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Training & advice

An introduction to hill running

Sarah Tunstall is one of the world's best mountain runners and proved this by winning the bronze medal in the World Mountain Running Championships in 2009. She was born and bred in the hills of Cumbria and the lake district has been her training ground since she started running in secondary school. She regularly tests her fitness by running to the top of Skiddaw which stands at 3000 ft! Here she tells us why hill running is a sport you too will love.

When we take up running we usually find the local park, pavements or treadmill a hard enough challenge. Very rarely do we look to the nearest hill and think I want to run up there! However, thousands of people across the UK participate in some form of hill running and once they discover this discipline they are so often hooked.

Fell running, Hill running or Mountain running are all terms you might hear.

They are all ever so slightly different but all have one thing in common…steep gradients. Across England, Fell running is carried out, more often or not these events involve running up and down hills, usually on rough or rugged terrain.An extensive diary of races is produced annually by the Fellrunners Association (FRA). These races range from very short, 2mile events to much longer marathon distance races. Gradients always differ but information is usually provided within the race details, so you know what you’re letting yourself in for. In Scotland the sport is usually termed ‘Hill running’ although this is essentially the same and again races are held extensively across the country.

Events are held year-round but the main Fell running season is March to September.

This is when the major competitions are held, usually six championship races that constitute the English, Scottish or British championships. Of the six races, the best four results count towards the final championship standing. The races are usually categorised short, medium or long. So there is something to suit everybody’s different strengths and weaknesses. Further more age ranges across the races vary from teenagers (remember to check the minimum age before entering) to Over 70’s and even Over 75’s.

Everyone has two things in common: Appreciation of beautiful scenery and the thrill of a challenge.

For obvious reasons events usually take place in some of Britain’s most stunning scenery; the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Peak District, North Wales to mention a few. But don’t worry you don’t need to be from any of these regions to participate. Many successful hill runners can come from low land areas. Great athletes have been produced in places such as York and London, where hills are few and far between. Just make the most of what is available to you. Maybe find a hill and do repetitions up and down to build strength or for those who cycle, you may find you have a hidden talent for the hills as quadriceps strength is often transferable between the two sports.

Still not tempted?

Here are a few more reasons why people turn to hill running and don’t look back; the scenery is a huge attraction. As mentioned most races are organised in the most beautiful parts of the UK. Believe it or not, running through scenery such as the English lakes or Yorkshire Dales will actually take your mind off the pain of exertion and will bring a whole new element of enjoyment to your running. Secondly the atmosphere at hill running events is renowned for it’s friendliness and people from all walks of life are welcomed. There are no ego’s and no ‘posers’ in hill running. People are just happy to be enjoying the outdoors and are usually all joined in the local pub afterwards to share their race experiences and generally their mutual love of the country and appreciation of beautiful surroundings.

So what’s stopping you?

You may be worried about an increased risk of injury and yes running up and down hills can cause extra strain on the body but this is outweighed by running on soft, off-road terrain which actually strengthens you up and reduces injury risk, in comparison to pounding hard surfaces on the track or road. All you need is a pair of trainers with good grip. Fellrunning shoes usually have rubber studs on the sole to improve grip and are widely available from running specialist shops. One of the best is Pete Bland Sports who are based in Cumbria, a county that has produced many a great fell runner. So give it a go, see what all the fuss is about!