Guest Post: A Brief History of Mountain Running


People have been having the need and desire to run quickly over various obstacles and over various distances since the birth of humankind. Being fast and having the ability to endure long distances allowed people to fetch water, hunt pray, escape danger and succeed in war (such is the case of the first marathon race and the messenger who helped with his running powers).

In many cases, the mentioned hungers, gatherers and warriors lived in the mountains or at least behind some hills in the countryside. And since in the past we had no roads, tunnels and handy bridges to go through or over mountains, the only way to go from point A to point B quickly was to run over hills and mountains. This run to survive was truly a fantastic feat of sport.

Fast-forward to today, we have all the necessary infrastructure to avoid running through mountains yet we still do it—this time for medals, records, glory and personal satisfaction. Humans have a natural need to spend time in nature and test our bodies, so we started organizing mountain running events and associations to share our passions for running. If you’re interested in this sport, here’s everything you need to know about it.

The first accounts

According to some sources, the first mountain race took place almost 1000 years ago in Scotland. At that time (anywhere from 1040 to 1068, the exact year is unknown), the King needed a swift messenger, so he organized a mountain run as a test to see who is the best candidate. Since that event, we can trace the tradition all the way up to 1895 when a similar hill race was still active in the UK.

The 19th-century records show that mountain fell races were a regular part of community fairs, games and other events and it was based on values of physical ability alongside wrestling, sprints and heavy-lifting events. The traditional fell races used to be much messier than our modern mountain races held on drier trails with clear markings, but this is essentially how our beloved sport came to be.

The World Mountain Running Association

In 1984, Angelo Biasi formed the World Mountain Running Association or WMRA. From that important day, annual running competitions through mountains have been taking place and testing the best mountain runners in the world in senior and junior competitions. Today, we have an official World Championship that’s recognized and held under strict protocols.

The organization today holds Masters/ Veteran competitions as well as junior competitions. In 2021, mountain running has entered a new era. Thanks to new partnerships with Trail Running and Ultra Running organizations, mountain running has managed to unify many disciplines, as well as bring the sport closer to everyone.

Best mountain runners

One of the most successful mountain runners in the world is Jonathan Wyatt with six World Championship titles (1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008 and silver in 2006). He is one of the best uphill runners, as well as an excellent up and down racer. De Gasperi is another legendary name in mountain running with six gold medals (1996, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2007, up and down racing).

In the lady’s category, Isabelle Guillot is a huge name in the sport. With four gold medals (1989, 1991, 1993 and 1997) she is a legend alongside two Austrian runners Gudrun Pflueger and Andrea Mayr. However, Guillot also has three silvers and two bronzes ensuring her a spot at the podium nine (almost consecutive) times.

Mountain running variations

Historically, mountain running has been happening mainly on mountain trails and other rugged terrains. Even though we today have asphalt and dirt roads, it’s more enjoyable to run on natural terrains. Most runs start in civilization and end during the same day. However, there are variations that require a backpack filled with necessities for an overnight stay. Depending on the type of race or event, athletes and casual runners might be obliged to bring a tent, navigation tools, survival tools and food for long-distance runs. According to many mountain running lovers, quality automatic knives are a must for most runs, especially longer ones, so if you’re planning such a feat, make sure to get your own knife and keep it ready for various situations. A knife, some ice exes and good shoes with crampons are a must for many runs as well. Events like multiday journeys, rock climbing, glacier climbing and running through brush are usually outside the realm of competitive mountain running but these disciplines are still beloved by many members of the community.

Mountain running is an amazing sport that requires athletes to test their agility, strength, endurance and speed. Thanks to natural terrain and beautiful scenery, mountain running can be an enjoyable activity for all senses. If you’re interested in trying it out, you can join your local group or organize events for yourself and see how you do.

Author Bio:

Diana Smith is a full time mom of two beautiful girls interested in topics related to home improvement, DIY and interior design. In her free time she enjoys reading and preparing healthy meals for her family.

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