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Discussion: Mountain Marathon

in: Orienteering; General

Jun 14, 2019 8:58 PM # 
Why aren't Mountain Marathons popular in North America, similar to the UK...?

The closest thing I can find to them in North Americas is "the Stockville is a two-day foot and navigation event, inspired by the mountain marathons of Europe and the UK."

I'm going to cross post on the Adventure Racing side of Attackpoint because it's also related to adventure racing.
Jun 14, 2019 9:10 PM # 
As co-RD for the Stockville, happy to answer any questions about it!
Jun 14, 2019 9:30 PM # 
Pikes Peak in Colorado has a similar race; at least, it's a race up a very big mountain. You can do half (just the climb) or whole (up then back down). Marc Lauenstein (who logs on AP) ran that one about 5 years ago.
Jun 14, 2019 9:40 PM # 
Pikes Peak is a marathon on a mountain but not a mountain marathon.
Jun 14, 2019 10:09 PM # 
It's still an impressive feat.
Jun 14, 2019 11:56 PM # 
One could also ask, why aren't rogaines popular in the UK?

Around here, MMs held sway until to 90's and then we went almost entirely to rogaines. Seems to me they have quite similar physical and navigation demands, I would enjoy both.
Jun 15, 2019 2:43 AM # 
It's still an impressive feat.

I'd say they're impressive on their feet.
Jun 15, 2019 8:45 AM # 
The classic UK-style MM requires large areas of terrain above the treeline - something you won’t find too much of in the US outside Alaska.
Jun 15, 2019 10:27 AM # 
Hmm, maybe you haven't seen enough of the American West.
Jun 15, 2019 10:46 AM # 
Areas too dry (as opposed to too cold) to have trees would also work, sure.
Jun 15, 2019 12:27 PM # 
Hmmm I always thought that a countryside with a patchwork of unsuitable terrain (too steep, too green for passage, can you guess where I'm thinking?) would be better suited to MMs where courses could thread through the usable bits. As opposed to rogaines where really 360deg freedom to move is sought to avoid channelling.
Jun 16, 2019 1:55 AM # 
What are the main differences between mountain marathons and rogaines?
MM participants carry overnight gear and sleep between the end of day 1 and the start of 2 whereas rogaining have continuous clock time?
Jun 16, 2019 2:56 AM # 
Uncle JiM:
Line course v Score/scattered course
Jun 16, 2019 11:21 PM # 
Back to the Stockville -- great race through wild country of mid-Atlantic Pennsylvania. Not on big mountains, but lots of climb and bushwacking opportunities.
Jun 17, 2019 12:02 PM # 
A number of mountain marathon have score courses so above definition accurate
Jun 17, 2019 12:02 PM # 
I miss them
Jun 17, 2019 11:24 PM # 
This thread is timely for me, as I just started seriously exploring the idea of producing one or two mountain marathon races next year.

blairtrewin wrote: "The classic UK-style MM requires large areas of terrain above the treeline - something you won’t find too much of in the US outside Alaska."

I had not been viewing a lack of trees as a necessary component of the event format. Is it, or is this just incidental to the terrains where mountain marathons have been popular thus far?

My understanding is that the main ingredients are:

- It takes place over two days, with one long course on each day
- It is a team race requiring map and compass navigation to checkpoints. (Only for pairs, or are larger teams ever permitted?)
- Teams start somewhere on day 1 and end at a different location, where they camp using gear that they carried with them on the course
- On day 2, the second course takes teams back to the start/finish point

Am I missing any key ingredients?

What sort of people do mountain marathons in the UK? I know the events are/were large, so my assumption is that they're drawing from an audience that includes more than just people who do orienteering or rogaining.

I've never done one, but I've always thought it sounded like a fun event format, so I've been surprised that they're barely done in North America. I'd be interested to hear other people's perspectives on mountain marathons.
Jun 18, 2019 5:11 AM # 
We did two mountain marathons in Sweden and the U.K. In addition to racing in beautiful terrain, the social aspect was fun - hanging out at the campsite and chatting with other racers at all levels. I hear that some organizers add to the experience, e.g. offering music in a big tent. The only negative was the group trench toilet - ick.

One of our MMs finished on Day 2 at the same place we started on Day 1. We had 2-3 hours with the maps before the start of that one.

The other MM started with a bus ride that dropped us off at a remote start location so it was point to point over the two days. That time we were handed our maps after the clock started.
Jun 18, 2019 5:25 AM # 
Uncle JiM:
The MM I did in France, we were handed the Control location coordinates after the start. We had to run about 500 m up the hill/track and got them as we passed by
Jun 18, 2019 7:34 AM # 
Mountain Marathons in the UK:
Jun 18, 2019 11:43 AM # 
No reason not to do a MM in wooded terrain. In the UK there just are not woods that large but passing through some wooded terrain is common enough although not normally pleasant. The only thing to be aware of is that as a competitor I would like to know if the wood is passable or not. I think you need at least two levels of runability e.g. you can get though reasonably and don't go there.

As for the lack of rogaines in the UK probably tradition mainly but I would say land access permission would be harder as you need even more space for a 24 hour event than a 2 day MM.
Jun 18, 2019 10:55 PM # 
The Swedish BAMM is the one Bash did some years ago.
Jun 19, 2019 2:28 AM # 
As one of the RDs for the referenced Stockville, hosted in PA, I'll chime in both about our experiences with a European MM and our own version of it.

First off, I heard about the concept of Mountain Marathons from the TA 1 Podcast, and I was totally taken by the idea of it. Like many others, I was baffled as to why we don't have any and why I hadn't heard of it. Abiperk and I scrambled to add a similar event to our Rootstock Racing slate of events back in 2016 in PA's rugged state forest lands, and it has been a blast to run. Other than watching little kids running around in our two hour family Adventure Race, it might be my favorite race to direct every year.

We also flew over and competed in the last OMM Iceland. Unlike their traditional event (which has linear and score-O formats of multiple lengths and durations), OMM Iceland was ONLY a score-O. It really was an amazing race, honestly more for the landscape than for anything else, though the event was run quite well. It was a bit pricey, no real amenities (no swag, they did have amazing shirts, but you had to purchase for a fair bit more money), totally self-sufficient. Still, it was novel to us and amazing.

This said, we were struck by how "short" the event was. Mind you, we come from a primary background in Adventure Racing, and most events we compete in range from 24 hours to multi-day (we know that is by no means for everyone). OMM Iceland's two days were 5-6 hours in duration (might have been 6-7 hours, but still, we didn't know what to do with ourselves when we finished on day 1 in the middle of the afternoon; the rest of the competitors seemed really gassed and headed straight to their tents; we were just getting warmed up:)).

For our Stockville, we have the same general approach:
-Two days of racing
-Start at point A
-Race to point B, camp, and return with new maps and new controls on day 2. So far, we have also avoided overlapping land on Day 2 in any notable way
-Unlike the MMs where you are required to carry every ounce of gear, clothes, and food, we DO transport two items: tents and cooking gear. We still require racers to carry all other gear, food, and clothes, but we want to lighten the load and take a bit of emphasis off of weight pinching or pushing people to invest in absurdly expensive and delicate gear
-We map and design the course from an AR perspective: so we are using USGS quad maps with relatively little detail. Anyone who has done our Crooked Compass or any big adventure race knows that these maps are standard in adventure racing and add another level of nav challenge.
-We extend the race time, again a product of our adventure racing background and also more in line with a rogaine mindset. So, generally, we give racers up to 14 hours on day 1 and about 10 on day 2. Obviously, on Day 1, some if not all racers will get some night-time nav. We also extend the race as the terrain tends to be slow-going for significant chunks.
-We run our race in a modified rogaine format, meaning we have a mandatory, linear route with a handful of mandatory points. Many (but not all) mandatory points will be easy-intermediate level points with one or two adding an extra level of navigational or physical/bushwhacking challenge to mix it up a bit. This also serves as a "short course" for beginners or those less physically able to cover larger distances. We then add a bunch of optional checkpoints along the route that are almost all off-trail and which add much more navigational and physical challenge.
-Rankings are tallied first by total checkpoints and then by time. All CPs are worth one point. Any teams not completing the mandatory points are ranked behind any teams finding all of them.
-Course lengths vary year to year, but generally, "full course" teams can expect to cover 20-25 miles on Day 1 with 12-15 for the "short course" pending on where we are permitted to start and where mid-camp is located. Distances on Day 2 are, of course, shorter.
-We do try to make Mid-Camp a bit more of a haven than some MMs traditionally are, with a bit of comfort and a treat or two. Years during which the weather has permitted or when racers have come in well before the cutoff, we end up with a great social vibe for a while before people knock off. We try to set up fire-pits, and it's been a delight!

If anyone wants to give a MM-style event a go, or if you have done them and miss them, we welcome you to join Rootstock Racing for the Stockville!
Jun 19, 2019 1:16 PM # 
I think it's telling that more and more mountain marathons are doing score approaches to get Rogainers involved. The tradition in North America seems to be to just run steady through the night, rather than sprint during the day, and sleep during the night
Jun 19, 2019 2:59 PM # 
I did a small handful of MM when I lived in the UK and really liked them and miss having them here in the US. I liked the 'sprint' during the day, sleep at night. Although, I guess I haven't done a 24h rogaine, so maybe I can't say what I prefer.
Jun 19, 2019 3:09 PM # 
Never done a MM, have done a 24hr rogaine (or at least most of one...) and the MM format is a lot more appealing to me after that experience. I feel like they could be pretty popular in the US with the not-yet-orienteering crowd.
Jun 19, 2019 7:18 PM # 
If I were 30 or 40 years younger, I suspect that I might find MMs quite an interesting thing to try. Unfortunately with my current speed capabilities, the minimum distances for mandatory controls seem usually to be either at the outer edge of our capabilities, or often a bit beyond. A rogaine with start and finish at the same place and score formats gives an opportunity to adjust the attempted controls midrace to fit how one's speed has turned out to be given the actual terrain. I think the MM just doesn't fit people with fairly good endurance/persistence but not much speed as well as rogaines do, so for my own capabilities they are a format that just doesn't work.
Jun 19, 2019 9:14 PM # 
The MMs that I went in generally had a shorter course or two, for the elders and beginners at endurance events as I was at the time. And youngsters, the teenagers hoopla gave the overnight a fun buzz. So most plusses and minuses of the format can be adjusted. And of course the two formats can be combined, but I'd like an MM or two to come back to my neck of the woods.

I think its just dogged continuance that is holding sway.
Jun 20, 2019 4:48 AM # 
Eldersmith, check out the OMM score courses. I think you would have fun trying one.
Jun 20, 2019 10:57 AM # 
I'm not quite eldersmith's vintage, but I would prefer a MM to a rogaine any day - unfortunately we have no MMs in Oz, only rogaines.
Jun 20, 2019 2:36 PM # 
These days I prefer anything to a rogaine.
Jun 24, 2019 3:32 AM # 
I enjoyed reading the comments here, and they are good food for thought as my vision for next year's events takes shape.

Ifor wrote: "as a competitor I would like to know if the wood is passable or not."

I completely agree about this. Without vegetation passability information, the route choices can become a matter of luck. Fortunately, with lidar data becoming more widespread, this information is getting easier to provide to competitors (auto-generated from the point cloud, e.g., by Karttapullautin.)

gruver wrote: "The MMs that I went in generally had a shorter course or two, for the elders and beginners at endurance events as I was at the time."

I plan to offer a long course, a short course, and a beginner course. I plan to emphasize route choice, with more direct and navigationally demanding routes, as well as longer and easier routes. I sill expect that some people will find that the courses are too easy navigationally, but I am trying to position this event to appeal to trail runners and backcountry hikers, also, so I don't want to overemphasize the navigation element.

broots wrote: "Unlike the MMs where you are required to carry every ounce of gear, clothes, and food, we DO transport two items: tents and cooking gear. We still require racers to carry all other gear, food, and clothes, but we want to lighten the load and take a bit of emphasis off of weight pinching or pushing people to invest in absurdly expensive and delicate gear"

I've been leaning more and more toward doing the same, for the same reasons, although total gear self-sufficiency also appeals to me, and I wonder how many this would be a draw for. But I am quite sure that many people would appreciate having their tent and cooking gear transported.

I am unsure whether I will have any optional checkpoints. I'm strongly leaning toward having only a point-to-point format with relatively few checkpoints, because this is simpler to understand and requires the least map analysis. I'd like to avoid a situation where one team is ahead of another for most of the race then finishes behind them because they attempted an optional checkpoint that they misjudged the difficulty of; that seems like a potential turn-off.

I plan to offer a map study period before the start.
Jun 24, 2019 11:53 AM # 
Hey Eric, One option is to do what is done with the Canadian Ski Marathon. A two day 80km/day ski tour that has several categories. (Day 2 starts where day 1 ends)

Bronze - complete the course
Silver - complete course with a pack
Gold - complete course with a pack and camp overnight
Jun 24, 2019 1:25 PM # 
ebone, to your point of self-sufficiency, one of the primary reasons we elected to carry tents and stoves was because during our first year of the Stockville (and in each subsequent edition), we've had groups of students come out for the event - from West Point and Penn State, and also a small group of scouts. Since they are sleeping in communal tents and cooking with communal stoves, it wasn't feasible for them to carry those items, and we wanted to ensure that the gear requirements didn't make it prohibitive for them to do the event.
Jun 24, 2019 3:09 PM # 
I really like the optional checkpoints. That way you can meet up with slower teams along the way you would normally never see until the finish. Also gamesmanship comes into play as to whether you’ve skipped any controls or not. The optional points are more challenging and make it interesting for experienced navigators. Route choice becomes sophisticated as you decide to pick up that extra control.
Jun 24, 2019 7:17 PM # 
@bash, my difficulty with going with the shorter courses is that they also typically have shorter time limits. If one doesn't go very fast, it isn't a lot more fun to miss making a time cut-off on a 4-hour race than on a 24-hour race. I basically do a shorter course at about the same pace that I do a 24-hour race, while the organizers seem typically to assume that the shorter the race, the faster average pace is to be expected. In a rogaine, someone that is only going 40% of the speed of the winning team can still go out and have an enjoyable "race" for the entire 24 hours. I think it is the same mindset on the part of organizers that won't let me run in the blue course at a US A-meet if I take over 3 hours to finish, even though I would certainly get back before the courses were closed down for the day if they would just let me go out as the first runner on the course, and maybe not get back for 3.5 or 4 hours. Since I'm not good enough to be particularly competitive in my age group anyway, I'm more likely to run on a red course (the longest I'm likely to finish under 3 hours if the organizers haven't misjudged how long/hard the course is and mess up the winning time estimate) than the brown because longer time duration just gives me more enjoyment. Rogaines allow that generally, but on a longer time scale.
Jun 24, 2019 8:03 PM # 
even though I would certainly get back before the courses were closed down for the day if they would just let me go out as the first runner on the course

As an organizer, it has long been my policy to allow and encourage this.
Jun 24, 2019 9:41 PM # 
Thanks, JJ! There are certainly a number of organizers that do, and unfortunately a fair number that refuse the request. But maybe I should be asking more frequently again, since I had more or less given up on it a few years ago after several consecutive no's.
Jun 24, 2019 9:57 PM # 
@Eric, if the start window plus allowed time (10:00-12:00, for example plus two hour window for a Middle) would be enough for you to complete a Blue course, just ask for the first available start time when you register, and accept the OVT in results as long as you're back by course closing time (2:00 pm in the example) and they don't need to initiate a search. I don't understand why a club wouldn't allow that.
Jun 25, 2019 1:19 AM # 
This is a sidetrack from this thread, but the whole idea of OVT as a result is counterproductive, it has the opposite of the desired effect. But after trying to argue for a change a couple of times, I gave up on it as one of the common sense ideas I've had that people are clearly unwilling to listen to.
Jun 25, 2019 2:46 AM # 
ebone, looking back at this thread in more depth...your question about the audience for MM. Speaking from our research, our meeting people in Iceland at OMM Iceland, and our experience competing in three expedition races in the UK and Ireland: the audience is obviously diverse, BUT, orienteering and fell running are the two big draws, I think, and orienteering (as I'm sure you know) is so much bigger over there...and we don't really have fell running... I just think they have a much bigger pool of people who are drawn to an event with long, relatively fast navigation and travel.

Out of curiosity, where do you direct events? I'd be keen to do an MM here in the states myself. As we noted, our event is a bit more Adventure Race than orienteering in regards to course design and mapping. I imagine you would come at it from the orienteering side of things. Either way, I am keen myself, but it would be great to see more events inspired by the MMs here in North America!

Finally, building on abiperk's comments: bottom line is we want more people to come out for ANY event involving maps, thinking, and adventure. Compared to Europe, our population is so adverse to more adventurous events, and a lot of people are starting from scratch. So, we want to make things as accessible to anyone interested in giving it a go as possible. Also our logic for a modified rogaine format where all are doing a minimum course to be ranked officially, but from there it is each team's strategy and ability that dictates what they do. And as someone noted earlier, just to be clear, all have the same time allotment. We don't do a "short course" in regards to time.
Jun 25, 2019 5:04 AM # 
There are certainly a number of organizers that do, and unfortunately a fair number that refuse the request. 

We allow you to do whatever course you want in West Aus though we do *encourage* beginners to start with easier courses.
Jun 25, 2019 12:56 PM # 
Eldersmith beat me to explaining my problem with "shorter" courses.
Our club has a series of "raids". Two or three person teams. Originally these were a 25 km point to point race with maybe a 3 hour winning time. Many of us took much longer. Very popular but some people wanted a shorter course so we added a half-raid. Also very popular. When I could no longer move fast enough to do the 25 km within the allotted time, I moved to the half-raid. That would have worked out well except there has been a movement to reduce the time allotted to one that requires a similar speed to that of the long course. That doesn't work for an old guy. (Things have worked out for us because the organizers have been kind enough to allow a bending of the rules.)
As I aged, I tended to prefer longer courses rather than shorter courses. I guess that it is because I still wanted to do long navigation legs even if I had to do them at a walk.
I certainly don't want race organizers to design courses for the few really old geezers that might show up. Just want to say thank you to those people who, like Eldersmith, organize long "races" that can be done at walking speed.
Maybe we should have another discussion about navigation races for the elderly. :-)
Jun 27, 2019 3:13 AM # 
@Eldersmith, I think you’d be pleasantly surprised with the time limits for many MMs, as long as you choose a reasonable course. For example, the Linear B course at the OMM link above is approximately 45km over two days with 2000m ascent with a winning time of 8 hours total over the weekend. Teams are given 12 hours on Day 1 and roughly 9.5 hours on the shorter Day 2 course.
Jun 27, 2019 6:06 PM # 
@Bash, actually that is an example of a course which I would consider to be just at or slightly above the speed that Mary and I could manage. On a medium hilly course such as that one, our typical distance for a 24-hour rogaine nowadays, carrying just our rogaine packs and no camping equipment, would be 60-70K actual distance (as opposed to straight line), without the intermediate time limits. It just doesn't give a whole lot of room for error. And the concept of having the minimal route on a course being less navigationally challenging than the optional controls, as is often done, actually makes the event a lot less attractive for me. I think the MM format could indeed have been pretty interesting to me 30 years ago when we were a bit faster, but when I was 45 I could run a marathon at a faster average pace (by a factor of 1.5) than I can now manage for a mile. Walking hasn't slowed down as much as running, but to get a feeling of actually covering a significant distance, longer courses are a lot more fun. I get more fun out of a course format with start and finish at the same place, and an ability to adjust route length during the race to match how my speed actually matches the terrain, and not having to worry for the last half of the race whether there are going to be search parties out looking for me because I misjudged my capabilities at the start and picked too long a course.
Jun 28, 2019 1:56 AM # 
ebone, where are you considering offering the event?
Jun 28, 2019 2:38 AM # 
@Eldersmith, OMM is just one MM and it's not the easiest. If you're at all curious about the format, you could check out the distances and time limits at other events. You know your pace very well. And if you're not curious, that's totally fine too! :) I love rogaines and I think it's a fun twist. And there just aren't enough rogaines.

Getting a full night of sleep and a couple of real meals helped us go faster on Day 2 than we would have gone in a continuous event, and our feet were very happy with the break.

Btw the Linear format at the Euro MMs doesn't have any optional controls so if you finish the course, you get the same navigational challenge as the winners. The last MM we did had 5 linear courses and one Score-O course. 'Bent was waiting for his knee surgery so we just walked and did the middle linear course of the five available - about 45 km over two days.
Jun 28, 2019 3:22 AM # 
Pink Socks:
Ebone's proposed events will be in central Washington state.
Jun 28, 2019 6:06 AM # 
Somewhat unrelated but Geoquest in Aus (an adventure race) offers full and half courses (the half typically being a little over half the distance of the full) and competitors of both get the full 48hrs to complete the course. I think we took 51hrs the first time I did it though!
Jun 28, 2019 8:34 PM # 
@Bash Well, we actually did do one race of this general character in 2013 (Vladimir Gusiatnikov put it on in Henry Coe State Park in California) and it was indeed a lot of fun. But it was set up in a completely score configuration on both the first 20-hour day(midnight start, be at the intermediate camp by 8pm), and on the second 12 hour day (start at 4am, be back by noon), with the second map being issued at the remote camp. And there was transport for a limited but very adequate amount of camping gear to the remote camp. And the shortest route to the remote camp was short enough so that it was actually pretty clear that we could get there within the time limit. I think we covered about 48K the first day and 28K the second day, visiting about half the controls on day 1 and most of the controls on day 2 (part of originally intended controls for day 2 didn't get put out because of vehicle problems, so course was shortened with advance notice of which controls had been cut out at the overnight stop. It was very nice, and I have been keeping my eyes open for something of that sort which would fit our abilities by giving reasonable time spans, but not pushing things too severely on our just being barely able to complete a shortest possible route track. Twenty-five years ago we spent a year in England and would have liked to try a couple of MM's at that time, but we didn't learn about the availability of such events before entries has already sold out several months in advance of the ones we did learn of.
Jun 29, 2019 1:44 AM # 
4am to noon is 12 hours?
Jun 29, 2019 10:54 PM # 
oops. 4pm, not noon!
Jun 30, 2019 11:40 AM # 
You might want to check〈=en, the first race of this kind was held in 1976, formerly known as 'Karrimor Mountain Marathon' (an import from UK). I've done a few, always great adventure.
Jul 1, 2019 1:07 AM # 

This discussion thread is closed.