I think it is something of an endemic among runners that as soon as you finish one impossible challenge you feel the need to create a bigger one for yourself. I believe it is this that causes so many people to run marathons, ultras and tough mudder races. For me that shining beacon of slight nuttiness is fell running. I think there is something incredibly heroic and exciting in fell runners: individuals who seek out mountains and then run 10,20,30,40,50k races on them. There is something incredibly back-to-basics about the whole thing and I'm a sucker for good scenery.
So I found myself in the Lake District for a long weekend having taken the fast train to Oxenholme from London and then picked up our Eco-zip car we'd made our way in to the area around Wastwater and discovered that a fell race was taking place the very weekend we were there. On the Sunday morning of the race we awoke to exceptionally blue skies and blisteringly hot weather which, for those of you familiar with British mountains, is a rarity. That for me decided it - it was now or never.
We arrived at the village pub to register thirty minutes before the race started to find other runners already warming up and bristling with excitement. The Middle Fell race is £7 to enter including a bowl of pasta at the end in the pub and takes in the ascent and descent of Middle Fell on a steep 10.6km route. If you are considering running a fell race be advised that there are rules you just adhere to or risk being disqualified: you will need the minimum safety kit and to carry it in a bumbag/small rucksack [Waterproof whole body cover (i.e. jacket and over-trousers), hat, gloves, map of the route, compass, whistle, emergency food (snack bar, jelly babies etc)]. The organisers do random kit checks and disqualify those that don't comply. You'll also need some decent shoes if you've never fell run before - I've got the Inov Trailroc 236 shoes that I was running in which made the downhill section marginally less terrifying.
It's a partially marked course with lots of very friendly bodies holding open gates and pointing encouragingly in the right direction. This race is however the the steepest in terms of climb you can get - not sure if that's a good thing for beginners but take comfort in the fact that even the real pros walk up sections - everyone at my paces was walking - albeit very quickly!
The 10.6km, 518m ascent race starts in Nether Wasdale and after a long cross country flat section the ascent begins. It's hard going and pretty painful driving your legs repeatedly uphill and it's not as though I can comfort you in telling you it's not for long - it's quite far. At the top you are greeted by friendly guides (I was being shouted at 'Round the cairn, round the cairn!' as I accidentally tried to cheat and miss out a section of the race) and then you turn at the top of the mountain to see the phenomenal sweeping landscape of the Lake District open up in front of you. Unfortunately this is the point where you also have to fall down the mountain without falling down the mountain. This bit is definitely the most terrifying and as I'm running down I whisper to myself 'don't die, don't die, don't die'. Fell running it turns out is not for the faint hearted.
On the final long straight I overtake three runners. Later over bowls of hot pasta I tell someone I'm from Cambridge and this is my first fell race. He looks at me impressed: "I couldn't do all that flat running, much too difficult." Maybe challenges like these are subjective to our environment. I leave glowing with pride. When the results come in I find out I came 11 out of the 15 women who entered in a time of 1:25:43. And with that I'm thrilled: not only did I finish my first fell race: I didn't come last.