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Why I run on the fells

It is often hard to know why we do our hobbies. It is so easy to brush it off with the phrase “I enjoy it” but a real hobby, a passion, something that gets you out of bed in the morning, deserves so much more than that. There are many reasons to run. There are the practical reasons; to catch a bus or escape a wolf, there are fitness reasons, be it to get generally fitter, or improve fitness for a specific activity you do. Then there are those who run for the joy of running, wanting nothing back from it other than to be able to carry on running. For these people, with myself falling in the category, why do we run? Like the above, there are many reasons why someone would run, each personal and varied, and here are mine. 

I began fell running when I was 23, after a two year hiatus from the mountains. After walking all the Lake District Wainwrights when I was 21, I felt my connection to the fells begin to fade. Gone was the challenge that got me exploring these special places. Gone was the sense of adventure, the sense of exploration and the joy and excitement of being on unknown fells. It took a move to the Scottish Highlands, and a chance encounter to change this. I was living in Aviemore, having only done a few halfhearted excursions into the Cairngorms, when someone I barely knew asked if I wanted to go for a hill run. I still don't know why I agreed to go, I had never done fell running and had no real passion for going back into the hills, but I agreed. So up we went, a 13 mile, 2500 ft round trip up Bynack More, a brutal first initiation to the sport of fell running. The run was hard, I felt slow and exhausted, lumbering like a great cumbersome beast after my fleet footed companion as they effortlessly flew along the roughest of terrain. Watching them descend in an effortlessly controlled flow, as I dropped stodgily like a cake being dropped from a kitchen counter. Over the coming weeks after that run, I began to dwell less about my own shortcomings and instead began to imagine. Imagine how it would feel to run on the hills. Run swiftly over endless numbers of fells, crossing great tracts of land in search of fresh adventure. The spark of passion, gone for those years, had started to reignite.

I began to run, initially doing the same routes I walked but, as my confidence grew, I went further afield, pushing to see how far I could journey into the great wilderness of the Cairngorm Plateau. I look back at that year in the Cairngorms as a time of catastrophic injury. A broken foot, mild frostbite, a torn ankle, three dislocated fingers, a sliced open shoulder, the list goes on. But each of these injuries was from an excellent adventure. Where I had tested my limits and gone right to the edge. Overtime, I began to improve, learning how far I could go, how to fuel myself for a run, how to look at the best lines of ascent and descent and to read land for the runner, not the walker. From these journeys into the hills, I felt the same excitement that I felt when doing the Wainwrights. With walking, I felt confined to the same trails, limited by the slow speed, curtailing my desire to explore and journey. With running, I sensed a sport with endless possibilities. Unlike the Wainwirghts, where the bittersweet ending was always in sight, there is no end to the sheer number of challenges when it came to running. From a whole host of fell races, to various mountain rounds, as well as personal projects and challenges, there would always be something to do, always some goal to reach for, always an adventure to go on.

There is something about standing on a high fell at the start of the day, looking across at an endless sea of hills, stretching out in every direction, the beautiful, unique shapes jutting into the sky. Knowing you are fit and fast, fast enough that the fells in the far distance could be under your rubber studded feet within this day. The exhilaration of exploration as the speed of your travel places less onus on staying on defined routes, and gives potential to explore. The opportunity to deviate down small trods and navigate to unknown features in the distance, merely on a whim, merely because you can. Just because they are there. The feeling of standing on your final fell, as the sun begins to dip and the light grows soft, looking into the distance at the hills you have run over. Knowing that you could stand in this exact spot the next day and not run a step on the same paths you have run today should you choose. Knowing there is endless opportunity to explore.

I am standing on top of Green Gable. In front of me, Great Gable rises in front of me an indomitable monolith of stone. To the side, the Buttermere fells. In the distance, I see the Langdales. I can go to any of these today. In this moment it grows easy to work out why I love to run on the fells. A love affair with a sport can be summed up in one word: freedom. Freedom to challenge myself, be it against myself, others or merely the mountains themselves. Freedom to explore and not feel contained. And freedom to journey, to explore and to make memories that will last the rest of my life.

A fell runner at great gable

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