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After more than 30 years, the OMM returned to the stunning yet unforgiving landscape of Eryri (Snowdonia) this year, with around 1,500 competitors gathering for an unforgettable weekend in the mountains.
This year’s event presented some seriously testing terrain, as well as courses with some of the highest altitude gain yet. As is the OMM tradition, races follow a format that demands strong navigational skills, tenacity and a healthy amount of moxy as much as they do hill fitness! Teams must be self-sufficient throughout the race, carrying all the kit prescribed by the official kit list, as well as any ‘luxury’ items they deem necessary for their own comfort and enjoyment (highlights this year included fluffy bed socks, Irish whisky cake and ‘Pass The Pigs’).
Saturday saw favourable conditions by OMM standards and a predominantly dry day was enjoyed by all. With a little clag and drizzle to add to the fun, teams of two and three headed into the hills against the backdrop of a spectacular sunrise. Equipped with a map of the 150km2 competition area, teams would tackle one of six courses following a route of their own choosing.
Lily McGuinness and Martin Paley competed as a mixed team in the Long Score race.
“It was a great course. Lots of ascent which was hard, but I think we did alright – we got lots of points,” Martin said.
“Sunday felt similar to Saturday, but I was really tired. No matter what food I was putting in, I was still really hungry,” said Lily. “It’s good to finish!”
Teams navigated challenging, unmarked terrain to locate checkpoints hidden among the tussocks and rocky outcrops of the Carneddau and Glyderau, encountering their fair share of wet grass, slippery rock, scree and bog en route to the overnight camp. Runners were up against poor visibility and high winds on the summits, yet almost all teams arrived before nightfall with the remaining teams accounted for and moving well despite the darkness. With competitors safely installed in their tents, the weather closed in and teams endured a less-than-peaceful night as wind and rain lashed the overnight camp.
On Sunday, competitors reluctantly left the relative warmth of their sleeping bags as a chilly wind and drizzle persisted into the morning. Luckily for them, our resident bagpiper was once again on hand to herald the second day of the race (alarm clocks don’t get much better than that!) and runners began to emerge, bleary-eyed but cheery enough, from their tents. The dreich conditions soon turned a touch brighter, and teams headed into the wilds of North Wales for a final day. The weather forecast once again proved gloriously inaccurate with the rain holding off until almost all competitors had completed, crossing the finish line in autumnal sunshine.
Stuart Hamilton has worked on the OMM for 13 years, overseeing the race as Event Director for 11. Speaking of the 54th iteration, he said:
‘North Wales as a location has been an aspiration for a long time. We’d looked into it back in 2000, but the access has always proved really challenging. It’s a great area with a real mix of technical terrain and good running, and we believe that the summits included in the course make it the OMM with the greatest elevation.
‘Every area brings its own challenges. Some are more challenging navigationally, some are more technical in terms of what’s underfoot, and some are just harder going! This area is pretty steady going underfoot – it’s much easier to move across the ground quickly – but it’s steep terrain with a greater chance of the summits being in the cloud. Because of the location, this is one of the most challenging events I’ve worked on, but we’ve been incredibly fortunate with the weather and spoilt with a fantastic overnight campsite as well.’
Asked about next year’s location, Stuart kept his cards close to his chest:
‘We’re working on something again in an area that we haven’t really been to for next year, but we have been next to it. We’re looking up in the Southern Highlands… but that’s all we’re saying for now!’
It’s a great area with a real mix of technical terrain and good running
Of the 788 teams to set out, 706 completed their courses. Teams comprised of OMM veterans and regulars, family pairings, friends old and new and inter-generational teams, as well as first-time entrants to the event. One all-female team threw down the gauntlet in the elite category – Lisa Watson and Despina Berdeni, while in the Short Score, Matthew and Seth Lawson took the Family Prize and came in 4th overall. The father and son team entered the OMM at the last minute, after special permission was granted for Seth to compete at the age of 14, with his 15th Birthday falling on the Saturday of the event.
‘It’s not like Seth is just running along or following, he did two thirds of the navigating, which is absolutely brilliant,’ said Matthew.
Seth also claimed the title of the youngest competitor this year, crossing the start line aged 14, whilst the oldest entrant was 80 years old. The registration team noted a higher than usual number of first-timers getting a taste of mountain marathon madness this year, including mixed Short Score team May-Ann Ochota and Pat Downie, who met on a navigation course and paired up for the event.
‘It’s that thing where it seemed like a really brilliant idea many weekends ago,’ Mary-Ann laughed.
‘What’s great is it isn’t all about the athletic challenge. I’m not a fell runner or an athlete, but it’s about strategy and skill and route choice. It’s also a really nice way of hanging out with your friend in the hills for the weekend.’
Arguably the most challenging part of the weekend turned out to be getting competitors’ vehicles out of the parking field on Sunday, but the mud proved no match for the OMM volunteers whose monumental efforts ensured that no van was left behind! The success of the OMM is in no small part thanks to the 150-strong team of volunteers who work tirelessly throughout the weekend to keep runners safe on the hill, register and assist competitors, facilitate communications, maintain campsites, tend the bar, tidy up, provide banter, boost morale, and so much more. A very special thanks is owed to them.
The organisers would also like to unreservedly thank the landowners and stakeholders for their kind permissions and support, in particular Richard, Jayne and Idris Temple-Morris, Dewi Roberts and the National Trust, Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation and the residents of Bethesda. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
Following the success of 54th Original Mountain Marathon, the organisers are pleased to announce that the entries are open for the 55th edition, to be held 26th – 27th October 2024 in the Southern Highlands of Scotland. You can find out more here.