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The importance of starting slow for fell running: A year to stay fit

I arrive back at my car and stop my watch, some 5 miles and 1400ft of running behind me. I have not run overly far today, were this route a fell race, it would be classified as short. With neither the route or the pace being overly arduous, I could have done much more. Even having reached the car, I am confident I have sufficient energy to do the same route again at the same pace, possibly faster. So, why did I stop? Why not carry on until my energy reserves were drained? Push my pace, so I could get back to the car having had a proper workout. It was not for lack of route options. Having ascended Nab Scar, there were many ways to extend the route, rather than dropping off the side, to descend to the road via Alcock Tarn. Nor was there any pressing reason to get off the fell. I had no other fixed plans for my day off, and, while drizzle was due to begin in the afternoon, that is absolutely no reason to cut a day on the fells short. So why then did I decide to do such a short, and gentle run?

If you have read my other posts, you will know that I am just coming back from an injury. Having damaged tendons on my toes, as well as inflammation of my knee joint I have been out of action for some time. I have been keeping myself fit through swimming in lakes, climbing and small, flat runs. While these have kept me fit and relatively entertained, they just cannot provide me with the same joy that running on the fells can bring. Naturally, when I became well enough to run on the fells, I wanted to go all out. Doing all the routes I had planned to do before I injured myself. A common issue I have had, returning from injuries in the past, is trying to do too much, too soon. Weeks of looking wistfully at the fells, thinking about how good that first run back is going to be. Finally being able to run on the fells, and trying to go all out, planning routes far above what I can do when just returning from injury. No matter how fit I had kept myself, I had not been able to retain the same strength in my legs for the ascents, or the skill and confidence to descend safely. I would frustratedly push myself, breathing ragged and legs burning, desperately trying to complete a run I, realistically, had no chance of doing. One particularly over ambitious return to fell running had me reeling, with vision blurring, as I powered my way up Fairfield, before having to drop down to the safety of the road after only 10 of the planned 16 miles. This left me returning home, exhausted and disappointed having neither achieved a great deal, or particularly enjoyed myself.

Logic would dictate that, having just returned to the fells after an involuntary hiatus, I should start with something small. A short run, with low amounts of ascent, easy, non technical grassy descents which I can easily run down in a controlled manner and all done at a sustainable pace. This would let me go to the fells, check that my injuries had healed, work on my running technique, as well as giving myself an opportunity to witness the beauty of the fells without pink and purple blotches appearing in my vision.

This exact logic is why I ignore the voice that tells me to carry on skywards after ascending Nab Scar, that holds me back on the ascent, that lets me finish my run, content, happy and uninjured. Despite the relativity low mileage, I feel far happier with myself than I did on the aforementioned route where I managed 10miles. Despite on that prior occasion doing twice as much as I have today, I was left drinking a bitter draught from the chalice of failure, as I had had to cut my run short. Today I am satisfied, I have done exactly what I had set out to do. A short, gentle, enjoyable run on the fells.

As I drove home, I looked at the Wansfell, rising above Ambleside. It has been less than an hour since I returned to the car. “You can do that”, my brain tells me, “just a quick run up it, you haven't done much today”. I ignore it. No longer will I run until I cant no more. Now, I will run and leave plenty in reserve. Oh, and make sure there is time for cake.

Holding a cake up
Have to leave time for fellside cake

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