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How hard is fell running: easier than it first appears?

“I don't know how you do it, I could never be a fell runner”. While the wording may be different, I doubt there is a fell runner out there who hasn't heard something along those lines. And while there is no getting around the fact fell running is difficult, is it as difficult as it first appears?

When walking up a hill, it would be hard to imagine possessing the extra energy needed to try trying fell running. While it is indeed difficult, running on the fells is not the insurmountable step up from hiking one may first think. Firstly, imagine removing your heavy, cumbersome hiking gear; replacing your boots with lightweight trainers, your large rucksack with a lightweight vest containing the smallest and thinnest waterproofs inside. With this ergonomically designed and specialised lightweight gear, moving fast on the mountains is not quite as daunting as first seemed. Next is the matter of running uphill. While some runners do run up the steepest of slopes, you don’t need to be able to do this in order to be a fell runner. The majority of runners will run on the flats, downhills and the gentler upwards slopes, but for a long, steep continuous slope, they will walk. Granted, it will be a fast paced, hands of thighs power walk rather than a gentle amble, but this is far more achievable than the aforementioned run. Running downhill is another matter in of itself. I have had many walkers tell me they would break their ankles were they to attempt it, and, while you are more likely to get an injury running downhill as opposed to walking, descending is more skill than luck. This means that you can undergo training to learn how to descend safely, how to keep your speed manageable, how to strengthen your legs, how to keep your legs bent to cushion the impact, how to choose a good line and to identify what surfaces will be slippery or stable. It all comes with time. And, like anything, you start slow. You run short sections or run slowly and, overtime, your speed and confidence will grow. And all the time you are training, you will be a fell runner. 

Defining what makes someone a fell runner, is also a key to break down how inaccessible fell running may appear from the outside. You may think that, unless you are running on the fells most days of the week, for hours at a time, you can’t really class yourself as a fell runner. While there are runners who do just that, this doesn't mean that those who don't aren't fell runners. If you have come from a hiking background, and moving into fell running, you will find that you can run the same routes you walked far faster. So while you may have been out for a shorter time, you are doing the same routes that would take you an entire day as a walker. Being able to stay out on the fells all day is also not something you have to aspire to, to be classed as a fell runner. A number of races I have completed this year had all the runners returning in within an hour, with every entrant to those being a fell runner. Should your ambition be to enter these races (whether your aim is to do well or just to complete) then short runs on the fells are ideal training, and won't make you any less of a fell runner than those who choose to train longer distances. 

On the subject of races, it is firstly important to note that you absolutely do not need to enter races to class yourself as a fell runner. But, should you wish to, you will be greeted with a wide range of races to suit all styles of running. From short fast races, completed within half an hour, all day races over a range of fells, to multi day mountain marathons, there is a vast variety in race style. For someone who is considering their first race, a shorter, up and down race, may be a good introduction. These races place less emphasis on navigation and route choice, (although these skills are still needed). As well as this, these races can often be entered on the day so, if you would feel more confident racing in clear conditions, you are not at the whim of the long range forecasts. If, however, you have come to running from hiking and long distance walking, you may soon find long fell races more suited to your current skills. These races put more of an onus on mountain craft, navigation and route choice, skills you will have gained from walking on the fells. On top of this, the longer the route, the slower the average pace, another benefit to the long distance walkers. Should you not want to race, and still want to push yourself to complete a given route, there are the options of mountain rounds. These are set routes (or a set number of checkpoints) which you do whenever at a time of your choice, allowing you to race against previous people who have attempted the round or, for the harder rounds, the mountains itself. This has all the challenges of a race, while also providing freedom to choose when and how you do it. While rounds do tend to be longer, there are shorter rounds (more here)

Finally, don’t let age put you off, most races have a V70 category so they are fully expecting runners to compete into their 70s and. In a study by Dr Neil Baxter, it was found that the average age of a runner of all disciplines (fell, road, trail etc) is around 40, however, when looking at fell running specifically he noted an increased participation in older groups compared to other disciplines. 

So there you have it. The enormous and inaccessible sport of fell running summeried and, hopefully, rendered more plausible. This is not an attempt to tell you that you must try fell running, or that it will change your life. Mealy an attempt to reduce the inaccessible image of the sport and to encourage those who are hesitant to just go out and give it a go. Who knows, you might even like it.


This is a broad overview of a difficult topic. The focus of this has been more on the physical difficulty of fell running. There is a whole other side of this which could include gender and race (amongst other things). I have chosen to not include this for the simple reason that I am in no way qualified to discuss these. I am barely qualified to discuss what I have to be fair, but I do remember being a hiker, thinking of running in the fells, and thinking I could 

never do it.

A man fell running in the sunset

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