Ditches and Bog are overcome as NWF Runs & Limps during the Original Mountain Marathon

At the end of October Gary – NWF’s trip development manager – and his wife Rhian signed up for the Original Mountain Marathon (OMM). This year it was held in Largs North Ayrshire (about 33 miles from Glasgow). This is their story!

Excitement
I was surprised that I had been able to complete an Iron Man 70.3; I had not been able to run consistently for over 10 years without a calf injury scuppering well-intentioned plans. In the after-glow of finishing, the focus turned to do some other event. Being able to run a little, why not go back and do events I love, like mountain marathons.

What is a Mountain Marathon?
Done in pairs, these events test all aspects of mountain craft and teamwork. Teams of two compete over two days, navigating a course and visiting checkpoints in mountainous environments while carrying enough food to sustain you. Oh, and there is an overnight camp. So, camping equipment mandatory. Strategy plays a big role, light and fast or slow but comfortable.

   

“It’s going to be held in Scotland”
The OMM at the end of October was our event.  Locations are withheld; only the country or area is released.  The exact location is unveiled about a month before.  Living in the Highlands, we banked on the event being within at least a couple of hours drive; wrong it was to be held in Largs!

Largs is a nice place west of Glasgow and famous for day trips and ice cream. It’s a beautiful place but there are no big mountains and it takes ages to get there; five hours driving for us.  The event was taking place in Kelburn Park and the Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park. This is an area of upland with small hills up to 522M in height which provides views west towards the Isle of Arran, and the Argyll mountains to the north. There are no Paths!

Worries
Two months out from the OMM, running was going well and I was feeling confident having run through the Great Wilderness of North West Scotland, home to the most remote Munro mountain Mullach Coire Mhic Fhearchair. Then during an easy run, I felt a twang in my left Achilles tendon. All my worries and concerns returned, could I manage the OMM.  I stopped running for two weeks then started back slowly, I could feel my Achilles but it was manageable. Three weeks before the OMM we took a short cycling holiday to Portugal. Returning from Portugal I ran a 5km event in Manchester, about 1 km from the finish I felt the Achilles and it was sore. I could barely walk the next morning. On return to the Highlands, I went to see a physio.

Rhian said she was ok to walk the OMM and so that was our plan. We had bought new gear to do the event and wanted to use it. I always approach events competitively; this was going to be a new experience for me.

The Event: OMM
We arrived at Kelburn Park Friday 10:30 pm, parked Dolly our camper and went to register. We were told to get to the start – a two-mile hike. Our start time was 0845-0900am Saturday. Oh, heck would I even make the start!

Bog, Barren, and Bracken
It had rained all week in the south but Saturday was dry and cold as forecasted. A last-minute pee in the woods (nerves) and then off. There is no mass sprint like you see in the athletics coverage on tv. To begin, you are in a muddy field, everyone is shivering with a cold due to the wait for your start time. Then, it’s off and you are given a map. Then you stop immediately!! you have to find out where you are, where you have to go, then plan how to get to the first checkpoint. 15 years on from my last mountain marathon, I was rusty. The first checkpoint we got was not our checkpoint!  There are 6 separate courses each with their checkpoints. Each checkpoint has its code which correlates with the codes on your map. Doh, I should have known that. Once at our first checkpoint we were off. Second, done then tactics for our third.

As opposed to running over a hill, we decided to go around and pick up a road to the next checkpoint at a stream. This leg was 3.5 km. All good we hit the road (farm track) then the stream. After 20 minutes Rhian said I don’t think this is the right stream. She was right, quickly we relocated and went on. Then came the witty comment “thanks for listening to me”.  I should have.
People were everywhere crisscrossing going to different checkpoints… or the same, but a different way.  The course suited me as I could not run, to run any distance was difficult. Furthermore, there were drainage ditches everywhere. I fell at least 10 times much to Rhian’s’ amusement. One particular ditch swallowed me whole; head deep. After Rhian composed herself she pulled me out. After 27km we made it to the overnight camp. It was dry still and cold.

Overnight Camp Day Two
Tent up, shoes off, change socks, put plastic bags over new socks, put wet dirty shoes back on feet. A hot drink, food then fall asleep. The OMM takes place as the clocks go back so you get an extra hour sleep…. WHAT!!!!! Around 8 pm the wind strengthened to about 20mph and then the rain started and it did not stop until 6 am the following day. So cold, no sleep and an extra hour to suffer Just great – thanks OMM.  And if you think you can lie on – NO. We were treated to bagpipes being played through the campsite and some guy shouting motivational stuff to get people going!

Starting day two was tough. We ate apple and custard for breakfast; should have been pudding from the previous night. This warmed us and got us going. A few early showers of rain and hail greeted us as we began. We were tired and on a scale of 1-10 for cold feet, we hovered 6-9 during the day.

Some early legs were five and six km in distance. For these, we used found again orienteering skills to break down each checkpoint into smaller legs. This worked well. Indeed, we managed some running towards the end of the day. Some of the terrain became run friendly and there was excitement at the prospect of finishing.

   

The Finish
Closer to the finish, the distance between checkpoints got shorter, but the hills became steeper. The route took across the A760 into the Kelburn area of the course and onto Blaeloch Hill. This gave us awesome views across to the Isle of Arran.

A super steep descent down Whatside Hills took us into Kelburn park. Rhian and I hobbled, as the teams who were competing passed us at speed. Rhian had damaged her knee and found descending difficult but her strength of resolve took her on. We both had huge blisters but our feet were so cold we could not feel them. Our cold feet helped and hindered our passage. It was great we could not feel blisters but we had no proprioception when we touched down with each step. Finally, we finished 67th out of 170 teams in the B course. We received hot tea and coffee and a nice warm lunch in a warm tent. Bliss bring on the next adventure!