Original Mountain Marathon

By Dr Amy Jane Beer


The Original Mountain Marathon, held on 28-29th October this year is a reincarnation of the Karrimor International Mountain Marathon or KIMM, known and loved by a number of YCC members. Its a two day event, in a lumpy, inhospitable location, where about 1500 teams of two dash about getting lost and broken, camp using the minimum of kit, then get up and do it again. This 36 hours of exquisitely blended torment and joy qualifies you to yarn at length about your experiences over copious pints in the course of the following months and years.

Roy and Ian were entering their fifth event their fourth as a team. This was to be their second attempt at the extremely demanding A Class just one step down from the Elite. Orna on the other hand had twice managed to wiggle out of a role as my team-mate in the C class, but this year I told her theyd renamed the whole event after her (Orna Mary Margaret) so really she had no choice

This years race took place in Galloway Forest Park, in southwest Scotland. A previous KIMM there in 1986 went down in legend as one of the toughest ever and there were plenty of warnings about the testing terrain in the blurb sent out with our entry packs. Roy and I even went up to do a recce in August. We spend two days battling waist-high heather, thistles and bracken on ground so uneven that no single footfall was level. At night we were assailed by the densest clouds of midges I have ever seen. It was enough to convince me that much of the terrain was essentially unrunnable, but that route choice and good nav would be key.

Of course, preparation for something like this should not be taken lightly. Its important to train hard and long, attain peak physical fitness and hone skills with map and compass to perfection In the absence of any such thing we all bought new kit to make ourselves feel better and limited ourselves to just one pint in the pub we stopped at for tea on the way up.

It had been raining on and off all week, and by the time we arrived at the start area on the Friday evening, the field being used for parking was already a quagmire. Stewards were yelling encouragement to newly arrived drivers as cars slewed wildly. It would have made for great entertainment, except that would-be spectators were in danger of being conscripted to push each time the worsening slurry got the better of automotive technology. So we registered, pitched our tent and went to bed. It rained all night.

The boys had an early start, and left us snoozing before 8 to go in search of breakfast. Somehow the next hour and a half disappeared and Orn and I ended up in a frantic rush to make our start time arriving in the start lanes with less than a minute to spare, with Orn listing the items of kit she thought she might have forgotten. Having passed though the start procedure, we were loaded onto a coach and driven for 45 minutes. On disembarking, we dibbed our electronic tags, were given our maps and set loose into the rain once more…

The first checkpoint was easy a forestry track lead straight to it and many teams flew past us in an attempt to make fast headway while they could. We jogged a bit and walked a bit, warming into things more gently, and had the last laugh when we discovered at the end of the day that that first leg was scratched from everyones times because of some problem with the gadgetry at the start, tee hee.

The next leg took us abruptly into more challenging territory, and for the next seven hours we trudged, toiled, scrambled slid, and scampered up, down and around the hills, relying heavily on the compass as visibility was so poor and constantly searching for landscape features to confirm our heading -changes in the topography, stream confluences, walls and fences, pools, crags and knolls. We saw surprisingly few people between checkpoints, though we often heard them though the mist. It was only around the checkpoints that teams tended to converge out of the gloom. All in all, our navigation worked miraculously well after a couple of major gaffs in the 2004 KIMM, I was very anxious not to get it wrong. It was a big relief when as the day wore on each checkpoint appeared obediently out of the cloud. We had a short delay at checkpoint five only about 3 miles from the end. The checkpoint was hidden at the foot of an exposed crag which we approached in the worst weather of the day. We were in the right place, but it took a long five minutes to locate the rascal, even with the help of another team.

By this point we were pretty tired and cold, and it was getting late. With the prospect of dusk, we chose a safe route to the next checkpoint, which we reached around sundown. We had about 15 minutes of fading twilight to get off the hill and route was obvious a stone wall lead down a steep slope alongside a plantation. It looked easy, but most of it we were forced to follow a 50 degree quagmire littered with fallen trees, scrub and brambles and it took half and hour of sliding, wriggling, cursing and clambering in the dark we emerged scratched and filthy beyond belief on the road leading to the camp. As were jogging in we met Gladys who as a short score competitor had probably been lounging about there most of the afternoon and afterwards he had the nerve to say we looked like death! Sorry Glad, the lippy and hair tongs wouldnt quite fit in our packs

We checked in at 1850, ten minutes inside the deadline for avoiding relegation to the mass start next morning. We wallowed in a stream in an attempt to wash the worst of the mud and pitched our tent (or rather we made it stand almost upright). The rain had stopped, so we were able to cook and change comfortably, and we ate our meals of rehydrated goop, followed by hot chocolate from our solitary team mug. Like most of the other 500 or so teams in camp we were in our sleeping bags soon after 9.30.

Neither of us got much sleep. Orn was cold and I was being tortured by Paul McCartney singing No More Lonely Nights in my brain, hour after hour. Why? What did I ever do to him? Anyway the night passed, slowly, and were roused at 6am by a hooter and announcements. Again, we had loads of time to cook a leisurely breakfast, powder our noses and strike camp, but somehow we still manages to arrive at the start lanes with no more than 20 seconds to spare before the off. Nonchalant timing according to Orn.

Day 2 began with a dash along a forest track and a brief stop to fill water bottles from a stream, before we tackled the first and worst climb of the day 500m of calf-burning, lung-bursting distress. Every other team was going the same way, and on this single track route, there was continual pressure (sportingly unspoken, but palpable nonetheless) from competitors behind to keep up the pace. It got us up there quickly, but I was a wreck at the top, and my left knee was protesting painfully. The climb had been hot work, and Orn took the drastic step of attacking her longjohns with her first aid scissors and cutting them down to Oliver Twist style shorts. Itll start a trend, you wait.

It was a very different competition today. Dry conditions and excellent visibility meant navigation was easy and everyone followed the same route, creating a trampled motorway along which we all trundled like a disciplined army of ants. To begin with this was annoying, but by mid morning the sun came out, and spirits raised as we all began to get a sniff of the finish. There was plenty of banter, great views and the course was much more runnable than on Day 1 so were made good, cheerful progress. Half way up the last big hill, I heard a snatch of conversation carried on the wind. It was Roys voice, and after a few seconds I spotted him and Ian climbing another flank, half a kilometre or so away. Needless to say they beat us to the top, and were specks in the distance when we began our descent, but we did bump into them again about 2 km from the end.

As all routes began to converge towards the finish, the ground became more and more churned up, and we were running through the oozing bog and occasionally plunging without warning into knee- or thigh-deep quagmires, to great amusement. The last descent was a treacherous firebreak cascading with kneedeep black mud, and we joined the flow competitors from all classes piling down it like a hoard of crazed lemmings.

Roy and Ian had finished a minute or two ahead of us (having covered almost twice our distance), and were there to cheer us over the line. All that remained was to download our dibbers, upload a few bowls of steaming pasta and bean stew, strip off a heap of clothes that looked like artefacts raised from the Mary Rose and begin working out how best to extract the car from the parking mire

What a great weekend well be back to OMM again.

all photographs copyright Amy Jane Beer