Fell running

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The start of a mountain running championship in Norway

Fell running, sometimes known as hill running or mountain 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.


A 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 19th century.

From the 19th century records survive of fell races taking place as a part of community fairs and games. The sport was a simple affair and was based upon each 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, the Grasmere Sports meeting in the Lake District, with its Guide's Race, still takes place every year in August.

The Fell Runners Association started in April 1970 to organise the duplication of event calendars for the amateur sport. As of 2013 it administers 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. The most important races of the year include the Ben Nevis race in Scotland, run regularly since 1937, and the Snowdon Race in Wales.

Overlap with other sports

Fell running is often known as hill running, particularly in Scotland.[2] It is sometimes called mountain running, as in the name of the Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association[3] although the term mountain running often has connotations of WMRA races which tend to be on smoother, drier trails and lack the route choice which may be available in fell races.[4]

Modern fell running has common characteristics with cross country running. Fell race courses are often longer, steeper and unmarked when out on the hills (with a few exceptions). Fell running also overlaps with orienteering. Courses are again typically longer but with less emphasis on navigation. Fell running does sometimes require navigational skills in a mountainous environment, particularly in determining and choosing between routes, and poor weather may increase the need for navigation. However, in most fell races, the route or sequence of checkpoints is published beforehand and runners may reconnoitre the course to reduce the risk of losing time working out where to run during the race.[5] 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, also qualify as fell races under Fell Runners Association rules.

Some fell running could also be classed as trail running. Trail running normally takes place on good paths or tracks which are relatively easy to follow and does not necessarily involve the significant amounts of ascent that are required in fell running.[6]


Fell running does not involve rock climbing and routes are subject to change if ground nearby becomes unstable. A small number of fell runners 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 hours 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.


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 adequate survival equipment. In Ireland events are organised by the Irish Mountain Running Association.

The 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 first British Fell Running Championships, then known as Fell Runner of the Year, were held in 1972 and the scoring was based on results in all fell races. In 1976 this was changed to the runner's best ten category A races and further changes took place to the format in later years. Starting with the 1986 season, an English Fell Running Championships series has also taken place, based on results in various races of different lengths over the year.[7]

The winners of the British Championships have been as follows.[8]

Year Men Women
1972 Dave Cannon
1973 Harry Walker
1974 Jeff Norman
1975 Mike Short
1976 Martin Weeks
1977 Alan McGee
1978 Mike Short
1979 Andy Styan Ros Coats
1980 Billy Bland Pauline Haworth
1981 John Wild Ros Coats
1982 John Wild Sue Parkin
1983 Kenny Stuart Angela Carson
1984 Kenny Stuart Pauline Haworth
1985 Kenny Stuart Pauline Haworth
1986 Jack Maitland Angela Carson
1987 Colin Donnelly Jacky Smith
1988 Colin Donnelly Clare Crofts
1989 Colin Donnelly Ruth Pickvance
1990 Gary Devine Trish Calder
1991 Keith Anderson Trish Calder
1992 Steve Hawkins Clare Crofts
1993 Mark Croasdale Angela Brand-Barker
1994 Mark Kinch Angela Brand-Barker
1995 Mark Kinch Sarah Rowell
1996 Ian Holmes Sarah Rowell
1997 Ian Holmes and Mark Roberts Angela Mudge
1998 Ian Holmes Angela Mudge
1999 Gavin Bland Angela Mudge
2000 Ian Holmes Angela Mudge
2001 Cancelled due to foot-and-mouth outbreak
2002 Simon Booth Andrea Priestley and Louise Sharp
2003 Rob Jebb Louise Sharp
2004 Simon Bailey Tracey Brindley
2005 Simon Booth Jill Mykura
2006 Rob Jebb Natalie White
2007 Rob Hope Janet McIver
2008 Rob Hope Angela Mudge
2009 Rob Hope Phillipa Jackson
2010 Tim Davies Phillipa Maddams
2011 Morgan Donnelly Phillipa Maddams
2012 Joe Symonds Lauren Jeska
2013 Rob Jebb Victoria Wilkinson and Helen Fines
2014 Rob Hope Victoria Wilkinson and Jacqueline Lee
2015 Finlay Wild Jasmin Paris

The winners of the English Championships have been as follows.[9]

Year Men Women
1986 Dave Cartridge Carol Haigh
1987 Bob Whitfield Vanessa Brindle
1988 Shaun Livesey Clare Crofts
1989 Gary Devine Clare Crofts
1990 Shaun Livesey Cheryl Cook
1991 Gavin Bland Cheryl Cook
1992 Brian Thompson Jacky Smith
1993 Mark Croasdale Carol Greenwood
1994 Mark Kinch Andrea Priestley
1995 Mark Kinch Sarah Rowell
1996 Ian Holmes Sarah Rowell
1997 Mark Roberts Mari Todd
1998 Ian Holmes Angela Brand-Barker
1999 Gavin Bland Janet King
2000 Ian Holmes Sally Newman
2001 Cancelled due to foot-and-mouth outbreak
2002 Ian Holmes Andrea Priestley
2003 Ian Holmes Louise Sharp
2004 Simon Bailey Louise Sharp
2005 Simon Bailey and Rob Hope Sally Newman
2006 Rob Jebb Natalie White
2007 Simon Bailey Janet McIver
2008 Rob Jebb Natalie White
2009 Simon Bailey Phillipa Jackson
2010 Rob Hope Lauren Jeska
2011 Lloyd Taggart Lauren Jeska
2012 Simon Bailey Lauren Jeska
2013 Simon Bailey Victoria Wilkinson and Helen Fines
2014 Tom Addison Victoria Wilkinson
2015 Simon Bailey Victoria Wilkinson

Race categories

Race records vary from a few minutes to, generally, a few hours. The longest common fell running challenges tend to be rounds to be completed within 24 hours, such as the Bob Graham Round. Some of the mountain marathons do call for pairs of runners to carry equipment and food for camping overnight. Longer possible routes do exist, such as an attempt 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 fell runners.

Races run under the FRA Rules For Competition of the Fell Runners Association[10] are categorised by the amount of ascent and distance.

Ascent categories

Category A

  • Should average not less than 50 metres climb per kilometre.
  • Should not have more than 20% of the race distance on road.
  • Should be at least 1.5 kilometres in length.

Category B

  • Should average not less than 25 metres climb per kilometre.
  • Should not have more than 30% of the race distance on road.

Category C

  • Should average not less than 20 metres climb per kilometre.
  • Should not have more than 40% of the race distance on road.
  • Should contain some genuine fell terrain.

Distance Categories

Category L

  • A category “L” (long) race is 20 kilometres or over.

Category M

  • A category “M” (medium) race is over 10 kilometres but less than 20 kilometres.

Category S

  • A category “S” (short) race is 10 kilometres or less.

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]

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 more than 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.[11] The ladies' record is 64 peaks, set in 2011 by Nicky Spinks.[12]

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

See also


  1. Smith, Bill (1985). Stud Marks on the Summit: A History of Amateur Fell Racing: 1861-1983. Preston: SKG Publications. Retrieved 30 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> - Total pages: 581
  2. runbritain: An Introduction to Hill Running.
  3. Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association Constitution.,
  4. Sarah Rowell, Off-Road Running (Ramsbury, 2002), 104.
  5. Finlay Wild - British Fell Running Champion 2015.
  6. Fell Running Guide: Trail Running or Fell Running?
  7. Steve Chilton, It's a Hill, Get Over It (Dingwall, 2013), 143-44.
  8. British Champions.
  9. English Champions.
  10. "FRA Rules For Competition" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. http://www.mh.k313.com/mh/fell/bg/24HourRecord.html
  12. RaceKit news; Dark Peak Fell Runners news

Further reading

External links