Anna Hoogkamer runs for Team Accelerate-inov-8 and is a seasoned Fell Runner. Equally at home on Cross Country events, or Fell Running competitions (such as Accelerate/inov-8’s Gritstone Series), the 28th & 29th October 2017 marked her first foray into Mountain Marathons, with entry into the now infamous ‘OMM’ (Original Mountain Marathon). Below is her account:
The Original Mountain Marathon (the OMM to those in the know) is something I’ve wanted to do since the moment I first heard about it – two days of running in the fells, a night of camping and an incredibly fun weekend away with a friend – what more could you ask for?
So this year I decided it was time to take the plunge and enter. My training partner Megan happily agreed to join me having enjoyed her previous experiences at the Mourne Mountain Marathon. The sun was shining in Sheffield as we happily paid our entry and started planning…
And then suddenly it was Autumn and time for the fell relays to take centre stage. Megan and I ran together in paired legs at both the Hodgson and the British Relays and enjoyed ourselves immensely. I think racing in a pair brings out the best or worst in people – luckily Megan and I work really well together and have our individual strengths which we can use to help motivate the other. Despite a few slight mishaps that ended up with Meg waiting patiently in the ambulance whilst I was patched up, we were both OMM good form and looking forward to the end of October.
Many people were kind enough to impart their wisdom prior to our departure to the Langdales (where the OMM was taking place). We were told everything from “don’t take too much” and “nah you don’t need any thermal layers” to “take plastic bags for your feet at the campsite”. Luckily we ignored the people telling us to take fewer layers, but sadly no one told us that the plastic bags for our feet needed to be good quality (unfortunately Asda bags didn’t cut it as they had holes in so our feet got wet anyway!). But mostly people told us just to go an enjoy it.
So off we went, full of excitement – this was the 50th Anniversary OMM after all!
Our journey up to the lakes was fairly uneventful – we stayed with a Uni friend in Ulverston the night before and then travelled over to the start on the Saturday morning. Our start was from 8:00am – 8:14am and the sun was shining despite the cold. We set off full of oblivious excitement at the thought of a day ahead. It being the 50th year the course map looked super tough but we were unperturbed even as we disappeared into the ever lowering clag. What followed was cold, confusing and at some points pretty frightening. Despite both of us being competent navigators in clear weather, we very quickly found ourselves getting disorientated. Add to that the fact that we had planned on running a lot (and so keeping warm) and were (stupidly) not expecting to have to spend so long wandering around the tops of crags in the 40mph wind and driving rain in shorts and you can perhaps appreciate how un-ideal our situation was. Despite this, we trudged on (mostly in the right direction) but were aware that it was taking us ages to get between check points. Most other people we met on the hill were similarly cold and disorientated so at least we weren’t alone.
Perhaps our lowest moment was after what felt like hours (and may well have been) battling head first into the wind on the top of Crinkle Crags, occasionally being blown off our feet, when we stopped and realised quite how cold we were. At this point I couldn’t even pinch my fingers together to do up a zip or even open a cereal bar. I have to say I was a little bit scared – we had all the kit we needed to pitch camp and spend the night on the hill, but in that state we would have been incapable of using it.
Having spent nearly 6 hours in a state of near hypothermia and still unable to find CP5 and not having seen or heard another team for about 2hours we decided it was getting too dangerous and that we really didn’t want to be caught out in the dark as well as the low visibility. Finally we worked out that we had somehow gotten ourselves onto Grey Friars (which had CP8 on it) although, even now, it confuses me how we managed to find ourselves there without losing any height or passing CP5. Anyway, at this point we had two options: head back and find CP5, go through 5-8 and then be back where we were but almost certainly in the dark and have to retire anyway; or make our way off down to the road and follow it to the campsite. I think we were sensible in choosing the latter.
We made it back to the campsite about an hour later having run for nearly 30km. I felt awful, never having not finished a race before and was expecting to find everyone else happily at camp talking about how it had been tough but they had completed it. Not so. When we finished only 4 teams on the A course had made it to the campsite and only one of those had completed the course. This made us feel slightly better, as did a hot mug of tea and some food. We set up camp in a nice cosy bog and settled down for what can only be described as the worst sleep of my life. Not even my exhaustion or relief at not camping on the mountain could overcome the cold sogginess.
However, Sunday arrived (eventually) and with it renewed motivation. It turns out only 10/70 of the teams who started the A course had completed it so we were definitely in the majority. Many had in fact not even made it to camp and had returned to the start or camped out. Lots of teams seemed to have had enough and didn’t start on the second day but not us – 7:15am saw us on the start line (this time in many, many layers).
The weather could not have been nicer. Beautiful clear, crisp and dry – fair weather navigators such as ourselves sighed with relief. We decided our aim was to complete the day/if the clag came down to make it further than we did the day before. It was much easier to see other teams and we had many nice chats with other pairs and recounted our Saturday story in exchange for theirs. The bond that you feel with someone who has also shared such an incredibly challenging experience is incredible and everyone was so friendly. We were really pleased with our navigation and although there were times when we could have perhaps taken a slightly straighter line, we were never lost and it was much more enjoyable.
I had a little grumble at about half way when it suddenly became apparent that three spoonfuls or porridge do not a sufficient breakfast make. Unfortunately this grump came just as we had to head straight up a rock strewn mountain side but Megan was very encouraging. I got a second wind at the top and we smashed on through the bogs and back up a different hill. At this point we were starting to worry about being timed out (as the course closed earlier on the Sunday and we had started later). So we pushed on and hit the last three controls dead on. Although we’d had a much more enjoyable day, it was such a relief to see the finish tent at the end of the final stretch of track and to realise that we were actually going to complete that day!
Competitive as ever, we decided we wanted to get the fastest final split and so made a real effort to run into the finish, where hot squash awaited us. We finished 14th and the only women’s team to finish either day. In fact, only 16 teams completed the second day and considering how many started I think we can be suitably proud.
WHAT AN EXPEREINCE. So much learned, so much to improve upon and also so much to be proud of.
Bonus: Megan and I are still friends despite such a gruelling experience. Time for a rest now, but we will be back next year to, dare I say it – complete both days!
Thanks as ever to inov-8 for providing my kit, Stu for coaching/putting up with us both and the team at APC for all their support. Thanks also to SilvaGlobal who have provided both of us with headtorches and compasses (maybe next year we will be able to navigate well in the clag as well!).