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Anyone Can Try- Fell running in the wake of our heroes

It is 2015, and the TV in the corner of the pub is showing England play Wales in the Six Nations. My friend is entirely occupied by the screen, but I find my attention drawn to a man across the bar who, with each passing minute (and each passing pint of beer), grows more red faced and irate at the believed lack of performance of the players on the pitch. After one particularly angry tirade where the red faced man seemed to suggest that, were he on the pitch instead of this pub, he could turn the tide of the game in Wales’s favour. My friend leans over to me and mutter: “I bet he wouldn’t last one minute in an actual game” and, while I have absolutely no doubts that my friend is correct, we will never entirely know if this is true. This is, of course, not unique to rugby. Sporting events such as The Olympics, The World Cup, Wimbledon, The Ashes and many more, are not free for anyone to have a go at. Mearley enjoying and being good at, for instance cricket, doesn’t mean you will be stepping up to the crease at Lords. It requires scouting, funding, dedication. It requires being selected and chosen for the game. It requires you to be a top class athlete. Playing at these hallowed sporting grounds is, unfortunately for those enthralled by these sports, just a dream. Anyone Can Try

Years later, I am back living in the Lake District. I am running up Skiddaw, the 3,054ft fell looming over Keswick. I have run and walked up Skiddaw many a time. Alone and with company, in good weather and bad, reluctantly or joyfully, this fell is like an old friend to me. Today, it is warm and sunny and I began to regret my decision to do hill reps. I look over to the shallower slopes of Latrigg and consider altering my route however, with a resigned sigh, I continue my ascent up the steep slopes of Skiddaw. I am without distraction, a malfunctioning phone has meant my audiobook can not be played. My mind wanders as I think of all the people before me who have run and walked up this hill. I think of 14 year old me, sullenly being dragged up this never ending slope one boxing day by my parents, arriving, unimpressed at the top, greeted by a cloud inversion. I think of my first time returning to Skiddaw after the COVID 19 lockdown and how much steeper and higher the fell seemed after my isolation in a flatter part of the country. I think of all those people ascending Skiddaw to begin a Bob Graham round. I think of Billy Bland, Kílian Journet and Jack Kuenzle on their record breaking Bob Graham rounds, the speed they must have moved up these same slopes I am now running on. I think of Kenny Stuart in 1984 with his unbeaten Skiddaw race record (1:02:18), how slow I am moving in comparison to him. I think of the many other fine athletes moving on this very hill, be it for training, reconnoitring, completing a round or just for the joy of it. How privileged am I to be allowed to run on the same fells that these great runners.

Unlike the aforementioned sports, held in purpose built, private arenas, fell running is done on open access fell and trail. Races and rounds run by the best of the best, and challenging rounds done by elite athletes are held on the same fells that the general public can stroll over. While you do need kit to do these (waterproofs, food, maps etc.) and an entrance fee for races (the Lakeland classics tend to hover around the £20 mark) you do not need to be an elite athlete to compete. You do not need to wait for a big break or to be scouted by a club. It is not closed off for only sponsored and pro athletes, you do not need to be able to prove you will be a serious contender, only that you can get round the course safely. Yes, there will be people in races there who are pushing themselves to win (either outright or to get points for the various championships), but there will be scores of runners whose only aspiration for the day will be to get round the course in one piece (and possibly have a bit of fun in the process. And while you wont be racing the likes of Joss Naylor, Kenny Stuart or Billy Bland (although you can compete against their records on the various rounds in the Lake District), you can end up on the same course as Finlay Wild, Jasmine Paris, and other giants of the sport.

From up high on the summit of Skiddaw, I look down on the town of Keswick. No doubt there are people watching sporting events, in their houses, in pubs. Each one dreaming of a life where they get to tread the same pitch as their heroes. Standing on this fell, so steeped in fell running history, I am living their dream.

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