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What is a mountain marathon?

Written by Fiona

November 09 2018

Are you are thinking about a doing a mountain marathon, such as the Scottish Mountain Marathon, but you’re not sure if it’s for you, or really what it’s all about? Here is a guide to what you need to know about running a mountain marathon.

A mountain marathon is an extended form of fell or hill running, usually over two days and always with a strong orienteering element.

Competitors participate in pairs or solos, depending on the event, and they must carry their own food and tent.

There are a range of competition courses, Elite, A, B, C and Long, Medium and Short Score.

Classes are male, female and mixed.

Navigation is a major part of a mountain marathon. Credit: Steve Ashworth

Is a mountain marathon for me?

Mountain marathons test fitness as well as navigation skills and mountain craft. So, you should be competent in all areas.

A typical mountain marathon includes at least one overnight, which means you must be capable of being self-sufficient in the wilds.

You should be capable of finding your way efficiently by map and compass to checkpoints.

You need to be able to travel at a good speed, via a mix of running and walking, over mountainous terrain.

You should have the ability to operate self sufficiently in the mountains, carrying all your own kit and food for two days and a remote overnight camp.

I feel a bit out of my depth already

There are courses in each event that are shorter and aimed at beginners, so don’t worry if you are new to mountain marathons.

You’ll also find that other competitors are friendly and there will be plenty of advice about training and kit prior to the event.

Adding navigation and mountain craft to a run brings new challenges and adventures.

What if my teammate is a bit slow?

Traditionally, mountain marathons are for pairs of competitors. You must reach checkpoints and the finish line as a pair. Choose your fellow competitor wisely.

A mountain marathon will feature an overnight camp, usually remote. Credit: Steve Ashworth

Different types of mountain marathon courses

The usual formats are linear and score.

For a linear course think “time trial”. With a linear course you navigate between a set number of checkpoints as quickly as possible.

This is different from a score format, where the aim is to acquire as many points as possible within a set amount of time by visiting checkpoints in any order.

The checkpoints are marked on the race map and also clearly indicated on the ground with an orange and white orienteering kite.

Checkpoints can have different values and so you must decide as a pair which checkpoints to visit.

You prove which CPs you reached by using a digital timing system.

What about all these courses?

There are different courses and they usually mean that you are out on the course for a longer or shorter length of time. So the Elite class will be the most challenging in terms of distance, or hours, and then through A, B, C and D.

If you are a newcomer to the sport you will normally be advised to go for the C or Short Score.

Or how about the “Cafe Class in the Great Lakeland 3 day?

You compete within your class, male, female or mixed, on your course. For example, there will be a male winner of A course, and a female winner of the elite course.

See classes explained for the new Scottish Mountain Marathon.

Team work is part of a mountain marathon. Credit: Steve Ashworth

How does a mountain marathon work?

At the start line of each day of the mountain marathon, each competitor is issued with a waterproof race.

The map will depend on the race but, for example, in the Scottish Mountain Marathon, it is a 1:30,000 scale and approximately A2 size.

The map is pre-marked with all the checkpoints specific to your course.

The overnight camping location is only revealed to you when the race map is given out.

Will my tent set up for me?

No. You must carry all he kit you need, including tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and food. You may well be able to source water as you go, but you can’t rely on this.

Portaloos are provided at the overnight camps.

If you want to do a multi-day run that doesn’t require you to carry overnight kit, check out a race such as the Great Lakeland 3 Day, where your bags are transported to the camps for you. Or the  Cape Wrath Ultra.

What kit do I need for a mountain marathon?

Each race will have a different criteria, but you can expect to need the following:

  • Running footwear that is suitable for use in the mountains
  • Rucksack that is large enough to carry all your kit
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping mat
  • Survival Bag (a bag NOT a space blanket).
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers – both with taped seams
  • Long trousers or running tights
  • Thermal baselayer
  • Mid-layer top or jacket (Some events will ask you to carry spare baselayers in addition to what you will run in.)
  • Hat and gloves (a buff might suffice but it depends on what the race stipulates)
  • Socks (and spare pairs)
  • Headtorch (suitable for emergency night navigation with battery lasting at least 12 hours. Many races now require two head torches or a spare, fully charged battery.)
  • Compass and whistle
  • Watch
  • Waterproof pen or pencil and paper
  • Map
  • Mobile phone (for safety purposes).

Kit for each team:

  • Tent (with sewn in groundsheet, poles and pegs)
  • Stove and fuel, matches/lighter
  • Food for two days
  • Plasters and bandage – some events specify a more comprehensive First Aid Kit, it is also carrying some
  • Blister plasters/pain tablets (for your own comfort).

7 UK mountain marathons in 2019

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