by Jez Bragg, Fellsman Record Holder
There are so many things I love about the Fellsman; it’s undoubtedly one of the longstanding classics in the British ultra/ long distance challenge calendar.
I have only run the race once before, in 2009, and I will never forget the weather when we seemed to have all four seasons in one day. It was a steep learning curve being a Fellsman novice that year because as we all know, it is quite some undertaking in terms of the terrain, navigation and distance. It certainly taught me a great deal about the event and how to best approach it to successfully finish.
Whilst I’m not one of the most experienced Fellsman participants to be taking part in this year’s race, I can hopefully share some of my experiences from other races to help with your preparations, and hopefully also your chances of reaching the finish at Threshfield.
So here are my ten preparation and race tips for the Fellsman:
(1) Run your own race and pace yourself. It is so tempting to burst out of the blocks straight up to the top of Ingleborough, but with 60 odd tough miles ahead it’s not the most sensible strategy. Set off steadily at a sustainable pace. Think about the optimum way to complete a challenge such as this – negative splits – the second half quicker than the first (easier said than done!).
(2) Memorise or mark-up your map with all the key navigation points and relevant bearings. No matter how well you know the route, the featureless terrain found on many sections of the course will almost certainly mean that the only way to hit the optimum line is to follow your compass, particularly if the clag is down.
(3) Plan your nutrition. Will the checkpoint food provided be sufficient for your needs? Think about carrying supplements such as sports drinks powders or gels, possibly with added electrolytes if it’s going to be hot.
(4) Plan your checkpoint stops carefully and keep your time at each one to a minimum. Think about what you need to do, and then whether you really need to do it! With so many checkpoints across the course your stop times will quickly add up and have a significant bearing on your final time. Think about how you can be fast and efficient to keep your non running/ walking time to a minimum. Instead of eating and drinking at checkpoints, try ‘takeaway’, to re-fuel whilst you’re moving.
(5) Start eating and drinking early and then keep doing so regularly. Many people ignore food until they’re hungry or feeling low – it’s too late by then. Little and often is the trick for both food and drinks.
(6) Be adaptable. This is really important attribute for long distance events. Let’s face it, what are the chances of your race/ event plan going perfectly over the course of 60 miles across wild terrain? Pretty slim I would think. If you are not able to adapt and re-set your goals appropriately then you will start to feel down about missing your original ones. Set goals, but remain adaptable and focus on staying positive.
(7) Prepare for the worst weather. I am sure there have been plenty of instances of atrocious weather during the 49 years the Fellsman has been running. So be prepared for it and have all the compulsory kit on hand as a minimum. Be ready to change quickly to deal with the conditions. Think about what kit you would wear for each weather scenario.
(8) Fences are your friends! The fence lines up on the moors are probably the best navigational features, so keep an eye on them, and follow their lines where appropriate. Quite often on the high moorland sections, they are the only reference point to go on. They are all shown on the 1:25,000 Explorer maps, and most of them are also shown on the 1:40,000 BMC maps (NB sections missing on Fleet Moss).
(9) Strengthen you ankles. The Fellsman terrain is seriously rough. Practice on the moors or any other boggy, uneven and downright difficult to get across terrain you can find. Learn to ‘roll’ out of potential ankles twists, and really concentrate on your footing when it’s particularly rough.
(10) Break the route down into mentally manageable chunks. No matter what your ability is, 60 miles across rough terrain is a serious undertaking. So break it down into manageable chunks and focus on one at a time. Try using food stops to break up the route into sections and motivate yourself with the opportunity to re-fuel. Don’t dwell on the split distances, try to drift off and daydream to help switch off and let the miles tick by. Focus on the moment and not anything wider. Stay positive!
Jez Bragg is sponsored by The North Face