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Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team

Mountain Marathon Tips and Advice

By Alpkit
03, Jun, 2019

With less than a month to go until the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon, we ask our Alpkit runners for some top tips and advice

The Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (SLMM), (6th/7th July, Entries now full on Harter Fell, Wansfell and Fairfield but still entries available on longer line courses)

This year is the 41st Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon and Alpkit are supporting sponsors with some great prizes on offer in each category and we'll be there at the event all weeked 

We have Alpkiteers Nikki Spinks and her husband taking on the weekend as well as regular mountain marathoner Dave from our buying team returning once more, not to forget our under 25 competition winners; Ben and Louis. 

We've been following the Lakeland Mountain Marathon for years… The atmosphere is relaxed (with optional beers and milk at overnight camp); there are 8 different courses for first-timers, the elite, and everyone in between; and it’s summertime in the Lakes, so (hopefully) no freezing at overnight camp! 

SLMM is also one of the classic two-day mountain navigation events: the first day finishes at a mid-way campsite and runners must carry everything they need to be safe and self-sufficient for the event. This takes a fair amount of planning…

To save you the stressing bit, we've collated some tips and advice from our experiences at Mountain Marathon events. 

1. Nail the packing

Step 1, source the essentials: Saunders specify a mandatory kit list for all participants in the race, so the step 1 is to write that kit list down, tick what you have and source what you don’t. 

The Alpkit website wizards have brought together all the mountain marathon kit into one place for you (Take a look at our mountain marathon kit here)

We’ll also be adding some non-mandatory essentials to the kit list, such dry bags; essential for making sure your spare clothes are kept dry, especially on the first day. 

Step 2, put your kit in a bag: use a bit of trial and error to work out what size bag you need, even if it means taking all your kit to your local outdoor shop and seeing what bag you can fit it into. (When you’re looking at bags, make sure you think about fit too). Next, work out the most efficient and comfortable way to pack it – what will you need whilst you’re running and what won’t you need until camp? You don’t want to be packing and repacking your bag all day on the hill, so a bit of practice before hand can really save you some time.  Our team have had success using the Presta pack but the Gourdon has also featured as an MM pack in recent years - best to find one that suits you (and that swallows all your kit) - Alpkit Packs

Step 3, test it out!: Rule #1 of racing in a backpack is never race in a new backpack. Get out for some local runs with full kit on your backs to iron out any issues before race day. It's also worth testing out any new kit and checking your older gear to make sure everything's there and that it works!  (stoves, tents etc).

2. Plan your meals

You have to be self-sufficient at all Mountain Marathons and the Saunders is no different; this means carrying all the food you need for both days and the mid-way camp. If there’s something you really don’t want to get wrong, it’s fuel! Food needs to be nutritious, portable and capable of surviving a weekend stuffed in your pack against a hot and sweaty back... 

No matter what fancy food we've got, we always just end up eating loads of sweets...

With food it's all about finding what suits you so there are no hard and fast rules but having a good breakfast and then eating little and often through the day is usually a good plan, followed by a decent evening meal. Choose food that is light in weight but not in calories... 

What to eat?
  • Breakfast: if you don’t want to be eating too much out on the hill breakfast needs to be fairly substantial, giving lots of slow release energy. Something like porridge with raisins or muesli will do the trick and is easily carried in a freezer bag, tea/coffee/hot chocolate may be a luxury for some but can give a welcome morale (and caffeine) boost.

  • On the hill: day food needs to be easy to digest, high energy, and easy to eat on the go; its good to get a mix of sweet and savoury, so you dont get too fed up of one or the other, things  like dried fruit, nuts, biscuits, cheese and jelly energy bars…

  • At camp: a stove and gas are mandatory for Saunders (no saving weight there!) so you can look forward to hot food on the Saturday evening. Dehydrated meals like Extreme foods and Firepot meals do an excellent selection of high energy mains meals (including veggie meals) that taste pretty good. The overnight camp is an opportunity to eat as much as possible before day 2, so the only limit is how much you can carry... the bonus being that the more you eat, the lighter you pack gets... 

  • Remember that eating your emergency food (minimum 150 kcal) before the end results in a DNF, so having some ‘untouchable’ snacks is worthwhile! (we suggest wrapping them up and keeping them seperate so you dont munch them by accident in a late night calorie frenzy).

How much to take?

Everyone’s metabolism is different, so you’ll be hard pressed to find a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. If you're a first timer its best to err on the side of caution and take more food than you think you need. As you do more events you learn what does and doesn't work and can adapt for future events - on this point its worth recording what you pack and take (along with weights, and what you thought of them, likes and dislikes etc).

Try it out ahead of time

Race day nerves, a new routine, or running all day can have a bit of an effect on your digestion,so get out and test your running snacks on the trail to make sure you can stomach them whilst running! Same goes for drinks and drinking - work out what does and doesnt work for you.

3. Run a bit!

It seems obvious but you really should do some running… mountain marathons definitely require a different kind of training to shorter fell and trail races, so training needs to reflect this.

  • Long slow miles: runs may need to be increasingly long and slow in the build-up to Saunders - less gunning for quick times and more aiming to be out for as long as possible - over time you should be able to get quicker over distance but get used to pacing yourself. Walking the steeper ups and running the flats and downs is often a good idea.

  • ‘Discomfort’: at some point along the way,  getting used to running in adverse conditions can be excellent preparation for Saunders. If you're due to go and train and its raining - go anyway! Sort the right kit and go and look for some less comfortable conditions, from gale-force winds and icy meltwater on a nocturnal run to midge-infested foggy humid evenings in May, its all good practice for any Mountain Marathon.

  • Wearing a backpack: get your backpacks on for even the most local runs, get used to running with something on your back. Don't just start with the full kit though, build up the weight in the packs throughout your training. Then try a few training runs wth full kit just so you know how it might feel on the day.  

4. Know your navigation

This can be the fun bit! If you've never done any navigation before then MM veteran Dave’s ‘Know your nav’ spotlight is useful for some pointers and inspiration, if you're a complete novice maybe think about booking a course or approach a local running who may be willing to help. 

Once you have the basics its good to get out and test your knowledge on unknown ground, start small and get bigger. Picking out ‘checkpoints’ on the map and navigating between them as quickly as possible is a good way to get ready for what you may encounter in a mountain marathon. 

So that you can spend more time moving and less time staring at the map, it's good to develop techniques to remember routes, tick off features, measure distances - get your memory working a bit harder and remember larger chunks of the routes at a time.

A bit of navigation practice out on Derwent Edge

So that's it, now go find that kit list and get cracking... 

Happy preparing, feel free to let us know some training tips of your own (we sure could do with them!). We’ll see you at Saunders!


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