Losing my Fell Running Virginity

By: Rachel Kearns

Source: Rachel Kearns

Source: Rachel Kearns

When you live in an town surrounded by mountains, it’s inevitable, you will go up them. When I first arrived in the Lake District (9 years ago) I went up a LOT of mountains – there’s a lot to go up. I walked up them, I walked along them and then walked down them. I remember the first time I saw a runner, he was wearing flappy shorts, a singlet, minimalist shoes and had no PACK! What was he thinking? He was running downhill fast, it looked like fun but it also looked dangerous and very very risky. It seemed irresponsible.

5 years ago, with a bunch of girls I’d met through a local running club, I ran my first fell. Barrow Fell, at 455m, it’s a baby but it gave me my first taste of what was to come. Dressed in lightweight clothing, minimalist shoes and no pack I was stood on top of a fell and about to run down with reckless abandon!

“Fell running, sometimes known as hill running or mountain running, is the sport of running and racing, off road, over upland country where the gradient climbed is a significant component of the difficulty. The name arises from the origins of the English sport on the fells of northern Britain, especially those in the Lake District.” 

The uphill is hard and to be honest you actually walk most of it, usually in a stooped position, hands on knees and driving your legs as hard as your lungs and heart will allow you to go. The downhill is fun but what they don’t warn you about is the after effects your first run. The day after you may feel a bit stiff, 2 days after something quite frightening happens! DOMS also know as ‘Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness’ – it cripples you, you can’t walk up stairs, you definitely can’t walk downstairs and even walking on the flat is a challenge.

“Running downhill triggers muscles that you forgot you had”

“Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours to days after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. The soreness is felt most strongly 24 to 72 hours after the exercise. It is thought to be caused by eccentric (lengthening) exercise, which causes small-scale damage (microtrauma) to the muscle fibers. After such exercise, the muscle adapts rapidly to prevent muscle damage, and thereby soreness, if the exercise is repeated.”

The good news is, the effect wears off and as with all exercise, the more you do it the less it happens in fact I never had it as bad again after that first time. Even if I’ve had periods of no running due to holidays, injury or lack of motivation, I’ve never had it as bad as I did that first time.

My first ever fell run, think you can tell, I was hooked!

So there I stood, beaming from ear to ear, on the top of my first fell after ‘running’ up. It was exhilarating! Even though I’d worried I wasn’t fast enough, was holding everyone else back, was unfit, wasn’t prepared, why did I think I could do this? YES, we all have those thoughts, our minds have a way of testing us and holding us back. The moment I got to the top it was all forgotten. The views, the satisfaction, the joyful sharing of the moment with everyone else (who, by the way, didn’t feel that I held them back!!) and the pure delight of knowing that the only way back to the car was all downhill.

Source: Rachel Kearns

Source: Rachel Kearns

Running downhill is a skill we all had as kids but sadly lose as we grow older unless we start again. We have to overcome our fears, lack of opportunity, injuries, tight muscles and sore joints. The secret is just to start, start small, try to relax, don’t fight the pull, wear grippy shoes, keep your head and shoulders up, lean forward a bit and let your legs do the work ‘fast and light’….then laugh, relax and let your body enjoy the ride. The more you do it the better you get.

I’ve fallen over twice while running BOTH times on the flat!

Something magical happens when you run downhill, your legs move so fast that even if you hit a rock, clip an edge, find a slippery bit…you just stay upright and keep moving, you’re so ‘light and fast’ it doesn’t affect you.

This was my first fell run, I’ve done so many more since. I’ve learnt what to wear, what to eat, how to run safely on my own, how to share the moment with friends, how to photograph and film, what to carry and also learnt a lot about my back yard. All will be revealed. 

Running and taking a photograph however.. now that's a whole new skill all together!

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