Running Mountains Instead of Races

“Everest Marathon?”

“Are you doing the Everest Marathon?”

“What race are you training for?”

No. No. None. Why do people always assume you are training for some event when they see you running in the mountains? In our case, we were in Nepal’s Khumbu Valley, home to Everest, and just about every trekker we spoke with asked if we were there to do the marathon. You know the one.

One person, when we announced we were not there to do the race, then asked what to them seemed the obvious follow up, “Then why are you running?”. Fair enough. But why can’t we just be there to run on our own? Climbers have objectives. Hikers have objectives. Can’t a runner in the mountains have an objective that is not an event? In our case, we were there to run the 3 Passes Trek in one day.

As runners, finishing races, taking Strava segments, or losing weight shouldn’t be the only goals we set for ourselves. There’s a whole lot of terrain and all different styles of running to explore. Running up mountains, and not just trail running, may be just the goal you didn’t know you needed to grow as a runner. 

And the winner is… everyone who tries

Mountain Lessons

I spent some years racing road bikes at a decent level, in Europe and in the US. I hardly remember anything from competition. The same goes for some trail running races I did in the Alps only a few years back. But when I think about what I did in the mountains those same years, I have rich and vivid memories; switching off the headlamp as darkness turned to daylight, sunrises with hours already in my legs, storms, suffering, teamwork, friendship, success, failures, dread and joy. All this can be had in organized competition as well, but it’s very different when you are on your own and a mountain looms above, not with course markings, aid stations and support, but with unknowns, cruxes, and indifference. 

The places your legs can take you – Kim Strom on the Oberaarhorn

Growing up in California, I’d stared at a small bump on the distant horizon that I knew was Pyramid Peak, our local Everest at 9983 feet in a place called Desolation Wilderness. Once I had wheels and a job, an hour drive was all that separated me from the trailhead and my shot at getting up the thing. One morning, before an afternoon work shift, I found myself charging solo up Pyramid hell bent on summiting. And while it’s 17 feet short of 10,000, I felt like I was on Everest because I’d made my own way and I’d never been that high.

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But the best was still to come. A quick check of my watch and some basic math revealed I was going to be late for work. Unless, I ran for it. And so I flew down motivated by youth and recently acquired health insurance. That momentous day, I had run my first trail, summited my first high peak, and kept my job. That was 1989.

When I discovered how much fun these experiences were, I committed to doing more, seeking my own way where the only reward I was after was the freedom to move in the mountain world I enjoy so much. 30+ years later, that enthusiasm hasn’t faded.

Alpine ridge traverses are like being on a summit all day – Hillary Gerardi on the Dôme

Once you commit to mountain objectives, it’s time to get to work preparing for all that’s required to be safe, fit, and successful. The overall process is as important as the physical requirements. Now you get to go where you want, study routes of your own choosing, consider the terrain you’ll pass through, and apply your knowledge and fitness to whatever it is you decide to take on.

Freedom in the mountains comes with a price. That price is the necessity to learn all around mountain skills that will allow you to move more safely and increase your options. Your knowledge, and the understanding that your knowledge has limits, is going to be what you use to base some very important decisions on.

Descending the Pigne de la Lè at sunset

Next up, the process of choosing a more complicated running peak, and then going through the steps to be sure it is a feasible option given the conditions.

By Dan Patitucci


Comments 4

  1. As always – beautiful, inspiring, poetic. Those pictures alone make the heart yearn for big mountains and open expanses, after those dreadful two months.
    Thank you,

  2. Changing from trail race objectives to my own mountain objectives ultimately led me to switch from trail running to rock climbing. =)

    1. Post

      Fantastic. As much as I like mountain running, climbing is still my love. Have you climbed ridges in California’s Sierra Nevada? It’s the best of both worlds.

      1. Not yet. Anyone featuring in the site?
        I dream about the one to the left of Grand Montets, might be a nice Way Up 😉

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