4.30 am on Saturday the 24th of October found me blindly slapping at my bedside table to try and silence my phones obnoxious alarm call. Rain battered off the windows in waves and the streetlights cast eerie shadows of tree branches being tormented by the gale on my bedroom floor. I let out sigh as I let go of my previous optimism that the weather might be better than forecasted for the weekend of the Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) 2015.
My running partner (Kerstin) decided to enter us into the OMM while I was over in America, naively cycling away. Upon returning and hearing the news I started trying to convert my cycling legs back to running legs. Here were a few stumbling blocks:
- My running kit – while toasting my arse next to a wood burning stove at a campsite in the Yukon I managed to toast a bit too close and melt the rear of my running shorts onto the metal. This left a gaping hole where material normally shields arse-cheeks. Money was running low after 3 months unpaid leave for my cycle and even my running shoes were in need of replacement.
- State of mind/body – the thing with riding a bike is you can coast. The higher intensity of running, especially in the hills, requires a different mind-set not to mention different muscle groups. It was going to be sore mentally and physically to get where I needed to be and I thought I had subjected myself to enough soreness for one year.
- Mischief – this is a big hurdle. On return from America, the first two weekends were spent seeing friends and family. In the north of Scotland, where do you want to meet? is a rhetorical question, the answer is always the pub. Even if a half-arsed attempt is made to go for a run or the like beforehand the final destination for the meeting of old friends is a foregone conclusion. If I could eliminate the potential for such mischief to ruin training sessions I wouldn’t have been as concerned, but the truth is I’m an awful man for the banter.
Weekends between returning and 4.30 am on Saturday the 24th of October were therefore spent falling around the hills and trying to get in shape.
A quick breakfast of porridge oats, banana and cup of tea went down the hatch before jumping in my stinky van and setting off for Tweedsmuir Estate, the event centre. If anything the weather deteriorated, heavy rain and cold winds depressing the mood at the registration centre (apart from one girl who was walking around the carpark in her nightie clearly indifferent to gale). We set off on the A course around 8.30 am, rain gushing down farm tracks and saturating running shoes.
The weather began to clear after our first control, changing from rain to classic heavy clouds which capped some of the higher peaks, the landscape a pastel colour palette of browns, greens and greys. The photo below is of the Day 1 course; note the brutal leg 2 -3 (the lines between controls were pre-marked, maps 1:40K)!
Fence lines soon became our friends, erected to keep the poor blackface sheep unlucky enough to call those hillsides home but now acting as useful navigation aids. The contours on the Harvey maps issued weren’t marked with altitudes which made things a bit more interesting. Initially sticking to hilltops where the running was good but dropping onto long contours or stretches of knee deep heather and bog interspersed with drainage ditches and hidden streams we began to progress around the course.
Our route between controls 3 and 4 brought us up a tussocky forest ride with regiments of Sitka spruce standing ominously to either side. I scoffed my first energy bar of the day having stuck to raisins and cereal bars up until that point. Well I shouldn’t have. Emerging from the forestry my head began to spin and queasiness set in. The remainder of the first day was spent following Kerstin’s footsteps as she navigated us around the remaining checkpoints.
Descending into overnight camp was a happy feeling, from up high you could see the tents all set up behind stone dykes or anything acting as a windbreak, populating the edges of the fields while the centres remained bare. We soon followed suit and smashed down some cup-a-soups and hot drinks. The night was blustery and chilly.
We were in second place after our Day 1 attempts so Day 2 started very specifically at 7:01 am. A steep climb out of the overnight camp got the central heating working again and soon we were running contours, hills and more heather and moss. The weather was much more pleasant in the morning and my lasting view from the weekend was from the headwall of Megget Reservoir where the sun poked out and the scenery briefly glistened. We ran alongside the Day 1 winners for a while and had a nice blether/moan about the terrain. Climbing painfully up ridges, following stream courses, and flying down wide open hill sides we returned to the flanks of Broad Law, almost falling back into the start of Day 1’s route. I actually enjoyed the final descent through heavy conifer forest, jumping across/trudging through large mud wallows before reaching the final track to the finish line. I always think the feeling of crossing the line will be absolute elation and joy; in fact the feelings are probably better described as relief and exhaustion.
We were fortunate that the previous Day’s leaders hadn’t done so well on Day 2 and we ended up winning the class with a margin of around half an hour! I really don’t win very much in life; just do a lot, so I was plain dumbstruck at first then chuffed to bits when we heard!
The event was bloody tough. I’m not sure the scenery and running quality made up for the exertion but there is something oddly gratifying about giving yourself a hard time. For me it lends a perspective on life, things I usually take for granted such as a deep bath, comfy chair and mattress become the ultimate desirables. Appreciating the value of these things ensures I don’t become a brat, wanting ever more and ever more quickly…….