Full disclosure: I’m not an experienced fell runner.
That said, starting out at something, it can be more useful to hear from another beginner who has tried it out and lived to tell the tale (in my opinion).
My modest credentials for writing this article are:
- My mum is a fellrunner
- Sometimes when I escape the smog of London, I go home to Cumbria and run(/walk/crawl) up fells with my Mum.
- In December, I did my first fellrace and didn’t come last (I came very close to being last).
Fell running doesn’t stick to the path
This is a trail in a trail race:
And although they come in harder versions too (like this)…
...trail races do usually stick to a path, even if it is a bit technical.
This isn’t the case with fell running; in many cases, you can take whichever route you fancy. A super-duper uphill runnerbean friend of mine reached the top of the hill first in a Lancashire race (Clougha Pike, I think) last year but didn’t know the quickest way down. He didn’t win the race.
And even if the route is marked, there might not be a path… When I ran the Wansfell race last December, I got to the top of the hill and there was a bit of a gap in runners and I couldn’t see which way to go. A friendly marshall pointed me straight down a snowy slope covered in rocks. It was beautiful, but it was absolutely not a path.
You’ll need more kit
I hate running with a backpack or with a phone. But the weather changes quickly on the hills and it’ll be harder for help to get to you if things go wrong. The photo below is of fog on Fairfield, the highest point of class (and stunning) Fairfield Horseshoe walk/run in the Lake District. Last time I went up, we had brilliant sunshine at the bottom, in the middle and most of the way round, only to be greeted with freezing mist at the top.
The race I did last year was 2 miles long and I did feel a bit resentful of my Camelback full of things I didn’t use. However, if I’d fallen in the snow at the top, warm clothing would have been essential and many races won’t let you run without the correct kit.
You will be very much slower than you are on the road and you will walk
The two mile race I did would have taken me less than 15 minutes on the road and it took over half an hour. The first finisher took 20 minutes in total - that's right, 10 minute miling won the race.
I would never walk in a road race (I might run at walking pace sometimes..) but in a fell run, pretty much everyone walks, and it's faster to do so. I've tested this - keep running behind more experienced fell runners walking up a steep section and I can promise you'll soon feel like you're on an escalator going the wrong way.
Downhill is my thing. I'm faster at it than people who beat me up hills and along flat bits. Or so I thought. During the Wansfell 2 miler, I got to the top pretty quickly, only to be overtaken by people I'd passed on the way up running faster than I would ever dare to on a rocky, steep, none-pathed (that's a word) route covered in snow. How could I tell they were experienced I hear you ask? Answer, proper shoes, Salmon gear and NO FEAR AT ALL. Photos below are of my brother Ian and our friend Jack looking about as experienced as I am in the art of fell running downhill with grace.
This happened to me again on a technical trail downhill last week and, similarly, my friend Ed who is a running ACE on the road secured his first DNF on a tricky downhill section in Dorset.
Fell runners have more fun
This isn't definitely a fact, but the evidence base is growing. You can pick your own route, there will be beautiful views (and if the fog is down you'll feel a beautiful sense of achievement... or something) in gorgeous places, the pros don't instagram protein shakes, I haven't even got onto all the food you can consume on the go AND (major plus) the race I ran last year cost a single pound to enter.
If I haven't put you off, check out the pros (my two faves anyway, slight Cumbrian bias) here:
- Nicky Spinks (hero)
- Ricky Lightfoot (fellrunning fireman - VERY good at the fellrunning bit)