There’s nothing better than the freedom of running off road, but it’s important to be prepared and equipped. We’ve asked our local expert, Ian, to guide you through running on the hills and fells. He’s starting with the basics and hopefully some of you will be inspired to take your running to another level:
The joys (and dangers/pitfalls) of wild running in winter
What are we talking about exactly – running away from civilisation, across woods and fields, over the remote hills and moors? Wild running is in-fact anywhere away from the roads.
Depending on your skill and experience, this can be an uplifting challenge that pushes your comfort levels and fitness. Let’s be honest, this is how we get stronger. Our skill level expands as we push boundaries and experience life. Without risk, where’s the buzz in life?
But if we are to learn from risk, we must first learn to manage it.
The consequence of something going wrong in winter can be so much more serious than the same thing happening in summer. A simple slip, turn your ankle or apparently innocuous fall can leave you with a slow walk back in harsh conditions. At best this could be unpleasant, at worst it could have some pretty nasty implications.
As with most things, preparation is the key. Let’s consider some of the things we should think about,
Firstly the weather. Today it’s easy to check a forecast but remember to check the forecast for the hills and not just the nearest Met Office urban centre. The MWIS website is certainly worth a look.
Choose a route that is appropriate to the conditions. Consider whether the shelter of a wood or valley is preferable to the tops. If it’s particularly windy try to choose a route where you set off in to the wind before you get damp with sweat and then have the wind with you on the return.
Then think about whether the kit you are running with can actually match your expectation of the weather conditions and the ground you will be running over. Always carry appropriate spare kit and think about what you will need if you have to amble back after a tumble.
If you are running from the car leave warm dry clothes (don’t forget about your feet) in the boot and a flask of something warm can be an invaluable comfort before the drive home.
Consider whether to run with a friend or club rather than alone, especially if you are still building your experience. When running with a club don’t blindly follow the runner in front of you but get a map and compass in your hands to follow the route. You will be amazed by how quickly your ability to navigate will improve with practice. This will build confidence for when you go off by yourself.
Make sure you let someone know where you are going. Leave them a note of your intended route and the time you expect to be back. It sounds obvious, but also make sure they know what to do and who to contact if you don’t reappear as planned.
Running in the wild in winter is an exhilarating and freeing experience. There are risks, and whilst they can’t be eliminated, they can be mitigated. In general, it seems that the best advice follows the old adage ‘plan for the worse, hope for the best’.
If you have any questions on safety in relation to hill skills or if there are any particular topics you would like Ian to cover then please email him.
Ian Winterburn is a fellrunner for Dark Peak Fell Runners. He is also a professional mountain leader providing MTA Hill and Mountain Skills courses and a member of Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team. He has completed many mountain marathons, the Bob Graham and all the Munros in Scotland.
Email Ian at: firstname.lastname@example.org