Tag Archives: Adventure Racing

The OMM 2008 – Reporting In

Back from racing in the Original Mountain Marathon and briefly have time for a post. This is what I wrote earlier for The Independent, which may feature on Monday 27th October. Will write more in due course.

My Danish race partner, Thure Kjaer, had joked beforehand that it has rained everytime he has been to our green island, but this time the weather forecast had indicated that we were in for some truly exceptional weather. We were racing in the Elite class, (the longest of 7 categories in the race), effectively running a marathon distance, as the crow flies, over the mountains, before camping and completing a similar length of course the next day. We have competed in long adventure races like this for a few years and knew that preparation and selection of the right equipment would be essential. There’s a saying in the outdoors community – “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing”, so being well equipped and prepared for the worst conditions as well as adopting a positive attitude is vital to complete the course and to cope with the conditions that prevail.

Being on the longest course we started early on Saturday morning, with conditions breezy, but dry, though we knew things would soon change. As we climbed our first few hills on the lookout for the orienteering flags indicating our checkpoints, we were a bit on the warm side though were comfortable and enjoying the wind in our hair and the great views over the Cumbrian fells. The sun even came out to guide our path, though around 10am conditions changed and the rain began to fall.

The organisers had already taken the sensible step of shortening all the courses reducing our distance and time at altitude significantly and the planners had intelligently created courses that mostly kept us low in the valleys and away from the many high peaks in the area. Mountain marathon runners are a hardy bunch well equipped with studded shoes for secure grip and a mandatory kit list, designed to ensure participants can be self sufficient in the hills for 36 hours. Participants always race in pairs for safety and must meet minimum experience requirements to enter, nevertheless, we realised that some people would find the conditions difficult and may have to take an early decision to realise their limitations and withdraw from the event. We were revelling in the adventure and competition with the teams around us, my Danish teammate enjoying running with a Swedish pair, such is the international reputation of the OMM.

As the afternoon progressed the rain fell heavier, the wind increased and streams became torrents. Good course planning meant that all the major water crossings were possible by bridge, and smaller ones by working together with other teams to form chains for support. On the highest hills it became difficult to continue running and gusts would occasionally blow runners around us off their feet, but we helped each other out and checked on every team we met to make sure they were looking after each other. The camaraderie between teams was admirable and part of the appeal for doing these events. Thankfully visibility was still good and as every competitor had a map and compass, we were able to navigate ourself back to the overnight camp without too many problems, though as we descended, the volume of water in the flooded valleys became ever greater and the waterfalls took on a Himalayan nature. It was possibly the worst sustained weather I had ever been out in but at no point did we feel in any danger: we were well trained and well equipped, despite carrying lightweight gear. We knew those with less experience would carry even more rations and equipment to survive most eventualities. We arrived at the overnight camp after 6 hours of running, to be told that the event had been cancelled and to make our way back by road to the event HQ at Seathwaite Farm. Unfortunately, communications were poor and conditions were ever worsening, meaning that a decision was made by the police to close Honister Pass leaving some participants stuck without transport in the Buttermere Valley, while others had already returned to their cars at the HQ. We managed to get a lift with one of the last cars out of Buttermere before a landslide closed the road, and learned later that others had been taken out to Cockermouth by Emergency Services. The dispersal of people around the area caused the difficulties in accounting for everyone and we were confident that everyone would be safe and dining out on adventure stories for some time to come. The OMM is a fantastic event and I for one will be back in 2009, though my partner would like some sunshine for once!

The OMM Kit List Pondering

Every week we seem to keep saying that autumn has finally set in and summer, (or whatever that thing between spring and now is really called), has left us, but for two weeks running now we’ve had glorious sunny Sundays with the London Rat Race taking place in glorious weather and then Sunday just passed being one  of those blue sky days to remember where we were in the Lake District. Of course, the day beforehand we were sure the apoclypse was on the way and the racers taking part in the Dirty Weekend Adventure in Grizedale, Cumbria were wondering whether arks or kayaks were being supplied during the race.

I’d been feeling rough all week so decided to skip the race and spend a nice weekend with Mrs L in the same area. After a non-event for us on Saturday other than some Adventure Driving on the Lake Districts flooded, narrow roads, we had a glorious little ride up to Skiddaw House above Keswick and around Lonscale Crags. Just wish I’d brought a bloody camera!

Just looking forward to the OMM now and thinking about kit.

Here’s the kit list with my current ideas:

Rucsac – OMM Adventure Light 20

Tent – Polaris Eventlite or Vango Ultralite 200

Sleeping Bag – Macpac Epic 300 or OMM 0.5SSL

Sleeping Mat – Balloon Bed

Full length tights – Skins or iRule Whistlers if weather really cold

Baselayer top – Helly Hansen Lifa Versa

Underwear – Smartwool boxers

Fleece top/warm layer – Patagonia R1 pullover ( or howies NBL Baselayer

Waterproof Trousers – OMM Kamleika (250g)

Waterproof Jacket – OMM Kamleika Jacket (400g) or Smock (300g) – need to decide

Windproof – Depending on conditions I’d probably like a Pertex Quantum Gilet but who makes them? Montane do a Pertex Microlight one…

Hat – Smartwool Training Beanie(40g) – If weather really shit then perhaps need Paramo Balaclava or Lowe Alpine Mountain Hat

Gloves – Smartool Liner Gloves

Socks – Smartwool Running Light Mini Crew (44g) or Bridgedale X-Hale (30g)

Shoes – Inov8 MudClaw 330

Headtorch – Hmm tricky one do I need enough light to navigate in the dark or just enough light to see around the camp? We have a late start so will have to think carefully about this.  Choices are a Petzl Tikka XP (95g) or getting something like a Petzl eLite (27g)

Stove – MSR Pocket Rocket (86g) and some tin foil for wind break

Pans – 2 x foil takeaway dishes (12g) and some tin foil for lid

Other kit – 3 x sealable food bags. Spork. Ear plugs. Casio Altimeter Watch. OMM 500ml water bottle. Plastic camping mug and small karabiner. Tiny amount of first aid supplies

London Rat Race

Until late on Thursday it was looking very much like I wouldn’t be competing in any Rat Races this year, and my only taste of the urban phenomenon would be the Edinburgh event that I organised. Our search for a girl to join our team for the final race of the season was more difficult than I could have imagined but we finally found our star in Chez Frost, who was up for competing in only her second ever adventure race.

Meeting up for the first time early on Saturday morning, Paul Currant and myself joined Chez in Penrith and sped South to London, arriving in just enough time to do a quick tv interview and get our race kit on before listening into Nick Gracie’s race briefing. He outlined what was happening on Saturday night, with up to 3 hours to collect as many of 42 checkpoints as we could in an area that took in Central London West of Tower Bridge.

At 5.00pm we shot off and joined the scrum trying to get across Tower Bridge heading on an anti-clockwise loop. Immediately making a mistake and missing the stairs to get down to the riverside checkpoint by the Tower of London, we ended up running around the Tower reaching the checkpoint after everyone that had gone the right way. For the next while we then had to fight our way through crowds at some of the activity checkpoints including a quick circuit session in the Crisis charity offices, another chaotic boxing circuit session in the Real Fight Club Gym, and a Homer Simpson donut eating CP.

Meeting Homer Simpson - Copyright Rob Howard. www.sleepmonsters.com
Meeting Homer Simpson - Copyright Rob Howard. www.sleepmonsters.com

After stuffing donuts down our neck we set off for a quick kayaking stage on a canal and it was there our troubles started as PC’s guts began to explode at regular intervals. We headed ever northwards to King’s Cross area taking in the Temple area made famous by the The DaVinci Code novel and Secrets, a pole-dancing nightclub where Chez swung like a natural. I then had the chance to cool off a bit with some star jumps in the Ice Wall Chamber at Ellis Brigham while Paul found the loo.  By this time it was now just after 7pm and we had to deal with manic Saturday night crowds as we ran through Covent Garden to Picadilly Circus towards a checkpoint in the plush Third Space Gym run by Bruce Duncan.  Time was running out now and we were soon accruing penalties for lateness as we sped along the South Bank taking in a spot of Parkour by the National Theatre and chasing the nurses at Guys Hospitall. We finally collapsed into the finish 7 seconds before 8pm and the possibility of accruing massive penalties. We’d had a good run but along the way had to stop about 10 times for Paul’s gut problems, so probably lost about 15-20 minutes which cut into our total putting us back into 4th place. We were happy all things considered, but we soon had bigger things on our mind as Paul became violently sick for the rest of the evening. Time sped by and we had over an hour to drive to get back to our accommodation, maps to mark up, food to eat, more importantly a call to make on whether or not to take Paul to the hospital to get fluids into him and something to stop him being so sick.

Early Sunday morning we rose to find Paul looking still very ill but no longer being sick, however, he was keen to still come along and see if he could at least complete the first run of the day and take it from there. The first section of the race involved some score orienteering around the South Bank where we had to collect 100 points worth of checkpoints before getting on our bikes and heading off over Tower Bridge. Amazingly Paul seemed to have perked up after eating nothing more than two slices of toast and we were the first team back into the transition and onto Tower Bridge. To our incredible misfortune the bridge was in the process of lifting to allow a ship to pass underneath and we missed getting over by barely 3 seconds, so had to stand and wait for 20 minutes until the bridge had lowered again as we were still on a mandatory route! To make things interesting though, they were filming a movie on the bridge with us as the backdrop and a romantic reuniting as the main scene.

Continue reading London Rat Race

OMM Kamlieka Pants

One thing that has bugged me for a long time is finding waterproof trousers/pants/whateveryoucalltheminyourneckofthewoods, that work while running AND biking. I’ve recently been using Rab Latok Pants and Paramo Cascada Trousers, the first made from eVent fabric and the second from Paramo’s own Analogy fabric. As mentioned in a previous post, the eVent fabric on the Rab pants has been more than disappointing and I have to think twice before putting them in my pack. My old favourite lightweight Macpac pants have got a little cut up from some skiing crashes, and they just aren’t long enough for biking, so I’ve had to go with the Rab’s. The Paramo’s have been awesome but really are a winter choice – they’re just too warm for year round use, and I even find them too warm for really active winter use. Great for walking but running is a bit much for them.

So when OMM recently sent me some Kamlieka Pants to try, I was very interested in seeing how they lived up to some pretty tough standards to go in my kit bag.

Kamleika Pants
Kamleika Pants - £70

For starters they are a good athletic cut and are fairly figure hugging in the legs. Defintitely designed to fit over tights rather than looser walking trousers. The fabric is from Gelanots and is unusual in being a knitted fabric with a hydrphilic coating, meaning it stretches in use and therefore is perfectly suited to running and biking. In partcular on the bike it doesn’t ride up from the ankle anywhere near as much as other waterproof pants I’ve used, the close cut elasticated ankle helping with this too. Waterproofing and breathability seem ok so far but I’ve yet to really test them in bad conditions so we shall see and I’ll report back.  It’s just great to see a product that many neglect to put much effort into because it seems so simple, when in reality it’s quite a difficult mixture of compromises to get something that works for all mutlisports.  These have had some serious thought put into them and I appreciate that.

Wan Dae

It’s looking like a reasonably busy month of racing ahead which will make a nice change as I’ve not really been in proper action since The Turas back in June.  On 20th September I’m putting on my own Wan Dae race in the Pentland Hills just outside Edinburgh, a favourite location and so close to our capital.  More details can be found on the race website here.

After that I’m done with race organising for a while and it’s time to get back into action myself. First up – the London Rat Race on 27th September, then the Dirty Weekend on 4th/5th October, then at the end of October the OMM which I’ll be racing with my good mate from Denmark, Thure. Somewhere in between I had plans to do an attempt on the West Highland Way by bike, end to end and back in 24 hours. Daylight is slipping away as time marches on but with some good Exposure lights I don’t anticipate it being a problem but fitness might! As winter rears it’s head then ideas of another attempt at Tranter’s Round have been surfacing, with sometime in November pencilled in before PC heads back to New Zealand…not sure where I’m going to get the training in for it…

The little things in life

I’m celebrating FINALLY having figured out by trial and error how to upload images into posts without getting error messages or linking to another URL. So to celebrate, here’s one of my favourite photos from last year’s AR World Champs. Here I am half way up Buichaille Etive Mor in Glen Coe on day 6 or 7. Photo taken by Rob Howard.

Johnboy on Curved Ridge, The Buckle, Glen Coe, Rannoch Moor in the background.
On Curved Ridge, The Buckle, Glen Coe. Rannoch Moor in the background.

Edinburgh Rat Race

Wow, ok, running out of feeble excuses for not updating this more often, but lost passwords have caused me a few problems, honestly!

Just catching up from the Edinburgh Rat Race 2007, where I raced with the Aberdeen Asset Management team of Nick Gracie and Helen Jackson, the current British Champions. It was a real honour, though the pressure was on, as I was navigating and on route choice duties…

Saturday night went ok, though route choice probably wasn’t the best, as we missed a few checkpoints that closed early and there were queues at some of the others. I made a route choice early on and would have made a different choice if I’d taken more time to think about it. Oh well not to worry, but it put us 15mins behind Inov 8 for Sundays stage.

Sunday started great and we got a good 5 minute lead over The North Face and Inov8 but TNF were on a flyer and once we had a puncture they got away from us. Soon after we were caught by Inov 8 as we weaved our way through the South Edinburgh suburbs, towards the Pentland Hills and the heat started to get to us a little bit. I was sweating like a man on death row and was drinking Nuun by the bladder load, but I’d made it up too weak so it wasn’t being as effective as it should have been, meaning I began to cramp up on the orienteering run section. The next section was a disaster. I realised I’d lost the map of the Pentlands earlier in the day and had to try and memorise the whole of the next section. Unfortunately this didn’t go too well and we missed one of the checkpoints on the way up on the hills and though we collected it on the way down, we were penalised 30 minutes for doing them out of order. Thankfully in the end, we managed to avoid losing any more time and finished in 3rd place just 4 mins ahead of 4th, by the time our penalty had been added.

A great race once again and a pleasure to race with Aberdeen, here’s hoping they’ll have me back!

Racing away

Hmm, once again it’s been a while since I did anything with this site. OK, well September has been crazy. For some daft reason, oh yeah I remember why, we arranged for two of my Wan Dae Adventure Races a fortnight apart in September. This was somewhat testing and lead to the most full on month in a long time. To really punish myself I took on the planning and directing of the first ever ACE Race without Phil Humphreys in charge. Now, that really was the final nail in the coffin and I’ve had a headache for a week since… Still, everyone seemed to have a good time and they are demanding more for next year….My buddy Craig has been a busy lad and gone about setting up his own online adventure racing gear shop. Going by the name of Fastandlight.co.uk it’s hopefully poised to make him a billionaire so he can share his spoils with me. Alternatively I hope it’s at least enough for him to pay the rent…. Good luck to you matey, it’s a competitive game but you’re smarter than you’re average bear.

Tonto and the Lone Ranger

Just returned from a rather interesting adventure in Poland at the Bergson Winter Challenge where I was paired up with Jim Mee in the Speed race, a 150km jaunt through the depths of a Polish winter. The adventure began with an epic journey through France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Czech Republic on day one with an overnight in Pilsen, home of Pilsner lager, before another day’s driving to Kowary just over the Polish border.There were 15 teams already out racing in the 400km Masters Expedition race, part of the AR World Series, while we were tagging on to the end of their event with 50 or so other pairs. The first impressions of Poland were not the best, with our initial base being in a rather rundown mountain town, however, once we got under way in the neighbouring ski resort town of Karpacz we began to see the beautiful place that this area of Poland is. The organisers first impressions of us were not the strongest either as we failed to produce the full requirements for the strange kit list and then as we sauntered along taking in the view we began to be asked what was wrong as we trundled into checkpoints miles behind other teams. The marshals soon realised we were not here to be at the front of the race, but I was on a mission to get Jim round his first ever Adventure Race. In the end we missed a cutoff late in the second night, just as it became my birthday, so we celebrated with a short sleep in a bush in a forest, before tackling some excellent rope sections and a 2hour bike back to HQ at Karpacz City.

Jim’s stamina finally wained when the Tabasco vodka kicked in at the after race party and he staggered off to drive the porcelain truck while the party continued on, fuelled by champagne given to myself and Russ Ladkin for our birthdays. The race was an absolute bargain, with the greatest expense being the fuel for the drive there, although if we were in the UK we could have flown for 50p each way with Ryanair like the rest of the UK guys did. It’s definitely a race I’d love to go back and do in 2007 with a crack team to take on the Masters race, although the xc skiing skills will have to be developed somewhat before that one swings around. A year seems to fly by so quickly at this time that I’d better make use of the ski trails in Chamonix asap.

Whisky Galore

The Tranter’s Round attempt was one of the best moments of the year, although yet again unfortunately the weather was against us. It had been so perfect and such a beautiful night that we were well up on the existing record, however, the weather totally changed as we climbed onto Aonach Beag, the first of the 4000ft hills, and we had to face increasingly dangerous winds and treachorous ice. Full story is on this Sleepmonsters report.Christmas has been and gone, and this year it really just snuck up and hit me between the eyes. I was working for Jon, Mark and Robbo’s Easy Drinking Whisky Company, plugging their wares in Jenners department store in Edinburgh, and before I knew it, it was Christmas Eve and the present buying hadn’t even begun. Thankfully inspiration came from somewhere, the day itself passed pretty quietly and now the New Year is around the corner. Looking forward to some arrivals from Iraq and Australia, just in time for Hogmanay thankfully. It’ll be a different one this year, for the first time I’m working, again with JMR this time pumping out Hot Toddies in Princes Street Gardens at the big ceilidh going on there. Should be fun…