What exactly is Fellrunning?
Fell running is about running over the mountains and hills of England and Wales (in Scotland it is called Hill Running because they do things differently across the Border).
Fell running flies slightly under the radar. It eschews any kind of hype or commercialisation. Fell races are not organised for profit or to raise money. In this it is very different from, for example, Trail Running.
Anybody seriously considering taking up Fell Running should consider joining the Fell Runners Association:
Annual subscriptions are less than the entry fee for most Trail races and will bring you a fine magazine three times a year and an annual Calendar of events, plus help support the sport and get a reduced entry for most FRA races.
The first rule of fell running is that you should be able to look after yourself and be self-sufficient in any race you enter in any conditions that present themselves. You will not usually find any ‘aid stations’ on a fell race, though you might get a cup of water if the race is long and the route involves a road crossing. On longer races there will usually be tea, cake and sandwiches at the finish as people discuss the highs, lows and woes of the day. The fell running community is small and tightly knit but always welcoming to newcomers and hill lovers. GPS is prohibited in all fell races so you are expected to be able to navigate using a map and compass in all weather conditions and any terrain. Having a good knowledge of the hills is a distinct advantage in any race….
Fell races come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The shortest is probably the Killer Mile (which, surprisingly, is one mile), the longest is the Old Counties Tops Race which is 59km. Races are categorized as S(hort) M(edium) and L(ong) where a Short race is less than 10 km, a Medium between 10 and 20 and a Long over 20km. Races are also categorised as A, B and C. C category races are basically just hard Cross Country. B category Races will have some genuine mountain terrain but possibly also some easier terrain with tracks and a limited amount of climb/descent per km. A category races are the real deal. The course will involve substantial amounts of steep and rough terrain. Fell running does not always/usually involve following paths but blasting across open moorland or hillsides where rocks, heather tussocks, bog will be encountered, often all four at the same time. After/during heavy rain stream crossings can become major issues.
Short Races are often on marked courses so navigation is not an issue. Longer races will typically involve a number of hill top check points and runners are expected to navigate between them on a route of their own choice. Often there is much debate as to the best route…. A few races are categorised as ‘O’ (Orienteering) or MM (Mountain Marathon). In these events you can expect to receive a map on the start line with the checkpoints marked on it and you will need to navigate to them. MM events like the OMM or SLMM, are two-day events where you carry gear for an overnight camp.
In all longer races you are required to carry basic survival equipment: properly waterproof jacket and trousers, a hat and gloves, food and a map, whistle and compass. Failure to carry these will result in instant disqualification, though usually you won’t be allowed onto the start line. People have died on fell races which is why it is essential to carry this gear.
How do I get into Fell Running?
Well, firstly you need to practise running up and down hill, particularly down hill and particularly down steep and rough hills.. Even the very best runners will walk the steepest climbs, albeit very briskly but they will come down at close to the speed of gravity.
Next, you need to develop good navigation skills if you plan to do any of the longer races. Spend time out in the hills, at first in good weather and on hills you are familiar with. Use paths and obvious features at first and then strike out across country without using paths. Then go out in bad weather and on hills you don’t know. You can just walk at first to develop ‘hill legs’, then try mixing walking with jogging/running. Become confident at looking after yourself in any weather in remote, featureless country; be able to navigate across the plateau of Kinder Scout in 10 m visibility and 40 mph wind with an accompaniment of rain….or snow….
Start by entering B and C category races and AS races where navigation is not needed, then build up to AM Races before going for an AL Race. If you can, get out and recce the route beforehand. The closest races to Tring are in South Wales, Shropshire and the Peak District. The Lakes is where it’s at of course but it is a long old way up the M6. The terrain in Shropshire is generally a bit less exacting than elsewhere. The Lakes are steeper and rockier than anywhere else in England. Good races to consider early on are:
Box Hill BM Surrey(!)) Jan
Long Mynd Valleys AM (Shropshire) Feb.
Edale Skyline AL (Peak) March
Kinder Downfall BM (Peak) April
Coniston AM (Lakes) May
Duddon Valley Short AM (Lakes) June
Kinder Trog BL (Peak) June
Kentmere Horseshoe AM (Lakes) July
Brecon Beacons BL (S Wales) Aug
Black Mountains AL (S Wales) Sept
Grisedale Horsehoe AM (Lakes) Sept
Roaches BL (Peak) Nov
Cardington Cracker AM (Shropshire) Dec.
On the first Sunday in June Tring organize the Coombe Hill Fell Race a BS race from Wendover.
October is Relay season. Tring usually enters the two major fell relay events: the Hodgson Brothers Relay and the British Hill and Fell Running Relay Champs. The Hodgson is always on the same course from Patterdale in the Lakes and requires a team of eight with four legs each run in pairs. The British require a team of six with two paired legs and two solo legs and each year this is held in a different area.
The most exciting and exacting races are the big Lakeland races that are held in June, July and August: Duddon, Ennerdale, Buttermere, Wasdale, Borrowdale.
Beyond these big days out, many fell runners aspire to the big Rounds like the Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley and Ramsay. These are major outings of 60 – 70 miles to be completed in 24 hours and there are any number of other big challenges to be taken up/devised for those that dare. Several members of Tring have completed the Bob Graham, Simon Barnett and Henry Keighley Elstub have both done the Paddy Buckley and Simon is one of the few who have added the third round, the Ramsay in Lochaber.
The Club has a Fell Running WhatsApp group where people advise what races they are doing and lifts can be organised
Rick Ansell is the FRA/Club Liasion and will be able to answer any questions.