My Dad used to be a fell runner. He came to the sport suddenly in the summer of 1986, after years chasing the dream of a sub 3 marathon.
His conversion to ‘felling’ was off the back of a gruelling six month period of 90 mile weeks plus marathons and half marathons all over the UK.
Then suddenly, out of the blue, he was floored by pneumonia.
Now, for a skilled manual worker, this presented a problem. The doctor insisted he take eight weeks off work and admonished him for pushing too hard.
‘I liked t’marathons,’ my dad told me over a beer at his 70th birthday party recently, ‘but I weren’t abart to kill mesen-over-em.’
So fell running it was.
I don’t know how he concluded fell running was in some way ‘easier’ or ‘safer’ than 90-mile weeks on tarmac. But this was now the mind of a fell runner and those ‘up hill and down dale’ runs couldn’t possibly be as dangerous as a near death brush with pneumonia, could they?
One Sunday he was late home from his club run (Bingley Harriers). Eventually he arrived drip white, hobbled off his motorbike, slumped into a chair and promptly announced he’d broken his leg.
It was a group run, they were charging through a wood just off Baildon Moor, but dad lost his footing and smashed his tibia. Thankfully one of the lads waited for him, snapped off a tree branch for a makeshift crutch and walked him back to the sports centre (a three mile trek). Don’t ask me how dad managed to ride his Kawasaki home, and certainly don’t ask me why he decided to give his mate a lift home as well, it’s a question my mother’s never had a satisfactory answer to in 30 years.
Anyway, I honestly wasn’t thinking about this story when I ran the Hartfield 10k last weekend. To this delicate parkrunner, the Hartfield 10 was ‘challenging’ but nothing like Burnsall Fell in Yorkshire (a fantastic event under AAA rules, not like some of the fell races some of dad’s mates used to get involved in).
Nonetheless, finding myself frustrated at the back of a group atop an ascent on Sunday, seemingly out of nowhere, a piece of fell running lore popped into my head, something that had always struck me as just a bit of ‘fell runner’s banter’, but for the first time in my running experience, suddenly made complete sense.
‘It’s not how fast you can run up a fell that counts lad, what matters is how fast you dare run down it,’ dad used to say.
Inspired by this thought I instantly attacked the group I was running with, shooting to the front of the pack, barrelling off rocks and driving through the mud with the nimble cadence of a mountain goat negotiating a crowded bar for a pint of Theakstons.
As the hill petered out, I surged again, refusing to let go that hill’s momentum and reeling slightly at the fact I’d put 10 metres into the group I’d been at the back of barely seconds before.
Reaching a hard turn I glimpsed back to see that 10 metres had become 20… I was away!
‘Shit,’ I thought to myself, ‘what am I going to do now?’ Spying a runner maybe 50 metres ahead, I attacked again, a nice flat section now where I could go like a road runner, telling myself: ‘Paul, they’re never going to catch you, they haven’t got it, they haven’t done any Thursday night Hove Park hill reps, they simply haven’t got a chance, if they level up you can simply surge hard again, they’ll hate that.’
Now, I’m not a fast runner, and there was no chance of me winning this event, but it felt good to be in what I was now treating as a race. Sure enough I was soon back in the middle of a grassy field, cursing the world for putting all that mud there, breathing hard and no longer catching the bloke in front.
But salvation was soon at hand. There’s a 2k stretch towards the end of the Hartfield 10, along an old disused railway track. It’s a chance to shake off the mud, get your form right and run hard, not quite Eurostar, but defo diesel loco. And, there’s no mud! What a prospect after 8 kilometres cursing the git in front for ‘making’ you follow the same route through the muddiest sections of the course (it’s always their fault isn’t it? Always their fault for making you follow them into the boggiest sections? They do it on purpose don’t they? Why do they do that?). Anyway, on the railway section you can just… run.
With about 1,500 metres to go I passed a photographer who, upon enquiring, told me my pursuers were ‘nowhere mate.’ It started to dawn on me that I’d done it, even my exhausted trudge (muddy and uphill of course) to the finish line would be unassailable now. That attack down the hill had worked.
I was delighted with my 12th place finish and joined a team of fellow Areeneez who seemed to have enjoyed the run too. I quite like this cross country lark, who knows, perhaps I might have a go at a fell run at some point too?
Our thanks to Paul Hebden for this great race report.