Since 1962 brave souls from all over the country have gathered in a small Yorkshire village to punish themselves in an annual off-road mega-race known as the Fellsman. It’s basically 60 miles of scrambling over rocks, trudging through bogs and tripping up over the occasional perished sheep carcass, and it makes regular marathons look like a casual stroll to the fridge.
For reasons known only to themselves, Josh and Adam from our Manchester headquarters happily volunteered to take part. We were going to stop them… but we didn’t.
Here’s some photos and musings from their 20 hour odyssey. Cheers to Patagonia for all the help.
Josh: I remember driving us up to the Fellsman base camp straight after work on the Friday and the satnav telling us it was 54 miles. That took us about an hour and a half. In a car. The next morning we were about to try and cover 61 miles, over hills, on foot. I think that was when it sort of hit us… which was a bit late really.
Adam: The kit check that evening was the most nerve racking part of the whole thing for me. I couldn’t find the whistle only to remember it was attached to the outside of the Patagonia bag. The whole time I expected the nice Yorkshireman to see me as the phoney I was and to turn me away.
Adam: Once we’d got all that sorted though we sat around chatting, and it got to about 10:30pm before I looked around and realised everyone had gone to bed. Sleeping in the school hall was the worst, with the air con constantly clicking on and off and people repeatedly flooding the hall with light every time they used the bathroom.
Josh: At least we weren’t in there too long, with the 4.30am breakfast or whatever it was - some porridge and a hotdog in a very dry bun, and a cup of tea. Then straight on a bus to the start line in Ingleton, where the hall filled up with all sorts of folk in all sorts of weird ultramarathon outfits.
Adam: The Fellsman is an unmarked course, and you can basically pick your own route between checkpoints. The first navigational dilemma came immediately after the start gun sounded, when a little bunch of runners dashed off up a small bank at the side of the field. Josh: We just went with the safety of the crowd though, and all tramped out through the sleepy village and jogged and hiked our way up Ingleborough with no real idea what 60 or so miles would do to us. We took it steady, surrounded by a motley bunch of other nutters.
Josh: It was just after coming down off Ingleborough that the biscuits started. I think I had 5 or 6 at this first stop, and lost count over the course of the run. Trying to think back and tot it up, I’m sure I ate at least 40 biscuits, never mind the flapjacks and cake.
Josh: A guy just ahead of me on one of the steepest of the climbs was literally crawling. Just after passing him I heard him say sorry to the guy just down the hill. Then he squeezed out a huge fart.
Adam: The first 20 miles I loved. Ingleborough, Whernside, Gragareth and the long traverse to Great Coum. We ran past one guy arguing he wasn’t enjoying it and was going to pull out, and I felt good! But to be honest I was pretty much done before we got to Dent. I knew it when even the food they had on was failing to cheer me up. I remember the orange segments they had though. They were amazing, I didn’t appreciate them enough.
Josh: Yeah they were some memorable orange slices. The hot sausage rolls, beans, biscuits, and tea weren’t too bad either to be fair. I just ate as much as I thought I could stomach. That was pretty much my main plan for the whole race. Eat my way round.
Adam: The next big food checkpoint was just beyond the marathon distance, at about 27 miles or so. We were about 7 hours in by the time we arrived – which basically meant we were moving pretty slow. And meant that we had way more than another 7 hours to go…
Josh: Yeah, the prospect of going further again than we’d already gone, on into the night, seemed a bit ridiculous at that point, but there were Vikings serving pasta, tea, cakes and biscuits, so we just ate loads more and got back moving.
Josh: I remember us trudging for ages over some pretty bleak moorland on the way to reaching the Fleet Moss checkpoint before nightfall, and just before the mandatory grouping was being put in place – after dark, participants were grouped into a minimum of 4 that had to stay together. There was time enough, of course, for a little bit of spicy bean stew, some fruit and cold rice pudding, some biscuits, and a cup of tea.
Adam: At this point I had a complete change of clothes, it felt amazing. It was the happiest point for me since I went downhill at Dent 20 miles back. And there was about the same to go again…
Josh: That next section was one that’s notoriously hard to navigate, but thankfully we fell in behind an older guy who seemed to be picking a good line without a map, so we pretty much resolved to follow him, banking on him actually knowing what he was doing. He led us to Middle Tongue checkpoint – which was properly in the middle of upland nowhere – as darkness really began to come down.
Adam: The next big checkpoint was where we got officially grouped. We’d been settled in a four for ages, but a pretty eager lady and a pretty tall, old German sounding guy got added to the mix. We were something like 45 miles done, and really feeling it as we left straight into a steep climb.
Josh: I recall a bit of team disagreement over pace as we settled in together, but Aaron led us on boldly into darkness having recced this section. The wind on the tops was really strong, and was blowing over a strange wispy bit of cloud that, picked out by the searching head torches, gave a really mad atmosphere. I can’t ever remember feeling like I felt at that point. In the middle of nowhere, somewhere near the middle of the night, exhausted, having run and walked for ages and intending to walk for ages more with not much more than head torches for company.
Adam: From the next food stop – which had hot chocolate! – I just remember it being a bit of a nightmare trying to keep up with the German Marching Machine’s relentless pace.
Josh: Me too. He didn’t have much of a run, but even after 50 odd miles, had a relentless trudge. I felt like everyone was getting a bit low. No-one was talking anymore, and heads were bowed. It must have been the early hours of the morning already, 16 plus hours deep into the effort, so I dug out some jelly babies and offered them round.
Adam: I appreciated the jelly babies, it put us both back on good terms. I hated josh for the last 15 miles with his poker face and positive body language, he was making it seem easy. Deep down I knew this wasn’t true, but I was struggling behind the group.
Josh: Ha. Sorry. I was hurting too.
Adam: I’d allowed myself to think we’d pretty much finished with 5 miles to go. On fresh legs and flat ground, that’s well within an hours run. But all we could manage was a miserable shuffle, and that 5 miles, off road on hills, turned into hours…
We made it though. After 19 hours and 22 minutes, at a little after 4am. We were not looking our best.
Josh: I can’t remember much from the time immediately after the end, but I know I went and blagged us a cup of tea each. I make no overall complaints whatsoever about the Fellsman hospitality, having been fed so well, and having had at least 10 good cups of tea that day, but it was genuinely the worst brew I can ever remember having.