Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Racing Overkill?

Thinking back on the past year or so, there have been some *really* busy races. It is testament to the success of fellrunning, and people getting outdoors and enjoying themselves. However, is there a price that is being paid, literally- by us, and also, by the countryside?

Small races were, and indeed are the lifeblood of Fellrunning as a sport. They are one of the reasons why I love it. A small band of people gathered at the bottom of a hill on a cold and most probably wet day, waiting for someone to shout "go", wherupon they run up and down a hill. Or some variation on the theme.
Races have got bigger. Hundreds of competitors now turn out for the "classics" like Edale Skyline, like Borrowdale, like Snowdon. The Bob Graham is becoming little more than ticklist fodder for adventure tourists and there is a trod appearing around the more popular routes, the OMM- which boasted more than 1000 competitors last year is becoming more of a money making draw every year. While anything that gets people out of their armchairs and away from the modern disease that is the television is a good thing, are there too many people getting out and doing fell races?

Well, perhaps, and perhaps not. I don't want to seem like the kind of person that thinks that running in the hills is only for people that have don it for year upon year, or those that have the experience, or else how else to other people get into it. But, in balance, if you have a race around what is essentially a bog which has a fairly fragile ecosystem, you have a greater chance of it being wrecked by excessive recceing for perfect lines, and then you have 400 people running over much the same area of ground for a couple of hours which creates more erosion.
And if the racing line isn't actually on a readily established trod on open country, by the end of the race it will be a huge muddy scar on the landscape which only gets worn more as people now see it as a path and use it on a day to day basis.
Not so good. You can do it on a road because there is no damage to the surface which you are running on, but off road, we need to be a bit more careful and a bit more intelligent about choices.

It's quite an issue, as a few years ago the FRA was concerned that the sport might be dying out, that race numbers were declining, and that the sport might become an ex-sport, consigned to the memories of a few hoary old men drinking pints in a Lakeland pub.
From doing a few races last year and this, I have been picking and choosing my races more carefully, and will do again next year as well. While the continued success of the races is excellent and brings money to the scene and glory to the winners is good, I find myself drawn much more to the quiet backwaters of the country. Yes, if I enter a Championship race, I have the opportunity to race against some of the best athletes out there. However, I'm quite likely to do that if I enter the little ones too.

Thinking about it, I was wondering if something along the lines of pop-up racing might work. The organisation of a race, with the route not being divulged beforehand, but the distance and ascent being known. Word of mouth - twitter or a website a week or so in advance with a nominal entrance fee - (I'm always a bit shocked if I have to pay more than £4 to race) Everyone turns up, gets a brief about the race, and is given the route. Someone shouts go, and while the racers race off into the distance, someone else takes the cash, heads to a local place and spends the race money on a couple of prizes, and the winner is the fastest person home, there will be a sweeper who goes around, but essentially, you are on your own out there, unless you get help from a fellow competitor if something goes wrong.

Ok, the concept might need a bit more thought, and this is in no way a money making venture, but its a thought as to how to bring fun and spontaneity into fellracing in a small group.
Yes I know we can just get out running. Yes I know that I'm being a moaning old man talking about how things should be, and yes its great that people are getting out and about. I'm not saying that the whole thing is being spoiled, but I do prefer low key events, and its slightly concerning and annoying in the way everything seems to be becoming increasingly commercialised - I tend to be shocked

Maybe I'm just getting old.

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