There was a time when I had aspirations to be a fell runner, and I ran in three fell races. Looking back they were amazing experiences, although time is a great healer and I also recall them as gruelling in the extreme. If it was a road race I was normally two-thirds down the field, but in a fell race I came close to coming last, certainly in two of the events. It was made worse by the fact that I wore my club running vest with Stilton Striders on it! Obviously we were not a fell running club, unlike the White Peak or the Dark Peak clubs.
What was good about it? A very relaxed approach to the race. 'Off you go' were the words that began one race. This was preceded by, 'Run to end of field, turn right, cross river [there was no bridge], go up hill ...'. There were marshalls, of sorts. Once you'd got to the top of the hill which always seemed considerable, running along a ridge was absolutely fantastic. Another thing that was good was finishing, when the endorphins kicked in with a mega-hit. Also, the camaraderie over tea and cakes in the village hall, with people thanking us lads for coming over.
What was bad about it? Running up the hill, or rather feebly attempting to do so. And even worse, running down for which you need a peculiar mentality which seems to have no care for personal safety. I was pathetic and one competitor described me as mince-ing down the hill. [For 'hill' ordinary people would speak of 'mountain'.]
Fell runners really are a different breed. Read their training programmes and by comparison marathon runners appear as wimps. But read the Fell Runners Association magazine, to which I subscribed for a while, and you will encounter elegiac poems penned by those musing on their experience on the hills. There are legends like Joss Naylor, a Wasdale sheep farmer, who in 1975 bagged 72 Lakeland peaks in 24 hours. The record was broken in '97 by Mark Hartell who bagged 77. There are gripping stories of unbelievable feats of human endurance.
This is most definitely a thing of the past for me. But I continue to enjoy fell running vicariously as I chat to my mate Simon, with whom I ran my first fell race. He's gone on to run several mountain marathons and has some great stories to tell. It was a genuine relief to discover that Simon wasn't in the Lake District at the weekend, and that this was one story he won't be telling.