Fell Running

Hi everyone,

I was at a wedding this last weekend in Fort William. We arrived quite early so had a few hours spare. My wife didn't want to walk so I decided to go for a fell run up Ben Nevis (not all the way to the top I might add).

I did 2 hours in total. 1:15 up and 45 down. (I was most alarmed to hear the record is 1:25 up to the TOP and back!!).

Anyhow, obviously my thigh and calf muscles were pretty stiff two days later. I do run pretty frequently, but I'm certainly not a serious runner. I do also run off road quite a lot (whenever I can really). But rarely on a surface that bouldery.

My points:

(1) Boy it's hard work isn't it.

(2) As you land each heel on the way down - should you be making a real effort to be landing on bended knee. Sort of sitting down as you run. Or is that not what damages the knee?

(3) Is this a really stupid activity for the knees - my knees are in reasonable shape I think. But given I haven't spent ages training to build up supporting muscles, should I absolutely avoid doing that kind of session - or is it fine once in a while. You have to learn somehow right?

(4) I'm a keen kite flyer. Big kites. I've often wanted to get into paragliding - just an extension of big four line kites I'm told. It made me seriously consider taking lessons in paragliding. Then I could just do the up bit (which felt very good for me) then enjoy the flight down. Personally I hated the downhill bit. Does anybody know anyone who does this?




  • I've run down some hills and although I'm no expert, there are some things that help.

    1. Apparently (according to one expert) the best method is not to think of it as running, but as controlled falling, and you should be leaning forwards and landing on the forefoot. I tried it once, but it was way too scary. Not much impact on the knees, but hands and face........

    2. If you do land on your heels (much safer) then land as normal, but immediately collapse the knee to cushion the worst of the impact. It also makes it a little bit safer on the steeper bits, beacause if you slip you are halfway into the sitting position anyway. Pretty much as you describe "sitting down as you run". If the ground is rough you will need to lift your feet higher - concentrate on trying to land a "softly" as possible, as if you were trying to run quietly, but with an exaggerated motion.

    3. Do lots of cycling to strengthen the quads. That makes running in the sitting position easier. But I don't think once in a while will cause any long term damage.

    As to the paragliding, your own your own there. I don't do heights.
  • Interesting...

    Everyone said my Quads would hurt from the downhill section. But in reality it was my calf muscles that hurt.

    My normal sport is cycling - hence perhaps being ok for the sitting down stuff.

    The climbing however hurt lots. I had to walk many of the sections. I guess that's just training though.
  • That was a scary run you did up Ben Nevis. The Fell Runners Calendar gives the Ben Nevis as a Category A race which means that they won't let you enter unless you have some prior fell running experience behind you. Those fell runners are a fit bunch of people.
  • I have no doubt.

    I won't be doing it again in a hurry.

    I didn't go all the way. Just up to the start of the ridge. About 10 minutes beyond the corrie tarn lake thingy.

  • Jeremey

    While I don't class myself as a fell runner I do run on the fells a fair bit.
    I think my descending technique depends on the surface, if it is firm I tend to be on the forefoot with my weight forward (it gives you more control), if it is loose I tend to be on my heels as I don't like the thought of tripping forward of smashing my head/face against a big boulder, I'd much rather fall on my backside (which I quite often do).
    I think, like most things, it gets easier the more you do it. I very rarely get achy quads any more even after the steepest of descents.

  • good for you Jeremy, I'd love to run on Ben Nevis.
    I'm not a very experienced fell runner (I'm working on it!) but I think you're right in saying that training needs to be specific - even if you run hilly road runs it's very different, The most painful can't get down the stairs except sideways type muscle soreness I've only had after fell running.
    The terrain and gradient often vary considerably on fell runs making any one technique inadequate on its own. I did a fell run on Sunday and the terrain included road, rutted farm tracks, grassy fields, grassy uphill & downhill, loose rocks etc. The final bit to the ridge was very steep, even walking up hill in a vertical line was hard work. Back down the first section I zigzagged across the hill side as I would definitely have gone flying otherwise; into the valley the gradient reduced and I could run in a straight line again.
    It's probably stating the obvious but if you really want to run it's worth planning your route carefully, including a nice ridge where you can enjoy the hard work of ascending before heading back down again. Also, if you can, find out what the paths are like, and avoid very steep rocky descents that you can't run on anyway.

    Coming down it is much better to land on the ball of your feet if you can. It means your knees and quads absorb much more of the impact . This does assume a lot of strength in your legs; if you lean back you're constantly breaking with your quads and is one reason they can be in agony for days after a steep fell run. Also, this may sound a bit airy, but you've got to trust that your feet will find their footing and just relax. Ideally you don't worry about an individual body part but try to get your whole body to absorb the hill and find its natural position. The fell runners who do well in races make up their time on the downhill sections.
    Second if your shoes aren't meant for off road (as if you needed an excuse for another pair of running shoes) you don't have the necessary grip and will suffer with each step trying not to skid. The resulting muscle tension will hurt the next day as well! I run in Walshs which feel like slippers compared with normal road running shoes, but if you need more support/cushioning they might not be adequate.
    Different surfaces mean different styles as well - rocks, stones, slates etc on a steep gradient you have to slow down or risk a serious and painful fall! Lots of Lake District paths on the more popuolar routes are quite stony and loose and that's much harder to run on. Best of all is mossy/grass/short vegetation which breaks the impact and absorbs your feet . Higher grass, mud, bog etc very hard especially uphill or on the flat.
    Finally, I;ve noticed my ankles and lower calves come in for quite a hammering since the ground is so much more uneven and on poor surfaces you miss out on the views through having to look at your feet most of the time! The kind of flexibility you need to develop to cope with that is hard to replicate on any other surface.

    Well, you can tell how I love it from my rambling on, hope you get another chance soon. BTW folks I haven't forgotten the 3 peaks forum challenge idea next year.
  • Excellent thoughts. Thanks Laura.

    I have to say landing on the balls of your foot sounds like you'll be going downhill pretty fast!
  • I'd definately agree - lean forward and just try and sprint downwards. Its sounds scary but if you've got the right footwear (Walshes) you should feel fairly secure. Try it on short downhill sections first before the north face of the Eiger :-)
  • I used to go for short runs up the Ben Nevis tourist path at lunchtimes when I worked in Fort William, so your posting takes me back... Cow Hill, above Fort William, is another good short run.

    Most of the pain from fell running comes from what are called "eccentric" muscle contractions: the muscle is contracting despite being lengthened by joint movement. Do a bit of training on the hills and your muscles will strenghten to cope with this.

    I've always been a fan of the "controlled falling" technique myself. Leaning back leads to a rather slow, stumbling descent that seems to make it more likely you'll injure yourself.

    Of course, they don't call it "fell" running for nothing...
  • Last month 3 girls from my club and I ran part of the West Highland Way from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William. On the first day we ran 21 miles and 14 on the second. After our lunch stop on the first day (Kingshouse Hotel) we ran to Kinlochleven. After the initial climb up the Devils Staircase (we walked) and round a bit, it was all downhil. I struggled on the uphills but flew down the downhills, despite it being really rocky. I kind of felt like I was hardly touching the ground. I think its true that you have to trust your instinct and let go of the fear and dont keep your feet on the ground very long. My friend, who was very tentative ended up falling over, and I think it's worse thinking you are going to fall, 'cos then you do. Mind you, even by the time I got to the bottom, my quads were screaming and I got sore really quickly. The 14 miles the next day were laughable as we could hardly climb over the stiles. It was magic 'tho, especially going into and coming out of Kinlochleven, unbelivable views for a city girl. Well worth doing.
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