Fell Running Introduction by Andy Buck
Humans have always been runners. And for thousands of years, before we had tarmac, we ran over the countryside and even the odd hill. Fell running takes us back to these roots, and is perhaps the purest of all the running disciplines.
Put simply, fell running is running up, over, around and down hills and fells. It’s nearly all off road. It’s a step up from its near cousin trail running. It’s psychologically different to road running – no mile markers, no metronomic pace, more a sense of self and the land. It’s great fun, pretty informal and very friendly. And it’s something we can all do.
So, how do you become a fell runner? Well, all you need for the most straightforward races is the same kit you’d use on the road. This said a pair of fell shoes are best. Fell shoes are lower cut, snug fitting and light, and have a studded sole. For most races fell shoes are a must, and full kit is normally required. More on this later. Apart from this, you just need to turn up, many races are entered on the day and are pretty cheap – £5 or so. And off you go, along with a few hundred others. Simple really!
There will be some hills to ascend and then descend, along with some wet, muddy ground. Much if not all of the route will be on paths. Most races are marshalled, which along with occasional flags and tape means that the route is easy to follow. For some, though, map and compass skills are essential. Some races are more “technical” – the terrain is more rocky, the descents more tricky and so on. Some have the occasional stream or river to cross. You don’t have to be able to run up hills! Even the top fell runners will be seen walking (very fast of course!) up the steepest sections.
Like all running, fell running carries the risk of injury. A twisted ankle, the occasional stumble or fall and such like are possible. But serious injury is rare. Perhaps more importantly, the stresses and strains of running on the tarmac are not present. Bearing this in mind, fell runners are no more likely to get injured than road runners. Of course, the classic races in the high fells and mountains carry all the risks that come with mountain travel – good preparation, the right kit and navigation skills become critical. Very occasionally there is a serious incident – but no more so than befalls mountain walkers and climbers.
So, how to choose your first fell races? We are really lucky – there is a huge number of races to choose from within striking distance of Sheffield. To help you choose, we’ve produced a list of all the local races, and have added in a few favourites that are further afield but well worth the journey. As well as including the distance and ascent, and Fell Runners Association (FRA) class, we’ve graded each race in two ways: difficulty (from 1 for straightforward races to 5 for the most challenging); and excitement (0, 1, 2 and 3 stars, with the latter reserved for the classic “do before you die” races). We’ve given one race – Jura – 4 stars: merely getting to the start is a memorable journey. All the details of every race are on the FRA website.
We have our very own race – the Salt Cellar held in early August and attracting a growing field. And for the past few years, we have fielded women’s and men’s teams in the British Fell and Hill Relay Championships, held in October, which have been great days out.
We enjoy fell running so much that we also have our own club Fell Running Championship where points are scored over 10 designated races through the calendar year.
If you get the fell running bug, then joining the FRA is a pretty good idea. For fell running addicts, the arrival of the FRA calendar, which lists virtually every race and which arrives through the post just before Christmas each year, is a key moment. Out comes the diary, and the highlighter pen, and planning for the year ahead is underway! And then three times a year, the FRA magazine arrives, over 100 full colour pages of news, race reports, advice and so on. All this for the £16 annual fee – fantastic value.
As you progress, new challenges open up. As well as the long distance classics, “mountain marathons” are attracting an ever growing number of runners. Mini-mountain-marathons are typically three or four hour orienteering events. Competitors are required to navigate to as many control points as they can in the time available. The controls have varying points values, and the winner is the competitor who garners the most points in the time available. Points are lost for over running the time limit. There are several MMMs in the Peak District.
Full mountain marathons are two day events, with numerous races of varying distances. Most MMs also have walking classes. Participants have to carry an overnight kit: tent, sleeping bag, stove, food etc. These are really great tests of mountaincraft and stamina. Navigation skills are essential! The classic event is the OMM – the Original Mountain Marathon, held on the last weekend in October when some interesting weather is likely. We’ve had more Striders entering these, with the Saunders Lakeland MM popular in early July.
If you get really keen, other possibilities include ultra events and the classic “mountain rounds”. The High Peak Marathon is a 67km race with a 1645m ascent run every February or March. It starts at 11pm! The most prestigious of the rounds is the Bob Graham – 66 miles over 42 summits in the Lake District, which must be completed in 24 hours. Winter rounds are not unknown. Unsupported, solo winter rounds are exceptional. A number of Striders have completed the Bob Graham Round here.
Now for some more technical stuff. The Fell Runners Association (FRA) is the official body for fell running. It classifies races and also has a set of race rules. Most fell races are registered with the FRA. Races are classed by their length, and by the amount of ascent per kilometre:
Fell race categories
|20km or over||10 – 19 km||9km or less|
|Over 50 metres climb per kmNo more than 20% road. At least 1.5 km||AL||AM||AS|
|25 – 50 metres climb per kmNo more than 30% road||BL||BM||BS|
|At least 20 metres climb per kmNo more than 40% road. Must include some fells!||CL||CM||CS|
The most important part of the FRA’s rules, which is rigorously enforced, is about the kit. For all but the simplest races, runners are required to carry the following kit:
Full waterproofs (top, with hood, and trousers, with taped seams); warm long sleeved top; hat and gloves; map, compass and whistle; and emergency food. Some require a drink to be carried. Some also require a bivvy bag. So, a bum bag or small close flitting back pack is needed.
There are three reasons for complying with these requirements. First, it is just plain sensible. Second, runners breaching the rules will be banned by the FRA. Third, not complying is cheating.
The classic fell shoe is the Walsh. More recently, the choice has grown considerably: Inov8, Salomon and Mizuno are popular. For waterproofs, OMM, Inov8 and Montane are good choices. And for bumbags and pack packs, try Terra Nova, OMM and Inov8. A recent innovation is back pack vests – very close fitting with good storage features for food, drinks, map and compass.
In Striders we have many fell runners, including some who are very experienced. We are keen to introduce as many members as possible to this great branch of our sport. So, we’ve set up a buddying scheme. We will match Striders who want to give fell running a go with a more experienced fell runner, who’ll help you with the kit, choosing races and so on. When it comes to races, running in pairs can be a good way to start. And you really don’t need to worry about being at the back of the field. Fell runners look after each other and are as welcoming of slower runners as they are of the very fastest.
|Our list of recommended races|
|Distance (km)||Ascent (m)||FRA class||Difficulty||Excitement|
|Leg it Round Lathkil||11.5||290||BM||1|
|Peat Pits Wood||8||225||BS||1|
|Bamford Sheepdog Trials||7.2||305||BS||2||**|
|Longshaw Sheepdog Trials||9.7||305||BS||3||*|
|Bradwell half tour||25||970||BL||3||*|
|Bradwell full tour||52.7||2200||BL||4||**|
|Grindleford Gallop||33.6||913||Not FRA||4||**|
|Grin and Bear It||25.6||591||CL||4||*|
|Further away – but well worth the journey!|
|Tour of Pendle||27||1473||AL||5||***|
|Even further away – and possibly the best!|