Victoria Wilkinson is one of the world’s best mountain runners and the reigning English fell running champion – a title she has won four times. The 38-year-old inov-8 ambassador, who has represented Great Britain on multiple occasions at both the World and European Mountain Running Championships, is also a remedial and sports masseur.
Earlier this year, she ran one of the races of her life when obliterating the long-standing women’s record at the iconic Three Peaks Race in the UK. Victoria ran the 23-mile ‘marathon with mountains’ in a time of 3hrs 9mins 19secs and jubilantly crossed the finish line (see photo below by Dave Woodhead).
What follows here are Victoria’s top-six exercises to strengthen and condition your body for running on hills, fells and mountains (as demonstrated in the photos by Sam Green from our UK team).
Victoria says: “These are some great moves for everyone, whether returning from injury or for prevention of injury. They can be incorporated within your training or as part of your racing warm-up. Ideally, do them outside using about 50m of level lying grass, or statically in your home.”
10 on each individual leg. Ensure to swing the arms and keep the thigh as straight as possible on landing. Total: 40. This is to improve quad strength. Make sure that the knee doesn’t go over the toe. This exercise is brilliant for helping with hip and pelvic strength. Great for improving your descending on those steep hills and getting the legs agile and strong.
2. Paused Hopping
Do the same as move 1 (hopping) but each time you land the hop, pause and hold on the standing leg for two seconds. Try to keep as balanced as possible. This will bring all the same advantages as standard hopping but will also really help improve your balance when running over technical terrain.
3. Crossed Hopping
Mark out a cross on the ground. Stand over the centre of the cross and hop on one foot between the lines. Go in a diagonal direction each time. This is a great way to improve co-ordination and reactions due to the rapid change of direction on each hop. This type of strength and technique is essential when skipping down a heather-covered hill in a race.
4. High Knees
Alternate each leg, lifting the knee as high as possible whilst keeping the other leg as straight as possible. This improves flexibility of the hamstrings and hips. Make sure you swing the arms too as this enables good coordination. It might come as a surprise to many, but this will prove a real benefit when ascending those lung-bursting short, sharp hills.
Moving over the ground slowly, keep your back and hips straight, while bending the back knee down to just above the ground. This is excellent for stretching out the hip flexors, flexing the toes and controlling balance while the centre of gravity is lower. When doing lots of ascending in the hills, hip flexors are often the first area to tighten up, so it’s essential to stretch them out.
6. Combining high knee into lunge
Flow through the high knee movement but land straight into the lunge. This final drill is a combination of all the previous five. Once coordination is obtained, it’s a lovely, flowing movement incorporating balance, style, flexibility and strength. This is what’s required for all aspects of fell and mountain running – bounce, strength, flexibility, speed. It could be leaping over a stream or slogging up a hill for 30 minutes – fell and mountain runners need to be able to do everything!