A Brief History of Mountain Running

From ancient times to the present, mountain running has been an intriguing event. Here, we track how it has evolved into not only a sport but also a tourist attraction.

Running is perhaps the earliest activity known to man. It has aided man to hunt and survive. However, competitive running started with the ancient Greeks who, in their Olympic Games, distinguished between short distance races and long-distance races.

In the 12th century, servants covered long distances running and walking after their masters’ chariots or caravans.

Over time it became a source of pride and amusement for servants to race each other on who will cover the most distance on foot in a record time.

It was a sport for the lowly class until the 18th century when the upper echelon of society began to take interest in competitive running. Captain Robert Barclay, a Scottish aristocrat, was instrumental in this change.

However, it wasn’t until the summer of 1904 that competitive running began to take root. In the United States of America, a few friends challenged themselves to a race over the foothills of the California coast to be the first to reach the newly opened Dipsea Inn, just outside of San Francisco.

It was the first time a race was organised over different terrains that included mountain tracks and forest paths. Elements of navigational skill were required by the runners to follow the routes.

The 20th century saw a gradual increase in the number of race events. The Trans-America Footrace drew many participants from all walks of life in search of big money and a chance at fame.

Also, the Western States 100, as one of the oldest races, started as a horse race known as Tevis Cup. This was until 1972 when Gordy Ainsleigh decided to complete the 100 miles race on foot. This inspired many and led to the first official Western States Endurance Run in 1977.

In 1984, the International Committee for Mountain Running was formed and in 1998 was renamed the World Mountain Running Association. In 1985, the organisation staged the first annual World Mountain Running Trophy. In 2002, the IAAF (now World Athletics) officially recognised the World Trophy as an international competition and in 2009 the name was changed to the World Mountain Running Championships.

Currently, The WMRA stages the annual World Long Distance Mountain Running Challenge, as well as a World Cup series of races.

The championships include senior men, senior women, junior men, and women events as well as the team events of these races. The 2020 championships, which were scheduled for 13–14 November in Haria, Lanzarote, Spain, couldn’t hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The long-distance championships race is a one-day long-distance running contest for men and women with individual and national team aspects. The course is no longer than 45 kilometres in distance, including an uphill ascent of at least 1.6 km. The race has a rough duration of one hour and forty-five minutes to four hours.

Mountain running has come a long way to becoming an established sporting activity and is being repacked for greater and fruitful exploits.