The Highs and Lows of a STACies Year on the Fells

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet; and, though not one Britain in one hundred has any inkling that the great kings of the fells ever existed, the heroics of the greatest are as glorious as anything in sport’s history”  Richard Askwith, Feet in the Clouds, 2004
“I really need to find a new hobby”  Richard Jones, Sedbergh Hills Fell Race, 2014

James May has asked me to pen a few words covering my fell running endeavours last year.  He explains that a number of our members are interested in taking up the sport but are nervous about doing so.  Whilst these concerns are completely unfounded, as a relatively recent adopter of fell running I can certainly sympathise with them:  The participants appear inhuman, seemingly able to run up inclines most people couldn’t walk and descend almost sheer fellsides at breakneck pace – surely they won’t want a fat lad in a STAC top gate crashing their party?! There really was nothing to worry about however; a nicer, more welcoming group you could not  wish to meet, and I am yet to come last.  I’ve been in the bottom ten loads, but never last and (thanks to some very generous marshalling on a wet and windy fellside in Sedbergh at the English Championships) not fallen fowl of cut off times.

Participants are all shapes and sizes (I’ve competed in a number weighing in on the wrong side of 100KG)  and many is the time I have been overtaken by someone in their 70’s, and there are a myriad of races of varying length and elevation so as to cater to most fitness levels.   A cautionary word however; the implications of injury or getting lost are obviously more serious on the fells than in comparison to the streets of Leeds, so please do know your limits and refer to the Fell Runners Association for advice.  Having the correct kit is also another consideration, and whilst it may not be mandatory on the day I always turn up with the FRA’s full kit requirement as a minimum- how annoyed would you be if you’d trained for months and travelled for hours, only to be not allowed to run due to in correct kit?  James Gray who is a proficient fell runner and, after months of me hinting, finally succumbed to the allure of a STAC vest, works in Cotswolds in Leeds. If you have any questions about kit or the sport in general I am sure he would be happy to help.

Last year I competed in races ‘back home’ in my native Cumbria as well as closer to Leeds in the Dales and Pennines.  The first  of 2014 being Causey Pike 7.2KM / 543M elevation, and my overriding memory of this race, aside from screaming calves, was making the rookie mistake of looking at the pack ahead making its way up the fellside and thinking “those super slim chaps look like they know what there doing, I’ll follow them straight up the steepest shortest route” rather than a more realistic “everyone who is a similar size to me seems to be taking a less direct, not so steep approach”.  The last  race of the year was The Stoop 8KM/ 250M elevation, where a number of fellow STACies were toeing the start line- all of whom, like the rest of the field, donning a Santa hat.  The shortest was Latrigg which at only 4.8KM (but still boasting 290M climb) meant I was home, fed and down the pub in not much more than hour after the starters pistol fired. The longest, wettest, miserabl-est and most challenging was Sedbergh Hills – 22.5KM and 1830M elevation.

It’s not been the best start to 2015 so far, as two of the races I had booked in were cancelled (Mickleden Straddle due to waste deep snow and Causey Pike due to road closure).  However, both James Gray and I ran llkley Moor Fell Race (8K/ 401M elevation) earlier in the year, and fellow STAC runner John Moore and I are off to the Lakes again in a couple of weeks to tackle the Anniversary Waltz (18.5K, 1097M elevation).  After this, I am hoping to have another crack at Latrigg in May (who knows, maybe up down and back in the pub within 60 minutes this year?) and I’m intending to take on Skiddaw (14.5K/ 823M elevation) and perhaps a repeat of Sedbergh Hills.  There’s a quite a few others I have half an eye on in the summer (weekends and week nights), and don’t forget you don’t have to be competing in a race to run on the fells, so if you fancy a couple of hours on a hill somewhere give me a shout. 

On a final note, aside from the Fell Runners Association, a great source of information and inspiration is Richard Askwith’s excellent book  ‘A Feet in the Clouds’.  This charts the history of the sport, it’s characters and races and gives a fascinating insight to a largely unrecognised part of British life and supporting culture.  I imagine that there are a few copies floating around the club, and I have a couple of battered copies at home which I’d be happy to lend.  I’m by no means an expert (or indeed very good!) fell runner, but would be glad to offer any advice where possible.  Feel free to message me on Facebook or get hold of me via James May.

Hopefully see you on the fells sometime!

Richard Jones

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