Ready for a lung buster? The southern Idaho foothills make perfect fell running terrain for our author. Text and photos by Steve Graepel
I had just moved to Boise and was training to climb Mount Fairweather in Alaska’s notorious Fairweather Range. Hardened legs and deep lungs are de rigueur for alpine climbing; the rolling Idaho foothills were the perfect crucible to prepare for the 15,000-foot giant. So each weekend I would shoulder a weighted pack and hump loads up and down our steep foothills. I’d climb for three to four hours, accumulating thousands of feet of elevation.
Fairweather was a bust—there’s not much you can do to train for chest-deep confectionery snow—but I knew I had tapped a new power supply with my off-piste training cirque. My legs and ankles were stronger, I had less knee pain, and my aerobic capacity was boosted. The following year I swapped the boots and pack for my running shoes and began to run my off-trail route.
What I didn’t know was that running hills was a tried and true sport. It's called fell running. The British have been doing this sort of thing for centuries (no surprise there, hey have a knack of wringing good sport out of hard efforts: Everest, the South Pole (Shackleton!), a 20-year Scotch...). What started nearly 1,000 years ago in an effort to find a royal messenger kicked off the Highland Games and eventually matriculated into a sanctioned culture of mountain runners, weaving a bit of trail running, orienteering, cross country and sometimes, grueling overnighters. The goal? To run the steepest hills as fast as you can!
Running is a simple sport and its best appreciated that way. But taking it to the highlands requires some slight modifications to your strategy. Here are some tips to help ease into it.