I first became in interested in moving at speed in the mountains 29 years ago. Wild camping in Borrowdale, I’d set off early shortly before eight o’clock from Seathwaite Farm and met a couple on Esk Hause about 9.30. They had got there from Grasmere, much further than I’d come.
“How have you done it?” I asked. The answer was footwear and fitness. Their light running shoes were more than half the weight of my leather boots. Later at the end of a long day, I had done about 5500 feet of ascent, and my feet were hot and tired.
Shortly after this encounter, I tried out this new technique with a new pair of Vibram-soled shoes, running down from Caer Caradoc in Shropshire. The next day a large blister on the front of my large toe told its story. I hadn’t found the complete answer, though I still use the same shoes for fellside gardening. The problem I now realize was they lacked a restraining tongue and ankle support.
The practice and technology for running in the mountains and on the flat has much changed and improved over three decades. Now I have five pairs of footwear for different conditions – trainers for the gym, US Asics running shoes for road and cross country, Swiss Mammut approach shoes (See opposite) for longer walking, rubber spiked Innovate shoes for fell running and Teva sandals for summer and alpine walking; and I am mostly free of blisters!
It’s a reminder that outdoor sports and running is now big business. Every day here in Seattle’s Queen Anne district well over 100 people run or fast walk past the house; and last week over 600 people, including myself took part in the annual ‘Crown of Queen Anne’ fun run – in which the winner completed in half my time.
The map of this month’s runs planned for the USA (see opposite) shows just how popular running of all sorts has become and this is a worldwide phenomenon. Companies too like New Balance are noticing this change, according to a New York Times 9 July article in the Business Section, “Campaign redefines running as a social activity”.
The company in 2011 spent $14.4 million on advertising and now dubs this change as ‘Runnovation’. Posters with slogans like “Hit the wall on purpose” and “Redefine Girls Night out”, promoting more women’s involvement will be encouraging more of us to take up the sport – and like me spend more money on running shoes! The photo below shows ‘women hitting the steps on purpose’ in Seattle’s Queen Anne area!
For the record probably the best mountain footwear for me has been a pair of Teva sandals, used at up to 2,500 metres in the Alps, India, North America, Africa, Scotland and elsewhere.
The only big innovation I haven’t yet tried is the Vibram FiveFingers footwear, which some friends swear by. But that could change with a visit to Seattle’s REI outdoors shop. After 29 years maybe I should be giving a Vibram product another chance!