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Mourne Mountain Marathon

Now that we're well and truly in Mountain Marathon season, we spoke to Kerry Hall, Social Media & Communications Officer at Mourne Mountain Marathon, to find out more about the event and how it all started back in 1979.

Not your average 26-mile marathon!
The Mourne Mountain Marathon is a 2-day endurance and navigation event held every third weekend of September in the Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland. It's a competitive event for teams of two, who can enter one of four categories, covering between 35km and 55km over two days on rugged mountain terrain.

Competitors can either run or walk the race, but must have a good level of fitness and experience of navigating in the mountains. Teams must make their way to the overnight campsite carrying all of their gear, to be self-sufficient for the duration of the race. At the start of each day, teams are presented with a route card listing a number of control markers which are identified by six figure map references.

Teams must visit each control in the prescribed order, but may choose their own route between each marker. It is very similar to orienteering and each control is identified by an orange and white flag on a stake. The top class is called the Elite class, which attracts fast mountain runners and has a longer distance and vertical ascent. The B, C and D classes attract runners and hill walkers of different abilities. An average day on the hill ranges from 4 -9 hours.

There is also a one-day score class. Teams have to collect as many controls as possible, in whatever order they think best, within a 6-hour time limit. Each control is worth a certain number of points and if you go over the 6 hour limit you start to lose points.

Overnight Campsite
Another feature of the event is the overnight campsite, a destination for competitors to navigate towards where they can rest for the evening. On day one, teams must navigate to the campsite, which is not revealed until they receive their route card at the start of day 1. It's usually situated in the middle of nowhere with basic facilities. The teams carry all their food and equipment for the two days in the hills and must share a tent.

Kit is carried by each competitor in their rucksacks. You should see the size of some of the rucksacks carried by the top teams! Small is an understatement, and you wonder how they cram all their stuff into such a small bag. They can't leave anything behind, as all teams are subject to kit checks at the start to ensure everyone carries the mandatory equipment for the event.

For many, the campsite is the highlight. A friendly and convivial atmosphere awaits you once you have passed the final marker on day one. Sore feet and tired legs are briefly forgotten about once the tent is up, bodies are refuelled and teams are exchanging stories and experiences from the day.

Challenging course, amazing mountain experience
A competitive race must mean prizes! At the end of day 2 competitors receive the coveted MMM t-shirt (the colour changes every year!), a car sticker, and much needed refreshments. The prize giving rounds off the event, applauding winning categories who receive prizes from our generous sponsors.

When did it all start?
The Mourne Mountain Marathon first appeared in the early 1980s as an event organised by the local mountain rescue team to raise funds and provide training for their members. Once they opened the concept to the public, it quickly grew in size; growing so fast in fact, that within three years they realised that it was beyond what they were happy organising.

At this point, Denis Rankin, who had won the elite class with his partner Jim Patterson for the preceding three years, stepped forward and brought a group of volunteers together to ensure the survival and continued growth of the event. Under Denis' guidance, the event went from strength to strength, attracting competitors from across the British Isles and beyond. During the nineties up to 250 teams were entering which was remarkable as Northern Ireland was not exactly doing well in the tourist destination tables of the time!

Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea
The event has always been based in the Mourne Mountains, a range which offers plenty of scope for navigation challenges within its varied terrain. The event centre changes every year to give lots of scope for different courses.

Denis is sadly no longer with us, but the template he put in place continues to be the basis for organising the event, still based on the enthusiasm of a small group of volunteers working as a team to produce a friendly Mountain Marathon.

The Mourne Mountain Marathon is run as a purely not for profit event. We rely on the passion, time and commitment of our volunteers, who have kept the event going for 43 years.

Entries for this year's event have closed, with the event taking place on the weekend of 17th -18th September 2022. Keep an eye on our website for results and bookmark it to enter in 2023. Entries open in April.

You may also be interested in ...

- If you're taking part in the Mourne Mountain Marathon, or just fancy exploring these beautiful hills in your own time, have a look at the HARVEY Mourne Mountains Superwalker XT25 map, featuring the famous 35km long Mourne Wall, The Mourne Way Long Distance Footpath, and the highest peak in Northern Ireland, Slieve Donard.

- For those of you who prefer a challenge of a different kind, then why not tackle the new Mourne Mountains MAZZLE - a map jigsaw puzzle comprising of 1000 pieces. You'll do well to complete this in 2 days!

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