More than 350 runners and walkers will take to the high ground of the Yorkshire Dales this weekend to tackle one of the most challenging long-distance events in the country.
The Fellsman (it’s dropped its ‘Hike’ sobriquet) involves 100km (62 miles) of running or walking across almost every sizeable hill in the Dales national park. More than 3,350m (11,000ft) of ascent are involved in a route that can take more than 24 hours non-stop walking to complete.
Last year’s victor and ten-times winner Mark Hartell told grough he will be challenging for the Fellsman Axe trophy again. If he succeeds, he will enter the record books for the most wins of the gruelling event. The super-long-distance expert and instigator of the Vasque Ultra Running Championships says he will face stiff competition this year.
Hartell said: “I will be there for sure. I’m expecting to be about 95 per cent because I had a horrible cold and virus about ten days ago, but I’ve rested lots and ran today and felt frisky.
“Without knowing for sure it looks as though I am going to have some serious ‘Steve’ competition: Steve Birkinshaw winner of multiple mountain marathons and two minutes ahead of me at Calderdale and Steve Pyke, 2006 [Ultra Running Championship] series winner, Scottish 4000s record holder, Everest base camp to Kathmandu record holder and just too fit at the moment.”
The Macclesfield Harrier told us he has a few tactics prepared for the race and expects the ascent of Buckden Pike to be the crux of the event.
He is a great fan of the event, and waxes lyrical about the scenery of the Fellsman. He told us: “I am looking forward to a great day out in ‘God’s Own’. Spring has been slow to arrive this year but the abundance of wildlife is a joy to behold and, whatever happens, it will be a privilege to run in those hills and benefit from the support of the dozens of helpers.
“ It’s also highly gratifying to see that numbers are back on the up – over 350 this year – and to think that it is in part due to the Ultrarunning series.”
The runners and walkers set off from the community centre in Ingleton and ascend, in turn, Ingleborough, Whernside, Gragareth, Great Coum, Blea Moor, Great Knoutberry, Dodd Fell, Middle Tongue, Buckden Pike and Great Whernside before finishing at Threshfield near Grassington. The event, now organised by Keighley Scouts Service Team, has been running for 46 years, missing only the foot-and-mouth disease years of 1967 and 2001.
The first Fellsman Hike attracted only 57 starters, of which a mere 15 finished the course. In its heydays in the mid 1980s more than 400 hikers regularly started. Entry numbers are now on the up again, after a dip around the early 2000s, many entrants now choosing to run most of the route.
Only the fastest runners escape the night-time sections, with navigation across the morasses of Fleet Moss and Middle Tongue holding particular horrors in the dead of night for Fellsman competitors. The last man home in 2007 was 65-year-old David Evans, who took 29 hrs and 12 mins to slog round the 62 miles.
Hartell is pursued by the top runners during last year’s race
Last year’s weather was cool and, at times, very wet. This year looks like being an improvement, with temperatures forecast for up to 18C and only an odd spot or two of rain, which will come as a relief to the men and women wanting to make their way across the blanket bogs of the Dales uplands.
Places are still available on the Fellsman, but be warned: it’s not an event for the unprepared. Full details, including route, rules and costs are available on the event’s website.