Reflections On Running #6: To Fell And Back

Fell running wannabe Rick Pearson shares six hard-won lessons from the Ennerdale Horseshoe

fell running beginner

Competitors trudge uphill at the recent Ennerdale Horseshoe race

You could finish last

Unless you’re remarkably unlucky or remarkably slow, you’re unlikely to finish dead last in a road race. Head to the hills, however, and the standard increases exponentially. The same year that I’d run 3:02:13 at the London Marathon, I finished 51st of 61 finishers at the Ennerdale Horseshoe.

Flat speed is irrelevant

The speediest of road runners can be rendered useless on the slopes of a fell race. Running well up here requires a totally different skill set. Take the terrain: huge, angular boulders, as Northern as mushy peas and Corrie. A fell runner looks at this and thinks: “No problem.” A road runner looks at this and thinks: “No way.”

They breed them tough oop North

Despite its challenging nature, fell running isn’t a young man’s game. One of the most remarkable runners on show at Ennerdale was a 70-year-old woman who glided over the terrain like a silvery mountain goat. I just about managed to finish in front of her, but I was soundly beaten by several runners twice my age.

Learn to read a map

Question: what’s better than hiking up the steep slopes of Pillar once? Answer: hiking up the steep slopes of Pillar twice. I know this because I’ve done it. The reason? My map skills are nonexistent. This meant I had to follow two local lasses. Not in a creepy “do you run here often?” kind of way; they just knew the route. Or, at least, I thought they did. Thirty minutes later, however, our surroundings began to have a suspiciously familiar feel to them. “We’ve done a big circle,” said Ms Keswick AC, laughing the cruel laugh of the hill-hardened. I wanted to cry.

Less is more

I’m a fairly back-to-basics type of runner: I run without a watch, don’t use Strava and have even dabbled in the whole barefoot thing. And yet I was still the most over-dressed runner on the start line. Which is to say, I was the only one wearing compression socks. The locals looked at me as if I’d turned up to run in a three-piece suit. Before the race had even started, I was a marked man.

Runners are a decent sort

Despite my particularly Southern appearance, the locals treated me with generosity. Lost on top of Pillar, I tagged on to three runners, one of whom was both a thoroughly nice bloke and familiar with the route. (Daryl Mullen: if you are reading this, on behalf of naïve runners everywhere who find themselves hopelessly out of their depth, I thank you.) With Daryl’s help, we negotiated the final six miles of the route – a mixture of moorland trods, rocky descents and some welcome grassy sections – without incident.


Rick Pearson

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