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The Fellsman: a 60 ultra distance trail run across the Yorkshire Dales and beyond

08:53 17th May 2013 By Fi Spotswood
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Looking around at the outdoor press and in gear shops all over, that the idea of trail running is something new. Certainly the phrase ‘trail running’ is relatively new but the idea of running off-road certainly is not. Ignoring that fact that before roads were invented people probably still ran, the idea of off-road running races has been going for a long time. Perhaps surprisingly, Britain is a true home to off-road racing, particularly on her northern fells, hills and mountains. Some of the races have real pedigree- non more so than the 51 year old Fellsman race.

Fellsman runner silhouette

Heroic pose.
Photo: Tim Burton Photography / The North Face

The Fellsman

On 27th/28th April, 306 mountain-hardy adventure athletes finished the 51st grueling Fellsman. The North Face sponsored Fellsman is a high level foot race covering more than 60 miles over very hard rugged moorland in the Yorkshire Dales. The event climbs over 11000 feet in total, in a horseshoe shaped path from Ingleton to Threshfield. Most of the route is over privately owned land (the use of which is secured by the organisers for the weekend only, so there’s no sneaking out for a recce). Most importantly, there are few well-defined paths, so entrants’ navigational skills with map and compass are tested as well as their physical fitness. For this reason, and as the gold-plated start lists will support, only fit and experiences walkers or runners should enter.

In its 51st year, the history of the Fellsman is rich with stories of incredible feats, adventure and perhaps a smattering of misadventure. It is not for the faint hearted, as the stats alone will tell. This year, out of 503 entrants, only 402 braved it to the start line and 95 withdrew during the race. One person was ‘disqualified for rule infringement’. Sheep rustling perhaps?

Fellsman river crossing

Wet feet and a 60 mile run…
Photo: Tim Burton Photography / The North Face

Let’s start with the Fellsman whippets, who conquered the incredible distance and grueling terrain in the fastest times. The speediest chap was Adam Perry in little over 10 and a half hours, and the fastest lady was (fairly predictably) Nicky Spinks, who cruised in a couple of hours later. Let’s put this in perspective. The last group of finishers crossed the line 27 hours and 22 minutes after they started. That is over a full day of running or trudging through the wilds. Impressive to say the least, and the wonderful thing about these endurance challenges is that these back markers will have felt the same elation and sense of satisfaction and personal achievement as Adam and Nicky; if not more.

The full trophy list:

The winner of the Fellsman Axe is Adam Perry with a time of 10 hrs 34 minutes.

  • The winner of the Jim Nelson Trophy is Nicky Spinks with a time of 12 hrs 36 minutes.
  • The winner of the Levy Trophy is Darron Howarth of All Saint’s Dorset with a time of 13 hrs 29 minutes.
  • The winner of the Tregoning Cup is Kim Collison with a time of 10 hrs 59 minutes.
  • The winner of the County Commissioners Tankard is Peter Stobbs in a time of 12 hrs 36 minutes.
  • The winner of the Great Knoutberry Trophy is Terry Butterworth in a time of 16 hrs 28 minutes.
  • The winners of the Scout team trophy, the Fellsman Shield were 25th Huddersfield Northern Star Explorers.
    The team members were Michael BottomRobert Yorke and John Nunn with a combined time of 68 hours 48 minutes.
  • The winners of the team trophy, the Service Trophy, were Conehead and the Barbarians.
    The team members were Adam Perry, Ian Phillips, Stuart Walker, Christopher Perry, Matt Neale and Jamie Lawler with a combined time of 32 hrs 34 minutes.
  • The winners of the Lumbutts Mill Trophy, were the Silver Shufflers. The team members were Peter StobbsKevin Perry, Neil Ridsdale, Chris Hare and Jess Palmer with a combined time of 39 hrs 02 minutes.
  • The Mike Wooding Memorial Trophy is a nominated award given to an individual hiker or support volunteer who typifies Mike’s love for the challenge of the Fellsman and who has performed something exceptional and noteworthy during the event. The winner in 2012 was Nicholas Granville who was nominated by Don Thieme for his exemplary leadership skills during the extreme weather conditions experienced on the 50th event helping a group of entrants some of whom were suffering the effects of hypothermia.

Training

61 miles in the fells is, quite rightly, daunting. As well as needing a solid ‘bomber’ handle on map and compass reading, entrants need to have experience of the being out in ‘the weather’. (This is a Yorkshire term for gales, storms and wind that makes grown men sob for their mammies). Outside Times reader and Yorkshire resident Barbara Lonsdale – who also happens to have cruised around the Bob Graham Round in little over twenty hours, so knows a thing or two about British mountain running – gave us her top tips on preparing for The Fellsman.

  • Don’t skimp on big days out on the hills – be it walking or running. Cycling works really well as cross training. My preference is for a big day out running followed by a big day out cycling – both with lots of hills in them.
  • Build ‘training’ races into your preparation plan. Useful events in the build up include the Hebden Bridge 22 miler in January  (a LDWA event  http://www.alangreenwood.biz/), the High Peak Marathon 42 mile over night team race ( http://highpeakclub.union.shef.ac.uk/hpm/hpm-index.html), the Haworth Hobble 32 miler (http://kcac.co.uk/kcac-events/haworth-hobble/) and the Calderdale Hike 37 miler  (http://www.calderdalehike.org.uk/). These are all Yorkshire based races so offer a good grounding in what to expect, and the checkpoints are well stocked with a variety of foods, including donuts, home-made cakes and sarnies in some. Although I don’t rely on the checkpoints for my food, usual picnic rules apply – food someone else makes always tastes nicer.

In my sack I will pack:

  • A waterproof map with the route highlighted (with bearings written in pencil)
  • A decent torch
  • At least one packet of jelly babies
  • Peanut butter and jam sarnies (if you haven’t tried them, you don’t know what you’re missing)
  • A waterproof bag containing my dry kit (rain is a guarantee, it’s Yorkshire)

I’ll also make sure I’ve packed my sack that things I want are easily accessible. A bag with side and waist pockets are a must.

Kit:

  • Make sure you have a rucksack that fits well and doesn’t bounce all over your back when you run
  • Make sure you have a decent torch and know how to use it, including changing the batteries. (The Fellsman is not a time to test these things out. Running through the night is tough, but mentally and physically).
  • Your shoes should be grippy but give enough support to ensure the dead-foot syndrome doesn’t kick in after the first few miles.

In your preparation, also practice getting out in the hills in the rain. It’s mentally tough if it rains and blows for hours and you have to work out how you’ll cope if there’s ‘weather’ for the whole 61 miles. The compulsory kit list is a good place to start, but check the weather before you pitch up, and add extra layers if it doesn’t look good. Most importantly, you have to accept that it’ll be mentally tough, but remember it will be for everyone, and at night you are grouped together in groups of at least 4 (for safety). This can be welcome but can also frustrate, because you could be attached to someone slower.

Fellsman North Yorks

It can be a bit of a lonely affair running for 60 miles.
Photo: Tim Burton Photography / The North Face

The Facts:

Name: The Fellsman

Distance: 61 miles

Ascent: 11000 feet

Record time: Unknown. 2013 winner completed the course in 10hrs 34mins.

Typical/average time: 15-25 hours

How Hard: 9.5/10

View Fellsman in a larger map

Overview:

The Fellsman is as tough as they come. It is an overnight (for most) foot race in tough, rugged conditions with few tracks to follow. And let’s not forget the distance – 61 miles is pretty much 100km, which road cyclists consider a good day out. Fear the Fellsman and proceed with care!

When to go:

The event is run at the end of April.

What do I need?

  • Footwear ‘in in first class condition’ and manufactured for the purpose of fell walking, fell or trail running.
  • Legwear manufactured for fell walking or fell/trail running.
  • Waterproof shell or jacket with hood, preferably brightly coloured.
  • Waterproof overtrousers, preferably brightly coloured.
  • Base layer and a minimum of three long sleeved tops (not cotton) to allow a layering system.
  • A warm hat and waterproof gloves or mittens.
  • A personal First-Aid Kit with minimum contents; 1 crepe bandage, 4 safety pins, 1 wound dressing, 6 adhesive dressings.
  • A suitable traditional torch or LED head torch and a full spare set of alkaline batteries and a spare bulb where appropriate for above torch.
  • A whistle.
  • A mug and spoon/spork.
  • Maps. EITHER Ordnance Survey OS Explorer OL2 and OL30 OR Harvey Outdoor Maps Dales West & South OR 50th Anniversary Fellsman map.
  • A ‘Silva’-type compass and knowledge of how to use it in conjunction with the map. Whilst GPS may be used, a compass MUST be carried.
  • Emergency rations – energy-giving food of your choice. The minimum required is 300g.
  • Survival bag.
  • All equipment should be contained in a rucksack or equivalent.

How to prepare:

Long days in the hills in all weather, particularly at night and over rough terrain.

Similar Events:

The High Peak Marathon: 42 mile over night team race in the Peak District.

The Haworth Hobble: 32 miler also in North Yorkshire.

Calderdale Hike: Another North Yorkshire 37 miler. This one is open to walkers and runners.

Further info:

Fellsman.org: The official site of the race. Head there for more info if you feel like giving it go.

2013 Fellsman Results: A full run-down of the winners and losers from the 2013 race.

2013 Race Report: An interview with 2013 bronze medal winner, Kim Collison.

RunFurther.com: The Fellsman is part of the Run Further Series.

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