Highlander Mountain Marathon, Scotland

, February 26, 2012

UPDATE: Race now discontinued – The Scotsman article

This report is posted on behalf of Lawrence Friell who with his partner Charlie Sproson won the Score Class at the Highlander Mountain Marathon 2012. It provides not only an insight into what it is like to run a mountain marathon at a competitive level, but Lawrence also tells us why he loves this classic event and he appeals to other outdoor enthusiasts to save it from disappearing off the Scottish race calendar:

For those unfamiliar with mountain marathons, they are generally held over two days and run in pairs. The marathon reference comes from the original mountain marathon, known as the KIMM (Karrimor International Mountain Marathon, first held in 1968), whose Elite class navigate a course that is of marathon distance on both days. The key difference from the Olympian version is that it’s generally off-road and involves a significant amount of up and down. Did I mention that you also have to carry a tent for two, food for the two days and the ability to cook it as well as spare clothing between you? Organisers of these events however realise that not everyone is able or willing to compete over this extended distance, and so there are a series of classes to compete in. In reality the roughness of the terrain means that even the winners spend a lot of the time at a fast walk.

The Highlander is the first UK Mountain Marathon of the year with the LAMM (Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon), SLMM (Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon), Mourne, Rab and OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) following on. I’m sure what puts a lot of people off the Highlander is the timing, as it is early in the year with the inherent risk of snow and cold conditions, and its location, generally in the North West Highlands near Gairloch; this makes it the quietest race on the circuit. But don’t let this put you off: the Highlander is without doubt the best organised mountain marathon and provides the best value for money of all of them! Sadly, without increased competitors next year’s event could be the last. So if you love running and want to experience competition inScotland’s best wilderness terrain put the Highlander in the diary for April 2013.

So, why do I like it? Mountain marathons are real levellers. Winning these events takes a combination of fitness, stamina, navigation, organisation, determination, nutrition and equipment, and with every race you learn a bit more. You may get by without one of these factors in place, but without two you haven’t a hope. The Highlander’s added edge is the weather. In one of the first events there was significant snowfall, but since then the weather has been fairly benign; one year the temperature even hit 20°C on both days. This year we had Christmas card snowflakes, but these were only sufficient to give the hills a light dusting. With frost at the overnight camp … my lesson this year was that if you don’t want frozen socks in the morning, don’t leave them hanging on the outside of the tent!

The organisers always provide a marquee at the overnight camp in case the weather is abysmal, and make use of it irrespective of the weather by providing a hot meal from Red Poppy Catering, a well-stocked bar and a ceilidh led by a live band. This makes it a real social event in comparison to other mountain marathons, where you can find yourself festering inside your tent with your running partner for upwards of 12 hours, hiding from the rain and the midges. And last but not least, this is a midge free event, and not many can say that!