An emotional mountain marathon

Welcome to the Original Mountain Marathon
I entered, with Garth, The OMM. That’s the Original Mountain Marathon to you and me. There are different classes and we entered the Short Score. Essentially this means you turn up together at some remote mountain venue for your start time slot, exactly 2 minutes before your start time you are given a map with orienteering check points and a camp marked on it and you have 5 hours to get yourselves to that camp, with all your kit, collecting as many checkpoints as you can on the way. That night you stay at the camp allowed only the equipment you carried there and the next day you are given a new start time, a new map with different checkpoints and you have instead 4 hours to get yourself home. All the checkpoints have what appears to be a completely arbitrary number of points allocated to them so there is a big element of strategy as to where you go to maximise your points. For example one checkpoint may be worth 50 points but its really far whereas you could instead choose the steeper climbs to more immediate but lower scoring checkpoints instead. If on either day you go outwith your allocated time you are penalised an exorbitant rate and can lose almost all your points just by being out by half an hour.

People take the event in all its guises very seriously with professional athletes entering and many people who have spent lots of money on incredibly lightweight kit. The logic being a gram shaved off a tent here could give you an extra 20 points worth of running energy there. People train extremely hard and many people are entering with years of experience under their belts of hill running and eventing. I on the other hand, turned up having done no training, with our normal mountaineering (read: heavy) tent and equipment, and zero experience. Oh and I’ve never entered any kind of fitness competition in my life, not even a 5K; talk about going in at the deep end. However I did have Garth on my side who is so fit and exuberant he doubles as a Labrador at times and is basically the human embodiment of the word moral

Day 1 started bad but ended well.
The first 30 minutes out the gate was fine, we were powering up the initial steep slog together with enthusiasm and intent, I even over took some people! Then breaking off the track into some heather bashing Garth got ahead of me. All I could see was other far stronger competitors zooming left and right in front of me to their own checkpoints much faster than I was clearly far to slow to keep up.

This combined with the initial over-exertion of the first 30 minutes unhinged me instantly; what was I even doing here?! I don’t deserve to be here with all these strong people. What a joke Jen, who do you think you are? You will never be able to get up this massive mountain and therefore failed as a human being and would never be good enough for anything! Que a million tears and one times enormous existential crisis. And finally in an instant of near perfect timing, at the height of my tears a lady photographer came trotting through the heather towards me oozing coolness and togetherness and pointed her giant smile and then her camera straight at me and ‘Click!’ my face full of tears and head full of angst were instantly immortalised. Awesome.

What seemed like an eternity but in reality was probably barely even five minutes later I found Garth waiting for me. He flashed me a devilish grin, handed me some chocolate and pointed out the obvious, ‘Jen, it’s supposed to be difficult!’ After my injection of chocolate moral and a reassuring hug from Garth we continued up and I started to pull my thoughts back in under control.

The fog was in as we hit the high point and we had a long flat run along the top following a fence line before nipping into a re-entrant for another checkpoint stamp. I had still not entirely recovered from my initial shock of capture so every footstep was an effort and there was probably an equal amount of walking as there was running.

Turns out for me the worst was that first hour and the rest of the day continued with bursts of running but mainly a lot of head down and effort in to stomp up and down equally steep ground to tick off three more checkpoints. The last leg was actually almost enjoyable as the fog had lifted and we were rewarded with a glorious view and some beautiful light for our descent into camp.

Camp life
Our class was time barred, five hours for day one and we would be permitted four hours to get back via a fresh set of checkpoint challenges for day two. This relatively short times meant we were in the first group to get into camp, mid afternoon, and enjoyed a fairly restful afternoon and evening which we mainly spent eating and chatting shit. There was a super party atmosphere at camp and we ended up randomly meeting lots of people we knew and hadn’t expected to see. Official camp uniform seemed to be full body lycra with a down jacket thrown on top and plastic carrier bags on your feet. There was a lot of chatter and laughter with people comparing routes and tales of day one as stoves bubbled and freeze dried meals were consumed. Competitors from the elite classes were still arriving well into the night and would be leaving very early the next morning after a few hours down time in their paper thin light weight sleeping bags under their miniscule tents. Heavy rains came in and out and I can’t say I was jealous of their tiny light bags over our thundering 40 liter-ers anymore.

Best part of camp was the enforced down time with Garth The thundering rain continued on and off most of the evening so all there was to it was to lie sparked on our backs in our tents laughing and chatting and debating what we could eat next.

Day 2 was truly awful.
8am out the gate it was an hour straight uphill before we even found our first check point. We were definitely warmed up after that. We were moving quick though, Garth was on form as usual so was I as I now thought I knew what to expect of the day.

We made good time up back onto the plateau but had to wade through lumpy, peaty ground that I just can’t see to move quick enough on trying to navigate on a bearing whilst other teams of fit males in lycra with mini backpacks kept over taking us.

Time spent in a real good uphill slog must flow at a different rate from normal as it seemed we were up there for hours. Aaaah a down hill section at last; glorious. We were able to let the legs stretch out and bounce down the heathery slope. I was actually enjoying myself at this point and Garth.

must have spotted this because he insisted we stop for a photo opportunity. There was even a bit of laughter and joking as we cantered down the hill and I felt free and confident.

That proved to be the last giggles of the race however because it turns out a good down hill must be paid for with a grueling uphill. It started out on a long straight land rover track that just

Up this uninspiring land rover track with a ridiculously steep section about 600m long. Garth had to step in at this point, I literally held onto the back of his pack as he engaged 4×4 mode and dragged me up the hill at an impressive rate of knots. Even being dragged I thought I was going to die keeping up!

We were under a much greater time pressure this second day and had starting to run out of time with a lot of ground still to cover. The rest of the route is a never ending land rover track and its just, so, long. Garth leaves me on the track to nip the 30 m into the undergrowth to tag the next checkpoint. Aggghh its starting to properly hurt. I don’t want to play anymore, I’m tired and I don’t want to walk let alone run. I break it into sets of fifty steps, run for fifty, walk for fifty. After what feels like an eternity we break through the tree line. We run/walk for another half hour or so and my whole body hates every step. I can see the finish! Garth’s strides are like a metronome next to me so I focus on the sound of his feet. I feel like I can’t even run, my legs are so tired every time my foot hits the floor my whole body jars and I have an unbelievable headache so in between my fifty pace sections I revel in the walking.

I’m confused because I thought we were nearly finished but we have another three kilometres to cover to the finish twisting and turning on forest tracks. The tears are peaking through. I am ANGRY! I’m angry at the hill for being so steep to go up, angry at the race setters for making the route too long, angry at myself for not being faster, for being weak and not wanting to run more, angry at the other competitors for being so damn faster than me, I am angry at everything! Angry at the tears forming in my eyes because I can’t focus on the ground to see where to put my feet to negotiate this last steep downhill. I hate this! How are my legs even still moving?! Garth waits for me to catch up at just the right point so we can run the last stretch together.

Another girl and her racing partner canter past us on the final stretch. She looks amazing, strong and capable in her purple tshirt and runners leggings. They leave us (well me) in their dust. I feel a spike of frustration through my body and my mind tells me I will never be able to be like her.

One hundred metres later, Garth grabs my hand and we run across the finish line together.

I need to sit down. I’m full on crying now and Garth helps me slink to the side to compose myself. Even though the race is finished I feel awful. Garth is on point as usual and tells me I did awesome. We retreat to the finishers tent and demolish our free food and cake.

It took me a good few hours to come back to myself because my exhaustion brought with it all the bad thoughts in my head. In the car on the way home, Garth asked me what I though of my first race, ‘It was hard. But I think it may have been fun, but I don’t want to do it again.’ He laughs, ‘You didn’t do even nearly as bad as you think you did!’

Some time later…

This race was in October 2015. Its now February 2016. We were in the car driving somewhere and Im flicking through my phone looking at photos. I find the selfie Garth and I took at the end of the race; I think Garth looks strong. Then it occurs to me that actually I look strong too. Considering we had just been running for the four hours previous and I’ve been having the emotional battles to end all battles, we look pretty good. I’ve got a tired smile on my face, I’m wearing my black running goretex jacket and a funky red stripy headband. My mind flicks back to the girl in the purple teeshirt and remembers how bad I felt when I compared myself to her; maybe I wasn’t actually doing too bad myself.

Then it happens; I swear I don’t even know how, it was like I was watching myself from outside my own body. I saw myself turn to Garth as he was driving, and saw the biggest smirk ever cross his face as I say the words…

‘Do you want to enter the OMM again this year with me?’

Why was this worth writing about?

  1. I want to be honest and open; this is genuinely how I felt. People don’t tend to talk about their dark emotions that creep up and whisper poison in their ears when they are trying to perform. From my personal experience I found that knowing that other people emotions tell them lies as well makes managing my own easier because its more normal somehow.
  2. I don’t want to forget how much of it genuinely fucking sucked and how bad I felt. I want to remember my honest opinion without the rose-tinted glasses that type two fun events often have.
  3. Finally, in retrospect it was actually pretty funny! If you can’t have a bit of a chuckle about yourself then what’s the point in doing anything?!

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