How I ‘fell’ in love with running

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What on earth possesses you to run up a hill?

It’s a question I’m often asked by ‘normal’ people. I usually just shrug my shoulders and laugh, it’s pointless even trying to explain to someone who is alien to fell running. You simply have to do it to understand it. Fell running is a powerful drug and once it takes a hold of you it’s difficult to imagine what your life would be like without it.

‘A SPORT SO SIMPLE AND PURE’

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The truth is I’ve not always been a runner. At school I was a footballer, and an average one at best. When I reached university I turned my hand to cycling, something I became quite good at, but ultimately I was guilty of not putting enough effort into my training. I even tried tennis… though my on-court career lasted all of about 30 minutes! I spent a fortune on a new racket, then halfway through the first set smashed it to pieces in a fit of rage! Yes, I’m ultra competitive and yes I sometimes struggle to channel my aggression in a positive way. In hindsight tennis was not a good idea – Andy Murray can rest easy. I suppose that’s when I found my love for running – a sport so simple and pure, plus there’s no chance of me destroying expensive equipment halfway through a race!

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I started running to work out of sheer convenience. It was quicker and cheaper than catching a bus and I didn’t drive at the time. I soon realised that I had some degree of natural talent so I entered a local cross country race. I finished 11th and it didn’t take long before I was searching for another, bigger adrenalin rush. Someone I know suggested I do a fell race. ‘What on earth possesses anyone to run up a hill’ I said. My friend just shrugged his shoulders and laughed. ‘Try it…you’ll soon understand’ he replied.

‘JUST TEN SECONDS IN AND MY BODY WAS WORKING AT ITS FULL CAPACITY’

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And so it was in May 2005 that I took to the start line of the Mytholmroyd Fell Race (West Yorkshire, England). At 6.2 miles and with 1,350ft of ascent, it was, in comparison to some of the other races I now run, a relatively short blast. At the time, however, it hurt like hell. The race started with a steep uphill climb. 10 seconds in and my body was working at its full capacity… My lungs were on fire and I was struggling to breathe.

Eventually I reached the summit. I was absolutely shattered and my heart rate was off the scale! By the time I hit the final descent my legs were like jelly; so much so that they didn’t even feel like my own. It was then that it dawned on me… despite the pain, the hurt and the jelly legs, I was still running downhill at a ferocious pace. It was a feeling I will never forget. I felt alive and free, fuelled on a heady mix of speed and courage. I was running on pure adrenalin; enjoying the finest natural high in the world.

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‘I FELT ALIVE AND FREE, FUELLED ON A HEADY MIX OF SPEED AND COURAGE’

When I reached the finish I was a physical wreck – I’d been battered by both the hills and the weather. I lay flat-out on the floor for about five minutes until I could finally control my breathing and muster enough energy to sit upright. It was by far the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. ‘Are you okay?’ asked a concerned onlooker. I took a deep breath…’When’s the next race?’ came my reply. I was instantly hooked on fell running and couldn’t wait to do it all over again.

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Since that first race I’ve never looked back. I’ve been fortunate enough to compete at the highest level and against some the very best fell and mountain runners in the world. One thing that I love about the sport, across all its forms, is that the ‘superstars’ are a different breed of elite. There’s no arrogance or bravado. It makes a refreshing change given what you see happening in other sports.

‘THE SUPERSTARS OF FELL RUNNING ARE A DIFFERENT BREED OF ELITE. THERE’S NO ARROGANCE OR BRAVADO’

Here in the UK, fell running continues to rise sharply in popularity… and it’s not surprising. The beautiful thing about fell running, you see, is that it accepts athletes of all abilities and encourages them to take part. The fact that it’s not elitist means you’re just as likely to share a post-race pint with the winner as you are with the person who finishes last. For this reason alone I consider it to be the best sport in the world.

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‘I’VE LOOKED DOWN ON A WORLD FULL OF PEOPLE WHO’LL NEVER APPRECIATE THE BEAUTY OF THEIR LOCAL ENVIRONMENT’

Another thing about fell running is that it’s seriously addictive. You’re not just competing against other people in the race, you’re battling against the elements and the terrain. It’s not just about the winning, it’s about finishing and beating the course. It’s seriously hard, both physically and mentally. There are no short cuts and no easy races. You have to learn to embrace the pain and push your body to the extreme. It’s one hell of a tough sport but by far the most rewarding one I’ve ever done.

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Fell running has taken me to places that I would never have imagined I’d ever visit. I’ve seen glorious sunrises and breathtaking sunsets. I’ve seen stunning views and beautiful wildlife. I’ve run with the legends of the sport and shared precious moments with likeminded friends that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’ve climbed some of the tallest peaks and ran high above the clouds. I’ve looked down on a world full of people who’ll never appreciate the beauty of their local environment and every time I’ve felt grateful for the fact that I do.

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For me running is a way to escape the pressures and stresses of ‘normal’ life. After a hard day at work I can take to the hills and leave all my worries behind. As well as keeping me fit and healthy it gives me extra confidence in every aspect of my life. I’ve come to realise that I’m at my happiest when I’m out running and I feel extremely fortunate to have fallen in love with the sport.

So if you’ve never been fell running before and you fancy a unique challenge, then don’t ask why, just give it a try. You never know, it might just change your life forever.

Ben Mounsey x inov-19

Kit: X-Talon 212 | Race Elite Windshell FZ | Race Ultra Twin Short | Raceglove

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All photographs taken by Robbie Jay Barratt 

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2015. Year of the Mountain Goat

Usually I’m glad to see the end of the year, it’s always nice to look forward to a fresh start. However, this time it was different. 2015 has been especially kind to me and I’m sorry to see it finally come to an end.

I began 2015 with similar expectations to any other year – to compete in the English and British Fell Running Championships both individually and also as part of the Calder Valley team. We’ve been threatening to be the best team in Britain for some time and this year I had a strong feeling we’d break through and fulfil our potential. I didn’t however bank on the unprecedented individual success that I’ve enjoyed since the very beginning.

JANUARY: The season started with the Hebden 22, my favourite local race which takes in the very finest hills around the Calder Valley. I always run this race with my good mate and training partner Gav Mulholland A.K.A. Mad Legs Mulholland and this year was no exception. We were also joined by our other good friend Johny Helliwell A.K.A. The Painted Stallion. True to form we stormed round the course to win as a triple alliance and set the tone for the rest of the year with a fine team performance.

MARCH: My first real test on the fells was the Flowerscar fell race, the first English Championship counter held in Todmorden. The race also doubled up as the Yorkshire Championship and I desperately wanted to retain my title despite fearsome competition. Somehow I managed to hold off my mate and English champion Tom Addison to finish 5th overall. It meant I’d become only the 3rd person in history to successfully defend the Yorkshire Fell Running Championship trophy, a very proud moment indeed! The icing on the cake was also winning team gold with Karl Gray and Gav Mulholland, another repeat of the 2014 championship result.

Pictured above: (L) The prestigious Yorkshire Fell Running Championship Trophy with individual and team gold medals and (R) Karl Gray, myself and Gav Mulholland.

MAY: This excellent run of form continued with convincing victories in a few other local fell races including Heptonstall and the Saddleworth Cake race. It was these results, as well as winning the Yorkshire Championship that earned me selection for the Yorkshire team at the Inter-Counties fell race. A race which would prove to be the springboard for all other major achievements in 2015.

Pictured above: (L) Climbing up to Blake Dean in the Heptonstall Fell Race and (R) About to hit the final descent in the Saddleworth Cake Race.

A couple of weeks before the Inter-Counties my season was in danger of ending prematurely after picking up a hamstring injury at the end of the Cake race. After 7 days of rest and intense physio I was just fit enough to run and had it not been for my sponsors Back to Fitness Physiotherapy, I’d probably be sat here now wishing away 2015. Thankfully they patched me up and I pulled through. A 7th place finish and team gold in the Inter-Counties was enough to earn me a spot on the England team for the Snowdon International. I was over the moon. This was without doubt my most important result of the year and I feel very lucky to have been fit enough to compete that day.

Pictured above: (L) Briefly chasing winner Andy Douglas at the Inter-Counties fell race and (R) Yorkshire team Gold! (Karl Gray, myself, Tom Adams and Tom Addison)

JUNE: As soon as I received the England call up I instantly stepped up my training. I’d run in the Snowdon International before back in 2011 and finished 12th. It was a good result but I always knew I was capable of more. This time I didn’t just want to turn up and run in an England vest I wanted to make a big statement and try to challenge for the win.

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Pictured above: Repping the infamous Scammonden Steps.

I’ve always been a good descender but the difference this year has been the improvement in my climbing ability. I knew the only way to earn a top 5 at Snowdon was to include plenty of steep hill rep sessions in training and try and lose some weight. During the last year I’ve managed to shed nearly a stone and it’s been a major factor in helping me to compete at international level.

Pictured above: (L) Before the race with my England teammate and friend Lindsey Brindle and (R) Proudly wearing my England vest.

JULY: When race day finally arrived I was more than ready. A sensible start, a brilliant climb and an even better descent saw me challenging for the win. In the end I had to settle for 3rd place, hard to believe but I was disappointed. There was a point where I thought I could win but unfortunately the final mile was absolute hell. In the words of the Terminator…“I’ll be back”.

Pictured above: (L) The climb and (R) the descent

AUGUST: Just when I thought the year couldn’t get any better I received another England call up for the Home International in Betws-y-coed. It was also a selector for the GB team for the World Championship but the chance of making the top 6 was more like a dream than reality.

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Pictured above: Training in Sirmione, Lake Garda, Italy.

I like to dream big. The thought of earning a GB vest motivated me more than anything. I’ve never destroyed myself as much in a race but it was worth every second of pain. I held onto 6th place by just 11 seconds and the feeling of achieving that dream was indescribable. Needless to say I slept well that night.

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Pictured above: Racing for GB in the World Mountain Running Championship, Betws-Y-Coed, North Wales

SEPTEMBER: If I had to choose my most memorable moment of 2015 it would have to be competing for Great Britain in the World Mountain Running Championship and winning team bronze. It’s the first time that the men’s team have ever won a medal of any colour, so to make athletic history for my country on home soil is something I’ll always remember for the rest of my life.

Pictured above: (L) My WMRC team bronze medal and (R) the Great Britain WMRC team

OCTOBER: My other favourite moment of 2015 has to be my trip to Morbegno in Italy to compete for the Snowdon GB team in the prestigeous Trofeo Vanoni relay. It was just an amazing experience from start to finish.

Pictured above: Playtime in the mountains. Val Di Mello, Northern Italy.

The race itself was probably my finest achievement of the year. Finishing 2nd fastest leg and 2nd team was way beyond my expectations. This is a race I desperately want to do again. Mountain running is huge in Northern Italy and the experience was completely life changing. Whenever I need some motivation I’ll be thinking about the 5 days I spent there. Having the opportunity to train and compete in such a beautiful part of the world with like minded people is something I’m very grateful for.

Pictured above: (L) Me, Julian Rancon (France) and Alex Baldacinni (Italy) and (R) the Snowdon GB team, Robe hope, myself and Tom Adams

As well as enjoying plenty of individual success, it’s also been the finest year in the history of Calder Valley Fell Runners. After years of growing and improving as a team we finally lived up to expectation by winning (almost) everything in 2015. English champions, British champions and British Relay champions. Next year I’m hoping we can add the Ian Hodgson relay to the list 😉

Pictured above: (L) Calder Valley British Fell Relay team – Me, Daz Kay, Math Roberts, James Logue, Tim Ellis and Karl Gray and (R) the British Fell Relay trophy

So farewell 2015. You’ve been a perfect year and I’m very sorry to see you go. A HUGE thanks to everyone who has helped make it so special, let’s hope 2016 is just as good!!!

My Strava Story 2015: http://2015.strava.com/video/msj7euX

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Pictured above: My Strava stats for 2015!