Why not try: Hill running?

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The rising appeal of Scottish hill running – and how to get started.

I like a goal, even if it might sometimes seem a little strange to others. One running goal of recent years was to try to run, non-stop to the top of a local hill. The hill is very steep in places and rises to more than 400m.

The day that I finally managed to reach the summit of Dumgoyne, near Strathblane, without once slowing to a walk felt amazing. After catching my breath on the top of the 427m hill, I gave out a small whoop (well, I was the only one on the summit!) and took in the beautiful view of the evening sun-dappled countryside far below.

Since then I have gone on to run many other hills. It is rarely possible to keep up a fast pace while pushing yourself uphill – although it does become easier with training – but I find the idea of running to a hill or mountain top hugely uplifting.

I enjoy the goal of reaching the highest point and the focus of trying to run as much of the ascent as possible. When I need to stop for a breather there are often the most fabulous views to enjoy.

Hill running with my whippet.

Hill running with my whippet.

And the descent is always exhilarating. Running non-stop downhill, sometimes for many miles, is the just reward for the hard slog of the uphill.

Many other runners agree. Derek Rigmand, of Paisley, values the freedom and speed of hill running.

Derek trains with Bellahouston Road Runners (despite being based in the south side of Glasgow this club offers regular hill running sessions) and, for the first time, took part in the summer’s series of 12 Bog and Burn Wednesday night hill races.

He says: “I was originally a hill walker and then I took to road running. Now I combine my running with the hills and mountains of Scotland.

“Running to the top of some mountains, such as the Munro Ben Lui, feels incredible. If I walked, it would take me three times as long and the descent is so much quicker when running. I really enjoy the speed.”

The “escape” and freedom of hill running also appeals to Emily Greaves, who enjoys getting out in her local hills in Perthshire.

She says: “I love everything about hills and mountains; walking them, running them and climbing them. The other evening I ran up Ben Chonzie after work and it made me feel alive.

“I also enjoy the rewarding views as a payback for the hard work of running uphill. From the top of Chonzie I could see over Strathearn, Ben Vorlich and Loch Earn. It was amazing.”

Angela Brin, another keen hill runner from Cumbernauld, agrees with the sense of achievement. The Wee County Harriers member says: “Hill running beats the tarmac any day. I love the challenge of the terrain and running to the top.

“If it’s clear then I enjoy the views but if it’s cloudy I allow myself to feel incredibly hardcore as I stand there inside a glorious cloud. Whatever the top brings is a sense of achievement.

“Then there’s the sheer joy and exhilaration of throwing myself down the quad-trashing descent.”

Ben Venue Challenge hill race.

Ben Venue Challenge hill race.

The rise and rise of hill running

Hill running – often known as fell running in England – has become increasingly popular in recent years with clubs and races reporting greater participation.

Scottish Hill Racing, an on-line resource that provides information about races, runners and results, reveals a year-on-year rise in race numbers with a high of almost 4,000 race participants in 2013.

There is also a strong membership at a number of dedicated hill running clubs in Scotland, including Carnethy Hill Running Club, the Ochil Hill Runners, Westerlands Cross Country Club (the Westies) and the Highland Hill Runners. Many road running clubs offer hill run training, especially in the winter months, including Bellahouston Road Runners.

Club member Hamish Barbour says: “We are a road running club but we have always had a healthy group who love the hills, and several of our training routes, both in Bella park and in Dumbreck, are hill-based sessions. Last month, the coaches instigated a hill session on Sunday afternoons, which has already proved very successful.

“We’re lucky because we have several members who specialise in hill running, including Al Ewen who was fifth overall and first ‘Vets 40’ in the Bog and Burn series this year.”

How to get into hill running

Hill running is not just for the hardy mountain goats, it’s for all kinds of runners. There are hills and routes to suit almost all abilities and fitness levels. As with other kinds of sport you start with what you can easily cope with and work upwards.

To begin with it’s a good idea to run with another more experienced hill runner or to join a club that includes hill running sessions. You’ll quickly discover where your local routes are and what suits you.

Check out the Scottish Hill Runners and Scottish Hill Racing for club and race information.

You will also need a good pair of off-road running trainers. Many sports footwear brands now sell off-road trainers and sports retailers report a significant increase in the sales of these. Popular brands include Inov-8, Walsh and Salomon. For longer off-road runs, HOKA is increasingly popular.

Running shoesLook for studded soles to suit the conditions and terrain. You’ll discover an off-road trainer to suit all conditions, including muddy grass, wet rock and stony trails.

While Inov-8 shoes feel more “barefoot” and “in touch with the ground”, Salomon, for example, have greater cushioning. It all depends on your preference so try a few in store to see what suits.

It could be that you need a couple of pairs of trainers to suit different conditions and terrain. One pair for gentle, muddy hills and another for wet rocks and steeper climbs.

Shorter hill runs require little more in terms of kit than what you would wear for running on tarmac but if you plan to go for longer or on routes that you do not know you’ll need extra items, such as a running rucksack with water and snacks, spare clothing, a map and compass.

The benefits of hill running

Hill running is said to be better for your body, especially when compared to the repetitive pounding of road running on hard tarmac. The rough terrain forces the body to move in a different way and adjust to rough grass, rocky paths and steep hill paths. This improves strength, stamina and balance.

Derek is 48 and credits hill running for his slim physique. He says: “I used to go to the gym and run on the roads to stay in shape. Now I just hill run and I have found I am a stronger and have a better physique.

“Hill running is more demanding on leg and core muscles and the pumping of the arms going up and down hills helps to improve upper body muscles, too.”

The best way to help your body to develop and adjust is to start slowly and go for shorter runs, then carefully build up. You can walk steep sections and slowly increase how much you run. Over time your body will adjust to the trickier terrain of the hills.

Technique is important for hill running. Learning how to run downhill, for example, will improve your endurance and speed. Listen to club members and coaches or book a hill running day or weekend with an expert, such as Running the Highlands.

If you learn how to power up and down hills efficiently you will enjoy the sport all the more.



The safety of hill running

Running in the countryside can be a greater safety concern than running on urban roads. Always try to run with a friend or group.

If you are keen to run solo make sure you can navigate your route and have the right kit with you because weather conditions can suddenly change.

It’s a good idea to memorise features as you pass them to make finding where you are on a map as easy as possible.

Try to run within yourself to save energy and adjust your speed to suit the terrain to avoid injury.

Run a race

There are races all over Scotland from Helmsdale in the north to Screel Hill in Dumfries and Galloway. See Scottish Hill Races

Hill races take place throughout the year, too, and there are many to try in the coming months. A race gives a good training goal and you will meet lots of likeminded people.

Five races to try this autumn

Morven Hill Race, Royal Deeside

September 27

Organised by Deeside Runners

A race of 5 miles and climbing 2100 feet.

See hill race

Two Breweries hill race.

Two Breweries hill race.

Two Breweries Hill Race, Borders

September 27

A run from Traquair House in Innerleithen to Broughton over a distance of 18 miles with 4,900 feet of climbing.

See Two Breweries

Ben Venue Challenge, The Trossachs

October 4

Organised by the Bellahouston Road Runners

A run up Ben Venue of 7.5 miles, with 3,000 feet of ascent.

See Ben Venue race

Meall a’ Bhuchaille

October 25

Organised by the Highland Hill Runners

A race of 13k with an ascent of 720m.

See Highland Hill Runners

Run of the Mill, Alva

October 26

An 850m climb over 14.5k.

See entries.



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One comment on “Why not try: Hill running?
  1. John Elstone says:

    Inspired by articles that lead on from an Edinburgh Cycles website.

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