As the only guide and training provider in Wales on the OMM website we get a number of enquiries from people wanting to improve their skills either for their first event, or to learn a bit more after they're inspired to do more.
Mountain Marathons have a format which, particularly in the score courses challenge a number of skills. Where else in an event do you get told how long you've got, and then you decide how fast and where you want to go?
Two days in a mountainous environment, with competitors carrying their own kit (including overnight) judgement of your ability is a key element to the mountaincraft needed to manage yourself and your team.
We were approached initially by a Dutch gentleman who is heading to OMM Alps this year, and given the biggest hill in Holland is 80m, he and his running partner thought getting some training was a good idea. After an achilles injury and his partner not being able to travel, we found another participant from the North Coast of Wales who wanted to sharpen his skills. Work pressures for him meant that it was useful for him to maintain comms as much as possible. No small challenge in the mountains!
So, what did the training weekend we put together look like?
We met at 9am on the Saturday morning in a cafe in Dolgellau. A chance to chat and understand final requirements and have a really good Carvetii Coffee. As it turned out the forecast was bad enough that we had two coffees! During this time we had a chat about a number of things map reading related, base plate vs thumb compass, played some map jigsaws, water needs, unpacked a rucksack full of kit and chatted about where weight and volume can be saved without spending a fortune (Alpkit being a recurring theme). And, additionally for us, talking about how to toilet in wild spaces without impacting the environment we love so much. It also gives a chance to pull out Mountain Marathon maps from over the years, looking at different map types, course layouts, common features like start, finish, prohibited areas and all the other good things that come at you for the first time in an event like this.
Then, we headed to Coed y Brenin to do one of their permanent orienteering courses. This gives an opportunity to discuss pacing, timing, compass use and really really detailed observation of the surroundings and the maps themselves. This is the start of getting navigators to be able to work with different scales, layouts, keys and really engaging with what is around them. One of the big aims of no-mad running is the connection with the environment we move through. And for good navigation, being mindful is actually a hard won, but essential skill.
It also gives a chance to practice on the move map orientation techniques (by land feature or compass) and starting to talk about relocation techniques.
After lunch in the cafe there, we talked about how we were going to approach the wild camp. The weather wasn't quite biblical, but the weekend wasn't supposed to an SAS toughness training experience! Learning is key at all points and a major consideration in how we structure what we do. Where we go and when changes with nearly every trip we do to make sure that everyone gets the most they can from their time with us.
After a quick message to a landowner to ask permission to camp on their land, for which we're really grateful, we had a number of options. At this point we loaded up with all our overnight gear and headed out on a journey to some imaginary controls. This was using mainly linear features, but talking about the benefit of aiming off and discussing how long things might take (Naismith's rule) and it's limitations. Fortunately the weather broke, making it easier for them to get their eye into a 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map. The top control point at 680m was high enough for them to feel the benefit of being economical with weight, and to create a bit of realism, pop a bit of fatigue into the legs for Day 2. From that point they calculated what a 'stretch time', i.e. a time they'd have to work hard for, would be to get to the overnight camp.
Into the overnight camp, a reminder of simple tips (sock change, plastic bags) on how to keep feet warm overnight, a chat about boxing and slope aspect, then dinner and midge dodging was the order of the evening.
Day 2 started with dropping some equipment back to the vehicles - again, getting the most out of this day was going to be about creating the best learning environment, and for the sake of 40 minutes off loading some weight, we'd get more out of the day.
At this point they had their map marked up with 9 possible points to visit (controls) and told they could choose (up to 5 hours) how long they wanted to take. However, for every two minutes over their time they would lose a control (similar to the penalties at the OMM). We also met with Helen, of Helen Iles Photography, and from this point in the blog, all photos are hers. Diolch yn Fawr Helen. Hauling all the camera kit alongside us lightly loaded mountain marathoners was no mean feat, and a testament to Helen's own Mountain Leader experience and fitness.
At this point, the two had to work as a team, talk about how they were feeling, what their limitations were, what they thought they could find and how long they would take. Gentle prompts were what they'd be given and if there was something particular to chat through, then "Clock off" meant the learning time would be added to their moving time.
They outlined their route, and then we we were off into a big landscape. A quick prompt to name a mountain top in the distance, meant using a number of skills.
Then, crossing the big plateau to Penygadair, there was a dawning sensation that time was starting to slip away from them. Whilst the conditions were unusually clear, the usual stop on the top, was quickly binned out after a really bad joke (to get them moving of course) and on their way to another control point.
Dropping steeply down the Foxes path, the pre-agreed 'no running' verbal contract started to see the occasional jog.
And now, having collecting three controls by Llyn y Gadair, was probably the best quote from the weekend. The prompt? "How far and how long have you got?" Eyes quickly to the map, counting kilometres from their known point. "1.....2....3....4...." a glance at the watch "5.....6.....5h1t!!!"
The metaphorical gloves came off at this point - there was no chance to score another control, it was going to be tight not getting a penalty! A quick chat with Helen on a future RV and the guys set off at a jog. As distance was made discussions of "maybe we could get one more control" began, followed by the cumulative effect of two days on the hill. Fatigue being a very real thing to manage towards the end of an event.
"Shall we use the road", "Can we use that footpath to cut the corner?", "Can you run?" were all great judgements and conversations to be having on tired legs.
Even smashing along the road this area offers some really lush and special environments - the light and moss offering Helen a chance to capture it whilst the two were down on their bootstraps!
Onto the road to climb to the vehicles, it's steep, it's going to be close, hands on legs, eyes down, eyes up, keep navigating, don't make a mistake now. A little push to the end with 58 seconds to spare. A true testament to the, skills teamwork and judgement these two strangers had developed over the previous 18 hours. High fives all round!
A well deserved trip to the Royal Ship for food, a pint, or pot of tea and a debrief and general chat looking at Mynydd Moel finished the weekend off.
Best of luck at the OMM Alps to our Dutch friend, and a potential new entry to the ROC for our north Walian friend. All in all a great weekend.
Mountain Marathon, the king of sports!!