Updated: Jun 2, 2021
The Marathon is unquestionably the most prestigious event in distance running. It is the highlight endurance event in the Olympics and, despite the rise of ultrarunning, is perceived as the ultimate running challenge to millions of runners.
Fell Running is my passion; I believe it is the greatest sport in the world from the perspective of freedom, non-commercialisation and all round endurance combined with athleticism. I am also highly bias and the fell running community is an extremely niche community in the greater context of running.
These two disciplines, despite seeming like close relatives, are different beasts altogether. There is no hiding in the marathon; either you can run the distance at the required pace or you can't. At the elite and sub-elite level, you are running at your aerobic threshold and are pounding your body on tarmac often racing against the clock.
Fell running is brutal - there is no doubt about that. Choosing your own lines, ascents, descents, technical terrain, and navigating in the clag are all challenges embraced by the fell runner. You require a different set of skills in fell running; notably, enhanced co-ordination, proprioception, eccentric strength to handle the downhills.
A key difference between the committed fell runner and the committed marathon runner is racing. Whilst fell runners are required to race plentifully to be eligible for national and local championships, marathon runners tend to target two marathons a year.
So is it possible to combine both to a high level? I am attempting to find out.
The Covid pandemic has provided runners with many challenges but also opportunities. I have been working to improve my running form via drills, strides, hill sprints and aiming to improve my aerobic base through challenging long runs and more focused recovery. I had recognised that there may not be any races in the winter at the start of October and have been focussing on the Wrexham Elite Half Marathon set to take place in April.
This has required me to do more specific long runs on flat roads and trails. However, I have combined my passion for trail running through regular hill sprints and general training runs on the hills. I feel this is important for my enjoyment and injury prevention. I also recognise that my long-term ambition are oriented around trail and fell running. I believe that this approach enhances longevity through varying the surfaces trained on.
However, I do understand that their are clear disadvantages otherwise all marathon runners would be doing the same. There is arguably a neuromuscular disadvantage in that running on gradients of 40% is not exactly specific to the event demands. Therefore, the body has less practice of running technique around the marathon pace. Also, there is the argument that hills can leave your muscles fatigued for the specific marathon sessions.
Running is what you make of it and I believe focusing on developing 5k and 10k speed will pay dividends in my future trail, fell and marathon running ambitions. Many top UK runners combine these - for example. Andy Davies, Tom Evans and Robbie Simpson. In Europe, top trail runners have a similar combination with skimo and are extremely strong uphill and downhill specialists. I believe in the UK we can maximise trail running performances through combining the training with the growing popularity of road running and chasing fast times. There is only one way to find out!