“I think I can jump that” says Shane, before sprinting down the bank and launching himself across the raging torrent, landing mostly on the far bank, legs pedaling wildly in the foaming water below. We are at the OMM, it is day 1, it rained overnight, and has continued to do so for the first two hours of racing. The river crossings are getting exciting and we are starting to get cold…
For anyone who doesn’t know, the OMM is a two day competition, where you navigate in pairs round a course of checkpoints over remote and wild terrain, carrying everything you need to be self-sufficient for the racing and the overnight camp. I’ve raised the elite class several times, 5th in 2010 (Dartmoor), winning in 2011 (Scotland), 2nd in 2012 (Howgills), all partnered with Shane Ohly, entered but didn’t start due to injury in 2013 (Brecon Beacons), and started but didn’t finish with another injury in 2014 (Cheviots) with Jim Mann. It is a tough race, and it takes its toll. So after two disappointing years it was time to return and pit ourselves against the challenge once more (each previous time having tried to make a mental note how hard it is, but strangely the tiring memories fade and only the good ones remain!).
This year there was a good field, with Kim Collison & Adam Perry probably favourites, Jim Mann & Nic Barber looking strong, and myself and Shane in the mix with other pairings such as Iain Whiteside & Andy Fallas, Oleg Chepelin & Sam Hesling, and a strong mixed pair of Jasmin Paris & Konrad Rawlik. We were first off (having slipped passed Andy & Gwynn in the start queue – sorry boys), and once the maps finally turned up (!) we gave it what we had from the start. #2 was a long route choice, a classic up and over, or round and up the valley. We went round, but perhaps boldly taking the climb straight on was quicker, as Kim & Adam had caught up with us around #3. We continued to tick off the controls, and the river crossings, before another long leg to #6 where Jim & Nic caught us, we ran together for a while, then they took a different line only to pop up not far ahead near the control. This was sufficient enticement for Shane, who took off down the hill in pursuit, just as my energy was starting to fade. We pushed to get back in touch for a few km, but slowly I faded further, they pulled away, and we battled round the final heathery hills to the finish. 1st Jim & Adam, 2nd Jim & Nic (+7 mins), 3rd Iain & Andy (+23 mins) and 4th us (+33 mins). Maybe we could have done more at the end to stay in touch, but fairly pleased, and the end of a long day where it felt like we were on the edge, only just staying ahead of the weather and running enough to keep warm.
And so to the overnight camp. Usually a case of making the best of an uncomfortable situation, and the organisers hold the event on the weekend the clocks go back, giving you an extra hour in a slightly damp and cold tent, just when you don’t really want it. However it was better than last years’ sloping windswept field, and we set about putting spent calories back in and relaxing. I felt sorry looking out in the evening around the 8pm cut-off, to still see torchlights adorning the facing hillside as slower teams limped into camp.
We got through the night sufficiently well rested, and eager to do battle once more. Day 2 is always a chasing start, but it was compressed so it wasn’t first past the line wins, you had to catch those in front and put some more minutes on them too. We went out hard, and at least did the first by catching Iain & Andy in the 500m to #1 (nav error for them). We then picked up Nic & Jim too (another nav error I think), and as a group of six started to eat up the course, then catching Kim & Adam on the way to #7. Head to head racing at its best! Everyone eyeing each other up, who was looking strong, who was tiring, who would make the route choices, etc. Slowly an order emerged, with Iain & Andy falling back, and the other two teams pulling ahead, as I once again faded in the latter part of the course. It was a case of head down, keep pushing, and try to put another 6 minutes on those behind so we could pull up to third overall. I faded even more, and when Shane asked for the second time if I wanted him to take my bag there was little hesitation. That and some more food put a spring back in my step, and we forged ahead, keeping the leaders in sight across the hills. It is amazing how once the finish line comes into sight you can dig that little bit deeper and find something vaguely resembling a sprint finish.
Overall: 1st Jim & Adam, 2nd Jim & Nic (+9 mins), and 3rd us (+28 mins). All in all we were happy with that, and proudly took our spot on the podium.
Courses and routes: http://www.omm.routegadget.co.uk/rg2/.
PS, whilst browsing for the results from the weekend I discovered that you can already enter OMM 2016!! https://www.theomm.com/the-omm-2016-south/ “The south” doesn’t give much away – Peaks, Wales, Dartmoor? Who knows…