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I recently read an article by Ordinance Survey about trail runners for beginners (my interest has sparked due to my recent uptake of running which I do cross country through parks and fields), in which is stated that Trail and Fell^ running are often used synonymously, but that they are in fact different. The difference they stated was simply terrain, one soft ground, one hard ground.

Some interchange 'trail' and 'fell' running, but the two concepts are quite different, with the latter acknowledged as far more 'rugged, rocky and extreme'.

Is there an actual difference or differences (terrain, altitude, etc) between Fell running and Trail running, as stated, or are they the same?

This would be useful to know when looking up local running routes, as I want to progress into more challenging runs.

^also apprently known as hill/mountain running

  • I would guess fell running is typically up mountains. Trail running just being off road – user2766 Sep 22 '15 at 14:01
  • @Liam that was my impression, Fell running being steeper and the more challenging of the two... – Aravona Sep 22 '15 at 14:03
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I think the main difference is probably in British vs American (/rest of the world) English. Fell is a particularly British term referring to areas such as the Lake district that does not really have a direct equivalent in many other places.

Following from this in the UK there is the Fell runners association, whereas in the US the equivalent would be the American Trail Running Association (although there is also a UK trail running association to add confusion).

Therefore, globally fell running and trail running are broadly the same thing. Referring to cross-country running mainly over hilly or mountainous terrain. It is also commonly called hill or mountain running (depending on severity).

However, in the UK we sometimes differentiate between the two. Fell running, is generally over rougher terrain, normally in mountainous areas such as the Lakes, Peaks or Scotland, and routes will often go over rough or even no paths. Trail running is generally used to refer to more gentle, less wild cross country terrain, although it can still be fairly hilly.

As you can see in the UK, while the terms are used to refer to slightly different things, there is not a clear distinction and there can be significant overlap, both in difficulty and terrain. Here is quite a good article which "explains" the difference. Although, in my experience many people in the UK use the terms fairly interchangeably with the general preference to call anything in mountains/significant hills fell running.

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    "Fell running" is specifically a northern English term. In Scotland, it is usually known as "hill running". – vclaw Sep 25 '15 at 1:22
  • @vclaw Yet it's still called the "Jura Fell Race" ;) And this is probably the perfect example to illustrate the difference between Fell racing and trail running. – Rob Jeffries Oct 24 '15 at 20:53
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    Here's a good article about the differences (or similarities?) written by a fell runner. fellrunningguide.co.uk/trail-running-or-fell-running – Jani Hyytiäinen May 11 '17 at 5:47

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