Thursday, 6 March 2014

Why I run, and the mysterious thing called Fell Running

Why do I run? There are many reasons to this question and the answer is quite complex yet simple at the same time. The quick answer if you don't want to read the full blog is because I like being healthy and because running in the hills makes me smile. Skip to the final couple of paragraphs to see what I'm up to now.

So how did I get into fell running? I grew up, from the age of 13, in the Hope Valley. My favourite thing after school was to head up onto Win Hill or Lose Hill and get to the top...and look. To see what was up there and to enjoy the journey on the way. I'm sure many of those I went to school thought I was odd, but it didn't matter. I loved being in the hills and that feeling has always been with me. I soon found that I wanted to go further but was limited by time and how far I could travel at walking pace.

On my walks I'd see a few people running and one day I just started moving quicker than walking pace (just on the downhill bits, I didn't want to over do it!). When I reached the top of a hill I'd do a shuffle/fast walk to get that bit further, to explore beyond my walking distance. I can't say I ever did any massive 'runs' or that I got a whole lot further than just walking, but it made me see that I could move faster in the hills if I wanted. Such a shame I didn't have anyone to show me fell running shoes (walking boots were so clumsy), or what kit I should carry to be safe, or even a few simple techniques to make it all a little easier. I was always happy with the navigation and map reading, that came naturally. But if there had been someone to inspire me a little who knows how my running and explorations would have progressed.

Then, for about 11 years I lived in London. Running took a back seat, as did general fitness and there wasn't the chance to get out into the hills nearly as much as I wanted. It's fair to say I got really unfit and overweight. OK so I cycled to work and was reasonably active, but then I met Tim and could see that I wasn't anywhere close to the level of fitness I wanted to be. With him as inspiration I tried to run while we lived in London but it was just so dull. Road running just isn't for me. I used to play games with numbers, could I get to the next kilometre (sometimes next lamppost was a minor success), the next street corner. If I could make a loop by going via such-and-such a place it would be an achievement. So in some ways my internal exploration buzz was getting teased, but tarmac just failed on the pleasure front.

We realised London wasn't where we wanted to be and moved north about 3 years ago, finding Glossop and the delights of Bleaklow and Kinder as our back garden. What a revelation. We had green places to run. No restrictions or boundaries. Literally. Open country to roam as we pleased. I could go running in the hills and explore and travel further. But often my runs are short, because there is so much to see close to where I live. I can be out of sight of any buildings within 10 minutes of leaving home, within an hour I can be up on the top of Bleaklow, one of the countries wildest areas. I'm never going to be a super fast runner, that's not the point. Yes I do sometimes go on about how far a run is, or how long it took me to get to a particular place, but that's just my inner self challenging me. Not all my runs are like that. The main thing I take from each and every run is the joy, the way that being out in the hills makes me happy and keeps me smiling.

Fitness: there are clearly obvious health benefits from running. I've lost weight over the last three years which has improved my health. I no longer need to take medication for asthma, even my hayfever doesn't seem to be as bad as it used to be. The combination of strength and conditioning with weights, plus running has increased my strength, which in turn makes the running easier. I guess I get a buzz out of being healthy, which can only be a good thing. I mentioned I don't really enjoy road running. I believe that just running on hard surfaces won't benefit the body in the long term; your joints, bones and soft tissues are subject to great volumes of repetitive high impact. The opposite is true off-road. The softer surfaces help to cushion the impact, and at the same time because you are getting less rebound from the surface underfoot your body becomes stronger. The truth is I do run on roads, but I stick to short runs, quieter roads and ones that still offer great views.

Social aspect: I'm a member of the local running club, Glossopdale Harriers - there's regular runs on the hills or road so I have the choice to run on Tuesdays or Thursdays with the club. In reality, work and general life stuff means that I don't do club runs all that often, even less so over winter when that means night running. I'm not averse to night runs (I organise the occasional 'really-easy-lets-not-go-far' night runs), but given that my work hours are flexible and that I love seeing the hills it makes sense to run in the daytime. Being in the club does mean however that there's a pool of people to call upon to run at other times. There's always someone going out, or someone willing to join me. And that's great. Getting out and having a chat, a laugh, makes running very enjoyable. Me and Tim have also instigated 'Dawn Patrols' since January, a weekly 6am run to offer and encourage runners some company when it's difficult to get motivated.

Solitude: I do run on my own a fair bit as well. And for me that's great too as I can just head into the hills and lose myself (in my mind not literally). I can chose to switch off or be alert, to let nature wash over me or have a break and sit to watch the grouse or mountain hares if I chose. There's no pressure or expectations when I run solo.

Travel quicker than walking: fell running has this mystical impression to non-fell-runners that we're all a bunch of tough nuts who go charging up and down each and every hill, we don't stop to breath, even that we are somewhat super-human. The reality is not like that at all. As I've said, I'm a lover of the hills, the nature and surroundings. Being in the hills whether walking or running, for me, is all about enjoyment. I therefore stop when I'm out running to look, to observe and soak it all in, to take photographs. I physically can't run up most hills, therefore, yes I'll say it....I walk. So I go out for a run but then part of that will involve walking. Shock horror! I think road runners quite often get hung up on numbers...pace, distance etc. Well in the hills it's all somewhat irrelevant to think in those terms unless you're looking to train for racing. Personally racing is a tiny fraction of my running. I'll come to that shortly. With fell running there's no pressure to run all the way up a hill like road running. There's no-one to see you, so the pressure to 'reach the top without stopping' just doesn't exist. It took me a while to get this point, but it's important. Being a fell runner means that we walk. There is no shame. In fact for me that's what makes it so lovely and enjoyable, because there isn't that pressure.

Exploration and nature: being out in the hills is fabulous. There is so much to see, to hear, to watch. Part of this is nature, the flora and fauna (plants and animals) that you can see. Watching the mountain hare's change from summer to winter coats and back again is lovely. The arrival of the lapwings. But a big part of it is just seeing where I'll end up. Finding out what's over that hill, what's round the corner, what's beyond those trees.

Fascination: given that I'm a sports massage therapist it's clear I have a genuine interest in the human body. That extends to my own body, how it moves, what it can achieve. To some degree it can be about how much pain I can suffer, but ultimately that's when I have a specific purpose like when I'm doing hill reps or when I've challenged myself to get to a particular place in a specific time. But most of my runs are just about going somewhere to see what's there, and to enjoy the journey. Too much emphasis and energy these days is spent on how many miles you've run, how fast, what your pace was. It's not like that for the most part with fell running for me. There's too many variables (weather, conditions under foot, wind speed, energy levels, desire, to name a few) to even compare the exact same run done on two separate days.

Challenge: I do the occasional fell race, but I'm not addicted to it like some, nor do I feel compelled to race just because a lot of people do so. I'm just not very competitive. I often go out and either follow a race route or use it as inspiration for my route choice. When I race it's mostly because I'm challenging myself in some way, or it's been a target to help keep me focused on a particular aspect of my overall training programme.

Over the last few years (and when I was younger) I have gained a whole heap of knowledge about the local area, and I've been able to share that with others who haven't had the confidence or opportunity to go exploring on their own. Introducing people to off-road running gives me a buzz. Because of that I got myself qualified as a Walking Group Leader, I have my Wilderness First Aid Certificate and I'll soon qualify as a Licensed UK Athletics Fell/Off-road Coach in Running Fitness. After moving to Glossop myself and Tim became aspirants with the local Mountain Rescue Team,
undertaking a year of training before the final assessment. Towards the end of that year I pulled out because of a few reasons, but mainly the time commitment (which is massive). Because of being part of the mountain rescue team for a year or so I've had a great deal of experience in their training, practice rescues, and gaining detailed knowledge of the local area. Tim went on and passed his assessment and is a full member of GMRT, so I continue to be exposed to the team even though I'm not on the team!

So, you can see that the relatively simple question of why I run is fairly in depth. In summary I do it because I enjoy it. I also like to help others experience the hills and see for themselves that they aren't such a scary place, that fell running isn't about trying to get up the steepest hill in the shortest amount of time. I look back over the years and I do wish there had been someone to show me about off-road running. Because it isn't even about being in particularly wild and remote places. Around Glossop there are so many paths and places you can get to without ever being very far from civilisation, yet it can feel like you are miles from anywhere very quickly. I hope I've helped to explain why I run, and also demystify some of the common perceptions people have about fell runners. Get in touch if you want to join me on a run sometime (guided or social), want help to improve your navigation skills or would like to learn more about finding your way around the local area.

No comments:

Post a Comment