60-Second Guide: Fell Running

From planning your routes to staying safe in all weathers, it's the perfect introduction to running on British mountains.


Posted: 25 March 2008

Running up and down hills amid some of Britain’s most remote and rugged terrain might seem the preserve of hardy, veteran athletes, but in reality, anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can enjoy the exhilarating experience of fell running.

Getting Started

Teaming up with other runners is the best way to dip your toe in if you’re completely new to off-road running. The Fell Running Association website has links to clubs across the country – contact a local group for a network of people ready to take you under their wing and offer advice.

Next, prepare to leave all expectations behind, as it will take time to adjust to running over rough grass, rocky paths, up sheer hillside tracks and over streams, boulders and stiles. Certainly don’t expect your road times to translate on the fells – you may even find yourself walking in places as you get used to the new terrain. Try not to get too frustrated – stick with it and you’ll quickly notice improvements.

Technique

Much as you’ll need to practise powering up the hills, negotiating the descents can be equally difficult to master. Coming down steep slopes can be unnerving, especially if the ground feels unstable underfoot. Make sure you watch where you place your feet and try leaning into the descent – this might go against your natural reflexes, but will actually reduce the strain placed on your muscles. Strengthening your ankles and quadriceps through cross-training (cycling or hill-walking for example) and leg-specific exercises can also help reduce your risk of injury and soreness.
FRA Race Categories
Fell races are graded according to both their difficulty and distance covered.

A Category – averaging no less than 250ft for every mile of climb, and no more than 20% of total distance on road
B Category – averaging no less than 125ft for every mile of climb, and no more than 30% of total distance on road
C Category – averaging no less than 100ft for every mile of climb, and no more than 40% of total distance on road
Short (S) Under six miles (9.6K) in length.
Medium (M) Between six and 12 miles (19.3K) in length.
Long (L) More than 12 miles in length.
Thus, a race listed as "AM" will be steep but of medium length. Most fixtures will also include a reference to their total distance and elevation –3m/400’ refers to a three-mile race climbing 400ft for example.

Other common abbreviations in the FRA race listings include NS (navigation skills required), LK (local knowledge an advantage) and ER (experience required).

Remember: if in doubt, contact the organiser beforehand.

Planning Your Route

Stick to well-marked trails while you’re finding your feet. If you’re not sure where to start, chat to local fell runners or browse the FRA forums for route suggestions. Once you feel comfortable, consider brushing up your navigational skills. Being able to read maps and take compass bearings will not only open up endless new training routes for you, it’ll broaden your racing options too.

Shoes

A good pair of fell shoes will be your most important piece of kit - everyday road shoes simply won’t cut it on the rough terrain and sheer slopes, especially in wet conditions. Look for models that sport a lower heel (reducing the risk of turning an ankle), have large studs on the sole (adding grip) and a snug-fitting upper. Walsh and Inov-8 are two of the most popular brands: expect to pay between £50 and £70 for a mid-range pair.

Safety

Heading out in a group will minimise the risks associated with running in exposed, mountainous areas, but can detract from the sense of adventure. Here are a few tips to bear in mind if you’re heading out solo:

1 Weather conditions can change quickly, so always take waterproof layers, a hat and gloves with you.

2 Stow a map, compass, whistle and emergency food rations in your backpack (or bum bag) too. A lightweight bivi bag and basic first aid supplies can also be useful.

3 Plan your route in advance (including possible cutbacks) and let someone know where and how long you will be.

4 Run conservatively to avoid sustaining an injury.

5 Memorise features as you pass them to make locating yourself on a map as easy as possible.

Above all, always err on the side of caution: it’s all too easy to be seduced by your surroundings, and find yourself in trouble minutes later.

Races

Fell races take place almost every weekend across the UK (take a peek at the FRA website for full listings) and cost just a few pounds to enter. Don’t be put off by the small number of runners attending – most events cater to a full mix of abilities.

Fixtures are graded by both severity and length (see right), so try to be realistic about your ability when choosing a race. Find out whether the route will be way-marked too – if in doubt, check with the organiser beforehand.

Many events will also have mandatory kit regulations. Arrive prepared to have the contents of your rucksack checked before the start - if you don’t meet essential equipment requirements, you will be penalised.

Lastly...

Enjoy it! Take a moment to enjoy the views, relish the endorphin rush of a thrilling descent and above all, delight in the arresting landscapes of mountainous Britain.

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Discuss this article

I always get mixed feelings about articles like this. On the one hand, fell running is the purest most joyful thing I know. On the other hand, don't tell everyone!

Here are some things I've learned in the last five years or so:

* Running on the fells is different to fell racing. The races are the best way to learn the landscape, meet people and build the stamina you will need, but you don't have to race if you don't want to. A lot of people don't: they just like to run in the wild, alone or with friends.

* You don't need anything fancy. When I started out I was always looking for clever solutions to the problems of drinking, finding my way, etc. Now I just carry a very small bottle and a map. Anything else is clutter, and the fitter you get the less you need.

* Footpaths are for walkers.

* Fell running is like surfing. After a while you get a sort of faraway look and part of your mind is always away flying down a warm grassy fellside.

* There's nothing wrong with a bit of weather.

* People worry about hurting themselves but it's much safer than you think. I've had far more injuries pounding the roads and I run downhill like a maniac. We've decided it's because you never repeat yourself: every step is different, so you never build up the wear and tear that road runners get.

* The language will be strange at first. Every bump on every hillside has a name. People will tell you things like 'come off Kirk down Joss's gully and you'll find a spring on the wasdale side of black sail'. It doesn't take long for it all to make perfect sense.

* Join a club. it might all seem a bit strange at first - what are these people talking about? - but within a month you'll feel like you belong. The fell clubs include every level of interest and ability, most have road running offshoots, and they know the best pubs in the world. I can't imagine life without mine.

* You might think you're fit now, but you wait!

* It takes years to get good at this, unless you're born with it. The people who win fell races - and I am certainly not one of them - are a different breed. Normal, friendly people- maybe a little skinnier than average- but they can run five minute miles across rocks and heather and go uphill faster than I go down.

* Dropping off a snowy crag covered in mud, running between the parked cars of startled holidaymakers and disappearing up a gully that appears to go nowhere is always going to feel good.

* One day you'll find yourself running past a frozen waterfall in brilliant sunshine and perfect silence and you'll feel like the luckiest person alive.





Posted: 27/03/2008 at 12:11

.Will...........totally agree.....couldn't imagine life without it  


Posted: 27/03/2008 at 12:50

 The language will be strange at first. Every bump on every hillside has a name. People will tell you things like 'come off Kirk down Joss's gully and you'll find a spring on the wasdale side of black sail'. It doesn't take long for it all to make perfect sense.

Thats yorkshire running!

Welsh running is in another laguage for some. So Cwm/Carn/afan make sense to welsh speakers to englsih speakers its like why this name?


Posted: 27/03/2008 at 12:54

Wasdale was in Cumbria last time I ran up it!!!  
Posted: 27/03/2008 at 12:56

.Will - that should be carved in tablets of stone.

Amen!


Posted: 27/03/2008 at 12:57

wow. totally agree with will. as a northerner moved south i miss the Peak and Kinder Scout. Now i have to make do with less arduous terrain, but having said that (and don't berate me for living in london) there are some really nice places to get out of the rat race and enjoy some early morning weekend hills. For like minded londoners, North downs, box hill, leith hill and the weald are only 30 mins drive out of south london. Still with a lot of rain and this week snow, climbing into messrs walsh  and bland's studs  is just a perfect way to break up the monotonous marathon training.  definitely no probs walking up the occasional steep bit, it all gets made up on the downhills where a 7 minute miler can easily cover the same distance in under roger bannister's famous time. sssssshhhhhh!


Posted: 27/03/2008 at 20:25

60 second guide? How fast do you read?!
Posted: 27/03/2008 at 20:28

Suprisingly like this: http://thebmc.co.uk/Feature.aspx?id=2329

Cheeky sods, lifted the structure, sections, even the 'enjoy it'. We emailed them saying we'd do an article as we'd already done one for Summit, and would do it for free as long as we could advertise. I expected more from RW, we've emailed them so I wonder what the response will be.

Blatant plageurism. Sorry RW but this isn't on. A response is required ASAP.


Posted: 28/03/2008 at 11:58

Suprisingly like this: http://thebmc.co.uk/Feature.aspx?id=2329

hm. i can't comment on the plagiarism but i have to say that your advice is far better than theirs. It's a great article and they should have just run it.

What's really interesting is the difference between this:

which shoes are best? The ones that fit.

which is exactly right, and this:

expect to pay between £50 and £70 for a mid-range pair

which is meaningless - all fell shoes cost about £60 (unless you get to the New Balance factory shop) and coincidentally is exactly what you would say if you depended on the revenue from companies trying to seduce the gullible into spending £130 on a pair of running shoes.
Posted: 28/03/2008 at 12:12

Will, you're soOOOO lucky to live in the Lake District. Mr Faery and I are down there about 3 times a year on our hols, we love it.

We were even there on our honeymoon in February. None of this going abroad rubbish. Besides can't take the dog and the cat abroad!!

There are great hills in Scotland where we live but there's something special about the Lakes.


Posted: 28/03/2008 at 12:13

Iain - have stern words with them. You wrote the BMC article ,and shared it months ago with us on the fellrunning forum. RW ought to have the decency to recognise your "input".
Posted: 28/03/2008 at 13:10

They should have at least included a link to the full article; it's called referencing your source.

Cheers - HLS


Posted: 28/03/2008 at 14:46

Wow - that's well out of order lifting the meat of the article from BMC without acknowledgement.....

I've only been out fell running a couple of times and I always love it.  I must make more of an effort to get off these roads more...


Posted: 29/03/2008 at 09:01

You're so lucky to like near such lovely landscape.  I'm between the north and south downs and venture out there occasionally.  I need to learn how to read a map with a compass properly before I venture further.
Posted: 29/03/2008 at 09:32

Sunluver, we (www.runsnowdonia.co.uk) run running navigation days for the Welsh Fell Runners (WFRA - www.wfra.me.uk), twice a year, once in the spring and once in the autumn, the last course cost £20 for non-members and £15 for WFRA members. Ran from Llanberis. All done at walking pace. Just ran the spring one but we'll run another one in November ish time.

The English FRA also organise navigation courses, which I think are weekends, and as far as I know cost around £50, and I've only heard good comments about their courses, but no personal experience.

All are experienced  Fell runners, but also Mountain Leader Qualified.

Along way from the South, but their may be people who run such courses down there. They don't need to be running specific, but it does help really, but we do our courses at walking pace and then just talk about how things differ when running, i.e. greater emphasis on relocation, relying on less evidence, more 'gambles', and the different strategies. http://sarzmountainrun.blogspot.com/2007/12/navigation-training.html

 Apologies for the plug, but I do recommend other courses and just providing info.


Posted: 29/03/2008 at 21:56

My local long run up The Old Man of Coniston

http://doctorz.files.wordpress.com/2007/10/coniston3_s.jpg


I have only been running about a year now, but 99% of my running has been here in the Lakes. I tried the Notts 1/2 marathon last summer and the Tarmac killed me. Running on the surrounding hills and interweaving trails is my daily escape.  I am crap on the flat, I get tired and bored quickly and wish I was on my road bike, or better still, back in the hills. However I like my Beach holidays as I get to move it- move it for mile after flat mile on soft sand.

The hills are big enough for all of us


Posted: 29/03/2008 at 22:59

Quite stunning - why go abroad?
Posted: 29/03/2008 at 23:54

S1eepless - have you ever done the Coniston trail race? We've done it the last couple years and it's fab.
Posted: 30/03/2008 at 10:18

Hill faery- I didn't manage to do the race last year, I was scared of races. Thought I wasn't fast nough, but am going to do it this year. I am down for the Hawkshead and Brathay races and did the Grizedale with stunning views of Coniston.

swittle- I am going to Ske for a holiday, can that count as abroad?


Posted: 30/03/2008 at 13:29

lolol
Posted: 30/03/2008 at 17:38

S1eepless - Mr Faery and I are doing Hawkshead too. Maybe see you there!
Posted: 30/03/2008 at 18:39

I've just spent the day going from wasdale to honister and back again, by a rather long way round, thanks to my usual sketchy navigation. This morning was hard winter: knee-deep snow, icy wind and thick cloud. Twenty miles later and it was spring: all bright sunshine and gentle breezes as we trotted back down to the pub. I even got a bit of sunburn. It's here at last...

By the way, if you're thinking at all about fell races, especially if you're trying the trail races, I'd highly recommend the Loughrigg race this wednesday? It's a lovely little event: short, friendly and out and bac,k so there's no chance of getting lost. It sets off from the park in Ambleside at 7. If you're used to road races you'll find it surprisingly cheap and friendly, but perhaps also a little low-key. Turn up, pay about £4 for a number, run up and down a nice little hill, repair to the pub and/or the chip shop...
Posted: 30/03/2008 at 18:58

Sounds like a good run today Will.

Would love to do Loughrigg as it's our fav wee hill in the Lakes, but unfortunately we have a 3 and a half hour drive to Ambleside from where we live in Scotland, so it's not possible after work. Hmph! Thinking of doing Fairfield though.


Posted: 30/03/2008 at 19:04

Hey up Will, is it ran through the Ambleside AC ? I was thinking of tagging along on thursdays. Wednesday is usually takien up with Juggling school at the Kelsick Centre. I havent run up Loughrigg yet, but i would like to.

Ive just been run through Grizedale and back around tarn Hows back home this evening. Its very quiet this time of night. Hill Faery We will talk about Hawkshead nearer the time no doubt. Was up in Edinburgh (Dalkeith) the past 3 days seeing friends, its a  great place. they live next to the huge park there, great for running.

thats a hell of a route you ran today Will. Ive been trying to cycle it  twice a week, it kicks ass on a bike, dread to think what it is like running !!!


Posted: 30/03/2008 at 19:14

@S1eepless,

Yes, it's an ambleside ac race. http://www.amblesideac.org.uk/loughrigg08.htm

(I've never been to one of their runs but i know people who do and it seems like a very friendly place.)

and i wouldn't like to try and get from wasdale to honister on a bike! ouch.



Posted: 01/04/2008 at 09:25

I am thinking of taking part in my first fell race towards the end of May - its is described as: FRA CM (Category C, Medium) fell race - 6.9 miles, 930' climb and is at Ilkley - is this particularly hard? 

I have been running for about 2 years, am not partiucularly speedy, love running but do not enjoy road running, although have to do it for day to day running due to where I live. However, I am lucky with the surrounding areas for races and there are quite a few that have off road elements.  I took part in a 10k last Sunday that had fields, farm tracks, public foot paths etc, in the North Yorkshire countryside, and this is what I enjoy, hence thinking about doing the fell race.  I don't mind hills, just plod up them!


Posted: 01/04/2008 at 13:44

"I am thinking of taking part in my first fell race towards the end of May - its is described as: FRA CM (Category C, Medium) fell race - 6.9 miles, 930' climb and is at Ilkley - is this particularly hard? "

Should be fine, 1000ft over 7 miles isn't that much. But I actually find that harder or at least as hard as a hilly 7 miler as they are so runnable, so you work harder on them.

People often view fell running as harder than road running which I'm not sure is true. A 1 hr fell run, likely to be 6-8 miles, is easier on the body than a 1 hr road run, which would be around 10 miles.

Should be a good one to do. Enjoy.

Still no reply from RW, we've both emailed now.
Posted: 01/04/2008 at 13:53

SCharm

Cat C is the lowest of the three FRA categories in terms of ascent/mile, 6.9 miles only just takes it into the Medium category in terms of duration.

Its a good one to pick for your first race - I'd say its likely to have quite a good entry so you'll have plenty of company no matter how fast or slow you might be.

Enjoy


Posted: 01/04/2008 at 13:57

Thank you, right get that form filled in!


Posted: 01/04/2008 at 14:00

S1eepless, that's my local run too!

Last Thursday I ran up the south side of the Old Man, past Bursting Stone Quarry, dodging most of the snow patches. Then I descended on the main path to Coniston, which had a few slippery patches, plus a lot of slush. A really enjoyable 'run'. In quotes because I did a fair bit of walking on the up!


Posted: 01/04/2008 at 16:13

Just heard that there i going to be a Cumbrian Ultra 100 mile and 50 mile race starting from Coniston probably in August. Yet to be confirmed but fingers and toes crossed!! That up your street Nigel ?
Posted: 01/04/2008 at 18:16

Really? Who's organising it?

 I was really getting into ultras (enjoying them, not doing them fast unfortunately) when I had to lay off completely for a while because of a stress fracture in my femur. I was advised to stop running on roads (so I haven't entered Saturday's Coniston 14). I've built back up to 10 miles on the fells (with about 2000ft of ascent).

 I'd love to do an ultra again, but I doubt that I'll be ready for it ...

...but there's no harm in finding out about it!


Posted: 01/04/2008 at 18:39

It is Lakelandrunner who is organising it, but they havent put it on their website yet as it isnt confirmed. The staff lad I spoke to today was telling me about it. They are early finished sorting the details out, so they you go mate, you know aas much as me. i will let you know if i hear anything else. It is suppused to appeal to all the UK folks who enter the lottery of the French Ultra's so here we go!!
Posted: 01/04/2008 at 19:43

I entered Loughrigg and ended up 95th out of 105, but enjoyed it nonetheless. Apart from the uphill!

 Also did a Wetherlam, Swirl How, Old Man circuit in a ridiculously long time today - practice for the race on the 3rd of May!


Posted: 05/04/2008 at 17:14

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