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Fell running: No gimmicks, just running

a fell runner in a race
Me at my first every fell race Credit: Grand day out Phtography

I am standing on a start line. All around me are hundreds of trendily dressed runners. Pristine, colour-coordinated outfits are on display, I can imagine the extortionate price tags dripping off them. A photographer roams the crowd, snapping pictures as the runners pose and smile. Several marquees have been set up, with brands touting their latest wares; convincing the runners that they need new gloves, gels, footwear and jackets. At the start line, a giant inflatable arch proclaims the name of the event, and the list of the many brands sponsoring it. This is my first ever race, a trail half marathon a friend has convinced me to enter. We set off, following tape and signs as we wind along the wide forest track. The route has been closed to all but the runners, and all around us, the natural feel of the forest has been overtaken by the event infrastructure. At the finish line, we receive goodie bags, branded items and items from the sponsors of the race, I can't say I used any of it, I doubt many did. There were more stalls selling race t-shirts and hoodies. A podium had been set up with a huge sign proclaiming you had completed the race. A photographer stood on hand, ready to snap hundreds of images that would soon end up on Instagram. The event was a spectacle. The running seemed secondary.

My first ever fell race was several years later. I arrive at a farm yard, park and walk into a barn, Straw litters the floor and cows and sheep watch on in interest. I go over to a marshall on a fold-out table, who takes some details and hands me my race number before directing me to the start line. There is no blaring music, no huge spectacle. It would be easy to miss, from the roadside, you may never realise that, right next to you, 70 runners were preparing for a race. A few small feather flags proclaimed the running club that had organised the race but that was about it for ceremony. The path was not closed, anyone could walk, or run the same route as we did. There were no gift bags at the end. There was a photographer, but they were not advertised as part of the experience, they were not even mentioned. And the images were sold by them, not included in the price (they are very good images, and essential if you run a self-aggrandising blog). The finish line was not Instagrammable, no podium to pose on, merely a field on a grey Autumnal day. 

When someone says: adventure running: your mind conjures up certain things. Large high profile ultra marathons, obstacle races large trail races. Would you think of a low-profile race up and down a fell? Is there anything more adventurous than that though? Certainly, there is more adventure in the fells than any man-made obstacle. How can a four-metre high wooden wall with grooves cut into it compare to the challenge of running up a fell? How can the obstacle that is finding your way across a featureless fell in screaming wind with no visibility, compared to running around a well-marked forest track? What makes these aforementioned races so popular then? I think it's stuff. A 50-mile Ultra Marathon in the Lake District will cost you around £100-150. A 10-mile obstacle race is around £130 with a £15 fee for the privilege of spectating. A half marathon trail race will cost you around £50. The 23 miles Ennerdale fell race is £16. The difference: “stuff”.  When you enter these races, there is a great long list of “stuff” you receive in return for a hefty price tag. A podium everyone will get their picture on, a goody bag, a medal, a t-shirt a prize professional photographers capturing every moment. Are you even paying for a race any more, or just more meaningless junk? Of course, there is a difference; these events are run by companies, not local clubs. The companies need to turn a profit, they need to attract big sponsors and to make their events cool, trendy and marketable to attract people to them. And like bees to a brightly coloured flower, they do, drawn in by the prestige and the experience. Is this what these races are, a corporate opportunity to get money out of well-off competitors? Are the competitors runners or customers?

As I drove back from the fell race, there was no goody bag on the passenger seat, no-one had tried to persuade me to purchase kit, I had no leaflets from brands. There were no gimmicks; just fell running as it should be.

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