Top 10 Tips for Mountain Marathon Training

Competitors out on the hills

Less than one month to go until this year’s Mourne Mountain Marathon and we hope your training is well underway! If not, there’s still three weekends left to get race ready.

If you are reading this and wondering what a Mountain Marathon is, well it’s not your average 26 mile marathon. Here’s a quick summary before we get started:

“Mountain marathons are an extended form of fell running, usually over two days and often with a strong orienteering element. Competitors usually participate in teams of two and have to carry their own food and tent for the overnight campsite. There are various classes of event catering for all abilities from hill walkers to elite runners.”

Visit our website for more info and to enter our event.

Competitors out on the hills

Here are our top 10 training tips for two day Mountain Marathons. Hopefully there’ll be some insights (or reminders), whether you are a first timer or a seasoned regular, which you can apply when out on the hills. Enjoy and have fun!

1. Nail Your Navigation Skills

Mountain marathons are not just for mountain goats or ultra-runners. Anyone who is out in the hills regularly (walking or running), is reasonably fit, but crucially, has good navigation skills can do one.

Practise navigating. A good way to do this, is to take part in some low key orienteering events. Make sure you can use a map and compass, identify points on a map using grid references and know what a re-entrant is – these are very popular as control features with course planners – especially ours!! More tips for navigating can be found on our website.

2. Train with your partner

The Mourne Mountain Marathon is a competitive event for teams of two, so train with your partner on similar terrain to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. At the very least this should be one day out in the hills navigating between points.

Mountain marathons are mentally as well as physically demanding. It’s advantageous to work out your racing strategies in terms of communication, who carries what kit, navigation, speed, what to eat etc. before the event. Make sure you both have similar aims, whether it is just finishing the event, getting in the top half of your class or winning.

3. Get out on similar terrain

Get out in the hills, off the paths and get your legs used to rough tracks and the really rough stuff, like bogs, rocks and deep heather. Practise using route cards from previous years, which can be found in the Results archive on our website. Train using the XT25 Mourne Harveys Map and include lots of ascents and descents.

Always keep an eye on your navigation and make time for it. Silly mistakes will cost you time, places and lots of frustration. Remember to keep an eye on the weather as navigating before the mist comes down, is so much easier!

4. Use the kit you will use at the event

When training use the kit you will use at the actual event. The number one piece of equipment our competitors say to get right, is socks and shoes. Choose a really good pair of socks to avoid your feet being covered in blisters! Make sure your shoes are ‘run in’ and test clothing over long days in the hills to ensure seams don’t rub against your skin.

It may seem obvious but practise putting your tent up and taking it down, in wet and dry conditions. After a long day on the hills, is not the time to find out how to pitch your new tent.

5. Food

Food is a very personal thing. Always make sure you eat regularly (at least every 5 kms) and before you feel hungry, as it is too late then. Choose high density food such as energy bars, nuts, Kendal mint cake and ones with low water content, to avoid adding extra weight to your rucksack.

Bring a good amount of food for the evening as it will get you through the night and day 2. Many competitors bring dehydrated meals available from good outdoor shops. During your training runs, work out what food is good for you and when.


6. Water

The Mourne Mountain Marathon is physically demanding so you’ll need to drink lots of water throughout the race, especially if it is warm and / or sunny. Some people bring a plastic cup that hooks onto their rucksack for drinking out of streams. Others bring water bottles which they fill from streams and drink on the hill.

Mourne stream water is commonly drunk directly, but the quality is very dependent on location and weather. We recommend that you carry water or appropriate purification equipment. Don’t carry too much water as it will add to the weight of your rucksack.

7. Do things on the move

If you are new to mountain marathons you may need extra time to plan, navigate and catch your breath. However, the majority of contenders, will be doing everything on the move.

It’s surprising the amount of time that is lost through stopping to plan, look at the scenery, eat or just faff. You’ll know your own limits and preferences; some people prefer to stop, plan their route to the next check point, take a breather and then head on.

8. Practise with a rucksack

When out training, carry a rucksack of a similar weight to the one you will be using in the event and practise running up and down hills with it on. It’s amazing how a rucksack can set you off balance and you don’t want to spend the first hour, or indeed, day, adjusting to running or walking with a heavy pack.

Don’t take too much kit and buy the lightest equipment you can afford or borrow i.e. tents and sleeping bags. Work out what you can do without. Do you really need to bring the pole bag for your walking poles?

9. Chafing

Chafing or rubbing of clothing or a rucksack against your skin, can turn a great weekend into a painful one! As per tip 4 always train in the kit you are going to use in the event and carry a small tin of Vaseline or other lubricant to prevent rubbing.

You can always transfer the Vaseline into a small pot to reduce weight.

10. Keep a sense of humour

You are going to be spending at least 36 hours in very close proximity to your partner, so keeping a sense of humour and not taking it too seriously will help you get through it. This is especially important if your partner is your wife / husband / boyfriend / girlfriend!

Look after each other. Check how your partner is feeling. Encourage them to eat and drink. Take a few seconds to admire the spectacular scenery and remind yourself how lucky you are to be enjoying it. And above all have fun – see you on the 11th & 12th September!