Race Report: The OEM

THE ORIGINAL EVEREST MARATHON*

 

Regular OMM competitor and fell running doyenne, Wendy Dodds gives an insight into the World’s Highest Marathon

Combining 3 weeks of trekking and travel with one of the most scenic off-road marathons in the world, OEM has been wowing runners for over 30 years

*Please Note: The OEM is not in any way affiliated with OMM – Original Mountain Marathon!

Perhaps it is a quote from one of the 2019 runners that links the OEM with the OMM. When I asked him after the race how he found it, particularly the cold at the start (-15*C -compared with +15*C at the finish), he said that ‘After getting into wet clothes after a poor night’s sleep at an OMM and then going out into more rain on day 2, this was a doddle’. I am not sure that all runners would agree, but then most of them had not done an OMM!

Looking North to Everest from Tengboche Campsite, Ama Dablam to the right - Copyright: Wendy Dodds 2019

The Everest Marathon is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the highest marathon in the world. It’s not just the race that is demanding: reaching the start line at 5184m, the original Everest Base Camp, is a challenge in itself.

It was first organised by Diana Penny-Sherpani in 1987 and she continued with this every 2 years (except from 1999-2004 when it was held every 18 months) until 2017.

For 2019, the 18th Everest Marathon, the organisation was taken over by Ali Bramall (first female to do a winter Bob Graham Round and previous organiser of the Lake District Mountain Trial) and it became the ‘Original Everest Marathon’.

The run goes across glacial moraine, down scree, along narrow tracks and wire suspension bridges, through rhododendron forest and along trails high above the river, to finish at the Sherpa town of Namche Bazaar at 3446m. Although there is a descent of 1738m it is by no means a ‘downhill’ race as there are numerous ups and downs.

Although there is a descent of 1738m it is by no means a ‘downhill’ race as there are numerous ups and downs.

The non-Nepalese participants meet in Kathmandu where there are 2 nights of luxury at the Hotel Shanker, when everyone has a chance to meet other runners, do last minute shopping, have medicals and reduce trekking luggage down to 10kg for the flight to Lukla. The departure to Lukla involves an early start to the airport but inexplicably includes a long wait before eventually flying out. A magnificent panorama is enjoyed before the ‘interesting’ uphill landing onto the short runway on arrival. The return flight is already anticipated as we watch the very rapid turn round of planes descending the runway, taking off over an abyss (this departure from Lukla airport can be found on Youtube for those interested)

Statue of Tenzing Norgay from an Everest viewpoint above Namche Bazaar - Copyright: Wendy Dodds 2019
Looking North above Namche Bazaar - Copyright: Wendy Dodds 2019

To acclimatise safely and naturally, there is then a 15 day trek uphill to the start, with the opportunity of climbing Gokyo Ri (5357m) and Kala Patthar (5550m), or visiting the current Everest Base Camp. This follows the race route in reverse from Namche Bazaar, but there are two detours, spending 3 nights at Machermo, allowing visits to Gokyo and 2 nights at Dingboche (where there are 2 amazing cafes which not only had the best cakes on route -recommended by one of the doctors (!)- but also have afternoon film showings, which they switched at our request so that we could watch ‘Sherpa’) to aid acclimatisation and minimise problems with altitude.

The first day from Lukla to the overnight camp is relatively short allowing everyone to adapt to trekking before climbing to Namche Bazaar where 2 nights are spent. This allows short or longer outings to get initial views of Everest and final shopping to supplement kit.

To acclimatise safely and naturally, there is a then a 15 day trek uphill to the start

I was privileged to be one of 2 team leaders at the 2019 Original Everest Marathon. For logistical reasons (particularly camping, and eating) the group is loosely divided into teams mingling freely while trekking and running and the number of runners determines the number of teams. Two volunteer doctors are allocated to each team ensuring that any medical needs are appropriately looked after and that there is adequate safety on race day. There are also volunteer marshals who note intermediate times at checkpoints on race day, which are approximately 5-6km apart and provide refreshments.

Until Gorak Shep we stay in tents but this year it was much colder so there was a large exodus into lodges at Lobuche. Cooking is done by the team’s own ‘Cook Team’ to ensure adequate hygienic standards, but eaten in a lodge for comfort and warmth.

It is a truly international marathon with a record of participants from 16 countries in 2011 and the largest number of runners being 88 in 1997. As well as those trekking to the start at Gorak Shep, up to 20 Nepalese runners take part, going through the same medicals and kit check at Lobuche, the last habitation before Gorak Shep.

On the Trek - Copyright: Wendy Dodds 2019
Part of the 'Team', en route, with Runner, Sirdar, Sherpa, Doctor, Porter - Copyright: Wendy Dodds 2019

Nowadays the race is won by Nepalese runners though in the past the overall race records were held by non- Nepalese.

Jack Maitland held the men’s record of 3.59.04 from 1989-1999 and Anne Stentiford, 5.16.03, 1997-2007, Angela Mudge, 5.02 in 2007 and Anna Frost the women’s record of 4.35.01 from 2009-present.

In 2019 the first man was Suman Kulung in a new record of 3.39, first woman Rashila Tamang, 5.17, first non-Nepalese man Tom Gibbs, 5.23, first non-Nepalese woman Sabrina Verjee 6.51. Sabrina was obviously just using the OEM as ‘a warm up sprint’, going on to finish 1st woman and 5th overall in the Spine Race (Jan 2020) and explains why she regularly went off to do extra miles and altitude. OMM regular Barry Edwards also set a new V60 record of 6.37 and finished 2nd non-Nepalese man.

One runner was unable to start on account of illness, acting instead as a marshal at one of the check points; 3 started at Pheriche on account of illness and were able to complete a half marathon; a fourth runner was unable to complete the full course having started at Gorak Shep but managing more than a half marathon. It was only 2 of the Nepalese runners who were unable to reach the finish on account of injury, descending to the finish on horseback from Tengboche.

A night in a lodge (and a shower) in Namche Bazaar after the race was luxury. It was then generally downhill all the way to the final night’s camp before an easy day to a lodge in Lukla and a farewell meal before we left the Nepalese staff.

Next morning was an early start, with only a few tempted by breakfast, knowing about the downhill runway, before the return panoramic flight back to Kathmandu.

The return to the Shanker Hotel for 2 nights was another dose of luxury allowing everyone to get truly clean, fed and watered, with a final celebration awards evening where we were fortunate to have Mira Rai women’s winner in 2015 and now well known on the international mountain running circuit and Lakpa Phuti Sherpa from the  Ministry of Tourism, speaking to us about their fascinating lives.

Well done to Ali, with a little help from Steve (Bramall), in keeping this marvellous race going and adding to the foundations built by Diana Penny-Sherpani.

The race will now be held annually with entries for 2020 already open, a perfect challenge for the new decade

Sabrina on her way to the finish - Copyright: Keith MacIntosh Photography/Original Everest Marathon 2019

All those interested and who would like to find out details of this year’s event, 7-29th November, race day 24/11/20, can find out more by clicking HERE

 

Ed. Our thanks to Wendy for the great words and photos and to Keith (Keith MacIntosh Photography) for more great photos of the event

Marcus Scotney - Copyright: Keith MacIntosh Photography/Original Everest Marathon 2019
Adam Prentis sizing up the task for next day's start, underneath the huge West Face of Nuptse - Copyright: Keith MacIntosh Photography/Original Everest Marathon 2019
Race winner Suman Kulung. The temperature was around -15C until the sun hit the trail - Copyright: Keith MacIntosh Photography/Original Everest Marathon 2019
Early morning wake up bed tea at Toktok camp, delivered by Sar and Nima - Copyright: Keith MacIntosh Photography/Original Everest Marathon 2019
Tom Gibbs, descending the moraine from Gorak Shep - Copyright: Keith MacIntosh Photography/Original Everest Marathon 2019
Steph Wilson and Mel Steventon - Copyright: Keith MacIntosh Photography/Original Everest Marathon 2019
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Winter Running

It may seem like the seasons are stuck on shuffle,
with spring almost showing its green shoots and brave first buds down in the valleys but the hill tops are still very much in the grip of winter.  

This winter, as every winter before it, came with dire warning of arctic conditions, weather bombs, polar vortices and other apocalyptic tabloidal terminology designed to put folk off from venturing further than the 24hr garage for emergency milk and wine supplies. 

Last winter even saw a major national park all but close its doors to visitors, issuing a statement to the effect that even just crossing the park boundary was tantamount to death on a stick (a statement soundly rebuffed by Mountain Rescue Teams, the BMC and most outdoors folk in general). 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little bit of planning, the right equipment and most importantly, training; the winter hills and fells can become your playground and allow you to train all year round.  

First and foremost, any decision about going out in the hills in winter needs to be informed by a few key things, everything else then follows from these: 

It sounds simple, but it cannot be stated enough that the root of all else in the mountains comes from the conditions. Check the forecast, check a different forecast and another, now check the first one again to see if it’s changed. Look at the weather in the build-up to your day out. Heavy snowfall in the week leading up to it, heavy rain, hard freezes. All these will go on to inform the later stages of your planning. 

There are a few weather sites and apps that we regularly use here at OMM, these are updated regularly and by those that know what they are doing.

MWIS (Mountain Weather Information Service)
This gives detailed forecasts for the main mountain areas of the UK with details specifically relevant to runners, walkers and climbers such as “Effect of wind on me” and “Chances of cloud free summits”. The detailed forecasts and videos are a great too for planning where to head and make the most of your winter run.

Mountain-Forecast
This is another very detailed forecast with weather maps and a choice of heights to look at. So you can zero in on the mountain or area of choice, then check out the conditions at its base, middle and top. The information on windspeed and direction is particularly useful when looking at where accumulations of snow or wind slab are likely.

YR – Norwegian Meteorlogical Institute
This website and very nifty app gives accurate and easily understandable forecasts for the UK and rest of the world. It is used by sailors and shipping companies as well as us on dry land. Whilst it is not specifically geared towards the mountains, it is regularly updated and easy to understand with enough detail to make informed decisions about which direction to head in. The app in particular is well worth having.

SAIS – Scottish Avalanche Information Service
For those heading to the Highlands in winter, this is an invaluable service used by winter mountaineers, rescue teams and winter hill goers. Detailed, reliable and thorough; these forecasts are an important part of any route planning as avalanche poses a very real risk in the Scottish mountains. There are several sites in the rest of the UK that are also prone to avalanche, it is worth looking into a winter skills or avalanche awareness course if you plan on heading to these sorts of areas.

Winter running covers a large range of conditions. There are days where you’re headed out for your local lowlevel loop, in 10oC and drizzle where you might look a little odd with ice axe and balaclava (top tip, don’t do it, the police don’t find it funny). And there are days where you’re headed for some winter Munro-bagging over large tracts of remote mountain in –15oC windchill, spindrift and 60mph winds where a pair of postman crampons and slightly thicker Buff might be deemed slightly underdressed.  

Snow: The big one. This is what turns our hills from brown lumps to alpine wonderlands. Everything looks better in the snow. But it shouldn’t be underestimated. At the very least it is going to slow you down. This is one of the biggest factors in people overshooting their estimated finish times and being out for longer than expected. Not necessarily an issue but if you factor in fatigue and deteriorating conditions, it can be very serious. 

Many people are unaware of the avalanche risk present in the UK’s hills, associating them instead with the Alps and bigger mountains. But avalanche is a very real danger, even in the modest Lake District. Get yourself booked on a winter skills course and learn how to read the slopes for danger signs. Better yet, plan your route to avoid any potential danger spots. Find out more here 

Snow depth and condition are a major factor in how your day is going to go. A powdery dusting just makes everything magical, deep slush is going to be hell and your feet are going to get wet and cold.  

Rain: Let’s be honest, winter in the UK isn’t all rainbows and puppy dogsfor the majority of us, the majority of the time it is just going to mean a slightly colder brand of rain for 4 months. But once again, don’t underestimate the impact this can have. Getting soaked through and then being exposed to cold winds can rapidly reduce your core temperature, far quicker than if you were out in much colder but drier conditions.  

Fog/Mist/Cloud: As with rain, the clag is definitely a defining factor in most people’s winter running. If you are heading into the clouds, even on fairly well-defined paths, you are likely to need to stop and take a bearing and to do so more than once. If the ground is also then covered in snow, this can make route finding a challenge and will, again, slow you down.  

Wind: On a recent foray into the Far Eastern Fells of the Lake District, I had the unique experience of being blown backwards down a section of frozen path in the face of a 65mph headwind. Wind can not only slow you down but significantly tire you. So, when checking the forecast; look at the windspeeds and get to know what those speeds feel like, then start to learn what effect that will have on your running. There is then the problem of windchill; even on days when the ambient temperature is above freezing, windchill can plunge it to well below zero. Think about your layering and how to cover as much skin as possible. 

Terrain: We are blessed in the UK with a wide variety of landscapes to play in. From low level plains to rolling moors, broad mountain slopes and craggy outcrops. Ice, rain, snow and wind can alter how we move in these spaces and you will need to think how a coating of hoare frost or an extra metre of snow is going to transform your chosen route. Not to mention potentially disguising landmarks, covering paths and generally getting in the way.  

Here are a few of our top tips, gleaned over the years of wading through slush and generally falling over in an undignified manner in the mountains:

  • You are likely to be carrying a larger and heavier pack than in summer, thanks to all these extra cheese butties and clothing. Once again, you need to consider this when planning your route. How will that 1 in 5 slope feel when weighed down and fighting slush underfoot?
  • Carry extra calories and make sure you fuel up beforehand. Even if you are doing a shorter route than normal, the very fact you are out in the cold and the wind and the snow or rain, will mean you are burning more calories than normal. It might feel like you are only moving at half speed but as far as your metabolism is concerned, it is in overtime.  Fatigue can set in very quickly when battling headwinds and deep snow and once you start to slow down, you will start to cool down too. Ensure you have enough in the tank to not only get you round but also keep you warm.
  • Nothing beats a brew. If you are carrying a pack, consider whether there’s room for a small flask or sealed insulated cup. Its a luxury and weighs heavy but on a long winter run, there is nothing better than a brew to warm you through.
  • You may have noticed we are quite keen on navigation here at OMM. Consider taking a navigation course from a specialist provider. Explain you wish to run in winter and they will tailor the tuition towards those specific needs. Don’t wait until you’re high on a Munro in a whiteout to realise you don’t know an easting from a bearing; get ahead of the game and book on before you start your winter season, its a great way to kick it off. You can find a list of OMM recommended providers here
  • Tie everything to you; though more of a kit consideration which we will discuss below, its worth repeating. If you are heading out into truly wild conditions and carrying lots of kit, it is very easy to drop and lose your map, compass or mitts. use lightweight cord to tether it to you or your pack.
  • And on the subject of kit; carry spares. Spare everything! Gloves, hat, buffs, map, headtorch, batteries… If you’re out for a long time, say on a winter Paddy Buckley, you will lose, drop, break or forget something.
  • Cold kills batteries so consider where you are going to carry them. Keep your phone and GPS unit etc close to your body and minimise how much you have them out in the open. Using a neoprene pouch or similar will help too.
  • Set off early. It will still be dark but it is better to start in the dark, when you are fresh and up for the challenge, than finish in it; when you are tired and cold. The last thing you want to do is get lost looking for the carpark!
  • Short strides and soft knees. Don’t be afraid to run on frozen terrain and snow. Just be ready for any little slips and slides that can (and most likely will) happen and think about investing in some lightweight running crampons, discussed below). You will most likely be moving slower anyway so a slip isn’t necessarily that serious, just be aware of your surroundings and take it easy on steep slopes or near any drops. What starts as a small slip can accelerate to an uncontrolled slide. Think about how you would stop a slide, should you be carrying poles or an axe? Do you know how to use one?
  • Snow crust can be a real pain (literally) if running through it for prolonged periods. Bare shins can end up frost-burnt from repeated pushing against frozen snow. Consider full length tights or high socks.
  • Water can easily freeze in a bladder hose, consider insulating with neoprene. Similarly water bottles and soft flasks can freeze up when kept on the outside of a pack or vest. Consider moving them inside or else find a way of wrapping them up! Soft flasks carried on the front of a vest are often kept warmest and you can keep an eye on them to prevent it happening.
  • Large map sheets are susceptible to being blown away, try photocopying or scanning the area you need and then laminating to create a durable route card. Many mapping services now offer a subscription where you can download and print the sheets you need.
  • There are a number of mobile apps worth having as a back up; though electronic devices are not necessarily to be relied on in cold conditions, some are worth looking in to. In particular the OS Locate App gives a grid reference and bearing that can help you pinpoint your position on the paper map and so speed up nav. OS Maps is another mapping App that uses digital mapping to locate you and plan routes. It requires a subscription but again, does not replace a real map and compass or ability to use them!

This all leads us (so neatly, its almost like we planned it!) to what kit to take. This decision is very personal and a lot of it will come from experience. Expect to take too much the first time you head out and then whittle it down to what you actually need and use (in addition to those just-in-case extras).  

A couple of good starting questions when deciding what kit to take are: 

How long am I planning on being out? 

How long will it take for someone to reach me if it goes wrong? 

How badly will this reflect on me when they find my body? 

If the answer to the first two is: half an hour and about 5 minutes, then you can probably leave the emergency shelter at home.  

But if you are heading far from the road and into the high hills, you need to consider the above questions very carefully.  

Clothing: As with your route choice, the speed at which you able to move will influence what you will want to wear. Soft snow and high winds will see you moving much slower and so not generating as much heat as when moving quickly but then slogging up a snowy slope can see your temperature rise as you put way more effort than usual into your forward progress.  

In winter, the difference between your temperature when moving and when static is most pronounced. A layering system that is perfect while moving quickly could see you dangerously exposed if you had to stop for any reason. 

Spare layers are an essential back up in winter mountains but think about which you take. Are you likely to strip to the skin to change your baselayer, even if it is soaked, or is it better to carry additional midlayers that can be added under a shell, in addition to insulation? The weight penalty of carrying an extra midlayer is far outweighed by not getting hypothermic. 

Insulating pieces are not normally part of the running arsenal, except when back at the car or overnight camp but in winterinsulation pieces can form an important part of your clothing system. The main choice in insulation is between synthetic or down fill; down is warmest for its weight and pack size but loses its insulating properties when wet; synthetic insulation is more durable than down and keeps its warmth even when wet but is slightly heavier and bulkier. Insulation pieces are often not as breathable as fleece or polyester layers and so you will need to consider this when using them. They are often best kept in the pack until you hit the tops or slow down later in the day. 

It is tempting to layer up at the car, when you are cold and static but as soon as you set off and hit the first uphill, you will rapidly overheat, soaking your baselayer with sweat and will probably need to stop to take off a few layers. The old adagesdress for 15 minutes time’ and ‘be bold, start cold’, really do still hold true.  

Baselayers are still an important consideration in winter. Though you may be moving slower over some sections, there are also going to be parts that make you sweat, especially fighting wind and snow. If your baselayer does not wick away sweat or dry quickly, you will soon get cold and wet. Use a quick-drying layer that will respond to a variety of outputs throughout the day. 

Even in relatively benign conditions, if there is snow on the ground or it is saturated with winter rain and meltwater, it is likely your socks and gloves are going to get wet and cold. You should always think about carrying spares of both (it is quite normal to head out with 3 pairs of gloves). It may also be worth looking into waterproof socks, though they may not keep you 100% dry, they tend to be much warmer than alternatives. This is also a good time to give mitts a shout out. Keeping all your fingers grouped together means they’ll be a lot warmer than in just gloves. An overmitt allows you to swap and change gloves then cover everything up and keep them warm and dry, leaving fingers free when needed.  

See below for our ideal winter layering system along with the rest of our winter kit list.  

Equipment: Yet again, the conditions will decide what you need to take but you can expect to need a few extra bits to make yourself safe and comfortable. And as ever, any piece of equipment is only as useful as the abilities of the person using it. Below are a few key pieces that can make all the difference, you can find a full winter running kit list at the end. 

Poles: Poles are no longer just for your annual ski holiday or for when you have hurt your knee. Once the sole domain of Euro mountain whippets and elderly ramblers, poles are fast becoming a year-round tool for mountain runners. Poles really come into their own in winter. Like having a pair of stabilizers, they give security over uncertain terrain, serve to push you along over slow ground and generally give you something to wave about in photos. If buying pair with a view to winter use, don’t be tempted to look only at weight; consider their strength too. Uber-light racing poles are great for fast and light summer trailbut might not take too kindly to being hammered through semi-frozen bog and hauled on up snowy slopes. Look, instead, for strength, weight and pack size. You want to be able to easily stow them when not in use and rely on them when you need them. 

Axes: There are a range of super-lightweight axes available on the market, aimed primarily at the ski-touring market but increasingly being taken up by winter and alpine runners looking for a failsafe on snowy slopes. The first thing to say is that just carrying an axe will not keep you safe. You also need to know how to use it. This and myriad other reasons is why we would strongly suggest seeking professional instruction on a winter skills course from a qualified instructor if you are hoping to push yourself over technical terrain in winter. The main reason to carry an ice axe while winter running is to perform an ice axe arrest if you slip on steep ground, they can also provide security on icy stretches; but we are not suggesting you start banging out winter climbing routes in your fell shoes! 

Micro-Spikes/Running Crampons: These are lightweight, flexible spikes that can fit most running shoes and provide traction on ice and frozen snow. There are several different designs available, from so-called postman crampons which are little more than studs on a rubber backer, more suited to icy tarmac and pavements, to coils of metal that run across the bottom of the shoe and give good traction on compacted snow and icy paths, right up to flexible crampons with multiple metal spikes that allow you to run or walk over quite steep frozen ground. Again, as with the axe, a crampon is only as good as your ability to use it and they certainly have their limits, especially on a flexible running shoe. Learn how to use them and learn their limits in a safe environment. Don’t expect to be running Tower Ridge any time soon (even if Finlay Wild can)! 

Snow/Ski Goggles: These can be invaluable in high winds when spindrift can leave you all but blind. They weigh very little and make you look hardcore plus you can read a map without your eyeballs freezing. 

Headtorch: Winter means days are shorter and you will likely be out for longer; this adds up to you probably needing some lighting at some point! Keep your batteries charged (carry spares too) and always have a torch in your pack. Looking through rescue reports from any of the country’s Search & Rescue teams and you will see call out after call out that could have been avoided just by carrying a decent headtorch.  

It is worth mentioning at this point the effect the cold can have on electronics. Headtorches and mobile phone battery life can be drastically reduced by the cold. Keep any electronics or spare batteries close to your body in an inside pocket. Plus, rechargeables tend to have a shorter burn time than disposables but disposables kill baby turtles so…swings and roundabouts. 

Emergency Shelter/Bivi Bag: If it all goes wrong or you just want to get out of the wind to eat your lunch, an emergency shelter will make life a lot better.  

You can go for either a multi-person shelter otherwise known as a ‘Bothy Bag’ which is a bit bigger but provides easy access to shelter for you and your partner/s. Or go for a foil bivvy bag or Blizzard bag. These reflect your body heat back at you and are more of an emergency option. Remember, you may not need it yourself but you may come across someone who does. Go for a bag not a blanket because a blanket will just blow away and then you’ll die. 

Gas: This isn’t a winter camping article but it is worth noting, if you are planning on taking brew making kit or doing an overnight, bear in mind some gas blends are better than others in cold weather. Make sure you get a specific Winter Mix. 

The OMM Recommended Kit List For A Fairly Big Day Out In The Hills* (or OMMRKLFAFBDOITH for short)

Clothing: 

Fell or good trail shoe (half a size bigger than normal will allow for thicker socks) 

Long Waterproof Socks (plus spare normal pair) 

 

Full length Legging  

Waterpoof or windproof shorts (trust us, they make a big difference!) 

Overtrousers  

Long Sleeve Wicking Tee 

Short Sleeve Wicking Tee 

Lightweight Midlayer (plus spare) 

Insulated pullover or vest 

Waterproof Shell (Consider going for something heavier duty than your normal summer shell as you are likely to have rain, sleet and snow pushing against you in high winds. Thin fabrics can then be pressed to the skin or layers underneath and have a cooling effect)

Lightweight Gloves (plus spares) 

Overmitt (tied to you) 

Buff (x2, one for the neck and one for head or down front of leggings if you didn’t bother with the windproof shorts!) 

Hat/Beanie (plus spare) 

Equipment: 

Poles (pair) 

Microspikes 

Axe (and the knowledge of how to use it) if doing something steep/technical 

Goggles 

Foil Bivvy bag 

Map (in case, tied to you) 

Compass (tied to you) 

GPS as back up 

Mobile phone for epic selfies (and registered to the Emergency SMS Service – just text register to 999 and follow the instructions. In a dry bag, close to the body) 

Headtorch (plus spare batteries in an inside pocket & possibly backup smaller headtorch) 

Food for the day (plus spare) 

Water bottles

Small flask of hot fluid (optional but very nice!) 

Dry bags 

Rucksack big enough to carry it all

Route card left with a responsible adult

*Not to say this is comprehensive or that you have to carry every single bit but these are all bits of kit that we have found to be useful over the years and that we think are worth considering. 

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British Mountain Marathon Calendar

We take a look ahead at the 2020 Mountain Marathon line-up.

As ever, there is a fantastic showing from around the hillier corners of these isles and something for everyone, from first-timers through to gnarly veterans.

GREAT LAKELAND 3 DAY

Event: Great Lakeland 3 Day
Date: 8th – 10th May 2020
Location: Lake District
More informationwww.greatlakeland3day.com

Overview:The SILVA GL3D™ is an adventurous three-day mountain marathon with a unique, relaxed and friendly atmosphere that attracts both runners and long-distance walkers. Over the years the event has built up a dedicated following of participants who enjoy the challenge of three long, consecutive days in the hills. The start and finish is in the same location so that participants can get maximum enjoyment, with competitor’s overnight kit transported between each camp.

SCOTTISH MOUNTAIN MARATHON

Event: Scottish Mountain Marathon
Date: 13th – 14th June 2020
Location:  Western Highlands
More informationwww.scottishmountainmarathon.com

Overview: The Scottish Mountain Marathon™ is a classic two-day hill running and navigation challenge held in the Scottish Highlands and Islands each year.

Open to pairs who must compete as self-sufficient teams, the event is suitable for novice participants and elite competitors alike. There are seven different courses, offering something for everyone who enjoys navigating through wild and challenging terrain.

SAUNDERS LAKELAND MOUNTAIN MARATHON

Event: 42nd SLMM Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon
Date: 4th July – 5th July 2020
Location: North West Lake District
More informationwww.slmm.org.uk

Overview: The Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (SLMM) is a two-day mountain navigation competition (or race) that is held annually in the Lake District for pairs and experienced solo entrants. The event comprises 8 courses of which 6 are solely for pairs of runners, one is exclusively for solo competitors and one course is open for both pairs and solo entrants.

MOURNE MOUNTAIN MARATHON

Event: 41st Mourne Mountain Marathon
Date: 19th – 20th September 2020
Location: The Mournes, Newcastle, Northern Ireland
More informationwww.mourne2day.com

Overview:The Mourne Mountain Marathon is Ireland’s only two day endurance and navigation event held each year in the beautiful mountains of Mourne in Northern Ireland.  It is run entirely on a voluntary and non-profit basis by a team with many years experience of organising and competing in this type of event.

ROC MOUNTAIN MARATHON

Event: ROC Mountain Marathon
Date: 26th – 27th September 2020
Location: Northern England
More informationwww.rocmountainmarathon.com

Overview:The event has proved a popular choice with mountain marathon competitors with its combination of both linear and score courses that provide participants with huge choice and minimise the chance of ‘snakes’ of runners all heading to the same control.

OMM – ORIGINAL MOUNTAIN MARATHON

Event: 53rd OMM Original Mountain Marathon
Date: 24th – 25th October 2020
Location: Mountains of Argyll & Bute
More informationwww.theomm.com/the-omm/

Overview: The daddy of Mountain Marathons and the one that started it all. The UK’s biggest mountain race has shaped the UK outdoor community for over 50 years. Since 1968 the UK’s greatest running legends, product creators & influential people have stood on the start line. The 53rd OMM will be held somewhere in the mountains of Argyll & Bute and as is tradition, the exact location will be released in September, though clues may be found before then.

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2019 In Review

HERE ARE JUST A FEW OF THE PEOPLE AND THEIR ACHIEVEMENTS THAT HAVE INSPIRED US THIS YEAR

JANUARY

Jasmin Paris wins the Spine Race outright

And smashes the record in the process in an unbelievable time of 83hrs 12mins 23sec! That’s 268mi along the Pennine way in the depths of winter in less than 4 days!

April

Vic Wilkinson takes her 5th win at the Three Peaks Race

Her record still stands at a fairly unassailable 03:09:19!

MAY

Nicky Spinks (right) becomes the first person to complete a DOUBLE  Paddy Buckley

122mi and 17,000m of ascent in just 57hrs 27mins! This follows a valiant effort at the Barkley Marathons earlier in the year and then a successful debut at the Tor des Geants in September!

JUNE

Jonathan Albon (left) wins the Trail World Championship in Portugal

Plus 1st at Tromso Skyrace, 3rd in the Skyrunning World Series, OCR World champ, 1st in European Spartan Champs…

Paul Tierney (left) visits the summit of all 214 Wainwrights in 6 days 6hrs 5min

That’s 318mi and approx. 33,000m ascent, breaking Steve Birkinshaw’s 2013 record by 7hrs!

JULY

Damian Hall (right) breaks the Paddy Buckley record in 17hrs 31mins.

61mi and over 8,000m of ascent taking in 47 Welsh peaks. Made all the more impressive as he completed 4/5 legs solo!

SEPTEMBER

Georgia Tindley (left) continues a stellar season by winning Glen Coe Skyline

plus top ten finishes at Zacup Skyrace, Hamperokken Skyrace, Comapedrosa Skyrace, Snowdonia Trail Marathon & Skyrace des Matheysins…among many others!

Finlay Wild takes the win, yet again, at Ben Nevis.

His tenth win on the mountain but Kenny’s Record remains unbroken.

Jasmin Paris, Konrad Rawlik & Jim Mann are the first mixed team in the Petite Trotte à Léon

and 5th overall  on the 186mi (25,000m+) course, in 103hrs 39min

The very first Scottish Mountain Marathon is a great success following on from the much-loved LAMM.

With well over 300 hardy souls taking on the wilds of Scotland, the SMM is set to be another classic in the calendar.

Josh Jardine & Pete Rigby complete potentially the fastest pairs time for the Classic Rock Challenge

40mi of running plus 15 multipitch rock routes in 18hrs 59mins

OCTOBER

Sarah McCormack wins the World Mountain Running World Cup for Ireland

Including taking gold at Snowdon International earlier in the year. And, most importantly, she was 2nd overall at this years Langdale Xmas Pud 10km!

Eluid Kipchoge runs 26.2 miles in 1hr 59min 40sec

He is yet to respond to our invitation to take on the OMM and try a real marathon but we’ll keep you posted.

NOVEMBER

Karen Nash (pictured left with Rowena Browne) completes her second OMM in as many weeks

First of all taking 1st Vets overall (& 2nd Women’s team), with partner Rowena Browne, in October’s B Course, before jetting off to Nagano, Japan to compete in their OMM’s A Course where she and partner Richard Dearden took 1st mixed and 2nd overall!

DECEMBER

Kim Collinson knocks 2.5hrs off Jim Mann’s 2013 Winter Bob Graham record

With a time of 15hrs 47mins, which also make his the 9th fastest time overall!

And then there’s you lot!

We’ve loved seeing what you lot have got up to all year with some amazing running and adventures around the world.

THE QUESTION NOW IS

HOW IS 2020 GOING TO TOP THAT!?

We’d love to hear your plans for the new year of running.

Is it a Bob Graham or your first ParkRun?

Let us know at the email below and we’ll share some of our favourite
running resolutions in the New Year!

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Equality in the fells?

Is the OMM event prize structure wrong?

But first…

“Last night I saw an events company had posted about the weekend’s FRA relays on Facebook. They were congratulating the winning teams, but only the men’s. Somebody pulled them up on this in quite a light-hearted way, so they then posted a link to the full results. But others then requested that they edit their original post to give equality to both the men’s and women’s teams. After all, as one of the posters pointed out ‘we worked just as hard as the men”.
– Run247

Hands up, it was us!

We posted on our social channels about the event and named the first three teams over the line, which were all male. We really offended people:

You never even considered that this would upset anyone because subconsciously female achievement in sport is not considered equal to male achievement in sport and this needs to change! How are women meant to feel worthy and equal if this is how a brand like the OMM treat our achievements?
– Direct Message

Our mistake was focusing on the overall table of results rather than the individual race categories. OMM apologise unreservedly for any offence given. Of course, we were not trying to discriminate, belittle or ignore any of the athletes making outstanding achievements. We want to promote active participation in mountain marathons and similar sports as we believe that these are good for all individuals and society as a whole.

But it raises an interesting point

With female athletes winning other endurance events like the Spine Race, should a race focus on the overall winners or on the individual categories?

This is particularly relevant for The OMM which has always promoted an open race with all teams being treated equally, regardless of gender or age.

As the event requires a number of different skills to do well, rather than solely endurance, this has meant mixed, vets & female teams do win the classes overall.

We recognise that the field is 64% male only teams so we positively discriminate with additional prizes to encourage women, families and veterans to take part. We do not have a male race at all.

But is this fair? Honestly, we can’t say with conviction that it is, but it’s the best we’ve come up.

Here is an extract from somebody who disagrees:

“…..The Snowdonia Marathon has been going since 1982 and the OMM is now in it’s 52nd year.  And what does this road race have in common with this fell race?  Neither offers equal prizes for male and female competitors…..…….the only possible reason I can imagine that they don’t give equal prizes to males and females is that of “proportionality”.  The suggestion being that as more males enter than females, the prizes are divided up accordingly.  I do not agree at all that because less females enter, those who do well in their categories are therefore not worthy of the same recognition.  Working on encouraging more female competitors by evening up the prizes might be an idea!  It’s not rocket science is it? 

All of these disparities imply that female events are less important and that female athletes are less worthy of recognition for their efforts.  How are we even still having these debates?  Why is it not just a given?  Races offering unequal prize structures instantly make me not want to enter, not because I may be in contention for a prize that isn’t on offer but simply because it suggests females in that event are an after thought.  And so the cycle continues, less females enter going forward so the disparity continues.”

We need your help

So this is where we want you to help. Every year we discuss the results from the event and every year we discuss what we can do to encourage more participation by all ages, genders and backgrounds. It’s a tough one to get right.

  • Would you change the race categories? if so how?
  • Bearing in mind we currently give out 156 individual prizes. What changes, if any, should we make to the prize structure?

Here’s some more information to help….

The current OMM prize structure

The OMM event has 6 courses of different lengths or time limits and we present 156 prizes. Typically 1000 teams of 2 enter.

Prizes are presented to:

  • Overall Course winners

To encourage participation across the categories additional prizes are awarded for the highest placed teams on all courses. The number of prizes is dependant on the number of teams within a category entered.

  • Mixed teams
  • Vets overall
  • All Female teams
  • Family Generation
  • Military teams
  • Vets female
  • Vets Mixed

The top 3 teams on each course are publicised as the winners regardless of age or gender.

OMM 2019 Results

More info…

  • In the 2019 event a mixed team:
    • Won the Medium Score
    • Won the 3rd place prize on the Short Score
    • Won the 3rd place prize on the B Course
  • Only 1 of the all-female teams made the top 10 on one of the courses.
  • The 2019 OMM competitor field comprised of:
    • 9% female teams*
    • 64% male teams*
    • 27% mixed team*
      *(open age+vets)
  • Percentage of women competing in the last 3 years has risen from: 18%-22%.
  • Percentage of all female teams competing on the last 3 OMM events has stayed around 9%
  • With this current prize structure 8% of all competitors could receive a prize.
  • In 2019, 37% of prize money went to women, who made up 22% of the competitors.

The Results

Following this article we opened up the floor to the community for their opinions on the OMM Prize Structure.

Entries have now closed, to allow us to collate the responses and prepare a statement of response.

We thank you all for taking the time to read and respond and for the good nature of the discussion so far.

Our response and any further actions will be announced in due course.

OMM 

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BOUNDLESS: An Outdoors Magic Film with Chris Nicolson

BOUNDLESS

The 2019 OMM Festival saw the first edition of the Outdoors Magic 10km Trail Race, the UK’s first fully inclusive and accessible 10km trail event.

Outdoors Magic followed one of our competitors, Chris, on his journey from professional rugby player to trail racer.

We worked closely with Chris in preparation for the event to ensure the race was not only a challenge for him and other chair users but also a challenge for all competitors, with tough hills, technical descents and plenty of loose ground.

Boundless captures that familiar sensation of agony and ecstasy we all experience over the course of a race and gives a great insight into the motivation of our competitors.

Chris uses: Trail Fire Vest

 

A customisable, minimalist solution to carrying racing and training essentials, whilst keeping them close to hand

 

The TrailFire vest is stripped down to the essentials, a low-profile, highly-versatile vest for any length of race or training. Multiple attachment points on the back allow you to expand the load carry.  The Trailfire is also compatible with Flexi-flasks for hands-fee hydration. Read More…

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52nd OMM: Results & Report

OMMers devour the Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park – But the Park bites back!

A sunny Kelburn Castle provided the start line facilities for OMM 2019 thanks to the generosity of Lord Glasgow and his team.  With stunning vistas of Arran and direct access to the moors; the checkpoint studded hill sides were prepped and ready for the off.

Thanks to Chris Stowe (B Course) for the image.

Battling the boggy abyss

Across the start, the competitors said goodbye to dry feet with the first ascent ankle deep in mud and littered with invisible knee deep hazards.  There’s a few tactics when dealing with hidden boggy holes; one, go slow, test the ground before committing a foot placement or two, the ‘sod it’ tactic to march on in some kind of bog roulette effort.  After the first 10km you could see the competitors embrace the second and the inevitable boggy abyss of the terrain.

The 200km2 quickly silenced critics as it revealed its challenges.  Endless ascents and descents over bog, tussock and heathery fells pushed even the hardiest of competitors to their limits.  This rarely visited by ‘normal’ outdoor folk area provided sparse, if any, path sightings leaving the relentless terrain to be tackled head on.  Many will have experienced waist level submergence; one even described his team-mate flagging down 4 passing competitors to assist his release from an armpit deep dunking.  It was a weekend of ankle and knee obliteration, with so few paths to be found that from ‘plodders’ to ‘elite’, we all faced one hell of a challenge.  As Jim McQuaid & Dominic Watts said “you knew it was only a matter of time until you were swallowed by a bog.  You just hoped your shoe was still there when you pulled yourself out”.

A year for the navigators

The Mountain Marathon was created to be a test of mountain ability.  The strength and training to see who can run the hardest combining with the experience and navigational skills to pick the best route.  The undulating non-descript features were expected to favour the orienteers.  However, the sun shines on those who deserve it and perfect visibility changed the challenge to focus on route selection and hill observation to find the most forgiving passage.  Heavy rains and hail fell overnight just to remind the hunkered down campers that this was the OMM but only short showers flashed through on day two and teams enjoyed great views to ease the navigational challenge.

Thanks to Joan Chapman for the image.

The results

This year Graham Gristwood & Hector Haines won the Elite Course in 12hrs 48mins after developing a lead of 25 minutes at the end of day 1.  The race for second was much harder fought with only minutes splitting second to fifth place.  In the end Alistair Masson & Tim Morgan hung on to take second overall pushing Dark Peak Runners Tom Saville & Nathan Lawson into third.

The Long Score competition equally took in some distance.  The overall winners Nick Barrable & Jonny Malley scored a massive 1240 points in an estimated 80 kilometres with 2500m of ascent.  In the military class the Hutton Trophy was won by Calvin Routledge & Max Cole with 1030 points (4th overall) and it was an honour to have Colonel Jim Hutton’s cousin, Alison, join us to present their prize.  The  female winners were Bodil Oudshoorn & Janie Oates of Helm Hill with 815 points (18thoverall) and the first place mixed team was John & Corinne Watson with 800 points (21st overall).

20 hours for Chris & Ben

At the more experienced end of the field,  Chris Kelsey joined the 30 year club  while partnered by his son Ben after a gruelling 21 hours to complete the Elite course, their first Elite finish and an impressive demonstration of endurance.

The OMM continues to push for a greener approach and thanks to all who car-shared.  This reduced the car count from 700 to 400 which is certainly a huge environmental positive for the event’s carbon footprint, an issue which is deep in all our hearts.  Given the mud on the car-parking field it was also important for the safety of the car-parking team. We had a mild panic while helplessly watching the ‘towout’ tractor gathering pace sideways down a muddy  hill towards the marshall’s cars which occurred whilst it attempted to tow a van with trailer to terra firma.

Thanks to Roger Watkinson for the image.

Bring on next year

Next year the 53rd OMM will be the 24+25th October.  Stuart Hamilton, Event Director, says “It’s important we keep the challenge fresh.  This year many were sceptical about what Clyde Muirshiel could offer.  What they got was some fantastic terrain challenges, enough height to burn the thighs and the huge visual contrast of the sea and Arran in one direction and the industrial scars of Glasgow in the other.  We felt that no area we have ever visited better exemplified why we must protect these landscapes and the OMM will continue to focus on responsibly bringing people to enjoy, use and ultimately become the protectors of this space.

Next year… well we’ll give you something different.  I’m looking to add some of the features we enjoyed on the Alps event this year so we’ve found somewhere that has rocky mountain tops, dense contours but ultimately still the remote open wilderness that we are so fortunate to be able to enjoy in the UK.  I look forward to being able to reveal more.”

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52ndOMM: Start List

FINAL INSTRUCTIONS.

Right then everyone, here we have it, the start list for the 52nd

The time has come…the 52nd OMM is upon us. 

From 1st timers to 40 year OMM veterans we are looking forward to welcoming you all.

WHERE YOU NEED TO BE

Kelburn Castle, Largs, Scotland, KA29 0BE

TRAVELLING BY CAR

Please check for delays on your route so that you arrive in time.  Possible road closure (with diversion) M8 J37 westbound from 8pm-6am on Fri 25th Oct.

REGISTRATION & PARKING OPENS

3pm Friday 25th October

Kit Declaration

Please Remember to bring your signed Kit Declaration along to registration (please note we cannot accept these via email)

Amendments

All amendments to your team or course can still be made but only at registration.  Refunds or deferments are not possible. 

£5 charity donation for SINGLE OCCUPANCY cars!

To give you a nudge to car share we’re asking that any single occupancy cars make a £5 parking donation to this year’s local charities and Rescue teams. 

Rubbish

Remember there will be no waste disposal at the overnight and kit check will be looking for your rubbish at the finish!

999 by Text 

We recommend registering for this important service before the weekend.  It allows you to contact 999 by text – very important when you may only have a weak phone signal that does not allow for clear speech.  You must register BEFORE you need to use the service – it’s quick and easy. Click here.

Weather

By no means to be taken as gospel but the conditions for the weekend are looking…seasonally appropriate.

Results

LIVE RESULTS The results will refresh every 15minutes. As competitors cross the line they will appear on the results.

LIVE COVERAGE We’ll be posting on our social channels throughout the weekend. We always get lots of questions from partners at home which we’re always happy to answer.

PHOTOGRAPHS The team from R&R photography will be out on the course and at the finish lines to catch you looking your best at the end of each day. 

Any Questions?

Please head to the information desk in the main marquee, where our friendly volunteers will be happy to help you.1st timers please note there are no stupid questions at the OMM!

The event team are now on site.  If you have an urgent query that is not answered in the event details please email emma@theomm.com

SEE YOU IN LARGS!!!!

GET TRAINING

See how everyone is training for this years race on Strava.

GET ADVICE

You can arrange lifts and ask advice in the Competitors Group.

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52nd OMM Location

omm 2019

The 52nd OMM Location –  Largs: Scotland. The Vikings hordes couldn’t hold these shores.  Will the relentless terrain beat you?

Epic coastal views, virtually no paths, visibility…3metres. It’s the 52nd OMM. 

Stunning vistas of the great Lochs and the inspiring Arran peaks behind while you slog up pathless, boggy, heather clad coastal hills.  All of which you can imagine (as you probably won’t be able to see them) whilst you’re fighting through the clag on your way to the overnight camp.   

That’s right, for the 52nd OMM we’re all off to Largs and the Clyde MuirShiel Regional Park.  

We have 400km of remote glens featuring countless raging waterfalls and stunningly wild heather moors which you’ll look at on the map and utter the immortal words “it doesn’t look that bad, we can get through there.” We will see! 

For those who don’t know..

With decision making and fitness at its core, the OMM pitches teams of 2 against the elements to search for checkpoints spread across the 400km2 course area. Route choice is key and checkpoints will drag tired feet well off the paths to face decisions of whether to straight line and cross bog and bracken filled glens or add distance to skirt around the summits.  Young legs against experienced heads suddenly becomes a fair fight. 

Another decision for the teams will be what kit to carry. Go lighter and faster is a good idea but go too far and you risk freezing joints overnight and not being able to run.  For 2 days, teams are on their own and with the event intentionally held at the end of October “to guarantee bad weather” the event is not for the inexperienced. 

Advice from the team.

The course planner’s advice is, “Practice your Nav, you’re going to need it.  Stay flexible too as speed across the ground will be massively impacted by vegetation and boggy ground. This is real wild running and route choice should show off competitors individual running strengths (and weaknesses he muttered under his breath).” 

As always we’ve booked the traditional OMM weather; 50mph winds and driving rain on the Saturday clearing up on Sunday for those who find the overnight camp.  

Stuart Hamilton (OMM Event Director) says “We all wish we could compete as well in such a stunning location and look forward to welcoming everyone to the event centre at Kelburn Castle. I’m really grateful to Clyde MuirShiel Regional Park for enabling us to hold our event on such perfect terrain.” 

the omm

The core of OMM.

The fundamentals of the event haven’t changed over the 52 years – a wild test of navigation, kit selection & mountain skills within the safety net of an event. In a world of thrill seeking and instant gratification, OMM bucks the trend in saying that all mountain users should invest in their knowledge to be a responsible member of the mountain and hill going community.  As with anyone entering the UK mountains, they need to understand the condition and terrain they’re heading into and how to behave in it. 

In the coming weeks we will have updates and all the information you will need ahead of the event. All of the information is available on the 52nd event webpage here.

Next month our ecologist David Broom will be surveying this year’s event area to ensure we all cause no lasting damage to the area. You can read the previous pre and post ecological assessments from past events here.  

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Mountain Marathon Kit List

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OMM MANDATORY EQUIPMENT LIST

Each individual and team is responsible for being properly equipped for two days unsupported racing in exposed terrain at the end of October.

This list should be seen as a minimum requirement only. Check the weather forecast, your previous experience and use sound judgement for the kit you should be wearing and carrying. The organisers reserve the right to disqualify any competitors who, in their opinion, do not have the necessary kit to survive in an emergency situation. Cotton clothing is not suitable.

EACH COMPETITOR MUST WEAR OR CARRY THE FOLLOWING:

  • Taped waterproof jacket with hood
  • Taped waterproof trousers
  • Clothing suitable for mountain running and walking
  • Spare base layer top
  • Spare full leg cover
  • Warm layer top
  • Hat, Gloves & Socks
  • Footwear designed for trail and fell use
  • Head torch capable of giving useable light for a minimum of 12 hours
  • Whistle & Compass
  • Map (as supplied)
  • Insulated Sleeping bag
  • First aid equipment
  • Pen/pencil and paper capable of being used in wet conditions
  • Survival bag (not a sheet)
  • Rucksack
  • Emergency rations
  • Water carrying capability

Spare warm kit and insulated sleeping bag must be waterproofed (i.e. in a drybag)

EACH TEAM MUST CARRY THE FOLLOWING AT ALL TIMES:

  • Cooking equipment including stove with sufficient fuel for duration of the race, plus some spare for emergency use, left at the end of the event
  • Tent with sewn in groundsheet
  • Food for 36 hours for two people
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