From Hill Walker To Mountain Runner. 10 Top tips to make the transition!

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I had never considered running in the hills as a goal when I first started journeying in the mountains of Wales. Having grown up despising running I only really used it as a tool for weight loss.

For me the mountains were about discovery, enjoying the atmosphere, and the solitude. Why would I want to run in the mountains? After embarking on a professional career in the mountains, the appeal slowly started to creep in. With days never quite seeming long enough to bag multiple summits or to travel that extra kilometre to see what’s over the brow.

Eventually I gave it a go and I was hooked, I’d caught the bug. The more I went out the easier it seemed. I am by no means a “pro athlete”, standing at 6 ft 4 inches and 105 kilos, it takes a lot of effort to move fast in the hills.

However, the transition from hill walker to mountain runner is easier than you think. I now regularly mountain run around 3 times a week in Snowdonia and look for opportunities when travelling to enjoy the great freedom that it brings.

Here are my top 10 tips to help you move into mountain running:

1.       Do a lot of hill walking: This may sound illogical, but the truth is unless you start from a running background, hill walking and big mountain days will give you the endurance and skills needed to become a mountain runner.

2.       Learn how to navigate well: When walking in the mountains it’s much easier to navigate, you have time to think and double check your decisions. When you run in this environment everything needs to be slicker and more practiced, to execute navigating with speed. Learn how to read the ground and try to remember big tick of features.

3.       Start slow: A wise man once said, “you must first learn to walk then run”. When you embark on you first running trips take a relaxed pace. Find your rhythm and take care on the technical sections, especially if you go solo running as it is much easier to fall when running.

4.       Walk, half speed, full speed: When planning long days, they are not all flat out. Ultra runners use a simple method: walk uphill, run half speed on the flat and run full speed downhill. This will give you the ability to complete much longer routes and have the energy to go out more often.

5.       Stream line: As a runner you need to cut down your hill gear, a vest/pack or bum bag is a great way to carry the essentials. Make sure you need all your items 100%, but don’t bin the emergency gear. Always take: a compass, map, whistle, phone and headtorch especially if in winter or on a long day.

6.       Get good kit: When running not as much kit is needed kit as for walking so spend wisely: make sure you have a dedicated trail running shoe (not a gym shoe); get good technical light clothing; if you use a vest/pack make sure the fit is good and doesn’t ride up or dig in your back.

7.       Get a running jacket: The one item of running gear that causes the most problems can be your jacket/waterproof. Unlike hill walking you don’t need a heavy material and you will sweat even in the best gore-tex. Personally, I like a shower proof for everything but the worst weather days, as it breathes far better and still keeps you dry during showers.

8.       Poles aren’t just for walking: A bit of a controversial subject and a dark art. However, if you’re running for long distances they’re essential, in my opinion. Get light poles and learn when you need them and when you don’t need them. If using them when running, use a wider arm span and dab them lightly rather than bearing down on them as you would when walking, this could cause you to lose balance (or break the pole).

9.       Choose familiar rotes: The best way to get faster and more confident is to choose the routes you have done before as a walker, this eases the stress of navigating and planning. A good starting point is to pick half day walking routes and build from there.

10.   Find a friend: As much as I like solo mountain running and walking, if you have someone to go with its not only easier but safer. Running together can also improve your abilities, increase your enjoyment, and expand your potential route choices.

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* Running in the mountains can be dangerous, always seek professional instruction if unsure. 

Written by Jethro Withers BAIML International Mountain Leader

Jethro withers