“.. you like the free wind in your hair, life without care, flying up there where the air is rare.”
I got the seed of the idea years ago on Esk Hause when at 9.30am I’d met two fell runners coming from Grasmere. They’d already done almost twice the distance I had covered in the same time. Their secret? Travel light with trainer type shoes. The pair I bought the next week brought me blisters on the downhill runs and no ‘life without care’! But the desire for that free wind lingered on.
Fast forward to 2006. I’m walking quickly, away from paths, up to Carlside below Skiddaw, when I’m overtaken slowly by a fell runner. Nearer the top I meet his partner. She explains as he tears down past us that he’s a contender for top places in national competitions. His secret? Make sure to get proper fell running shoes and touch the ground as lightly as possible on the descent. So maybe I could do it.
With a pair of new Innovate shoes (Top photo) from Keswick’s Needle Sports, I was soon testing out the fells round Thornthwaite, with the 2½ mile Barrow Round (Photo above) a favourite. Excluding the best part of two years for a prostate operation, I’ve now covered since my ‘conversion’ just under 90 miles on the fell tops
It’s not a lot and I’m not competing with anyone in races. My times are generally 40% to 65% of the walking times predicted by my Anquet mapping software. My best overall speeds are about five mph and for longer runs more like three mph. But it’s brought me a new freedom, the taste for a great sport and admiration for those, whose racing on the hills I read about in the local papers. Who needs football’s overpaid prima donnas when you have local icons like Joss Naylor and Billy Bland? These tough men and women are our real sporting heroes.
“Isn’t it dangerous and likely to do your knees in?”, Well you need to be fairly fit, have a good sense of balance and work up slowly. And go at a pace and for a distance that is OK for you. To enjoy this sport, you don’t need to do the gruelling races that Richard Askwith describes in his excellent book, Feet in the Clouds, A tale of fell-running and obsession.
This last month I’ve had two of the best 90 minutes of running in a lifetime. First on the island of Mull, where I had a huge tract of sun-soaked, deer-roamed fells to myself with breathtaking views across Ulva island and down south to Iona. (Photo opposite)
Then last week a great five mile run over Cat Bells and up to Maiden Moor, with the Newlands Valley lit up and glowing in the late afternoon sun. (Photo below) The descent was a route I’d seen the hounds taking two years ago. It drops steeply off the path from the fell top in a NNE direction past an old sheepfold and down through bracken to the track to Little Town. Jazz pianist Chick Corea was playing on my iPod from his ‘Return to Forever’ album to the words below. Could I want for anything more?
Look around you my people
If you look then you will see
How to love, life is paradise all together
What game shall we play today?