Fell running


Fell running, also sometimes known as hill running, is the sport of running and racing, off-road, over upland country where the gradient climbed is a significant component of the difficulty. The name arises from the origins of the English sport on the fells of northern Britain, especially those in the Lake District. It has elements of trail running, cross country and mountain running, but is also distinct from those disciplines.

Fell races are organized on the premise that contenders possess mountain navigation skills and carry adequate survival equipment as prescribed by the organizer.

Fell running has common characteristics with cross-country running, but is distinguished by steeper gradients and upland country. It is sometimes considered as a form of mountain running, but without the smoother trails and predetermined routes often associated with mountain running.


The first recorded hill race took place in Scotland. King Malcolm Canmore organized a race in Braemar in 1040 or perhaps as late as 1064, reputedly to find a swift messenger. This event appears to have been a precursor to the Braemar Gathering. There is no documented connection between this event and the fell races of the 19th century.

From the 19th century, records survive of fell races taking place as a part of community fairs and games. The sport was a simple affair and was based upon each community’s values for physical ability. Fell races took place alongside other sports such as wrestling, sprint races and (especially in Scotland) heavy events such as throwing the hammer. These fairs or games events were often commercial as well as cultural, with livestock shows and sales taking place alongside music, dancing and sports. In a community of shepherds and agricultural laborers comparisons of speed and strength were interesting to spectators as a source of professional pride for competitors. The most famous of these events in England, the Grasmere Sports meeting in the Lake District, with its Guide’s Race, still takes place every year in August.

The Fell Runners Association started in April 1970 to organize the duplication of event calendars for the amateur sport. As of 2013, it administers amateur fell running in England, in affiliation with British athletics. Separate governing bodies exist for each country of the United Kingdom and each country has its own tradition of fell running, though the sport is largely the same. The most important races of the year include the Ben Nevis Race in Scotland, run regularly since 1937, and the Snowdon Race in Wales.


  • RULE ONE: UKA Rules for Competition – Effective from 1st April 2008 (ISBN 978-0-9547401-0-8): Rules 1-24 apply to fell-running.
  • RULE TWO: In fell-running, a veteran is a man or woman aged 40 or over on the date of the competition.
  • RULE THREE: All official UKA fell races must be registered with the National Committee of the Territory or Home Country in which the event takes place. Registration with the FRA will be effected by supplying the Fixtures Secretary with relevant details of the race on the form provided and by its subsequent appearance in the Fixtures Calendar or in “The Fell runner” magazine or on the FRA Website. A nominal charge may be made to cover Calendar publication.
  • RULE FOUR: “Official FRA fell races” must be advertised and decided under FRA and UKA Rules for Competition. Such advertisement may be abbreviated to read “under FRA Rules.”
  • RULE FIVE: All “official FRA fell races” must be organized to comply with the FRA Safety Requirements which are printed at the front of this Calendar, copies of which are obtainable from the Fixtures Secretary on receipt of an SAE.
  • RULE SIX: All competitors must obey the FRA Rules for Competition and any additional rules drawn up by the race organizers for each fell race.
  • RULE SEVEN: No runner may take part in any fell race without having entered the race in accordance with the rules and procedures.
  • RULE EIGHT: All competitors must ensure that if they retire from a fell race for any reason the fact is reported as soon as possible to the race officials, including those at the finish. Race organizers MUST report infringements of this rule to the FRA Secretary.
  • RULE NINE: a. Team events: Runners may count in competition for their first claim fell-running club only, which may be different from their first claim road, cross-country or track club if that club does not cater for fell-running. To be eligible to count in British and English Championships, English clubs must be affiliated to England Athletics and English athletes must be registered with England Athletics OR be members of the FRA. b. Club membership: UKA Rule 5 regarding club membership and first claim status applies to all athletes. Information about the waiting period required between ceasing membership of a club and competing as a team member of another club is given in UKA Rule 5.


Footwear: Modern fell running trainers use light, non-waterproof material to eject water and dislodge peat after traversing boggy ground. While the trainer needs to be supple, to grip an uneven, slippery surface, a degree of side protection against rock and scree (loose stones) may be provided. Rubber studs have been the mode for two decades, preceded by ripple soles, spikes and the flat soled ‘pumps’ of the fifties.


The Fell Runners Association (FRA) publishes a calendar of 400 to 500 races per year. Additional races, less publicized, are organized in UK regions.

The British Open Fell Runners Association (BOFRA) publishes a smaller calendar of races (usually 15 championship races, and other smaller events, such as galas or shows)>– mostly derived from the professional guide races – in England and Scotland and organizes a championship series.

In Scotland, all known hill races (both professional and amateur) are listed in the annual calendar of Scottish Hill Runners. In Wales, the Welsh Fell Runners Association provides a similar service.

Northern Ireland events are organized by Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association. Again, races are run on the premise that a contender possesses mountain navigational skills and carries adequate survival equipment. In Ireland, events are organized by the Irish Mountain Running Association.
The World Mountain Running Association is the governing body for mountain running and as such is sanctioned by and affiliated to the IAAF, the International Association of Athletics Federations. It organizes the World Mountain Running Championships.

There are also the continental championships such as the African Mountain Running Championships and the European Mountain Running Championships, the South American Mountain Running Championships and the North American Central American and Caribbean Mountain Running Championships.


Edwin Moses

Hicham El Geurrouj