Brutal conditions tested the competitors maintaining the OMMs’ legendary reputation.
The Original Mountain Marathon was created to allow competitors’ to test their abilities in the mountains. As with anyone entering the UK mountains the OMM requires its competitors to be able to navigate, make route decisions, manage their kit and move quickly over rough terrain.
On the Friday evening the 2000 competitors gathered in the marquee to share stories of past years and pay tribute to Gerry Charnley who created the OMM back in 1968.
Saturday morning the blue skies gave way to a more OMM appropriate weather of driving rain and high winds. As the teams stopped to plan their routes the Elite teams skipped past led by eventual winners Shane Ohly & Duncan Archer. Shane commented that this Elite Course had the hardest day 1 course he’s ever done. This comment was mirrored across the field partly due to the challenging courses and secondly due to the conditions.
On the exposed Lakeland tops the competitors were battered by 60 mph winds and 30ft visibility. The conditions led to 20% of the field retiring early. The remaining competitors elected to either shorten their routes, go directly to the overnight camp or return to the event centre.
At the end of Day 1, only 7 teams had finished the Elite Course. The only all-female team of Nicky Spinks & Kirsty Hewitson made it to checkpoint 10 near Wasdale before deciding to call it a day. They commented that they felt strong but the conditions had slowed them down. They realised they weren’t going to make it to the overnight camp before the cut off time so elected to return to the event centre arriving back around midnight.
The remaining 80% of the field that made it to the overnight camp at Cockley Beck, set up their tents, got themselves organised and settled in for the night. In the morning the competitors were rewarded by a stunning 360-degree vista of the Lakeland Fells. Upon speaking to the competitors they commented on how testing and rewarding day 1 had been. Day 2 started under perfect weather conditions allowing the competitors to easily pick up their required checkpoints and make their way to the finish back at Stool End Farm.
Looking back at the weekend OMM said: “It’s been a fantastic event we’ve had challenging courses and conditions in line with the challenge the event has offered for 50 years. It’s also been great to see the OMM community stronger than ever after this many events.”
The top 3 teams on the Elite Class were Shane Ohly & Duncan Archer taking 1st, Steve Birkenshaw & Andrew Berry in 2nd, Tom Gibbs & Paul Tierney 3rd. In the score events, the Long Score was won by Nick Barrable & Darrel High whilst the first Ladies team of Claire Gordon & Sarah O’Neil finished in 16th.
The youngest team competing on the Elite course were flatmates Tam Wilson and Alistair Masson both from of Edinburgh University Orienteering Club (EUOC). Hear their thoughts on what was an epic weekend.
Interviewer: Tim Morgan (EUOC)
Guys, top work to come home in 4th place, how are the legs feeling?
Ali Masson (EUOC): “Cheers. Last night I was hobbling badly and in a fair amount of pain all over. A sleep on a comfy bed seems to have helped but I have some quite swollen feet which are giving me trouble walking on, along with a long list of minor pains.”
Tam Wilson (EUOC): “My body doesn’t work anymore. I can barely walk.”
You both took a substantial step up to race the elite, was this end of season ‘fun’ or an important aim for you?
Ali Masson: “Last year I ran the old B course with Tim Morgan (EUOC) and since then I think we both had doing the elite race in our minds as an important aim. We both knew it’d be very challenging but we were very up for giving it a go and seeing how we’d fair on the elite. It was gutting for Tim not being able to run due to a knee injury. I also felt deflated when Tim let me know it was also his aim which had grown through our success last year and so to not be running with Tim was very disappointing. However, I was very lucky to find a willing and strong partner in fellow flatmate Tam and in the last week leading up to the OMM I couldn’t help but feel excited.”
Tam Wilson: “Tim having to pull-out was pretty sad but having seen what the boys did last year I was keen to step up and give it a shot. Having never really done anything like this before, I guess my aims were to get around. Any good result on top of that would be a bonus.”
The longest we as orienteers race for tends to be 90 minutes. Did you find the length of the courses intimidating or were you fully prepared to make yourselves hurt for that amount of time?
Tam Wilson: “A few days before, I saw that the OMM website said the Elite was 85km. I found this a little daunting. Ali assured me this was just something they said and there was no way it would be that long. However, actually in the lead up to the weekend, I was mainly worried that my knee was giving me some issues and I feared it was going to be sore from the off. That kind of helped me forget about the real pain to come.”
Ali Masson: “The course lengths were a little intimidating. However, the race is a very different ball game to your standard orienteering. It’s difficult to know how the body is going to react after hours of hill munching so I think you just have to accept that it’s going to hurt and keep hurting, no matter what happens.”
Every year the top end of the results list is stacked with orienteers. Clearly, solid navigation is key to have a successful weekend but it’s a style that’s different to standard orienteering. Did you make any tweaks to your technique to suit the format or did you just adapt as you ran?
Ali Masson: “I think the approach is very similar but being able to adapt to the scale and lack of detail on the map is important. I guess that the process and techniques are the same though. You still make a plan, take a bearing and so on.”
Tam Wilson: “It took me a while to get used to the lack of detail compared to orienteering. I was looking for orienteering sized streams and hills on the map that weren’t there and getting confused. Ali has done a lot more of this type of thing than me and was more on top of things. He kept me right.”
From various reports I’ve seen, Saturday threw some challenging conditions at everyone. How did you deal with this from both a navigation perspective and energy/warmth management?
Tam Wilson: “Navigationally, it meant you could see almost nothing once you got over about 600m. We just had to be really careful in the fog. We still made a couple of blunders, but I think everyone was messing up. It was rough.”
Ali Masson: “Physically, we just kept wrapped up and tried to keep moving. There were a few real cold points on the tops. However, we just kept going, and after a while, you drop lower or get out the wind and you warm up a bit.”
Looking at the splits it seems you had a relatively stable race. Perhaps talk us through a couple of controls you nailed and any mistakes you made.
Tam Wilson: “On day 1, we lost time to 8 when we contoured round the north of Kirk Fell on a scrappy little path in the fog. We ended up dropping too low and running too far and came round the side of the hill to see a large valley filled with trees spread out below. We fairly quickly worked out what we did, but turning around and slogging back uphill to the saddle wasn’t fun. By far our biggest mistake of the weekend.”
Ali Masson: “On the flipside, we were clean to 9, a control a lot of other teams struggled on and proved to be crucial in the overall results. Here we just slogged up the hill to about the correct height before contouring round. Running in the clag, every pile of rocks looked like the sheepfold we were looking for and just as I was losing confidence we stumbled right onto it. That made me happy, and apparently, we got the fastest split.”
To do well at the OMM it’s important to nail some of the route choices. What were you considering when making your decisions and how did your routes go?
Tam Wilson: “After a while, it became clear that avoiding the loose rocky areas was key. Asides from that it was mainly just the classic climb vs distance trade-off. Even now just sitting with the map I don’t know if we made some of the correct calls.”
Ali Masson: “I think on Day 1 we chose better routes, while on Day 2 we hadn’t anticipated how rocky and slow some of the paths were, meaning running straight might have been quicker.”
It can be a little nerve-wracking when you’re out there and not sure how the other teams are doing. Were you aware that you’d be challenging for the podium or was it a pleasant surprise when you reached the camp on Saturday?
Ali Masson: “It was a surprise, I expected us to be a lot further down, seeing as we had taken over 8 and a half hours, so to be 4th and within half an hour was unexpected. It clearly proved a very difficult day for everyone.”
Tam Wilson: “Yes, it was a nice motivation boost to get through the night.”
Being half an hour down on the leaders meant you were in the chasing start the next day. Was the prospect of the head to head racing and first-to-finish format something which excited you after close to nine hours of running in the legs?
Ali Masson: “At the overnight, I was hopeful that my legs might be feeling better on the Sunday so we could contend for the prizes but sadly this wasn’t the case.”
Tam Wilson: “No, not even a little bit.”
Aside from the running and navigational aspects, it’s vital you eat well and stay hydrated. How did you approach that side of things? Did you nail it or would you tweak anything for next time?
Ali Masson: “Previously on Mountain Marathons, I have adopted an eat every hour approach along with taking in water sometimes with electrolyte powders as often as seems necessary. I don’t think it was enough for me this time though as on Day 1, I ended up diving into my rations for Day 2! I do think we must’ve had a good amount of water and electrolytes though as neither of us were cramping too badly.”
Tam Wilson: “For me, the every hour seemed to work about right. Neither of us had really anticipated the first day being quite so long, so I guess next time I’d take a bit more food for on the go.”
On a similar point, the kit you carry is all you can rely on for the weekend. One of the favourites to take the Elite title, Nic Barber and Jim Mann, went for an all or nothing minimalist approach but struggled to stay warm when the pace slowed. Did you follow a similar philosophy of shaving as many grams as possible or did you take a more balanced approach with the conditions in mind?
Ali Masson: “Yes we went minimalist, the only thing that we brought which wasn’t on the mandatory kit list was a thin bit of foam to use as a sleeping mat. We were lucky in that when racing, we never got so lost that the pace slowed dramatically and despite the at times apocalyptic weather on Day 1, we kept just about warm enough. The overnight was wet and windy but we both got at least a few hours sleep.”
Tam Wilson: “In the end, I actually slept pretty well and only had to get up once in the night for a bit of re-pegging. Ali’s Dad is a bit of an OMM veteran and so not only has all the lightweight kit but knows all the tips and tricks to save every last gram, including a special lightweight stove device of his own making. My special request for a change of socks was shot down.”
Ali Masson: “There was a point on the Day 2 where I almost slipped and fell off a wooden bridge into a pretty fast flowing river. I was literally half dangling off the side of a 3 to 4-metre drop into the icy rapids. I dropped my map but luckily it caught on the bank and I managed to rescue it. If I had gone for a dip, things could have got pretty miserable here and the minimal kit might have backfired.”
Tam Wilson: “That was one of the most simultaneously funny and scary things I have ever seen.”
Any weight saving tips you’re willing to share? Perhaps something about those fresh trims?
Ali Masson: “Haha, the trims were a necessary requirement before we left to keep the hair out of our eyes and as EUOC barber I went for the staple short back and sides.”
Tam Wilson: “Basically the last thing we did before leaving our flat on Friday was Ali giving me a haircut. Every gram counts when you’re running for 16 hours.”
Ali Masson: “I do think we made a weight saving mistake though. When we finished and had put the tent up we both changed out of our soaking running top into our dry extra thermal and then just left our wet tops in a pile. It’s hard to judge exactly what’s best in the circumstances but you want to avoid carrying around a soaking wet top in your bag on Day 2, like we did. I think putting on the dry thermal then putting the wet one over, then the rest of your warm layers so the wet thermal will dry might be the best way to go.”
Tam Wilson: “I guess so, but at the time I was just desperate to get off all my wet kit and warm up. I suppose we weren’t thinking ahead enough. Remember, cold is temporary, OMM glory last forever.”
Ali, your Dad came 2nd on Medium Score with fellow orienteer Will Heap. Is there a distinctive Masson Mountain Marathon approach or do you have your own methods?
Ali Masson: “Dad has a lot of experience when it comes to mountain marathons, he has done over 20 OMMs, along with plenty of other mountain marathons. Having done the Saunders MM with him four times I’ve definitely adopted his way of thinking when it comes to mountain marathons which is, in general, a minimalist one. He helped us a lot with the preparation making sure we had all the right gear so thanks dad. Not sure what I’d do without him.”
Tam Wilson: “Yes, thanks Keith.”
Something seems to be working for the orienteers. Do you think it is purely the navigation which suits us, or is there more to it? In my opinion the tougher the conditions the better for an orienteer. Would you agree?
Ali Masson: “The navigation is definitely vital, but the terrain must make a difference too. Orienteers are more used to rough and steep terrain than your standard fell runner so it’s not that surprising that we perform well.”
Tam Wilson: “When you spend almost every Sunday bashing through rough terrain navigating to find controls, spending a weekend bashing through rough terrain navigating to find controls doesn’t come as such a massive shock to the system. Obviously, it’s much longer and harder, but I guess it’s a step up on most people.”
You’re both members of the Edinburgh University Performance Program, have spent your junior years in the Great Britain Talent Squad and have two walls in the living room plastered with various maps. This background must have come in handy over the weekend?
Ali Masson: “Yes for sure, we’ve both gathered a lot of orienteering experience through our junior careers so it definitely came in handy navigation wise.”
Tam Wilson: “I guess so. We love running and orienteering; what can I say?”
The all orienteer pair of Duncan Archer and Shane Ohly returned to successfully defend their title. Did you speak to these guys at all over the weekend?
Ali Masson: “We actually had a large encounter with Duncan and Shane out on the course on Day 1. After Tam and I made our biggest mistake of the weekend, we caught sight of a pair going up the death climb we were heading up. As we got to the top I realised it was Shane and Duncan and tried to get this message through to Tam. After a careful bit of navigation into the control, we punched just after them.”
Tam Wilson: “I was stopped waiting at the control for Ali when he shouted who they were, as I still hadn’t realised, and to try and keep up with them I put on a burst and caught up to just behind them for a bit.”
Ali Masson: “However, it didn’t matter too much as when we hit the road at the bottom, I was reduced to a walk along the flat road.”
Tam Wilson: “After a while jogging behind Shane and Duncan with no sign of Ali catching up, I realised this was stupid so slowed up, let them get away, and waited for Ali to return.”
Ali Masson: “After we picked up a fair bit and they then came back past us an hour later where we had a quick chat with them. They said they weren’t having a great day, which we could relate with. They pretty quickly dropped us again after that though.”
Tam Wilson: “However after another hour they appeared again from behind and this time we stuck with them much better. In the end, we only lost a few minutes to them in the final 3 hours of the course despite only running with them for a small amount.”
We haven’t discussed the map too much. Talk us through some of the main differences between your map this weekend and those we are more used to as orienteers.
Tam Wilson: “At 1:40,000 and 15m contours, anything on the map is pretty huge. I struggled with that. Even with a control to go on the second day I never quite got used to the scale. Things just go by so slowly on at that scale.”
Ali Masson: “A lot of things are a bit of a gamble. It’s hard to know what paths or the terrain are actually going to be like underfoot. You just have to try and pick the best lines with what you have.”
Thanks guys, you can go back to resting now.
Shane Ohly & Duncan Archer: 1st Elite
Steve Birkinshaw & Andrew Berry: 2nd Elite
Kim Baxter & Dave Sykes: 1st Mixed Team Elite
Zoe & Quentin Harding: 1st A Course
Iain Embrey & John Ockenden: 2nd A Course
James Jackson & Adam Forest: 1st Vet Team A Course
Robert Ashton & Emmit Andrews: 2nd B Course
Austin Caulfield & Keith McDougall: 3rd B Course
Ben Lewis & Katie McKay: 1st Mixed Team B Course
Geoff Pettengell & Julie Gardner: 1st Vet Team B Course
Nick Barrable & Darrel High: 1st Long Score
Calvin Routledge & Max Cole: 2nd Long Score
Tim Patterson & Rob Patterson: 3rd Long Score
Claire Gordon & Sarah O’Neil: 1st Females Long Score
Keith Masson & Will Heap: 2nd Medium Score
Alastair & Catriona Graves: 3rd Medium Score
John Tullie & Kenny Short: 2nd Male Veterans Medium Score
Catherine & Steve Wilson: 2nd Short Score
Ray Collins & Jonathan Howell: 2nd Male Veterans Short Score
Ali Thornton & Leah Williams: 2nd Mixed Team Short Score
Jonathan Aylward & Kate Boobyer: 1st Mixed Veterans Short Score
Ray Humphreys & Will Humphreys: 1st Family Team Short Score
Paul Trott & Richard Tyson: 2nd Combined Course
Tom & Becky Raftery: 3rd Combined Course
Carolyn & Jim Evans: 2nd Mixed Combined Course
Full results from all the courses can be found here.
British Orienteering would like to congratulate all members on their winning performances.
Next year the 51st Original Mountain Marathon will be held in the South West. As is customary the exact location will be released nearer the time.
You can enter on the OMM website at www.theomm.com
Photo credits: supplied by OMM