The summer edition of the UK Adventure Sports Magazine is out now with articles from some of my teammates and friends. Nick Gracie profiles the Original Mountain Marathon, Tom Gibbs talks about race strategy and Carrick Armer reports on the Bimbache AR World Series event. I reviewed one day AR packs around the 20 litre mark and was most impressed by the Terra Nova Laser 20, OMM Adventure Light 20 and Inov 8 Race Pro 18.
I’ll post up the extended reviews here when the magazine has been in publication a bit longer, as they had to be drastically shortened to fit tight space in the mag.
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!
Tick tock, tick tock – every time I look at the clock it seems to shout loud that time is running out before the Original Mountain Marathon and I’ve not done enough training!
With a break in the weather and the stars in the right arrangement I managed to get out at the weekend onto the hills of Glen Luss. This pretty wee glen sits between the South of Loch Lomond and the top of Gare Loch so within an easy stone’s throw of Glasgow, however, it boasts no Munros so is generally passed by for the bigger hills just a bit further north. I took the dogs out for a long training run with the mission to spend a good length of time on my feet and to hammer my quads into shape with some solid downhills. Getting off the beaten track and getting my head into the map I ran a route around the South side of the glen, an area I’d never visited before. With clear skies the views from here were fantastic from a vantage point that takes in Glasgow, The Firth of Clyde, Arran, Faslane and a mysterious massive near chimney near Gourock. (I was told later that submariners at Faslane use it as a navigation marker and in all guide books it’s simply called FBC or Fucking Big Chimney!).
The dogs were having a great time running around in the breeze and I’m sure they appreciate the views themselves. Poor Islay gets a bit confused about distance, size and perspective. Think Father Ted explaining small cows and far away cows to Father Dougal and you can appreciate the advice I had to try and convey to the pups about deer running on the other side of the valley and rabbits closer at hand. She didn’t seem to get it as she tried several times to chase some deer over 2km away – the confused look on her face was priceless!
I had been very tempted to skip the hills and hit the pub to watch the Scotland v Norway match, but thank god I didn’t, it sounded like a total waste of time and I was happy to have discovered a little gem of a glen and given the legs a good workout. I didn’t cover the distance I’d hoped in the 4.5 hours I was out, but the dogs were getting knackered and I was happy to have got some good, fun miles in and tried out some of the kit I’ve got lined up for the OMM. So far, so good…
Just back from the 2007 OMM, the 40th anniversary event, held down the road in the Lowther Hills, by Drumlanrig Castle, scene of my ACE Race and Wan Dae events last year. In the end I wasn’t competing as my partner had realised it was his birthday party that weekend and fair enough was staying home on the lash. Anyway, feeling bad that my new AR teammates were all competing and were travelling the length of the country to get there I felt compelled to ride down there to see them at the overnight camp.
After parking up at Happendon Services I stupidly got on my bike and the problems began. The headwind was incessant and I was having to work damn hard to make any progress, so stopped briefly in Abington for sustenance before beginning again in the, now driving, rain. Shortly afterwards I got the thing I’d been fearing most, a puncture. Of course I’d left my pump in the car, so although I was able to fix the hole, I couldn’t get any air back in the tyre…
4 miles of walking/jogging later I got a bit of air from a bus garage’s air line, but it only lasted half a mile before I was back to walking. Luckily shortly afterwards I managed to flag down a passing car with bike on the roof, who pulled a pump from the back of the car and soon I was on my way.
Eventually after more than one spell of being barely able to turn the pedals on the flat because of the headwind, I made it into the overnight OMM camp, just as it got dark. Eventually after much to-ing and fro-ing and shouting of names I found Gary and John, then Nick and Warren. They’d had good days on the hill and the weather hadn’t affected them too much, but were now suffering in their mini Supair tents which flapped about in the wind all night keeping sleep to a minimum. Sunday was glorious though and they had a great time on the hills while I ended up helping a friend with the finish line commentary, cheering in the runners over the final kilometre and trying to spout out random info about the few names I recognised. Spent most of the afternoon chatting to Dougie Vipond from the Adventure Show, who were filming for the BBC. Thoroughly nice chap though will see how he is when we meet again as we both line up as soloists in the Strathpuffer 24 hour solo in January. This is the world’s only winter 24 hour mountain bike race and should be pretty epic if it’s anything like the last two years when the weather has been attrocious…
Training has begun in earnest…watch this space for progress reports
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…
Reading back through some of this blog I’m never quite sure of any time when I don’t have an injury! Somehow though I still manage to heal just in time for the next race, only to break myself again in pusuit of adventure. Thankfully the season is drawing to a close with only a few more races in October to go and then a chance to spend a winter in the gyma nd on the bike and doing the first proper training since back in 2002. Before that I have to master a new art…inline skating!At the end of August I joined Cotswold Outdoor for the inaugural Wilderness ARC World Series adventure race in Lochaber, starting in Fort William and lasting 5 days continuously over a 400km course. During the course of this week I had the most amazing experiences and adventures of my life so far and made some solid new friends. Unfortunately the weather was appalling during the first night after a glorious first day which took in a paddle down Loch Linnhe and traverse of the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glen Coe. The cold and wet led to many teams pulling out due to moving too slowly or having insufficient clothing for the conditions, as was the case with the rest of my squad. Luckily the decision to bail out was made before it got silly cold and one of the guys ended up going down with food poisoning so it was quite fortuitous in the end.
However, myself and Fred Yong combined with a couple of other guys including Peter from Denmark and were reinserted into the race at a kayak stage after only missing one mountain bike stage. This was followed by a 23 hour trek through the wilderness of Moidart, where I got to know Peter’s Danish friends including Thure who has now invited me across to Denmark to compete in a race in Copenhagen at the beginning of October. (Hence the inline skating!). The trek was followed by a 130km mountain bike ride out to the Ardnamurchan lighthouse, the most westerly point on the British mainland, where the angels of the light looked after us with tea, curry and a lighthouse living room floor! Ask me sometime and I’ll explain more! A further 6 hour kayak up Loch Sheil to the finish at Glenfinnan was all that remained to cap and incredible week, with so many funny and scary anecdotes.
Thankfully I was pretty much injury free for the whole event but am now suffering with hamstring tendonitis with only a week to go until the Mourne Mountain Marathon with Tim Lenton…One of these days I’m going to begin and finish a race injury free! Maybe.