Mountain Marathon

I took part in a mountain marathon on Sunday and found that it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life (note that I've run a number of marathons and have also climbed Himalayan mountains up to 7000m). I just wanted to give a quick description of what it is like and also find out if anyone else has tried anything like this. First of all a mountain marathon is like a cross country or trail race since about 80% of it is off-road, but it also includes in this case a height difference of 1500m up and the same amount down (that's equivalent to running up and down Ben Nevis starting from sea level in Fort William. It is obviously also 42 km long. Since the tracks are in the mountain they are irregular to say the least and very often covered with stones, rocks etc. , they are also pretty damn steep.

The guy who won the race is the European 100km champion and capable of running a normal marathon in between 2.15 and 2.20, he also won the Passatore race (100km from Faenza to Florence across the Appenines) one month ago in less than 7 hours. This race took him 3.35.

Well I was pretty well trained and feeling good so (very optimistically) I was thinking of finishing in between 4.30 and 5 hours (my marathon PB is 3.29). Anyway I started slowly and the first 12 km went by quite well (1.10)(some uphill and downhill but nothing too strenuous). Then the serious uphill started and we were all walking where I was in the field. I thought that walking fast should be OK but by the time I got to the top (20km) I was shattered. Ran down the other side to a beautiful lake and the temptation to dive in (temperatures were rising well over 30°), back up another hill where hands were used nearly as much as feet. Over the top and down a ridge with a pencil thin path, later to become in quick succession, a stone filled gully, a leaf and root strewn forest path, a grassy slope with no real path and finally a stone covered double track road. This took us up to 25km. Across a beautiful grass plain strewn with curious sightseers and ball playing children before the next part of the ascent. My legs had turned to jelly and the next five kilometres were hell. I forgot to mention that I twisted my ankle during the last descent, drank too much water at one of the water stations (bless their hearts - without them we would have died)and was beginning to have stomach cramps. On top of this the sun was beating down on my head with avengeance and I was getting worried about a possible sun stroke. I arrived at the next water station (30km)where a chair had been carefully placed next to the table - I sat down and decided that I had had enough since I knew that the next four kilometres were a steep ascent followed by eight kilometres of descent down to the finish. I had taken 4 hours up to this point and even if I could have managed it, would have taken at least another one and a half to arrive.

A mountain marathon isn't just more difficult than a marathon - it's infinitely more difficult and the possibilities of getting hurt are numerous. Having said that I can't wait till next year when I'll try it again and hope that this year's experience will help me to finish.


  • I can't imagine starting it once, let alone having another go.

    It sounds horrendous, you did well to get as far as you did.

  • Monkeyboy - I'm doin' the Jungfrau in September but might give it a miss after having read your account.
  • I don't know much about the Jungfrau marathon but I thought that it was mostly road or large paths and nearly all fairly gentle gradients. If so it will be much easier than the one I did, except for the fact that you'll probably be at a higher altitude.
  • Sounds like dropping out was a very wise move there fire-monkey. I'm such a big girls blouse that I won't have even started it. You did well to get to 30K in those conditions.
  • Jimmy, I just had a look at the site of the Jungfrau. The height difference is the same - about 1500 metres but all uphill and no downhill (easier on the legs). Over 50% of the course is on roads, 40% is on easy tracks and only 10% is on mountain tracks. So I'm figuring it won't be anything like as difficult and certainly less possibility of getting hurt.
  • Firemonkey,

    Well done for trying it is all I can say.

    A Polish friend wrote to tell me he ran a Mountain Marathon last month... only this was at night. I think the benefit of being cooler was canceled by the running in the dark factor.

    I will never say 'never', but think it pretty unlikely I will ever attempt one. good luck next year & much respect.

    Jimmy - good luck & much respect also

  • Well done for getting as far as you did!! I'd really like to do a mountain marathon one day!!
  • Hilly, with a name like that you have to do a mountain marathon - it's already written in the stars.

    rhb - running in the mountains in the dark must be a little worrying, especially downhill - too many possibilities of tripping. I guess they were using headlamps or maybe there was the moon. I go ski mountaineering sometimes on moonlit nights - it's really beautiful and visibility is great due to the reflection from the snow.
  • Firemonkey - I've not just taken my hat off to you, I've put it in a box and shut the lid! Well done for geting so far in what sounds like a scarily difficult course. I reckon that often it takes more guts to know when to quit than blindly to keep on going. Good on ya!
  • FAJ, you're right. It took me 5 kilometres to decide that it was time to stop, and I kept feeling as if I was chickening out. Even when I sat down I was tempted at least twice to get up and try to go on - especially when other runners passed by the station and encouraged me. Even worse was when I got back to the start/finish point (courtesy of one of the organisations cars) and saw everybody who had finished or who was still finishing with their medals and above all their evident satisfaction at having made it.
    Definitely going back to do it again next year.
  • FM,
    I think you should attempt it again. You did so well to get that far and it is good experience. Next time you will know what to expect and hopefully the weather will be cooler.
    I havent even run a 1/2M yet!
    I admire anyone who gives these ultra events a go.

  • What race did you do firemonkey?
  • It's called "Ecomaratona del Ventasso". In the Appenines of northern Italy. There was a sister event just one and a half months ago in the southern Appenines called "Ecomaratona dei Marsi". But it must have been easier because the winner (same guy) only took 3 hours to complete it instead of 3.35. I read the report and was basing my expected performance on that.
  • Go for it next year, Firemonkey! You'll get that medal yet.
  • yeah, but I might not be able to stand up under the weight of it, considering the condition I could be in.
  • You'll have plenty supporters to carry it for you. Or, maybe, you might be doing with a wee carry-along yourself!
  • I'll go for the carry-along. If I get the medal I might just decide to lie down and wait for them to carry me away.
  • FM,
    Respect anyway. The other problem, which I am sure you have thought of, is the altitude, obviously depending on what height you reached. Sounds like a goody though. Must say I would like to do the Himalayan 100, but knowing what 11k feet feels like, I am not so sure. Which peaks in Him have you done then?
  • This mountain was only 1700m at the top so no problem.

    I've been on Khan Tengri (7010m) in Khazakstan, Mustagh Ata (7500m) in China and Skilbrum (near K2/Pakistan)(7400m but we only reached about 7000 due to a dangerous snow ridge).
    I've also been on Huascaran, Nevado Pisco, Alpamayo, Huayna Potosi, Sajama, Illimani, Pico Schultz, Licancabur, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and Aconcagua in South America.

    What's the Himalayan 100? I haven't heard of that - sounds like fun.
  • firemonkey - are you the guy who has decided it's better to live in Italy than here in smouldery old UK? I dream madly about all things Italian (my parents met there in the war & married in Roma in July 1946 - are still together and loving life!) and also of challenges like that mountain marathon

    I have huge admiration for you - and for your courage to pull out - a trial in itself when you had gone so far

    I was going to ask where you hear about these events - but obviously you are in Italy so !! thanks for telling us all about it - I enjoy hilly marathons and have done the Dartmoor Discovery Ultra for the last 4 years (4,000 ft of climbs & descents - BUT none of it off road)

    the closest terrain I have done to a mountain marathon is the Cornish Coastal path, which descends into nearly every cove from here, Penzance, round to Lands End, so steep that steps are necessary - and hands used (I wear my cycling gloves!)
    Please keep us informed of your next challenge!!
  • FM,
    Himalaya 100 is a stage race, with one day being a full marathon. It is held at heights up to 11,000 ft, if you do a google search you should be able to find it, if not, and you are interested, e-mail me, and I am sure I can find the site address.

    Impressive peaks. I've done Kilimanjaro, and doing, I hope, Mont Blanc, in four weeks. I do fancy Aconcagua at some stage, and then maybe Cho Oyu
  • Hi Pashka, yes I decided to live in Italy - came here about 24 years ago. It's not perfect but I think it's a lot better than living in the UK. The Cornish Coastal path sounds interesting - must be great views.

    Thanks for the info on Himalaya 100 Pat, it sounds interesting - maybe some time in the future. I'll be in Chamonix in four weeks time too, but probably won't be doing any climbing on Mont Blanc as I'll be there with my family and one year old son. I've been up twice (both from the Italian side) once by the normal route and once by the Brenva Spur. I think you'll have a great time but may find it quite crowded since I imagine you'll be doing the French normal route from the Cosmiques and it gets a little over frequented in August. Anyway I hope you get to the top because it's a wonderfully satisfying experience.
    Aconcagua is quite straightforward and there is not even any snow or ice to talk about, but the winds and cold can be quite ferocious. Cho Oyu is a completely different kettle of fish - you're going to have to be extremely fit and extremely motivated. Good luck though.
  • Nice posts! I ran the Sierre-Zinal (in the Valais in Switzerland) many years ago and it was a brilliant experience. The advantage over other mountain races is that it is only 30K, although the climb is from 400-500m to a max of 2,400m, with the finish at 1,600m. But the shorter distance makes this a realistic option, rather than killing oneself over the traditional 42K in the mountains. I think the Swiss refer to this as the 'Queen of the mountain races'.

    Btw, any reasonably fit road runner who has trained for a marathon can do this sort of run!
  • Oh! these foreign runs sound great-one day!!
  • Hey Guzzle when is the Sierre -Zinal race held. It sounds really great and could be the sort of thing that interests me.

    Hilly - one of the great things about southern Europe is that there are races nearly all year round and nearly always in decent weather. Last year I ran a marathon on 15th Dec. and apart from a little nip in the air it was great.
  • Firemonkey

    This year's race is on the 10th August. See the following web site, I couldn't get the English translation to work, but it says that you have till the 25th July to register. Really worth the effort. If you really want to make a week of it, get to the Valais in time for the 16K Thyon to Dixence on the 3rd August. This race starts at 2,100 and finishes at the great dam of Dixence at 2,400. Many Sierre Zinal runners run this as part of their prep for the big day. The web page is You can enter the T-D on the day (well, I saw people entering on the day in 1996!). I see you live in Parma, so this means you can drive there realtively quickly (er 5/6 hours?).

    As a result of this post I've discussed the run with a few of my North Downs Nomad colleagues and we are now planning to do this race next year, followed by a week in Italy, possibly Perugia. Mind you, we've discussed loads of holiday runs like this before - so I'm not holding my breath!
  • WombleWomble ✭✭✭
    I'm going to do the Himalaya 100 mile stage race next year. I have to keep telling people so that I'll not chicken out.

    "The Event
    The race takes place over 5 days in manageable chunks between the altitudes of 6,500ft and 11,800ft and on rough tracks with some long and difficult climbs, but essentially if you have a reasonable running background and could manage a marathon you will do fine. "

    The daily stages:
    Stage 1 - 24 miles to Sandakphu.
    Stage 2 - 20 miles with views of Everest
    Stage 3 - 26 miles with views of Everest & Kanchenjunga
    Stage 4 - 13 miles on rural roads
    Stage 5 - 17 miles

    There are no time limits on any stage, and all distances are approximate - due to the terrain covered - in most cases the actual distance will be (or seem) a little longer than those indicated.

    ...must start training. Any ideas anyone?
  • Womble,
    Excellent. Very jealous.

    FM, Cho Oyo, yeah, more a pipe dream at the moment, but I would like to go to my grave, many years later having done an 8000m
  • Guzzle - thanks for the info. Don't think I'll be able to make this race though, as will be in Chamonix for most of August. Interesting thoughts for next year though.
    Why Perugia? Strange place for a holiday in August.

    Womble - good on you. Training should be lots of hill work - sustained uphill for numerous kilometres and interval sessions. One piece of advice - use trail shoes rather than normal runnig shoes, thy're heavier but give much more support. Be careful of the downhill bits on tracks, I just got a nasty sprain (with hairline fracture) on Saturday running downhill in a training session. Fifteen days of bandaging to look forward to.

    Pat. Sorry, don't agree with you about the 8000m. The height is just a convention due to the way we measure. If they had decided that metres were slightly longer there might not be any 8000m mountains, if they had decided slighty shorter there would be many tens instead of only 14. There are so many beautiful mountains to be climbed that the criteria should be the beauty of the mountain and the surroundings, not the height. One other thing - my experience of base camps of 8000m mountains (K2 and Broad Peak in Baltoro) is that they are very dirty, full of rubbish etc. and close by you will find areas full of human excrement - pretty disgusting. There are just too many people staying, visiting or working in these base camps. Much better to choose a slightly smaller mountain with far fewer people.
    At the same time I understand the lure of the magic 8000 figure so if you decide to go - good luck.
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