Fell running for beginners

young lady running on a rural...

Enjoy hillwalking but think it takes too long? Like cross country running but finding it a bit flat? Maybe you should consider trying fell running.

Taking its name from the word commonly used for hills in northern England, fell running basically involves jogging up and down hills as quickly as possible. Although you might hear it called "mountain running" in Wales or "hill running" in Scotland, it's basically the same activity.

Did we mention the hills?
The thing that separates fell running from other branches running is that the gradient is considered a significant part of the challenge posed by the event. Although the races are often routed over big hills, they do not involved climbing or scrambling. Although the route will not usually be marked once you get into the hills, it will be run on an existing right of way.

What skills do I need?
As well as being a competent runner, it's vital to have some mountain navigation skills so that you can avoid getting lost – and then find your way again when you inevitably do get lost anyway.
Since many fell runners race with minimal kit, self-sufficiency is taken very seriously in the sport.

Is there an organisation in charge?
The Fell Running Association was set up in 1970 to give the sport an identity distinct from cross-country running or other overlapping disciplines – primarily to organise the race calendar.
It now publishes a list of 400 to 500 events each year.

Is there a categorisation system for races?
Events are classed as category A, B or C for ascent and L, M or S for distance.

Category C events shouldn't have less than 20m of ascent per kilometre and shouldn't feature more than 40 per cent of their distance on tarmac. They should also feature some genuine fell terrain.

Category B races shouldn't have less than 25m of uphill per kilometre, with a maximum of 30 per cent of the distance on the road.

Category A races should feature at least 50m of ascent per kilometre – with no more than 20 per cent on the road. They must also be at least 1.5km long.

As you may have guessed, L, M and S stand for long, medium and short – with short being under 10km, medium 10 to 20km and long in excess of 20km. There are also O category events which involve orienteering skills and MM – or mountain marathon events – which are run in extreme terrain and over more than one day. The latter are usually run in pairs, with overnight equipment being carried.

So what do I wear?
Due to the uneven and rocky terrain, shoes need to be supple but include an element of protection.
Dedicated fell running shoes are readily available – and most runners favour non-waterproof footwear so that water is expelled easily. Rubber studs on the sole provide grip on wet rocks and in mud.

As for the rest of your body – the rules state that you need waterproof garments to cover your full body – where weather conditions and terrain demand it. Normal running shorts and tops are favoured by most on good weather days, with lycra tights and waterproof jackets added in colder or wetter weather. Wind or waterproof trousers are also popular in really grotty conditions. All that running will be getting you hot so you'll want breathable fabrics and light weight. Gloves, hats and headbands (to cover the ears) are also nice when the wind gets up.

What are the best-known races?
The Ben Nevis Race and the Snowdon Race should be self-explanatory – and are two of the biggest events on the sport's calendar. Cumbria plays host to both the Scafell Pike race – up and down England's highest peak – and the more challenging Wasdale Horseshoe Fell Race, which includes 2,750m of ascent over34km. The Three Peaks Race takes in Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales.

Will the races cost me much?
Because it's a grass roots sport with working class origins, fell running is significantly cheaper than many other activities – with some entry fees likely to leave you with change from a fiver.
The big-name events will cost a little more, but are still much more affordable than normal marathons or the currently popular mud-running obstacle-course events. But as you've hopefully gleaned from this feature, that doesn't mean you'll be undergoing any less of a personal challenge!

Have you tried fell running? Leave a comment below...

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