Discover Fell Racing by James Thomas
It was on a wet and windy March morning that I walked towards a dilapidated windswept rugby clubhouse on the edge of Blaenavon. As I got closer I could see other runners hanging around the building, doing warm-ups or checking the contents of their bumbags against the required kit list which was scribbled onto a battered whiteboard propped up against the entrance door. Inside I approached a table where a wizened old runner handed me an entry form and took cash payment of £7 (no pre-entry in these races). After looking me up and down he asked if I'd done this type of race before; to which I responded that I had some experience of running in the hills (not mentioning these hills were the somewhat flatter and much tamer Cotswolds). He then nodded and handed me a paper map of the area with the check-points marked on it. After a quick warm-up, I made my way to the start line (which involved being dropped in a village 15 miles west of the race HQ). As I stood on the start line outside the village church I looked around me at the 100 or so other competitors who all looked far more experienced and well under the 18 mark on the BMI scale. There was a quick countdown and then we were off down a muddy track at the end of which we got to the base of the fell and competitors started heading off in a variety of different directions. I decided to follow the front peloton of 20 or so runners reasoning that they'd know the fastest route. I hung on as best as I could over the gnarley sometimes pathless ascent of the three Black mountain peaks (Crug Mawr, Sugar Loaf & Blorenge) coming home in 14th place in a time of 2hr 29mins. After crossing the finish line tired and elated I received a rather embarrassing hug from my Mum and then joined the other runners in the clubhouse for the bounteous free buffet. I knew right at that moment I was hooked loving everything about fell races. A fell race for anyone who has not yet been fortunate enough to try one is essentially a race in its purest stripped back form. Usually, there's no set route or route marking or marshals other than those on the designated check-points (these are usually at the top of hills/mountains). Competitors are allowed to make their own route choices to get from A to B and must navigate using a map and compass. It's worth bearing in mind though that in most big races especially the shorter ones that it is possible to follow the masses. They are incredibly uncommercialized and cheap and good value e.g. £5-£10 for the race entry, cake, tea and often beer and hot food at the end. There are over 700 fell races to choose from in the UK these range hugely in length and severity (e.g. Old County tops - 37 miles with 10,000ft of ascent to the Border raid fell race which is 3.7 miles with 675ft of ascent) so there is something for everyone. Most races take part in national parks like the lake district but there are starting to be more and more in other counties like Devon, Shropshire and Herefordshire. Some of my favourites have been: The Three Shires fell race - 12.4 miles/4000ft (proper old-school Lakeland classic over very rough terrain)
Cardington Cracker fell race - 9 miles/2600ft (one of my all-time faves, did it with a load of mates from club last year; great day out) Ilkley Moor fell race - 5 miles/1316ft (one we squeezed in the day after the XC nationals near Leeds) Fan y Big Horseshoe - 10.3 miles/2200ft (done many times; spectacular skyline views) Brecon Beacons Fell Race - 19miles/4500ft (done several times with mates, a tough but rewarding route) Coppett Hill Fell Race - 5.4miles/1100ft (bargain £5 for a lovely race, chips, veggie burger and a pint and I won a case of beers to boot) Fan Brycheiniog Fell Race - 9.8 miles/2750ft (cracking route in the remote Western beacons where you can make up a lot of time with good map skills/follow the leader) Llyn y Fan Fell Race - 5.9 miles/2000ft (Liz and I did this on our first wedding anniversary romantic I know(!) But a lovely race) Skirrid Fell Race - 3.6 miles/1476ft (short and sharp up and down race - before Liz's office Christmas party!) Preseli Beast - 24 miles/4652ft (another all-time fave, coast and fells make for breathtaking scenery organised by the legend Caz the Hat)
RAS Y CERRIG GLAS - 7 miles/1250ft (lovely little race in the Preseli hills) Stretton Skyline Fell Race - 19 miles/4450ft (Starts in Church Stretton which is becoming somewhat of a fell running mecca and takes in all the tops surrounding the town, brutal but beautiful) If you haven't yet experienced the joys of running in the fells, I urge you to give it a try, you won't regret it!