“So we go round this hill, through the broad col, and the control should be just over that hill.” I point towards number #6 and Shane nods his head. Everything seems to fit including the valley to the left. We get our heads down and plough on through the grassy tussocks and heather. Over the hill. Should be just down here. Wait a minute, what is this fence? I was not expecting that. Maybe it isn’t mapped. Oh no. Oh f*%$. We quickly figure out what has happened. We’ve made a mistake. A big mistake. We’ve gone 90 degrees the wrong way, to the wrong hill, 2km from where we should be. Biggest mistake I’ve ever made in 10 years of elite Mountain Marathons. Bother.
We are at the Original Mountain Marathon 2019 in Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, just west of Glasgow. Reputed to be pathless and rough from those who did the KIMM 2001. I don’t think Shane and I have ever toed the startline at an OMM thinking we are the fittest and fastest pair, but we’ve had some success by careful navigation, tactics, and persistence through poor weather and rough terrain. So wasting 25 minutes under clear skies in a stacked field was not going to help our cause.
We correct our course, get our heads down, pick up #6 and trudge onwards. I had a major dip in energy through to #10, but thankfully Shane was on the nav and I just had to not let him get more than 50m ahead in increasingly rough terrain. I’ve never done an elite MM where I haven’t felt exhausted and out of it at some point or other, and it is great knowing you can swap the lead with the other person taking charge – the favour is often repaid.
A gel and a Snickers bar later (the old “Marathon” bar would have been more apt…) we’ve put the mistake behind us, and are focussed on the task at hand – getting to the overnight camp. A good route saving height on the long leg to #12, and then one last slog through the worst heather yet to #13 and on to the finish.
The overnight standings: Hector and Graham have a solid 25 minute lead, a further just 2 minutes covers 2nd to 5th place, and we are 25 minutes further back in 7th place. Many would be delighted. I can only think this is our worst OMM elite result to date, and without that mistake we should be up in that chasing pack. Maybe we are getting too old to think we can still mix it at the sharp end?
We get the tent up just before it starts to rain (and importantly before darkness descends), and set about refueling for day 2. Sometimes OMM overnight camps can be social affairs. If you are lucky a barn to chat to friends in. Maybe a clear starry sky. Or perhaps you just feel more sociable when your spirit is buoyed by a good result? Tonight it is not. The squally showers mean we only make the bare minimum of excursions out the tent for more water or the toilet.
I knew the chase was 30 minutes long, and assumed we were outside it, starting after 8am. Fortunately a glance at the results reminds me it is actually fixed 3 minute intervals (rather than based on day 1 finish time behind the leader), and we are off at 7:18. Time to get our heads down for some sleep. Or at least resting / dozing – the rain outside and tent flapping in the wind makes things rather damp, and repeated glancing at my watch cannot make the alarm come soon enough.
Sunday morning is the usual affair that starts off slow, waiting for water to boil for porridge and coffee, and always ends up rushed, taking the tent down at the last minute. We jog gently to the start, easing tired limbs into action, arriving with a minute or two to spare, as Nic and Jim fly past a minute or two late. Number one round the track or straight up the hill? “Straight is great” right? We are off, as the morning sun’s weak rays try to warm us. We might be tired, and disappointed with yesterday’s result, but the competitive spirit is reawakened when we see Nic and Jim ahead (6th place), and then also Björn and Johan (5th place).
We run as a group for a couple of controls, picking up a fourth pair along the way, but soon after #3 yesterday’s exertion is catching up with us (or is it a whole year of not enough training…?) and it all feels too much. With a silent acknowledgement we drop back as the others pull away. Over the road crossing and into the southern area. Yesterday I overheard someone say it was faster running than the north, but it doesn’t feel like it. The course does a loop temptingly close to the finish with 10km to go, and I sense both Shane and I are thinking the same thing, but we plough on round that last loop and slide wearily into the finish. 6th overall as one team had dropped out.
In hindsight we were probably never going to make the podium this year. Not enough training through Shane’s bad back, and a drop in both our motivations to put in the long training runs. However there were still moments when it felt great. Cruising through the terrain, feeling strong, and that distinctive autumnal feeling of the OMM in the air.
Looking back on a decade of elite OMMs (all with Shane except 2014 with Jim):
- 2010 – Dartmoor, 5th
- 2011 – Comrie, 1st
- 2012 – Howgills, 2nd
- 2013 – Brecon Beacons, did not run
- 2014 – Cheviot, retired (tore calf)
- 2015 – Tweedsmuir, 3rd
- 2016 – Glen Trool, 1st
- 2017 – Great Langdale, 1st
- 2018 – Black Mountains, did not run
- 2019 – Clyde Muirshiel, 6th
A good innings you might say. I’ll take that. I still love the sense of adventure you get from doing battle with the terrain, the map, and the late October weather. The satisfying glow from knowing you put the effort it. But it will take a lot of persuading to get me to do another. Although I’ve said that before…