Out in The Scottish Wilderness

After not racing or running much for a while I decided a new aim was needed. I wanted something tough, would only take up a weekend and was in the UK. It didn’t take long before I came across The Original Mountain Marathon otherwise known as the OMM. It is a race with a reputation for being wet, cold and tough and this year’s race was staged in the highland of Scotland between Loch Tay and Loch Earn with the start and finish near Crieff which was handy being near my home. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjWBODfduWk]

The race is done in pairs where you carry everything you might need over the weekend such as food, sleeping equipment, clothing and most importantly food. There are no water stations or food points it is very much about self sufficiency. I was competing in class B with Kov, who was one of my tent mates from the marathon des sables.

After a late night packing and an early start to catch an 8am train including a wee jog down the platform to ensure I actually made my train, we were off on the journey up to Perth. We met my parents and organised all our kit into the stuff we actually needed from the huge pile of stuff we had taken up. My dad made an amazing and vast amount of pre-race spaghetti bolognaise which was quickly demolished before heading up to Crieff the night before the race. The camp was set in a 2nd World War POW camp and after almost getting the car stuck we pitched our tent (in typical fashion it started to rain at this point) and went in search of the beer and registration huts. They had already sold out of beer.

The next morning we woke to yet more rain.

With a coach full of lycra clad people we headed up to the start line, a short drive followed by a very dubious “1 mile” walk to the start line right at the bottom of a valley not far from Loch Earn. The format for these races is that you have no idea where you are going until a minute before the start of the race. At which point you are given a map with various checkpoints which you have to reach in order but the route is up to us. The pre-race nerves began to kick in, a mixture of nervousness and excitement.

On the sound of the horn we were off and within about 5 minutes of starting we had already gone through heather, 1 stream up a bit of a hill and my once dry, clean and white socks (bit of a mistake I admit) were soaked through and covered in mud. It was going to be a long, hard and wet day. As the day wore on the cloud level dropped making map reading up high quite a challenge. We ended up trying to follow the route as the crow flies. On the longest section this resulted in us almost scaling a Corbet (something between a hill and a munro I found out) as well as having to scramble up a fairly miserable, wet and windblown rocky section. My fingers were getting incredibly cold; it was time for gloves and hat. At this point everything was soaked and as we reached the checkpoint Kov was pretty cold too and couldn’t get his gloves on. We decided a bit more running and a bit less scrambling was needed.

We traversed round a hill side and the ground was dropping away quite steeply. It was becoming a bit more of a scramble again and resembled a hillside made up of a series of large steps but we managed to keep the speed up. This was until I came round the corner to see a map on one track and an in pain Kov a few tracks below after slipping on one of them. We made it to the finish of the 1st day knackered, elated but feeling pretty strong, despite having a bit of dip after my energy levels got a bit low. We finished the day in 28th place with a time of 6 hours 29 mins.

As we pitched our tent it started to rain the heaviest it had done all day, typical. After getting water and changing into dry kit we decided to cook and stay in the tent for the rest of the night. I found a great use for my sleeping bag, it has holes around the arms which can be unzipped to make it into a gillet (something I don’t recommend) but it was great for being able to cook whilst completely cocooned in my bag.

The night was quite restless as I couldn’t get comfortable and later on was desperate for a pee but the warmth and comfort of the tent and the rain prevented me from going. It stopped about 5 am and I decided to run for it. I came out the tent and almost fell into another which had been pitched later in the evening right next to ours. It turns out that at 5am in the dark and starting to rain again that a green tent amongst a sea of 400 or so green and the occasional red tents is pretty hard to find. I spent about 20 minutes trying to locate mine before having to revert to calling out to Kov till I found the tent. Not ideal but certainly a learning point.

As it was in Scotland they had organised a piper to play at 6 am. After cooking breakfast and trying to put off the crawling out of the sleeping bags it was time. We slipped back into our wet kit after trying to wring out as much water as possible, except a pair of dry socks the one luxury. As soon as we stepped into the morning air the wind began cooling us in the damp clothing. We trudged off to the start line slightly stiff and trying to avoid the puddles before our feet were guaranteed to get wet.

The route for day 2 was different again but took us towards the campsite from the 1st night. Although the cloud levels were higher today there were still points that were difficult to navigate particularly on a rather flat plateau. I found the day a real challenge as I ended up having a constant battle with something known as “bonking” after allowing my energy levels to drop to low. With the help of Kov and by trying to stuff as much food as I had into my mouth we managed to overcome it. My eyes and mind began coming back from the glazed over state that they had become. The day was a lot drier at least. Instead of the wet conditions though there was more up and down over some big steep sections. This really sapped the energy from our legs.

As we got closer to the end we met some others who were going a similar pace and we constantly switched positions for a while despite not knowing where each other were in the field overall. It was great to have a visual and more competitive influence for a period of time rather than just the sight of hills, heather and a point on the compass. We did go past some incredible views; one that particularly shone out was coming down a hillside to the view on the opposite side the valley of 2 huge waterfalls crashing down the hillside. We were also about to run back up that very hillside which was slightly putting off.

The final sprint to the finish was pretty sickening with even slightest of gradients feeling tough but we knew that that extra effort would pay off. As the finish line came into sight all the negative feelings went and we crossed the line together. Shuffling over to the drink station at the finish we downed a load of sweet tea, think there was about 6 heaps of sugar in mine, and some juice. As we rested it began to sink in what we had been through and achieved it was an incredible feeling and definitely something to have a big grin about. We were 13th in our class on the day, helping us to finish 20th overall.

To view the route maps