The 26-27th October I did my first ever Mountain Marathon – for those who don’t know what it is, it’s basically 2 days of mountain running (and a bit of navigation!) with all your kit (tent, sleeping bag, food, clothes etc.) in a rucksack, about 6 hours each day. The OMM, this year in Brecon Beacons i Wales, was really going to be a challange. Nick Barrable had asked me several times before to do this with him, but as it clashes with Smålandskavlen each year I haven’t said yes until now. Nick had already won 7 of the 8 classes in OMM, with only the most prestigious class left: The Elite, despite many tries. So this year he was hoping that we would be able to win it!
I had never done a competition like this, so I had no idea what to expect, but with Nicks experience we managed to prepare quite well, I think. We had good lightweight equipment, a good idea of how much food and water you need, and some handy tricks Nick had worked out over the years he has competed in the OMM.
We headed off to Wales with victory in mind, especially in Nick’s I think, but we had quite much competition, with Sander Vaher/Timo Sild, Steve Birkenshaw/Kim Collison, and Ben Abdelnoor/Oli Johnson as our greatest opponents. We started last the first day, which felt quite nice, since we then could control the field reasonably well. We started off well, taking a different route than most to the first control, which turned out to be quite good, since we almost caught Steve and Kim, who started 2 minutes in front of us, to the second control. To the third control, we had a real monster leg: 21,5 km straight line. (the longest leg I’ve ever done, and quite possible the longest one I’ll ever do!) Vi decided for a southern route, which had a nice line and some path running. Steve and Kim, however, tock a northern route, and we didn’t see them again on day 1. Our route felt quite good, but turned out to be a real tussock fest for some of way. It did cheer us up when we caught Oli and Ben 12 minutes with only 4 km to go to the 3rd control, since they were the ones we thought we really had to watch out for. It did feel quite weird to punch the 3rd control after 4h 19min. It was so long ago that we had been at the 2nd control! It was here I really started to become tired, and I was quite happy that Ben and Oli was taking it quite slow, as we sticked with them for most of the remaining course. Towards the last control, number 7, Nick grew a bit impatient, and we picked up our pace a bit breaking away from Ben and Oli. After finishing I was quite happy with our performance, but after downloading we found at that Steve and Kim had beaten us with 13½ minutes! As it turned out, the northen option were quite much faster, mostly due to the lack of tussocks there. In the end, we were 2nd on day 1, only beaten by Kim and Steve, but it was really tight in results behind us, with Hugh Aggleton and Tom Gibbs chasing us 2 minutes, and the Timo and Sander only another minute behind.
We were a bit disappointed being so far behind, and I think Nick gave up his hopes of us winning. We set up our tent just in time to avoid the rain, and I didn’t leave the tent until next morning. The night was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated, and after havning a nice meal of instant noodles, beanfeast and macaroni, some flapjacks and a protein bar, I had a quite good night’s sleep. I think this was a key succes factor. From what I heard afterwards, most people had it lots worse than we did. For instance, Jonny Crickmore had to spend the night in a portaloo since their tent got flooded, so I guess we should count ourselfs lucky.
It was raining quite heavily all through the night, and with the big storm forecast to come in during the afternoon, the organasers decided to authorise Bad Weather Courses, which meant that the courses for day to would be shortened. Nick and I were in no way upset about this, instead I really started to feel that day 2 were going to be well within my comfort zone, and I was really psyched to take up the hunt for Kim and Steve in the chasing start! I started of really hard, and in the ascend to number one, I looked back and could tell that we were going quite much faster than the chasing teams, and I continued to push hard. I was a bit confused by the fact that we couldn’t see Kim and Steve at all, the terrain was open and you could easily see 10-15 minutes ahead of you. But I just continued to go hard, and about halfway through the course I saw them, just 100 m ahead of us. Although thrilled by the fact that we had managed to catch them up, I told myself not to get hubris and go too fast, so I decided to stay with them for a few short controls, before the long leg north. Since Nick felt quite strong as well, we decided to push hard to make sure we were ahead, and have a bit of a margin for small errors. About halfway through the leg, I saw Kim and Steve taking a different line than us, going slightly right, and as the weather became more foggy, my feeling of control disappeared with the visibility. I decided that we were taking no chances, so we pushed really hard all the way up the hill, and in the descent the fog disappeared, and when we looked back we could tell that we had a few minutes lead. The rest was quite pleasant, we took it a bit easy uphill too make sure we didn’t die in the end, and even though Nick was a bit nervous and pushed quite hard on the tracks back to the finish, they never got closer than a few minutes from us, and in the end we won with 8.
And that was it! A really fun experience, and carrying all the equipment and spending the night in a small tent in the british October weather wasn’t nearly as bad as I had anticipated. Actually, I kind of enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed sitting down in the Event Centre and having a warm meal, and being joined by elite fourthplaced Ed Catmur and Alan Cherry, A-winners Jonny Crickmore and Jonny Malley, and B-winners Peter Hodkinson and Joseph Fisher, while waiting for the prize-giving ceremony. For me, that was the best part of the weekend. Having done 9½ h of racing, and being able to sit down and have a chat and some food with your friends – unbeatable!
Map, day 1
Map, day 2
But how were we able to win this? It was my first ever Mountain Marathon, and my first ever running race longer than 4 hours. I’ll try to sort out the succes factors:
- The equipment: Nicks OMM-experience was invaluable, as he sorted out all equipment and food in a perfect way. You really need the good stuff if you are going for the win in a Mountain Marathon. A good lightweight tent, lightweight sleeping bag, and bubble wrap (!) as sleeping mat were just the things you needed for a good nights sleep. I also believe that the good, hot meal we had was important for our performance the next day. You’ll need to know how much food you should bring – too much and it is unnecessary weight – too little and you don’t get enough energy. And Nick had this extremely well balanced.
- The terrain: It suited us well. Quite tough running in the tussocks and heather, which meant that we could use our forest running muscles in a good way. Also, it wasn’t too hilly, which I think was in our favour.
- The Bad Weather Courses: 6½ hours the first day was a little too long for me. But the 2nd day being significantly shorter, and also being cut even further due to the bad weather, played right into our hands. The length and winning time were getting closer to a long distance orienteering race, and that’s where we are strong. We could run day 2 with confidence, and push hard all the way.
It was good fun, I enjoyed it. But will I do it again? Probably not. I’m happy with my current 100% winning rate. But you never know what the future brings, you might see me at a Mountain Marathon again some time…