Fell Running

The art of hurting yourself in the name of pleasure

One of my great pleasures (and pains) in life is fell running which in a nutshell is running and racing off-road up and down hills.  It took its name from the fells in northern England where in the local dialect a fell is a hill or mountain.  But it takes places wherever you can run up a hill or mountain and hammer back down it. It's popular in Wales and Scotland too and also throughout the world only under different names so the Europeans may call it mountain or sky running.  One small difference in the UK is that often its held on more open hillsides so runners choose their own lines rather than follow strict paths. This is becoming less common though.

I've run a few fell races now - Mainly the Preseli races in Southwest Wales. Which have ranged from 11 to 32 miles. (Yes the Preseli Ultrabeast is also a fell race) plus others in South Wales.  This year as part of Late Rising I'm going to push myself to get out there more and race. I do love racing although its hard. I tend to like the training as much as the racing - especially i can train with my dog but not race.  

26/06/23 - Preseli Dip Dab Mountain Trail Race

A little change is good for the soul. It just takes a bit of courage sometimes to make that change.  I headed to the hills of Preseli in West Wales on Sunday for a new kind of race for me. The Preseli DipDab Mountain trial. This is a timed event in which runners have 4 hours to reach as many checkpoints as possible in order to gather points. You get an A3 map a minute before you start and you get to choose which route you take and which checkpoints to visit and in which order. As it takes place out in the Preseli hills you are lucky if you get a sheeptrack to run on let alone a good path,

I signed up knowing that my navigational skills aren't top notch and I was a novice with a map and compass. I also was wary as it was mid June and I don't react well to big efforts in really hot conditions. But I wanted to support Carwyn the race organiser, I wanted to try something different and test myself and I just wanted to go back to Preseli to get back out in the hells without the pressure of the Ultrabeast cutoffs.  I am most certainly glad I took my chance. Luckily the weather was perfect on the day, well perfect for me as it wasn't too hot with plenty of cloud cover and at one point even some rain.

So having done the registration and kit check stuff it was a case of lineup and get the map - runners were setting off at minute intervals. I knew where I was in relation to the start of the race as it began at Tafarn Sinc in Rosebush which we run through on the beast races.  And so I knew that I could easily find the first checkpoint at the disused slate quarry - Checkpoints were a small orienteering flag with paper sheets in a ziplock bag - when you find it you grab a sheet with the checkpoints code on it and the points value - the harder it is to get to a checkpoint the more points it is worth.  And could I find that very first checkpoint? Could I hell. It was up a steep slope not vcisible from the path.  You had to be very precise with the map and this is 1:25000 scale so it was really tricky to pinpoint the exact location. So a few of us scrambled around until we found it. I suspected this may not all be as simple as I thought. I was right.

The pattern repeated at each checkpoint. However once I was up on the hillsides, it's pretty featureless up there and so navigating between checkpoints became much harder. I decided at first to work in the area I knew best from racing and from there began to use my map and compass together. I was finding it hard at first to force myself to take the time to stop, think clearly and take my time to work out bearings.  As time went on I became more comfortable in what I was doing and more confident in my route finding. By the end although I was far from perfect I was quickly getting bearings and working out routes. It was an excellent learning opportunity and one I'm glad I took on and it could even one day save my life. Unlikely but the more I know about navigation the safer I am.

The whole navigation process added a layer of complexity and fun to the whole race i wasn't expecting. It also took me out of the "race" aspect and made me slow down and just appreciate where I was. By looking closely at the surroundings, the landmarks, the contours, the way nature works I felt far more connected to the hills than I would ever have by just passing through them in a race. I always feel at home out in nature and being alone out there certainly doesn't faze, concern or scare me. I am quite self sufficient in most aspects of my life and being in the wild is no different.  As time passed the whole process of choose a point, navigate a route, find the checkpoint, move on, plan the whole race became more a game than anything else. I found despite very rough terrain, falling into bogs, being bitten, scratched and stung that I was having an absolute blast while also getting in a good hike and run. 

In the end I covered only 12 miles in just over 3 and a half hours - slow but when you factor in the navigation, the searching for checkpoints and difficult terrain it puts a different complexion on it. I won't give a blow by blow account of what I did and each checkpoint here, if you want more detail on that you can visit youtube for a full video of the day.  I filmed quite a lot on the day using a gopro - That was a learning curve in itself. I had a map and compass in one hand plus a camera, no way could I use poles. So they stayed stowed the whole day. And there were a few cock-ups where I hit the wrong filming mode and up on the tops the wind made me inaudible but overall I'm pleased that I filmed - I really enjoyed narrating on the day and it added another new aspect to the experience. Yes when i listen back I cringe at some of my commentary - especially singing to sheep but I was simply having fun and that is what the day was about.

The last time I ran in Preseli I had put myself under immense pressure to complete the 32 mile Ultrabeast having only done 24 miles of it the year before. I actually knew at the time I was piling pressure on myself but that was part of the process of looking for redemption and the pressure worked in pushing me in training and preperation which all came together to make that day a success and that is why that race meant so much. So this race was purely for fun, I didn't care about the points, I cared about the experience and the pleasure. And I certainly took both from it. I would highly recommend this race for anyone, you just need some common-sense, the required kit, a bit of learning from youtube on how to use a map and compass and a sense of adventure. You can run or walk it - doesn't matter if you are just out to enjoy it and the format means you can be out there as long as you like and go as far as you like (although try to be within 4 hours)  You can run in pairs and there was even a trio going around. If you need company and lack confidence but would like to try it drop me a message, perhaps I can help.  Embrace some change in your life and learn to do new things. Surprise yourself. I did.

I've created two videos for this race. One is my pre race kit check - See what I take on these things. You dont need it all, just some of the important stuff. the other video is an hours footage of me out there getting lost, swearing a lot, some bad filming and some beautiful scenery. Mainly me swearing though.

The Kit video

The Race footage video

An unpublished race report from January 2019 where I ran the Llangorse fell race - My first short race

On the sunday Murph and I drove up to Llangorse for my first ever short race - 3 miles up and down. I’d been thinking about it for a while - mainly as I had no clue how to pace myself. What would it be like? What kit should I wear? Did I have to carry the full kit?  Of course the first disaster struck early - Murph had eaten through the zip on the racepak so I was down to using my raceultra backpack which was slightly overkill for a 3 mile race but didn't really matter as it turned out.

Registration was nice and simple which may seem a minor point but nothing that requires social interaction comes easy to me. I was number 42 - which pleased me greatly of course - A good sign to start at least. A better sign was the one that told me that the kit requirements were zero and recommended for hat and gloves only. I wandered back to the van checking out the competition along the way. I forgot how at every race I go to everyone looks far more serious/professional/fitter etc and look like they know what they're doing, warming up and stuff. I chucked on my kit - and decided on the Inov8 waterproof top as it was cold and starting to drizzle. 

Then murph and I sat around for a while waiting for 12 o clock to strike. To be honest I wasn't nervous but I was still trying to work out how the hell i was meant to pace myself for a 3 mile effort. I know how to do longer races - I go slow and then stay slow and then I finish. That kind of seemed pointless for 3 miles. So ok I decided to go out as fast as I could and wait for the wheels to fall off. I had seen the brute of a climb straight off the line already and I figured I would go up that as hard as I could and then see what happened next. This is next level strategy for me!

Around five minutes before 12 I gave Murph a last cuddle and instructions to be cool, he didn't look terrified to be fair but he didn't look all that happy - too many people about in a new situation for his temperament so he did well. I figured that looking at last years results if I could get to “mid table” I would be back 30-40 minutes later and it was halfway in the field that I was aiming for.

On the line it was the usual inaudible briefing - I dont know if it's my hearing or the twats surrounding me that always talk through it - Always - every fucking race people talk through the briefing. It pisses me off, it's rude and in fell racing potentially dangerous. I did catch the part about where we could choose our own lines but I wasn't even going to attempt that, my plan was to follow others. I’d studied the map but I know it's always totally different navigating when you're actually running. 

I also decided at the last minute I didn't need a jacket afterall and seeing as the van keys were in the pocket and the jacket was 80 quids worth (and therefore worth more than the van) Id just have to tie it around my waist - at least it's lightweight.  So there I was with a jacket hanging off me in my baselayer, tights and shorts surrounded by just about everyone wearing a club vest - whatever happened to the individuality of the hill runners spirit. Time to strike a blow for independence!

Off we went straight up a hill I would have hesitated to walk up a few years ago and I found myself hanging in well with the lead group - well I wasn't looking behind me and I could only count a dozen or so in front so i was assuming it had to be the lead group.  True to my plan I simply went up that hill as fast as I could, small steps, regulate the breathing, don't die, don't look like you're dying.  After a while it turned and flattened out, this was now singletrack, slightly uphill but the kind of stuff I really like to run….. At my pace.  I was following a couple of other guys who were hitting a pace i'm not really used to in training - My lack of speedwork was quite evident - So although the terrain or incline wasn't particularly vexing my inexperience of running fast after a lung busting initial effort (and no break to take a photo - my usual breather tactic) was causing me issues. Should I just ease off a bit? Nah hang with them, hang in there. We passed an injured runner and gulped an “You ok?” but to be honest we were past him in a second. He wasn't bleeding or dead so I'm sure he was fine.

The course then hit the steep steep uphill bit I guessed was lurking and after a bit of running it was down into the powerhike position.  Sounds grand - it's just the fastest uphill walk I could do.  I was still gasping for breath and watching the runners ahead with interest, some had slowed and were walking like me and some were running still on the slightly less steep sections.  However I did notice that although the runners were pulling away it wasn't by a huge margin. On a short 3 mile course though it was enough that I didn't see them again but I reckon over a longer distance the extreme effort required to run it would mean (at least for me) would give me no benefit or at least such a small gain that it would be better to conserve the energy and walk and catch up later.

But this wasn't a longer race and when we hit the peak of the climb and were back running I had lost contact with the group I was with - The two in front just went away from me as I recovered near the top, we rounded the trig point and began the descent!

I was still hurting from the climb but you get little opportunity to recover as the downhill isn't one of those relaxing get your breath back kind of descents. It's a flat out race, I love this kind of technical descent and despite it being slippery it felt like i was making good time. I was also trying to protect my ankles and not overextend the left glute which had been giving me some grief over the last few months.  Losing contact with runners ahead of me had a further drawback than just losing places; it meant that as I didn't know the course I was guessing the best route down and was being slowed by uncertainty.  I was straining to make out people further down to give me a clue that I was at least on the right track - which I was.  

After the really steep descending it again flattened out and I lost a few seconds hesitating at a fork in the track but saw a glimpse of someone ahead and plunged on - this was fast and fairly flat now through semi technical rocky paths and I was giving it my all but came across a marshall and sharp left turn through a field that i overshot as I wasn't sure which way she was directing me and then completely couldn't decide whether to follow the path or if I was allowed to cut the field - It was the latter and I must have lost a good 20 seconds here as two guys shot on past me - I followed them but couldn't make up the ground as the finish was not far away and it was straight downhill (so much easier than the first slog up it) and then through the line.

I was pretty well blown out as I crossed the line - the speed of the whole thing is something I'm not used to - there's no break, it's just go as hard as you can as long as you can. Which was my plan all along and it worked.  There weren't many runners gathered around the finish line and I figured I had done ok.  It was later in the presentation that I managed to find the log of the run in my watch and saw I had run 28.16 (official time later was 28.06) and so when they said the winner was 23 something I knew I wasn't far off.  As it turned out i was 17th! 2nd unaffiliated runner and if I were female then the winner of the women's race.

So not so shabby for my first effort at a short fell race.  What surprised me was how much my quads were aching for the next few days - That's the really quick descending I guess so I need to work on that although impact work is always a risk when it comes to my ankles really.

So what do I take from it?  Well i'm happy with what I achieved obviously but what can I improve?  My head was in a good place and I didn’t let up even when the body was screaming, I don't think physically I could have given much more, at no point did I walk when I could run. I was happy that I was prepared to suffer in order to keep my placing.  Although I say I'm not competitive I guess that deep down we all are to some extent.

21/1/23 - Kymin (Monmouth) AS 6.36km/350m (3.95miles/1150ft) PM 

Second race in two weeks. Travelled up in the morning with a friend and the two dogs and spent a few hours in the New Forest first which was certainly handy to get the legs fresh and the blood flowing.  After last week I felt more confident in myself and wasn't afraid to push from the off as the distance and elevation was very similar to Craig Yr Allt.  It was pretty much a long climb to start and the usual bunching occurred but there was more room ot overtake or be overtaken so I settled into a good early rhythm, again using a very fast powerhike on steeper sections - which again I found was at least keeping me up with people determined to keep running. Again when i checked the stats later I could clearly see where I was actually lowering my heart rate while still climbing hills.  This is fantastic news as my aerobic system is clearly working as intended and when I go anaerobic it seems I can sustain that for longer. 

The course then dipped sharply for some fast downhills - almost too fast in one case but found I could easily hold position on the steep stuff, it was the flat I was fearing.  We had actually visited the course just beforehand so the dogs could stretch their legs once more and It was really handy to have seen the top of the final climb and the beginning of the descent as I knew what awaited me and mentally i was ready to go.  

There was some more climbing so running mixed with powerhiking and I although obviously blowing a little it all felt under control.  As we rounded the building at the top of the Kymin I managed to get past a guy I had been following for much of the race and then decided that no matter what I wasn't giving that place back. The final descent is around a mile and a half with a flat section in the minute. Its punctuated by gates and a short road section. I could hear him behind me all the way and like Craig Yr Allt I decided it was all or nothing - Maybe in previous years I would never have pushed as hard - I was doing 5-6 minutes mile pace at the end which is ridiculous for me - but something in my mentality these days won't let me back off.  Maybe its the whole year long project thats added some real mental discipline. Whatever it is it worked as I finished mayvbe 10 seconds or so in front of him for 28th place from 115 which is a great result. 

The course is thoroughly enjoyable, probably more so than Craig Yr Allt as it doesnt feel such a conga line and the descents are longer. My watch told me it was 4.5 miles and 1200ft of elevation so not sure the info is up to date on it since a course change. Again one i'd thoroughly recommend - especially fro newer fell runners as its all marked with plenty of marshalls and you cant go wrong navigationally.

The top of the Kymin

The flat section - photo taken before race

The boys enjoying the New Forest

14/1/23 - Craig Yr Allt.  BS 6.3km/300m (3.91miles/984ft) PM  (BS - Category B and short.  PM - Partially Marked) Figures are length and elevation

The last race I ran was in may 22 so I felt rusty when it came to just being ready. Surprisingly no nerves but I felt ready. I knew that this time the training was in the bank. It was a wet race underfoot following the heavy rain of the last few weeks but no rain on the day. The race goes hard from the get go with a short very steep road section straight up to the track.  Once on the track the field thinned  and I could settle into the grin of going up. I was judging well when running was inefficient and was surprised to see that I would overtake someone running while I was powerwalking. It's a narrow course and hard to overtake so it was a case of hanging in line and hoping you either weren't going to get held up or hold someone else up.

The descents were fine but hairy in places due to the mud and general slippery conditions. Inov8 212's always come into their own on ground like that and I was confident of my footing.  The race had two flat sections which don't suit me as I have little speed on these compared to the younger runners around me. But even though I had a few overtake on these it wasn't too bad.  My forte is on the climbs and descents and going into the third and longest climb I was able to retake my lost places and more. Luckily the path widened slightly so I could push past people on the ascent. I was feeling the pace as I'm not used to flat out efforts as I don't train for short races rather the long ones. But I was grinding well and found that I was recovering on the climbs as my heart rate had mainly spiked while sprinting the flats. 

I knew or at least guessed that the race was going to end on a long flat and descent and having come off the peak of the last hill with a few people maybe 20 yards back I knew if I didnt want to lose places it was time to suck up the pain and just go for it.  I love descents like that where it feels like your legs could blow off at any moment and you can only just keep up with your feet, Diisengage brain totally and just flow. I hit the line at pace (for me) for what turned out to be 39th place out of 102 in 39.19 and I'm very happy with that considering some of the youngsters in the race and short races not really suiting me.  

I would highly recommend this race - the director clearly cares about fell running and it's a well organised event. The course is straightforward and requires no navigation skills. My only misgiving is the lack of space for runners to overtake but there's nothing the organisers can do about that as it's the nature of the area itself.  Instead you need to be sharp and keep your eyes out for potential opportunities. next up the Kymin in Monmouth.

Craig Yr Allt