“Oh come on, get to the top and the view will be amazing!”
This is usually how it goes; the tough, physically draining movement of running uphill justified by the gazing view that awaits you at the summit. The enjoyment or pleasure only reached once we can crest the hill and outwardly appreciate the landscape.
However what I found through the ‘go-along interviews was a real pull of the landscape when ascending. It wasn’t the non-embodied gaze that afforded positivity or connection but the gradient that immersed the runner in(to) the landscape.
There is something magical about hills. Their affective capacities and embodied climbs engulf the runner ‘through the experiences of descending and climbing and their different muscular entailments, the contours of the landscape are not so much measured as felt – they are directly incorporated into our bodily experience’ (Ingold: 2000: 203).
Uphill sections of trail runs are perceived as the hardest, most exerting moments, however on nearly all the climbs I experienced with my interviewees, few negative comments were made; amidst the shortness of breath often hid a smile and immense feelings of satisfaction.
Pain and discomfort of uphill running is negated; the body and landscape become mutual as kinaesthetic sensations are stimulated. Because practice frees us from representation, movement becomes our primary form of consciousness, so our participation in the landscape brings with it a very different sense of place from one which is disembodied or contemplative (I.e. the outward gaze). Through the production of rhythms, the re-embodiment of the visual and the intense muscular feelings of a kinaesthetic burn, hills become part of you.
The internal-external relationship of hills shifted my awareness; internally I naturally focused on the present. My legs and senses became more attuned; the surface became an extension of my movement rather than a passive surface.
The gradient of the uphill tunnels our thoughts, as thoughts become narrowed, a sensory focus on the immediate, the touch and feel of the hill:
‘to become so absorbed by effort, there can come a point where it all becomes effortless… the gradient is ever present but proves no real impediment to passage, paradoxically even becoming an energizing force, propelling the body upwards’ (Lorrimer: 2012: 258).
Hills afford ‘a truly terrestrial kind of attachment’ (Lorrimer: 2012:255), reinvigorating the mind and the body to become an embodied dimension of the landscape. Several of the runners involved in this study, including myself, noted how the uphill sections offered positivity, I noted how there was ‘something about running hills and trails that relaxes and puts mind at ease, calms you down and allows you to be more open.
Uphill climbs engage more of the lower body muscles such as the quadriceps, glutes and calves as well as significantly altering stride patterns and posture resulting in a sensory-kinaesthetic overload of uphill running. In Wylies’ (2002) ‘Ascending Glastonbury Tor’ paper, he notes how subjectivity produced and performed via practices of ascension and elevation moves towards a new understanding of visible landscapes in terms of sensuous practices. New engagements with these embodied, multisensorial relationships offer avenues for ways of better understanding environmental connections, reinforcing conceptions of landscape relations beyond simply visual and aesthetic.
Hills affect and are affected by our movement. Through the kinaesthetic sense and the pull of the terrain, our bodies become immersed. This connection helps foster a more acute bodily awareness and heightens all of our senses.
This exploration still doesn’t make running up-hill any easier though!!
Ingold, T. (2000).The perception of the environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London. Routledge.
Lorimer, H.(2012). Surfaces and slopes: remembering the world under foot.In: Jones, O.and Garde-Hansen, J.(eds.) Geography and Memory: Explorations in Identity, Place and Becoming.London. Palgrave, 83-86.
Wylie, J.W. (2002). An essay on ascending Glastonbury Tor. Geoforum. 33(4): 441-454.