Recap: RAB Mountain Marathon 2016

Another year has passed and I hadn’t written a post for awhile (buying a house and car this past year has really cramped my style with regards to extracurricular activities), however, here is the recap of the RAB Mountain Marathon 2016 in the Yorkshire Dales…

Preparation

Sadly, I hadn’t really done much preparation of this event.  Given I had all the equipment needed for the OMM, the only thing I needed to buy was a new, larger pack and a CamelBak.  I did a ton of research and settled on the Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40 Ultralight Backpack, which did the job splendidly.

Apart from a new pack, the only other changes I made to my kit list (see spreadsheet below) was to bring my Jetboil for cooking, a full RAB coat as my warm layer and a warmer hat and gloves.  I also had to carry the entirety of my tent, so the final pack was a good extra few kilos compared to the OMM, where the team gear was shared.

As for physical training, this is mainly where my preparation failed.  I had done *some* running in the weeks leading up to the event and a 50 mile bike/camp ride, but apart from that I didn’t do much – which showed on the day.  As ever, I could also lose a few extra pounds, which would have helped (rather than drinking beer and eating BBQ burgers, which is what I devoted most my time to in the summer 😉 )

Away we go!…

I went to the RAB with Thursten, who you might remember from my OMM post last year.

We started off from Winchester on the Friday and flew up from Southampton to Manchester.  I had some issues when my bag got caught by security.  I thought I had removed all my liquids and put them in our checked bag, however, I had forgotten my pocketknife and my aerosol bug spray.  Luckily the knife was under the size restriction, so it was all good in the end, though it was a hassle, since I thought I might miss our flight (turns out we were on the next flight).

RAB Friday Night Camping

RAB Friday Night Camping

The flight was uneventful and quick (especially without any kids in tow) and we rented a car in Manchester.  The trip from Manchester to the event center was a nightmare, the M6 was all stop/start traffic and Thursten did a good job driving (thanks again Thursten!).  We rocked up at the event center after dark at about 8:20 PM.

That night we decided to register and eat the veggie stew we had pre-paid for, then we had a couple of pints and caught the tail end of the feature movie about a guy running the length of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Thursten had the great idea of bringing two tents, one for the Friday night and one to carry during the RAB.  This was a great idea since I wouldn’t want to pack and carry a wet tent the next day.  So, we pitched our tents and went to bed.

RAB Day 1

The next morning we tore down our tents, got some breakfast and a much needed coffee and packed our non-essentials into the car.  During this time I spilled most the water out of my CamelBak that I had just bought because I didn’t close the lid correctly – go figure, the ONE thing I hadn’t used before failed 🙁

We entered the event as Solo Short Score competitors.  So, after a windy 45 minute walk from the event center to the start, we were on our way!

RAB 2016 Map and GPS route - Day 1 (click to see larger)

RAB 2016 Map and GPS route – Day 1 (click to see larger)

We were able to study the map before we started, so we decided to go across to the other side of the valley to hit some higher checkpoints and have a direct run down to the overnight campsite.

So, we started off and hit the first checkpoint (control number 210 on the map) without too much issue, mostly because there was a train of people going the same direction.

Yorkshire Dales at the RAB 2016

Yorkshire Dales at the RAB 2016

After the first checkpoint there was an intense, steep uphill climb up to the next one.  This is where I suffered the most!  The lack of training really showed here and I was much slower than everybody else (including Thursten) going up.  I never like the long, sustained uphills, but this really kicked my ass.

I was relieved to get the elevation gain though, so once we were up I was able to take in some food and water and recover a bit.  We hit the control in the sinkhole (208) and headed in the direction of the larger mountain.

One major positive from the RAB this year is that Thursten and I pretty much hit our navigation spot on.  Even when we were out by a couple hundred meters, we often were able to survey the landscape and understand quickly where we were and how much further we needed to go.  I was quite happy about this…

So, on we went up the bigger slopes, hitting a control along the way (209).  Once we made it up to the top, it was relatively easy and we

Thursten at the RAB

Thursten at the RAB

were able to move quickly.  At one point we even busted into a full jog (220, 224, 234).

The other side of the mountain was another story.  We were still pretty consistent about hitting our bearings, however, there was some soul-destroying elephant grass and bog that made everything slow going.  Both Thursten and I had moments where we would take a step and disappear waste deep in some bog that was covered by vegetation.  There was a funny point where we were literally just standing there looking at the map and one of us sunk down! 😉

My legs, ankles and feet were in bad shape from all the uneven surface.  I was hurting pretty bad at this point and it was tough to keep going.  But keep going we did, and hit the next couple of control points (241 and 245).

Finally, we made the decision to get down to the groomed trail and head back to camp.  We made it to the overnight camp with about an hour to spare… I was happy to put in the effort, but relieved to make it.

We pitched our tents in the wind, trying to get as close to the stone wall surrounding the campsite as possible to block the rain and wind.

What, a pub?!

We had been joking at the end about how it would be great to have a beer.  Then Thursten found out that there was actually a pub near the overnight camp!  So, we ate our freeze dried dinner, then off we went to the pub.  It was enjoyable to sit down for a few much deserved pints.

I think about half the RAB competitors were in there by the end of the night and the line for the bar went nearly out the door.  It must have been the pub’s biggest day for a long while!  We had a good time sitting down and meeting other people running the RAB.  We met a couple of military guys, a husband and wife pair and then ran into a group of father/daughter teams from, of all places, Winchester (where we live)!

We finished up our pints, left the comfy leather sofa we were sitting, put our wet shoes back on over our plastic foot-bags (It’s a thing, look it up) on and headed back to the tents to sleep.  I felt a sense of victory because as soon as I zipped up my tent for the night it started to rain.

And rain it did, most the night it was rainy and windy.  Didn’t make for great sleeping, but at least I was dry and got a little sleep.

RAB Day 2

Day 2 didn’t start off too badly.  The rain had mostly stopped and my legs recovered a bit overnight.  I woke up around 7 AM, when the other people nearby woke up and started to pack up.  I boiled some water in my jetboil and had a leisurely breakfast of homemade porridge and a cup of hot chocolate.  Thursten and I packed our stuff up and rolled out to start the day around 8:40 AM.

RAB 2016 Map and GPS route - Day 2 (click to see larger)

RAB 2016 Map and GPS route – Day 2 (click to see larger)

On day 2 we had modest plans.  We had wanted to go on the other side of the valley, mostly for the change of scenery.  We hit a few controls that were on marked trails, and the navigation was easy (270, 271, 272).

We then decided to try to head for the road that ran down the center of the valley.  The plan was to take it easy down the road, where we

Me - Cold, wet and windy at the RAB

Me – Cold, wet and windy at the RAB

could move quickly, then try to score some big point controls near the day 2 finish.  That was the plan anyway…

So we headed back towards the road, hitting control 260 along the way.  Then we went further down the road to 247, where, we ran into the people we had met in the pub the night before (what are the chances?!).  We ate some “lunch” and continued along the road towards the finish.

As we got closer to the finish we did some calculations and it was clear that it would be a major push to make it up to the control we had hopped to hit and back down to the finish in time (there were major time penalties for going over the time limit).  As we started up the hill near the finish, my legs said NO and Thursten and I agreed to pack it in for the day and finish.

We dibbed into the finish, headed back to the event center to hand back in our GPS and dibbers and got out of the car park as soon as possible so we didn’t get stuck in the mud.

Thursten drove us back to Manchester airport, where we had a long wait for our flight.  We had a few beers and ate.  Our plane was late taking off, but luckily we made our train back to Winchester.  I was exhausted, and glad to be home.

In Conclusion

Apart from my lack of condition for the event, overall I was happy with the outcome.  We had hit our goal to actually complete the event, without disqualification.  It’s the first time we had done the score course, so we learned a bit about that too.

I loaded the GPX files into my Garmin Connect software and over the two days we traveled 20.38 miles over some pretty tough terrain.  This included 2,626 feet of total elevation gain.  Our average pace was around 30 mins/mile.

I really enjoyed the RAB.  I think it lived up to it’s claim of being a friendly mountain marathon and I would definitely go again.  Especially, if there’s a pub at the overnight camp! 😉

What I learned

  • Be careful flying with all your gear.  I got stopped at security and forgot my pocketknife and my aerosol bug spray.  Luckily the pocketknife was under the size restriction, so all was well.
  • Sounds obvious, but you need to pay attention to the scores of the controls in the score course.  We had realized that we could have easily scored a bunch more points by taking a slightly different route between some of the controls, rather than going straight between two high point controls.  As a result, our end position wasn’t brilliant (that, and how slow I was going)
  • It may have been better to not cross over the elephant grass and bog in the end.  I’m not sure about this, but maybe dropping down to the trails and going back up to find the controls would have been faster and easier – something to look into next time.  I know that others say that running near walls where there are established trails was a good tactic.
  • Overall, all my gear, including my new pack, worked out pretty well.  Hardly any tweaks I need to make or things to buy.  It would be good to take my gear on a non-competitive hike/camp event in the future to have a more relaxed time.

Stuff I’d tweak for next time…

  • Review the weight of my bag and try to lighten the load.  I don’t think there’s much I need to do here, but always a good idea to do.
  • Train, train, train… months in advance!  I need to train by running marathon distances in a single day and by doing more fell running (maybe in the Brecon Beacons?) with a full pack to really train for the event.  You need to be continuously jogging to score decent points and you need to be hitting a control about every 10 mins on average, at least that’s what I gather by looking at the other competitor’s split times.

Further Info

RAB 2016 Results (including cool GPS tracking of all the competitors, so you can see how the best people did and what choices they made): http://live.opentracking.co.uk/rabmm2016d2/

RAB 2016 Race Director’s Report: http://www.rabmountainmarathon.com/news/2016/09/28/Race_Directors_Report_2016/

RAB Website: http://www.rabmountainmarathon.com/

Recap: The Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) 2015

After months of training, doing research and buying stuff, the OMM weekend had finally arrived!

Our weekend started off on the Friday when Chris picked me up in the rental car to set off on the 6-hour drive to Scotland from the South of England.  Chris drove the whole way and the traffic was thick. We listened to a podcast about American Frankenfoods that was pretty funny and arrived in Scotland at dusk.  You could just make out the shadow of some massive hills in the distance.  In the dark it was not clear where the top of the hill ended and the clouds began!

The OMM 215 Event Center

The OMM 215 Event Center

We drove straight to the OMM center to register and get the team electronic dibbers (they attach them to your wrist for the duration of the weekend).  We had a look at the makeshift OMM store to check out the latest gear.  I bought a t-shirt and mug.  It was wet and muddy out – a sign of things to come…

We stayed overnight at a hotel in Moffat, Scotland, about 30 mins drive south of the event center.  We sorted through all our gear and prepared our final pack, lightening the load as much as possible.  I only slept okay – was hot in the room despite the windows being open and I was nervously excited.

The next day we woke up, scarfed down some oatmeal and head up to the start.  When we arrived, Thursten and Pete arrived ahead of us and they thought that our start window as earlier, so Pete and I scrambled to the start, which was a 15 min walk away.  Turns out our slot was 15 mins later, which was good that we didn’t have to rush in the end.  Chris and Thursten started in the next 15 min slot, so we waited for them on the other side of the start line.  This gave us time to check out the maps they give you when you start and plan the route to the first control.  We were on the C-Course, which is designed to be a mix of a linier and score course. Together, the four of us headed up the first mountain road up to the first control point.

To follow along, check out the maps at the routegadget site: http://www.omm.routegadget.co.uk/rg2/#75 for C-Course day 1 and http://www.omm.routegadget.co.uk/rg2/#83 for C-Course day 2

Here’s the route we took on both days, note each contour lines is 15m elevation (so the closer together they are, the steeper the slope)

OMM 2015 C-Course Day 1 route

OMM 2015 C-Course Day 1 route

OMM 2015 C-Course Day 2 route

OMM 2015 C-Course Day 2 route

It was good to have an established trail to go up.  Chris, who had suffered a severe knee injury a couple of months before, was hurting on the first ascent, but he soldiered on.  Once we got to the top of the first very large mountain, the weather had changed drastically.  There was sleet-like rain, heavy wind and poor visibility.  Pete, who was nominated to lead the navigation to the first control point, took us up to the large beacon building at the top of the hill, then we took a bearing off towards the control point, which we eventually found in the fog, aided by another group searching for the same control.

IMG_2144The second control took us a bit off course as we tried to stay on high ground.  We overshot the direct route and followed a fence line that took us a bit out of our way.  There were a bunch of people around that we followed – they were a bit lost too! (or on another course, you just never know).  Eventually we made our way to control 2 and the weather started to turn around at that point.  I refilled my filtered water bottle with some sweet, cold, rusty colored Scottish water and had a powerbar and some trail mix.

I navigated the next bit.  It was fairly easy since it mostly involved following a fence line.  When we got to the end I wasn’t quite sure that we made it until we realized that the fence took a turn.  I took a bearing and we headed straight down the hill to the 3rd control inside a sheepfold.  This downhill really didn’t do Chris’ knee any favors, but we all made it.

I don’t think the OMM planners intended to have this long haul at the start.  We heard that they had to reroute the start of day one away from some hunting going on in the area, which made day one much longer than planned.  They decided to shorten the day 2 course as a result.

We decided to avoid the direct route to control 4 over a hill, favoring following the river towards the road.  Thursten made the call and it worked well.  Turned out that there was a nice trail along the river from some 4 wheeler tracks that were not on the map.  We eventually ended up on some roads and made it to the foot of the hill near control 4.  Here we decided to go up and over the hill, which was probably a mistake.  It was boggy and hard going.  In retrospect, we should have dropped down to the valley once we saw a trail, but at that point we were pretty tired, mentally and physically, and our group was finding it hard to agree on the best direction.  At lest the weather was much better and the sun was out.

Once we got up the uneven hill, with lots of knee deep holes of watery crap, Chris’ knee had finally given in.  Chris and Thursten decided to pack it in for the day (they were a team) and headed back to camp.  Unfortunately, the overnight campsite was still a distance away…

Pete and I descended to punch into control 4, then we waited to see if Chris and Thursten were behind us.  Some women told us that they were asked to relay on the message that they had headed to camp.  Pete and I decided to see how much more we could do, knowing that it likely wasn’t possible for us to finish the course due to how late it was.

IMG_2160

This was the part of the C-course where you could pick any 3 of 5 control points to visit.  I had thought that trying to keep near the camp would be best in case we had to pack it in, but in retrospect we probably should have just tried to go in a loop around the nearest 3 controls.  We headed over to control CM.

It took us awhile to get over to CM.  The footing was uneven, wet, thick foliage and sheep shit was everywhere.  We made it over to where we thought the control was, but couldn’t find it at first.  Eventually we fanned out and Pete found it a little way up the valley.

Next, we headed over the next mountain towards AD.  This too was a slog.  Lots of wind and wet underfoot, plus the slope was steep for awhile (I’m not the fastest going uphill due to my fat gut).  Eventually we made it over to the sheepfold where we thought AD was.  The control had some different letters on it (BC).  We thought it was labeled wrong, because how could there be two sheepfolds in the same area?!  Turns out we were wrong.  Looking at the map now, it looks like AD was further down the slope at a different sheepfold.  Didn’t get credit for this even though we hauled our butts all the way over there… very annoying!

It was starting to get dark, so Pete and I headed back in the direction of camp.  We had planned to follow a fence line that we saw earlier.  When we made it to the fence, we got out our head lamps because we were losing light fast.  Another muddy walk up the hill.  We took a bearing off a post where the fence took a different angle and headed over the hill to camp. It was dark by then.

Camp the next morning

Camp the next morning

Once we came over the crest of the hill, it was pretty cool. We could see the campsite, which was a relief, because we knew we had navigated correctly.  For the fun of it we looked for control number 9, even though at this point we knew we wouldn’t complete the course and would be disqualified from the competition.  It was magical to watch the pairs of head lamps descending from all directions down to the campsite.   It was like watching fireflies drawn to the irresistible safety of the campsite lights.

When we arrived, Chris and Thursten were waiting near the gate and somehow saw us coming in.  They had arrived much earlier and had already set up camp and ate dinner.  They had saved us a spot nearby and helped us get dinner on and our stuff sorted out – was nice to have the help (thanks again guys!), I was totally exhausted at this point after being out for over 10 ½ hours.

We ate. I felt obligated to neck the gin and tonic I had made earlier at the hotel that I sored in a small plastic bottle. Then we hit the sack. It was a cold and windy night.  I didn’t sleep well at all.  My balloon bed kept shifting under me and I really wish I had a full stocking cap.  I had to use my eye shades as an earmuff!

Chris and Thursten at camp

Chris and Thursten at camp

The bagpipes started to blow early in the morning, like 5:30 AM or something like that.  We knew that we had already been disqualified, so we decided to skip our early 7:30 AM start time and try to get the extra rest.  We woke up and ate some breakfast and broke down the camp.  My shoes were literally freezing after being wet outside the tent all night.

Chris and Thursten decided to try to head straight back to the finish given Chris’ knee issue.  Pete and I decided we’d try to get a few gates in, but we agreed to be back at the finish for 1 PM so we can all get home at a reasonable time (We all had to work the next day, apart from Thursten who was heading straight on to Italy for a family holiday).

Pete and I climbed up a massive mountain out of camp and over to control 3 (day 2 map).  We made it there, walking over some nice soft, spongey heather.  Along the way we ran into another team.  They were also on the C-course and had done all but one control the day before because they couldn’t find in the dark.  The guy said, “It feels like somebody had repeatedly hit the bottom of my feet over and over with a cricket bat!”.  That pretty much sums up how my feet felt as well!  The constant uneven pounding on the feet and weird angles your feet land on really take their toll on the feet and ankles.

Pete popping his balloon bed!

Pete popping his balloon bed!

From control 3 we dropped down to the river and decided to go up a mountain trail over to 185.  This was another big hill that never seemed to end.  Once we got to the top and followed the trail around – we actually saw control 185 about 30 yards away, but couldn’t be bothered to punch in.  We saw it, that was good enough!

From there we knew we had to plow on back to the start if we wanted to be back for 1 PM.  So we went over the next hill and over the mountain we climbed on day 1 to make our way back to the road we had went up.  Once we made it to the road, we knew it was all downhill from there.  We make it back at about 1:20 PM, with no sign of Chris or Thursten.  We handed in our dibber and got our free stew lunch.  Chris eventually came about 15 mins later.

Turns out that a local person had driven him back to the center and he was getting his car keys to pick up Thursten and another stranded pair on a road down by the reservoir. I grabbed my clothes out of the car and went back to the center to grab Pete and let him know the plan (sorry Pete that I bailed out on you there for a bit).

Pete and I went down to Pete’s rental car to see if we could get changed and out of the muddy parking field.  Pete did a great job getting out without getting stuck, which seemed almost impossible.  We met up with Chris and Thursten, swapped cars and Chris and I drove the 6+ hours home after stopping for a well-deserved KFC and coffee at the first motorway services.  Apart from stopping once and for gas, I drove mostly straight through.

As we were heading back, Chris told me about what happened to him and Thursten… They left camp and went up the large hill back to the start.  Chris was navigating and they kept getting confused with the map, but seemed to convince themselves they were going in the right direction.  At one point they came across some other competitors that told them they were going the wrong way, which they thought wasn’t right.  Eventually they came to a hill and saw… the campsite they started at!  Turns out that Thursten’s compass had reversed polarity and North/South was flipped!  There were other issues that lead them off course, but this didn’t help – what a bummer!

They did see the very prominent reservoir and scrapped the compass to head towards that.  I guess there were many other groups who decided to pack it in on the road by the reservoir, like the Walking Dead!  Chris eventually got a lift by a generous local person back to the start, which is where we met up with him.

In Conclusion…

My legs were still a bit sore 3 days after the event, but I really wish I could go back and have another try to fix some mistakes, tweak my equipment and try to complete the course.  Guess I’ll have to wait another year for that… bummer…

I know it probably sounds a bit lame how few controls we actually managed to hit, but it was HARD going… I’ve done a 100-mile cycling sportive before, so it’s not like I was expecting a walk in the park, but I wasn’t expecting how challenging it would be.

Overall, I’m trying to think of a good way to sum up the experience.  I can say it was one of the toughest challenges I think I’ve ever undertaken and I regret that we couldn’t finish the course, however, I’m still proud of our achievement and I would like to do it again, if not only to prove to myself that it can be done (It’s a middle-age thing 😉 ).  I really enjoyed the landscape, being outdoors, the physical/mental challenge, the single-minded focus to prepare and the camaraderie.  Thanks again to Chris, Thusten and Pete.

You can find the official OMM 2015 race results here, along with the organisation course reports:
https://www.theomm.com/omm-2015-results/
https://www.theomm.com/omm-2015-tweedsmuir-scottish-borders/

What I learned (spoiler: a lot)…

  • Scottish mountains are beautiful, but big! 😉
  • I was pretty happy with my equipment for the most part, apart from some minor tweaks I’d make (see below).  Check out my kit list post to see what I took.
  • I’m glad I packed some extra food and an additional meal.  Overall, my nutrition was spot on and I kept eating throughout the event.  I never felt hungry or completely out of energy.
  • The training we did for the OMM was not sufficient… In the South of England there are not many places to train on the extreme inclines you find in Scotland.  Physically, we knew we could handle the distance, but it’s a whole different set of muscles to haul up the slopes of the mountains.  Also, the cold, rainy, 30 mph gusting winds and boggy conditions are hard to recreate.
  • Although we did okay with the navigation, I need to gain more experience on when to go over the top vs. when to contour, vs. when to follow valleys, etc.  Route selection was an issue for us.  Distances over land always seemed farther than on the map because of the incline/decline.  Navigation as a group doesn’t work very well.
  • “Boundaries” on the map are invaluable to either follow, or use as an attack/aiming off point.  For our routes, the boundary lines on the map were usually fences that also gave us another point of information given that we could take a bearing off the fence line to translate back to the map.
  • Make sure your compass is pointing in the right direction before you start the day!!! 😉

Stuff I’d tweak for next time…

  • I think I would likely do the score course next time.  At least you would know how long you’re going to be out and if you miss a control you are not disqualified.  The score course is where you try to hit as many controls as possible within a set time limit.
  • I’d bring my full Rab coat.  I really missed the extra warmth, a hood and pockets.
  • I’d consider bringing a larger (32 liter?) pack.  I’d still want to keep the weight down, but it would be nice to have the extra space for more bulky items that I couldn’t fit into my smaller 24 liter pack.  I will still use the 24 liter pack for nicer weather or day trips. Still on the fence about this…
  • I’d probably bring warmer gloves.
  • I’d pitch the tent with the door uphill and ensure all the points are taught so they don’t flap in the wind.
  • I’d bring a better hat, probably a waterproof mountaineering hat with ear flaps. Maybe the OMM Kamleika Cap or a stocking cap.
  • I’d bring my Thermarest Xlite sleeping mat rather than the balloon bed.
  • Consider buying lightweight, foldable trekking poles, such as the Black Diamond Distance FL trekking poles (www.blackdiamondequipment.com).  Not sure about this though, would need to try them out to see if they would be more helpful than annoying to carry.
  • Update: Looks like the OMM in 2016 will be in the South of the UK (nearer to where I live), so I’m looking forward to that.

Feel free to post comments if you’d like to ask any questions.  Note that I’m a novice at mountain marathons, but I have a couple under my belt now, so I could probably answer some questions.

OMM Preparation: Breakfast Porridge Recipe

When I was at the Rogue Runs Mountain Marathon I found the porridge that I ate from Expedition Foods too large and not to my taste.  So, I went hunting for my own recipe that would taste better and be cheaper to make.

I found this recipe online: http://trekkingbritain.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/spicy-fruit-nut-porridge-perfect-camp.html

My recipe is a slight tweak to this and it tastes pretty good.  I put the dried porridge in some 23x33cm Standup Ziplock Foil Mylar Pouches I bought off eBay, which can stand up on it’s own and withstand boiling water.

Recipe:

  • Porridge Oats ( 5 tbsp ) – I used the Flahavan’s Irish Quick Oats bought at Sainsburys
  • Muesli ( 2 tbsp ) –  I used our house standard Dorset Cereals Simply Delicious Muesli bought at Sainsburys
  • Dried Milk ( 1 tbsp )  – I used Marvel Dried Skimmed Milk Powder bought at Sainsburys
  • Dried Dates ( 1tbsp chopped ) – I used two dates
  • Raisins ( 1tbsp )
  • Dried apples (1 tbsp) – Need to make sure you don’t add too many apples
  • Brown Sugar ( 2 tsp )
  • Salt ( 1/2 tsp ) – I used less salt than the original recipe, could be a pinch
  • Cinnamon ( 1/2 tsp )

The whole thing is mixed up and to prepare you add 330 ml of boiling water, stir, seal the bag and let sit for 10 mins.  I cut the bag short so it was easier to get my spoon in.

I’d post a picture, but it doesn’t look very good, although it tastes much better than it looks!

Recap: Munich Oktoberfest 2015

IMG_2043Oktoberfest… what can I say?  Imagine the craziest German beer hall you’ve ever been to and take the atmosphere and craziness and times it by a 1000 – that’s Oktoberfest!  My brother and I had a great time and Oktoberfest in Munich (THE Oktoberfest) definitely lived up to our expectations.

Event Recap

My brother and I flew from London to Munich via Paris on Air France.  We arrived in the early afternoon and tried to figure out the self-serve ticket machines to buy our tickets to go from the airport to the city.  The machines were not intuitive at all – I was looking for a day travel ticket, but even the english screens didn’t make much sense.  Luckily there was a desk where they sold tickets in person. Turns out they have a group travel pass for 3 days for a flat fee of ~€34 euros.  Bought that and went to the U-Bahn (the Munich underground) and went to our hotel to check in.

IMG_2036The hotel was fine and on the nicer side.  Was in a very quiet neighborhood, which was good.  A pretty typical hotel experience.

Pretty much everybody in Munich spoke English and clocked us a foreigners as we walked in, although a few times we were mistaken for German – probably due to our German genetics ;).  I knew some of the basics from high school German class, so communication was fine.

After we settled in the room, we headed out to Oktoberfest.  for us this was only a few stops down to the Theresienwiese U-Bahn station – the main station for Oktoberfest.  As we went along we started to see more and more men and women dressed in Lederhosen and Dirndls.

The grounds are immediately out of the station and instantly you’re into a fair-like atmosphere.  There are fairground rides all over and food vendors, etc.  We wandered around, weaving through the crowds and settled on going into the Hofbräuhaus tent. Unbeknownst to us, this was pretty much one of the premier tents at Oktoberfest because Hofbräuhaus is the local brew.  We totally lucked out…

IMG_2039We had to wait outside for about 30-40 mins, which in retrospect wasn’t too bad because we didn’t show up till late afternoon once all the tents were already full.  I understand you have to go before noon to not have to wait.  They have a system of waiting that isn’t exactly fair… you wait in line about 20 people wide by about 5-6 deep behind a line.  Your goal is to get across the “no-mans land” area that separates the line from the outside tent area.  During this process, many German security men shout at you continuously to move back.

One by one the barmaids will come up to request a few people to fill the spaces they have open on the tables.  Generally this was always about 4-6 people they were requesting.  As we waited we gathered that there was little chance only 2 people could make it in, so we decided to form an alliance with people next to us to make up larger numbers.  Luckily a German guy named Matthew hooked up with us.  The next time they needed a few people, Matthew got us in!  Boom!  We were on our way!

We were seated in an outside table and already stuff was getting crazy.  After crawling over a group of guys from Lyon in France we found our spot and ordered our first liters of beer.  Turns out our new buddy Matthew was a pretty cool guy.  He spoke excellent English and we had a good old chat.  We also talked in broken english to our new buddies from Lyon (generally, everybody becomes your new buddy – in a good way!).  In the table behind us there was a group of people from Wisconsin! (My brother and I are from Wisconsin).  More buddies!  The weather was cool, but pleasant.

IMG_2057A few more rounds outside and then we moved to get into the “inside” bit, where the real action happens.  We waited again for a bit, but they let us in within 5 mins.

Inside the tent was great. It was huge and there was a band playing and the whole place was up on the table benches singing along and drinking beer.  We somehow found a good spot on a bench near some Australian group, an Iraqi guy and a group from Liverpool.  People were falling all over and somehow nobody got hurt.

The waiters and waitresses brought around beer to sell.  Thinking back it was amazing how they carried like 6 liters of beer without dropping a single drop, even with everybody bumping into each other.  They would also float along with huge trays of food over the crowd’s heads.  Never once did I see a spill or any breakage the two nights I was there – totally defying physics.

The band would play a lot of American songs everybody would sing along to, in addition to some traditional songs.  In between they would add a filler “Ein Prosit” (something you need to learn the lyrics to before you go) or “Zicke zacke zicke zacke” and the crowd responds “hoi! hoi! hoi!”.

The tent closed at 11 and we headed out to find some food – something we neglected to do while we were drinking.  We had a brat, potato wedges and a soda, which tasted good.

IMG_2073The next day we decided to fit in some culture.   So we went to downtown Munich via the U-Bahn and walked down to the Marienplatz and watched the clock tower show the Glockenspiel then we went over to St Peter’s church to climb the tower which looks out over the city.  Funny thing when we came down the tower, then we ran into the same group from Wisconsin we saw the night before at Oktoberfest.

Next we went down to the Viktualienmarkt (market) and had a brat and big pretzel.  Then we headed up to the English Gardens for a wonder, which was nice.  We had a coffee and saw some surfers surfing under a bridge.  After a meal of roast pork and a liter of beer, I bought some Bayern Munich shirts for the kids.  Then we went back to the hotel for a well deserved nap.

That night we went back to Oktoberfest relatively late for a “couple of quiet ones.”  We ended up at the Pschorr-Bräurosl tent and somehow weaved our way in past the outside line to join the inside line.  In the tent it was okay… the decor was very dated – in a bad way, like wood paneling and sort of dingy decorations.  I would say it was a rougher crowd and the band wasn’t as good.  All in all, not horrible though.  After a few liters of beer the tent closed and we went on a fair ride for fun.  I bought some sugar coated macadamia nuts and we ate another brat.

Back to the hotel for a small beer and off to bed.  The next morning we woke up and headed straight to the airport for the uneventful trip back to London.

Travel

Travel from the airport is on either U-Bahn line S1 or S8.  They both take about an hour to get to the town center.  One goes approaches from the east and the other the west.  3 day tickets can be bought from the airport desk near the station entrance in the terminal.  They validate the tickets at the desk, then you don’t have to deal with it again.  We were never checked for tickets the entire time we were in Munich.  I also understand that the U-Bahn runs late on the weekends, like till 2:30 AM, but less frequently (like 20 min intervals instead of 10) after midnight.

For travelling around, we pretty much relied on google maps to tell us what lines to take and where to transfer. Generally was pretty easy because we were already on a fairly central line.  Walking around central Munich wasn’t a problem either.

Hotel

We stayed at Park Hotel Laim at Zschokkestr. 55 Munich BY 80686 Germany (020 3788 1841).  Was quiet and no major problems. Was also nice to be “going against the grain” when leaving Oktoberfest.

U-Bahn stop is Friedenheimer Straße on the U5 line.

Food

IMG_2086We ate a lot of pretzels, bratwurst (and various other ‘wursts), potato wedges.  We had one bigger meal of roast pork/beef that was more traditional that was pretty good.  Sneaked a tasty schnitzel at the airport.  Plenty of good food options, especially at the main market.

What I learned

  • Although it’s counterintuitive, it’s best to go in a group of 6+ people so you can book months ahead and get a table in the beer tents easier.  Finding some nearby people to make up a group works pretty well, although you will need to sit next to them, so choose wisely.
  • I thought that Lederhosen and Dirndls were a bit cheesy, but in the end I felt sorta out of place NOT wearing them.  I’d say that if you go to Oktoberfest in Munich you should make the effort to get into the experience and find yourself the traditional dress somehow.
  • We didn’t really eat in the beer tents beyond pretzels, mostly because eating after a certain time would be nearly impossible if people are standing on the tables.  Consider eating your bigger meals earlier or outside of Oktoberfest.
  • For men, going to the toilet was pretty quick and easy, women I gathered would have to think ahead a bit.
  • Learn the words to “Ein Prosit” – http://www.oktoberfest-songs.com/ein-prosit-lyrics.html
  • You can never eat too much bratwurst and pretzels!

Sorry for the longish post, ended up being longer than I intended.

Recap: Rogue Runs Mini Mountain Marathon 2015

IMG_0019_2Last Saturday I attended the Rogue Runs Mini Mountain Marathon in the Brecon Beacons, Wales, UK.  It was a really nice day out.  The weather was excellent, the people were very friendly and the atmosphere was relaxed.  All in all, I can’t say too many good things about this race and the organisation.

My main goal for this event was to 1) understand the mechanics of how mountain marathons work, 2) test out the gear I intend to take to the OMM, 3) test my chops at doing navigation, 4) get in the miles on rough ground, 5) have some fun!

I think I achieved, if not exceeded, all these goals.

Event Recap

Rogue Run MapThe day started pretty early.  Pete and Thursten picked me up around 5:30 AM and we drove from Winchester to the Brecon Beacons (thanks Pete for driving).  That time of day we made good time and arrived just after 8 AM.

It was pretty chilly and wet from the dew.  We checked in, got our dibber, maps and started to transfer over the control points for the “short” liner course onto the maps.  I had a bit of a bonner start to the day of nav where I got the compass the wrong way around so I was 180 degrees off a bearing.  Lesson learnt!

We checked into the start and went on our way.  The first part was very steep and hot.  I was pretty winded and didn’t warm up at all, which didn’t help.  We saw plenty of other runners heading towards the first control, which was mostly along a well marked path.

The first three controls went well.  Pete and Thursten did the lead nav on them (we decided beforehand to have a single Lead for each control who would make the decisions about what route to take.  We did it in alphabetical order).

Rogue Run Map with GPSFor the fourth control it was my turn to navigate.  It went pretty well.  I had a decent bearing and I could see in the distance a bump in the hill I was shooting for, so it was more or less just keeping that in sight and running towards it.  There was a tricky river crossing and some contouring around a hill which I used my altimeter watch for, but once that was out of the way we just had to climb to the top of a plateau.   The actual sinkhole the control was in was deep and very difficult to see, even though we were about 20 meters away from it.  A quick bite of a PowerBar and we were off again…

Next control was also fine.  At this point we decided to go up to the top of the peaks to see the view under the principle that we were there to have fun.  So, we went off the prescribed race route and up a large hill with the plan to eat lunch at the top.  Once we got up there the view was stunning and we ran into a lot of hikers not taking part in the marathon.

As we came back around to head down to the next control we had descended too soon.  We had seen a large peak as we were walking and we had assumed that was the highest point, not knowing that there was another, higher hill behind.  Pete identified that we were on the wrong part of the hill by checking the bearing of the contour up the hill (a good trick).  There was a river, but there was not many other features to get a reliable back bearing from, so we headed back up the hill and found the saddle between the too large peaks.  Once we were there, then we were back on the map.  We decided to head to a control on the map that was not part of our course so we could have a reliable point to navigate from.

We found control #59 and from there we went downhill to the next control on our course (#58).  Pete and Thursten did a good job of nailing the navigation straight to the location, however, when we went up the gorge where we thought the gate was, we did not see the control.  I had noticed that the map said the control was at a higher altitude than what was registered on my watch, so I had another look using my altimeter watch and found the control.

From here I was navigating the next control.  I took us straight up and over the hill on a direct bearing and we were moving pretty well until I ran us into some very deep and wet boggy grassland.  Doh!  Was VERY tough going and I was hoping it would thin out, but it didn’t so I redirected us down a matted grass track back to the river.  We crossed the river and eventually found the control around the other side of a hill.

The final control and run to the finish were pretty easy because we were on the same trail we came out on.  In fact, we saw the last control on our way out at the start, so it was fairly low stress and we tried to jog it as best we could with sore legs and feet.

rogue_run_map_w_gps_small 2In the end we came in last place due to our detour.  It took us a total of 383:07 minutes on the course (A bit over 6: ½ hours).  Not great, but I think we were happy with the run overall.  Was nice to get to the finish and get my wet shoes off and enjoy some water and food.

That night Thursten booked a nearby pub for dinner.  We had a few pints, ate dinner and watched some Rugby on TV.  I was nearly ready to curl up and go to sleep halfway through dinner, but got a bit of a second wind.  By the time we went to sleep, I was well exhausted.

The next morning we got up, I tested my porridge, we put away the tents and headed home, stopping at Starbucks on the way.

GPS data of the run (until the battery ran out)

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/904245635#.Vf6fne1qHiY.email

What I learned

  • Navigation
    • Just because you can see a high peak, doesn’t mean it’s the HIGHEST peak
    • I seem to consistently think we travelled further than we actually did until I was able to get my bearings
    • When looking at the route between controls, be sure to keep looking for intermediate features to help navigation.  Most of the navigation was done by sight and not bearing, so if there is a choice of controls, it’s probably best to find a path to a control where there are obvious features in between to use for navigation – it just makes life easier
    • When you get into heavy going boggy high grass, stop and change direction immediately!
    • If you lose your bearings, then check out the angles of hills and other features, like rivers to get a good feel about where you’re at
    • Couple of other tips I learned: when there is a ridge by a river, it’s likely there will be some sort of trail on it.  Sinkholes will have short lines perpendicular to the contour line to indicate the direction of the elevation loss
    • My altimeter watch worked great and I didn’t have to recalibrate it all day.  An essential bit of kit
    • Try not to mark up the map with linear lines from the start because 1) you never run on linear lines and 2) it blocks you from seeing some map features.  It was good to figure out the distance between controls and the altitude, so will mark that up in the future, but do so on the border of the map.  I need to come up with a map marking strategy (a future article).
  • Nutrition
    • I packed the right food for the trip during the day, but I didn’t eat it all, and was hungry at the end.  Next time I’ll eat more and more often.  You can never really eat enough
    • I didn’t like the porridge I took.  There was too much of it and it was not very tasty (plus we put too much water in it).  I think I’ll take a stab at making my own instant oatmeal to take and maybe even some homemade couscous meals.
  • Hydration
    • My hydration and filter system worked well, but I didn’t take on water when I was running low, thinking that I could do it later.  Next time I’ll take on water when the opportunity presents itself and consider carrying extra water in my spare water bottle during times we are away from fresh running water
  • Kit
    • I didn’t have a good place to put my map.  I liked running with my hands empty and ended up stuffing my map in the backpack strap across my chest, which worked pretty well.  Next time I’m going to consider using a chest bag with a zipper so I can more easily get to stuff I need, without the risk of it flying out and losing stuff.
    • I’m definitely going to try to lighten the load more, I was fine with the weight on the day, but it was hard to close my bag.  I need things that take up less space, plus the OMM will have more ascent so lighter is better.  I’ve already bought a balloon bed from the original founders (who by happenstance are the ones who organised the mini marathon).  Very nice people!
  • Misc.
    • Make sure I stretch and warm up before I start

In conclusion, I had a great time and would do this event again in the future.  I would recommend it to anybody who would like to test out if mountain marathons are right for them.

OMM Preparation: Past OMM Map Analysis

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 13.05.34Given that this is the first time I’ve done the OMM, I wanted to take a look at the maps from past years to get a feel for what to expect.  From my analysis of the maps posted online here ( http://www.omm.routegadget.co.uk/rg2/ ) and the results of the 2014 event posted online here ( http://www.butlercole.plus.com/mn/omm2014/index.html ), I have come up with the following conclusions:

– It looks like the gaps between checkpoints are roughly averaging around 1 km, with some as long as 5 km.  I was happy to see this because it means that under good weather conditions it’s possible to have line-of-sight view of the next gate so running on a bearing is much easier.
– I didn’t see much of a pattern from the winning times of the runners on the C course.  The top two finishing teams had chosen the same control sequence, but I don’t have much insight into why they chose the controls in that order (other than the obvious reason that you’d want to hit the chosen controls in as sort of distance/time as possible).  I think I intend to plan my way around the course as it happens, rather than have some sort of pre-defined route.  Would be good to hear some experienced OMM competitors talk about how they choose their control sequence.
– I like looking at maps!  It gets me excited about both the mental/intellectual challenge in addition to the physical challenge.  I’m sure I’ll make plenty of mistakes this first time out, but will learn.

Please comment if you have any insight into how to best plan a route though the OMM C Course.

OMM Preparation: My Kit List

Over the past couple of months I’ve spent a good deal of time researching and refining my kit list for the OMM mountain marathon. As of today, I’ve acquired all the minimum kit list as defined by the OMM rules (https://www.theomm.com/events/the-omm-2015/rules). I’ve also gathered the food I intend to take over the 2 days and split out the team equipment by weight. So, this list is my “first cut” of the complete kit. Now I’m in the process of slimming it down and making weight/warmth/comfort/calorie tradeoffs.

When I first started to gather together the stuff on this list it was clear that all of my “family camping” gear simply wasn’t going to be suitable due to size and weight. I have a pretty good 3 season sleeping bag and a nice two man North Face tent, but even these would take up nearly all of my 24 available litres and probably most, if not all, my target weight allocation. So, it was time to do some research and get out the credit card…

Target weight and Calories

My target weight for my full pack was around 6.5 kg and a minimum of 4,500 kCals of food over the two days. Currently, with food, my full pack has a measured weight of 7.1 kg, which I think is acceptable given that I’m carrying 6,000+ calories. I expect I will adjust the food one way or another once I do the mini marathon in the Brecon Beacons in the next few weeks. I should also be able to drop some of the weight.

The Kit List

Below is the google spreadsheet I used to compile my pack list. A few notes about the columns in the sheet:

– “Item” – The thing
– “To buy?” – Do I need to buy the item? (‘x’ = still to buy, ‘-‘ = waiting to be delivered)
– “Packed?” – Is it currrently packed in my bag?
– “Quantity” – The number of the item I intend to pack
– “Weight (g)” – Weight in grams per item
– “Total Weight (g)” – Total calculated weight (Quantity x Weight)
– “Can be lighter?” – Can the item be made lighter somehow?
– “OMM Required” – What part of the required OMM kit list does this item satisfy

Under the section called “Clothing (running)”, I don’t count any of this towards my total pack weight. Things that say “pete” are items that my teammate Pete will buy or carry.

Below in the green sections you can see the totals. “Total Weight (g):” = The total weight of everything. “Total Pack Weight (g)(not running gear or pack itself):” = as described. “Total Pack Weight (g)(not running gear or pack itself, minus 1/2 shared):” = as described, weight of gear minus half the shared team weight (e.g. this is the actual weight of the gear in my pack I will take).

Under the food section I also calculate out the kCals in each item and total that up as well. See the previous post about my Trail Mix recipe.  Note: You may need to scroll to the right in the spreadsheet to see the calorie calculations.

As far as extravagant items I have on the list that are “extras”, I have a lightweight sleeping mat and pillow, a pocket knife and a slightly heaver thermal survival bag (which I intend to use with my sleeping bag at night).

I’m pretty sure I’ll be making many changes to this pack list over the next couple of months, so check back for updates. I’ll also post articles on research I did into specific items on the list.

OMM Preparation: Todd’s Trail Mix

I have a pretty basic trail mix recipe that I like to take out with me to sustain me between proper meals, especially if I’m doing an activity that sucks up my energy.

Todd's trail mix in bowlIngredients

Essentially, there are 3 ingredients that you mix in more-or-less equal parts:
– Honey roasted Peanuts (180g – one bag)
– Plain chocolate M&Ms (165g – one bag)
– Raisins (180g – measured)

Total Recipe Batch Weight: 528g

In the past I’ve added other stuff like pretzels in there, which is nice too, but I find that this is simple and gives me the most satisfying texture and mix of flavours.  It’s also fairly easy on the stomach (at least for me) and packed with calories.

Calories

– Honey roasted Peanuts (5.87 kCal/gram, 1056.6 kCal/recipe batch)
– Plain chocolate M&Ms (4.89 kCal/gram, 806.85 kCal/recipe batch)
– Raisins (2.93 kCal/gram, 527.4 kCal/recipe batch)

Total Recipe Batch kCals: 4.528 kCals/gram, 2390.85 kCals/recipe batch

Sealing the trail mix bags

Sealing the trail mix bags

Preparation

1) dump ingredients into large bowl, 2) mix with clean hands.

Depending on the situation, I may seal the mix in 23x33cm Ziplock Mylar Bags using an iron on the top edge.  These bags have a notch in the top so it’s easy to rip open.

If you have a favourite  trail mix recipe, then please share in the comments below. Enjoy!