I did hit a bit of hump when my OMM partner had to pull out 3 weeks prior to the event due to an injury picked up at the Glencoe Marathon. This left me in a bit of limbo, I had a potential replacement but this didn’t happen as his injury hadn’t quite cleared a week before the event so to leave me a bit of time to source another team mate he reluctantly pulled out the week before. Now it crossed my mind at this stage to pull out but I didn’t want to waste the time and energy I had already committed. The OMM have a forum that gives all competitors access to discuss the event and ask questions, one component is titled Partner Needed. So I put up my dilemma and left it.
When I returned to the forum entry the next day there was a reply! Someone willing to team up. I was nervous of doing it with someone I didn’t know. Would I be able keep up? Would we gel as a team? I was getting further out of my comfort zone now. We had a couple of exchanges on the forum then we moved to a messenger discussion and chat. My social media stalking revealed that he was an accomplished trail runner and his experience outweighed mine by a factor of a million! Should I be more nervous? Actually it put me at ease, I would draw from his experience and work hard to prove myself.
Following some online/text exchange we met in a dark carpark at a mid-point to the OMM on the Friday night. We consolidated to one vehicle and made the final leg to the venue. My comrade for the weekend, Richard and I started to get to know each other. I quickly became aware that the ‘accomplished’ didn’t quite cover the level of experience he holds. This may have been my first mountain marathon and OMM, this was around his 20th OMM and had completed the Rab Mountain Marathon the previous month and many more prior!
We discussed kit, by comparison I was packing for an expedition in comparison to the proposed gear Richard was used to competing with. On arrival to the OMM car park we looked at the kit we were going to carry and share. Out went the 1.5kg tent I was proposing and in went the 700g Terra Nova Laser Photon for 1. My individual gas burning stove got binned for a pot stand that would boil water with hexamine. My comforts were disappearing, I got to keep my inflatable mat though.
Next step was to go ant sort our registration out, as we were late in getting the team together we had to swap our teams about whilst picking up our check point key. We had a walk around the tented village OMM had constructed for the weekend, looked at some kit, bought some extra calories and, as it was late, headed back to the shelter of Richards 4x4 where the back seats were folded down giving us a flat platform to sleep. Sleep came easy.
We thought we had overslept as our alarm went off a little later than we had planned. As always the time afforded to us was enough for us to eat, dress in our weekend attire and prepare our luggage. We were warned of the 50 minute/3 mile walk to the start line at registration, the walk up was leisurely and we were surrounded by plenty of company. As well as a low lying blanket of zero visibility.
What struck me, being a gear geek, was the varying degrees of pack size of the competitors around us. The weight, or comfort, spectrum had a broad range. I was pleased to realise I wasn’t the heaviest but between my teammate and I the scales slumped over to my end.
Image courtesy of OMM
Our start time came around, we stepped in to our lane and moved forward to receive our first map of the weekend. I tried to take in as much of as I could before I pushed the key in to the start control point and we were off.
Keep moving and this is a marathon! These were what I had running through my head. I orientated the map, looked for features, discussed with Richard a quick fire plan to get to the first control and we made our way up the track. We headed further in to the clag, visibility became very low. Suddenly we encountered a lot of people looking for the same checkpoint, criss crossing our own path. There were no land marks or features visible to bring us on to our first objective so we purposefully made our way on our chosen bearing. I say purposefully, but what happened was we got caught up in the crowd, purposefully throwing all navigation no no’s out the window and stumbled, with purpose, on the first control. The next leg started like a steeple chase as we allowed ourselves to be pushed by the angle of the slope away from the crossing point to the towering defence which we ended up crossing twice to put us in line for the final jump over the stone dyke wall.
Image courtesy of OMM
Allowing the gradient to sway our path and me suddenly realising that the 1:40k heavy contour lines indicated a 75m altitude difference instead of the 50m I allowed for in my head. These were teething problems that we quickly overcame we pushed up the incline to the next control, traversed and dropped in to the 3rd.
The ground underfoot was not what I allowed for in my training. I spent all my time on trails, compared to what we were tramping across I may as well been of been training on tarmac. The endless, vacuumous surface we moved across sapped any energy, momentum, rhythm and calories I fought to hold on to. The battle to maintain an equilibrium was lost as we got to control 10. The route to this point took us over continually varied terrain, a long boggy ‘path’ down the side of Loch Enoch, Neldricken and Valley. We go around the Rig of Jarkness in the hope that we didn’t have to gain as much height as we did.
Near the summit of the Fell of Eschoncan in the area of control 10, visibility decreased rapidly. It was not a meteorological occurrence, it was a physiological issue. The calorie battle was the one that threatened the war. I couldn’t see, my blood sugars had dropped and everything went quiet. I managed to call out for Richard to stop until I regained some composure. I struggled, at this point I wasn’t making the second day of the event. My only goal was to get off this hill and find some food. My loose remaining provisions were made up of a gel sachet and a small block of cheese, totalling around 180 calories. Not much but enough to lift the needle from empty. I managed, with Richards’s help, to get myself sorted. I beeped in on the control and we descended quickly through the tree line on to a hard trail. I was back in the game, I can only liken it to coming out of high altitude, which is ridiculous as the Fell of Eschoncan only stands at 348m!
We make our way along or path to the finish, winding around the shore of Loch Trool. As we approach a waiting photographer we check in to the control beside him and shuffle on to the finish line. I feel a huge sense of relief as I put the key into the finish line control. We are directed to the download to get our print out for the days times. Here we find out in our haste to get done our final control was the wrong one, the clock is still ticking! This takes the wind out our sails, it’s our own fault. We didn’t read the control description and reached for the easy option when we saw it. Following a short discussion, where Richard convinces me should go back and sort it and finish the day properly we walk back to the right check point which is just over a kilometre back. The control is sat off the path on top of a knoll, we didn’t see it. We weren’t looking for it. It beeps oddly when I check in but I make sure I get an audible response. Then we return to the finish line, again.
Before we can get the tent up and dinner on we have to go in to the control centre (a big bus looking thing) and have them re-jig our times to allow for the multiple occasions we crossed the final line. With this done we find a spot amongst the sea of shelters and erect our own. We plumed our nest with sleeping bags and inflatable pad. I say we, my carer for the last couple of hours did that, whilst I got out of my wet clothes into some warmer dry ones. There was no rain that evening but the day had been pretty steady, it wasn’t uncomfortable though. The terrain made up for that.
Image courtesy of OMM
I crouched in to the end of the tent whilst water was boiled for my dinner. I started with some beef jerky that was in my ration bag. It was welcome calories and the taste was acceptable as well. Then I waited for the food in the bag to rehydrate before it was absorbed in to my system.
As I sat huddled in the end of the tent I contemplated what had happened that day, how I underestimated a whole load of factors and what I planned to do next. I decided it was too early for answers, I needed to rest and consult with my team mate. Richard was supportive of a withdrawal if that was my decision.
I wrapped myself in my comfort blanket and listened to the other teams around me discussing their days as I drifted in and out of consciousness...
Our route for day 1, level C of the event. It was post plotted roughly after the event -
You can read about Day 2 here