London's First Ever Mountain Marathon

© Martin Moran Foundation

If you're raising money for a charity that helps introduce young people from the city to the mountains, what better way to do it than bringing a mountain to the city? Mike Coppock took the novelty costume to new heights at this year's London Marathon - and even managed to finish in what counts, in the circumstances, as a respectable time.

Last year the London Marathon had me shouting from the edge of my seat. Sifan Hassan executed a nail-biting comeback and the late, great Kelvin Kiptum ran the second fastest men's time ever, both in stunning victories and both overwhelmingly inspiring, even for a trail runner.

Still standing at the finish line  © Martin Moran Foundation
Still standing at the finish line
© Martin Moran Foundation

Then came a well-known feeling of uncontrolled excitement as my annoying brain had another stupid idea. I had talked with Alex Moran, Director of Operations for the Martin Moran Foundation, about doing another fundraiser after our Island Munros Triathlon, so why not make it at the biggest single day fundraising event on the planet? For a charity that inspires mountain adventure the clear choice was to run as a mountaineer and an accompanying mountain. Easy! 

Inside the heart of the mountain, I was sweaty, dehydrated, and on the edge of cramp for most of the race

Well, not so easy as it turned out. The odds of getting a place in the London Marathon through the ballot are around 50:1. Sadly Alex didn't make it in, but remarkably I got my golden ticket on the first try. Months of work on the costume and endless hours of training ensued. I used my terrible DIY skills to design (blag), build (hash together), and test (make a fool of myself on the streets of Glasgow) an ergonomic and fully encompassing mountain costume.

Plumbing pipes and fittings were used as the frame, which had a base of 90cm by 75cm, and it was built into a 20 litre fast-packing rucksack. PVC piping is a versatile material and can be drilled, moulded under heat, and importantly is very lightweight. It was then covered in jersey material, with a felt tree line and a white snowline, and crowned with a Martin Moran Foundation flag. It was essential for it to be big enough to allow an arm swing inside the 3.5kg mountainous structure if I was going to be able to have a shot at a fast time. Dare I say, reaching peak performance on race day. Saying that, if the finished costume was attached to a bathtub, it would definitely be capable of sailing across the Atlantic! In other words, any wind on marathon day would be punishing.

So, the forecast for this year's race was unfortunately correct with 14mph north easterly winds gusting up to 22mph just in time for the start. The wind was ripping across London's Blackheath as Alex unconvincingly reassured me that the buildings would protect me from the worst of it. As I picked my way through the crowds of serious looking runners to the blustery start line, I felt more than slightly overdressed for the occasion. I was having difficulty disagreeing with the anonymous comment on my fundraising page, "There's summit wrong with you…".

My race strategy was a dangerous one, start fast and hang on! Inside the heart of the mountain, I was sweaty, dehydrated, and on the edge of cramp for most of the race. I had a small field of vision in front of me, and it was disorientating when people overtook me closely or I couldn't see the ground. The wind would blow me sideways, and the headwind was traumatic despite helping my flag to flutter gloriously. By 35km my hydration was getting back on track, but suddenly I stumbled forwards out of control. The mountain crashed down in a major geological event, accompanied by an audible gasp from the crowd.

Luckily, the mountain survived, someone helped to pick me up off the street, and I raced on with an extra dose of adrenaline. Some specks of blood added unwanted colour to the lower slopes around the treeline. I crossed the finish in 3 hours 24 minutes totally broken, but the mountain stool tall and proud as ever, giving a false sense of solidity to the person inside who could now barely walk!

Running through London was more like being at a festival with 50,000 runners brave enough to put themselves out there and give everything to the 26.2 miles. The spectators also took their role extremely seriously and spurred us all on with chants, music, signs, and general eccentricity. It created a moving and uplifting atmosphere of shared purpose and experience, which is enough to affirm anyone´s faith in humanity.

The rationale was to bring the mountains to the city to support a charity that helps young people move in the opposite direction and into the UK´s wild spaces. The Martin Moran Foundation´s mission is to inspire people through the power of mountain adventure, climbing and community in wild places. Their purpose is to remove barriers for young people who want to explore the beauty, freedom, and value of our natural world. They run week long courses with expert instruction in mountain skills and provide and gift all the required equipment to support continued adventures in the mountains.

If you would like to get involved, the fundraising page is still active. I would love your help to empower the next generation of adventurers with lifelong mountain skills and break down the barriers young people face when trying to access our wild places.

UKH Articles and Gear Reviews by Mike Coppock

1 May

That's an amazing time given what you were wearing. Well done.

1 May

Thanks very much!

This would have been a fine headline a month ago. The course could take in a lot of buildings with many flights of steps

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