Fell Running is the sport of running and racing, off-road, over upland country. Fell running, also sometimes known as hill running, is the sport of running and racing, off-road, over upland country where the gradient climbed is a significant component of the difficulty. The name arises from the origins of the English sport on the fells of northern Britain, especially those in the Lake District. It has elements of trail running, cross country and mountain running, but is also distinct from those disciplines.
Fell races are organised on the premise that contenders possess mountain navigation skills and carry adequate survival equipment as prescribed by the organiser.
Fell running has common characteristics with cross-country running, but is distinguished by steeper gradients and upland country. It is sometimes considered as a form of mountain running, but without the smoother trails and predetermined routes often associated with mountain running.
The first recorded hill race took place in Scotland. King Malcolm Canmore organised a race in Braemar in 1040 or perhaps as late as 1064, reputedly to find a swift messenger. This event appears to have been a precursor to the Braemar Gathering. There is no documented connection between this event and the fell races of the 19th century.
From the 19th century records survive of fell races taking place as a part of community fairs and games. The sport was a simple affair and was based upon each community's values for physical ability. Fell races took place alongside other sports such as wrestling, sprint races and (especially in Scotland) heavy events such as throwing the hammer. These fairs or games events were often commercial as well as cultural, with livestock shows and sales taking place alongside music, dancing and sports. In a community of shepherds and agricultural labourers comparisons of speed and strength were interesting to spectators as a source of professional pride for competitors. The most famous of these events in England, the Grasmere Sports meeting in the Lake District, with its Guide's Race, takes place every year in August.
The Fell Runners Association started in April 1970 to organise the duplication of event calendars for the amateur sport. As of 2013 it administers amateur fell running in England, in affiliation with British athletics. Separate governing bodies exist for each country of the United Kingdom and each country has its own tradition of fell running, though the sport is largely the same. The most important races of the year include the Ben Nevis Race in Scotland, run regularly since 1937, and the Snowdon Race in Wales.