To celebrate the launch of Sunspel’s new activewear collaboration with British running apparel brand Iffley Road, photographer Robin Mellor asked fell runners in North Wales and the Lake District to off-road test the pieces for an evocative series of portraits.
The photographs capture the participants complete with scuffed knees, mud splatters, and even the odd smile – which might seem surprising considering the nature of the sport. Slogging up and over hills and mountains, often in the wet, cold and mud, it’s fair to say fell running makes cross country look like a gentle jog. Less of a workout and more of an endurance test, pavement pounding this is not. It might sound nuts, but the sport’s dedicated community are totally hooked.
“I was told once you need to turn your brain off and your legs on,” Nick Massey
The antithesis of working out in a gym or monotonous city jogging, fell running trades treadmills and tracks for the wilds of craggy, unpredictable mountains. “It’s someone’s crazy idea of running up one side of a fell and down the other,” explains Ben Jozefiak, a 28-year old diagnostic radiographer who got into the sport after becoming bored by the tedium of road running. With distances varying and courses unmarked, runners depend on maps and compasses to guide them – as well as the support of other runners. Ultimately, however, you just have to dive in. “I was told once you need to turn your brain off and your legs on,” says 27-year old Nick Massey, who regularly trades his life as a financial services consultant in Glasgow for the visceral thrill that fell running affords.
But who are these people that willingly haul themselves up steep and soggy hills? As good-humoured as they are hardened, “fell runners come in all ages, shapes and sizes,” says Ben, adding that “we’re all there for the same reason, we love the outdoors.” Certainly those epic views are one of the major pay-offs for the pain. “It attracts people who are interested in getting out, into to the countryside and making the most of it,” echoes Nick. “[But] ultimately the run is your own.”
“There’s nothing better than the challenge of getting off the road maps, away from sports watch bleeps and out into the elements. It’s easy to forget how awesome, powerful and timeless nature is,” Ben Jozefiak
That buzz of camaraderie extends to the wind-down rituals; think hot soup or even a post-race pint. “The endorphins and sense of accomplishment together feel even better when you’ve changed into some fresh clothes and have a belly full of something warm,” says Ben. Muddy, icy, wet, cold, steep – one would be tempted to ask, what is the appeal of fell running? “There’s nothing better than the challenge of getting off the road maps, away from sports watch bleeps and out into the elements. It’s easy to forget how awesome, powerful and timeless nature is,” explains Ben. “It helps me to remember I’m alive”.