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fell running

It’s called a trail race, but run under Fell Runners Association rules, therefore I am counting Ilkley Trail Race as my first fell race.

I signed up a week or so ago and was very much looking forward to the day. A couple of people had recommended I do it. With the big climb in the first half and a 7-mile total distance it is at the easiest end of the fell race scale. And as it is flagged and marshalled there’s no need for maps and compasses. But the terrain, and the views, are by no means diminished.

Jill and Jason drove us to Ilkley, and there we met with a few other Harriers and friends from other running clubs. There was a chilled, friendly atmosphere in the start area and I was very glad of a coffee van – hazelnut latte was just what I needed! My vague plan was to try to stick with Jill and Anne. Generally speaking I am there or thereabouts with them at many races and they are always good company.

 

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I set off up the hill on the first road (which was a killer!) and figured I would settle in as I felt able then catch up to them over the race. I walked up the latter part of the hill as I realised that my marching pace was just as quick as my jogging pace, but used less energy. And then I just trekked on through the woods without thinking too much about anything.

We came out into a field and up a track, and soon we were up on the moors. I gave a little gasp as we strode out on to the plains and smiled as I saw the snake of brightly coloured runners making their way through the land. It was simply stunning. I could hear a bird singing a gorgeous tune and spotted him briefly – I later learned (via Jill and a lady she was talking to) it was a skylark.

 

I walked a few times to try and soak in the view properly and was perfectly happy skipping along. The weather was warm but not overly bright or blazing so it was ideal.

I wore my new Inov8 Bare-Grip 200 fell shoes, which were perfect. I bought them as they are lightweight and flexible and very grippy, and I am so glad I did. I fear for my life a bit going down hills sometimes, especially when there is mud, wet grass or tree roots involved” I worry about going arse-over-tit and smashing my bones! But no need for such worries in my new fell running shoes – they gave me a lot of confidence and I could let go and not worry about where I was placing my feet. Not one stumble despite all the loose rocks and slippy grass made muddy by hundreds of runners! They were even great on the small bits of road as well – I was worried they would feel weird with the big lugs, but I raced down the final hill without concern.

 

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I can now happily say this neon Bambi loves running the moors. I felt like I was running really tall and smooth the whole way. I could feel my legs skipping along beneath me without even the slightest effort. It was truly liberating. It was a great race and will be a must-do on my calendar for next year. It was a real pleasure to be able to take in such spectacular scenery.

Best of all I wasn’t the slightest bit tired at the end. I would have happily done it over again. I didn’t feel achey or hungry or anything – I just wanted to keep going. I  felt alive and invigorated, which is surely the clearest sign of a wonderful run.

Photo thanks to Woodentops and running friends.

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I am intrigued and excited by the idea of fell running.

According to the internets, it can be defined thusly:

“Fell running, also known as mountain running and hill running, is the sport of running and racing, off road, over upland country where the gradient climbed is a significant component of the difficulty. The name arises from the origins of the English sport on the fells of northern Britain, especially those in the Lake District.

“Fell races are organised on the premise that contenders possess mountain navigation skills and carry adequate survival equipment as prescribed by the organiser.”

Sounds do-able, but as I read more about it, and especially as I looked at race details and thought about making actual plans, I started to get scared.

I’m not scared of massive hills. I may not practice them enough, and I almost always walk, but that’s OK. I generally march on and can often overtake people on even the steepest slopes. I’m not worried about keeping on going when the going gets tough.

But what is worrying is the fact that I could get horribly lost quite quickly and be completely alone in the middle of nowhere. I have navigated on walks with friends in the past, but that’s going back many years, and I don’t know the Yorkshire countryside well at all.

Plus the kit options are hugely varied, and I struggled to figure out where to start comparing waterproofs.

So I turned to an experienced fell running friend for some advice. He was not only very helpful, but also very encouraging – a great combination! I have reproduced/rehashed what he told me below.

 

Now then!

Right, basic fell running kit:

  • hat and gloves
  • compass
  • whistle
  • waterproof trousers
  • hooded waterproof jacket
  • map of the course (not always required)
  • bumbag or pack to put it all in

The first three are easy – hat/gloves I’m sure you already have, compass and whistle you can pick up cheaply.

Waterproof trousers – everyone I know has the same ‘pac-a-mac’ trouser equivalent, which come scrunched up in a small bag and they are basically there just as an emergency in case you are stuck during a long race and need to keep warm. I don’t know anyone who has ever worn theirs.

Hooded waterproof jacket – needs to be fully waterproof (not just resistant) with taped seams. Unfortunately this is (or at least can be) the pricey bit. Popular brands are Inov8, OMM, Montane, Salomon. They all have running specific lightweight jackets. Cheaper options are out there too.

Map – easy option is usually to just print out from the website if they have one, or Pete Bland do specific A4 maps for some of the bigger, classic fell races, but for smaller races you are rarely required to have them.

Bumbag/pack – Loads of brands, loads of options (with/without bottle holders etc), some people go with Camelbak/backpack things on much longer races, some people have the most minimal little pack.
Now, here’s the trickier bit — you don’t need to carry all that kit at every race, most certainly not at the shorter races, but the Fell Running Association rules changed at the start of the year so it’s basically a case of ‘bring all your kit and we’ll tell you on the day which of it is required’ so sometimes you don’t need anything at all. It’s all a good investment but you needn’t spent too much at the entry level.

Fell running is a funny old thing in that the perceived ‘entry level’ seems far higher than it probably actually is. Which is for a reason as it is not safe/suitable for beginner runners, but all the talk of kit requirement and compass bearings and navigation isn’t anywhere near as scary as it sounds and really should not put people off doing the more local, entry-level fell races. (Doing any race in the Lakes is a slightly different kettle of fish — they have proper hills up there!)

In terms of being worried about getting lost or being slower or that it’s harder running. Yes, there is that potential, but there are always slower folk at races, most people still walk the hills, and the route will be trampled ahead of you, as well as some markings, so you should be absolutely fine to see the route. There are loads of ‘fell’ races which are basically trail races, especially during the summer, and they’re great fun (round Ilkley and Otley etc).

I really empathised with your London Marathon experience; for me I just don’t relate to the big road races at all. Soon as I started fell running it all clicked. So if you can run London Marathon then you can run a short fell race, no problem! It is the best way to improve too, as the environment, ethos and community of fell running can be really addictive I think, so it makes you want to train/race more and therefore you improve a lot. A little bit outside some runners’ comfort zones, but 1000 times more rewarding – at least that’s been my experience.

DISCLAIMER: Bear in mind that advice is aimed specifically at you, knowing as I do that you’ve got other club people in a similar boat and you can dip your toes together! By way of a caveat I should also point out, of course, that fell running is dangerous, hazardous and the risk of injury is greater than road running (in the short-term at least). And it’s certainly ‘harder’ but again, you soon improve by doing it (remember when a mile was hard? 5k? 10k? All seem so easy now! Same improvements come with the fells).

 

 

So there you go, a lot of excellent advice from a fell running friend.

But I am still a bit back and forth with the whole thing. On the one hand I am really enthused and raring to go. But then other people say things that put me off, and I get scared and lose my confidence and drive again.

I have bought what will hopefully be my perfect pair of fell running shoes. They are light, minimal and squishy – should be great for this tippy-toe Bambi. I went on the hunt for a jacket and found a great Craghoppers one in TK Maxx – it was a bargain and ticks all the boxes. The waterproof trousers I had were beyond use (by which I mean they had gone a bit funny from several years of not being used), but a quick search on eBay turned up a new pair for not many pennies. Compass and whistle are knocking about in a drawer somewhere, and I bought a running backpack a while ago for long runs that should do the job.

So now I just need to get out there and give it a go! There are several fell races coming up, and I’m really keen to sign up and see what happens. But I need to be sensible and either find one that is something in between a trail and fell race with some markings, or find a friend who knows what they are doing to run with me.

If anyone out there would like to hold my hand in a fell race or two please do get in touch. Here’s the deal: you drive; I’ll pay your race entry and bring the butties. What I lack in competence I make up for in enthusiasm so it is sure to be a fun outing!

And one final bit of advice I have gained from a fellow runner: “If you see a hill; walk. If you see cake; run.”