Hard work through Winter pays dividends in Spring, but what ‘training’ races should we be doing? Let me explain how Winter fell races could transform your season.
Winter Fell races build strength
Mud, hills and heather. Fell races either take strength or build it. Training and racing in the mud and tough terrain builds muscle strength more than a plush piece of tarmac so ditch the road and become a stronger, better runner.
I owe fell racing to my 5K PB of 18:02. Preparing for the fells meant hitting some wet, undulating terrain, which I would usually avoid. My favourite session was 4×1 mile sprints around the local woods. My training times would be faster on tarmac but that terrain would make me a weaker, slower runner in the long run.
Its Character Building
Heres a story about my first Winter fell race (Esk Valley Fell Race) in Castleton on the North Yorkshire Moors. Approaching the first climb I tried keeping pace with the front five and ten minutes later regretted it. My lungs screamed and my legs throbbed.
The second climb had a water feature – curtesy of melted snow – which froze my feet to the bone. We waded up the fell shin deep in sheep shitty, ice cold water. Shoes destroyed and feet frozen I struggled to feel my toes…and then the falling began. The first submerged my hands and knees, but I stumbled onto the first major descent and fall number two. This time on the mud, my feet just couldn’t move fast enough as I slid down the hill, ass first.
So, after two falls and around four miles my knees were bloody, toes frozen and spirits drained. I’m not sure which hill as I lost count but the third fall came along a half mile climb through heather and stone, shin deep in water, again. This time I went face first, fully submerged.
Needless to say I stumbled on to the finish with nothing left. My fight for the top five ended but I held sixth place. I hated every second of it, my gear was knackered and my body took twice as long to recover and yet, I look back on that race as a real grit building exercise. You can’t ‘train’ or ‘teach’ it, you have to experience it.
Winter fell races make good training races and the shorter distance suits. This attracts a rare breed of hardened runners and some top runners at that. My first race saw people from as far as Kendal and Keswick make the trip to Yorkshire.
Such competition makes for a fast start that can’t be replicated in a ‘fun run’. Dealing with this and learning your threshold for lactic build up will be invaluable. Those slower starts during your longer races will seem a breeze come Spring.
Helps Refine Your Weakness’
Fell running is rare in that it works everything. You need power and large lungs while ascending, fast feet for the descents and regardless of distance you need a high level of endurance. Its impossible to hide and if you don’t got it, the Fells will build it.
Rather than beat yourself up, use it as a learning tool. If you lose ground on the hills, put in some hill work. If you struggle been footloose practise on more technical ground and do some drills. Whatever your weakness the fells will find you out, see this as an opportunity.
Develop Fast Feet
Mentioned above but fast feet will make or break any Fell race. Possessing road speed means little if you can’t shift those feet and react quickly to the changing terrain.
Again, don’t be disheartened if you are slower than expected. The whole point of these races is to improve and be a better runner come your ‘A’ races in the Spring. The more you race on the fells the faster your footwork will become.
Each race has been a bitch and pushed me to the edge but I wouldn’t change a thing. I feel so much stronger, faster and better equipped. I actually won my first ‘A’ race this year knocking 50 minutes off my previous time, just 10 months ago. I put it down to fell racing.
I hope this helps inspire a few of you to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. If nothing changes, nothing changes, we make it happen and a Winters fell racing could make the world of difference.