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On Ilkley Moor in west Yorkshire on a Tuesday evening in May, 200 people milled about in glorious sunshine, ready to run the five-mile Jack Bloor race over moors recently blackened in a fire, but still beautiful. The air was clear, the good cheer was tangible, the moor birds clucked high up on the hill that we would soon have to climb.
We gathered at the start, and everything proceeded as it does at fell races: someone gave inaudible instructions and then said something like: “Right then, off you go.” Fell running – making your own way between checkpoints over moorland, hill or mountain – thinks itself a pure yet humble sport. Fell runners have no truck with fancy gear like road runners do, or shiny poles like ultrarunners. We don’t even need paths. Some of this purist attitude comes from where we run, through thigh-deep bogs and leg-scraping bracken, down scree and boulders at the pace of a fearless child. We run against the elements as much as against other runners.