Thursday, 17 May 2012

Hill running..a natural progression? (posted by James)

Coire nam Beith, Glencoe - where I learnt to run up-hill.

It's here again…the "post-winter limbo". The winter climbing season is over and I've hung up my axes again for the few short months before a trip to the Alps in September. And there it is, like every year…the slight feeling of emptiness now that the thrills and intensity of winter climbing are gone again until the next season.

In previous years, after a good deal of grumbling at the arrival of summer, I've set to work at hurtling through the Munros at an unsustainable pace as a hobby whilst I waited for the start of the next winter.

But it feels so different this year. I've already had some brilliant climbing days on the Cuillin and in Glencoe and I am more motivated than ever for pushing myself on summer solo climbs. But where has my hillwalking "mojo" gone? My motivation for hillwalking and Munros is at an all-time low.

But when it comes to running…the only other time I've felt such excitement at discovering something is when I went winter climbing for the first time. I've been running for about 6 years now but it's only in the last year or so that I've turned my attention to the absurd idea of running up-hill, something that is basically self-inflicted pain when you first start.

A year ago I couldn't understand it. I had a strong base of hill-fitness built up over 5 years of activity in Scotland, the Alps and elsewhere…yet when it came to running up-hill I felt pathetically unfit, and it all seemed rather like flogging a dead horse.

But I suppose a lot can change in a year if you put in the effort. I've been running up-hill about 4 days a week now for a few months but until recently progress seemed pretty slow. Now I'm not sure what has happened really…but literally in the space of the last 4 weeks things have changed dramatically.

It feels like something has "clicked" within me. All of a sudden running up-hill feels so much easier, my lung capacity seems to have gone through the roof and my legs can keep going for longer. Is it normal for things to change so suddenly after a long while of little progress? I've changed a few things for sure. I drink less alcohol, I have a more balanced diet and I've been working on my core muscles. 

But I think I know what has done it really. I suppose you can best describe it as "ignoring the signals to stop". Being able to run up-hill requires a very high level of fitness, there's no two ways about it. And the only way to attain it is by pushing your body through levels of stress that it isn't used to, and then continuing to do so when it is begging, shouting, screaming at you to stop. It's amazing the results you can get if you just dig a little deeper every time you go out.

Just now I can foresee a time in the not too distant future when hill-running could almost entirely take over from hill-walking as my summer hobby. I suppose rock-climbing is a natural step-up from scrambling, and winter climbing (arguably) the step-up from rock-climbing. So is this just a phase….or another natural progression? We'll see.


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