Go­ing down­hill fast is ac­tu­ally a good thing. Fell run­ner Damian Hall ex­plains why he loves the sport

Men's Fitness - - Injury -

Fell is an old name for a hill in the north of Eng­land, and fell races usu­ally go to the top of one, then back down again. That sounds sim­ple (races can be as short as 45 min­utes) but it’s ac­tu­ally as bru­tal as a bar­rel-load of chain­saws. The ter­rain is rough, the gra­di­ent un­friendly, and your quads and calves will shriek, but it’ll get you in shape to tackle any run­ning chal­lenge.

I’ve been fell run­ning for a cou­ple of years and I’ve fin­ished in a few top fives, in­clud­ing the Welsh 1,000m Peaks Race (32km with 2,678m of as­cent), as well as com­plet­ing the South Wales Tra­verse (118km across 31 sum­mits over 600m with 5,000m of as­cent). Here’s how to con­quer the hills.


Run­ning steeply up­hill is fine – for about 30 sec­onds. In a fell race it’ll be 30 min­utes


min­i­mum. It’s not long be­fore your legs are fill­ing with lac­tic acid and you’ll want to stop, sit down and pos­si­bly cry. The so­lu­tion is bet­ter en­durance. Build up un­til you can run on hill ter­rain for at least 90 min­utes. Add hill sprints to build fell-spe­cific mus­cles and raise both your lac­tic thresh­old and VO2 max – do 50 sec­onds steeply up­hill at high in­ten­sity for six reps, with a re­cov­ery jog back down. In­crease the ses­sion by two reps each time.


The down­hill is your giddy re­ward for the climb, but it takes skill and con­cen­tra­tion. It’ll be steep, treach­er­ously un­even and un­sta­ble, but the re­lief of be­ing able to move at speed can make you go too fast and fall. Most of the stress goes through your quads, an­kles and knees (see the box be­low for tips), and you can strengthen your quads and an­kles with cy­cling and hill walks.


Un­even ter­rain asks big ques­tions of your body, but the stronger your core, the faster and more safely you’ll move. To build core strength, do dou­ble- and sin­gle-leg bridges and side planks with your top leg raised. Start with 15-sec­ond holds and in­crease the hold time as they get eas­ier.


Ex­er­cis­ing out­doors taps into the ‘bio­philia ef­fect’ – your in­nate de­sire to be con­nected to na­ture and the psy­cho­log­i­cal lift that gives. Hill run­ning also hones pro­pri­o­cep­tion (your sense of bal­ance and body aware­ness) as well as de­vel­op­ing strength and re­spon­sive­ness in joints and mus­cles. Run­ning off-road of­fers more of a work­out than road run­ning – lat­eral mus­cles are used, for ex­am­ple, such as the per­oneal and ad­duc­tor mus­cles – and fell run­ning turns it all up to 11.

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