I’ve been doing this job for 7 years now. The title changes; some years, controller; some years, coordinator. I’ve enjoyed every one of them. Each has created its own special memories. Each has had its own particular problems.
So what about this year? Working with the two planners has been easy and they produced some very good courses. I particularly liked Andy’s Elite Day 1 course. Routegadget shows a wide variety of route choices were taken. Paul has had a lot of positive feedback on his score courses-deservedly. This was only marred for the Long and Medium courses on Day 2,by the shortened courses, which reduced the decision making on points/routes, as the further-away controls suddenly became unobtainable.
On reflection, the D course and C course were probably a bit long. But there is a problem here. They are designed on the “winners time”. From that perspective, they were ok, but finishing times get much longer very quickly as you move down the results list. So it can be argued that the winners were in the wrong class. Or that the courses were too long. Or both.
Or should we be introducing an “E Class” for first time competitors, and those less able. Perhaps with a winners time of 6 hours over two days.
The area is a lovely one to wander around checking control sites. Most of the ground covered by the courses is not frequented by normal mortals, although you do bump into someone from time to time. I had a very interesting chat with one local man I met, who was describing the location of many aircraft wrecks. There are so many that we could almost organise an OMM, in which all the control sites are crashed airplanes.
Landowners, graziers, public bodies and particularly the National Park were, without exception, welcoming and cooperative, And that helps a lot.
The atmosphere at Event HQ on Sunday was very rewarding, with so many happy people filling the barns. Thank you to you all for that. It’s what makes the job worthwhile.
I would like to pick up the issue of “uncrossable” walls and fences and the way some teams, both intentionally or unintentionally cross them at places other than marked crossing points. We spend a lot of time negotiating access for the OMM and one of the principle concerns of many landowners relates to damage to their walls and fences. We carefully mark onto the map what boundaries are, and are not, crossable and where the crossing points are. You will understand how demoralising I find it to then learn that some competitors pay no heed to what is shown on the map. Yes, they are cheating and gaining an unfair advantage but, equally importantly, they are jeopardising the chance for themselves and for ALL OTHER COMPETITORS, to run on that terrain again. What would you do, as a landowner, when you discover that competitors have ranged wherever they fancied after the organisers have given firm reassurances over routes and crossings?
A separate note has been published, specifically on this issue.
So what do we do about it? Put a marshal wherever we feel there is a temptation for teams to cross in the wrong place and disqualify everyone who does so? But how do you spot all the short cuts? And where do you get all the marshals from? Better to try to plan courses so that the temptation to take a short cut isn’t there. Or to put in extra crossing points where the temptation does exists. Better still to educate and remind competitors, so that the few that have the inclination to ignore this rule, don’t consider doing it again. Something to consider for future events.
Why did we introduce Bad Weather Courses on the Sunday?
The Planning Team spent a long time on Saturday evening debating what we should do. Our decision was based, principally, on the weather forecast which was predicting extreme weather by 4.00pm. That was coupled with our belief that the timing of forecasts can be unreliable. So, it was not unreasonable to assume that this weather could be with us by, say, 2.00pm. At that stage, many of those still out on the hills would be the tired and the less resilient. And remember that, as long as there are competitors out on the hills, there are marshals and radio operators out there too.
The Short Score course remained at 4 hours, but we shortened the Long and Medium Score courses by 1 hour, to ensure that those competitors were off the hills in good time.
None of us have any doubt that we made the right decision. Marshals reported heavy hail driving into their faces and of leaning almost horizontally into the wind to make progress against it.
Competitors opinion seems to support our decision.
Planner’s Report – Linear courses 2013
Thanks to Jen and Roger for the opportunity to plan again in what is great MM country, with few restrictions. Paul and I tried to give competitors across all courses, experience of the ‘lumpy bits’ in the middle or east of the area, and also the more technical and runnable Black Mountain itself, in the west.
My thanks to both Paul and Joc who, when I was incapacitated in the early days of planning, pegged some of the control sites. Also to the gnarly old goats that assembled to check the control sites many months before the OMM, and during the week of the event.
Being a long, relatively narrow band of hills, those starting in the east at Storey Arms had to be channelled through quite a narrow corridor and the challenge was to spread folk out before and after it. The ‘lumpy bits’ referred to provided the route choice challenge for the three longest courses and much merriment was had by competitors trying to choose the best route. Route Gadget is worth a look.
Elite day 1 – legs 1 and 3 offered cracking route choice, leg 3 being psychologically damaging to all but the very experienced. Not many noticed the southern option to No 1, but Nick Barrable was one. Legs 5 and 6 gave a hint of more interesting finer navigation that the Black Mountain has to offer
A day 1 – 3 and 4 were interesting controls, but I’m inclined to think that control 5 was the most difficult control of any linear course – no easily defined attack point with severe consequence if you overshoot or go underneath it. In bad weather perhaps best to aim hard for the Trig and come back off it.
B day 1 – Leg 4, a phenomenal leg for a B course. The lack of controls on the first day was to be compensated by quite a few more on day two, but Bad Weather courses prevented you getting a mental beating with more technical controls.
C day 1 – You got into some quite tough terrain in the latter half of the course, but the better teams coped well and made some good route choice decisions.
D day 1 – Roger is being rather generous in his comment on the D course. Certainly, it’s impossible to know who is going to turn up so courses can easily be planned for too short a winning time. However, without question I think this course was too long and spent too much time in a tough part of the Beacons. My apologies.
Day 2 – Bad weather courses are always a compromise as they have to be planned generally using existing controls. Usually, they are planned to limit the time competitors spend high on the hill, when high wind and rain is expected. Our concerns this year were focused very much on the rivers, as the planning Team’s experiences on the Monday preceding the event underlined. ‘Speedos’ required.
Elite day 2 – 4, 5 and 6 were testing little control sites in an area that many courses were due to visit
A day 2 – The lunar landscape on the tops between 3 and 4 is something to behold. Wet, bare rock takes care to run on. The leading team made short work of their Bad Weather course and looked quite fresh when I saw them in the forest near the end.
B day 2 – Unfortunately not as challenging as day one with many teams running well in conditions that, whilst not good, were better than expected.
C day 2 – This was probably the best of all the Bad Weather courses and an excellent time posted on the day by the Hardings.
D day 2 – A tricky first control in a challenging area caused problems, although Route Gadget would suggest that it’s not inside the ‘circle’ where the problems are to be found !
Day Two courses Elite, C and D – Control “CT” (Crag) What a marvellous control, and what a lot of mischief it caused. You’re wet, cold and tired and have a control that seems to be on the forest track. It should hit you in the face, you think. You navigate to the control circle, rather than a feature, so you don’t know what you’re looking for, not having checked the control description. Is it any wonder then, that half of the first six Elite teams went past it. Followed by many, many other teams on the C and D courses. Granted, those on the Elite course realised their mistake within 50m and found the crag, clearly visible from the track, quickly. Many other teams went much further.
The control is perfectly fair and correctly mapped. If you come down the track, counting the bends, and look right, there it is. If you don’t count the bends . . .
These days, there are many different Adventure Races. Some tend to ‘big themselves up’. The OMM has no need to, because every now and then, it bares it’s teeth. This was such a year. If you were found wanting, do please return next to year to attend to ‘unfinished business’ We’ve all been there.
Up North I understand.
My thanks to Jen for all her efforts with the KIMM/OMM over many years and I trust she will enjoy some well-earned time off.
PLANNERS REPORT – SCORE COURSES
Those of you who think that planning score courses is simply a matter of scattering controls around the event area and allocating more points to those further away or harder to get to… think again! Even after 18 years of competing I had no idea how involved the process was and how long it takes until this year.
The planning all started with analysing the results from the previous couple of years and the last time the OMM was in this area (2004), in order to find out how far and how high competitors at the top and bottom of the results lists travel in the time allocated in all the score classes. Our route options for 2013 needed to be both long enough for the quicker teams and with plenty of options for the slower teams.
Having competed mainly in the short score in the past, we were adamant that the slower teams in this class should have options for a good day out. To achieve this, it was vital that the short score overnight campsite was relatively close to the event HQ. A big thank you to Andy for listening and liaising with landowners to get the overnight placed right. Initially we were going to get LS to the Western campsite from the Storey Arms start as well, but our analysis showed a huge range of performances in the LS. The slower teams just wouldn’t have got there.
I’m glad to report that the wishes of the planning team (under the management of the controller, Roger) in creating a good event experience for the competitors is paramount in the overall event set up. We particularly wanted competitors to return to the HQ and their cars on foot and if need be only bussed out to their start. The event base was not ideal logistically for parking or the retail side of the OMM but it was the best option available for creating the best courses and that’s what decided it I’m glad to say.
Joc and I both know the event area really well (having trained for the OMM over it for the past 20 years) and already had many ideas for interesting checkpoints. In December 2012 we made a couple of forays to check their viability. It then took another 12 trips over the course of the next 10 months to find others and peg them, during which we encountered all kinds of weather, from snow, hail and torrential rain to clear crisp cold mornings and hot dry sunny weather days when skinny dipping in the streams was a must. We spent many long hours during this time poring over maps and spreadsheets checking route options and there was a constant stream of messages, pictures, annotated maps by email and phone to attend to. We loved all of it… well, the mountain bit for sure.
Our general thinking when planning was to: make teams think beyond a simple arc or straight line – encourage zig zagging; encourage early route decisions rather than have lots of options near the end; try to have different terrain on each day; obviously, make sure those that could go further could get more points; create good options for those running less distance; give short score teams many routes choices and not just a mad dash to overnight or back to HQ; avoid the worst terrain – visit areas with as much runnable ground as possible; make sure the checks were in interesting areas; to reduce ground erosion by giving route choices away from the start and back in to the finish and also avoiding pinch points at crossings; get as many competitors as possible to visit the main Black Mountain escarpment.
In the week before the event a team of 6 of us started putting out the kites and SI boxes. On Monday only one of us succeeded in putting out what had been planned as the weather was dire. Wet, wet, wet! By midday many small streams were uncrossable. It was like 2008 all over again. Tuesday however, was much better and by the end of it we’d got most of the 104 checks out. On Wednesday and Thursday they were all visited gain – different people checked different checkpoints. On Friday we only needed to tape through routes, erect stiles and attend meetings.
Saturday went pretty much how we hoped it would, with only a couple of the further controls not getting a visit on the LS and SS. All controls in the MS did get a visit. I spoke to many competitors at the Dan yr Ogof overnight and everyone seemed to have a really good day, only griping about the tussocks between AL and CC.
The faster LS teams got to both DO and AD as expected whilst others chose north or south, the latter being the most popular probably due to the marked path between AJ and AN. In the MS the clear choice was whether to stay west and tick off DV, DG, BA and DE or to cut east and hope to get those around Fan Nedd and Fan Dringarth – AC, DR, AB and DF. Although the running is easier on the west, it seems that in the end the choice made little difference to overall positions. We were really happy with the huge range of routes employed by the SS. BW (40) lured the top teams south, with easy running via DI and BA. Some went for CW then DC but the majority cut across the escarpment to AY and beyond. It was pleasing that the route through BM, BS and CY over by Carreg Yr Ogof got many visits. It’s lovely over there.
Sunday was different, with the way the forecast was, the decision was made to shorten MS and LS by an hour. This was, as they say, a ’no brainer’ – if it had rained as much as they said it might, we’d return to the conditions on the previous Monday and the streams would have been treacherous. All our well thought out route possibilities were now pretty meaningless for the quicker teams, and alas quite a few checks on the west never got a visit. But everyone got back safely (and still had reasonable route options) … and that’s the most important thing.
It is interesting to note that a few teams arrived late at the Dan Yr Ogof start late on Sunday as they hadn’t checked the chasing start lists to see if they were on it. The top 5 female and mixed teams also make the chasing start these days and not just those in the top 20.
More competitors should do score classes: you can decide beforehand the length of effort you can manage; it’s possible to cut short your day if injured/tired; if you can’t find a check move on to the next (at least you’re not out of the competition); you are rarely following or being followed; you can use smart thinking to save energy and perform better than others who don’t; you can choose which areas you’d like to visit.
Thanks to Andy Creber our (planning) partner in crime who did all the initial liaison work and led us through the process, Roger (the highly organised and resourceful controller who it seems had a huge array of tasks to undertake) for being patient and calm with us, Anne (his wife) for the great food and company and Steve Willis, Dave Chapman and Stuart Hamilton for being such a dedicated and cheery checkpoint team. I’m pretty sure, that even without Roger’s experienced guidance, Stuart and Dave will do a great job next year. We’ll be there racing for sure!
Paul and Joc Dodd
Brecon Beacons 2013
Every year, OMM events are located in upland areas of great scenic beauty that often contain features of major biodiversity value and importance. Occasionally, the features that provide this interest can be vulnerable to the wear and tear that may result from the passage of several thousand OMM competitors. The risk of ecological damage is given careful consideration during the course setting process for an OMM event and every effort is made to avoid areas of particular ecological sensitivity. For competitors who would like to extend this consideration of ecological risk to their personal route selection choices this note outlines the general nature conservation interest of the 2013 competition area, and provides advice on how competitors’ route choices could help to further avoid the risk of ecological disturbance.
The 2013 OMM event area is located within the Brecon Beacons National Park, extending across an area of varied sedimentary geology with distinctive glacial landforms. The great variety of rock types and topography within the event area is reflected in a variety of upland wildlife habitat and vegetation types. Extensive tracts of significant upland habitat and vegetation are present, including widespread areas of national and international nature conservation importance.
A number of courses pass through landscapes of distinctive geological character, including a complex series of limestone and gritstone strata to the west of the event area, and the striking landforms of glaciated old red sandstone to the east. All of the 2013 courses pass through areas of high level nature conservation importance, crossing various types of upland grassland, blanket bog, streams and rivers. Of particular interest are several locations known for their striking arctic alpine flora. These features are considered in the following sections of this note.
- Dry acid grassland is a widespread vegetation type within the event area, formed where centuries of livestock grazing has converted heather moorland to open grassland. These areas provide a relatively robust vegetation type that can generally withstand the trampling effects of fell running.
- Specialised arctic-alpine plant species are present at locations within dry acid grassland on higher level, north-facing slopes throughout the event area. These species are part of a relict post-glacial flora that survives in British uplands and comprises some of the most highly valued nature conservation sites in the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is important to avoid vegetation disturbance wherever possible in situations where route choices involve crossing steep, north-facing slopes.
- Nutrient-rich groundwater can appear as springs on high level, steep slopes where vegetation rich in specialised arctic-alpine moss and liverwort species can be present. Wherever possible, route choices should avoid disturbance to these features.
- Areas of wet acid grassland will be encountered on courses where impeded drainage occurs within relatively level acid grassland areas or where groundwater emerges at the surface as seepages across more steeply sloping ground. Wet acid grassland can be of special nature conservation interest, in particular where groundwater seepages provide conditions for communities of specialised mosses, liverworts and other plants. These vegetation types can be vulnerable to persistent disturbance effects of trampling and should ideally be avoided wherever possible by selecting routes that keep to dry acid grassland to by-pass wet grassland patches.
- Wet acid grassland at groundwater seepages on steep ground can be difficult to avoid where they cross valuable contouring lines. Complete avoidance of these areas could involve a significant route change and deviation from the desired contour level. Despite this, it would be ideal if damage to seepage zone vegetation could be minimised, often located within shallow gulleys, re-entrant features or associated with ground level rock outcrops that cross steep slopes.
- Dry calcareous grassland is a locally extensive vegetation type within the western part of the event area, occurring as hill pasture over limestone and lime-rich moraine deposits. This vegetation type is often accompanied by low rock outcrops and scree slopes. Dry calcareous grassland within the Brecon Beacons is an important vegetation type, and includes several uncommon plant species. The vegetation typically forms
Brecon Beacons, 2013
on relatively shallow soils and as such can be quickly eroded by trampling. Some of the highest quality grassland of this type develops on shallow soils over limestone rock outcrops and within areas of limestone scree and as such are especially vulnerable to erosion. Care should be taken with route selection through areas with grassland, limestone rock outcrops and scree to avoid excessive vegetation wear, especially when negotiating vegetated outcrops and scree.
- On hillsides, soil movements within dry acid and calcareous grassland areas can develop well-defined micro-terrace systems, often referred to as sheep walks. These typically follow the contours and can provide extremely useful running lines. Grassland vegetation at the edge of these micro-terraces is often friable and easily dislodged. Care should be taken when using these features for contouring to avoid running on the edge of these terraces to minimise grassland damage. Areas of saturated ground are widespread features where groundwater issues into terrace formations. These locations are especially vulnerable to running damage and should be avoided where possible.
- Heather moorland is relatively localised within the Brecon Beacons. Where present, this vegetation type typically forms on relatively well-drained soils and can sustain relatively high levels of trampling. Where courses cross heather moorland on sloping ground there is a greater risk of trampling damage to vegetation, especially where well-used routes that cause corridors of soil erosion create a risk of gulley formation.
- Blanket bog is an important feature of several locations within the event area. Many of these areas comprise degraded blanket bog where peat hags (erosion gulleys) have formed where bog vegetation has been lost and the underlying peat is being eroded. Vegetation loss may have been caused by a variety of factors in the past such as air pollution, moorland management with burning and drainage, but the resulting loss of peat and blanket bog vegetation is an important conservation management issue for the Brecon Beacons National Park. In many cases, the bare peat exposed in hags may have become stabilised, allowing a slow recovery of blanket bog vegetation that will eventually help to prevent the loss of peat through erosion. More locally, areas of high quality, intact blanket bog are present within the event area. These comprise vegetation with a high proportion of Sphagnum mosses on deep peat with limited evidence of peat erosion and gulley formation.
- Disturbance of recovering blanket bog by runners churning through the peat hags has the potential to trigger further peat erosion by de-stabilising the peat surface. Wherever possible, route choices in these areas should try to link the strips and patches of surviving moorland vegetation between the peat hags. These are often quite well-drained, providing areas of relatively robust vegetation and resistant to the trampling effects of running. If crossing peat hags is unavoidable, routes should try to link cushions of remnant moorland vegetation as ‘stepping stones’ across the bare peat surfaces. In some situations, the extent of peat erosion has been sufficient to expose the bedrock and glacial material underlying the peat. Running on this material is unlikely to cause significant harm to recovering peat surfaces.
- Limestone pavement is present at locations to the west of the event area, providing features of considerable nature conservation importance. The main ecological interest within this area is associated with communities of mosses, ferns and other plants that utilise the special microclimate of deep cracks (grykes) within the limestone pavement. Their location deep within the limestone pavement will ensure that they are protected from disturbance by runners. Occasionally, patches of limestone grassland are present on the surface of the pavement and these are vulnerable to fragmentation by disturbance from runners, and should be avoided if possible when selecting routes across limestone pavement areas. In addition to their botanical interest, limestone pavements are of considerable geological interest. Weathering the limestone surface has formed a variety of finely sculpted rock flutings and runnels with friable edges that could be easily snapped off when running across the pavements. This risk should be considered when selecting routes in the limestone pavement area.
- The event area contains a complex network of streams and rivers, some of which are potentially vulnerable to ecological disturbance from repeated crossing by runners. In particular, stream channels within the event area that cross limestone bedrock have the potential to support valuable populations of a highly protected aquatic invertebrate species called the White Clawed Crayfish. This animal is generally inactive during the day, and if present during the OMM will be sheltering in burrows excavated into stream margins. Other important mammal species may be present along stream margins, including Otter and Water Vole. Wherever possible, stream crossings should avoid sliding down banks into streams to avoid the potential for disturbing the stream margin burrows and resting places of these animals.