> Falling For The Fells - Philip Addyman

Last Sunday at the Simonside Cairns race I completed my initiation to fell running by signing up to NFR and getting my hands on one of those ubiquitous purple and green vests to wear at all future fell races. So at this point, maybe it's a good opportunity to look back at how I started fell running. Back in September this year, the plan was, 1) to do a few fell races to help me to run well in the NE Harrier League XC races for Claremont RR and 2) to build up my form through the winter to seriously update my half marathon PB in the Morpeth-Newcastle.

When I went along to the Thropton Show fell race on 20th Sept, I wasn't too sure what to expect, but for someone who had proved himself to be a decent enough cross country runner in Harrier League races and having previously raced as a Pro-Elite category mountain bike racer at National level in the mid nineties, I though I was in with a reasonable chance. During the 7 mile race, I quickly became acquainted with future rivals Morgan Donnelly and Sid Coxon from Tynedale. After a wet river crossing Morgan pulled away, whilst I managed to get away from Sid on the climb. Within about 4 miles, I discovered the real nitty-gritty of fell running as first I was hopping over deep bracken and then immediately after, scrambling up a vertical face on all fours to reach the final summit. On the way down I proved I was OK at descending and to be honest there's always a part of me thinking that to "crash" at a maximum of 15mph whilst running is nothing compared to a mountain bike crash at 30-40mph, so, psychologically at least, I seem to be fairly well equipped for fell race descents.

Straight away after the race Sid introduced himself as well as some of the other runners; it wasn't just the good result of a second place that made me come away from the race feeling that I had found something good up in them there hills, but also the atmosphere that seemed a lot more pleasant than road or XC races.

Next week I went to the Stanhope 10m and here both the confidence of the week before and my legs conspired to betray me as I set off too fast and dropped backwards through the field to finally finish seventh. Coming down from the mast through the bracken I scared the life out of myself as my ankle went hard over twice as a result of my wearing "high heels" (or trail shoes, as they call them in the shops). If I wanted to take fell racing seriously I would need to buy a pair of fell shoes and sharpish.

I apologise in advance to fell purists when I admit that my desire to go as fast as possible over tough terrain doesn't leave me with as much time as it should for hallowed tradition: I chose a pair of Inov-8s, rather than Walshes because, whilst on the one hand, recognising Walsh shoes to be the standard of the fell running establishment, I considered the Inov-8s to be a more technically advanced shoe. In any case to someone who works in marketing and who also still has something remaining of a racing cyclist's mentality – where even the previous year's equipment quickly becomes out-dated – to be boasting about performance sports equipment remaining unchanged for decades seems a very strange approach.

In the middle of October I went to the Alwinton Show fell race on Saturday and I also "doubled up" on the Sunday with the Inov-8 trail race in Hamsterley. The Alwinton race was just 2.75 miles, but with 750 feet of ascent. Shorter and sharper than this you could not find! Having done a fast 3.5 mile road race on Tuesday night in Whitley Bay, I felt I had the right amount of speed in my legs. But it wasn't to be. This was one of those races where you can feel in the first 200m that you just haven't got the response from your body that you want. Morgan was well clear already going up the steep climb as a chasing group of four of us were reduced to briskly walking, rather than running on the steepest gradients. Over the top and coming down, (despite the added confidence given by the new shoes), I lost out to my fellow chasers, including one local lad running in spikes(!) and finished with bruised ego in fifth. However, things went a lot better the day after where I got a solid third in Hamsterley.

I believe that the experience of every race is always worthwhile, and this manifested itself two weeks later when I managed to win Mandale Harriers' 8 mile fell race at Saltergate near to my dad's house in North Yorkshire, despite being on the back leg of another double combining a Harrier League XC the day before.

It was little bit of a Pyhrric victory though as something gave behind the back of my knee and I was forced to rest up the whole week before re-emerging in 7th place at the Fruitbowl 7 mile trail race at Gibside the following Sunday. This was a superb race on an outstanding course and proved to be far from a hidden treasure with about 350 runners taking the chance to race in the spectacular grounds.

By way of illustrating the virtues of fell, I then did the Memorial Races 10K road race on the paths of the Town Moor. Despite having been up late celebrating a friend's 30th birthday, I still did a PB of 35:40 – this I attribute entirely to the form that fell running had given me.

At the end of November, I risked the double of the epic mudbath of the Harrier League XC at Farringdon on the Saturday with the NE Fell Running Championships at Guisborough on the Sunday. At Guisborough, on the superb and testing Three Tops 8 mile course, not surprisingly I ran out of gas in the last 10 minutes and had to settle for bronze after having been in contention for silver up until that point.

By the time December arrived, September's first objective of using fell to train for XC was getting seriously kicked into touch: the NE XC Championships was the day before the Simonside Cairns fell race and something had to give and it wasn't going to be the chance of tough romp across beautiful fell terrain that had already smiled favourably on me back in September!

Furthermore, following the Hexhamshire Hobble my fell form was coming along very nicely. After a race-long tussle with Sid (that went right to the line) I finished second behind Kendal's Ed Nash. Seeing as Ed was over five minutes ahead of me back at Stanhope, I was please to see that I held him to just over a minute at Allendale fire station, despite falling head over heels out on the open fell – a hazard of these December races when the sun is lying so low on the skyline.

Race HQ, being a fire station, meant that the Hobble actually boasted showers, but unfortunately these were lukewarm and you stepped out of them into quite a cold changing room. I couldn't get my temperature back up, shivered through the presentation and by Tuesday realised that I had well and truly caught a bad cold. Wed and Thurs off work and hoping like crazy that if the cold came in two days, with rest, it would disappear in a similar period. I finally felt well enough to run on Saturday and half an hour around my favourite Jesmond Dene loop hadn't sent my pulsemeter off the scale so I declared myself just about fit enough to get round Simonside the next day.

This was another Northumbrian Classic and, just like the week before, we were racing into a sun that was so low in the sky it might as well have been sitting on the ground. When I saw Steve Birkinshaw and Iain Twaddle turn up, I knew that even with last week's form I would have had my work cut out if I wanted to challenge for the top. As it was I was very happy to hold off the rest of the field for third place, despite my slowing considerably over the last 15 minutes. The post race meeting was in the lovely warm front room of the Newcastle Hotel in Rothbury with free hot soup laid on too. If only all fell races could conclude in such cordial and luxurious surroundings!

With my joining NFR, it became obvious to myself that my priorities have completely changed and I'm now "fell-mad". Compared to other branches of athletics, I much prefer fell, not least because of the amazing pre-race calm: before a fell race I go off and do my warm up, strip down to race kit and arrive ready to start with 5-10 minutes to go. None of this hassle of hanging around endlessly wearing a black dustbin bag and worrying if your kit will be there at the finish like in a big road race. And fell race organisers all seem to be one and the same breed, (if you'll excuse the generalisation): cheery, ex-racers themselves who are clearly doing it solely for the love of the sport and not the profit. With regard to this, the irony wasn't lost on me as I paid my £2.50 to race the superb Thropton event back in September that people would be paying TEN times this the following day to do the running equivalent of sitting in an M25 traffic jam, (or the GNR as it also known as). Crazy.

There are two reasons why I wanted to join NFR – one was that it was getting a bit pointless flying a lonely flag for Claremont (ed - not quite true, Philip), when I could have been making a solid contribution to a good team result for NFR – the Hexhamshire Hobble is a good example of this: if I'd have been an NFR runner at that race, we'd have beaten (albeit narrowly) Tynedale to the team result. The second reason is that, the more I look at fell web sites, the more I read about epic races in far off places – the Carnethy, the Chevy Chase and particularly, Stuc a Chroin - and it is these that are inspiring me, even though I know very well that my string of decent results in local races might not count for so much against the best in the country when there's 4000 feet of climbing to be done!

Mid December 2003,
Philip Addyman

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