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Guest Blog: Heather Dawe wins the OMM

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Heather Dawe, ultra runner and author of Adventures in Mind, reports on her winning race last weekend.

I am writing this blog sat on the sofa with my feet up, listening to the wind and rain battering at the window. This is much more comfortable than the place I slept last Saturday night: a very small wet tent pitched on a pronounced slope in a saturated field on the edge of some mountains in South Wales. 


Over the past 18 years I have spent a fair few of the last Saturday nights in October in similar situations, so I can only come to the conclusion that I must like it. 


The Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) was the reason I was sleeping in a farmer’s field. This two day mountain marathon, held the last weekend in October each year, was this time taking place in the Brecon Beacons. 


Anyone who has read my book Adventures In Mind will know that over the years I have had quite a few tussles with this event and have had my fair share of failures. This year I was back at it after a two year absence, racing the Elite category with my good friend Andrea Priestley. 

I have had two years off the OMM as I now have a 20-month-old daughter and was heading back with quite a lot of trepidation. While I have already done two mountain marathons this year (the Highlander and the Rab), given the time of year and the usual bad weather forecast, the OMM is often a tougher event. I have also hardly navigated in rough weather conditions since the last time I did the OMM in 2010 and I was worried that I would be a little rusty. 


The event centre was near Trecastle at the bottom of the Black Mountain. We got coached to our start at the Storey Arms – the closest road access to the highest mountains in the Brecon Beacons – Pen y Fan and Corn Du. From here we would run up and over the ridges of these two hills and then traverse pretty much all the way across the map to the next checkpoint, over 20 kilometres to the range of the Black Mountain. We would then find some more checkpoints before dropping north off the hill to our campsite and bed for the night at Blaenau. Well over 40 kilometres for the day with around 3,000 metres of height gain. 


I was right about being a little rusty at navigation in poor conditions - in the clag on the ridge heading towards the first checkpoint Andrea pointed out that I had started running 180 degrees out of the direction we should have been running in. After that correction I got my head into the map a bit more and thankfully didn’t have any more major errors that day. The terrain was typical for the OMM – generally off any paths or tracks, boggy and tussocky underfoot. The weather was mixed – heavy wind and rain at times, clear at others.


We spent much of the first day close to Cath Evans and Holly Williamson – the other female pair running the Elite category. We would get gaps on them or choose different routes and then see them again – either in front or slightly behind – at the next checkpoint. 


Both Cath and Holly are good navigators and strong runners. We finally managed to get a gap on them at the end of the day which I think that was due to a navigational error on their part rather than any particular prowess from us.


Andrea was running as strong as ever. I really enjoy racing with her – as well as pushing ourselves we have lots of fun! We finished the first day in just over nine hours and put the tent up in heavy rain. Fortunately we managed to avoid getting too wet in the tent overnight – damp but warm – and I did get to sleep for a few hours. 


On Sunday morning we got woken up by a tremendous clap of thunder at 5 a.m. Ominous. The race organisers soon after declared that we would be running the bad weather courses for the second day. This cut around seven kilometres off our initial 30-kilometre route for the day and given the conditions we were not disappointed! 


The second day’s checkpoints were dotted around the range of the Black Mountain. There was some technical navigation amongst limestone features as well as some long legs between checkpoints where we traversed tussocky ground. While it rained heavily at times and was pretty windy, it could have been a lot worse and visibility was generally good. 


We made steady progress around the course just struggling to find one checkpoint and losing a little time. I don’t think I made the best route choices between some of the checkpoints but am happy that we found them without too much faff. 


And then suddenly that was that. We reached the finish, had our kit checked and the OMM 2013 was over. We managed to maintain the gap we had got on Cath and Holly and so won our category. This was the forth time I had finished an Elite OMM but I think the sense of achievement is at least as great as the first time! It has been quite a journey back to fitness after becoming a mum; I am training and racing less these days, instead enjoying time with my daughter. I am really pleased that I can still come back and get around one of my favourite events in less than favourable conditions. Thanks again to Andrea for being such a great teammate, and to Aidan for all the support that helped get me to the start line. 


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