“I want to die.”
Seeing as it was only midday Friday and we were still in Glasgow, this was less than encouraging. Matt, my partner for the weekend, cut a forlorn figure slumped in the corner of a Partick tavern looking slightly dazed having come off shift at 3.30am that morning and travelled 3 hours to get here. I didn’t worry though, I knew that Matt would be fine on the day; whatever happened, he wouldn’t stop. We went back to my flat to hurriedly pack and cook up several kg of pasta before being picked up by Matt B & Captain John.
A few hours later we were pitching our tents in the Howgills. There were already dozens of teams there and I began to feel the first tingles of anticipation for the weekend ahead. Our nav was a bit rusty so we got lost in the dark on the way to the registration and found the bar first. After a brief respite, we eventually got to the event centre and were only slightly taken aback when it started snowing on the way there – it was going to be a cold weekend. At the AGM Brian Brennan had made great sport of the fact I had entered C Class and it was with his taunts ringing in my ears that I enquired about the possibility of moving up to B. This prompted a minor administrative kerfuffle at the registration desk but we eventually got a new team number and a few extra km to deal with. I was properly excited now – better to bite off more than you can chew than go hungry. We had no trouble finding a pub in the village (our nav had clearly improved) and enjoyed a few convivial drinks before retiring to our cold tents.
The next morning was clear, windy and bitterly cold. I abandoned all pretensions of ultra-light, elite status and stuffed an extra warm jacket in to my bag. We walked up to the start field and spent 30 minutes huddled in a barn with the other competitors. I wolfed down a cereal bar and Matt enjoyed a cigarette before we shuffled to the start line, got our maps and set off. John had advised us that the secret to success was to take it slow and think things through; “Take care of the nav and the race will take care of itself.” It all went well at first. The clear weather and amicable terrain made the navigating easy and the running pleasant. We kept bumping in to Matt B & John, even teaming up to find a particularly elusive re-entrant checkpoint. The first few hours were actually quite good fun. I knew that the OMM was going to be big, but I hadn’t quite grasped the fact that it would be 3000 people going in 9 different directions in a relatively small area; the whole scene was one of merry chaos as thousands of runners criss-crossed each other on the hillside.
We made a massive navigational blunder heading for the 6th checkpoint, deciding it would be quicker to go round, rather than over, a hill. Which it would have been, had we not over-shot a left turn, gone an extra 1km and had to double back to dib in the right order. We wasted quite a bit of time looking for the next checkpoints, by mid-afternoon we were starting to get tired and the change in terrain to freezing, hateful bog all conspired to take the wind out our sails. We were amongst the stragglers making it in to the half way camp (111th out of 118 finishers to be exact), a full 9 hours after we started.
The weather was worse on Sunday, but we both felt energetic after a surprisingly good night’s sleep and were ready for the day’s challenges. High spirits disappeared as we overshot the 2nd checkpoint and spent 20 mins wandering around in the mist before finding a cairn we could get a bearing off. This was a low point for me and the only time in the weekend that I considered giving up. We honed in on the next checkpoint with little bother, having decided that Sunday’s mist and Saturday’s mishaps warranted a more disciplined approach to navigation (“Seriously mate, why the f**k did we think the f**king compasses were wrong?”) was necessary. The rest of the day was hard; poor visibility, constant rain and gusting winds. At one point I was trying to break up a chocolate bar but finding it difficult because my fingers had stopped working due to the cold. Despite all that, I enjoyed myself far more than I did on Saturday if only because we actually heeded John’s advice, thought about our routes and, as a result, always felt in control of our situation.
The last couple of checkpoints were a tough slog with lots of height gained and lost, my legs were beginning to cramp and I just wanted the whole thing to be over. Matt gave up on running altogether and utilised bum-sliding to great effect on the last descents. The final downhill section was a relief; a pleasant jog over gently sloping fields coupled with the immature pleasure of overtaking teams that were walking. We finished in the dark, 40 mins shy of being timed out but just in time to grab a soup and hop on the bus back to the event centre. We were pleasantly surprised to find out we’d finished in 87th out of 162 starters, an improvement over the half-way point and not a bad performance all things considered; we may not have been fast but at least we didn’t stop.