Have you tried: Hill running?
Hill running in its simplest form is the sport of running – or moving as quickly as possible – in hilly and mountainous areas. Known as fell running in northern England, in Scotland it is called hill running.
The sport of hill running in Scotland began in the 11th century Highlands when King Malcolm III ordered a race to the summit of Creag Choinnich, overlooking Braemar on Royal Deeside.
Legend has it that the winner, Dennisbell McGregor of Ballochbuie, finished first but without his kilt after it was grabbed by his pursuing brother.
The spirit of that first race in 1064 defines the sport today. It is a tough and tenacious but ultimately one that is inspired by a passion for Scotland’s hills, mountains and wild places.
Runners also travel fast and light and can therefore venture further than hill walkers, but enjoy the same experience.
Famous hill running races
Scotland’s flagship hill race is the Ben Nevis Race, which dates back to 1895 when William Swan, a Fort William tobacconist, became the first person to complete a timed run on the mountain.
Pausing for a cup of Bovril on the summit, William was up and down in two hours and 41 minutes.
Finlay Wild, a GP, also from Fort William, has won the last eight races, but is yet to challenge the course record set in 1984 when Kenny Stuart won in one hour and 25 minutes. See www.bennevisrace.co.uk
Another classic Scottish challenge is Ramsay’s Round, named after Charlie Ramsay, who first completed the 60-mile route in 1978.
The running route starts and finishes in Glen Nevis and contenders must visit 23 Munros within 24 hours.
There have only been 109 successful completions in 40 years, with just three of those in winter.
A series of hill running races take place annually in Scotland, from March to September and over different distances.
They are organised by the Scottish Hill Runners and are increasingly popular. See www.scottishhillrunners.uk
Famous hill runners
In recent years, Jasmin Paris, a vet from Edinburgh, has transcended the sport. In 2016, she became the fastest person to run Ramsay’s Round, clocking 16 hours and 22 minutes.
In the same year, she also ran the equivalent classic rounds in England and Wales, becoming one of just eight people to have completed the rounds within a calendar year.
She also holds the fastest cumulative time for the three.
Five months after having her first child, Jasmin won a British Championship event in her comeback race in April.
Another heroine of the sport is Angela Mudge, a sports massage therapist from Stirlingshire.
She was born a twin, with her feet facing the wrong way. Angela spent two years of her childhood having her feet realigned.
It was clearly a success and in 2000, Angela became a world champion, racing clear of the field in an uphill race in Bavaria to win the World Mountain Running Trophy.
Finlay Wild is another big name in hill running in Scotland. As well as the Ben Nevis race he set a new course record for the Glamaig Hill Race in 2012.
He has also won the Carnethy 5, three Goatfell races, three Isle of Jura races and became British Fell Running Champion in 2015.
He is holds the fastest known time for a traverse of the Cuillin Ridge on the Isle of Skye, completing the crossing in 2:59:22 in 2013.
Who is the sport for?
Hill running is a sport for all ages and while there is a crop of young, emerging runners, in many races competitors over 40 outnumber those under. Some older runners continue to compete successfully in their 50s and 60s.
Carnethy Hill Running Club member Bill Gauld notably won the Seven Hills of Edinburgh Race as a 59-year-old and continues to run and race in his mid-eighties.
The cost of hill running
Like running on roads or trails, the cost of running is the price of a pair of appropriate shoes.
While access to the hills is free, races are generally low-key and club-organised and many charge entry fees as little as £3.
What kit do I need?
Hill runners need to be prepared for a range of Scottish weather conditions. Organisers of longer races will insist competitors carry spare clothes, a hat and gloves, as well as a compass, map and whistle.
Shoes worn on the hills are studded and maximised for grip on rocky or steep terrain.
Find out more
The story of the sport of hill running is told in a new book, The Mountains are Calling: Running in the High Places of Scotland, by Jonny Muir.
The book charts the sport’s evolution over half a century and aims to reveals the irresistible appeal of running in high places.
You can buy it on Amazon, in Waterstones and other book shops. See Sandstone Press for more details: sandstonepress.com.
- Scottish Hill Runners. See www.scottishhillrunners.uk
- Scottish Hill Racing. See www.scottishhillracing.co.uk
- Scotland’s biggest hill running club is Edinburgh-based Carnethy. See www.carnethy.com).
- The Westerlands is another popular running club. See westerlandsccc.co.uk