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The extreme world of mountain marathons

Training in the Brecon Beacons

Ben and I are currently training for an attempt on the Bob Graham Round. 24 hours, 42 peaks, 27000 feet of ascent: 65 miles of fun in the Lakeland hills. I learnt about this challenge in the fabulous book, Feet in the Clouds, by Richard Askwith.

The Original Mountain Marathon received huge publicity this weekend due to the horrendous weather conditions. Richard Askwith has written a superb commentary in the Independent about risk, reward and the revitalising power of a good dose of suffering in the mountains.

In trying to explain why people test themselves in the mountains Chris Brasher said, “Perhaps it is escape from the pressure of life, but really it is more than this: it is proof that, sophisticated man though you may be, you can still go out with all your worldly needs on your back and survive in the wild places of Britain. That knowledge is great freedom.

Richard Askwith suggests that “we are richer now than we were in Brasher’s day, richer than our parents or grandparents were; but we are also more stressed, more deeply in thrall to the addictions of getting and spending. We have more possessions, and they tyrannise us. Each new mod con must be shopped for, maintained, insured, upgraded; each new thing must be stored, kept track of, kept secure, tidied; each new debt must be serviced; and the whole package is paid for in overwork, time poverty, 24/7 availability and 24/7 insecurity. We have more, and we have less.

In such a world, freedom is both more precious and more elusive. And one of the few surefire ways of liberating ourselves from the tyranny of the consumer society is to put ourselves beyond its reach. This is one of the attractions of all long days in the hills: you escape from all those things.

To reach the end of a long, hard day and realise that you have no more chores awaiting you than to crawl into a lightweight tent and extract food from bag A and sleeping bag from bag B is to feel a great weight, of whose presence you might not previously been fully conscious, dramatically lifted from your shoulders. There is nothing to distract you from the once-simple business of being human, eating, talking and resting beneath the stars (or clouds). And if the price of this escape is two days of stormy mountain-running and a night without beds, electricity and running water, who cares?

You can read the whole of Richard’s article here.

What do you think? Risk-takers or Reckless?
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  1. ‘Feet in the clouds’ was a great dose of inspiration – got me into fell/mountain running – Paddy Buckley here we come…



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