When runners take to hill walking

When runners take to hill walking

My UK-based running friends Katha and Dave have emerged from lockdown with a vengeance, marking the start of the summer of freedom with an epic 12 hour challenge, a tough hill-walk in Yorkshire (my native place, I am proud to say).

This is SUCH a great account of not only the event, but also the thoughts and emotions Katha experienced, tackling her first major challenge in well over a year.

She writes from the heart 🙂

So with no further ado, I give you Katha’s version of walking, couples therapy, motivation – the whole 9 yards 😛 😛

“Last Saturday my husband, me and our friend Ruth completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge (25 miles, total ascent 1585 m) in under 12 hours.

Perhaps the hardest we have attempted as a group given the past year hasn’t been fitness or training focused. It turned out to be more than a tick box experience as it helped each of us us overcome our mental and physical barriers. And it has spurred us on to train seriously for the next couple of challenges we have signed up for this year (Bay Cycle Way and Castle Howard Duathlon).

Here are three things the walk taught me.

1. Muscle memory and all that is real.

Believe it or not I attempted the challenge with no training whatsoever. Or as I have been saying to people, with ‘heel training’. I mooched about in a pair of heels (wedges, not stilettos—I am not that stupid) in London City for about 8 hours a few days prior to the challenge. That should be similar effort to 12 hours of hill walking, I convinced myself. (Just to be clear, I do not recommend it!)

When we signed up for the challenge last summer, we didn’t know that Covid and lockdown would last all this time. Restrictions which banned travel to other counties were lifted only recently. So our plans of training in the Lake District hills were thwarted (we live on the flat Fylde Coast).

Moreover, last 6 months have seen me hit rock bottom in terms of fitness. I am self motivated and rarely need any push to exercise. But the never ending lockdown here, the dreary winter months, homesickness, grief at the lives lost to Covid – all led to comfort eating and spending more time on the couch than on the exercise mat and has resulted in a 9 kg weight gain and a complete lack of motivation.

Given it has been a tough year emotionally, I decided cut myself some slack. But I didn’t realise that everything would spiral out of control and how.

Never before have I struggled to get back on the fitness track.

Ruth & I participated in a triathlon a few weeks back (first race in over a year—the last was London Half in March 2020 when I got a PB) to help with my motivation. I am glad I did it. It pushed me out of the couch, but the commitment didn’t last beyond a few days.

There have been days that I have felt really, really low thinking I will never be able to get back to running (the joy of my life that brought Dave and me together) or enjoy it the way I used to because I find myself struggling so, so, so much. I dissed all those sayings about about muscle memory and once an athlete, always an athlete…But completing this challenge—with miles left in my legs even afterwards—has helped restore my faith in myself and has given me my confidence back. It has inspired me to get back in form.

It will be a long haul and hard going—much like the walk itself—I know and accept it. But I am prepared to keep at it—reaching my goal one step at a time.

2. On our own, but together.

I tend to complain that hill walking is solitary—one of the biggest reasons I do not enjoy it, and Dave does. He is the worst company as he treats it is an escape from the noise and crowd, so he simply ignores me. Though when he complained this time, anticipating hundreds of people doing the challenge and the route being ‘crowded’, I had to remind him that was the whole point of celebrating the coming out of lockdown—people, company! Doh!

So anyway, it was just fantastic to have our dear friend Ruth’s company this time round to save us from each other! Though lockdown & working from home has taught Dave and me to be more tolerant of each other, 12 hours is a long time. (Did I mention Ruth is excellent arbitrator for a domestic?)

What we found during the walk though is that we are rubbing off on each other—in a good way. Dave is quick uphill, but is cautious while going downhill; while I tend to run downhill, so there were long periods of time that neither of us had company.

I found that I was not bored—and was actually enjoying being on my own, a part of the landscape.

Maybe I am beginning to get this whole solitary walking/connection with nature thing.

And Dave is picking up on the joys of human connection.

Not only did he stop to have a chat with 3 Indian doctors who were attempting the challenge to raise money for Covid crisis back home, but also admitted to missing company in the last few miles and therefore struggling. It’s not like him to ask us to be with him for the final slog. But he did.

3. Mind over matter, facilitated by near perfect conditions.

Not having done any training (in Dave’s case, probably too much training having done the hilly Windermere Marathon only two weeks prior), meant we would struggle. We were prepared for that. We had agreed that we would quit in case of an injury (including painful blisters) or illness (like dehydration), but not owing to fatigue—unless the exhaustion risked an injury or illness.

25 miles is a long way and it isn’t easy to feel upbeat and strong all of that time.

For example, it was disappointing to find we had covered barely 10% of the distance after the first summit, Pen-Y-Ghent, which itself seemed like a lot of hard work. But we marched on, inspired by the glorious weather and stunning scenery.

Dave had researched to find ‘escape routes’ after Peaks 1 & 2. There was no going back after we committed to doing the third peak, he had warned. So we took stock at a cafe after Peak 2, Whernside. We knew that if we quit that day, we may regret as you couldn’t write the weather—dry, warm enough to wear just a t-shirt, but breezy enough to keep us cool, clear blue skies offering the best views and long daylight hours.

Luckily, all of us agreed that our spirit was willing—even though our bodies retaliated (the start of blisters, swollen hands and feet, achy quads, hamstrings and glutes). Hot coffee and cool orange squash as well as the half hour sitting/stretching break settled the matter with the body and we walked towards Peak 3, Ingleborough (rather than towards the train station). We still had plenty of time until the 12 hours cut off to take it easy during the hardest climb & decent of the three—which we did. And managed to complete the challenge with half an hour to spare!

Isn’t that a lovely read? High heels. Sunshine. The whole gamut of life, really 🙂

Well done to the 3 of you for an extraordinary achievement.

And I’m thrilled that the ol’ home country was on its best behaviour, weather-wise.

And Katha, I know you, and your resilience and determination, so getting back into shape will be a doddle for you.

#keepmotivating #keepinspiring


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