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.