For anyone else, heading up a picture-postcard cobbled street that passes by a steam railway line, before climbing from Haworth over Penistone Hill, to Bronte Bridge and then up to Top Withins would be the stuff of dreams – a real holiday moment to be included in your family album. But for the four in this group – including Moss the lively four-legged companion intent on investigating every hill and hollow on this 10-miler – it’s an everyday outing, a run they’ve been doing on a weekly basis for 40 or more years.
“But it’s what makes trail running so amazing,” says Ian Ferguson, waving his arm in the general direction of the winding paths that angle off in every direction, tempting you with a new adventure. “With mates or on your own, it’s always amazing,” he says.
Ian is a three-time Three Peaks winner and former record holder, but to this lot, he’s just Fergie. That’s because, between them, they have won 12 of those titles, although Ian Holmes takes it on the chin regularly given his modest record compared to his companions for the day. “Yes, he’s a multiple British fell running champion, but he’s only won the Three Peaks once,” laughs Sarah Rowell, a four-time winner herself. Andy Peace, ambling along at the back of the pack also has four titles to his name, not to mention the record of 2hr 46min 3sec dating back to 1996.
But this run isn’t about records. It’s part of the Running up for Air event, a Europe-wide, one-day endurance challenge which aims to raise awareness of air pollution. Its concept is simple; head out of town into the hills and enjoy all they have to offer. Sadly, we're all very aware that we are all breathing in toxic air. It damages our health and the environment around us. And, as trail runners, plenty of us perhaps feel this more than most, given our love for the environment – exposure to air pollution is a critical issue.
Which is why Patagonia developed this annual challenge open to everyone – whether you are logging your vert on alpine trails or lapping the hill in your local park, every vertical metre counts.
It could be a full 24-hour grind or a relaxed three hours at a comfy pace; it was a case of pack the gels or the beers, grab some friends and join runners across Europe for one uplifting day, experienced your way.
It must have taken all of 10 seconds to convice this lot to get involved; after all, it’s something they’ve been doing on a daily basis since the 1970s... “because trail running (and fell running) is just so social. It’s as much about having a beer afterwards as it is the actual run,” says Ian H, enjoying a bacon sandwich and a coffee on this occasion. Beer is for later. What is there to think about? A day emphasising the importance of clean air to our modern world? Bring it on!
Needless to say, spending all that time above the clouds means they have some amazing tales to tell as the miles and ascent unwind over the next few hours of this exciting adventure. Favourite races or runs, for instance, always produce a good argument and an unusual anecdote. For Andy, Burnsall and its short, sharp burn is one he has a soft spot for. “And there’s an amazing village fete afterwards,” he explains. “It’s got everything from egg catching – where team-mates throw eggs at each other from increasingly long distances, hoping not to break them – to pillow fighting on poles. Which is as mad as it sounds.”
Fergie, on the other hand, loves to run on Jura, so much so that he’s happy to cycle from Yorkshire to do just that. Hang on, that’s a long train ride from Yorkshire, let alone bike ride... But then it’s not unusual for this crowd. Andy has cycled to Spain (Sarah opted to fly) not to mention the fact that he’s won just about every cyclocross race you can think of, while Ian H also loves to do the Three Peaks on his bike, which has even the most hardened cyclist raising their eyebrows questioning his sanity. “I’ve done it 21 times, Fergie just 15 and
Andy 24. It’s even more fun than running,” he laughs.
Sarah’s favourite? “The Beachy Head Marathon,” she says with a smile. “For obvious reasons,” she adds, modestly omitting the fact that she won the race, outright. The first person to cross the line, male or female.
Yes, they’re a tough crowd for sure, and make you feel a bit out of place chatting about your debut run at the school sports day. For Fergie, he ran the 60-mile Fellsman in boots... in 1976... as a 16-year-old with Andy's dad. Running laps around a field in south London doesn’t compare well!
But tough as they may sound, this group is all about the social side of trail running and they are more than happy to spend their time helping newcomers explore and experience what the sport has to offer. When they’re not mixing off-road cycling with huge adventures, they love nothing more than to host a great sounding secret society on a winter’s Thursday night. “We run with headtorches,” says Ian H. “You have to log on to a website, pay a pound and guess what time you’re going to run for the route.”
That sums up the relaxed, fun way these four go about things. Yes, in terms of results, they’re nothing but serious with an amazing string of incredible accolades to their name, but when it comes to trail running, they’re very much about having fun, trying to convey that message to as many people as possible. Sarah, for instance, is on the council of the World Mountain Running Association, spending most of her time promoting exactly what this morning’s outing has been all about – experiencing the beauty a hill – or mountain – can provide.
■ This year, the participants of ‘RUFA’ clocked over 170,000 metres of elevation and 10,600km of distance, raising more than €22,000 in support of 18 environmental groups who are fighting for clean air across Europe.