Fell racing is bit different from other kinds of races (road, trail, cross country) in that race routes cross much more exposed and remote land and a key element of the difficulty of the race lies in the difficulty of the terrain. So as well as being hilly, it might be boggy, rocky, open moor, on a camber or (usually) a combination of all of these. Because of this there are a few things that you need to think about when entering these races. This page is intended to give a brief outline, but there is lots more information available at fellrunner.org.uk
Races are placed into Fell Runners Association (FRA) race categories. The categories have two letters which refer to the steepness of the route and length of the race:
1. Ascent (Steepness)
Category “A” Event
- 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” Event
- Should average not less than 25 metres climb per kilometre.
- Should not have more than 30% of the race distance on road
Category “C” Event
- 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
2. Race Length
- Category “L” (long) race is 20 kilometres or over
- Category “M” (medium) race is over 10 kilometres but less than 20 kilometres
- Category “S” (short) race is 10 kilometres or less
So, an AS race is short and very steep, a CL is long and relatively less steep. A shortish BM is probably a good one to choose first.
Fell races also generally require competitors to carry some kit. The purpose of this is to ensure that you can keep warm (ish) if you are injured or need to assist another injured runner during the race. You probably won’t need to wear any of this kit if all goes well, but you will get very cold very quickly if you need to stop running for any reason. Bear in mind that a minor injury that forces you to stop running will mean a long cold walk back down off the top of the moors and a more serious injury could mean a long wait for the Mountain Rescue team to get to you.
Hypothermia is dangerous!
Carrying kit is mandatory on AL, AM and BL races, and at the discretion of the race director (dependent on weather conditions) on others.
You should bring and be prepared to carry the following to all races:
- WATERPROOF whole body cover (a waterproof jacket with attached hood and waterproof trousers)
- Other body cover appropriate for the weather conditions including, as a minimum, hat and gloves but also e.g. a fleece
- Map, preferably waterproof, of the race route and surrounding area
- Compass suitable for navigating the course (GPS type equipment is not acceptable)
- Emergency food (long races).
The FRA recognition of “waterproof” means a garment marketed as “waterproof” (i.e. not just “windproof”) with taped seams.
Because of the remoteness of the terrain, you shouldn’t expect a fell race to be fully marked in the way trail and cross country races are. Many have some route marking and marshalls at key turns but some navigation may be needed. You can’t always rely on being able to follow the runner ahead, as twists and turns in the course and the relatively small number of runners in many races can mean that the runner ahead is out of sight. So as well as carrying a route map, you should know how to read it!
Some of the other abbreviations you might see on fell race descriptions refer to these navigation skills:
ER – fell running experience required
NS – navigational skills required
LK – local knowledge an advantage (do a recce if you can!)
PM – some sections of the route may be marked to guide runners around particular hazards, or for environmental reasons (so that the race doesn’t disturb ground nesting birds or rare plant species, for example)
It really isn’t as complicated as it sounds, and fell running and racing is a lot of fun. Race routes can be quite tough and the weather can be a bit of a challenge, but if you enjoy spending time in the hills you’ll almost certainly like fell running.
Races are generally low key, cheap to enter and draw a small friendly crowd. The front end is very competitive, but runners of all paces are at races. The FRA race calendar can be found here: