What a great way to spend the weekend. No internet, no phone signal, no children, no civilisation. Instead some sunshine, some snow, the glorious Welsh Black Mountains and my buddy Dave. Everything we needed was on our backs for the Original Mountain Marathon or OMM previously known as the KIMM. Dave and I had last dared to take part 14 years ago, before the world of parenting had hit us.
The annual event roams the UK, setting the competitors, in teams of two against challenging and beautiful terrain, for them to navigate point to point or to amass as many points as possible by selecting their own route via checkpoints allotted values according to their difficulty to find or distance to get to them. We chose the short score, 5 hours on the first day and 4 hours on the second, with the aim of collecting as many points as possible. All competitors have to carry everything they will need; food, tent, sleeping bag, warm clothes, water proof clothing and emergency supplies, which amazingly some can get down to 4kg!
Day 1 looked fairly straight forward. We reckoned we could cover 30km in the allotted 5hrs before reaching the overnight camp site. With a carefully plotted route, we set off. First couple of check points in and feeling good. 2.5 hours in and still feeling good. 3hrs in and we figured it was going to be tight to make the cut off, so best get a move on. We altered the plan to go for a more direct route to the finish point but soon the realisation, just before the snow started to blow across the top of Pen Twyn Mawr, that we weren’t going to make the cut off and our ambition had out stripped our ability. With the cold and steep descent we both had dark patches, where we pulled each through down from Pen y Gadair Fawr, then straight up and over Chwarel y Fan, for the final 3km along the road to the day 1 finish and overnight camp site, with about 30km covered.
We’d amassed 248 points, to be penalised 240 of them for being 1hr 55min late, leaving us with 8 points and 166th out of 167. On the bright side we’d enjoyed almost 7 hours on the hills and worked up an appetite. With the tent pitched, water boiling and warm clothing on we settled in for the night, with the 2000 other competitors in the temporary camp site. Our supper consisted of re-hydrated pasta bolognaise, washed down with sweet tea and a discussion on our plan of attack for day 2.
The plan was simple and based on what we learned from our day 1 adventure. To plot a course that headed fairly directly to the finish. If we made good time and had the energy we could then could collect more points. With a plan for day 2, we had 14hrs, in roughly zero degrees to rest up, get some sleep and be ready to go again.
At 6am, a loud hailer wake up call came for all campers, which meant we had 3hr 45min before our start. Plenty of time to have a brew or two, porridge and pack up. With 1 minute to go to the start, the day’s map were handed out. Our route for the day was starting to be plotted. After considering a couple of options, we decide to go with getting up to Offa’s Dyke path on the ridge line (Dave being a Geologist, kindly explaining what a dyke and shelf are and how they’re formed, I’ll save you the details) to pick up as many points as we could on our way to the finish. We executed with time to spare, maybe we’d left 20 points on the hill, although tired legs begged to differ. 130 points for day 2, giving us 138 total, for 156th, out of 157 finishers, moving up 10 places after teams dropping out.
The final drama for the day on the post race checking out, the man behind the computer said we hadn’t been to the final compulsory checkpoint. This check point was pretty tricky to miss as you had to run past it to cross the finish line. Thankfully Dave being wise in the way of orienteering and electronic dibbers, always stamped the map with the pin stamp. The man behind the computer was a little grumpy about the fact we didn’t have to dash out the door to revisit the check point and that Dave was quite happy to show the man every check point that we had manually stamped, especially for such occasions when the dibber didn’t dib. So the man gave us ‘the benefit of the doubt’, in fact no doubt as the pin mark matched his master copy and we had the 51st OMM in the bag. Just the A465 Head of the Valley road work detour to navigate, to get home.