Dave Taylor, Fell Runner & Elivar Featured Athlete answers some common questions surrounding the sport.
1 Fell running – isn’t that all about stringy old men with beards running up and down mountains?
Maybe once upon a time, but today fell running is more widely accessible and men and women of all ages take part both recreationally and competitively. There is also a healthy junior element within the sport, remember this is where the Brownlee brothers cut their teeth with a young Alistair regularly beating 90% of the field!
2 What is a fell race?
Fell is a northern English term for a hill or high stretch of moorland and so fell races often cross rough, pathless terrain on high ground as opposed to trail races that stick to well defined paths. As such, fell races take place in upland areas including the Peak District, Lake District, Snowdonia and the mountainous areas of Scotland.
Races fall into categories, being either: short (less than 6 miles), medium (6 – 12 miles) or long (over 12 miles) and they are also classified according to their steepness and amount of ascent. A good runner needs to be equally adept at a 3 mile blast with a couple of hundred feet of climb or a 21 miler which has over 9000 feet of ascent!
Prizes are usually awarded in categories so men and women are equally rewarded and prizes continue up the age categories – don’t be surprised to see 60 year old women receiving awards. It is one sport where being old can be an advantage!
Don’t expect to get rich though, prizes are usually inexpensive (I won a bottle of shampoo once!)
3 What skills are needed?
Other than the obvious fitness levels needed to run on this type of terrain, navigation skills are vital for many races. Often runners come to the sport from a climbing or hill walking background and being comfortable in remote, mountainous areas is a definite advantage.
Race rules stipulate that map & compass must be carried and there is no relying on GPS. As well as this being a safety requirement to ensure that runners don’t get lost in bad weather, many race routes aren’t marked and runners can choose their own route between checkpoints and so being self-reliant is important. The practice of “following someone and hoping they know where they are going” has led to many embarrassing stories of running up the wrong hill!
4 Do I need to be super fit?
The great thing about fell running is that is a sport where a newcomer can rub shoulders with the best in the country. Whilst a certain level of fitness is needed there are plenty of shorter races for less experienced runners to try. In summer there are often evening races from country pubs or sports grounds that are simply a blast up the nearest hill and back down again, and yes it’s ok to walk up the steep bits. Some races are all over in an hour and often the pub supplies the prizes!
5 What kit will I need?
Another bonus is that you don’t need much equipment to take part (no spending a month’s wage on a new bike!). A good pair of fell running shoes with a decent grip, a set of waterproofs, a small compass and a bumbag or running rucksack to put them in should do you. Whilst you can buy expensive running clothing from named brands, a cheap pair of shorts and base layer will be fine if money’s tight. Obviously you’ll need more layers for winter running but they needn’t be expensive.
6 Do I need to be in a club?
No, it is perfectly acceptable to run as “unattached”. However joining your local fell club is a great way to meet new friends, find out about races, share lifts, join training runs etc. as well as having the camaraderie of running in club colours.
7 I like the sound of it but I’m a bit worried that I’ll come last!
Fell running has to be one of the least elitist sports there is. I can’t think of any other sport where you can line up alongside the best in the country and have a drink with them afterwards. The fact that there is little prizemoney means that people mainly take place for the sheer love of the sport. Also there is a wide age range of runners so you might just beat the guys in the over 70 age category! And don’t worry if you do come last, there will be plenty of people clapping you across the line!
8 Ok great, so how do I find a race?
The Fell Runners Association has a website www.fellrunner.org.uk which lists races throughout the country. Also search for your nearest fell running club for information; many have websites or social media sites.
So that’s fell running, if you do decide to give it a go keep a look out for me – I’m a stringy old man with a beard!
About Dave Taylor
Dave Taylor is the current English fell running champion for the V50 age category. He is a UK Athletics coach specialising in fell and mountain running and offers coaching and guided running through his business, Fell Running Guide. www.fellrunningguide.co.uk
Visit Dave’s Featured Athletes Profile – Fell Running & Pot Noodles
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