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November 18, 2022 5 min read
Girls on Hills is Scotland’s only guided trail running company designed for women, by women. They empower women with the confidence and skills necessary to break free from the road and take their running into the mountains. I was fortunate enough to chat with co-founders Keri Wallace and Nancy Kennedy about what Girls on Hills offer, the importance of such communities, and they told us their top adventure tips. They have certainly inspired me to check out their courses!
Thank you so much for joining us! Could you please tell us a little bit more about Girls on Hills?
We are a women’s only trail, fell and skyrunning company based in Glencoe, Scottish Highlands. We also run hill-walking, navigation and mountain safety events. We began in 2018 and for a few years were based solely in Glencoe, but now our courses extend to areas across the Highlands as well as Snowdonia and the Lake District National Parks! Our aim is to empower women with the skills and confidence they need to become more independent in the mountain environment. We also seek to create a safe, inclusive and supportive space for women to spend time together in the mountains.
At our core, we simply enjoy a relaxed and sociable time in the hills, showing our runners that they are far more than capable than they think, regardless of fitness, age or experience.
What inspired you to set this community up?
We were always hearing ‘I could never do what you do’ from other women! We recognise that there is a myth around mountain running – namely that you have to be very fit or fast to be able to do it. We have tried to reframe the narrative and emphasize the journeying and restorative effects of running in upland spaces. Compared to road running it’s less about pace or distance and more about the aesthetic and reconnecting with nature, or about ‘me-time’ away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It’s an opportunity to stretch yourself and explore your comfort zone – and maybe even push that back a little, learning new skills, experiencing greater freedom and building confidence.
What sort of courses do you guys offer?
We offer guided mountain running and walking events, as well as bespoke days where customers hire one of our guides for a day. This might be for a particular run, hike or challenge, or for some skills coaching - such as learning to map-read. We also partner with several races, providing official recces (which are mixed events) and bolstering female entries. We provide personalised training plans through our coach, elite fell runner and invo-8 ambassador Nicky Spinks (via our website). Nicky also joins us to deliver our trademark course Trail Skills for Ultrarunners which is held in Glencoe each autumn and is the biggest course for female ultrarunners in the UK. We run courses throughout the year and at the moment are looking forward to our Winter Skills 101 events and Discover Winter guided trail running adventures, which kick-off in January 2023.
What is it about communities like Girls on Hills that are so important?
Women-only courses are not about excluding or alienating men. More than ever before, they are about achieving equity; about stepping-up to fill that gap where data, manufacture and support has been lacking. It is about finding-out what different people want from trail running and recognising women’s unique needs in this sport. There is a lot of pertinent physiology, psychology and even clothing/equipment which benefits from a women-specific approach, but that’s not all. On our weekends, we enjoy being able to openly discuss bras, periods, the menopause, post-partum recovery, pregnancy, ageing and a load more topics that somehow still feel taboo in some circles (though they are becoming less so, thankfully!)
What do you hope to achieve through Girls on Hills?
We advocate for equity in the outdoors and strive to help close the gender gap in participation across mountain running, ultrarunning and winter mountain sports, including mountain leadership (i.e. where the gender gap is most pronounced).
Speaking openly about gender bias and inequality helps normalise the subject and reduce awkwardness. Often, we are so used to the ‘way things are done’, that we don’t even realise there is inherent bias until someone points it out to us. Advocacy and growing female participation have helped bring about equality in sponsorship deals, results reporting and prize money, as well as the introduction of pregnancy deferral policies etc, which are all helping improve accessibility for women.
We also promote an environmentally-conscious approach to our business, striving for greener travel, sustainable tourism and a ‘leave no trace’ attitude towards mountain recreation.
Has there been a lot of interest from women for adventure/sky/trail running?
We have been caught off-guard by the enthusiasm we have experienced in response to our most adventurous courses! The year that we launched our first women-only skyrunning course, it filled within 24h. The same is true of our Wild Knoydart weekend (happening March 2023). This remote trail running and wild yoga weekend (with boat charter for accessing some truly wild places), filled with recipients of our newsletter, before it was even launched online! Our Bothy Run, a fast-packing journey with eco-hostel and gin tasting, is always really popular – even though it involves 30 miles of rough running over the weekend.
In light of this, we have just launched a new programme of Adventures for 2023, and hope that there will be something there for everyone!
What do you love most about being on the hills? What are the main benefits of being in the outdoors?
Science has shown that exercise and time spent in nature is effective in the management of mental health and has a positive impact on measures of wellbeing. We also find mountain running to be both liberating and empowering. Knowing that you have the skills and experience you need to look after yourself in the mountains, and carrying everything that you need on your back is a liberating feeling. Out in the hills you have true independence; you can take complete control of your situation, and make every decision yourself without influence, opinion or supervision. Time spent in this way can be really therapeutic, especially if you lack control in other areas of your life.
What are your top adventure tips?
Create an adventure that excites you. Get the maps out. Plan your journey. Whether you go solo or take a friend, you will discover far more than you expected. Take time to enjoy the open spaces and notice the little things along the way. Savour that feeling of achievement on completion and use that experience to try something bolder next time.
You got this.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the outdoors more? Where will they find your upcoming events and courses?
Take the plunge – you’ll be so glad you did! It doesn’t need to be something huge to begin with. Take small steps and enjoy the process. Join a like-minded group or tap into the knowledge of a more experienced friend. Empower yourself with new skills and new experiences.
Come on one of our courses and find out what it’s all about!
If you’re a runner, our Highland Trail Running weekends are suitable for all abilities - event beginners. The same is true of our Munro-bagging 101 weekend or Navigation Essentials courses.
You can find all our courses via our website at www.girlsonhills.com or via social media.
IG is @girlsonhillsuk
FB is @GirlsOnHills
Thank you so much to Keri and Nancy for taking the time to chat to us! Whether you're an avid trail-runner or a complete beginner, you can check out their upcoming Girls on Hills events here - there's something for everyone!
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