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November 2021 - Trail Skills for Ultrarunners

by Girls on Hills

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Last weekend, fell running legend Nicky Spinks and elite ultrarunner Debbi Martin-Consani joined 20 ladies for a weekend of trail running skills workshops in beautiful Glencoe. The gathering was the third annual 'Trail Skills for Ultrarunners' course from women's trail running company Girls on Hills.

There is a significant gender-gap in participation in the sport of ultra-distance trail running. This all-ability course was designed to empower women with the skills and confidence they need to run on the trails and in the mountains, and to help overcome the subtle barriers that prevent women from pursuing ultrarunning as a discipline.

Last year the course was non-residential and significantly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic but this year the ladies were back, staying together in Carnoch House, excited to be meeting like-minded runners and learning new skills.

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After checking-in on the Friday, the weekend began with an evening of 'yoga for runners' from Mountain Yoga Kinlochleven, helping to relaxing everyone after their long journeys and providing a toolkit of poses and mindful breathing for use after running.

On Saturday morning, we kicked-off in earnest with an inspiring talk from Montane athlete Debbie Martin-Consani, who detailed her rise from humble beginnings to GB athlete. She then took participants through the barriers to ultrarunning faced by women and explained how she overcomes these personally - for example normalising the fears and self-doubts that many of us face and exploring time-management strategies for working mums. Buoyed-up by Debbie's cry to 'believe in yourself' the runners set out to meet Nicky Spinks and learn how to run with poles.

The running with poles session took place at nearby Glencoe Lochan, where waymarked trails weave through an autumnal landscape planted with North American trees by Lord Strathcona back in the 1890s. The runners trialled a pair of Mountain King Trail Blaze poles and were instructed by Nicky on how to use them to best effect - cutting through the many mountain bike trails to experiment with different surfaces and gradients. It was really helpful to hear Nicky's real-life stories about using poles in different ultra-distance events and to understand their pros and cons.

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After lunch back at Carnoch House (Glencoe Outdoor Centre), it was time to hear from nutritionist Sarah Ormerod from Thryve Nutrition. She explained how to treat nutrition as part of training for distance running and explored nutritional considerations that are unique to women.

In the afternoon we had something a bit more active on the menu - our navigation workshop, supported by HARVEY Maps. The workshop, which was delivered by Girls on Hills' guides, utilised a number of HARVEY Maps Teaching Cards and was focused on map-setting and contour interpretation. For a bit of fun, the ladies were given a number of chopped-up race maps, which they had to reassemble in groups by matching the contour lines.

After a quick coffee, the group met with Emma Hebborn of Wolfhouse Gym - a Personal Trainer and 2019 World Powerlifting Champion. Emma explained to the group the importance of correct strength and conditioning for runners, showing the group how to execute a perfect deadlift and use the technique to improve ultrarunning performance.

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Already it had been a very busy day, so the group were relieved that the final session was a relaxing one! After dinner there was the offer of a wee dram round the fire and an informal Q&A with inov-8 ambassador Nicky Spinks. Nicky regaled us with (interesting and hilarious) tales of racing, strategy and discovery at the Barkley Marathons, Tor Des Geants and on her ladies Lake District 24h record. It was a sociable and special way to end the day, with everyone reminded of the value of time spent together in groups, listening to and learning from the vast knowledge and experience of other female ultrarunners - something we have all missed dearly over the last year/s.

Saturday had been a wild day (and the weather was pretty outrageous too!), but Sunday dawned clearer and we were all looking forward to heading up Glen Coe to battle the elements. Before we set-off though, we heard again from Nicky, but this time about how to train for ultrarunning. Nicky joined the Girls on Hills team last summer as coach, providing 6-week training plans to help runners prepare for races and personal challenges. Her approach is one of quality training sessions over quantity, with a weekly mileage that surprised many of our runners that morning!

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Mid-morning we arrived at Altnafeadh in Glen Coe and took the West Highland Way trail up to the Devil's Staircase. The steepening rugged nature of this section (the highest point on the National Trail) is a perfect place to experiment with techniques and strategies for improving efficiency and reducing impact over long distances. We didn't hang around at the col because it was more than a bit blustery up there, but we were treated to some beautiful crepuscular rays over Buachaille Etive Mor on the swooping descent!

The afternoon built on the same theme, with an injury prevention workshop from ultrarunner and registered physiotherapist Mariam Kilpatrick of Physio Effect - showing runners a sequence of exercises to build strength and encourage better form using simple, affordable equipment at home.

We wrapped up the weekend with a kit Q&A with sponsors Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports, who took the time to explain the design and care of waterproof layers and showcase some exciting bits of running kit.

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Although the weekend was a whirlwind of new information, by far the greatest thing to come out of the course was the new friendships made, the confidence built and the fires lit inside these women, for more ultrarunning adventures to come…

Thanks to all our other brand partners for their support this weekend, HARVEY Maps, Mountain Fuel, Harrier UK and ULTRA magazine. Photo Credit: Johny Cook

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