A guide to fell running
A beginners guide to trail and fell running kit.
This brief guide is intended for those new to trail and fell running. There are lots of experienced trail and fell runners in the club so, if in any doubt about anything please ask!
Running on the fells
Both trail and fell runs take you to places that are more remote than a ‘normal’ road run. You’ll probably be some distance away from your car or home so it won’t be that easy to ‘pop back and grab a waterproof’ if the weather changes etc. It’s worth thinking about what to take with you and how to carry it well before you set off. Also, some races (especially some Fell races) make carrying the right kit and wearing appropriate shoes compulsory. However, you don’t need to buy a whole load of kit just to have a go at running off road with Burnden.
It is best to wear shoes that are designed for the sorts of surfaces you might meet. Trail shoes have better grip than road shoes. You’ll get better traction on rough surfaces but less traction on the road. Fell shoes go even further than trail shoes with often very aggressive tread patterns. Fell shoes often have less cushioning than other shoes (the closer you are to the ground, the less likely you are to turn an ankle). They grip superbly on soft ground but can be very slippy on hard surfaces. As with all running shoes, there are loads of different types and its best to ask advice from a specialist shop and from other club members. Many runners end up with several pairs of shoes on the go at the same time and simply pick the shoe to suit the conditions. If you run cross country races regularly, you could probably use a fell shoe effectively in some of these races too. If you’re going for just one extra pair of shoes – pick a trail shoe. Some people are tempted to go for a ‘waterproof’ shoe. The chances are you’ll be running through puddles that go way over the top of your shoe and you might just end up with a shoe full of water rather than the water draining out quickly.
Waterproof top: If you’re running regularly in all weathers then a waterproof top is probably a good investment. However, some tops can be very expensive (£100+) because they are made of highly technical waterproof and breathable fabrics and are very low in weight and small when packed up. The Fell Runners Association (FRA) define what they mean by ‘waterproof’ (see below) so if you’re going to get a top, make sure it fits their criteria (and you needn’t pay anything like that much).
On our summer off road runs on a Monday evening it makes sense to carry a windproof or waterproof top unless you’re certain the weather is fair. If the weather is bad, we’ll change the route anyway. (Most club members would carry this sort of top on Winter Hill in all but the fairest of weather. (Remember that windproof tops are great in many situations but they’re not waterproof and wouldn’t count as correct waterproof FRA kit in a winter race). The weather can change quickly on higher ground and its worth getting into the habit of carrying the correct kit.
These are probably only worth investing in if you’re going to be doing fell races which require you to carry full kit or you’re planning to do lots of off road running. They are brilliant protection in bad weather but they’ll probably make you very warm in all but the coolest conditions.
Hat and gloves: Obvious really – well worth carrying. Many of us have been in the sad position of trying to do some fiddly task with fingers that won’t work! Buffs are as good as hats in many cases BUT, some Fell Races insist you have a hat! Again, running shops and other club members can offer advice.
Regulations about theses but socks with wool in (especially Merino wool) are warmer when they’re wet. You can get waterproof socks too but do make sure they fit inside your shoes as they tend to be bulkier than normal socks.
How to carry stuff: the common option is a bum bag. Get one big enough to take all you might need (see the FRA regulations below). Again, there is a vast price range but the classic bag from Pete Bland Sports in Kendal is very good value (they do on-line sales too). Race vests and small rucksacks are becoming very popular and are very comfortable too. Again, get one big enough to carry the kit you need but not so big that it bounces around. These really come into their own if you want to carry water on a race or a run (but you can often get a small bottle in a bum bag too).
Spare food: Emergency food is for emergencies! A couple of spare gel sachets are a very good idea (but try and keep them for emergencies). Carry different food if you want to eat on a run (gel sachets, chocolate raisins, jelly babies are all very good. Just be careful food doesn’t melt if it’s hot or carried close to you).
Great idea. Perhaps one per group of runners. Make sure it’s in a waterproof bag though – even if it’s not raining sweat might make it very wet! Be very careful using your phones GPS as a navigation tool – the battery will drain very quickly!
Must have. 6 blasts in a minute is the international distress signal. 3 blasts is the reply. Get one without a ‘pea’ though as the constant rattle will drive you mad!
Bivi-bag / foil blanket: Sometimes compulsory in races but a really good idea if you or a friend is injured in a remote place. Bags are better than blankets for warmth. They best ones are compact, very light but expensive (approx. £15). If you do get one, don’t be tempted to open it and have a look – you won’t get it back in the bag! Again, club members can offer advice.
sometimes compulsory in races BUT you’ve got to know how to use one if it’s going to help you! Burnden puts on regular navigation courses as does the FRA. If you don’t know anything about navigation then it’s well worth going on one of these. Also, club members would be really happy to help you learn!
It’s compulsory in some races to have a map of the route. As with the compass, if you’re not a navigator it can be fun to learn!
If it hot: bring some sun screen!
If it’s midgy: bring some bug spray!
The FRA set out regulations for the kit to be carried in some races. Race organisers of shorter races often have discretion over what kit to make compulsory. In shorter local races you might only be asked to carry a waterproof top for example. Sometimes they might not make it compulsory to carry any kit. However, if you’re new to running in the hills it makes sense to carry more than the minimum especially if you’re likely to be walking for any length of time. If in any doubt about kit, please ask one of the more experienced club members – we can often rustle up some spare kit to lend you (although the supply is not endless)!
An example of a local race where full kit is rigorously checked and compulsory is Mr Sparkles Dark-un (a night-time fell race in February from Tockholes). Here are the full FRA kit regulations:
Waterproof whole body cover (with taped seams and integrated attached hood)
Map of the route
We hope this helps guide newer trail and fell runners – again, ask for advice. We’re here to help!
(Thanks to Jane Forrest, Sue Booth, Andy Staveley and Steve Pearson for their help in preparing this advice).