Monday, 25 May 2020

A beginners guide to running in the hills

Running in the hills is the most rewarding type of running there is. Most people who want to try hill running usually have experience of road running, or hiking in the hills.
Either way, if you are you a road runner who is bored of pounding tarmac, or a hill walker who wants to move quicker over the terrain, there are a few things to consider before setting off into the great outdoors... Below is a list I've put together that will hopefully help you on your way to brand new adventures.


For the average road runner anything more than an energy gel and/or a 250ml soft flask is probably deemed as a waste of time and weight. The conscientious hill walker wouldn't be seen on any hill without a 35l rucksack full to the brim with everything from spare layers to food for 3 days.. The experienced hill runner will be somewhere in between the two. 
  • Footwear - The first thing you should get is a decent pair of trail shoes. The standard road running shoe is simply not sturdy enough and with the lack of grip you'll find yourself slipping all over the place. The average hill walking shoe will be heavy and cumbersome. There are many different types of trail shoes, too many to go into here. The most important thing is to get a shoe that fits well to the shape of your foot. Personally I am a great believer in 'zero drop' shoes such as Altra. Altra also have a wide toe box, giving your toes room to spread while running. They should also have a good tread to give you sufficient grip on a mixture of terrains. Some brands do specific shoes for mud and snow but for the beginner a basic trail running shoe that fits will suffice. Most running shoes are also not waterproof, which for the hill walker might seem a bit odd, but they are designed to be as light as possible, and to expel any excess moisture from sweat and water ingress. A good wool or waterproof sock is something you can look into.
  • Waterproofs - To start with, any old waterproofs will do. Hill walkers will be used to alway carrying a full set every time they enter the hills but for road runners it may be something new to carry. A jacket and trousers should be considered, as being on the hills for a long time can get cold if the wind and rain picks up. You will want to get as breathable as possible, otherwise you will get a build up of condensation which will get you just as wet. 
  • Pack/Running vest - With the extra stuff you will be carrying it's important to have a good pack or running vest to put it in. Packs or rucksacks are made more for hiking but if that's all you have it will be fine to start with. Once you get into it you will find you want something more suited to running, and this is where running vest come in. Designed specifically with the runner in mind, running vests are closer fitting and don't bounce anywhere near as much as a normal rucksack. There are different types and sizes out there but a 8-10 litres is a good size to start with, as most will have stretchy pockets so when it's not full it won't feel to big or loose. 
    They also come with pockets on the front for easy access, meaning you won't have to keep taking it off to get to water and other items such as gloves or snacks. The pictured vest is a 10 litre from Harrier which is an ideal beginner pack. You will eventually have vests of all different sizes. You could also consider a running belt, which again come in various sizes and hold things such as mobile phones, snacks, gloves, water bottles and running poles. I use the Salomon Pulse belt which I use all the time.
  • Other things to consider - A running cap to keep the rain, and sun off your head. A lightweight windproof, they are a lot more breathable than waterproofs. Sun cream. A whistle. An emergency bivvy/shelter. First aid kit. A buff or two. Running gaiters. Running poles. Map and compass


You will burn a lot of calories out in the hills which will need to be replaced. What you eat is completely up to you but I would suggest eating little and often. If you stop for a while and eat a big lunch you could become lethargic and get cold, and you may also find you start to feel sick when you start running again. I tend to take bagels cut into chunks with peanut butter and jam. I also take energy flapjacks, cake and chocolate. You can just take energy gels if you're not out for long but if you do intend to be out for a number of hours then something more substantial should be considered. You will also need water. If you are running where there is a fresh water source, such as a stream or burn, then you can drink on the go and won't have to carry too much, if not make sure you take enough to stay hydrated. And if you have driven quite a way to get to the hills, you can keep food and water in your car.

Route Planning

One thing you will need to get good at is plotting a route. Hill walkers may be used to plotting routes and using Naismiths rule to work out how long it will take them, or websites such as Walkhighlands to get route tips. If you've not used either before it's worth becoming familiar with them. With enough practice you will work out how fast you move over hilly terrain and plotting routes will become easier. You will also need map reading skills, firstly to make routes, and secondly to be able to follow them when you're out. Which leads me to my next subject....


Being able to navigate while in the hills is essential. Being able to use a map and compass can save you from many a sticky situation.. GPS and navigation apps are a very useful tool, but the cold can drain batteries and electronics can break or become faulty so they should not be relied upon. The weather can change in a moments notice in the hills, and what was a beautiful sunny day can suddenly turn into a cloudy, wet miserable one, and being able to navigate will help you know where you are and where you need to go. If you can't read a map then get yourself on a course before you head too far into the hills. HighlandTrekker offer navigation courses here

Stay Safe

The hills can be an unforgiving place and care should be taken whenever you visit them. Always leave a route description with someone, with an estimated time of return. Consider an emergency shelter or bivvy in case you have to stop and need to get out of the elements. Know who to call in an emergency. If you do need help then you should call 999, ask for the Police, then Mountain Rescue. Learn to take a grid reference, and download the Grid Reference Free app which tells you the 6 figure grid reference of where you are.

Have Fun

Hill running is one of the most fun forms of running, it's not a time for pb's and checking lap times, it's a time for slowing down and having fun. Walk up the hills if you want, enjoy the views, take as many breaks as you want. Just enjoy it......

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