Health & Wellbeing’s intrepid columnist heads to the fells for a workout with a view
Helen SkeltonRead More
There is no easy way up and no easy way down – fell running is fast, fun and, at times, frightening. If you haven’t tried it, I’ll argue that you haven’t lived. As a youngster, I watched long and lean men, women and children scrambling up and down the Cumbrian fells near where I grew up, and I have always been in awe of their pace and prowess.
I grew up on the edge of the Lake District, arguably the birth place of ‘proper’ fell running. My parents still live there, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity this summer to tackle fells, with climbs steep enough to offer a big challenge. I was lucky enough to watch Joss Naylor, the Muhammad Ali of fell running, at an event in Wasdale a few years ago – if you’ve seen him, you’ve seen the best. The stories of him running over fell and fields in his seventies are legendary – and with that in mind, I can’t use being ‘too old’ as an excuse not to give it a go.
You don’t have to go very far, or very fast, for your lungs to start burning. A short, steep incline is what you’re looking for if you really want to say you’ve tried fell running. There are loads of events you can enter throughout the summer in and around Cumbria. If you’ve never tried this type of running before, you might want to attempt a few practice runs before you sign up.
What to wear? Normal sports kit and a good sports bra is enough to see you through a run, but you really need trainers with good grip on the soles. If the grass is wet, you’ll be slipping and sliding before you’ve even run 100m. The responsible adult in me will suggest you check the weather before you set off, and take a map and necessary survival kit. The common sense approach is to keep an eye on the sky, tell your friends and family your planned route and what time you expect to return, and go with a buddy.
The start is the hardest – it’s a more gradual incline at the bottom, and a slow and steady climb can really take it out of your lungs and legs. Don’t be disheartened though. Keep your head up, back straight and let the oxygen in; keep your arms and legs low, don’t waste energy swinging them around. My technique is always to jog for five paces, then start counting from the first pace again. Count five paces over and over until you want to stop and take in the view. You’ll be surprised at how far you’ve gone.
Next, the fun really starts – the downhill leg. I have lost count of how many times I have gone flying head over tail, literally! Running downhill is actually much harder on your bum and knees than pacing uphill. Time it right and you’ll feel like you did as a kid, with legs going so fast that you have no control. Your only concern is to stay upright and keep heading in the correct direction. If you think this might be the sport for you, the routes taken by the amateurs at Grasmere, Ambleside and Keswick show are easy to find online and definitely worth having a go at.
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