Ricky Lightfoot has travelled to Malaysia, South Africa, Mauritius, the USA and across Europe on foot. He didn’t walk the whole way there of course.

But it is thanks to his skill on two feet that he has been to four different continents, competing in races against runners from around the world.

These races aren’t on a flat track, however, but on far more challenging terrain – up and down mountains.

Fell running is a gruelling sport but the 31-year-old athlete, from Dearham, has been doing it for half his life now. And he’s been addicted to it from the start.

“Running is like a drug,” he says. “If I don’t get out for a run it makes me feel worse. It’s something I’ve got to do every day.”

It all began when he was 16 and a pupil at Netherhall School in Maryport. Ricky played a bit of football there but wasn’t deeply committed to it. He explains how the bug first bit.

Brian Taylor, manager of the school’s sports centre, was looking for recruits for a fell race and Ricky recalls: “He went round different year groups asking people, and I thought I would give it a go.

“It was wet and windy and horrible, and I got lost around Whitehaven. It was probably meant to take 20 minutes but it took me 45 minutes.

“And I just loved it.”

Why didn’t it put him off completely? “I think it was the physical challenge. I was testing myself in a way I hadn’t been tested before, seeing how far I could push myself.”

He hadn’t been deeply committed to football but he could hardly be more deeply committed to fell running – often getting up at 5.30am to go out, fitting in one or two runs on most days and covering an estimated 80 to 130 miles every week.

On Tuesday, for example, he ran on the fells for two and a half hours and later ran the hour and half to work.

“A run in the Lake District could take about eight hours,” he says.

It involves careful time management to fit in around other commitments. Ricky works as a firefighter at Workington fire station and has a partner, Sophie Martin, and a two-year-old daughter, Isobelle.

Sometimes the training means setting off when Sophie and Isobelle are still fast asleep. “If I go out at half five in the morning I’m back before they’re out of bed. It’s not easy – but if you want something bad enough you’ll do it.”

Ricky first started running competitively within Cumbria and soon moved up to competing at county level . Before long he was representing Great Britain and winning races, and one of the most memorable for him was the 2013 World Trail Running Championship in Wales, which he won.

There’s a certain overlap between the running and the job. “To be a firefighter you’ve got to have a good cardiovascular system, so if you go running it does help.

“I work with a lot of like-minded guys. They all go the gym and keep fit.”

It involves following a fairly healthy diet, but Ricky isn’t hard and fast about it. “I’ll have the odd beer, but sometimes I can go five or six months without a drink. If there’s something important coming up I’m a bit more strict.”

Ricky prefers to bake his own cakes rather than buy them and admits: “I’ve got a weakness for cake, I’ve got a really sweet tooth.

“When you make a cake and you see the amount of sugar and butter it involves, it can put you off.”

Inevitably he’s had a few injuries but usually perseveres despite them. “The longest I had to have off was four months. That’s frustrating for any runner.”

What’s the attraction of fell running over flatter terrain? Is it the spectacular views?

“I guess so,” Ricky agrees. “But I feel I am a bit more tested on the fells.

“It can be more dangerous, but on a road race you are flat out all the way. On a fell race you are working hard going up and on the descent you do get a bit of a rest.”

And there are the opportunities to travel. Now running has taken him to South Africa, Mauritius, Malaysia and the USA, and across Europe to Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Greece – so far. He’s sponsored on his travels by sports equipment firm Salomon.

The techniques Ricky has learnt running in the Cumbrian fells stand him in good stead throughout the world, although of course temperatures vary from place to place. So, he adds, do the heights of the mountains.

“In the Rockies you can go up to 14,500 ft. The highest in the Lake District is 3,000 ft. That can be quite difficult. It’s good if you can arrive a couple of weeks early to acclimatise yourself.”

One aspect of the travel he liked is that it takes him to places that aren’t typical tourist destinations.

“You get to go to parts of the world you wouldn’t necessarily have gone to. A lot of them are off the beaten track.”

And he still has a fondness for running in his home county. “Scafell and Great Gable are two of my favourite areas.”

It was while running on Great Gable earlier this year that Ricky made headlines. Video footage of him carrying a young lamb to safety was posted on the internet and has gone viral, with more than a million people viewing it.

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He was on a path near a cliff when he heard what sounded like crying. “I went to have a look and found it there,” he explains.

“It was two or three weeks old and the farmer I spoke to said it must have been born down there.

“There aren’t many people round that way, so the chances of it being found by somebody else would have been next to nothing.”

Since that first gruelling race at school, fell running has grown to take over Ricky’s life. And yet he feels very lucky to have had the chance to try it. He was in the right place at the right time.

“If Brian had come round 10 minutes later or 10 minutes earlier I might have missed the opportunity, and never experienced all this.”

What do friends and family make of it? “They think I’m crazy!” he chuckles. “My mum and dad have known about it for a long time but they still can’t believe some of the stuff I do.”

But the running addict doesn’t see himself kicking the habit any time soon. He has hill races in Scotland and Northern Ireland lined up for September and October, followed by a trip to San Francisco in December.

“I’ll keep going as long as my leg joints allow me,” he says. “I’ll probably be knackered by the time I’m 40!”

Want to learn more about running? Visit GoActiveinCumbria.com