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Embracing the Elements: Fell Running in Wind & Rain

The rain is not dramatic, more the constant downpour of drizzle that bores its way through your waterproofs, soaking you to the skin. The path before me is a deluge, an ankle deep stream which I am wading up. The wind pushes into me, a physical object holding me back and making every step an arduous battle. Occasionally it changes direction, ripping across me, snapping my hood off, forcing me to bow my head against its onslaught. I appear to be in a cloud which is swirling around me, the suspended water droplets throwing the beam of my head torch into disarray in the dark, pre-dawn night. I can scarcely see a thing, surely morning must come soon and, with it, light to provide a sense of order to this chaotic landscape.

An hour and a half prior an alarm sounds on my phone. I groan, and, in my haste to silence the noise, knock it behind my bed. I scrabble desperately reaching for it with grasping fingers outstretched, pushing my bed out of the way as I fumble for the source of the noise. Fingers grasp it and I turn it off. Silence and darkness. I must look a comic figure, hunched on the floor, delirious and startled, not quite sure what has happened. It is cold and dark, outside I can hear rain against the window, why am I awake again? Oh yes, it's time to go for a run before I go to work. I don waterproofs, grab my bag and leave the house, jogging the short distance to my car. I begin to drive, no one else is on the road at this hour, I can't help but think they may be the sensible ones. 20 minutes later, I park and step out into the darkness. 

The first mile or so was benign, the wind and rain repelled by my waterproofs, the wide bridleway making navigation simple. I crossed a ladder stile and begin to climb up the steep side of the grassy fell. The visibility lessens as, with each upwards step, I ascended further into the clouds. I have been sheltered from the wind up until now, although the rain and the stream, masquerading as a path, has began to saturate my clothing. I reached the summit, the first of the three fells completed. The way had mostly been uphill, the exertion, mixed with the relative shelter keeping me warm. I began to contour round the side of the fell, looking for the second summit that I knew was nearby. The wind picks up, I try to look ahead, but there is a mix of sleet and rain hurling towards me, briefly lit by my head torch before it speeds past. The wind howls around me, making breathing difficult. I persevere, summiting the second of the three fells, before turning in the direction I knew the final one lay. 

It could not have been more than a mile between the second and third fell, yet it seems an eternity away. Battling through the weather, which seemed to take umbrage at me being on the fell at this hour, I leave the small path and strike out in the direction of the last of the days hills. The visibility was reduced to less than a few metres, making navigating this featureless stretch of open fell a diligent test of my sense of direction. Every so often I would be forced to detour, to skirt a bog, grossly swollen by the rain that has not stopped falling for the past week. With only a few hundred metres until I reached the final fell, I mistime a jump, plunging knee deep into peaty water, pitching me forward. I grasp a rock in front of me, pulling myself out with a wrenching, sucking sound. I reach the fell, a small pile of boulders marks its summit. The light of dawn is beginning to illuminate the landscape. There is no sunrise, no glorious colours, merely the cloud around me lightens, greys replacing inky blues. I turn, and begin my descent each step downhill filling me with renewed vigour. Joy that I was running again. Joy because the wind was lessening. Joy because it was growing lighter. I reach the base of the fell and rejoin the track I had left earlier this morning. How long ago that seemed. I glance at my watch, still plenty of time before I need to be at work. 

I change at work, rubbing myself down with an old towel, before donning dry clothes. I wash my hands and forearms, spray some deodorant and look in the mirror. Besides the wet hair, there is nothing to tell of the early morning on the fell, of the biting wind which howled around me, the rain that blinded me and the darkness that shrouded the fells in confusion. Remarkably, I found that I had enjoyed it. Not in a: “I have conquered the fells way”. You can't conquer a mountain, it isn't competing with you, it's merely there. Nor was it a “I survived against all odds” sense of satisfaction. Despite the unpleasant conditions I knew I was perfectly safe. Even were I to injure myself I had a shelter and layers to help protect me until I could get off the fell. Why then did I enjoy something that, to all appearances, would seem so horrifying? I knew the answer. I had taken an opportunity to be on the fells when so many wouldn’t. Because I had the skills necessary to make such an excursion into the dark hills possible. Because I lived close enough to the fells to allow me to go to them on a whim. Because going to the fells would never again be adventures, or something to visit infrequently, but a way of life, available whenever I so desired. And because I was a fell runner, living in the greatest sporting arena imaginable.

And what could be better than that?

A lake district fell runner
Imagine this weather, but a lot worse...

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