The OMM-inous Adventure Race starring Karen Schofield & Warren Moorfield
Our weekend started Friday morning full of excitement and for me unlike Warren the usual nerves and anxiety were also present. This was going to be a weekend like no other, 2 days in the Scottish Boarders, totally self sufficient carrying everything from spare clothing, waterproofs, a tent and two days of food – well freeze-dried chicken tikka and rice if that can be classed as food. We set off from Wigan heading to the Event Centre and Camp Site at Tweedsmuir.
We arrived 154 miles and 2:30 hours later, the journey up was swift and smooth, no hold-ups, no traffic jams it couldn’t have gone any better and the weather was perfect. There was a slight wind, the ground was a little damp but the sun was shining through the clouds as we pitched our tent without any hiccups. We had practiced this 2 days earlier given the last time I had pitched a tent was over 10 years ago, Ok, slight lie it was actually more like 20 years ago but whose counting.
We strolled the 5-10 minute walk up to the Event Centre (a Barn), which had registration for all the different courses set out. For those who don’t know, there is an Elite Course, then A, B, C, and D Courses (D being the easiest of those) then there were 3 Score Courses, Short, Medium and Long. The Score Courses we learned have the advantage of you can pick up as many points as you want and when you’ve had enough then just head for the next camp. We were told that you could even just go from camp to camp and be classed as finishing but would be last having picked up no points – not sure if this is actually true. In the Barn was also every bit of kit that could be needed on sale and it seemed as though everyone was buying something, at one point I wondered if we were the only 2 people who had actually brought all the required kit from home. Then there was the hot food, hot drinks and also the beer, wine and cider, I immediately knew what I was having later.
There were event organizers and helpers everywhere, chatting to all the competitors who were all chatting amongst each other. It was a very warm and welcoming atmosphere, the most asked questions had to be and in this order; have you done the OMM before? and what course are you doing? Our answers were NO, and Warren joked the first time saying we are OMM virgins. Our second answer was Course B and this got an unexpected response. The first OMM organizer simply said “ahh, interesting choice, think you should speak to Giles about navigating” There was definitely something ominous about the way he said it. Anyway we thought no, we have done our navigation course, we have spent time running in the lakes, we can do this.
When Giles came over the conversation went like this “I believe this is your first time doing the OMM. “ “Yes it is.” What course are you doing?” “Course B” “Mmm interesting choice…(long pause)…how’s your navigation as thats the main thing.” “ We feel confident about navigation, we have done a training day on the fells brushing up on our map skills.” “Well all I can say is choosing the right route is key, its all about route choice.” “We are confident we will be fine.” – this would be a lesson later learned. In hindsight, I think the best words to use here to describe us would be overconfident, cocksure and foolhardy, but we were having a ball at this point and we had a super evening meal to look forward to.
As always, I’m obsessed with planning ahead and whilst I like camping and the outdoors, I also like a good meal and with the prospect of freeze-dried meal pouches and 9 bars for the next 2 days, I had been determined that we would have a proper meal on the Friday to get us going. The Mill Inn at Coulter (Restaurant and Bar) had been researched and booked for 6:30pm by me on the Thursday before. Haggis, steak, wine and whiskey awaited us and if I’m ever in that area again this place is a must visit. After stuffing our faces we drove the 25 minutes back to the camp site and by now it was not only raining but the wind also seemed to be picking up.
We went back to the Event Centre tried to listen to some of the 3 talks being put on but it was too loud with everyone having their own little group conversations. The only thing we really got from the organizers was that the weather had been ordered (they said with a smug smile), typical make it as difficult as possible weather, wind and rain all day Saturday but hopefully some let up and better conditions for the Sunday.
We unpacked our rucksacks to decide later what we thought we could leave behind, anything we did not take could go back in the car in the morning. All this to limit the weight we would carry over the next 2 days. Turns out, not that much in the end got left behind and this would later be another invaluable lesson for us.
We decided an early night was needed, alarm set for 7am, as it was a 15-20 minute up hill trek to the start line and we were starting at 9:46am. A good nights sleep, that’s what’s needed before a 2 day event like this – Oh how I wish that was possible. The weather had other ideas. The whole night our tent along with everyone else’s was battered with howling wind and rain. I have to say I slept very little and the constant thought of the fact we were camping in a field with a river right along the edge was adding to my anxiety. I tried very hard to sleep and believe Warren faired much better than me. I said one thing to him at around 5am “This night is never ending.”
I was nonetheless determined as always when that alarm went off at 7am. We got up, got dressed and had breakfast. We then packed our rucksacks and at that point it was time to leave the tent and pack that away too. The wind was unfortunately still howling and the raining still pelting the tent and floor. It became clear as we stepped outside that the ground was not only saturated but there was now a clear film of rain across the field (flooded, I guess you could say) with deep puddles in some sections and of course those sections had to be right in front of the portaloos and the water stations.
We made our way up to the start, still confident and still excited about our adventure. No matter what course you do this is a team event so everyone was coupled up and raring to go. As we approached the start each course had a different line. There were lots of teams lined up waiting to start on the 3 Score Courses and the C and D Courses. We made our way past them and we were the only ones at the front in the B Course line – Ominous. Warren was carrying the chip dabber on his wrist so we dabbed in the start, and my pulse began to race as we waited in anticipation of the hooter sounding. As soon as it sounded we collected our map (you don’t get it in advance) and we paused to look at the first check point and mark out a baring with our compass.
We set off, determined to take a straight line, the shortest route between the points, straight up the steep slope. Made the first checkpoint, elated we had this down, we could navigate. Then the we set our compass again for the second checkpoint and followed that needle. We had one plan, one motto ‘we would do it ourselves and not follow anyone else’. We made a slight error finding the second checkpoint but we found it easy enough and it was so much fun. Knowing everyone was doing different courses, teams were criss-crossing each other all over the place and whist it was still raining and windy it seemed to be easing off which each passing minute. We were having real fun now. The ground under foot was so saturated and boggy that as we headed to checkpoint 2 with lots of others my left foot seemed to hit the ground and go down forever as my whole lower leg was swallowed whole by the bog right up to my knee knocking me off balance. As I fell forward my face planted full on into Warren’s backside, it took me longer to get my leg out because I was howling with laughter, thank god Warren was in front of me and not some stranger. I’m not even sure if face planting into a strangers butt would even qualify for an apology, I mean what would you say “sorry my face hit your bum, hope my nose didn’t hurt you too much.”
Anyway onwards as we hit checkpoint 2 and dabbed in. Again we set the compass and headed off following the needle to checkpoint 3, the terrain was clearly starting to get much harder now as the map showed rolling hills, no they were definitely mountains ahead once we had cleared the bogs. Not one to like to leave anyone out it was inevitable that as we made our way back from checkpoint 2 into the open to move on to checkpoint 3 that I was going to end up knee deep yet again. Yes this time my left leg just to even things up. I have to say a little irked that Warren did not sink once through the bogs but as he would later find out, the calamities would not be confined to myself but sad to say no more face planting.
The third checkpoint took us up and over a massive hill then down a steep face and back up a steep climb to a stream (burn in Scotland) source. The devastating part was that we had planned to go roughly 5k (3 miles) per hour and it had taken us 40 minutes to cover our first mile. It was slowly dawning upon us that this was going to be a long day, much longer than we had planned or anticipated – ominous.
We set the compass again the needle pointing to checkpoint 4 and we set off. We had done no running up to this point. The mountains were covered in heather and bracken and everywhere was saturated and the rivers were swollen and fast flowing. We seemed to just go up over, down and up over and down every mountain and when we tried to pick up the pace going down hill it ended up either skidding down on our backsides or even worse sliding a few times with one leg or both underneath us – ouch!! There were hundreds of runners doing the B Course and yet we were alone for what seemed like hours, trekking our own path with not a sole in sight, not even in the far distance – we had to be doing something wrong.
To say we were getting more and more disheartened with every step is probably an understatement as to how we were feeling in that moment. We made it to within a couple hundred meters of checkpoint 4 at the top of the third successive mountain we climbed since the last check point and decided enough was enough. We were no longer having fun and for us once we said out loud “this is no longer fun anymore,” that was the beginning of the end for us. We had gone 8 miles in 5:30 hours and we had 10 miles to go to the next camp site with 7 more checkpoints. We were not going to make the cut off time and we would still be out in the mountains navigating in the dark – our worst nightmare coming true. We put the compass away and relying solely on the map we found the nearest road, headed for it, the sole mission of getting back to the start camp, getting in the car and just heading home. We could be home and asleep in our bed that night and to be honest nothing sounded better than that.
The road back was long and it was clearly going to take us a couple of hours to walk back but we had no choice. The road was lonely and winding and even worse the wind and rain were now beginning to pick up again, the gods were against us. Then a miracle, our saviour appeared, the distinctive sound of a car engine. Warren’s determination was back, this time determined that we would get a lift and so out went his best hitching thumb and as the car came to a stop he noticed the OMM sticker, yes a Marshall, thank the Lord for Marshals. We collected two more drop outs, (sorry the correct term is retirees) from the B Course and headed back to the start. Car full and unable to collect anymore dropouts on the way and there were a lot more than I had expected, it now became clear just how hard a course we had chosen and how naive we had been to pick a B Course for our first ever OMM.
We should have researched more and asked more questions, we had no idea what to expect when we signed up for the B Course. We had expected maybe 23K for the first day and 18K for the second day. It was actually 27.9K for the first day and 28K for the second day and on horrendously difficult terrain – lesson learned.
We gave the chip dabber back confirming or team number jumped in the car and headed home. Once home and able to reflect it was clear were we went wrong and the words “it’s all about the route choice” stuck in my mind. We opted for the shortest route, but when we studied the map properly its clear the shortest route is by no means the fastest route and the truth is the best bit of navigating we did was when we gave up, put the compass away and planned the best way back to the start – not the shortest route but the easiest. That is what we should have done during the event, taken more time at the checkpoints to look at and discuss the best route – lesson learned.
We also had way too much stuff, too many items of clothing, we were both wearing layers and layers and we were boiling hot, overheating in fact which made moving about much harder and uncomfortable. There are quite a few items we could have left out of our rucksacks and on this type of event, the lighter the better.
This is by no means a success story but whilst we did not complete the OMM it has to be said that we learnt an awful lot and it has not deterred us. It was not all doom and gloom and we enjoyed most of it. In fact more than anything it has made us more determined to go back and give it another go. What wisdom can we share from this experience to anyone else thinking of giving this event a go; first, DO IT, it is amazing and you’ll love it; second, BE PREPARED, its going to be tough and for large parts its not run-able; third, CHOOSE SENSIBLY, start with a score course and work your way up through the courses: Fourth, NAVIGATION, NAVIGATION, NAVIGATION, work out the easiest route for your team, it maybe 3 miles longer but it probably is a lot faster in the long run; fifth, HAVE FUN, enjoy your surroundings an event like this truly encapsulates everything that is wonderful, awe inspiring, beautiful and magnificent about our countryside.