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
- Road running: Self-explanatory, hard surfaces, mainly roads, pavements and occasional rough tracks
- Cross-country: Mainly parkland, soft ground which is frequently muddy
- Fell running: Predominantly tracks, but quite often off track through a variety of terrain, heather, tussocks, scree, etc.
- 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 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:
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.
“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:
A full list of FRA recognised races can be found at:
Races are categorised by ascent and distance and use a two letter coding system (taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fell_running):
- 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
- 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
- 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
- for Long – over 12 miles (19.3 km)
- for Medium – over 6 miles (9.6 km)
- 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:
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:
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?!
Next up orienteering…