In Praise of Fell-Running

Reporter: Ian Harford

".. you like the free wind in your hair, life without care, flying up there where the air is rare."

I got the seed of the idea years ago on Esk Hause in the Lake District when at 9.30am I'd met two fell runners coming up from Grasmere. They'd already done almost twice the distance I had covered in the same time. Their secret? Travel light with trainer type shoes. The pair I bought the next week brought me blisters on the downhill runs and no 'life without care'! But the desire for that free wind lingered on.

Fast forward to 2006. I'm walking quickly, away from paths, up to Carlside below Skiddaw, when I'm overtaken slowly by a fell runner. Nearer the top I meet his partner. She explains as he tears down past us that he's a contender for top places in national competitions. His secret? Make sure to get proper fell running shoes and touch the ground as lightly as possible on the descent. So maybe I could do it.

With a pair of new Innovate shoes from Keswick's Needle Sports, I was soon testing out the local fells, with the 2.5 mile Barrow Round a favourite. Excluding the best part of two years for a prostate operation, I've now covered since my 'conversion' just under 90 miles on the fell tops.

It's not a lot and I'm not competing with anyone in races. My times are generally 40% to 65% of the walking times predicted by my Anquet mapping software. My best overall speeds are about five mph and for longer runs more like three mph. But it's brought me a new freedom, the taste for a great sport and admiration for those, whose racing on the hills I read about in the local papers. Who needs football's overpaid prima donnas when you have local icons like Joss Naylor and Billy Bland? These tough men and women are our real sporting heroes.

"Isn't it dangerous and likely to do your knees in?", well you need to be fairly fit, have a good sense of balance and work up slowly. And go at a pace and for a distance that is OK for you. To enjoy this sport, you don't need to do the gruelling races that Richard Askwith describes in his excellent book; Feet in the Clouds, a tale of fell- running and obsession.

I hope by now you are tempted. Seven miles on the fells is a lot more strenuous than seven on the flat, but remember that no one runs uphill all the time and some rarely. Let me know if you are interested in trying it out some time.