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Spotlight - equipment views and reviews from the AK team

How to Prepare for a Mountain Marathon

By Hati Whiteley
08, Jun, 2018

With less than a month to go until the Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon, Dom and Hati share their tips for being super prepared on race day

© Alpkit

When AlpFactory Supervisor Dom and I got our less than-a-month-to-go email from the team at Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon (SLMM), our initial response was along the lines of “AAAHHHHHHHHHH! We’re so unprepared, there’s so much to do and so little time to do it all!”

This year is the 40th Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon and Alpkit are supporting sponsors. 8 members of the Alpkit staff team and 2 honoury AK team members are heading up to the Lake District on the 30th June to navigate and run our way around the Lake District fells for the weekend. 

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! Factory supervisor Dom and I have never done a mountain marathon before, so this felt like the perfect initiation. 

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…

 

Fortunately, one of us (Dom) had the sense to break the whole thing down into manageable chunks, which made the whole process seem a lot less overwhelming. To save you the stressing bit, here’s our plan of action for preparing for a mountain marathon…

 

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 (we'll be spending a lot of time browsing the pages of Alpkit.com)… 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. 

The AK website wizards have brought together all the mountain marathon kit into a nice cluster for us, nice one team! (Take a look at our mountain marathon kit here)

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.

Step 3, test it out!: Rule #1 of racing in a backpack is never race in a new backpack. We’ll be heading out for some local runs with all our kit on our 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 (stoves, tents etc).

 

close up of trail shoes being put on next to Gourdon rucksacks
2 women putting up a tent at the mid-way camp at the saunders mountain marathon

Georgia and Lucy take their gear for a not-so-dry run

 

2. Plan your meals

You have to be self-sufficient at Saunders; 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! Our food needs to be nutritious, portable and durable (you don’t want to be eating smooshed up food on day 2).

 

Close up of cookware, stoves and snacks strewn on the floor

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

 

We’ve still got a few decisions left to make…

What to eat?
  • Breakfast: we don’t want to be eating too much out on the hill so breakfast needs to be substantial, giving us lots of slow release energy. Something like porridge with raisins or muesli will do the trick and is easily carried in a freezer bag. 

  • On the hill: day food needs to be easy to digest, high energy, and easy to eat on the go; we also want a mix of sweet and savoury. At the moment our day food is looking 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 we’ll be enjoying some hot dehydrated food on the Saturday evening. Extreme foods do an excellent selection of high energy mains meals (including veggie meals) taste pretty good. We’re seeing camp as an opportunity to eat as much as possible, so there will probably be more chocolate biscuits too…

  • Remember that eating your emergency food (minimum 150 kcal) before the end results in a DNF, so having some ‘untouchable’ snacks is worthwhile! (We’ll be eating ours as a victory meal on the way home).

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. As mountain marathon first-timers, we’ll be erring on the side of caution and taking more food than we think we need. That way, we’ll be able to reflect and refine for the next one!

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. Throughout June we’ll be testing out our running snacks on the trail to make sure we can stomach them whilst running!

 

 

3. Run a bit!

Don’t worry, we’re not that underprepared… but mountain marathons definitely require a different kind of training to the trail races we’re used to…

  • Long slow miles: our runs have become 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.

  • ‘Discomfort’: at some point along the way, we decided that getting used to running in adverse conditions would be excellent preparation for Saunders. Since then, we’ve successfully sought out some of the Peak District’s least comfortable conditions, from gale-force winds and icy meltwater on a nocturnal run up Lockerbrook or the more recent midge-infested foggy humid evenings on Win Hill.

  • Wearing a backpack: we’ve been donning our backpacks for even the most local runs to get used to running with something on our backs. You can’t just start with the full kit though, so we’ll be building up the weight in our packs throughout this month before practicing with our full packs before the event.

 

A man running across snowy fells
A woman running across snowy fells and looking back at the camera

The Dark and White peak trail series always serves as a fun way to train

 

4. Know your navigation

This is the fun bit! Our first port of call was to read MM veteran Buyer Dave’s ‘Know your nav’ spotlight for some pointers and inspiration and booking onto the SofA Navigation skills session on the 17th June at the Hathersage store.

In the meantime, we’ll getting out for some big days on unknown hills, picking out ‘checkpoints’ on the map and navigating between them as quickly as possible.

So that we can spend more time moving and less time staring at the map, we’ll be forcing our memories to work a bit harder and remember larger chunks of our routes at a time.

 

Camera angled over a man's shoulder, looking down at the map and compass that he is using
A man looking at a compass with the fell in the background

A bit of navigation practice out on Derwent Edge

 

So that's the grand plan! Now where’s that kit list got to?

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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