Introduction to Fell Running

The Terrain

Although there are some people who naturally gravitate to running off road most of us start road running. Basically fell running is another form of distance or endurance running but with some differences.

Underfoot, Fell running will often include an element of road and tracks but you will essentially be running on small paths, moors and sometimes across open and pathless fell side. Compared with other forms of running you will run on lot of grass but including rough grass full of turks heads, big tussocks of grass or peat hags and open peat on moorland. Some routes will take you over rocks, tricky in the wet, and it will be muddier.

The rough terrain makes the underfoot more difficult to run on; uses more energy running up hill, although less downhill; slows you up and breaks your stride; requiring more balance than road running. The arms are used for balance coming down hill and the lower back and your body’s core needs more strength than in road running.

Prepare for the Weather

Being high up often means worse weather and generally colder conditions than road running. This is even more important as you may be going up to a third slower than road running, generating less heat.

Wearing the right and enough clothes with spare gear for when the weather turns nasty is important. Remember the weather can change rapidly and get better or worse very quickly. Bad weather can mean running on wet rocks, or through rising streams or even snow, when you didn’t expect it. Be prepared.

Fell running takes more time to cover a set distance than on the road. It also takes more energy so eating afterwards is even more important than usual.

In hot weather there are different problems. You may need sun cream; peaked hat or a neckerchief. Water can sometimes be drunk from high streams but otherwise you will need to carry your own water.


Despite predictions to the contrary, injuries in fell running are surprisingly rare but they do happen and can be quite serious. There is an obvious risk to ankles and from falling and grazing hands etc. Fortunately the actual number of occurrences is quite low but remember if you hurt yourself you may be immobile high on a hill side with little protection from the elements.

A Wide Range of Events

General members of the public, if they think of Fell Running, will probably recall a short Fell Race they saw at a Village Fete or Country Show. As keen runners however, we know the true variation of races within Fell Running. There are hundreds of fell races from about 1 mile to ultra distance events, including relays.

The Fell Running Association

Most races are registered with the Fell Running Association. Registered races have to comply with minimum standards and are insured. There is usually a small entry fee and prizes, including prizes for differing age categories and teams. Many races are held from pubs or local community centres. Races are categorised according to distance and climb.

Race organisers can insist that you take a minimum of extra clothing for safety. Details of all the regulations are on the FRA website.

The FRA is a membership based organisation and membership provides you with three Magazines a year plus a copy of the calendar.

We have British Open Fell Running Association (BOFRA) races, most of which are below 3 or 4 miles, and require 15 to twenty minutes of solid, thigh burning climbing, before hammering it back down the fell as fast as you can. Then looking at the Lakeland Classics, the sport has a completely different aspect. These long distance races are a completely different kettle of fish, and even Mountain Marathons are still put in the category of Fell Running. It is amazing how within this sport there is such variation and yet it is not considered to be the most “well known” sports by any stretch of the imagination.

Why I Love the Sport

Geoff at Pendle

Geoff at Pendle

We must consider ourselves very lucky to have a sport in which we are racing the same people week in, week out. The other aspect to be considered is how the sport has short distance demons and long distance maestros. The top runners who are winning the short sub 5 mile races may not necessarily go well on the races between 10 and 20 miles.

This is what makes the sport of Fell Running so exciting. Winners change from week to week and it is not only the course which could be steep and dry or flat and wet that plays into it either. Speaking of weather, this also affects the result, some people fade badly in the heat whilst others shine in such conditions.

All these are reasons why I love this sport. It is unlike other forms of running. Fell Races always have a good atmosphere wherever you go, and the people are always welcoming.