Fell running – the purest form of running itself…
I used to run quite a lot when I was younger as my Grandma & Grandad got me in to it – they were both great runners. I however, enjoyed other sports more - football was my priority, along with rugby union. Then when I suffered a serious knee injury a few years back, I wasn't allowed to play contact sport for a long period of time and running therefore became my only stress release. I took it up casually, just for fitness at first, but then when I returned to playing football, I found that I'd lost a lot of my love for the game – running was becoming more enjoyable. I removed myself from football completely and have now run 44 races since mid-December 2014 to the time of writing this – from road 5k's to 10 mile fell races.
Fell running, is mainly untouched by sponsors and commercialisation; although Salomon, Inov8 and Norman Walsh UK are big brands within the sport, the actual cost of fell running as a hobby is much, much less than road running / trail running / obstacle races, alike. Fell races are often priced at £3-£5 per race – with this you shouldn't expect anything more than a firm handshake and a well done from the marshals after slogging around open moorland and up and down hills for a good hour or two, oh, and of course, a cup of water or juice at the end of it all. Although, sometimes you do get free supper/food/a bottle of beer! It is a unique sport in many ways. You will sometimes see people as famous as Ron Hill, the Brownlee brothers etc running a fell race, rubbing shoulders with me and you, something you would seldom see in any other sport. I could probably write a book on the sport itself but to put it simply; fell running is the purest of the pure, it involves, strength, both mentally & physically, as well as endurance, fast thinking, fast feet(!) and nerves of steel... you aim to improve on at least one of these attributes with every race!
As I mentioned earlier it was my grandparents who were the main influence for my taking up the sport of fell running. My Grandad was a Vet 50 champion both over England & Britain in the early 1990's and this, coupled with his retirement from the sport, inspired me to start running once again.
I also feel a great sense of freedom and variety in fell running, that I don’t get from other forms of the sport, but obviously that is just personal opinion! The numbers in races often vary massively - for example, last Saturday I ran a race with only 20 competitors, including myself, but, the race I ran last night, a mid week race, surprisingly had over 230 runners! The sense of community and friendship at any fell race you attend is also fantastic...unrivalled, I would say.
I think many people in the sport have the ambition of reaching the top (both literally and metaphorically, haha!) but the top competitors in fell running are a different breed, in my honest opinion. The legends of the sport have more often than not been born and bred in the sloping hills of the Lake District, although like anything, there are exceptions to the norm! At the moment I am happy to enjoy the races I am doing as I am constantly learning, both in terms of technique and race routes but I do have ambitions to become a much better fell runner. At this moment in time, if the race is a "runnable" fell race, I can normally manage a middle of the pack finish but the more hills and climbs a race has, I seem to fall around the 70% mark- something that I hope (and have been told), will no doubt improve in the coming years, I am excited to see what I can do from there...
Lately my sense of achievement by conquering certain hills has really driven me to train harder on the fells. I now run up hills I would never have dreamed of running previously and I often look back and think; "how could I not manage to run that once over without stopping?!" Seeing your own progress is a huge thing – I have seen my 10k road time drop from 54 minutes to 44 minutes and my 5k time from 25 minutes to 20 minutes, along with my average pace on the fells improving – from an over 10 minute mile to a 9 minute mile pace; each fell race is so different however, so measuring your exact progress can be difficult, unless of course you run the same race (with an unchanged course - fingers crossed!), the year after.
The club I run for are based in the small town of Darwen, Lancashire. Predominately a fell running club originally we have seen our numbers soar in recent years and now have around 200 members. The Darwen Dashers can be seen hitting the roads, trails and fells around the Lancashire/Yorkshire/Cumbria area – wearing the "ebony & gold" vest, as it's now become known! For more information on the club go to www.dashers.org.uk
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