OMM 2016: The Elite Class Revisited

By Nicky Spinks

As soon as I learned of the Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) in 2005 when I joined Penistone Footpath Runners and AC, I thought it was a fantastic competition and I still do. The concept of running for two days, navigating either a set course or choosing a sequence of checkpoints to visit, and finally reaching the campsite which has only been disclosed to you on Saturday morning, just seemed like a fantastic way to spend a weekend! Especially when it’s held at the end of October (when the clocks change) and you get to spend an extra hour in your tent with your chosen partner! Oh, and didn’t I mention? You have to carry all your gear and your camping, clothing and eating equipment with you in your rucksack!

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There are four “Line Classes” where you navigate to the ‘controls’ in the order they are given on the way to the finish, and three “Score Classes” where you have an allocated time in which to visit as many controls as you can and get to the finish before your time is up. If you are over time then you lose points (usually two per minute).

I completed the Medium Score twice in 2004 and 2005, and then the Long Score four times with my husband Steve Burgess from 2006 to 2010. Then after competing at Dartmoor in 2010, where the terrain and the weather were tough, Steve sacked me as a partner as I was too fast and not patient enough!

I had always wanted to try the Elite course, but rather surprisingly (to me) finding a partner was proving difficult. After running with Steve I knew that the choice of partner is paramount, as over the course of the weekend you are bound to have a falling out whether it be over route choice, the pace being too fast or slow, or who’s forgotten to bring the chocolate (or more seriously the tent pegs!) But I eventually persuaded Kirsty Bryan Jones of Dark Peak to join me. As Kirsty is a world class orienteer, it was obvious that she would be the main navigator and I the pack horse. This system worked well and even though the weather in the 2011 OMM was very wet, we finished both days within the cut offs, in 26th position and first ladies (being the only ladies that entered). On being awarded our prize the presenter went on to point out that we had taken twice the time of the overall winners to complete, which wasn’t very encouraging. I decided that I wanted a break from the OMM as it didn’t seem to be the event it once was, and so I didn’t enter it again.

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A few years went by and in 2014 I heard that the OMM had new owners, and I thought it would be good to enter it again. I asked Mary Gillie to partner me, and we travelled to Kielder Forest and competed together. This was a partnership that I don’t think worked perfectly on the hill, which combined with extremely long courses had us finishing in the dark on day one and struggling on a shortened course on day two. Nothing came close to the disappointment that I felt when we finished on Sunday and were handed a ticket which said “Disqualified” as we had mis-punched a control. It was true and totally my fault, as I had the dibber and I had punched it at the wrong control. I was gutted.

On to 2015 and I was determined to rectify my mistake. Having run the Old County Tops with Jean Brown, I asked her to be my partner. She agreed and we travelled to Tweedsmuir together. The weather was great and the terrain was quite good; maybe too good, as we ended up running down the wrong ridge and making a long detour in the valley round a reservoir to get back on course. The whole incident seemed to bond us though, and once we got over our disappointment it made the experience more important than competing. We finished just before dark and were allocated an early start as a result, which we were pleased at as we wanted to avoid being cut off. On Sunday we ran hard with the cut offs chasing us, and then finally catching us at 3pm; but the marshals at the checkpoint said we could carry on, so we did and we finished the course! We were handed a “Finished” slip and awarded first ladies (as the only ladies that entered, again). It was only two weeks later did we find out that because some runners had stopped when told they were timed out, the organisers had had to change the results, and so officially only six Elite Teams had finished, while the next nine teams were “Timed Out”.

Getting home I did what I always say I should do and rarely do. I wrote to the organisers and gave my feedback. I tried to be constructive and not overly critical; as a race organiser myself I know it’s a tough job to please everybody and you get little thanks. I suggested that Ladies teams could be allocated earlier start times and that the cut offs or course lengths be adjusted so that more teams can finish. I also suggested changing the prize structure to reflect the number in each class entered. Three Elite Ladies prizes seemed extravagant when there are rarely more than one or two ladies teams entered. I received a reply almost straight away thanking me for the feedback, which I was impressed with.

Before entering in 2016 I contacted the OMM organisers again and asked whether my suggestions had been implemented. I again received a prompt reply which said yes, they had addressed the starts and the cut off / course length issue. I entered the Elite class again with Jean Brown. This year there were three Ladies teams entered out of 33 teams, which I was pleased to see.

The Event was held in Galloway, and having been there in 2006 on the OMM I was steeling myself for a course of tussocks, non-existent forest rides and forest tracks. On Saturday the weather was claggy but warm. The course was long and there were some very tussocky descents, but we had a good day and finished in 9 hours; 16th overall, 2nd ladies. On Sunday the course seemed very manageable and the terrain overall was very pleasant. We finished in 6 hours; 16th overall and one and a half hours inside the 4pm cut off. The first ladies were 7th overall and the 3rd ladies finished 19th at 3.50pm. Out of the 33 Teams that entered and 19 teams that finished, all three ladies teams had finished. As per my suggestion, the organisers had just allocated one Ladies Team prize to the Elite class, but that’s fine by me;

"I’m just really pleased to see more ladies competing successfully at this level."

I would highly recommend the OMM to anyone who enjoys a challenging weekend on the hills. Study the courses and start with an easy option; score classes allow you to just head for the finish if the weather is poor, however line classes take away that added pressure of deciding where to go.

So having encouraged you to enter the OMM, I’ll finish with a few tips to help you towards your first successful event:

Pack as light as you can but take something for comfort. Last year I was,cold overnight so this year I chose to carry and wear Inov-8 Merino;,with its warm integrated hood and long sleeves, and my OMM Sonic Smock, I,was toasty! I also choose to carry an Alpkit Numo Sleeping Mat instead,of the usual Elite option of bubble wrap! I was so comfy all night, but I,did have to weigh up whether the mat weight of 412g was worth it.

When you first get the map, check the Out of Bounds areas, and if you’re, on a Score Class look for any Compulsory Controls which have to be, visited. Before you dib at a control, always check that the code on the, control is the same as the one on your map!

It’s not about running fast (unless you really are Elite!) It’s about, running and navigating; Jean and I didn’t go wrong once this year. We, might not have been the fastest runners, but we got our navigation right, and kept going. Work together and stay together. Look after each other, and share food and decisions.
Being impatient, I made myself slow down, and listen to Jean’s suggestions. Often she had noticed a line or a feature that I hadn’t.

Eat early and keep eating. It’s always a long day and seeing as you’re carrying the food you might as well reduce weight and eat it. I always try and eat any uneaten Saturday “Day Food” on Saturday night – to reduce
the weight and also to increase energy for Sunday.

It’s hard, and there are going to be times when you wish you were somewhere else. But take a time out, look around and take in the views. You’ll visit some new and fantastic corners of the UK when you do an OMM so at least make sure to enjoy some of it!

Originally published 16/01/17

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