Fell running

Fell running
The start of a mountain running championship in Norway

Fell running, also known as mountain running and hill running, is the sport of running and racing, off road, over upland country where the gradient climbed is a significant component of the difficulty. The name arises from the origins of the English sport on the fells of northern Britain, especially those in the Lake District.

Fell races are organized on the premise that contenders possess mountain navigation skills and carry adequate survival equipment as prescribed by the organizer.



Hill running race in Prague

The first recorded hill race took place in Scotland[1]. King Malcolm Canmore organised a race in Braemar in 1040 or perhaps as late as 1064, reputedly to find a swift messenger. This event appears to have been a precursor to the Braemar Gathering. There is no documented connection between this event and the fell races of the nineteenth century. By the nineteenth century records begin to appear of fell races taking place as a part of community fairs and games. The sport was a simple affair and was based upon the community's values for physical ability. Fell races took place alongside other sports such as wrestling, sprint races and, especially in Scotland, heavy events such as throwing the hammer. These fairs or games events were often commercial as well as cultural, with livestock shows and sales taking place alongside music, dancing and sports. In a community of shepherds and agricultural labourers comparisons of speed and strength were interesting to spectators as a source of professional pride for competitors. A fast shepherd or a strong labourer were as respected, one imagines, as any top ranking colleague in a more modern employment. The most famous of these events in England is the Grasmere Sports meeting in the Lake District, with its Guide's Race. This event still takes place every year in August.

Early fell races were mostly professional, in that cash prizes were awarded to the winners. They also attracted bookmakers and gambling. In the nineteenth century the majority of races were professional, although there were amateur races such as the Hallam Chase in Sheffield[1]. The rise of amateur sport in the Victorian era, and the formation of the Amateur Athletic Association in 1880 brought changes to athletic sports, that would eventually create the modern sport of Fell Running. The amateur sport developed, in part from the professional, but it also came from a quite different tradition, associated with mountaineering and the Youth Hostel Association. A formative event in Fell Running history is the Lake District Mountain Trial, inaugurated in 1952. This long distance, endurance event was the first of a number of more complex and longer courses that make less of a spectacle for spectators but a more modern endurance running sport. Over the next few years more long fell races in lakeland followed, such as Ennerdale (1968) and Wasdale "Horseshoe" Mountain Fell Race.[2] (1972). While these endurance races emerged, professional racing continued much as before. Though still under the banner of "professional", at best the prize money would only pay a week’s wages. During the major part of the 20th century the two categories ran as separate sports where a runner could only move to the amateur code after withdrawing from competition for a period of quarantine. Professional racing continued, in parallel with amateur events, right up until 1992, when all fell running was declared open [3]. The professional sport has evolved into open fell running and is administered by the British Open Fell Runners Association (BOFRA) who run regular short-distance events with a strong emphasis on junior races.

The Fell Runners Association was inaugurated in April 1970 to organise the duplication of event Calendars for the amateur sport. It now administers the amateur fell running in England, in affiliation with UK athletics. Separate governing bodies exist for each country of the United Kingdom and each country has its own tradition of fell running, though the sport is largely the same. Among the most important races of the year are the Ben Nevis race in Scotland, run regularly since 1937, and the Snowdon Race in Wales.

Overlap with other sports

Modern fell running has common characteristics with cross country running. Courses are often longer, steeper, unmarked when out on the hills (with a few exceptions) and these longer races can demand mountain navigational techniques. Nevertheless, cross country seems fast and furious to many fell runners. Fell running also overlaps with orienteering.[citation needed] Courses are again longer but demand different techniques from orienteering.[citation needed] However, fell running does require navigational skills in a wild, mountainous environment, particularly in determining and choosing between routes. Category O events and Mountain Marathons (see also below), test navigational ability — attracting both orienteers and fell runners. Other multi-terrain events, such as the Cotswold Way Relay and the Longmynd hike for example, also qualify as fell races under Fell Runners Association rules


Fell running does not involve rock climbing. Races avoid rock climbs and are subject to change when any ground nearby becomes unstable. A small number of fell runners[who?] who are also rock climbers nevertheless do attempt records traversing ridges that allow running and involve scrambling and rock climbing — particularly where the record is 24 h or less.[citation needed] Foremost of these in the UK is probably the traverse of the Cuillin Main Ridge on Skye, and the Greater Traverse, including Blaven. Nor does fell running involve expeditions. Race records vary from minutes to, generally, a few hours. Some of the mountain marathons do call for pairs of runners to carry equipment and food for camping overnight. Even the most extreme fell runners will tend to ”bite” at a record that stands 24 h or less — often a "round" that ends at the start line. The exceptions to the extreme fell runner are attempts at a continuous round of Munros. Mountaineers who traverse light and fast over high Alpine, Himalayan or through other such continental, high altitudes are considered alpine style mountaineers.[by whom?]


The Fell Runners Association publishes a calendar of 400 to 500 races per year. Additional races, less publicised, are organised in UK regions. The British Open Fell Runners Association (BOFRA) publishes a smaller calendar of races - mostly derived from the professional guide races - in England and Scotland and organises a championship series. In Scotland, all known hill races (both professional and amateur) are listed in the annual calendar of Scottish Hill Runners. In Wales, the Welsh Fell Runners Association provides a similar service. Northern Ireland events are organised by Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association. Again, races are run on the premise that a contender possesses mountain navigational skills and carries carry adequate survival equipment. In Ireland events are organised by the Irish Mountain Running Association. The WMRA - World Mountain Running Association - is the governing body for Mountain Running and as such is sanctioned by and affiliated to the IAAF, the International Association of Athletics Federations. It organizes the World Mountain Running Championships. There are also the continental championships such as the African Mountain Running Championships and the European Mountain Running Championships, the South American Mountain Running Championships and the North American Central American and Caribbean Mountain Running Championships, the latter also known as NACAC Championships.

Race categories

Races run under the FRA Rules For Competition of the Fell Runners Association are categorised by the amount of ascent and distance.

Ascent categories

Category A

  • at least 250 ft (76 m) of ascent per mile (1.6 km)
  • should not have more than 20% of the race distance on road
  • should be at least one mile in length

Category B

  • at least 125 ft (38 m) of ascent per mile (1.6 km)
  • should not have more than 30% of the race distance on road

Category C

  • at least 100 ft (30.4 m) of ascent per mile (1.6 km)
  • should not have more than 40% of the race distance on road
  • should contain some genuine fell terrain

Distance Categories

Category L

  • for Long - over 12 miles (19.3 km)

Category M

  • for Medium - over 6 miles (9.6 km)

Category S

  • for Short - less than 6 miles (9.6 km)

Additional categories used in the FRA Calendar published by the Fell Runners Association

Category O

  • also known as a Long O event
  • checkpoints are revealed to each competitor when they come up to a “staggered” start
  • entry by choosing an orienteering type class, such as a Score-O event and often as a team of two (pairs)

Category MM

  • events also known as Mountain Marathons and Mountain Trials
  • similar to Category O, but multi-day events, in wild, mountainous country. Competitors must carry all the equipment and food required for the overnight camp and subsequent days. Entry is usually as a pair.

Three example "classic A" races

  • Wasdale Fell Race AL 21 miles (34 km) 9,000 ft (2750 m) - male record 3:25:21 (Billy Bland, 1982), female record 4:12:17 (Janet McIver and Jackie Lee, 2008)
  • Ben Nevis Race AM 10 miles (16 km) 4,400 ft (1340 m) - male record 1:25:34 (Kenny Stuart, 1984), female record 1:43:25 (Pauline Haworth 1984)
  • Blisco Dash AS 5 miles (8.1 km) 2,000 ft (610 m) - male record 36:01 (Jack Maitland, 1987), female record 47:25 (Louise Sharp, 2004)


Modern fell running trainers use light, non waterproof material to eject water and dislodge peat after traversing boggy ground. While the trainer needs to be supple, to grip an uneven, slippery surface, a degree of side protection against rock and scree (loose stones) may be provided. Rubber studs have been the mode for two decades, preceded by ripple soles, spikes and the flat soled ‘pumps’ of the fifties.[citation needed]

Walshes are extensively used by many UK runners, especially in the Lake District, where their sole pattern gives excellent grip on steep grass. Shoe manufacturers such as Montrail are also leading the chasing pack to try to make better and better shoes to compete with the classic Norman Walsh's design.[citation needed] County Durham (UK) based manufacturer Inov-8 have gained a whole swath of awards in recent years and have an extensive array of shoes ranging from studded fell shoes to ones designed for parkour running.

24 hour challenges

Fell runners have set many of the peak bagging records in the UK. In 1932 the Lakeland runner Bob Graham set a record of 42 Lakeland peaks in 24 hours. His feat, now known as the Bob Graham Round, was not repeated for many years (in 1960); by 2011, however, it had become a fell-runner's test-piece, and had been repeated by over 1610 people. Building on the basic 'Round' later runners such as Eric Beard (56 tops in 1963) and Joss Naylor (72 tops in 1975) have raised the 24 hour Lakeland record considerably. The present record is 77 peaks, and was set by Mark Hartell in 1997[4]. The ladies record is 62 peaks, set in 1994 by Anne Stentiford[5].

Most fell running regions have their own challenges or "rounds":

See also


Further reading

External links

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