Preparing for the OMM Mountain Marathon
We've scribbled down some good tips from proper OMM experience.. and on the off chance you're in the market for a few items, we've included relevant links. We respond to messages within 24hrs so get in touch if you need help!
You're here because it's coming soon.. the adventure of the OMM Mountain Marathon and it's time to think about what to carry. With all the fancy bits of kit available now days, it is easy to end up with too much in your bag. Remember you have to carry it and run with it for two days! Of course, your kit still has to follow certain rules and allow you to survive the overnight camp. You don't want to skimp on food or you won't have enough energy to run on day 2, or on clothing and end up wasting energy shivering all night!
If you're running in the Elite then you will have done a few of these events before and you will have all the lightweight kit, looking to carry no more than 8 pounds each on day 1 (as you will have eaten all the food except your emergency rations and hill food by the start of day 2 your bag will be lighter). For those who have not experienced this event before, or are looking to improve on their past performances, the kit you wear and carry will be vital.
Choose A QUALITY Top/Base and Bag!
Firstly, the kit you are wearing needs to be quick drying and keep you warm even when it gets wet. Usually a good quality thermal top or baselayer will suffice, with a quality race vest/bag on top. As a bonus, the rucksack keeps your back warm!
Lightweight Emergency Jacket
If it rains you might put a jacket on over the top.. but any more than this and you will sweat too much, leading to dehydration, which will slow you down as the day goes on.
Bottoms & Socks (Merino)
Breathable quick drying waterproof pants and running tights are also essential. If the forecast is mild and you’re a warm person that isn’t prone to feeling the cold, 3/4 length tights might be a consideration. Everything needs to dry well so it doesn't hold water when you are crossing rivers or running into driving rain. Plus, wool socks are best on your feet. These will shed water well and keep you warmer when wet. Ideally, they should come over the ankle to cut down on sheep ticks and abrasions from heather and bracken.
Shoes - No Hard & Fast Rule
Footwear is a very personal choice. If you are super keen then you will have fell shoes which offer the best grip and the best stability on rough uneven ground. If you go for a more cross over type trail shoe, make sure the grips are of a soft enough compound to grip on wet rock, and aggressive enough to grip on mud. The lower your feet are to the ground the more stable they are, so you will find it easier to run and have less twisted ankles and knees. It is advisable to keep away from the 50/50, road to trail type of trail shoes as the rubber sole is too hard, causing it to slip on wet rock, and the extra cushioning lifts your foot too high off the floor, making it unstable.
Hat & Gloves
A light hat and gloves that you will either be wearing at the start of a cold day or have in your waist band pouch of your rucksack (in a little plastic bag) are essential. You can get very light hats and gloves that keep you warm these days, have a browse, grab a couple of sizes if you're unsure and return a pair!
If You're Not Tough, Grab Some Overnight Thermals!
Lots of the Elite won't carry spare clothes for the overnight camp, they are warm blooded enough and hardy enough to survive in what they have on! I remember watching the leaders at the Rock and Run Mountain Marathon (now the LAMM) in the early 90's, get out of their tent, push the tent into a tiny rucksack and run to the start! I now know that they didn't come out of the tent all night because they relied on being in a small space together to stay warm and ran to the start because they needed to warm up.
I also recall at last year’s Rab, where Steve Birkinshaw (winner of more Elites in the OMM than I can remember) jogged round the field to try and get warm. He was competing Solo and it had been a clear, cold night and he hadn't got much sleep due to being cold. This didn't slow a hard man like Steve down and he won the event in fine style. Personally, I get cold so I carry a spare thermal and thermal bottoms, plus spare socks.
With waterproof pants and jacket on over the top you feel snug and get warm, even if it has been a cold, wet day and your partner has been dragging you all over the hillside for most of the it! The damp clothes you have been running in can be put into a plastic bag and used as some insulation between you and the ground when lying in your tent. A bit of bubble wrap over the top makes for a snug night.
ALWAYS PUT YOUR DAMP KIT BACK ON IN THE MORNING. Damp kit is heavy to carry and your dry kit will be wet anyway once you have run up the first climb of the day. A bit of Bodyglide (much better than Vaseline) trimmed from the applicator and put into a plastic bag before you left, will cut down on any rubbing.
The Expensive Bits
The expensive bits of kit are the tent and the sleeping bag. A lightweight tent designed for Mountain Marathons is usually too small for two people to comfortably use so isn't much use for lightweight camping. However, you don't have to buy a tent that weighs 600 grams to have a pack light enough to run with. There are plenty on the market at 1.5kg that would be good for lightweight camping too. It's best to loose the tent and pole bag. It makes it easier to pack it comfortably and you might as well loose the weight. Also only take just the right number of pegs and make sure they are light alloy not heavy steel.
Lightweight sleeping bags are much more multi purpose. A good lightweight bag ideal for Mountain Marathon use will be equally good for lightweight camping. Down or synthetic fill is a personal choice. I have always used down as the guy I did my first Elite with said ‘If you get your sleeping bag wet you are an idiot' and down was so much warmer than synthetic back then. This isn't the case now, but I still use down and find it super snugly. Although I do use two plastic bags to make sure it doesn't get wet! Fill just on the top seems to work better and then use bubble wrap and your clothes you ran in during the day to give you some insulation from the floor.
Cold Easily? Grab a Mid-Layer
Mid-layer or warm tops are another personal bit of kit. If you get cold easily then use a down or primaloft type pullover, the Inov-8 Thermoshell is an excellent example of the later. These are warmer than fleece for the weight. Remember if it is cold and horrible you will be stuck in your sleeping bag in your tent, which will help keep you warm. If you are a super warm person a light fleece may well be enough.
Extra Reading: My Tips From Real Experience
It's a good idea to wrap all your kit that you want to keep dry in plastic bags (two in the case of your sleeping bag). If one rips or leaks you haven't got all wet kit. You can also use these bags to place over your socks and then into your shoes so your dry socks don't get wet.
Eating on the run is another area that is very much personal choice. It is a good idea to stay away from sweet things and to eat little and often. Cutting up some energy bars/flat jack/dried fruit and putting them in a plastic bag will make it easy to do this. Remember you can only absorb about 60 grams of carbs per hour, so eating more than this won't help. Gels are best kept to the end of the day saving a caffeine gel for the last bit, assuming caffeine works for you. SIS Gels are best as they are Isotonic so you don't have to drink with them. They are also less gloopy and don't dry your mouth out as much as thicker gels do. But, if you find a gel you like then go with that it can often raise the spirits when you are flagging a bit.
Whether to carry water or not can be a controversial area for some. In my view water is heavy so I would advise drinking from streams. As long as you do so from running water high up on the hill side, you shouldn't have any problems. But, try it first in case you have a sensitive stomach. Most of the Elite Teams will do this carrying a bottle that they fill and then drink. We put electrolyte tablets into the bottle like Nuun or High Five Zero. As well as helping you stay hydrated this also cuts down on cramps. A plastic bag with just enough tablets broken in half so they dissolve more quickly and are easy to drop in the bottle on the run, works for us. If you choose this method then you must be aware of streams along your route. If you are running high on a ridge line for a few hours then you may not come across any streams so, drink before you start that section.
There are two ways of looking at waterproofs. If you are running one of the summer Mountain Marathons like the Saunders or the Rab, then it will be in your bag most of the time (hopefully) and therefore the lightest one that gets you through the rules is the one to go for. However, for the OMM at the end of October or even the LAMM which tends to be in more remote parts of Scotland or the Highlander, which is in March and often gets snow, then a waterproof that is good to run in is a better choice. So, what makes a waterproof good to run in? Breathability, lack of noise and fit. OMM Kamleika was the only jacket/smock to tick all these boxes a few years ago. However, in recent years RonHill launched their trail running range which includes the Tempest Jacket, Salomon have the Bonatti Jacket and Inov-8 the Race Elite 150 Stormshell . All waterproof jackets with hoods and full taped seams. They are also more breathable and lighter than the Kamleika.
What to eat and drink at the overnight camp will to some extent depend on what you like to eat. It will also depends on how you are going to cook it. The lightest method of heating is to use solid fuel tablets. We have a home made stove made out of wire that fits neatly into a cup for carriage. It is very light but, it doesn't give you loads of hot water. So, food is warm not hot, as is tea etc. To reduce fuel we also heat the water and then throw in the noodles or pasta cover it and let it stand to hydrate. Usually we have noodles to start, pasta second and then a brownie and custard to finish. Rego Nocte is our bedtime drink. In between we might have a few luke warm cups of tea. Breakfast is porridge. Usually a microwave one with fruit in it, that we heat up in the pan on the stove. If you want more luxury like boil in the bag stuff then you will need to carry a gas stove to heat the water for long enough. With the gas canister and stove this adds about 200 grams to the weight.
Buy a fast settling quality compass. Then when your in the mist trying to run on a bearing you will thank yourself (and don't leave it on a fence post at the final check point like a partner of mine did many years ago. Fortunately for us it was still there when we went back to get it. I have to say having run for 9 hours walking back up the hill to fetch the compass wasn't what I would call a pleasurable warm down!)
Now you have decided what to carry you need something to carry it in. Different rucksacks fit differently so, it's best to go and try a few on. Obviously the more bells and whistles on the rucksack the more it weights. A 25 litre capacity should be enough. Waist pockets are essential for your compass, hat gloves, some eats, electrolyte tablets and anything else you require while running. It is also handy to have mesh pockets on the main sack that you can get your hands into while it’s on your back. You can then use one for more eats and the other for your bottle.
Save five pounds of the weight of your rucksack (and your partners!) and you could knock an hour off your running time. So, it is well worth spending a bit of time with the kitchen scales to loose a bit of weight.
This article was written by Charlie Stead who has run many Mountain Marathons both in the UK and overseas over the years. Including winning the Elite in the 2003 Mourne Mountain Marathon (partnered with Bob Johnstone) and the 2011 Rab Mountain Marathon (again running with Bob Johnstone).