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Fell Running: A brief guide to this unique, yet exhilarating sport

People often get confused between fell running, trail running and cross country running. It’s not surprising: all three sports take place off road and in rural settings. Fell running, however, is arguably the most challenging – and adventurous – of the three. But what exactly is fell running?

What is fell running?

Fell running gets its name from the Old Norse word “fjal” which means hill or mountain. So, it’s off-road running, like trail or cross country, but where a significant gradient is climbed. Despite the nordic origins of the word, it’s a traditional British sport, and fell runners will most commonly be found bounding across hilly areas such as the Lake District, Snowdonia or the Yorkshire Moors – although it’s becoming popular down south, too. 

You might be wondering: isn’t this just mountain running? Not quite. Fell running has a clear difference. With fell running, competitors will run between two checkpoints without a clear path. They may need to rely on a compass to ensure they’re going in the right direction, which makes it a more adventurous sport that’s ideal for any thrill seekers out there.

Fell running skills

There is a reason that fell running is seen as one of the most challenging sports. Unlike your standard road race, it’s less about speed and more about perseverance. And, of course, the sheer number of hills means that you’ll need to have the physical strength to keep going and avoid injuries. Some of the specific skills you’ll need for fell running include:

  • Strong legs: calf strength is key for any runners tackling lots of uphill. But it’s essential for the downhill, too, which can often be more gruelling on those muscles. Make sure you incorporate strength training into your workout, with a particular focus on ankles and quadriceps. 
  • Navigation: fell runners need to be able to find their way when there isn’t a clear path laid out for them. It’s often more sensible to use a compass or map than follow other runners who might be guessing. Definitely look to practise navigating hills and tracking your route before you sign up to a fell race so you don’t get lost. 
  • Motivation: fell running is arguably one of the most mentally draining sports. The amount of uphill in combination with treacherous weather and muddy paths can make motivation challenging sometimes, so you’ll need to be fiercely determined to reach that finish line.   
  • Preparation: all runners need to be prepared for a race. But fell running takes it to the next level. You’ll need to eat well beforehand and pack a bag with water and snacks, because you won’t have people handing out water bottles on route. Waterproof jackets and trainers are a must, too.

What makes it special?

Fell running is favoured by many runners for a reason. Unlike road running, the races are varied with plenty of surprises along the way. Winding paths and different terrains will make your run feel challenging and exciting, as opposed to the same long monotonous road. 

You’re also pretty much guaranteed stunning views – unless the British weather has its wicked way. There’s nothing better than running up a hill and coming across a glorious landscape that makes it all worth it. And, you get a sense of peace and tranquility that you simply don’t with road races. Fell running takes you away from the crowds and into a sense of your own personal calm, with lots of fell runners finding it more rewarding because they’ve done it solo.  

Ultimately, fell running is special because it’s an adventure. It takes you back to basics: navigating your own route, being at one with nature and working with what you’ve got. What could be more rewarding than that? 

Where to compete 

There are lots of different fell races to take part in. But it’s worth knowing that there are different levels when it comes to fell running. Alongside short (under 6 miles), medium (6-12 miles) and long (12+ miles), there are the following categories: 

Category A:
  • Averages no less than 250ft for every mile of climb
  • With more than 20% of total distance on road
Category B:
  • Averages no less than 125ft for every mile of climb
  • With more than 30% of total distance on road
Category C:
  • Averages no less than 100ft for every mile of climb
  • With more than 40% of total distance on road

Before you dedicate yourself to a fell race, it’s important to do your research and find which one is best for you. Beginners should stick to shorter routes where there’s more support and guidance, just in case of accidents or injuries.

There are plenty of options for fell running at Let’s Do This – so why not head to the hills and find your next adventure?  

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Briony is a writer currently living in London. While she spends a lot of time hunched over a desk trying to craft sentences, her other passion is running. She enjoys setting her own goals and is currently training for her second half marathon.

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