Clare Smith learns the hard way why including running up hills in her fitness regime is both helpful for training smaller muscles but also rewards you at the end with a beautiful view... that’s if you haven’t keeled over
Edinburgh is nature’s gym, says Kieron Ross of Race Fitness, a man who would never be caught paying a £50 direct debit to a fitness chain.
And, apparently, we are particularly fortunate in Scotland’s Capital because of the abundance of hills, steps and obstacles which can make training so effective and interesting.
Edinburgh’s Seven Hills have never seemed that attractive to me in that way before. Yet here I am again, with some colleagues from work, on our way up Calton Hill on a 50-minute lunchtime session.
First we jog up the hill – the “warm up”. That’s always tough and is made tougher as the temperature soars. After a few circuit-style tasks we are glad of the shade afforded by Edinburgh’s Disgrace for some stomach crunches and lunges.
And then the magical mystery tour begins.
Kieron sets off towards the East side of the hill, away from the main attractions. We follow, like obedient ducklings, all in a row, and we start down a deserted path none of us knew existed.
The path is peppered with ancient worn steps and we’re told to stay on the balls of our feet and focus on where we’re placing them. We pop out on a small quiet road. I’m not sure if it is the heat or exhaustion – but we all struggle to get our bearings.
The penny drops, as does my heart, as we stand at the bottom of two modern, symmetrical sets of stairs. We are behind the Omni centre in a secret world reserved for delivery drivers and security staff on breaks. Split into two teams we are tasked to ascend the steps – at pace. Off we go, and not even half way up I’m reminded of Escher’s staircase, the one that never ends. We make it. Panting, red faced and legs wobbling to the top – maybe 60 steps. Kieron informs us that steps are a great work-out for glutes, calves and hamstrings. I vow to take the stairs not the lift in the office.
We use the modern metal benches – surprisingly empty given proximity to the main drag – to do some tricep dips. Lowering ourselves down from the bench to almost the ground and up again. Repeat x 20. And some press-ups, using the bench to push up from.
Down the steps this time and we think Kieron is joking when he says “Right, back up again!” But he isn’t. Ugh. At the back of my mind is that we will end up going back up Calton Hill too – legs like jelly and lungs burning, I chastise myself for thinking ahead.
But I’m right. Kieron makes us “paper, scissor, stone” to decide which ascent back up Calton Hill we take. Can’t help but think all three choices would lead to The North Face. “Short and sharp,” Kieron tries to convince me, cheerfully.
As we’re unable to speak, Kieron does the talking, explaining why he’s pushing us to do the sort of stuff he does.
“Y’see, the majority of runners see hills as things of pure evil and avoid them at all costs.
However, in reality they’re missing out. Including hills improves your leg strength and endurance. And the sense of achievement when you reach the top is brilliant. In Edinburgh you are never far from a hill, which once conquered rewards you with spectacular views. Hill training requires determination too, which is a good skill to hone.”
I want to point out that hills are the devil’s work, and he can stuff his sense of “achievement”. But I can’t breathe, so just grimace. Also, I figure he knows what he’s talking about – he won Total Warrior in Leeds last weekend...
Kieron continues: “The Edinburgh Total Warrior course at Balgone Estates has plenty of short sharp hills, so that’s why we’re working on hill technique early on.”
I manage to pant a question about why he’s such an advocate of outdoor training, rather than gyms.
“By training outdoors you’re challenging your body and mind at every turn. Nature isn’t flat and ordered like a gym so all of your smaller stabilising muscles are having to work that bit harder to keep you upright. However the psychological benefits from training outdoors are the most important difference. Working with a friend or a small group works wonders for motivation, pick a route or a park, dress for the conditions and get out there. You’ll be amazed at the speed at which you can progress”.
I’m still waiting to be amazed by my progress. But I am enjoying being outdoors and discovering new trails and viewpoints. It’s not all bad.
www.totalwarrior.co.uk/edinburgh takes place on the 12 and 13 September.
• Week 4
• Week 3
• Week 1