January 2018: Running the Hovis Hill 1000m

The idea: Run up Hovis Hill 35 times
Location: Shaftesbury, Dorset
Transport: 2 x cars, 6 x poorly knees
Essential kit: A pair of trainers
Less essential kit: 3 loaves of Hovis; White, Wholemeal and Best of Both
Cost: Petrol £10 each

Running the Hovis 1000m

Knowing that we can always jump in a car and, within a few hours, be climbing a mountain in a far flung corner of the UK is a good feeling. Spontaneous adventure is our favourite kind, because quick decisions leave no time for faff or second thoughts. Some of our best adventures have been planned in minutes – spending 24 hours outside, climbing the Lake District 3000s and cycling the South Downs Way, to name just a few.

Some adventures, however, require a little more planning.

On a dreary day in January, when it seemed the sun would never shine again and the thought of one day dragging our Christmas-softened bodies outside for a long run seemed laughable, we signed up for our toughest challenge yet.

The Salomon Mamores VK is the UK’s only vertical kilometre race. Starting and ending at Kinlochleven in the Scottish Highlands, competitors race 1000m to the summit of Na Gruagaichean, then jog back down again. It’s a 5km race in total, with no breaks, no shortcuts and, for the non-runners amongst us, no hope.

Under starter’s orders

Paying the £40 entry fee was a split second decision but in making that decision, we committed ourselves to months of pulling ourselves out of bed at an ungodly hour, doing all we can to avoid having to call in sick from work because we’ve had a heart attack.

This is one challenge we can’t just show up for. Though being generally fit might allow us to cycle for a few days through Wales, or swim across a few small(ish) lakes, skyrunning isn’t for amateurs. Skyrunners are determined, sinewy, trail-hardened beasts. The thought of standing our undertrained bodies in the way of them as they try to hit PBs is enough to lose sleep over.

That’s why, even though it’s only January and the race is (thankfully) a long way off, we’ve already started training.

Couch to VKM stage one: getting off the couch

Having a long-term training plan in place seems a little alien. With the exception of Jake (who took himself all the way to Australia to avoid the embarrassment of running uphill at our pace) none of us have ever set and stuck to a rigid exercise plan. Whether we’ll be able to do it or not remains to be seen, but we got things underway in true Everyday Adventure fashion – by planning a spontaneous trip.

Lots of people ask us how we come up with our ideas for adventures. The planning stage of each trip plays out pretty much exactly like this:

Friday night at 9.05pm: ‘We need to start training for the VKM. What should we do?’

9.06pm: ‘Run up a hill tomorrow?’

(Still) 9.06pm: ‘Which hill?’

9.07pm: ‘A nice one.’

9.08pm ‘Hovis Hill?’

9.08pm: ‘Sounds good. 100 times up and down?’

9.09pm: ‘WOAH. Calm down. 35 times makes 1000m and that’s all we ever need to do.’

9.10pm: ‘That’s settled then. 35 times up and down. Meet you there at 8am.’

Saturday morning at 9am (we all slept in): ‘This hill is too steep. What the hell were we thinking?’’

Get it down you, boy

Staging our first training run on the Hovis Hill made it feel important. We’re big believers in setting arbitrary challenges – particularly if they’re in glorious locations – because it’s always nice to achieve something in a nice place. A silly challenge lightens the tone and increases our chances of making the most of the day. On this occasion, the first ten repetitions flew by because we were wrapped up in the location, replaying scenes from Sir Ridley Scott’s advert in our heads and revelling in the attention from tourists who wanted to know what we were doing. With every ‘you’re doing how many reps?!’, and ‘you’re fitter than I ever was!’, we increased our pace just a little bit, forced wide grins and replied ‘oh, it’s nothing, really’.

The novelty didn’t wear off until at least rep 15, when the rain started to fall and old injuries began to resurface. The crowds dispersed to take shelter, meaning less people to give us encouragement, and the cobbles that we once admired for being so quaint now became slippery little death traps. At the halfway point, though we had half-suspected it, we knew once and for all that 100 reps would be way beyond our limits. All we could think of was how many thousands of hours we were going to have to put into training before September to stand any chance of completing the course.

The cold hard truth

Jake’s absence made the run more bearable because we could slow the pace down without realising just how bad we were. Compared to everyone else on the hill that day, even when we had pretty much reduced ourselves to hobbling, we were flying. Stumbling up the last of the 35 reps gave us a good sense of accomplishment – we’d hit the 1000m ascent mark – but we were acutely aware that most people who’ve entered this race would find 35 reps of the Hovis Hill a lot easier than we had. At some point in the not-too-distant future, we’re going to have to compete against Jake and hundreds of other people with Jake-like ability, and we won’t be able to slow our pace down or take five minute breathers whenever we feel like it.

So, to keep us motivated as we take on the challenge of getting skyrunner fit, we’re going to document our progress on this blog. Follow our ‘Couch to VKM’ updates and please feel free to share tips/advice/new routes to try. Better still, if you’re into running and know a good (scenic and hilly) route, please give us a shout and we’ll come join you!