I competed in my first year full year of Fell racing last year, a lot of the races being part of the Helsby Fell Race Series. Looking back now over the year the main thought I have is why didn’t I start doing them sooner.
The races are great fun, most having a low-key nature, being run out of country pubs or village halls. The camaraderie and banter enjoyed between fellow competitors before and after the race being a big part of the proceedings. Whether you finish up at the front end of the field or near the back the sense of having achieved something by successfully completing the course is a great feeling.
Therefore to encourage you all to have a go I thought it would be useful to put together some descriptions of the races in this years Fell series. So with the help of Andy Smith and Adair Broughton….
All fell races are graded according to severity (A, B, C) and length (S, M, L). So an AS is short and steep, whereas a CL is long but much more runnable (the Sandstone Trail race is technically a CL category fell race). Naturally with the variety of hills and terrain that can be found in our upland areas, even races within the same technical category can offer a variety of challenges. This is one of fell running’s endless attractions – each race is truly unique and times recorded for each race can only sensibly be compared to ones previous efforts on the same course.
Race 1 Llangynhafal Loop (27th March 4.75 Miles 1750 feet) AS
One of Martin Cortviend’s races over on the Clywdian hills. Martin has a habit of altering the course and sometimes the direction in which this race is run which helps keep competitors on their toes and means that any route description based on previous experience needs to be treated with caution.
All routes come under the category medium/tough but in wonderful surroundings. Normally a loop from Llangynhafal village, to Moel Fammau via the infamous gully followed by a good run along the ridge then a fast descent to the finish.
It starts and finishes at a lovely welsh pub with a good atmosphere. Prize giving at these events is usually extensive, and can contain some odd surprises. Brightly coloured jellies and the odd garden gnome being examples of recent prizes.
Race 2 LLantyilio Mountain Race (24th April 6.2 Miles 2100 feet) AM**
Race HQ is the wonderfully cosy real ale Sun Inn in the Llangollen valley. The race heads out along tracks and footpaths before finally climbing through upland pasture onto the Llantysilio ridge. Good track running along this includes an out and back to the top of Llantysilio mountain itself, where you pass each other going up and down and can cheer each other on, before a long and fast descent back to the Sun Inn.
A fairly tough run so may be not an ideal first race but is once again in good surroundings.
Race 3 Rainow (12th May 5 miles 750 feet) BS
Ideal Race for someone who wants to try out fell racing for the first time to see if they like it before heading to the high tops. Run over a mixture of tracks and good footpaths. Apart from a short, steep climb to the folly of white Nancy (which according to Andy has a certain likeness to a Nepalese Buddist Stupa). It can be very runnable if you have sufficient strength in your legs from our Wednesday night summer hill runs.
Usually a superb collection of stickies (cakes) are to be had at the finish. Last year several of the Helsby contingent left the race several pounds heavier than when they started.
Race 4 Lletty Farm (22nd May 9 Miles 2900 feet) AM**
One of the tougher races in the series containing a lot of ups and downs. The climb up Moel Arthur early in the race probably being the steepest. You also go over the summit of Moel Fammau and descend into the valley on the West side of the Clywdian Range. Once you’ve done this don’t be fooled into thinking that you are now done with the long climbs because the course suddenly heads upwards on to the top of the ridge. The reward for making this last climb is a superb fast descent down long grassy slopes and fields to the finish line.
This years race will incorporate the British Inter Counties Fell Race so competition at the front end will be fierce.
Race 5 Mynydd Myfr (31st May 4 Miles 500 feet)
Short and sharp but generally all runnable. The first half of the race is a climb, the second half a descent. This is a short race and a brilliant introduction to fell running. A laid back atmosphere with plenty of cakes and tea afterwards. Recommended to all. Is also located in a small village which has a scarecrow festival on the same weekend.
Race 6 Up the Beast (15th June 4.5 Miles 1500 feet) AS
Enjoyable local race that starts and finishes in a forest. Some nice runnable downhills to start and then a good solid climb once out from the protection of the trees. An interesting undulating course, medium difficulty but seeming harder at the time!
Race 7 Moel y Gamelin (27th June 9.5 Miles 2380 feet) AM**
One of the longer races in the series with race HQ at the Ponderosa café at the head of the horseshoe pass near Llangollan. This means plenty of food and drink options available.
It starts with a series of steep up and downs on a well made track. The middle section is open moorland which is a lot flatter than the rest of the course. Last years race was on a hot summer’s day and the race organisers thoughtfully laid on a couple of drinks stations at the road crossings at start and end of this section. The final third of the race sees a return back over the tough ups and downs with the reward of a long grassy descent to the finish. Last year we had a picnic near the race finish to enjoy the excellent summer weather and watch the remaining competitors come in.
Race 8 Bollington Nostalgia (11th July 7.1 Miles 1200 feet) BM
A great atmosphere at this race which is used to generate funds for the Bridgend Centre in Bollington. Another race that would come under the category of a good introduction to fell running. The race itself takes in a variety of road, trail, canal side tracks and cobbles. None of the hills are too steep and are all very runnable.
Race 9 The Gyrn Gallop (31st July 7 Miles 1200 feet) BM
Worth it for the cakes alone! Short downhill to begin then a long steady climb for a few miles and then an enjoyable couple of miles downhill back. Laid back low key race that is as tough or as easy as you want it to be!
Race 10 Ponderosa (11th August 4 Miles 951 feet) BS
Like the Moel y Gamelin this race is based at the Ponderosa café on the Horseshoe pass at Llangollan. This was the most popular event for the club last year. Though short it still manages to pack in some quite steep ascents and a tricky narrow track section through the heather down from the top of the first hill. Unusually for a fell race it has an uphill finish.
Race 11 Padfield Plum Fair Scamper (12th September 5.5 Miles 1050 feet) BS
It has been a while since the club competed in this, but a fairly straight forward out and back race in the Derbyshire hills east of Manchester. An early stretch along a disused railway (must be the flattest stretch of terrain in any fell race) allows for the sprinters to gain a useful early lead. Runs from a small village fair, so options exist to purchase pots of home made jam etc.
Race 12 Clwydian Hills (7th November 10 Miles 3100 feet) AM**
Once you have got your eye in with a few of the earlier races in the fell series then this one should be a good test. It is probably the toughest race in the series with 4 steep ascents to negotiate and the last of these being the tough ascent up the western gully on Moel Fammau.
A not to those of you new to fell racing., for the safety of competitors there are Fell Racing Association rules around certain items of kit that must be carried on the tougher fell races. The required kit consists of windproof whole body cover, other body cover appropriate to the weather conditions, map, compass, whistle and for long races emergency food. I have highlighted with “**” each race above that requires kit to be carried, though I would recommend taking the kit with you on any of the races as it is sometimes useful even when the race rules don’t insist on it.
If you would like further details on the races above or other races then the best places to look are
Fellrunners Runners Association (FRA) – http://www.fellrunner.org.uk/
Welsh Fell Runners Association (WFRA) – http://www.wfra.org.uk/
Hope to see you out in the hills soon