This blog was started to give me a space me to write things around my first published book. This was It’s a hill, get over it, which was published by Sandstone Press in September 2013. It received some pretty good reviews, and I was deeply chuffed when it won the Bill Rollison Prize for Landscape and Tradition, and even more so to be nominated for the Boardman Tasker Prize for mountain literature. The book is still selling pretty well through Waterstones, Amazon and other sources, and signed copies can be obtained directly from me – in both hard and softback versions. But now it is time to move on, as I have been working on a second book for the last year or so.
So, today I submitted the manuscript to Sandstone. The book is entitled The Round, in Bob Graham’s footsteps. The Round is not only a history of the Bob Graham Round, but also an exploration of the what, why and how of this classic fell endurance challenge. After covering the genesis of the BGR in detail, it documents its development from a more-or-less idle challenge to its present status as a rite of passage for endurance runners. Interspersed with this detail of the round are extensive profiles of many of the event’s most significant individuals: innovators, record setters, recorders and supporters.
I now have to wait patiently for the editing, typesetting, printing, binding and distribution to be set up. It is scheduled for launch – in hardback and kindle formats – on 17 Sept 2015. I am hoping that the launch will take place in the Moot Hall, Keswick, the start and finish point of the round. At a later date I will post details for pre-ordering, a sample from the book, the launch details and more. Watch this space.
Last weekend I was in the Lakes to do some more work on my second book. Apart from the interviews, a talk, and some photo ops, I took in a fell race, and managed to get locked out of the Inn I was saying in! But, later in the end of the weekend I managed to bag another Wainwright in a Sunday morning weather window. This then is the tale of a very busy weekend.
On the Friday I drove up, taking far longer than I would have wished. I stopped off in Wythenshawe to record a fascinating interview with Mark McDermott. He is, of course, the person with the second highest peak count for an extended BGR inside 24 hours (76 peaks in 1988). A very interesting discussion it was, too, particularly hearing him talk animatedly about his Everest without oxygen ascent in 2001 (one of just 4 from the UK to have achieved that feat). Then it was on to my bed for the night, which was at the marvellous Brackenrigg Inn, in Watermillock.
On the Saturday morning I went to the Keswick Museum to have a look at the temporary exhibition there on Fell Running on Skidddaw and Latrigg, which had been put together with the help of members of Keswick AC. It was good to have a look around the Mountain Heritage Trust exhibition area too. Then it was over Whinlatter to watch the Blakes Heaven fell race, which is held from Lamplugh. A fine local race it is too. I watched them head out and then had a quick coffee in the church before coming out to watch John Heneghan take the victory. I tried handing out a few book leaflets, but have I reached market saturation with active fell runners? They all ‘said’ they had got it! I then set off to dawdle back, choosing to go via Buttermere and Honister as it was so nice.
On the way through Borrowdale I paid homage to Bob Graham by visiting his grave (in Stonethwaite churchyard), and then his memorial (beside the road to Ashness Bridge), before taking a quick squint at the Bowder Stone. By Honister I was getting really hungry and remembered the cafe at the slate mine to be good, but found that it was closed for refurbishment. So, on to Keswick with a view to some nosh at the excellent Saddleback Cafe, but that was closed for a staff break. As I was going that way I then thought that Rheged would be nice, which was a good idea, except that I got there 7 minutes after the food area closed (3pm). Coffee and cake had to suffice, but I was eating later. Then on to Sleagill to interview Martin Stone. He too had loads of interesting memories, all told in his engrossing ‘storytelling’ style. He has been involved in so much of recent BGR history, and added some great detail to many of the rounds and people I am focussing on.
From there it was a dash back to Ullswater to change, then on to the Keswick AC awards night. I sat on a table with Pete Richards and Duncan Overton and their partners. so not a quiet moment there, as we hoovered up an impressive buffet. Then Lesley introduced me, and I told a few stories from fell running history, and explained where I was coming from with the new book, before selling/signing a few copies of ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ (as you do). Chatting with club members afterwards it seems that the club has designs on the relay record time for the BGR (was I meant to keep that to myself Phil?!). The less said about being locked out of the Brackenrigg the better, but let’s just say it was a mixup.
Sunday dawned nicely and I had my fill of breakfast before heading up to Dockray and a pleasant stroll up Gowbarrow Fell. I imagined that it would give a good view down over Ullswater, which it did, but only over the two ends, as its own flank gets in the way from the summit. The light effect was pretty neat, as the photo attempts to show. Then the rain came in and I packed in the walking. Heading over the Kirkstone Pass there was zero visibility, and I zoomed down to Staveley to have a fab Wilfs lunch with a friend, before hitting the road for the long drive home. A fine and varied weekend.
There has not been much serious research into fell running. Whilst writing my latest book I have been digging deep down many avenues for potential sources. One of these has been of academic publications. The following [warning – it is quite a long ramble – a description that has been applied to the Bob Graham Round!] is a cherry pick of oddments from two unpublished MSc submissions and one journal paper. Some of it is good and interesting, and much of it rather shaky in my opinion. I leave you to decide. Full refs are at the end of the blog.
If you know of any other research on the subject DO let me know.
1 ….. physiological needs, characteristics and training methods
The subject of Matthews’ research was Fred Reeves and his daughter Helen. Fred was 36 at the time, and his daughter was aged 12. The method was a series of measurement tests on both of them. The tests included ECG for pulse rate, age, height, weight and sum of skin folds from eight sites. Chest and waist girths, leg length and chest depth were also measured, plus vital capacity, maximum voluntary ventilation, forced expiratory volume, forced expiratory flow, and forced mid-exploratory flow. Fred’s tests were done on a treadmill, Helen’s on a bicycle ergometer. Some of the main data from the above is summarised here:
|Leg length (cms)||84||71|
|Body surface area (sq cms)||180||126|
|Body fat %||6.64||17|
|Resting heart rate (bpm)||42||56|
My notes are a little sketchy here (I had to view the dissertation in the Leeds Uni library, and at the time had no particular intention to do anything with them, as it didn’t fit with where my writing was going).
Matthews was going down the path of: ‘Heredity, it seems, imposes the limits on the physical fitness that an individual can attain’. Then refers to research on twins, identical and non, sedentary and trained, before quoting Astrand: ‘choose your parents’. He concludes that a father and daughter will have greater genetic variability than non-identical twins (but I noted that in this study there seemed to be no study of the impact of the mother’s genes).
The research went on to consider vo2max. Helen’s vo2max on the lab bike was 42.05, adjusted for treadmill to a ‘suggested’ reading of 50 (bike measures are known to be % lower than treadmill ones). He estimated that her adult potentially could be 70 if undergoing intensive training. Fred’s vo2max was 79. Matthews postulated that Fred could run a sub-4 min mile, as well as a sub 2-15 marathon. Furthermore, he was world class partly because of ‘an unusually high aerobic power/weight ratio’. He then quotes from research in ‘The Physique of the Olympic Athlete.’ By J. M. Tanner. (George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1964), comparing Reeves against the mean data for a large sample data from different athletic events:
|Height cms.||Wt kg.||Leg length cms.|
Next came the results of a survey of 10 leading fell runners (7 had been Fellrunner of Year)
|Mean weight||10st 2 men, 8st 12 women|
|Mean days training||7 days|
|Age started running||<15 4, <21 2, >21 4|
|Weekly mileage||<50 2, 50-70 none, 70 plus 8|
|More than once a day||8, once a day 2|
|Train on track||3|
|Taper down for races||2|
|Rest/train lightly after race||none|
|Have rest period during year||3|
|Mean hours of sleep||8|
|Had a coach||1|
Matthews commented that this was ‘a typically British result. Coaching has yet to arrive or be seen as important to the home athlete. It is interesting to note that in international track and field events, involving equipment, all top athletes are coached. In the light of scientific advances in training methods, physical measurements and diet, the need for a coach seems far more relevant.’ [This was in 1981]
Next in my notes come three fairly random comments from the research:
Gregor (in other research) found that ‘an incline of 6% requires 35% more energy than flat. Whereas a similar grade downhill only reduces the effort by 24%.’
Matthews on training: ‘If I was asked to list the single most important attribute a fell runner must possess, I would say simply it is the ability to run downhill. Amazingly, most fell runners use the downhill in the training session to recover. Some, very few I would guess, actually practice downhill running…… So, you should select a very steep scree-laden, boulder-ridden, as near vertical as possible slope and run down it. Go up a little higher – run down that and so on.’
And finally: When discussing rest one respondent replied ‘I rely solely on injuries for rest.’
Acknowledgements on the paper included: ‘I am particularly grateful to Fred and Helen Reeves for their lively participation and to those other fell runners who have given me the benefit of their experiences in replying to the questionnaire.’
2 ….. physiological and biochemical profile
They were tested in the lab, in simulated races and in real races (3 of each), including mid-race tests. Pre and post race-weights and heart-rates were taken. The races were Black Lane Ends (1979), Pendleton Hill (1980) and The Three Peaks (1980).
There are a huge amount of references in this paper. For instance ref no 103 is on ‘age and maturity of runners’, while refs 26 and 27 cover ‘vo2max for distance runners’.
Page 65 has information on anthropomorphic measurements of fell runners against marathoners, some of which was from another paper: ‘10,000m and marathon runners are characterised by a low body weight and fat load. Both test groups [of fell runners] were relatively heavy (Vets mean 68kg, Std mean 70.6kg), with skinfolds indicating a mean body fat load of 18.5% for vets and 21.1% for the Std group. This is high in comparison with marathon runners who typically carry less than 12% fat and often show a 7% load. Much of the fell runner’s training is in an environment where low air temperature, wind and rain are the norm. It may be that the protective advantage of a thicker sub-cutaneous adipose tissue is reflected in the skinfold measurements of both groups. Even the most successful national standard subject carried a 19% fat load. This factor may in part account for the relatively low mean vo2max figure for the Std group of 60.5ml/kg/min and that of the Vets of 61.4ml/kg/min. As the subjects are carrying in the order of 1/5 of their body weight as fat, these figures will essentially be lower than those for a similar group of athletes with a lower percentage fat load.’
Ref 105 is quoted as saying ‘10k runners with similar training and similar vo2max show considerable variation in finishing times, variables other than vo2max may contribute to running success.’ Simpson comments that findings of his study seem to agree with this so far as fell runners are concerned.
When it came to field tests he noted that: ‘Ranked mean finishing positions were therefore tested for correlation against ranked aerobic test results. Significant correlations were identified between finishing position, vo2max and absolute vo2 at OBLA (Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation)’. Furthermore: ‘Where mid-race samples were taken they showed a significant increase on the pre race sample in all cases. However, for this group there were no significant changes in recorded lactate from mid to post race.’ But some courses were uphill/downhill and the midpoint may well have been at the top of the main steep ascent.
Summary of discussion: ‘both groups of fell runners exhibited higher body fat levels than was expected. This may affect their recorded maximum oxygen uptake. The subjects appear to set a race-pace which avoids lactacidosis; running below OBLA except at the high points of hill courses where lactate levels above 4mmol/L are recorded. Lower lactate levels were regained by the end of races. There was a significant correlation between OBLA as indicated by laboratory aerobic tests, and race finishing position. This suggests a positive advantage (in terms of race success) for runners with high vo2max and a high %vo2 at OBLA. However, there must be other factors to race success which are not explained by this work, as the most successful runner does not have the highest vo2max.’
3 ….. analysis of the Bob Graham Round
The third article is more recent, but for me proved to be less interesting. The stated aim of the research was threefold. The abstract stated that it: tested an elaboration to the well-known Naismith Rule for predicting progress in mountainous country; tested the conjecture that successful athletes in stamina events apply a constant work rate; and estimated the effect such additional factors as darkness or fatigue.
The data analysed related to a sample of 56 successful BGR attempts, 37 clockwise and 19 anti-clockwise. The schedules (ie timings) for these BGR completions were analysed in great detail. This produced some very complicated tables of ‘work rate’ per section of the route, as part of Aim 2 above. I will leave the reader to access the paper to study this detail. As far as Aim 1 was concerned the researchers proposed 5 variations to the Naismith Rule, covering terrain from flat, through gentle downhill to rough, steep downhill (defined as ‘an area of crags requiring rock climbing skills to move about’). Aim 3 was addressed by trying to use the data to give a realistic value to the effect on pace of darkness and fatigue, again by some fairly complicated cross-analysis of the timings on the sectors done in the dark or towards the end of rounds.
In the discussion section the researchers outlined the following conclusions:
- Their revised Naismith Rules are a useful indicator of the time taken to traverse a route in mountainous country at a constant work route.
- Runners who successfully complete the Bob Graham Round run faster in the earlier stages than in the latter stages. [They justify this ‘obvious’ conclusion by saying ‘it is apparent from many successful runners’ accounts that runners are encouraged by being ahead of schedule: a runner’s state of mind is as important as his/her degree of tiredness in determining work rate’]
- The effect of darkness is to reduce a runner’s pace by about 20%, but this average figure hides a considerable variability caused by such factors as terrain and degree of darkness.
1 – Matthews, N. J. (1981), An investigation into the physiological needs, characteristics and training methods of fell running with particular reference to a champion fell runner and his daughter, unpublished Leeds University MSc dissertation
2 – Simpson, D. (1984), A physiological and biochemical profile of the fell runner, unpublished University of Salford MSc thesis
3 – Hayes, M. and Norman, J. M. (1994), Strategy in Fell Running: an Analysis of the Bob Graham Round, Journal of Operational Research Society Vol 45, No 10, pp1123-1130
 It should be noted that have been variations to Naismith proposed at various times (eg Tranter’s variations).
It is a while since any reviews of ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ have appeared, but notice of one arrived in my inbox last week, under the title ‘Fell running is an increasingly popular sport, but have you ever wondered how it all began?’ It is on the blog of fell running guide Dave Taylor, and nicely summarises the book as an ‘excellent book ….[it] gives a detailed history of the sport; from the early shepherds’ meetings in the 1800′s through to the rise of the Brownlee brothers and the possibility of Kilian Jornet tackling the Bob Graham Round!‘
As Dave points out at the end of the review it is available from Amazon and all good bookshops including Outside, Hathersage. The hardback is still available as well as the paperback, which came out in September. Anyone wanting a signed copy of either is welcome to contact me.
Do you love running but want to take it a stage further? This is the message at the top of Dave’s website. If you do, why not take a look at his site [http://www.fellrunningguide.co.uk/]. He offers guided runs, nav training, and race reccies.
It was great to receive the Bill Rollinson Prize at the Cumbria Book Of the Year Awards earlier in the year, especially as I was able to be at the fabulous award event in Glenridding. I also got very great satisfaction about being nominated for the Boardman Tasker Award. Although obviously disappointed to not be on final shortlist of six, it was still something I would have struggled to believe if you had told me a few years ago it would happen.
After this the The Great Outdoors Awards were slightly bizarre. So, in these awards some (gear) are judged, and others voted for by the public (including the Outdoor Book of the Year category). After nominating my own book (which is allowed) I then encouraged a few friends to also nominate it as well. When it made the shortlist of ten it was opened to a public vote to decide the winner. After hesitating for a nanosecond or two to consider the ethics of my action, I then used every electronic and social media channel available to me to ask friends to vote for it. I received an invite to the awards ceremony and had the (probably unnecessary) thought that NOT saying I was going to attend might just possibly ‘exclude’ me from the possibility of winning. Anyway, many friends agreed to vote, and I booked the train to Kendal and took time off work to attend the awards ‘do’. I was able to combine this with a visit to Kendal library to do some more ‘Book II’ research.
The awards ceremony was held in Burgundy’s Wine Bar/Brewhouse which was intimate and had impressive brews. I fell into conversation with a couple of other writers, Chris Townsend (fellow Sandstone Press author) and Alex Roddie (who is self-published), and then the presentations started. Apparently over 10,000 votes were cast. For the book of the year the 10 nominations were read out and then the top three were revealed in reverse order. Alex Roddie pulled in third, and I was announced as second. Alan Hinkes took the award for his book ‘8000 metres’. No shame in being second to such a prominent figure, and now I can’t help wondering how much e-hustling he did. Maybe he just has more friends than me!
4wards: while all this has been going on ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ has been selling pretty well. As I write this the paperback is 8,725th ranked book on the Amazon website (and the hardback still 20,689th), and it is available in good bookshops in the run up to Christmas (Waterstones in Kendal illustrated to left). But equally importantly I am moving 4wards. I have written a good deal of the manuscript for the project still known as Book II. I have now agreed and signed a contract with Sandstone Press for publication next Autumn. The book title has been firmed up and a full announcement will be made once the publisher’s information is compiled and available.
The commitment and enthusiasm from some of the speakers brought to life the range of subjects they were talking about. I attended two excellent running presentations, and co-delivered another one.
Earlier in the day I had been working on the Wanderlust Travel Workshop, with Phoebe Smith and Hannah Reynolds. It was interesting to hear what Phoebe and Hannah had to say, and also to be able to contribute a small amount about my experience of getting published as a first time author.
After an impressive calzone for lunch just around the corner, we went into the afternoon’s running talks. First up Nicky Spinks introduced Charlie Ramsay, who was talking about his eponymous Round of the Nevis, Grey Corries and Mamore ranges. The most interesting point on a personal level was that he put up a slide of Grant Ramsay (from my own athletic club) at one point. Recognising him, it turned out that he was Charlie’s son, and that somehow I had never ever known that. Bizarre.
Next were the aforementioned Jen and Sim Benson, who were basically telling the story of their book ‘Wild Running’ and giving some fine examples of the places they had run. They ended by saying that they were upping sticks to take their two young children on the road for a year or so, wanting to have that freedom whilst they could. Nice move.
The last session of the weekend was the on-stage interview I was doing with Steve Birkinshaw. For some reason I was worried that there wouldn’t be anyone there, but there was in fact a fabulous crowd. We had asked for comfy chairs and a drink each as we wanted to try to get away from the talking to slides format. I fired the questions and Steve responded really well, interspersed with some clips from the film of his Wainwrights in 6 days effort – which had been previewed the night beforehand. Steve tells his story well in a very understated way. If you get a chance to see/hear him (at Kendal Mountain Festival maybe) then do so, you won’t be disappointed. In the short drinks break I signed a few copies of ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, which was grand. Always nice to meet people buying your work. I also enjoyed chatting to a couple of people who had bought copies earlier.
In fact, one of the best things about a festival like Buxton is the networking that takes place. I think my talk on the book at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival got me the interviewing job here. Several connections made here will either help me, or maybe someone else, develop ideas. The writers workshop resulted in a request from an attendee to have sight of my book synopsis and publisher contacting plan/procedure, which I happily provided. Speaking to a very notable runner there produced a request for me to read a manuscript they have had on the back burner, which I readily agreed to do. Thirdly, a random conversation with someone I met at a previous book reading of mine in the Lakes produced a lead to a rare and unpublished source that may well have some invaluable information for the book I am currently working on.
I am really pleased to be taking the stage at this year’s Buxton Adventure Festival, on Sunday 12 October. I will be interviewing Steve Birkinshaw on stage about his recent successful Wainwrights record – all the 214 Wainwrights in the Lake District in a continuous round of 6 days. We also should have a clip from the new film of the event – ‘The Set of Wainwrights’ by Alistair Lee. Having interviewed Steve recently for my next book, I know he has some fascinating stories to tell of the highs and lows of that exceptional achievement. It takes out one of Joss Naylor’s most revered endurance records, from back in 1986. I hope to see some of you there, and will be available to sign copies of ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, which will be available at the festival. Tickets are available here.
Earlier on that Sunday I will also be on a Wanderlust panel discussing How to become a Travel Writer. I am uncertain I have any credentials at all for this one! I guess I have a few things to say about the process of getting published, having been through it recently, and having learnt a fair bit in a very short time in the process. Was it luck, good publisher research, an amazing manuscript, or what?! Come along and find out. The panel is myself, Phoebe Smith (Wanderlust travel editor, and author of Extreme Sleeps) and Hannah Reynolds (fitness editor for Cycling Weekly, and author of France En Velo)
The paperback version of ‘It’s a hill’ is now out and will be available to purchase at Buxton. Although I love having the paperback, I personally still prefer the look (and feel) of the hardback version. Hardback copies are still available to buy. If you are at the Buxton Adventure Festival catch me, as I will have some hardbacks with me to sell. Amazon still have hardback copies too. Paperback copies should be in all good bookshops now. Bookends in Keswick and Reads in Grasmere have some signed copies. If you are going to fell races, particularly in Yorkshire, look out for the Third Step Books stall at many events.