At just 4ft 11 and a UK size 6, Megan may not look like your typical mountain runner, but don’t be fooled! She’s tackled thousands of metres of ascent, covered endless peaks and self-navigated her way through many a cloud.
Falling in Love with Mountain Marathons – A Guest Post by Megan James
‘The Long Course 10 Peaks Challenge race in 2014 was my first taste of ultra marathon mountain running. I covered 55 miles, 10 mountains and 800 metres of ascent and ended up winning in a mixed pair!
Since then, I’ve climbed 4000 metre mountains, walked 100 miles in one go (twice!) and run nine long distance mountain ultras in awesome places like the Lake District, Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia National Park. But I’m not your typical ultra-runner. In fact I’m the opposite to what most people expect.
Firstly, I’m only 4 foot 11, a petite size 6 and female. Over the years, I’ve found I’ve been able to achieve more than many men twice my size and tackle distances I’d once have laughed off as pure madness!
So how did it all begin? Well, firstly, someone once told me I couldn’t do it, and I like a challenge. Secondly, I accidently fell in love with mountains. I went from my first 10-mile country walk in the Chilterns, which had me hobbling about for months afterwards, to conquering peaks on-the-run.
But it wasn’t an overnight transition. When I started walking long distances, I also started running and doing a bit of scrambling (essentially climbing on rocks without a rope) with my (now) husband.
Together we took beginner trips to Scotland, hanging off precipices for weeks in horrific weather! I often arrived back home bruised and a bag of nerves, but really excited too. Whilst enjoying my foray into the world of long walking and climbing, I began to train for my first road marathon. As my distances gradually built, along with the ascents, the Surrey hills turned into the UK’s highest peaks, and then the Alps!
‘I accidentally fell in love with mountains. To me they have a majesty that is addictive.’
The more I did, the more I became drawn to more remote and wild countryside . Whilst I find classic English villages beautiful, mountains to me have a majesty that I simply find addictive. I never intended to be a mountain marathon runner, but somehow, my hobbies simply crossed over as my confidence and passion grew.
I’m not a fast runner; on flat road courses I’m left behind, but I’ve worked out that on hills I can hold my own. The walking experience has given me an excellent base for powering up a hill for longer and faster than your average runner, and I can also navigate — so non-marked races work well for me and give me an advantage.
There’s something special about racing a night section over high Lakeland passes, a trail of light up ahead on the steep hillside and eerie quiet all around…
Sure, there are moments on a steep climb when I’ve found myself in 50mph winds, driving rain in my face and no shelter, or I’ve got lost in the clouds. In those moments, I think, “why am I doing this!” but it’s just thrilling topping out on a steep peak and then experiencing the joy of running down the other side. The thrill is even greater if you take the hard way up!
There’s a phrase that you conquer a mountain, I’m not sure that’s ever quite the case. There are days when a mountain may let me climb it with ease, but many when the mountain is fully in control — you can but bend to its forces (and make a hasty escape before things get dangerous). It’s not a game — you need your wits about you, good mountain skills and to know when to say “nope, not today” but that’s what makes it fun right?’
Megan’s Top tips for mountain marathon running
- Get yourself on a basic mountain navigation course, get comfortable with a map, compass and how to read your surroundings.
- Know the emergency numbers or how to get help if you need it.
- Check out what towns, village and escape routes there are for if the weather comes in or you just fancy and earlier post run pint!
- Think about what kit you need — I never head out without a foil blanket, whistle, head torch (even if you expect to be back before dark), first aid kit and extra layers.
- Invest in some good quality off-road shoes — look for ones that will cope with bog and touch rocky terrain and that drain water. GTX sounds good but they tend to hold more water than they keep out.
- Walking groups are a great way to get used to being in more remote areas without going it alone, or having to run. It’s all ‘time on your legs’, and getting used to the terrain
Megan’s Favourite Mountain Running / Walking Events
- Cliff Bar 10 Peaks — Awesome long and short course ultras in the Brecons and Lakes
- Might Contain Nuts — Great value 10k to ultra courses in the Brecon.
- Ultimate Trails — From good entry level Lakeland trail races to a massive 110k Lakes tour!
- LDWA Challenge events — Walking challenge events + the original 100 mile walking event. You need good nav skills as courses aren’t marked
- Always Aim High Snowdonia Trail Marathon — At 20 miles in it takes you all the way up Snowdon – your legs really know about it!