The ROC Mountain Marathon 23rd&24th September 2017

Confidence was high approaching this Mountain Marathon. Following the (still) amazing result at the OMM Lite a few weeks ago, described here, I was well up for the ROC, formerly the RAB. This event has changed quite a bit over recent years as the new owners (Ourea Events) seek to leave their mark.  What attracts me to this event is that you can compete as a solo. Most MM’s are aimed at teams of two, so this one is a real novelty.  This would be my 6th RAB/ROC.

Since the OMM Lite, I had kept  my running to a minimum, wanting to be rested for the ROC and had decided that my regular Tuesday CleM runs (about 10-13km per evening) and one other 10km run the weekend between would be enough to ‘turn my legs over’. the Tuesday before the weekend I went off for the usual session BUT with new Mudclaws on.  Fresh out of the box, I wanted to bring these in to circulation as the RAB previously has finished shoes off – and I mean absolutely trashed them, so I thought I would be ahead of the curve and get some km’s on some new shoes, leaving my regular pair ready for the weekend.  That was mistake number one!  I have worn classic Innov-8 Mudclaw 300’s for the past x many years, I have had well over ten pairs, same brand, model and for the last three pairs same colour and probably even the same batch, as I bought a job lot from Pete Bland Sports in a sale.  This was the last pair from that batch – why would they be any different?  Clearly they were and for whatever reason, this pair gave me a hot spot on my left heel two km’s in to the run and by km three I knew I had a blister…  I stopped, had a look and thought with a bit of re lacing I could get back to the van/pub at a slow trot.  Wrong. Within 500m I had bent the back of the heel down and was running gingerly as I was now wearing the equivalent of fell running Crocs…. (a gap in the market may be?)  I left the group and made my way back to the pub.

The blister,from the Tuesday evening run. Picture taken on the Thursday evening before the ROC weekend.

I am pretty good at managing and treating blisters, learnt over many years walking, running, first aiding on running events and reading many articles/books etc, particularly  “Fixing Your Feet” by Jon Vonhof (well worth purchasing – here) so I was confident I could get to a point where I could trot round the ROC, I may not get the result I was hoping for, but still, I would be there… with expectations suitably lowered.

The ROC arrived, or rather I arrived in South West Cumbria, in the shadow of Black Combe, near Millom and I was ready to start and collect my map and control sheet.  The premise behind a “score” event is you have a time (6 hours day one, 5 hours day two for the ROC) to find as many controls as you can over a given area. You get the details at the start line and it is part of the challenge to formulate a plan/route that allows you to collect as many controls on your electronic dibber as you can and get back to where you need to be  – in this event an overnight camp- before the time runs out and you start to lose points by way of penalties.  I have lost all my day one points before on these events… gutting to say the least!

Mistake number 2 then was a real school boy error. somehow in my haste I marked up the map incorrectly and gave a control a points value when it wasn’t in fact live that day – or indeed in use at any point over the weekend!  This tipped my route choice into a direction I otherwise wouldn’t have taken.  I realised my error as I was charging along to what I thought was the first control. I reached for the control description, expecting to see something like “stream source” or “spring” looking at how the map was marked but what I found was nothing. Control 210 wasn’t even on the live list, so why and how I had given it a value of 10 points was beyond me.  I quickly checked the others I had marked…. all fine. Phew!  Not for the mad house yet then… but that took up more precious time. Oh well, I will carry on, I will lose more time if I head back and take an alternative route from the start, the next control about a km away, was in my plan anyway, I’m just down a few points than I had expected.

It was at this point that the cloud came in.

The weather forecast for Saturday was clear, overcast, but not raining and clear visibility on the tops.  By 10.30 am the cloud base was down to about 400 m, it was very damp in the air and any chance at a view was lost.

Famous Lakeland scenic vista.

Now I am a good navigator and back myself in poor conditions like this, but with a scrambled brain from trying to understand why I had made a control up, sore heel and still cursing myself for starting so poorly my relocation took longer than it should have, with the added pressure being against the clock brings I was getting decidedly cranky! Several expletives may well have passed my lips, much to the amusement of the ever present Herdwick Sheep on Black Combe. Rumours I asked ‘lost’ fell runners still on the hill from the 2016 championships held here are unfounded.

I got there in the end- the next control a 20 point one loomed out of the mist.  The game was on!  I tore off north east following a trod heading gently down I was certain about my location and where to head next and the terrain was very runnable.  This would still rank as my worst start ever – 2 hours in and only 20 points!  I then came across three other competitors, a solo male and a male pair, all studying their maps and with compass in hand. They didn’t know where they were with any great conviction, so I advised them accordingly. “We’re here mate”, much gratitude was expressed and the pair carried on their way, the solo – a chap named Dan on his first MM asked to team up for a while.  Sure, with no view, conversation would be good for the next few km’s!

“OS Trig Pillar” control description

Dan was clearly a better runner than I and as we got lower down and the visibility improved he sped off to follow his own plan.

From here on in I was navigating to my usual standard and hitting controls exactly where I expected them to be.  I still get a massive buzz from that, but essentially the damage was done.  The poor tactics, dodgy heel and slower going in the clagg meant I was in damage limitation mode and the main objective was to get back to camp without incurring penalties, which I was able to do and got back in with a meagre 200 points and four minutes to spare.  My plan had seen me get somewhere between 270 and 300 which would have left me comfortably mid table at half way, instead I was languishing in the bottom 20 or so 90 something out of 113.

But tomorrow was another day!

Overnight camp. Mine is the green tent to the left
Overnight camp. Mine is the green tent on the left…

Day two and the weather was much improved.

Sunrise, early in the morning, making all the runners look around…

Feeling good and less achy than I usually feel on day two of these things and with a heel blister that hadn’t got any worse I was raring to go and at 8.13 am I dibbed out of camp to head back via as many controls as I could in a bid to make amends for the previous days woes.

And oh what a day.  Stunning conditions, runnable, although wet ground and with clear visibility.  It was like running a different event, my route choice saw me tackle some controls I had visited the previous day (all correctly marked up this time!) but the views were stunning, with Eskdale and the Scafell Massif to the north and the Irish Sea and coast to the south and west it was a view to inspire.

The going was good and I was pleased with my lines and nav to the controls.  We were all wearing GPS trackers supplied by Open Tracking (part of the Open Adventure team) and being able to review the routes you took is an excellent feature of the ROC -one I hope they continue to maintain.  You can see my day one and two routes with each click search for my name or “303”.

By two hours in from the five I had about 120 points… a much better haul!  My day two total was 300, which placed me 53rd on the day from the 113 that started – which is where I usually am, mid pack, but because of day one’s error and conditions I finished overall in a disappointing 75th.  The heel is now healing nicely and although somewhere between uncomfortable and painful did not get any worse which was pleasing.  Just as well as I am DofEing this weekend for Sam Sykes Ltd down south so will be on my feet all weekend.

I almost wish I was competing at this year’s OMM… I’m gonna have to wait till 2018 for my next Mountain Marathon fix… Still, the adventure racing season is almost upon us!

This short video captures the 2017 ROC nicely I think.


For those interested Kit wise I used:

OMM 3/4 length leggings, TNF boxers, Injinji socks ( a pair for each day), and a Berghaus LS tech tee. I wore a Haglofs windproof gillet also as main kit with an Innov 8 cap on top.

I had a Montane Minimus smock and over trousers, both worn at camp. Also a Montane fleece jacket thing – very light and a Rab micro down jacket and New Balance full length running tights and a Montane beanie hat all worn at the over night camp and meeting mandatory kit requirements. Gloves (Aldi Merino ones) and a buff (race swag) were carried but not worn.  I ran in Mudclaws – the classic 300s with the proper 10mm lugs – a well worn in pair!

I slept in a PHD bespoke down sleeping bag, with a silk liner on a 3/4 Thermarest Neo Air mattress which has a slow puncture despite multiple repairs, it takes all night to go down, so it kinda works. Tent wise it is a TerraNova Laser Photon 1, with a foil blanket as a foot print to protect the floor.  I use Alpkit titanium pegs rather than the tooth picks the tent comes with.  I cooked on an Optimus Crux Lite stove and used a 650ml Evernew pan and 300ml cup (titanium)- it all sits together with an aluminium wind shield (home made). I used a 3 litre Nalgene ‘canteen’ for water capture at the camp and on the hill i used a 750ml SIS bottle – filled as a I passed suitable water sources. Food wise I used two small zip lock bags of trail mix, one for each day (Peanut M&M’s jelly babies, cereal bars cut into thirds and malt loaf) plus a couple of gels (SIS) and a Peperami and a Babybel cheese or two. Over night I used a mug shot and some Extreme Adventure Food (dehydrated beef stogganof – disapointing it was..), with a few handfuls of salted peanuts to finish the job of refueling off. (oh and maybe a small whisky to go with them nuts…) two tea bags, two lemon and ginger tea bags and a small serving of coffee for the morning and a porridge pot for breakfast.

My first aid kit got boosted and I deliberately took a 50g tube of Sudacream and some dressings, relifix tape and moleskin to dress and protect the blister. This worked really well. The other stuff that’s in there didn’t get used.

All this was carried in 2 dry bags and an OMM Jirishanca rucsack (35l I think – but it never seems big enough for that number, this is an old one – 7-8 years maybe, not sure they make them anymore.). A few extra bits like contact lenses, specs, a small MUVI Camera (poor mans GoPro!), Smidge and a small ‘swiss army card’, lighter, gas cannister partially used one weighted in at 200g and titanium long handled spork thing (Alpkit again). Despite carrying a tent and sleeping bag you are supposed to carry an emergency bivi as well. I took a SOL Emergency Bivi cause its tiny and light. I took an Alpkit headtorch, whistle, red and black sharpies for map marking on each day, my phone (off) in a sealed bag as it is GPS enabled. I have a small PAYG hill phone, but discovered it wasn’t working to late to do anything about it which is a shame as its very light an weighs next to nothing where as my Phone is a Samsung Edge brick type thing….   All of this kit is well tried and tested – no issues with any of it! I think that’s all the stuff I hauled about, oh two Warburtons bread bags for my feet at camp.

It weighed about 9kg at the start before water and was 7.5kg on the Sunday before water but including all my rubbish, which we quite rightly have to carry out.

midway camp, waiting for the kettle to boil, detritus all around!

Heavy for this sort of event – the elites would be running with between 4 and 6 kg’s.  Personally I prefer a bit of comfort these days so as long as its around 9kg starting weight its good enough for me. I camped next to a competitor who finished in the top ten – she was a tougher nut than I! With a real lightweight purist approach to her kit… may be one day eh?

The OMM Lite, September 9-10 2017

The OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) is just that, a marathon in the mountains originally launched as test of team work, mountain skill and running ability. The OMM has long been the bench mark of multi day navigation based events in the fell running/orienteering community.  The OMM Lite is a more recent idea, developed as an entry point to multi day running events, or as a training vehicle, it is on trails and rights of way rather than open fell/mountain with the navigation being less daunting. The checkpoints are at path junctions or significant features rather than on some tiny contour feature in the middle of nowhere!
The Day One map – with weather enforced edits
The other key difference is that the the competitors in teams of two, don’t need to carry their overnight kit like on the full OMM, you return to a central point to refuel, recover and sleep.  The OMM also want to encourage families to attend so family tents, partners and children  are welcome to make use of the event cafe and bar!  This would be my second OMM Lite (and 10th Mountain Marathon) and the plan was that  last years team mate (and previous OMM partner and general running pal) – Graeme from Scotland would run with me whilst our wives and children would amuse themselves around the Yorkshire Dales for the 7 hours on the Saturday and the 5 hours on the Sunday of the “Long Score” format.  We would be charging around the Hawes area finding red and white flags with Sport Ident dibbers and collecting points.
What we were seeking
Well, that was the plan….
On Wednesday before the Friday night drive to Hawes, Graeme rang to say his wife had been quite poorly and that the weekend was in doubt… They would know more after a Thursday morning doctors visit.  By 10.00 am Thursday morning, the weekend was off!
With Jenny ordered to bed rest, Graeme clearly wasn’t going to abandon her with their 6 year old to come and charge around boggy bits of Yorkshire with me.  Gutted!  A quick scan of the website and OMM rules and a brief exchange of emails and text messages with the organisers and it became clear I could turn up and run solo, but be ‘non competitive’ for the weekend having been judged to have had enough experience to do so -or find a partner and transfer the entry, which we could do right up till the start on Saturday morning.
I was working for Outdoor Elements that day on a ‘big group’ day, so it was much later that afternoon before I could start reaching out to people I thought might be up for it.  But… No joy with the ‘usual suspects’ from the BG Whats App group so I thought it was time for drastic measures and potentially to find someone I perhaps didnt know. After all, worse case scenario I would treat it as work!  A quick post on the Team Clayton Facebook page, after all its a big enough club- someone must be up for it and available!  But no… desperation kicked in… the idea of being non competitive just did not appeal – those that know me, know I am never going to win these things – but I am damn well going to put a shift in and the idea of getting a “good score” but it meaning nothing was too frustrating to consider.  Time for a post on the Fell Runners Association Facebook page.  BINGO!  Within thirty minutes I had some potential partners, with one looking promising, he (Paul) had done the OMM before, completed the Spine Challenger race (110 miles up the Pennine Way) and could get a pass for the weekend which by 9 pm on a Thursday evening was no mean feat!
We arranged to speak Friday lunch time and by then,  the show was back on the road. so Paul, and I met at registration on Saturday morning in Hawes at 8.30 am and by 9.45 were running the OMM Long Score together.
a muddy field with some stuff in it
And what a weekend it was! The weather was wet to say the least, torrential rain had caused many of the rivers to be in spate so several fords were now marked as out of bounds and a few checkpoints were dropped for competitor safety, but the two of us seemed to find an even stride. When you have 7 hours to fill on the hill with a complete stranger, you talk about a lot of stuff! With weirdly loads of that stuff in common, we discussed the possibility that either of us could be some kind of axe murderer, but ultimately agreed the fact we were there meant we were the right kind of crazy!
Day one team selfie
It turned out we were both generally “mid table” in our results. I’ve always said top 50% is a good result for me, top 75% is more common!  SO what happened that Saturday was just bizarre…and amazing.  We came in after 6 hours 45 minutes, 41 km and a score of 500 points to find ourselves in 9th!!!  9th!!! I’ve never been that high up a leader board in my life!  A celebratory beer was in order!
Athlete! We are actually sat with the team in 12th place overnight swapping stories from the days doings.
We were both gob smacked, but very thankful that we clicked the way we did.  Our strategy and tactics seemed in tune.  We were keen to put in a good performance to see what we could achieve on the Sunday…could we improve our lot? Would we slip down the field? Was this as good as it was going to get? We had met the teams in 7th and 12th and seen several of the other teams around us earlier on the hill – competition was going to be strong.  For me, sleep that night was good and deep, tired and satisfied at a good days trot.
A little too good in fact – My alarm went off at 6.55… I shut it off and promptly went back to sleep!  Waking again at 7.25, I was decidedly on the back foot – we had arranged to meet at 8.30 am to set off soon after!
The forecast was shocking – heavy rain due in from mid morning and a stronger wind for the rest of the day. We were going to have to dig deep to battle the elements and see if we would hold on. Neither Paul or I had ever finished in the top ten before… but we were kinda liking the view!
We eventually set off at 8.40.  At a gentle pace initially to allow ourselves a gradual warm up and legs creaking back to life. It was a tough day over much more traditional OMM terrain, with greater distance between the check points to boot.  The high ground was particularly tough in the wind, but we both felt we had enough in the tank to push for the higher value checkpoints – the risk with these events is always that you can push too far and end up burnt out and miles away from the finish line which leads to penalty deductions if you are late back. I have on several occasions early on in my mountain marathon/adventure racing career made this mistake and lost most of my points by being 30 minutes and later back to base! We were both keen to avoid such a mistake today.
Day two. Tired, wet – but determined.
We nailed it. 4 hours 56 minutes and 30km on our feet we came back knowing we couldn’t have done any better or given anymore.  Cold, wet and keen to get the results we sat down to eat the finishers meal and waited for the course to close and results to come in….7th!!!  7th!!!  We’d made up places!  My highest finish ever in a race, never mind a mountain marathon – with a complete stranger by my side!  Astonished didn’t begin to describe the expression on our faces. We knew we had run well, but 7th!
Paul was every bit as amazed as I was, 7th was his best ever result also. To top it all we were 3rd in age category.  3rd!!!
All in all we had plucked triumph from the jaws of my despair – on Thursday evening I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be there at all. To then place in the top ten is still, a few days later, quite astonishing.  I am sure there is a message in there somewhere…..  I am still to chuffed to work out what it is though.
Roll on the ROC Mountain Marathon in two weeks time!
For those interested, I ran in Injinji toe socks, Innov-8 Roclite 280’s (old model) New Balance shorts, and Berghaus zip l/s tech tee with a Haglofs wind proof gillet on top. An 18 litre Mountain Hardwear bag with bladder carried the kit, Montane Minimus waterproofs, first aid kit, survival bag, snacks, SIS gels and electrolyte tabs, 2x buffs (not used), gloves (not used), cap and whistle. My extra ‘warm’ layer (not used) was a Marmot Dri-clime gillet.  Food wise I was a bag a day trail mix man – jelly babies, wine gums, cereal bars cut in to chunks and malt loaf in chunks with peanut M&M’s. Saturday I ate two sausage rolls as snacks, Sunday a small pork pie.

Early Years Outdoors Pt.3 – Risk (Or, how many accident books do you get through in a term)

The third part here of three pieces hopefully articulating why I do a lot of work in early years, why I believe that is important, how it works in practice and in this part, what are the risks and how are they managed. I of course am happy to discuss any or all of the issues raised here and can be reached by email here, Twitter & Facebook.

Lets answer that question in the head line – None!  The starting point here is the acceptance that being a child outside is going to result in the occasional bump, scrape, bruise or cut.  It just is.  Children everywhere will fall over and graze a knee on a busy high street, get a carpet burn at home, or stub a toe on the door frame.  And as for standing barefoot on a  piece of lego… say no more.  More often than not society subjects the children in our care to what WE are afraid of in terms of risk perception which in turn has led to children becoming more and more solitary and sedentary as mentioned in Part 1.

To be clear we do not want to see our own children or the children in our care get hurt at all, but it is going to happen to them at some time, in varying degrees of severity some how, so its vital we help to equip them to manage those situations when they happen, regardless of if that event is on our watch or not as professionals.  Part of that equipping is to instill the skill at spotting and then managing a risk.  Those of us of a certain age will remember videos like this (and far worse… Google ‘Apache Safety Film’ then sit behind sofa at your leisure peeking occasionally at the screen).

I come back to this quote every time I visit a new setting to risk assess the proposed or planned activity in that venue :

“we must provide a risk-assessed environment that allows children to be safe to do, rather than safe from doing.”

Future Olympic contender. Yes, Climbing is in the 2020 Tokyo games

Where I got that line from I am afraid is lost in the mists of time, but there are endless good sources of information and justification from academics, advisory bodies,government around the world and other teachers/early years professionals all extolling the virtue of risky play.  Perhaps the phrasing is part of the problem? Use of the word risk is inherently loaded with negativity I think.  I prefer the term “adventurous play”, it certainly sounds exciting!

A little context here may be helpful.  In my other world, the British Mountaineering Council (The BMC) offer a ‘Participation Statement’ which goes like this:

“The BMC recognises that climbing, hill walking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement.”

Woah. Heavy stuff.  Now clearly my planned 2019 “EYFS Everest Expedition” may now have to wait indefinitely, but we must recognise our children from a very young age climb several ‘Everest’s’ worth of risk as they grow older, from leaving the hospital in the arms of new parents who could well be terrified of their new status, to learning to walk or using cutlery and simple tools like scissors, through to riding a bike and learning to drive. Taking risks is a natural process and wrapping up our charges in cotton wool does not help them learn how to manage those risks at all.  That risk management may be as simple as holding their hand out so you might take it to assist their balance. It could be more sophisticated, such as a four year old asking why they have to wear a helmet before climbing or riding that bike.  This is all helping our youngsters learn about risk.  The outdoors is a great environment to facilitate that learning journey and have an adventure.

So what are the risks and most importantly are they worth it? This ultimately is the question we must pose to determine if the play is to go ahead. If the risk is a splinter or a small scrape, but the outcome is hours of imaginatively driven physical play such as with pallets, then to my mind it is worth taking.  We can remove or bang in protruding nails, sand down excessively rough edges, use only soft wood pallets etc to help reduce the chance of that scrape further. But if they did then get a scrape – is it really that bad?  Show me the four year old that doesn’t respond to some TLC and if you are desperate a smiley face/superhero placebo plaster. More often than not I believe it is our fear of their reaction, or indeed our reaction to that event that causes more stress and upset in the child than the event itself.

Best nursery play things ever. Fact.

It is essential that children learn that their actions have real results and consequences.  I am sure most of us can think of an adult or two who could benefit from some revision in that area!

In the real world, young children are capable of assessing many of their own day-to-day risks, for instance if you asked a three year old to drop a hammer on their toe – they would likely give you a funny look and flatly refuse.  However they must have the chance to learn and practice that type of risk management.  Only if they’re well versed in critical thinking and not the habits that blind obedience creates can they achieve what to us is logical thought – which it isn’t! It is our experience at risk management that tells us not to drop heavy tools on our feet.  Children need to learn that too.   The parent who shouts, “Don’t slide down the stairs!” might well be keeping a child safe in that split second, but is also, at the same time, robbing them of a chance to think for themselves, which makes that child that much less safe in the future when no one is there to tell him or her what to do. How about we offer the facts (“If you slide down those stairs you might get hurt.”) and let them practice thinking things through, to consider the possible consequences of their actions, to assess his own risks, to ask herself, “Is this a risk worth taking?” or “Could I do this differently” (For the record, if it is my son you are asking this of, he will just smile at you and slide down the stairs having decided the risk is worth taking – he just might not do it head first!).

What about the zip lines, the climbing, etcetera? Well again in the climbing world the cliche line is usually ‘you are more likely to get hurt in the car on the way to or from the crag than at the crag itself’.  This really is that simple, all the equipment used is fit for purpose, used in the appropriate context by someone (me!) with the National Governing Body recognised skills to be able to use that equipment appropriately.  For those that don’t know, climbing ropes are strong enough to lift a car/small van.  They simply do not break in normal context of use.  Where there has been recorded incident is usually down to either a knot being incorrectly tied or the rope was cut over a sharp rock edge or a damaged karabiner or was exposed to corrosive chemicals and subsequently failed.  Three instances that as a climber I check for each time I use that equipment in line with my training, my own due diligence, insurance requirements, common sense and desire to keep doing a job I love.  Five pretty powerful motivators!  Using this equipment in a Nursery’s garden, where I have yet to come across acid bathed sharp rocks is out of the equipment’s usual context for sure, but one could very easily argue it is a safer one!  That said please be assured if ever I do spot acid covered sharp rocks in your setting whilst I do a site visit and risk assessment I will be sure to avoid them and let you know….  As for the knots, I keep it simple and recognisable – Figures 8’s, Bowlines, Hitches and double check each one before using the set up as planned or as if I were climbing myself.

All of these activities whilst certainly containing a ‘risk’ (which is managed) do I believe present the perception that the risk is at a higher likelihood than it actually is,  or at a comparably higher chance than an actual risk in ‘everyday normal life’ so to speak.  This makes those activities great tools for helping to teach children about risk management, help them learn to manage those emotions such as anxiety or fear and most importantly overcome them. Something I say quite often to older children – 8-9 upwards on residential courses or adventure days at various centres, when they are all to conscious of a perceived risk and the fear sets in before a leap of faith, or climbing activity is that their staff haven’t brought them here to hurt them. That’s far more easily done with less paperwork in school! That all the equipment is safe, tested, countless children before them have done this, I’ve done this and many more children will do it after them.  I offer this to help them begin to rationalise that perception of risk which has caused fear and anxiety. After all, it is natural to be fearful of some instances and certain situations but I believe strongly it is our job to help those children learn to overcome those fears for themselves, manage those risks for themselves, pick themselves up and try again having learnt from the experience so their comfort zone, or sphere of experience grows bigger and faces outward rather than shrinks and cowers inward.

Another line borrowed from a lost source is this:

Our role is simply to eliminate hazards which they may not see and then to let them take us on their own learning adventure.

Which I think concludes things nicely.

Drop me a note on social media to let me know your thoughts on this and some of the other matters I have raised in these three commentaries.