The Fell Runners Association (FRA) governs fell racing in England and the Isle of Man. Some of the answers on this page may differ in other home nations; where relevant, please check with the Race Organiser or with the Welsh FRA (WFRA), Scottish Hill Runners (SHR) or Northern Ireland Mountain Running Association (NIMRA).
Whilst these FAQ pages are intended to provide informal guidance and extra context, they are not a “controlled document”. For any questions on rules and procedures, the latest FRA documentation remains the authority.
For questions relating to COVID-19, please see our dedicated page here.
Please make sure you read the "Runners' Rules", available on this page.
Q: What is fell running?
“Fell” is just another word for a hill or mountain, and fell running is a type of hill or mountain running. Fell running is an all-terrain sport and often involves routes with no paths: depending on the area you should expect open moorland, rocky grass, bogs, tussocks, heather, boulder fields and some very steep climbs and descents. You will also be required to navigate (without GPS) and usually be self-sufficient.
Q: What is the FRA?
The FRA (Fell Runners Association) is the body that governs fell racing in England (and the Isle of Man). FRA races are run under FRA rules (see here) and Race Organisers (ROs) must adhere to certain requirements, primarily designed to ensure fair competition and safety.
The FRA is run by a volunteer committee. Our costs are primarily funded through members’ subscriptions – just £16 per year for Senior membership, with a range of member benefits including our magazine, The Fellrunner, which is published three times per year.
For more information, please see FAQ for non-members of the FRA.
Q: What is a fell race?
The most common type of fell race is the ‘mass start’ race between a series of pre-published checkpoints which must be visited in order. Usually, the route between any two checkpoints is up to the competitor; sometimes there are very different route choices available. Most fell races are run annually over the same route. Competitors must self-navigate (without GPS) but are usually permitted (and encouraged) to “recce” the course beforehand, except in mountain navigation racing (see below). In Junior (under-18) races, courses are always fully marked.
For suggestions on how to learn to navigate, please see FAQ for runners.
Q: What do the A/B/C and S/M/L letters mean?
Races in the ‘mass start’ category are graded S (short), M (medium) or L (long). Although these correspond to distance (S = 10 km or less, M = 10 km to 20 km, L = 20 km or over), the time taken will be longer (often much longer) than for an equivalent race on the “flat”. A 10 km fell race is likely to be a much tougher undertaking than a 10 km trail race!
As a rough guide, the winning time for a short race will be less than an hour (sometimes much less), and for a medium race less than two hours. Long races might be won in anything between two and seven hours! The slowest runners will generally take approximately twice as long as the winner (but cut-offs might apply in longer races).
Additionally, a category of A/B/C is assigned to each race, indicating the amount of climb and descent (relative to the length). Category A is the hardest, so an AM race is likely to involve much more climbing than a CM race.
Q: What about the other letters such as NS and ER?
NS means “navigational skills required”. Before entering such a race you should study the route carefully and consider whether it is within your capabilities: consider in particular a scenario where the mist (or “clag”) is down and you can’t see anyone or anything. As a minimum, you should be aware of “escape routes”, know how to use a map and compass and know what to do if you get lost. For advice on learning to navigate, please see FAQ for runners.
For races not marked NS, it is less likely that you will need to navigate and more likely that you will be able to follow (and see) the route and/or other runners. However, this is not guaranteed, even for "middle of the pack" runners and in good visibility, and you remain responsible for your own navigation and safety.
ER means “experience required”: the Race Organiser (RO) will require you to demonstrate previous experience of similar races, for safety reasons. Please check the race website or contact the RO for details. You will need to cite specific races and results, and these will be vetted.
Q: What is a “mountain navigation” fell race?
Some fell races involve on-sight navigation, with competitors typically receiving the map only on the start line. Runners are required to self-navigate to some or all of the checkpoints, similar to orienteering (O). The start is usually staggered, with competitors setting off at regular intervals. In orienteering terminology, courses may be “linear”, “score” or a mixture/variant.
Some mountain navigation races involve an overnight camp (with competitors required to be self-sufficient) and a second run the next day. Such a race is usually referred to as a “mountain marathon” (MM) although the total distance covered on any day is often much less than marathon distance because of the terrain and climb.
Q: What are the main differences between a fell race and a trail race?
In trail racing, the course is usually fully marked. In fell racing, the course is usually unmarked: you are responsible for your own navigation (using map, compass and prior knowledge/preparation) and you may not use any electronic device (e.g. GPS) to assist with navigation or positioning (even momentarily).
Most trail races take place entirely on paths. Fell races are usually at least partly on open fells, and the underfoot terrain may be extremely challenging in places. Additionally, fell races may involve very steep climbs and descents (which may not be runnable).
Q: What do I need?
For some short fell races you need nothing more than a pair of suitable shoes (usually “fell shoes”, with an aggressive rubber stud pattern), basic running clothing and a couple of quid for the entry fee.
For longer races you will be required to carry mandatory kit. This will mean full waterproofs (with taped seams), hat and gloves, a map of the course, a compass, a whistle and some food. For some races, especially in winter, the Race Organiser may stipulate additional requirements such as an emergency “bivvy bag” or extra thermal top. This equipment is for your safety: the weather in the hills can change rapidly, and it is vital that you are properly prepared for a situation in which you become lost, heavily fatigued or incapacitated owing to illness or injury. The mandatory kit is the bare minimum, and runners are encouraged to carry additional kit depending upon the conditions and their experience.
Q: Where do I get water?
Fell races usually have no “aid stations”. Most runners start with a little water and then refill from streams on the route (potentially several times in long races). However, some races are almost or completely dry, so check the route and weather forecast and ensure you start with sufficient water. If intending to refill on the route, consider the water quality and whether to use water purification tablets or a filter bottle. Occasionally, there might be water or squash provided at a road crossing on a very dry course – please check with the Race Organiser.