The 54th Original Mountain Marathon (OMM)
28th – 29th October
Report – Kim Lee
What do you get if you cross one navigational mastermind, three members of the dodgy-knee gang and two OMM virgins?
Three perfect couples to represent Stratford AC at the OMM, the gold standard in mountain challenges. The Males: Graham Black and Wayne Vickers. The Mixed: Pete Sugden and Sarah Gillard. The Females: Vicky Sharpe and Kim Lee.
The OMM is a self-reliant 2 day journey through the UK’s finest mountain terrain, with a new challenging terrain each year. This year was Snowdonia – a classic. Pitched at the end of October to ‘guarantee bad weather’. It is a true test of navigational skills, resilience, and a sense of humour.
Each couple is given their map at the start line, at which point they can plan their own route between optional point-scoring-checkpoints and reach a halfway overnight campsite for the first night.
The second day is simply the same in reverse, with a new map and fresh set of checkpoints, with the finish line being the HQ starting point from day 1. For an extra challenge, the map is modified with most labels removed, leaving the contours of the landscape, a few broken paths, and the river systems. Plus, you carry all your camping equipment and food for the weekend.
After Vicky supported me for the first two days of cycling John O’Groats to Lands End last year, it was my turn to return the favour and join her for this challenge. As a former Venture Scout, I confidently declared my navigational and camping expertise, despite it being well over 20 years ago since I navigated and camped wild in this way.
Without conferring beforehand, Vicky and I both turned up at the Friday Stratford meeting point with a tray of cakes each – cupcakes from Vicky, mince pies from myself. A clear sign that we were a perfectly in-tune couple. The rest of the team were very grateful. I thought some may go to waste, as we are all such athletic, health-conscious individuals – how wrong was I!
We arrived in Bethesda on the Friday night at the HQ campsite after a long convoy drive. The longest part seeming to be Wayne’s fantastic detour back through the centre of Stratford to reach the Birmingham Road Tesco for his food for the weekend.
We soon got the tents erected and headed to the HQ main tent to compare notes before the event started early Saturday morning. Having not done the event before, I listened intently, learning that it was going to rain, be freezing cold, and the halfway campsite was likely to be on boggy marshland.
The Saturday start line was a buzz of energy as couples were handed the highly anticipated map, spent 5 minutes strategizing and set off in different directions.
Vicky and I chose to stay in the valley for the easy, sheltered checkpoints and warm-up, prior to a water gully climb to the highest point. The day was going well until we decided to then head ‘straight’ towards the finish to bag more ‘easy’ checkpoints near the finish line. The ‘straight’ option was a disaster, involving a bouldering descent down Pen yr Ole Wen (7th highest mountain in Wales). Reaching the halfway campsite 50 minutes over the 6hr allowed time, we ended up with significant time penalties, that reduced our overall score to 4. Not even double figures, meanwhile the lead score was over 600.
Embarrassed by the terrible route choice and physically broken by how strenuous and time-consuming the death-defying descent turned out to be, we were still in good spirits with a great story to tell. We couldn’t imagine anyone else would make such an awful route choice . . . until Pete and Sarah explained they had made the same mistake, which was actually much worse as Pete led Sarah back up the Pen yr Ole Wen, after they had already descended for checkpoints on lower ground. Pete’s comment “I think there was another way round” was surprisingly well received by Sarah whilst too far committed to the uphill climb to turn around.
Meanwhile, Graham and Wayne finished beaming with a great result, doubling the score from their 1stday in the prior year, covering a mountainous 22km and 1,300m of elevation in under 6 hours. Graham was extremely flattered by Wayne complimenting him on being able to run and climb uphill so quickly.
The campsite at halfway was a considerable improvement on prior year by all accounts, set in a glorious Welsh valley. Our tents withstood the heavy rain and winds overnight, and we woke at 6am to bagpipes. As we were packing up the tent, Vicky unexpectedly shouted, “Oi, Princess, don’t forget your eye mask!”. Yes, I let myself have one luxury item to make it into an almost glamping experience. Efficiently packing up the site, we were soon all set for the second day of adventures.
The pressure was on for Graham and Wayne to build on their epic first day. Whilst Pete, Sarah, Vicky and I were focused on finishing in one piece with well thought-through route choices. Vicky and I confidently headed off, again completely in tune – no steep climbs, calm decision-making, and direct routes only. Our first checkpoint appeared and required an unavoidable steep climb, which meant we were even more determined to commit to the second two goals. We confidently went from checkpoint to checkpoint, cautiously ensuring we had the optimum route choice throughout. The highlight was striding through three rivers and a boggy marsh, soaking wet but enjoying the warm autumnal sun.
Just before the final checkpoint, we were chatting too much and missed the turn to allow a gradual climb to the highest-scoring checkpoint. When we realised our mistake, we were faced with another steep climb instead, thankfully we were still in great spirits and bounded to the top. We also got to see Pete and Sarah just prior to our ‘sprint’ finish. Comparing notes at the finish line, whilst tucking into the finisher’s meal, our minds turned to Graham and Wayne, so we set up the tracker to see their progress.
The next hour of tracking Graham and Wayne turned quite bemusing. Graham, the navigational mastermind and his side-kick Wayne, missed an easy checkpoint and then meandered in the wrong direction through an out of bounds area. They corrected themselves and headed straight to the finish, where we greeted them through the finish line. Our hearts sank as we saw the disappointment on their faces. It just shows how the time pressure and fatigue from a weekend of mental and physical exertion can make navigation so challenging. They covered 19km, including another 1,300m of elevation, finishing with a total of 588 points. Not quite enough to pip the overall winning score of 1310!
We all thoroughly recommend the OMM. A friendly, well-run, and extremely popular event. Next year it is set in the Southern Highlands. Graham and Wayne have already entered . . . not sure if Wayne knows that yet! It was an unforgettable adventure and bonding experience for us all, forming new friendships and solidifying existing ones, with no cross words and plenty of laughter.