TBH guide to Fell Running

Club member, Louis Goffe, extols the virues of fell running.

The sport of running is as diverse and colourful as the personalities that we have in our great club. Its beauty is in its simplicity and its accessibility, no one is excluded and there is a flavour for us all to enjoy.

For many in our region, their first experience is through training for the Great North Run or the relatively new institution of parkrun. My introduction was slightly different, whereas most will transition from the hard roads to the tussocks of the fells, I grew up spending my Sundays running through woodland and across the moors via the sport of orienteering. My dad was a keen cross-country runner but once he had a taste of orienteering he was smitten and his obsession meant that most of our family holidays were planned around various international events across Europe.

For me, competing in a variety of running disciplines is essential in order to keep all the activities feeling fresh and fun and there is also mutual benefit in the training as once you’ve experienced a hill run in Scotland or a fell race in the Lakes it makes the bumpiest 10k race seem as undulating as the Salt Flats of Utah.

In terms of terrain the gradation is as follows

  1. Road running: Self-explanatory, hard surfaces, mainly roads, pavements and occasional rough tracks
  2. Cross-country: Mainly parkland, soft ground which is frequently muddy
  3. Fell running: Predominantly tracks, but quite often off track through a variety of terrain, heather, tussocks, scree, etc.
  4. Orienteering: All the above and more! You choose whatever route you feel will get you around the race the quickest

Most of you are familiar, or getting to know road running and quite a few are gearing up for the cross-country season. I’d like to provide a brief insight into both fell running and orienteering (next article) and hopefully some of you will be tempted to give it a go!

Fell running

Fell running is probably the least pretentious sport you could ever come across, the total antithesis to triathlon, where practically everyone is eyeing up each other’s carbon bikes. You’ll never find a warmer more welcoming environment in competitive sport than at the start of a fell race. The usual format is start at the bottom of a hill, flog your guts out trying to get to the top and then leg it back down as fast as you dare! Terrain can be quite varied dependent on the location of the race, but certainly you must be prepared for lumpy and bumpy stuff. It’s often slow going and even the top guys have to walk, clamber or scramble up some of the tougher sections of a race. If you’re used to taking the odd trip into the Dales or the Lakes for a walk on a weekend, it’s very much the same but just a case of stripping off into your running gear as opposed to plodding around in walking boots. As you can imagine races take you to some of the most scenic places in the country, the downside being that there is often quite a drive to get you there. Here’s a video to give you a taste:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ebi5lFwbQlE

It’s essential to have a tough pair of shoes as your usual trainer won’t cut it, but if you have some trail shoes they will be ample for a first crack at one of the shorter races. As informal as most races are the governing body, The Fell Runners Association (FRA) does have their safety, rules and equipment that you must adhere to in order to compete.

http://fellrunner.org.uk/pdf/races/12_Competitors_Safety_Rules_and_Equipment.pdf

“The philosophy of fell running is that it is the competitor, him or herself, who is primarily responsible for their own safety whilst competing.”

They’re not health and safety nit pickers and the onus is on the runner to make sure that they’re prepared for all eventualities. For the shorter races (less than 60 mins) you needn’t worry too much about additional equipment, but if you do decided to have a go at some of the more adventurous events then you will need to take full wind/waterproofs, compass, etc.

Races are run throughout the year and vary in length and ascent. Many local to us are associated with country shows throughout Northumberland which are usually pretty short and a lot of fun. Northumberland Fell Runners, to which John Tollitt, Gareth Huxley and I are all members, have an excellent listing of accessible races:

http://www.northumberlandfellrunners.co.uk/html/whats_on.html

A full list of FRA recognised races can be found at:

http://fellrunner.org.uk/races.php

Races are categorised by ascent and distance and use a two letter coding system (taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fell_running):

Ascent categories

Category A

  • at least 250 ft (76 m) of ascent per mile      (1.6 km)
  • should not have more than 20% of the race distance      on road
  • should be at least one mile in length

Category B

  • at least 125 ft (38 m) of ascent per mile      (1.6 km)
  • should not have more than 30% of the race distance      on road

Category C

  • at least 100 ft (30.4 m) of ascent per mile      (1.6 km)
  • should not have more than 40% of the race distance      on road
  • should contain some genuine fell terrain

Distance Categories

Category L

  • for Long – over 12 miles (19.3 km)

Category M

  • for Medium – over 6 miles (9.6 km)

Category S

  • for Short – less than 6 miles (9.6 km)

So for example Alwinton Show Fell Race on the 13th of October (http://www.northumberlandfellrunners.co.uk/html/maps/AlwintonShow2.html) is an “AS” which means it will be short but with a lot of climb.

Most races are well marked and marshalled, but there are some races that do require a modicum of navigational skills, but these tend to be the longer events such as mountain marathons.

If you are interested then I would highly recommend the Kielder Blast Fell Race on the 29th of September, which will be a cracker and will be attracting some top runners as it’s one of the English Championship races:

http://www.northumberlandfellrunners.co.uk/html/maps/KielderBlast.html

Another great set of local-ish races are the Esk Valley Fell Club Summer Series, in and around the North York Moors. These are now coming to an end but are brilliant races organised by the charismatic Dave Parry, he practically has a prize for every competitor. These are evening races, many of which start and finish at a pub (not so uncommon in fell racing), which is another perk! These will be up and running again in 2013 and make an excellent introduction:

http://www.eskvalleyfellclub.org/summer_series.htm

http://www.eskvalleyfellclub.org/fixtures/fell/summer_series.pdf

Fell running is great fun and a sport much loved by the Brownlee brothers, but be ready for the odd twisted ankle and face plant into a bog. Maybe one day you might find yourself entering this race?!

http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/general/athletics/is-the-dragons-back-the-toughest-race-in-the-world-8073419.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/gallery/2012/sep/06/dragons-back-race-wales-in-pictures?newsfeed=true

Next up orienteering…

 

Louis in his Northumberland Fell Runners vest

Permanent link to this article: http://www.tynebridgeharriers.com/2012/09/08/tbh-guide-to-fell-running/

15 comments

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  1. A superb article about fell running.

    Having done several races myself (just the short ones mind :-) ) I can vouch for the friendly atmosphere surrounding the races and how accommodating the more experienced runners are to newbies.

    And if the low entry fees weren’t tempting enough, there’s often free drinks and cakes after the race too.

    • Dave Moir on 8th September 2012 at 19:47
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    Great article Louis – I hope you’ve tempted a few more people to give it a go.

    • Kenny Mac on 8th September 2012 at 20:30
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    I used to think I was rubbish at Hill Races because when I went training in the Highlands I used to have to walk some of it due to my quads feeling like they were going to explode. It was not until in recent years that I realised everybody walked.

    My hardest challenge was Glamaig on Skye last year and tbh was nearly crying on the descent because I kept getting hit by falling scree.

    I fancy Alwinton on similar to toughen me up before Belfast,

    Great report Louis, Barry Young of the Poly extols your prowess in Orienteering,

    • Marc Fenwick on 8th September 2012 at 21:01
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    I’ll be up for a fell if there is any towards end of October?

    • Ian Jackman on 8th September 2012 at 21:50
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    Great article Louis. Never tried it myself but I think a lot more Tyne Bridge Harriers will want to try it after reading this. I definitely want to give it a go!

    • alex lockwood on 8th September 2012 at 22:06
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    great article Louis, perfect for a beginner who’s not done a fell run before.

    • Stu Dickson on 9th September 2012 at 21:40
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    Fantastic article Louis, although I’ve never tried anything other than running on hard surfaces! after reading this i’m sure I’m going to have a go at some of that wet boggy stuff.

    • Dave Antill on 9th September 2012 at 22:27
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    Well it’s good enough for me to be interested in the Kielder Blast! I’m off to Portugal the next day so could do with a challenge :). Are you doing it Louis? I looked it up on AA route planner and it said it’s 2hrs 22 mins from Newcastle, is that about right? Do you think they will be ok with first timers :).

    • Colin Dilks on 9th September 2012 at 23:21
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    Great introductory article on the wonderful world of fell running Louis. Well done! Brings out the friendly, fun and sometimes insane side of the sport. It is amazing the differences between road and off-road running – physically and mentally.

    I am scouting for navigators for my anti-clockwise BG attempt in 2013 – would you be interested?

    • Brother Louis on 10th September 2012 at 10:51
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    Thanks for all the kind messages regarding the article and apologies for the slow response, due to the fact that after writing on Saturday I hot footed it over to the Lakes to run in the Lake District Mountain Trial (the 59th edition of the race). I ran the medium, but this was by no means the easy option, trial by name and very much a trial by nature; just shy of 13 miles with 5000 foot of climb. I had not run this sort of distance across the fells for well over a year and it was tough! It’s a cross between a fell race and an orienteering race, so there was a bit of navigation involved.

    I really pleased that the article has sparked some interest in the club and I along with John will let folk know when we’re heading off to any races.

    DD makes a great point, pretty much all fell races are very cheap to enter, which goes in some ways to balancing out the travel costs.

    Kenny those hill races in Scotland are incredible events, the name doesn’t do them justice. I need to get up there and do some myself some time. If you run the Alwinton race you’ll find it all too easy!

    Dave A the only downside is that the Kielder Blast clashes with the Sherman Cup, a big cross country race for TBH, but I’ll be heading up for the Blast as I need to get the fell training in for a big fell race relay that I’m running in the following weekend. Let me know if you still want to come along as I imagine John will be running it too. I think it will be a great one for a first event. Maybe Stu, Ian, Alex and others fancy coming along too?

    Mark if you can’t make the Alwinton Show race on the 13th then there is the Guisborough Three Tops Race in North Yorkshire on the 28th, tho will be a bit of a journey to get to.

    Colin, yes I could be keen. I recced part of the course last year with my brother and his mate and even that was tough going! Are you a member of a fell club? That would be a good way to get extra help.

    • caballo tonto on 10th September 2012 at 10:58
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    Nice intro. Fell running is just so much more fun for me than pounding the streets. Not only better views, fresh air etc, but also more challenging in many ways. You have to engage your brain to figure out where you are going and which route you want to take. No two steps taken in a fell race are the same.

    • Dave Antill on 10th September 2012 at 19:44
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    Yes Louis, barring injury I’m definitely up for the Kielder Blast.

    • BigAl on 10th September 2012 at 21:10
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    Great article Louis. All too often you can get wrapped up in your pace when running roads. But on the fells you can forget that. Ive loved the runs ive done recently and hope to do many more. I hope a few more TBH will get out and start getting involved, especially the ones who like to enter these assault course type races.

    • John Tollitt on 11th September 2012 at 09:10
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    Great article Louis. Couple of places going spare in our car for the Kielder Blast if anyone’s interested but we’ll be leaving early as Vicki is helping with registration/marshalling.

    • Dave Antill on 12th September 2012 at 20:34
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    John, if my hamstring survives the GNR I would be grateful to tag along please. I will of course contribute to petrol!

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