The 52nd OMM event was held in Largs, Scotland in October 2019 and I went along to represent Ultralight Outdoor Gear. After completing the OMM Lite in the Yorkshire Dales a couple of years ago we were eager to take on the challenge of the full OMM. There are a number of courses on offer from the Line Course which is a race through a series of set checkpoints, the Score Course where teams choose checkpoints according to their route and the points on offer or a Mixed Course - combining aspects of both. We had signed up for the B Score Course – aiming for a mid-level challenge for our first event. The location of the event is kept secret until a matter of weeks before the event so, once we had been give the location of Largs, 33 miles south west of Glasgow, there was a fair amount of searching OS maps and satellite images to try and get an impression of what the area is like. In this particular case, none of that helped us understand the brutality of the terrain we faced!
Training went fairly badly with work commitments and illness conspiring to keep us both from reaching a level of fitness we’d normally hope for when taking on a big event like this. However, safe in the knowledge we were both at the same level we were happy enough to go along for the experience rather than the competition. It turned out this was probably for the best as the terrain and conditions would have been even more frustrating had we both been race fit. From the north east, where we are based, it was around a 4 hour drive up to Largs where we set up for the night in the van. The event centre is amazingly well set up with a huge, heated tent that can hold hundreds of competitors along with the registration desks, shop, bar and food area. That was more than enough for us to stretch our legs after the drive and keep us entertained for a few hours before bed.
The Event Marquee - Great for easing pre race nerves
The very interesting Kelburn Castle, Largs
At the start gate ready to go
At registration there was a notice about the start line being a little 1.8km (uphill) walk away from the events centre so that was sufficient for most people’s warm up the next morning. After a decent sleep, breakfast from the tent and some last-minute kit checks we were setting off for our pre-race walk to the start. This took us up cast Kelburn Castle which, in itself, is a pretty ‘unique’ (for want of a better description) sight, and through the grounds up to the open moorland of Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park. It was immediately obvious that the heavy rainfall that had blanketed the country the week before would play a part in the event as soon as we crossed the road onto the moorland. On the walk across the field with the large start gate looming and other competitors gathered it got muddier and more difficult to gain any grip. With start times assigned it was a matter of waiting for the time slot then lining up ready to get the maps and scan the tracker to begin.
As soon as we crossed the start line, we were into an area of reeds that should have been a clear indicator for the next two days. With water quickly seeping through the flattened reeds into trail shoes that would not be dry again for days. A quick look at the map gave us an idea of the possible route options to get us started and despite wanting to forge our own path and head into the wilds it’s hard not to follow the line of other runner to the first options. It does allow you to relax mentally and just get running which is a great way to start an event like this. The first few hours saw us covering some fairly straightforward rough, undulating ground. After a brief lunch stop in the stingingly cold wind, we headed off into much rougher terrain that included negotiating peat hags, bogs and heather. This is when our pace slowed to a walk and frustration at our slow progress grew. The mix of ankle-deep bog and heather where you have no way of trusting your foot placement made for exceptionally slow and frustrating progress. Despite having good kit, the slow progress did make you think about the fact that we were walking across difficult terrain for hours while wearing lightweight running gear. Once you’re in the vicinity of the checkpoints you can usually see or hear others already there so it is easier than expected once you pick up on little things like this. However, as fatigue sets in, spotting the clues does become more difficult and there were several teams that missed checkpoints by a few meters initially but ended up going past them by significant amounts in the end. The route we chose ended with a dirt trail (which we heard people cheering once they found and we even saw one person kneel down and kiss the flat trail) taking us in to the final check points so we set off running this section just to feel better about our day.
Upon finishing at the control station at the end of the day we had another lovely little kilometre to walk to get to the camp area. Once there we did our best to stay away from the areas of reeds and find the flattest spot we could. After a very brief rest we set up our tent for the night and took it in turns to change. Just as we’d finished the heavy showers started. Coupled with fairly strong winds and a noticeable drop in temperature, these blustery, heavy showers continued through the night, making for some uncomfortable conditions for many competitors. After cooking our evening meals in the vestibule, I struggled to eat my large meal after the day’s exertion, so set about trying to snack on as much as possible to refuel through the evening. I was most pleased with my sock choice as once I’d changed into fresh, dry socks, I then used my waterproof socks to provide additional warmth and keep my feet dry in wet trainers. The majority of other runners either simply put up with the wet feet or wore plastic carrier bags inside the shoes as a liner. With the night closing in and the sun going down just after six we had a pretty early night, huddled in sleeping bags to stay warm while listening to the weather battering the tent.
The campsite was awoken just before 7am by a ‘friendly’ helper trying to raise spirits through a loud hailer. Although, through the sound of the wind and rain still battering the tents and numerous grumblings from within them it was difficult to hear exactly what was being said. We were one of many teams hesitant to leave the warmth and shelter of our tent with the weather still being quite rough. The campsite had a set of port-a-loo’s set up along with taps from a large water tank which was great for getting ready for the day ahead. Looking around the campsite it was obvious that some people had not taken enough time selecting their camp spot as there were some very wet and muddy patches under tents after the weather overnight. The real athletes were already starting their warm up routines while other competitors were rustling back and forth across the campsite with their plastic shopping bag shoe liners as we got ready. Despite having a spare base and mid-layer that I didn’t end up using I don’t know that I would gamble leave them behind with a weather forecast like we had running into this event. Saving a bit of weight compared to having dry layers at the end of a potentially soaking wet and cold day is not worth it to me personally. Our bags were quickly packed and the tent was put down in record time as the showers and wind died down for a short period. A very quick breakfast was attempted while all of this was being done too, which isn’t ideal for setting yourself up for another five hours of ‘running’.
The start for the day was another kilometre plus walk away so the warm up for us was ticked off as the wind and rain swept across again. The start gave a few immediate route options which you could see people heading up on from the queue. Once we had the maps, we spent some time plotting our first checkpoint and working out a rough plan for the day. We decided on running back up the track we’d finished on, simply to allow us to actually run to start the day off. It wasn’t long before we were slogging our way uphill over the heather again. As with so many of the checkpoints that were well visited, it meant a very wet and muddy last few metres where falling over into it was the main concern. I was genuinely surprised by the lack of conversation between teams, we spoke to a few other teams briefly but the majority were either too focussed or not that interested in it. This is a not what we’re used to after a number of other running events where people are particularly friendly and chatty, even during ultra-distance events.
After hitting the first checkpoints we made a series of silly mistakes that took us around a checkpoint in pretty much every direction and meant we had to double back to get it after a long delay. We then set off on a decent section that handrailed a field boundary and meant we could run for a decent amount of time. This ended with me going thigh deep into an innocuous looking bog. From that point we had close to an hour of walking through saturated reeds where the water was constantly over the laces of our trail shoes – thankfully I hadn’t bothered removing my waterproof socks from the night before due to the cold temperatures and I was certainly glad of this throughout the day. We chose to skip a checkpoint just off our path on the top of a small hill which, on reflection was a mistake as we hit a track that took everyone across to the final section. We decided we both had enough energy to push for the last big checkpoint but underestimated our speed and the time we had left so we had to abandon that half way and head to the finish.
The last section was along farm tracks that had been very well trodden so thick mud and dirty puddles were unavoidable but again, we were glad of the fact we were able to run again. We finished with less than a minute to spare and after a cup of hot juice at the finish line were simply glad to have finished. Finishing and getting into the main tent again was great – with a genuinely great tasting hot wrap, a heated tent and seats there wasn’t much else we could have wanted. We did start to evaluate our choices and it became apparent pretty quickly that we were both a bit disappointed with our score and performance due in part to our own decision making.
The course was without doubt the hardest terrain I’ve ever had to try and run across, with the mixture or bogs and heather making it really hard to actually run. The weather over the weekend wasn’t ideal but it also wasn’t a factor for us with the right kit and realistic expectations. The event and the organisation of it was really impressive and after a few hours I was already discussing the potential of a return next year. It’s not something I will be desperate to do every year but we both felt that we didn’t do as well as we could have and that is a driving factor. I will be looking into the next couple of OMM locations in the hope that we get one that we can agree on for a running location.
Some spectacular views
A common sight from the very wet conditions
Smiles of relief at the finish