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The Very British Fell Running Champion

For wilderness runner Ben Mounsey, there is a uniquely British flavour to fell running, when navigating across some of our most stunning landscapes, which brings out the best in our national character

Ben Mounsey is unusual in that he has reached the top level as an athlete, taking Team Bronze for GB in the Mountain Running World Championships, winning the UK Inter-Counties Fell Running Championship for Yorkshire and scoring a podium finish in the English Fell Running Championships, all while holding down a full time 9-5 job.

In comparison to the Alpine mountain runs (which Mounsey also competes in), fell running appears to be a gnarlier beast altogether – imagine racing up a wet, cold Lakeland hillside into a soup of fog and having to make navigational decisions as you go, which could easily leave you exposed and exhausted many miles from a road...

For Mounsey, the very British experiences and camaraderie of these challenging races are priceless, even if he does have to organise every moment of his free time around running...

You’re cold and muddy – it's not a glamorous sport but something about it lures you back in

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Q: Would you say that fell running is a very British kind of adventure?
‘Usually your feet are wet, cold and muddy, so yes, it's not a glamorous sport at all but there's something about it that just lures you back in, and it’s very addictive. I like that rawness of it – it's so pure and simple. The kind of races that I like to go to, you just kind of turn up, get your number and you set off. And you go and have a pint afterwards – it's a nice community, and ethos.’

Q: Is that because the experience of adversity often brings people together?
‘Absolutely, especially when the weather turns. I've been in these long races before where it's been quite nice when we've set off and then halfway through it’s: “Oh God, we could be in a spot of bother here,” or we've taken a wrong turn together and we'll have to help each other cross a stream that’s become a river.’

‘If somebody's suffering you don't want them to suffer, you want to beat them because you're better than them on the day, rather than them running out of food or something. So you help each other out but at the same time you are still competitive. You've got to in those environments, because it is quite extreme – you need some mountain-craft and to be a bit hardy.’

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Q: What are the toughest fell races you've been in?
‘The Lakeland Classics I would say, like Wasdale and Ennerdale. The distance is getting up towards marathon, but then you've got the terrain, the weather, but most of all a few thousand feet of climb and that just makes it so much more difficult. There are some sections that are so steep it's just impossible to run.’

Q: The speed at which fell runners take the wet, rocky descents has to be seen to be believed – how do you do it?
‘If I think about it too much, slow down and try and be careful, that’s when I end up falling over! You've got to kind of disengage brain and go for it – it’s having the confidence to run down as quick as you can and also control yourself. If you are going quick and you've picked a good line, looking not just where your feet are but a bit further in front, then you can stay on your feet and you can get down a lot quicker.’

Q: What’s your favourite fell race?
‘The one I love the most is the Ian Hodgson Relay. It goes over the most rugged terrain in the Lake District, running on the edge of ridges with steep drops either side, but because you're in that race zone you're just running straight over it.’

‘There have been times when I've been thinking: “this is pretty hairy”. That race used to come down Red Screes through this little channel with very little room – I remember running down with a couple of the legends of fell running, literally banging shoulder-to-shoulder. I thought if I slip now I'm going to break a leg!’

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Q: What’s the racing achievement that you're most proud of?
‘My proudest moment is probably representing Great Britain at mountain running – the journey that I took to get in that physical shape and the races that I had to do. I’d put months and years of hard work into it and it just symbolised everything that I'd done to earn and achieve that vest.’

Q: You’re known for flying off on a Friday after work to run mountain marathons in Italy and then being back at your desk at 9am on Monday – could we all live more adventurous lives if we really went for it?
‘Just a couple of years ago, if somebody had said to me, “You’re going to go out this weekend and you're going to race in Italy and then you'll be back for work on Monday,” I’d have just laughed. Now I think anything is possible if you want it badly enough. It has changed my mindset – I take more risks now, and I'm open to trying new things. I've got that confidence because I've tried things and it's made me realise that I can do a little bit more, and I can see more of the world. It's possible.’

Find out more about Ben Mounsey’s running career and read his blog at benmounsey.net

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