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OMM 2013 Winner Notes

2013 OMM by Julia Leventon.

Brecon Beacons 26th/27th October 2013.

Julia Leventon & Ann Kristen Koehler

B Class combined - 1st place Women (19th overall) 9hrs:58mins:17sec

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It's fair to say that Ann and I didn't have the best OMM preparation. Despite all my good intentions to do some OMM-specific training, life and other running goals got in the way. After missing nearly 8 weeks of training in the summer, I ended up cramming in orienteering events, the Langdale Horseshoe race, the Edale Skyline and an adventure race in the final 6 weeks up to the event in a desperate attempt to reassure myself that I was fit enough (and sharp enough on the navigation). I then spent the final week trying to fight off a bug. Ann didn't even have this luxury as she was drafted in 5 days before the event to replace my original partner. As I recruited her, my words of advice were along the lines of “you’ll be fine… just spend this week eating and sleeping”.

We spent Friday heading down to the Brecon Beacons with fellow Valley Striders Alun Davies and Steve Dixon (C class) in Steve’s camper van. There was a very welcome lunch break in Shrewsbury (thanks parents!) with a chance to pick up some last minute kit (thanks High Sports and Stuart!). After looking at the forecast, I decided that I perhaps shouldn't rely on my old, leaky overtrousers (and they were heavy!) so phoned Stuart at High Sports to equip me last minute with a new pair of Montane Atomic trousers (very good!).

After registering on Friday evening, we all sorted out our kit and then tried to decide who had the heaviest bag – all of us declaring that it was our own. Knowing that it was going to rain heavily and be windy all weekend, we made a few compromises for comfort over weight; specifically, I packed a down vest and Ann added an extra merino layer to her bag. We consoled ourselves that we were going to eat most of our packs weight before the Sunday start, so would be carrying lighter bags on Day 2… more on this later.

I’ve never had such a luxurious start to a Mountain Marathon as I had in a camper van (this is my top tip on essential kit – buy a camper van). It made for a very relaxing (dry and warm) start on Day 1. We thought of it fondly at many points over the weekend.

The first three controls on Day 1 were lovely and runnable and we got into a good rhythm, reminding each other to eat every hour. Then came leg three to four. I knew to expect a long leg, but I wasn’t expecting an 18km (straight line distance) leg. There was no way to avoid lots of up and down, so we broke it into stages, put our heads down, and kept moving forwards. The high points were seeing our friends on the C Class coming the other way (and stopping for a picture), and arriving at the same control. The low point were the tussocks on every section of downhill, making a run at speed an impossibility and leading to plenty of profanities. Fortunately, Ann and I never hit a simultaneous low point and were able to motivate each other. There might have been a few tears of relief shed by both of us as we arrived at control 4 and then just dropped down to 5 and on into the finish.

We were rather surprised to find that we had managed to finish 20th overall on Day 1, and were leading the female pairs. This meant an early start the next day to set off in the chasing start, with the second female pair just 4 minutes behind us.

We were very lucky to be able to pitch our tent before the rain really started – those arriving later than us had a miserable time. But I think the overnight camp was perhaps the part of the race that we need to learn the most from. We tried to shelter from the wind by camping at the bottom of the slope, but this meant that we were camping on saturated ground. Our tent (Terra Nova Laser) has a zip door that comes very low down, meaning that water started coming in through the zip. We mopped that up with our wet kit and propped our shoes underneath the tent to lift the zip off the ground. We then put our survival bags over the groundsheet to cover the worst of the wetness. Like many people, we also had a few problems with a soggy lighter, so it took a while before we were even able to light our stove. When we did, we then made the mistake of trying to cook outside our tent – my waterproof jacket did get a bit wet on the inside at this point, and never had a chance to dry out. In the end we did put safety concerns to one side and cook in the (tiny) porch. After that, we spent a damp night in our tent and were only too glad to get moving at 5am, shoveling in some food for the upcoming day.

After packing up the camp and jettisoning spare food, I was disappointed to find that the soggy tent fabric meant that my bag weighed just as much as the day before! So it was with fairly low morale that we gathered at the start line – lifted only slightly by the notices announcing that wet weather courses were in force. I think Ann and I both felt a little intimidated standing on a start line with fell running legends Steve Birkinshaw, Kim Collison, Jasmin Paris and Wendy Dodds. We definitely had the biggest bags!

Day 2 was a lot shorter. We were very lucky with the weather, but an event organiser decision had been made to shorten the courses. The full course would have take us over some very full rivers, and I think the organisers were wise to get everyone off the hill before the predicted gale force winds arrived later in the day. I had a definite low point getting over a shoulder of the Black Mountain but then fell in a stream while trying to cross it. This shocked my out of my slump, mainly because I was really cold and the weather was coming in and I realized the need to just keep moving. Ann was an absolute trooper and just gritted her teeth to get through her own bad patch. Coming over the coll of Fan Brycheiniog as the cloud parted was our reward and we agreed that Wales is “quite nice really”. It was then really a procession on forest tracks to the (very welcome) finish.

The man at the finish told us we were the first female pair home – quite surprising as we had convinced ourselves that we had been passed and that we didn't care. In the end, it turns out that the pair 4 minutes behind us must have had a tough day, as they lost time. The third placed pair held time, and finished 14 minutes behind us overall. So we finished 19th overall, and first female pair.

At numerous points over the weekend, we both declared that we would never do it again. A few hours after the end, we decided that we had enjoyed ourselves. A week later and Ann is looking to buy a new rucksack for such events, and we have mentioned OMM Iceland and the Saunders…

Kit notes:

Top useful kit items:

Rab microlight vest – kept me warm and cosy at night and packs down very small in a ziplock bag. This was my ‘luxury’.

Nalgene 0.5l wide-mouthed bottle – easy to fill in a stream; easy to add hydration tabs; rigid, so easy to slot back into side pockets on the run; can handle boiling water, so good for soup, food and serves as a hot water bottle at night. And, it has measurements along the side, which is very handy for making instant custard.

Thermarest Neolite half size – so light, and so comfortable.

SOL foil survival blanket – superlight and super-tough. It provided a useful layer over our wet groundsheet. Since I did a mountain first aid course, I actually take this on most of my adventurous training runs.


Things I would rethink:

Montane Minimus waterproof – this remains my favourite piece of kit. For normal fell races and training in foul weather, I would recommend it, and I actually like wearing it. But it just didn’t cope with a full day and evening out in the wind and rain, and was soggy when I put it on on the Sunday. It would have been wise to sacrifice a little extra weight for a lot more comfort. Ann’s OMM Kamleika seemed to cope better, and even the heavier Marmot Precip was being worn by many.

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