The 750 km car ride from Umeå to Björkliden in mid august has almost turned into a tradition as has the participation of the mountain marathons organised on the mountains north of Kiruna. Somehow we manage to forget the long travel and what a long stretched country Sweden is. Though some people from the south consider Umeå to be far north an almost populated by polar bears, Umeå is situated closer to Stockholm than Kiruna…
A mountain maraton have few similarities with a “normal” maraton ran on roads. Instead of running a fixed distance (42195 meter), a mountain marathon has its race course set out by checkpoints to be visited in a specific order, but the route between the checkpoints are optional and has to be navigated by the racers by map and compass. Like a long distance orienteering. The Elite course of a mountain marathon is often 70-85 km and 3-5000 m ascent, divided into two days and raced by teams of two.
Another big difference between traditional orienteering and a mountain marathon is the fact that all racers carry a backpack along the race course. The backpack should contain everything needed for two days out on the mountain (tent, sleepingbag, cloths, food, stove) as the time between the two race days are spent out on the mountain together with fellow competitors on a tent camp. The equipment has to met a compulsory list and a the backpack may weigh from 4-8 kg, depending of choices of equipment and the amount of food carried. Equipment might also be shared within the team, where the stronger teammate may carry the gear from its partner.
The biggest (and oldest?) mountain marathon we know of is the OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) which has been organised in north England or south parts of Scottland yearly since 1967 (!). This race has been sold out many times and normally has 3-4000 participants. OMM is held during the last weekend of october and has had many editions with challenging weather… Very impressing that so many racers come back year after year considering this. Get inspired from this racers video from 2008 edition in Borrowdale when some 250 mm of rain arrived during less than 24 hours!
Björn has ran the OMM Elite course five times, finishing third in 2003 and first in 2012 (together with Aaron). Apart from OMM there are some other really nice mountain marathons (i.e. Highlander MM, LAMM) in the UK, and thanks to less participants they organisers have the option of putting them in more remote and challenging terrain.
The oldest swedish race is BAMM, organised yearly in Björkliden since 1994. This race has had some different names over the years (BIMM, FEM) but the format has been almost the same for 23 years! Running BAMM in 1999 as a 18 year old orienteerer was probably the reason that Björn slipped into Adventure Racing a few years later (2002) and many other Swedish adventure racers have started in the same way! Since 1999 Björn have raced BAMM for another 14 years (missing out 2004-2007 due to the Stockholm City Challenge)…
Björn and Robert, Swedish Championship 2013
Since a few years back there are two mountain maratons organised north of Kiruna, BAMM and Kiruna Extreme. BAMM organised by Lappland Resort (and sponsored by Haglöfs) and Kiruna Extreme organised by local orienteering club IFK Kiruna. The races are organised the 2nd and third weekend in august and to avoid a difficult choice, Björn once again decided to participate in both…
For BAMM, Björn had managed to convince Robert to take company along the race course and in the pretty small tent. All racers of BAMM where taken by bus to Riksgränsen (30 km north of Björkliden) with the tentcamp half way back to Björkliden. Racecourse day 1 36,5 km (birdsway) and 2640 m vertical, day 2 33,2 km and 1950 m vertical.
The first race day of BAMM was a big challenge for all teams, due to the weather. Some 10-20 cm of fresh snow on altitude, light rain, thick mist and in the end also a chilly wind… Björn and Robert started out well, considering the big navigational challenges due to the lack of visibility. Navigating a mountain maraton course is pretty different from normal orienteering, due to the lack of details on the map, the large scale (1:50 000) and the 20 m contours. Normally, when visibility is good, this is solved thanks to a good compass work, understanding of contours and the help of an altimeter (barometer). But, when visibility is bad, and you do not even see those 20 m vertical that is marked by a brown line on the map, it can be very very challenging!
When travelling to checkpoint nr 11 on BAMM day1 (se photo), the visibility was close to zero… Checkpoint 11 was placed on a small hill, north of a big cliff marked on the map. Unfortunately, Björn stopped 100 m to early on a hill not marked on map (less than 20 m high). Neither did Björn fully understand the contourline when lost in the mist, as he did not see the descent (one brown line) east of the hill with checkpoint 11, (where the compass point on map).
Being out there in the mist, Björn and Robert was standing looking down a BIG cliff. They thought it was at least 100 m down (as they could not see ground) and could not understand where the H*LL they were. After being lost for some 20-25 minutes they decided to climb down the cliff and found out that it was only 35 meters coming down. but, 35 meters is just 1 brown line so map was all correct. One brown line won’t show if it is steep or not as there are no 2nd line to decide the distance to!
Next time, do not go in circles for 20 minutes, carry on in the same directon if you know that you are close and your altimeter tells you that you should be in the right spot!
When they finally found checkpoint 11 Björn and Robert manage to pick up the pace again and reached the nightcamp with a 7 minute lead. After a pretty cold night, Björn and Robert woke up to a nice and sunny morning. They put on their wet cloths and pulled out a strong race on day 2 and overall they won BAMM70 an hour before 2nd placed team.
After a few days with fieldwork in Kiruna, Björn was back in Björkliden for Kiruna Extreme. This time he was running with Sebastian Ljungdahl, strong runner and hard working volunteer from Hemavan24. The race area for Kiruna Extreme was almost the same as for BAMM, but at least the checkpoints were different. Would not have mattered much though beign the same, due to the mist at BAMM… Björn and Sebastian had two great days out on the mountain and had the lead all the way from start to finish. As always, IFK Kiruna organised a fantastic event with challenging courses and warm atmosphere.
Less than one year left to the 2017 editions. For those who have not tried a mountain Maraton. Do that!
For some inspiration regarding equipment, those curious can look at this partly outdated movie (mainly intended for internal use amongst Haglöfs Staff…) two years ago prior to BAMM.