Arcteryx athlete Tessa Hill is currently second in the European sky running championships. She has worked hard for her position as one of the UK’s top mountain runners, but it all started in a soggy Scandinavian campsite with her Dad, a map and a few teenage tantrums.
“I’ve just returned from the Dolomites”, explained Tessa when we caught up after a few weeks of telephone tag. “It was 30 degrees and scorching but with spectacular thunder storms every afternoon. It was a magical setting. I love crazy weather”. The Dolomites was part of the European sky running champs, although doesn’t actually count for the series, which was just as well for Tessa as she didn’t have a great run. “It was too close to the Worlds”, she explains. “I knew it would be, but it’s always worth going for the experience, and Arcteryx are amazingly supportive.
The ‘Worlds’ were the World Orienteering Championships, where Tessa came 5th with an incredible performance which saw her battling against the fastest women on the planet despite having suffered from a crippling stomach bug the previous day. “It was just one of those things”, she breezed. “It actually made me feel more relaxed. I 100% wanted to be on that start line and because I’d been so ill there was no pressure. As a result I really enjoyed it and got my best result ever!” So it’s no wonder after all that she didn’t make it onto the podium at last weekends’ Dolomites race. But she is running second in the series so far and has one more left to tackle in October.
Tessa the super athlete
Tessa is a super athlete. Not only is she incredible fast and dedicated to training hard and racing at her best possible level, but she does it in two sports. Arcteryx support her in ‘sky running’, including the gruelling vertical races we are reading more and more about. Think ‘scaling a mountain’ and you’re close enough. But Tessa also competes for Great Britain at orienteering, which she started doing with her Dad as a child. But it wasn’t love at first bearing. “I did it because that’s just what we did. Holidays were about orienteering competitions and we went and camped and took part, but I rarely finished a course. I wasn’t forced as such, but I didn’t love it”.
So what changed? When Tessa was 14, she got bored with not finishing courses and decided she would try and ‘get up with the fast girls’. It took a few years but with her Dad’s support she was closing in, and before long competing at an elite standard with her Midlands’ club, the Harlequins. “I still race for the club, even though I live in Edinburgh. They were like a family to me and I owe them so much”.
An uphill life
The whole ‘running up mountains’ thing was inspired by her Dad’s love of ‘jogging’ but also the freedom that comes with map reading. “If you can read a map it opens up the world to you. You can go running in beautiful places, stray off the well-worn path and really see the gorgeous countryside we live in”. Tessa grew in confidence from her orienteering and realised she could hold her own running up hill, which she has always loved and was increasingly getting good at, thanks in part to her training with the quirkily named ‘Hunters Bog Trotters’ off road running club in Scotland. From a friend’s recommendation that she was ‘alright on the hill’, Arcteryx began to support her, and she was able to give up her job as a social researcher and throw herself full time into running and racing.
Tessa explains that “racing and running full time is amazing and I’m so lucky. My philosophy is that no matter what the results are, you have to love it, and I do. That’s what makes it so easy to dedicate my life to it at the moment”. Tessa’s passion and hard work continues to see her achieve the results she deserves, and also means she is travelling the world to race in incredible places. Next week it’s Columbia for another big challenge, the World Games.
The World Games (www.theworldgames.org)
Cali, Columbia will host the 2013 world games – the 9th edition of this little-heard-of international sporting competition. 31 sports are included and over 4000 athletes from 31 nations compete. These are ‘minority sports’ – those not included in the Olympics. Along with climbing, dance sports and squash, Orienteering is on the list. Tessa makes up one quarter of the GB team.
There are two individual events for her (a sprint and ‘middle’ event) and a relay. The sprint will take about 15 minutes and the ‘middle’ twice as long. These are short compared with traditional orienteering, but Tessa explains that “Brits do really well in these short, urban races. We are used to crowded housing systems and complicated maps with impassable fences and different levels”. This compares with the Scandinavian style of orienteering, where race would involve at least 90 minutes of slogging through bog to find far flung checkpoints wilderness-style. The GB version is much more in line with the international race scene and Tessa is hopeful for a good result.
Tessa is a super-athlete not just because of her international standing, or her speed, or her ability to fly up mountains like she’s on her own personal escalator. She’s a super athlete because she clearly adores her sport and is in awe of the phenomenal talents around her. Complacency is not a word she is familiar with. She trains hard, coached by a friend, and speaks with wonder about the speed of the orienteering athletes she knows, who cover a kilometre in 3.5minutes whilst reading a map. (Take a minute to soak that in). Tessa is clearly just as fast as the girls she holds in such high esteem, but has fought hard to be there, and continues to fight hard every day to make sure she gets as much as she can out of her opportunity and her talent. And if it all comes crashing down she has a back-up plan – to do a PhD!