The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 — Bogs and Blue Toes

The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 Tim Wiggins
I first ran the Original Mountain Marathon in 2016, on the mountains and marshes of Galloway, Scotland. That event I labelled 'Bog Bashing' for the arduous terrain; we did not believe another location could be so challenging. The 2019 edition, in Largs (also West Scotland) proved me very wrong...

The Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) is a two-day ultra-running orienteering event, hosted every October in a remote and hostile landscape. Self-sufficient teams of two must navigate between hidden markers, and camp out overnight in the wilderness. It is a challenge of endurance; pushing both physical and mental limits.

When you sign up for The OMM you can pick either the Line Course or the Points Course. This year, my running buddy Ben and I chose the 'A Line Course'; a set order of checkpoints that you have to visit, totalling a direct line distance of 65+ kilometres, with 3000 metres of height gain over the two days.

Welcome to Scotland…

It is 21:00 on Friday night as we pass the sign on the motorway, having been driving since mid-day from London. This is taking longer than expected… A theme that will come to characterise this weekend.

After arriving at the campsite in Largs at 23:30, we recline the seats in the car and attempt to get some shuteye before the 6am alarm call sounds.

Blue Skies and Big Wilderness

It is dark when we head up to registration, and perform the final kit check before the off. Yet, as the sun creeps over the horizon it brings with it a beautiful open sky; illuminating Largs Bay and the heathland hills that we will spend the day exploring.

08:45 and we are off. Map in hand, running out onto the heather. I say running, but straight from the start line the boggy heath is slow going, and our paces are more of a trudge than a rhythmic run.

There are twelve checkpoints on the 'A Course' today; these stations are small flags about the size of an A4 magazine, with an electronic 'dibbing' point attached. Tracking them down requires faultless map reading, and an incredibly keen eye. There is no room for error in your compass bearings or distance calculations, especially in such a monotone landscape starved of significant geographical reference points.

As the morning goes on, we are eating into the checkpoints, and growing more familiar with the demands of the landscape; learning to take reference from every contour, electricity pylon, stream and crag; in order to try and locate and track down the marks.

Progress though, is abysmally slow. We had thought the tussocks of Galloway were bad, but this heather moorland is something else. You need to watch every footstep to avoid stumbling on the heather or putting your leg down into knee-deep bog. Our average speed is around four kilometres per hour — a rate that will put today's marathon distance at over ten hours of 'bog bashing'.

By mid-afternoon, the cloud has come in, and the wind has picked up; creating a bone-chilling environment on the exposed heath. The insoles have come out of my trail running trainers because the foam has become flaccid from complete bog saturation; I am sure that means my feet are rubbing and creating some tasty blisters; but I have not been able to feel them for the last few hours, so I am luckily numb to any pain.

Out on the course, four or five of the 'A Line' teams have ended up converging; we are utilising every set of eyes to track down the markers. It speeds up progress a little, but by 17:00 the sun is beginning to set, and we still have another three checkpoints and 14 kilometres to cover.

Silence has fallen on the group, except for essential chat on compass bearings and marker sightings. Ben asks what I am thinking about; "hot food" is my response — Largs's famous ice cream is not on the menu today.

The rain arrives at the same time as the darkness. Waterproofs and headtorches donned, we press on following a line of pylons towards the next checkpoint; the wind howling through the cables above.

It is 19:00 when we find the final marker up on the crag above the campsite; then run (for the first proper time all day) down the blessed path to the finish line.

10 hours 36 minutes. Over 40 kilometres. One long day in the hills…

Discretion Over Valour

Sat in the event HQ, Ben and I discuss our options.

Tomorrow's course is set to be another 30 kilometres; the prospect of another eight hours on the heath, after a likely sleepless night in a storm-hammered campsite seems almost too much. The decisive factor in our decision though, is safety; we would then need to drive back to London through the night, arriving at around 3am. That seems like a risk too far.

We make the call to scratch. It is a hard decision to make, but both Ben and I have the experience to know when expeditions and challenges are likely to end badly. Driving that fatigued is never worth the risk to you or others. We are gutted, but we cut the dibber off and hand it back to registration; heading for another night sleeping in the car, before an early start to return home.

It has been a tough but still enjoyable day. We are still smiling — that is the most important thing.

We Will Be Back

I think it is safe to say that we bit off more than we could chew on this year's OMM. The combination of the driving, exceptionally challenging terrain, and feeling under the weather (I had a virus in the week leading up to the event), meant that completing the full A Course would likely have been a challenge too far.

Our first day ranking put us 25th out of 58 on the start list for A Course. That was respectable, if lower down than we would have liked.

We plan to return. Third time lucky we hope; to find some terrain where we can run with more of rhythm, and less of a romp.

It is better to have tried and failed, than never to have tried at all. With better planning (less driving close to the event, and better health) we will certainly try again…

The OMM mission lives on.

To find out about the kit that I took on this year's OMM, head to this post: 'Kit Focus — The Original Mountain Marathon Kit List'

The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 Tim Wiggins

The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 Tim Wiggins

The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 Tim Wiggins

The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 Tim Wiggins

The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 Tim Wiggins

The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 Tim Wiggins

The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 Tim Wiggins

The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 Tim Wiggins

The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 Tim Wiggins

The Original Mountain Marathon 2019 Tim Wiggins


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