wall. I've hit the wall before, but never for so long and for the next hour I was really struggling. I started eating my gels and drinking plenty, but had run out of energy and was struggling to even run. Half an hour in Ed asked if I could finish and I reassured him, but when he asked again half an hour later, spelling out that at our current pace we had another 3 hours of running and we were just about to head up and away from the finish I almost broke. Ed was getting cold in the wind and rain going at such a slow pace and I couldn't see a way out of my current collapse, I just wanted to lie down and the prospect of another 3 hours in such conditions was horrifying. The idea of having run for nine hours and not finishing though too painful and I stubbornly said we'd go on in blind faith that something would change and thankfully it did.

Given that we were no longer making any ground on the flat, we changed our tact to going direct as possible, right over the top if we needed; no need for skirting, which was killing my legs and if I can barely run, walking up hill was far more productive than shuffling on the flat. We went head on for a 100m hill and by the top my legs had returned. Over the next fifteen minutes, the rain stopped, I came through the wall until I eventually felt great, better than I had since the first two hours of Saturday. We only had 400m left of climbing and only 2 hours left to run and with each minute I was getting stronger and stronger both physically and mentally. With 1.5 hours left I took my first proplus and our route started to coincide with the other classes. We were now back on paths and I could finally just run without having to constantly check my footing and we were started to fly past people. The final climb of the day quickly approached, so I popped two more pro-plus tablets and we pushed for the finish. The climb felt easy, passing the steams of competitors walking the hill, high on caffeine I was starting to push Ed, which was great as I'd felt I'd held him up for so long. We hit the top and then went flat out for the final 3 miles home, a descent of 600m. With the wind behind us and heavy backpacks still on, I was slightly out of control sprinting down the hill flat out, having to jump rocks and wall ride round other runners, who were all cheering on as we passed, at the insanity of running so dangerously 12 hours into a race. Last checkpoint dibbed we ran in, finishing in just under 6.15, having been the fastest team over the last three checkpoints. We'd run 23.6 miles on of course with 2300m of ascent, bringing it up to 47 miles for the weekend. We had our bags checked to ensure that we still had all of the required equipment with us and found out that somehow we'd managed to hang onto sixth place, despite my hour of crawling. Two days on and I have cankles, a gammy knee and sprained tendons down my legs, but think by the weekend I'll be back to running.

So that's the OMM. By far the hardest race I've done, although this was partly due to doing it with a speedster ultra-marathon runner and getting the nutrition wrong. I'd do it again, although I’m not sure whether I'd do the A class - it's crazy hard to do at pace and I can't see myself training harder than i did for this year. I think I'd rather take a bit more clothing, food and time on the course and enjoy the experience next time.

Finally finished

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