Running hard, writing harder

BookspineAnother milestone is reached with submission of the manuscript of my third book to the publisher. The title is now fixed as: Running Hard: the story of a rivalry. It is now going through the editorial process and approval of photographs, design of the cover (first version below), incorporation of cover quotes, indexing, proofing, and eventually printing. It is set for publication, by Sandstone Press, in February or March 2017 – which seems such a long time away.

Running_Hard_Front_smallRight now I want to see the finished book, but have to be patient. Looking back I find that this has taken less time to write than either of the first two books for Sandstone Press. I am not sure exactly what to make of this, perhaps I have more confidence in my writing ability (which hasn’t always been the case). What is certain is that I have once again thoroughly enjoyed the processing of researching the material, and also the fascinating times I have spent interviewing the two athletes that are the rivals in the story.

I have also interviewed several of the significant athletes who were their contemporaries. I was absolutely made up to at one point be sitting in Joss Naylor’s front room discussing some of his achievements, and later to be chewing the fat with Billy Bland in his back garden. Absolute heroes both.

So, just a reminder of the storyline (this from the publicity blurb):

JohnKen (CompassSport)_smallerRunning Hard: the story of a rivalry describes the lives of two very different athletes and covers in-depth the 1983 Fell Running Championships season, when they were the two top runners, battling to win the championship. John Wild was an international steeplechaser from the Midlands who had moved to the fells to go head-to-head with the Cumbrian-born fell runner Kenny Stuart. Stuart later became a 2-11 marathon runner, as their running careers began to diverge, but they remained firm friends. The championship at that time was much tougher than it is now. After fifteen races the title was decided by just twenty seconds at the final race. The events are illuminated by interviews and analysis from several of their main contemporaries.

As I was compiling the manuscript from the interviews, and other sources, I soon realised that I was getting more material than I could possibly use in the book, and that some of it was very interesting but way off topic. So, I decided to re-think some of it for some spinoff writing. A profile of fell runner and orienteer Jack Maitland was accepted for publication in The Fellrunner, and buoyed by this I also submitted two further articles (on the Fell Legends eveningwhich I have already blogged on, and on Jasmin Paris’ amazing BGR record). They were both accepted, and I am really pleased that all three are in the current edition of The Fellrunner. My next three blog posts will concentrate on this writing, and include the resulting articles.


On being runner-up in Lakeland Book of the Year award category

Yesterday I did not win the Lakeland Book of the Year award. At one level there is a thin line between success and failure. Everyone wants to win the race. However, there are times when relative success is to be cherished.

After the initial disappointment of being ‘merely’ a category runner-up, I am now thinking that it is actually a pretty special achievement. The Lakeland Book of the Year Awards “encourage and celebrate writing and publishing in Cumbria, and contribute to furthering the wonderful literary heritage of the County”. It is a prestigious award, that has been going since 1984. It has high profile judges – this year Hunter Davies, Eric Robson and Fiona Armstrong. The overall winners command respect – last year’s was James Rebanks (for The Shepherd’s Life), and previously it has been Keith Richardson, Harry Griffin and Alan Hankinson.

I was really pleased to be able to travel to the Lakes and attend the award ceremony, which was held in the beautiful Armathwaite Hall Hotel, alongside Bassenthwaite Lake. For the award this year there were over 50 entries, which have to be predominantly about Cumbrian people and places, of which 15 were shortlisted for the 5 category awards (I was in the Guides and Places category), four of which were the eventual short list for the overall Lakeland Book of the Year award.

It was a really great award ceremony, with most excellent food, a fund-raising opportunity for the Cumbria Flood Appeal, and networking possibilities.  Two years ago at the same event I met and chatted with mountaineering legend Doug Scott, and this year commiserated with Kendal AC’s top fell runner Rebecca Robinson, who was on crutches after breaking a metatarsal when running the Skiddaw race at the weekend (she was also 6th fastest UK female marathon runner in 2015).

One of the best things about the event is that the judges give their thoughts on the shortlisted books. Eric Robson went through those up for the Striding Edge Prize Prize for Guides and Places, and said the following about The Round: 

We come to The Round by Steve Chilton

His earlier book ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ (lovely title), about fell running as well, won the Bill Rollison Prize in 2014. For those of you not of a mountain pounding persuasion, The Bob Graham is a Lakeland mountain challenge. It is 62 miles, takes in 42 peaks and 27,000 feet of ascent, which you have to do in mere 24 hours. As you do. I was trained for the Bob Graham Round by my neighbour in Wasdale – Joss Naylor. He said he would take me out running. I lost. That was just round the function room of the Santon Bridge Hotel. This book about fell running, which is a fairly specialist subject, could have been totally boring. It could have been statistics in hardback. But in fact it is inspirational and it is compelling. It is a great read. It also told me that Chris Brasher failed in his attempt to do the Bob Graham Round, which made me feel a lot better.

When the announcements came, I was runner-up in the ‘Striding Edge Prize for Guides and Places’, a category that was won by The Gathering Tide by Karen Lloyd.

untitled-8079So, I collected my runners up certificate and we waited for the overall winner to be announced. It was the winner of the Illustration and Presentation category, a book called Lakeland Waterways.
It was written by a guy that works on the passenger boats on Windermere.

Reflecting on it now, I am really chuffed to be short listed for this prestigious prize. But there is no time to dwell on it. I am moving on to apply the finishing touches to my third book. I just hope that it is written well enough to get some recognition of this sort when it comes out (in early 2017).

The Round front coverNOTE: If you are interested, my books Its-a-hill-get-over-it-FRONT
are available from all good book stores,
and of course online :
The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps
and  It’s a hill, get over it.

Or signed copies direct from me.


….. and in further book news


The July to December 2016 Sandstone Press catalogue has a nice double page spread of ‘The Round’ and ‘Its a hill’, to announce that the paperback of the former is to be released this November. I am thinking about the launch possibilities at the moment.

It is very pleasing that ‘The Round’ has been nominated for the Boardman Tasker Prize (for Mountain Literature), and even more so that it has been short-listed for the Lakeland Book of the Year award. Bob Davidson, my editor at Sandstone had this to say about the latter:

‘Now over the course of two books, The Round and its predecessor, It’s a Hill, Get Over It, Steve Chilton has been recording and illuminating the history of one of Britain’s least known but most demanding sports, fellrunning. Packed with obsessed and eccentric characters, characterised by amateurism in its purest and noblest form, this uniquely British activity is now developing its own, equally unique, literature and Steve Chilton is its principal bard and chronicler. The sport is fortunate to have its narrative in such hands. In 2017 there will be a third title which will make a perfect long narrative from the wider history to the most specific and personal, but this present time is the time of The Round. It’s a book among a sequence of books that Sandstone Press is proud to leave to posterity.’

The manuscript for that third title is now almost complete, with final re-writing, checking by contributors, viewing by a critical friend, and final tightening up to go before submitting it to the publisher. The title is about to be confirmed and the cover design commissioned, so I am at that busy but exciting stage in the process.


John Wild and Kenny Stuart

It is about these two guys, telling their stories before, during and after the momentous 1983 season when they went hammer and tongs against each other in the Fell Running Champs. Having had overwhelming co-operation from the main subjects, and also conducted cracking interviews with some of the main players – such as Joss Naylor, Billy Bland, Malcolm Patterson, Jack Maitland and Hugh Symonds – I think you may like it.

At Keswick Mountain Festival

TipiRightThis was the first year I had attended the Keswick Mountain Festival, and very enjoyable it was too. Crow Park, by the Theatre on the Lake, was a beautiful setting, with Derwentwater and Cat Bells and the Borrowdale fells as a backdrop.

I was there on the Saturday to give a talk in the Adventure Tipi. The subject was The Bob Graham Round, it’s history and characters. It was obviously a plug for my latest book ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’, but also a chance to share my thoughts on the recent stunning BGR achievements by Jasmin Paris and Nicky Spinks.

File 21-05-2016, 22 17 51The Adventure Tipi was surprisingly small but suitably filled. It was nice to see Steve Birkinshaw in the audience, who had been talking earlier in the weekend about his Wainwrights record and his problems recovering from it. My talk seemed to be well received, and a few folk came and had a chat and to buy books after. It was necessary to shut out the noise of people having fun coming through the tipi walls. To clarify, it was the noise that was coming through the walls, not the people! Once I had started I soon forgot about that though.

It was great to have Mike Cambray there in support, and his short video of the first part of talk is available below. It was also great to have a quick chat with friend Rob Morris (having a quick break from his festival volunteering duties).

We had a quick scoot round the fascinating range of stalls, with Mike doing his best to keep Alpkit in business with his enthusiasm for their range of products. In the evening we were back to hear two of the climbing world’s finest give their talks in the Theatre. Simon Yates gave a whistle stop run through of his career, including a reference to the rope-cutting Joe Simpson incident, but more interestingly for me some of his recent trips. Mick Fowler was a very relaxed presenter, very entertainingly outlining his approach to climbing new routes on some of the more obscure mountain ranges of the world. I was intrigued by his claim to use Google Earth as a planning tool for searching out new and potential lines on said remote peaks.

A full-on weekend was completed by a range of activities, including bagging 3 new Wainwrights, a run on Hardknott, a couple of trips to Wilfs, and doing two great interviews for my next book – with Kenny Stuart and Joss Naylor. Oh, and a temporary separation from my wallet. Fortunately the lovely people at Woodlands Tearooms in Santon Bridge phoned me to inform me of my stupidity in leaving it on a table there.

Talking at the Keswick Mountain Festival, Saturday 21 May


I am pleased to confirm that I am giving a talk at the Keswick Mountain Festival in May as part of what looks like an excellent ‘Adventure Tipi Talks’ programme. My slot is 1-45pm on Saturday 21 May, and is entitled (predictably enough) ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’.

The Round front coverThe illustrated talk will be based on my recent book on the Bob Graham Round, and will include some history, and something on the characters who have contributed to it’s history.

It is a highly topical subject in light of Jasmin Paris putting down such an awesome new women’s fastest BG round only last week. There is a short bit of video from a friend’s 2015 round, which I was in charge of road support for, to give you a real insight on what it can be like on such a challenging day in the fells.

There will also be an opportunity to purchase signed copies of the book, and also my first book ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, both at special festival prices. If you are interested then check out the website and book tickets at:

Full description of the talk: The Bob Graham Round is a classic Lakeland endurance challenge of 62 miles and 42 peaks, to be completed in 24 hours. This will be an illustrated talk that will explain the genesis of the round and who Bob Graham was. It will also showcase some of the outstanding male and female endurance athletes who have completed it, such as Billy Bland – who set the fastest time of 13 hrs 53 mins in 1982. I will also hope to illustrate what it can be like with video footage from a round I was involved in last year.

I hope to see you at my session, or at some of the other excellent talks (eg Hinkes, Yates and Fowler on the Saturday ‘Mountain Evening’).

Evening with Joss, Billy & Kenny


“Just enjoy it .. and don’t ivver leave it”, says Joss Naylor, about fell running. That was just one gem of sound advice from Three Fell Running Legends at Brathay Hall’s Evening with Joss, Billy and Kenny on 1 April. Around 300 people had bought tickets for the talks and charity auction, which was being held to celebrate Joss Naylor’s 80th birthday, and also 70 years of the Brathay Trust. On a wet and miserable night we had crammed in to a marquee in the Hall grounds to await The Legends.

SelwynBrathay’s Scott Umpleby eventually announced the Legends and they ambled to the stage to great applause. Scott explained about the Trust and how the evening would run and handed over to Selwyn Wright (left: jointly the first to do a winter Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours in 1986) to MC the first part of the evening. He gave some background to each of The Legends’ achievements, before starting the ball rolling by asking some questions. I think my favourite fact was that in one period of 23 years Joss Naylor and Billy Bland won the Lake District Mountain Trial nineteen times between them. Kenny Stuart’s 2-11 marathon was mentioned too, but that time has actually been beaten by a few English marathoners since then contrary to what the announcer said.

Being prompted on such topics such as how they got into fell running and memories of their first races gave them all scope for a bit of storytelling. I now wish I had recorded the session as I am struggling to remember specific quotes from the stage. Those included here are paraphrased or are taken from tweets on the night.

trailrunning2On his first race, Joss told the story of how he had entered his first Mountain Trial pretty much on the spur of the moment, running in working boots and cut-off jeans. Billy Bland’s first race was as a 17 year old – and he came last. Kenny finished halfway down a field in a junior pro race (I think he said it was at the Keswick Sports).

Later the questioning was thrown open to the floor, which produced some more really interesting responses. These ranged from the sensible to the extreme. On fell running for youngsters, Joss’ advice was, “enjoy it and stick to the short stuff”, whilst Kenny suggested that cross country helps. I am pretty sure I am right that Billy then chipped in with, “train hard, and then train harder!” Hope that helped the young questioner!

Anyone who has ever seen Joss running will know that he has what can best be described as a ‘unique’ running style. But his advice on descending well was sound enough: “look 4-5 paces ahead, concentrate & keep your knees slightly bent to run downhill with confidence.” Kenny admitted to being a better uphill than downhill runner, and Billy thought that you were either born to be good at it or not, but conceded that you might be able to improve somewhat.

One questioner asked about coping strategies in a race or challenge when the body had had enough, where the biggest laugh was probably raised by Billy commenting that “if you ran out of petrol you might as well get a lift home.”

KennyOn noting their memorable occasions, the two I can recall were Joss’ long story about the magic of training for and then completing his Lakes and Meres Run in 1983, and Kenny saying that frankly some of the ‘failures’ in races were those that stuck out sometimes.

Finally, a couple of gems from Billy, who when asked about his training and why present fell runners weren’t beating some of the old records even now, replied, “that’s the trouble wi young uns today!! They don’t train hard enough!!” Secondly, he slipped in fine joke about Kenny’s navigation skills, “he’d git lost in a field if tha left gate open.”

I just wish I could remember some more.

jossThere was then a break for a fine hotpot and drinks, before Joss came back on to tell a lovely story about his father’s shepherding days. He then revealed his own 80th birthday running challenge. He will be running on 25 June in memory of his father, Joe Naylor, and to support disadvantaged children and young people. He will set out from Caldbeck, his father’s birthplace, and follow a route that includes Great Calva, Skiddaw House, Little Town, Dale Head Tarn, Honister, Sty Head and on to the Naylor family landmarks in Wasdale, finishing at Joss and Mary’s home at Low Greendale. Please support Joss at

maryHe then handed over to auctioneer Kevin Kendal who worked hard at encouraging the audience to bid for some Naylor memorabilia. Prints, certificates, challenge route maps, and other artefacts all went for good amounts, before the last two lots came up, which were two pairs of The Man’s trainers – from the 60@60 and 70@70 challenges. Joss’ wife had already been brilliant at coming round the marquee to show of the items so potential buyers could see them better. She now came round with the clapped out trainers and a ready smile at the strangeness of the moment. They both went for bids of £160 each if I recall correctly.

Overall it was a fantastic night. Just seeing and hearing three absolute heroes in one night is something I was so glad we had travelled up for. On the down side was that from our seats we did not have a very good view (hence some poor photos) as they were on a low stage and seated to boot. On the plus side we all had in our bags one of Mary Naylor’s ‘award winning’ Rock Buns, which each had the regulation 3 cherries in that Joss’ challenge-sustaining fuel of choice have always had.

Its-a-hill-get-over-it-FRONTIf you want to know more about the three legends, they were my Three Greatest Fell Runners in my book ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ (from Sandstone Press), and have their extended personal stories told there, as well as the history and development of the sport of fell running.

Note: the two threesome photos above are a blatant ‘borrow’ from tweets by Martin Campbell and Trailrunning. If you read this guys I hope you don’t mind, you had a far better photo spot than we did! The others are thanks to my great friend Mike Cambray.

Only GB Gold in Portland

MastersThe results by the British team in the World Indoor Champs in Portland, Oregon were disappointing.  In fact the only Gold medal won was by Barnet and District’s Dave Wilcock in the v60 invitation 800m race. The top v60 800m runners in the world were invited to compete. Dave once again proved that he is still the man to beat on the Vets track scene. Not only that but he was involved in probably the finest race of the champs, and certainly the most dramatic finish. What follows is a brief backstory to this fantastic achievement.

Dave Wilcock lost to Joe Gough twice in finals at the European Vets Indoor Champs in Gent in March 2011. First in the 800m by 1.26 seconds (2-11.51 to 2-13.17) and then in the 1500m by a mere 36 secs. As it was so conveniently located, Moira and I had taken the Eurostar over there to support Dave. That 800m defeat hurt, and in the 1500m Dave had decided that Joe was going to have to work darned hard if he was going to beat him.

This marvellous photo shows mild-mannered Dave giving Joe a thousand-yard stare on the start line. In the race he sat in for a while and then took the race on with a lap or so to go, actually surprising the field (and Joe Gough in particular, who for a moment seemed to have missed the break). However, as Dave strode out for the win Joe seem to open up his stride, eat up the ground between them, and then drift past for victory. The raised arms and smile showed what it meant to him to have beaten Dave. It is pleasing to know that Dave arranged to go out for a meal and some craic with Joe that evening.

So, on last Saturday Dave reversed the positions in the Invitation v60 race at the World Indoor Champs at Portland Oregon. I am certain that he will be very proud of that result, but knowing him won’t see it as any sort of ‘redemption’ for the earlier performances, where the fitter man had won the day.

What the result in Oregon does show are three essential characteristics of Dave Wilcock’s make-up as an athlete, whom I have worked with closely over the years. First he is unlike anyone else that I know in his ability to use races to get fit. When he received the invite to compete in Oregon he naturally upped his training in the weeks available. But also he found a series of races to test his increasing fitness, and also finesse his racing tactics. On 14 Feb he ran 2-16.76 in an indoor race at Lea Valley, and followed that with three more 800s in similar times in the next few weeks, plus three 1500s which brought his time for the longer distance down by 22 seconds. In all these he was untroubled, including the British Vets Champs just the weekend before Oregon, and was able to try fast starts, long runs for home and other racing variations.

The second characteristic is a proven ability to take something positive from all these races and build a superb confidence level as he goes through, which he was able to take forward to the race that really mattered. During this time Joe Gough had become the de facto race favourite for the race as he had already run faster than Dave this year. But Dave had an unshakeable believe in his own fitness and ability to rise to the occasion.

The third trait is one that I have witnessed on so many occasions. That is Dave’s commitment to racing. Hard. For him this often means taking it out hard and making others work that bit harder to beat him. There are no easy victories against him. I have seen rivals wilt under this pressure, and others take him out. But interestingly, for someone who can run so well at the shorter distances he hasn’t so often sat in and out-sprinted his rivals, although physiologically he is quite capable of doing it to most of them. I think that deep down he wants to both win and run as fast as possible. The ‘Ovett-kick’ tactic may win races but may come off a slower mid-race pace and not be so satisfying time-wise for him.

So, to the Oregon race. I was not able to be there, and have yet to find a full video of the race [one subsequently surfaced]. But from Matt Treasarden’s phone video of the first 550m or so and from the online clip of the last few metres I think I can talk you through it. For the first 200m Dave sat in in third, with Joe just in front of him, as they hit 34secs. The same positions were held for the second lap, which was reached after another 36 seconds. 70s for 400m was too slow, so Dave took it on down the back straight to open the field up and get a more respectable pace. Joe surged to the front just before the bell and entered the final straight with a narrow lead. Now the race was on, and it was there for whoever wanted it most.

goughofirelandThe video of the finish shows Dave (with his surname mysteriously spelt wrong thoughout) taking it in what must have been the last 2 metres, to win by just 0.11 seconds (2-15.90 to 2-16.01). In his effort Joe crashes to the track as he crossed the line, and Dave raises his arms in triumph. A brilliant win, just shy of the World best – which is 2-14.06, by (you got it) Joe Gough, in 2014.

Dave was very eloquent when interviewed afterwards, saluting his fellow competitors and the vocal, supportive fans, saying: ‘You know the guys gave a good competitive race and the crowd, that Portland crowd down there, really lifts you. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was a good time. That is what it is about – to entertain the crowd and just give it a 100%.’

On many levels Dave Wilcock is a class act, and one that his club and country should cherish.

Now watch the video of the full race. The build-up, the race developing, and the denouement. It is a classic:


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