Mountain Marathon Orienteering Running

OMM Lite 2023

Many will be familiar with the OMM or Original Mountain Marathon (or, for those with longer memories, its predecessor the KIMM or Karrimor International MM). The two day event is held in late October each year, and teams of two compete over linear or score courses, carrying all they need for two long days of navigation in the hills, plus sufficient equipment for the overnight camp to whatever degree of comfort they deem appropriate. It has an international reputation, and established following, and an illustrious list of winners on the trophy.

However, multiple hours on the hills, carrying a heavy pack, in frequently dismal autumn conditions, is off-putting for many. Some turn instead to a summer mountain marathon – generally the same format but nicer weather – such as the LAMM in Scotland until it stopped a few years ago, or the Saunders MM in the Lakes that is still going strong. But OMM have found a gap in the market for an easier introduction – the “OMM Lite”. It retains the two day navigational challenge in the hills, but you return to camp overnight, and the navigation is much gentler (more on this later).

The OMM Lite has been going since 2015, in areas including the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, Chilterns, Brecon Beacons, Surrey Hills, Cannock Chase and the Forest of Dean. Since 2021 it has settled on Grasmere in the Lake District as its base, which has fantastic showground fields for camping and arena, as well as Lakeland fells in all directions. Moreover, it has teamed up with the Grasmere Gallop – a set of trail races that has been going for over a decade – to produce an action packed weekend for everyone: the “OMM Festival”.

I’ve done a dozen OMMs and LAMMs in the past, and very much enjoyed them. But I’m always interested in new racing formats, so I was excited to take part in the OMM Lite this year (especially since Pippa and I recently moved to Kendal in the Lake District, so it was just down the road). My first impression on arriving at Grasmere showground on Friday night was this is not like a regular OMM campsite. It wasn’t dark and raining for a start! But the campsite was also filled with many large family tents, kids running around playing, and lots of laughter (and some tears) – not your typical scene for the OMM in October (apart from maybe some tears?). The OMM Festival doesn’t just combine the OMM Lite mountain marathon, and the Grasmere Gallop trail races, there is tons more besides.

  • Talks on topics such as kit repair, conservation in the Lakes, sports nutrition, and last minute navigation training.
  • Workshops on using running poles, mobility sessions, and running technique.
  • Activities for children like face painting and the “teddy dash”.
  • Sports massage.
  • A talk and a 5km leg stretching run with the record breaking ultra runner Sabrina Verjee.
  • An O maze and introductory O course round the village put on by local club LOC.
  • All with camping and campervans surrounding the a large marquee, with OMM shop (plenty of discounts!), catering and bar, and Saturday night live music from local talent Bailey Moore and his guitar (“something for everyone from the last 4 decades!”).

This is all part of the philosophy of the OMM Festival, to bring together people from different backgrounds and sporting interests, and introduce them to other sports, like getting trail runners into orienteering or mountain marathons, or getting outdoorsy families wanting a weekend away to dip their toe in a trail race while also finding entertaining for the kids.

Back to the OMM Lite competition. I mentioned the simplified navigation earlier – the rules and pre-start briefing were at pains to point out: “This is NOT an open access event. All competitors must keep to footpaths/bridleways/byways.” This meant typical checkpoints were path junctions, gates and summit cairns. While taking away some navigational challenge, this added different route choice decisions as you couldn’t just go in a straight line, and linking up checkpoints for an optimum route required quite some thought! I even found myself “navigationally challenged” 5 minutes off the start, trying to work out which of several small footpaths I was on out of Grasmere village and had to get my compass out!

There was a choice of long score (7 hours + 5 hours) or short score (5 hours + 4 hours). You can compete solo or in teams of two or three. Each day had a fine spread of controls, more points for distant or higher checkpoints, but plenty to go at closer to base. The day 1 map stretched south from Grasmere across Loughrigg and Silver Howe (familiar O areas to many a seasoned orienteer although very confusing on the OS 1:25,000 map!), through Elterwater and Langdale valley, and down to Tarn Hows and Holme Fell (more O areas!). Day 2 had options further west, towards High Raise and the Langdale Pikes (and more Silver Howe and Loughrigg Fell!). I had no real idea what might be achievable (I’ve always done linear courses at the OMM and LAMM in the past), and with most of the running on good trails, I decided to confidently set out on day 1 with a route that could conceivably clean up all the controls. Indeed I’d bagged half the checkpoints in just over half the time, but then energy levels started to plummet, I was wilting in the roasting heat, water was hard to come by after 3 weeks of no rain and streams not running, and faced stiff climbs to some of the remaining controls. I gradually scaled back my ambitions for the route home, and staggered in with a few minutes to spare, very pleased with an overnight lead on the long score, but feeling utterly spent and unsure how tomorrow would go.

I spent much of the evening horizontal and recovering, eating and drinking lots, and enjoying the live music from across the field. On Sunday morning my legs seemed up for another battle so off we went. My tactic was to not be distracted by the clusters of nearby lower points, but link up the highest points value checkpoints, with a large circuit of the fells, without too many ups and downs after a first couple of climbs. There were again plenty of choices, and it was fun to keep bumping into the same folk multiple times running in the opposite direction on a different circuit each day. I was left with a final ascent bent double up Loughrigg Fell, and some final controls before returning to base, very pleased to download and discover I’d got the most points again and taken the overall lead – hurray! A jolly prize giving for Sunday’s Grasmere Gallop marathon, and the OMM Lite, with a spread of prizes for overall winners, veteran handicap, ladies, mixed pair and family teams. Happy with my £30 OMM vouchers for each of the overall win and top vet.

All in all it was a great weekend. Helped by the lovely weather (except when the sun was beating down in final stages each day). A superb atmosphere around the showground, with so much going on, and a new event and style of race. On balance, personally, I’m still drawn to more technical navigation and off-trail cross-country running (although not carrying such a big pack or being freezing cold and wet overnight were nice benefits!), but there is definitely a place for an event like this for folk wanting to transition from trail running towards mountain marathon style navigation and orienteering, and I look forward to seeing the event continue to carve out its own established following.

OMM Lite 2023 Results and Race Report