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Thread: GPS in fell races

  1. #1
    Master Travs's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2015

    GPS in fell races

    A couple of recent facebook/forum posts prompted me to ask the question... is GPS now accepted/allowed in fell races?

    I saw a post on here asking about gpx tracks for Haworth Hobble. Then a laughable post on facebook asking if the Edale Skyline was marked (followed by predictable facebook answers of 'just follow the guy in front'). Then a question direct to the organisers of the Skyline asking is GPS could be carried, and the answer along the lines of it wouldn't be a problem...

    If this is the stance of the organisers, Dark Peak, who I would see as one of the 'old school' of fell running values, is this now acceptable in traditional fell races?

    I'll admit I've carried a gps on the 10 Peaks, and plan to on the Cheviot Goat and the UTS 100. These all being events where it is specifically mentioned in the rules or race details, and on at least one of these, I know it's a mandatory item.

    And on races like the Spine and Dragon's Back it's pretty much accepted, and again compulsory at least on the Spine.

    But what about your traditional fell races (Ennerdale, Wasdale, Edale, etc)? I've never even considered it on races like these, but everyone seems to have gps watches now, so how can it be policed if people are following a route or checking their location on a watch/phone/hand held device?

    I'm certainly someone who thinks navigation by hand is a huge part of fell racing (and have recently started using a thumb-compass). But if everyone else i'm racing against is using electronic means, then why am I disadvantaging myself? It is a race after all...

    Obviously no substitution for carrying and being able to use a map & compass, etc, etc. And I know there are races which specifically forbid gps means.

    Interested what people think about this issue.

  2. #2
    Master noel's Avatar
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    Jan 2007
    Mountains of Cheshire
    It's a grey area. I do feel people who live near certain races have an advantage as they can reccie more. And GPSs cancel this advantage out somewhat.

    There's also the issue that if someone who's relying solely on GPS has a flat battery, will they know where they are having go the map out. However, this is similar to someone who's tagging along to a group (and therefore not navigating) and then gets dropped and doesn't really know the course.

    Personally, I don't consider fell races to be navigational events. So if you need a GPS to know where you're going, I think it's fair game. It's still not as good a few reccies, as it doesn't give you the mental preparation of know what it's going to feel like.
    No longer "resting"

  3. #3
    Master Travs's Avatar
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    May 2015
    Fair points.

    I also think there is too much of reliance in the UK on recces. I think someone else on the forum used to feel pretty strongly about this as well (IanR...?). Yes it's great to be able to recce a course, but then if you lose the optimum route, do you have the skills to get yourself back on course?

    Seems to be a trend now for ultras to point on 'recce days' which is fair enough, but to me it takes the fun out of the actual race. I'll give an example of the UTS race whichi am entered in (and this is in no way criticising the race or the organiser)..... circa £100 to enter the 100 mile race, then if you paid to do all four recce days, you'd be then spending approx. the same amount again. All this for a course which is billed as 'marked'.

    I'll be doing the Brecon Beacons fell race for the first time in August, and thought of reccying it beforehand to me would take out all the surprise of getting to the race and enjoying a new race.

    Perhaps i'd feel differently if I was potential race-winner. And I have on occasion arrived at a race venue the day before a race, and had a look round bits of the course. I recall scouting round the Pillar/Scoat Fell/Red Pike area whilst out on a training run, after making a complete hash of this area in the 2016 Wasdale race, so this could be termed as a recce, but really it was just an extension to a longer training run.

    Sorry to take my own thread off track, but I guess it emphasises the point that there's no substitute for sound navigation skills, and anything else you may use (recces/gps/prayer) have different merits and drawbacks.
    Last edited by Travs; 09-03-2018 at 12:26 PM.

  4. #4
    Master PeteS's Avatar
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    Aug 2009
    Mostly Worcestershire
    I personally don't have a problem with use of GPS in fell races as these are not strictly navigational events and I doubt much advantage could be gained, anyway. I'm sure someone will correct me, but I don't think there is anything in the rules that specifically bans their use either.

    Obviously, for navigational events such as the LDMT, they are specifically banned and rightly so. I think the rules say something along the lines of being able to carry a GPS enabled device but only for the purpose of recording your route.
    Going downhill fast

  5. #5
    Master DrPatrickBarry's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Marple, Manchester
    I suppose it is hard to be competitive if you have to rely on a GPS. I know from doing BG reccies how difficult it is. In bad conditons you could be following a very good GPS trace but still be a few metres to one side of a very good trod and not see it. It just slows you down so much checking the device every so-often to ensure you are still on course. It would stop the really big errors, which I suppose is in everybody's interest not to happen.

    Somebody who knows the route really well, would have such an advantage in those situations.

  6. #6
    Senior Member bigfella's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Peak District
    There is more to it than just finding the shortest route, you have to find the route that works best for you. To some extent you can do this from a map but there is nothing better than knowing the route options really well or even just looking ahead and deciding e.g. whether a steeper climb / descent works better for you than a slightly longer but more runnable alternative.
    Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

  7. #7
    Senior Member RaceTheSweeper's Avatar
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    Mar 2012
    Flagg Derbyshire
    You can't beat local knowledge :-) MrRTS has done so many races this year with his challenge in places he has never been to so recce's are not really an option. He pours over maps, looking for best route. He runs with a thumb compass and is pretty good at navigation. He loves races that means he has to use his navigation skills. However, it doesn't matter how good he is he will never be as good as the runner that knows that little cut down, or secret line using local knowledge. I do think though if he is of equal ability he would beat the runner using GPS to navigate the route. Bit like the cyclist thing at the moment. GPS navigation isn't cheating but it is maybe ethically iffy. Bit like following the runner in front then sprinting past them at the end to take a win. Not many of us would be happy with that either :-) To me using GPS to navigate would not give you an edge over the fell runner that knows his navigation skills. Also, how much fun is knowing how to map read? It opens a secret World out to us all. I'm rubbish at running and navigating but I have done a lot of the lakes on my own with map/compass and flapjack and loved every minute of it - slowly

  8. #8
    Master ba-ba's Avatar
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    Dec 2009
    I recently had some dialog (via email) with the FRA's championship and race liaison officers (I had previously contacted them about something else) and received the following from race liaison:

    Championship fell races are never navigation events. Navigation skills are necessary for safety. Map and compass are still mandatory for a good reason. If a fell race is also a nav event eg mountain marathons, HPM and similar then the RO usually states no GPS.

    Just about impossible to police and to be honest. Thereís little difference between that and someone who reccies the route to death. If anything, it reduces footfall from that point of view. There are safety advantages for those in trouble who may be assisted off the hill by one or be able to accurately pinpoint where they are.

    This was debated in the FRA last year. I have no plans to limit GPS for the reasons above but do have to say, that I think nobody is going to run to their potential speed.whilst looking at their watch. It wonít make a champion out of anyone. Championship races are like a precession of sheep anyway. Itís a race and the fastes round the course wins with or without GPS.

    I do understand your concern Nick but itís just not enforceable.

    In reply I said that I generally agree.
    However, I do have the slight caveat that, IMO, whilst a fell race isn't a navigation event, it is a test of a person's fellcraft. There are plenty of shades of grey (careful now!) between using GPS to stave off calamity in horrendous conditions, to the nose-down following of a breadcrumb trail ripped off a previous winner's strava, where these stand on the line between safety, an exercise in fell craft or the 'spirit' of fellrunning.

    I thought someone I was racing earlier in the year was looking at their watch to navvigate (they were a bit away from me across moor, and we were 2+h in so I was most likely seeing things!) and it just resolved me to make sure I beat them well.
    Nic Barber. Downhill Dandy

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by ba-ba View Post
    However, I do have the slight caveat that, IMO, whilst a fell race isn't a navigation event, it is a test of a person's fellcraft. There are plenty of shades of grey (careful now!) between using GPS to stave off calamity in horrendous conditions, to the nose-down following of a breadcrumb trail ripped off a previous winner's strava, where these stand on the line between safety, an exercise in fell craft or the 'spirit' of fellrunning.


    I am old school, perhaps not surprisingly, but the cause is lost.

    One of my favourite dialogues is from Orson Welles' brilliant film The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) based on Booth Tarkington's Pulitzer Prize novel (1918) of the same name. It is about technology and specifically the invention of the motorcar. I have edited the script exchanges but the sense is there and one could substitute GPS for the automobile without too much difficulty.

    George: Automobiles are a useless nuisance. Never amount to anything but a nuisance and they had no business to be invented.
    Eugene: I'm not sure George is wrong about automobiles. With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization. Maybe that they won't add to the beauty of the world or the life of men's souls, I'm not sure. But automobiles have come and almost all outwards things will be different because of what they bring. They're going to alter war and they're going to alter peace. And I think men's minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles. And it may be that George is right. Maybe that in ten to twenty years from now that if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn't be able to defend the gasoline engine but agree with George - that automobiles had no business to be invented.

    Motorcars are not going to disappear and neither will GPS aids in fell races.

    " dry as the Atacama desert".

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Threlkeld, mid-winter, about 9 pm, pouring rain. Up Hall's Fell we go, the last leg of an attempted anti-clockwise winter round. The other side of Blencathra visibility was measured in feet with head torches and inches without. The navigator had a Garmin with a down-loaded route - the large watch face showed an arrow - basically it was left a bit, right a bit, straight on .... all was well until we got to the top of Skiddaw - you know what is coming - the battery ran out. Out came the map/compass - I never thought I would need these to get off Skiddaw but we did.

    The point of this anecdote is how useful GPS can be - until the battery goes.
    Last edited by Mike T; 09-03-2018 at 10:12 PM.

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