In Bob Graham’s footsteps ……. a round of my own

P1000356Well not my own really, but I am ‘doing as I say’ by supporting a friend’s Bob Graham Round at the end of this month. Sadly, with the state of me, it will be road-side support rather than pacing or on the hill support, but I am looking forward to it massively nonetheless. I have been ‘advising’ my friend on his training buildup, which has been quite a change for a coach normally working with 800m to 10k runners, but fascinating to see this particular commitment developing and building, hopefully to a successfull completion. We hope to be using a tracking device (from the most excellent so that interested parties can follow progress. At the moment the training and reccies are going well; and kit, food, and support logistics are being finalised. More details, including tracker URL, nearer the date,

IMG_0084Things are rolling along nicely with the Bob Graham book. I have just signed off the typeset proof of ‘The Round: In Bob Graham’s Footsteps. It now goes to the indexer for that work to be done, followed by a last proof check, and then printing. The book will be published on Thursday 17th September, and I am currently working on a book launch, which is planned for Saturday 19th September. Appropriately enough it is to be in the Moot Hall in Keswick, which is where the Bob Graham Round starts and finishes. I am also working with the publisher on the details of the dust jacket. We have three fantastic cover quotes to weave in somehow, two I am pleased to say from absolute fell legends.  I am also working with a prominent magazine to have an extract published in their next issue, which will conveniently be out just prior to the launch.

cloudsIn case you are thinking this writing lark is all sweetness and light, it doesn’t always work out as you might wish. I wrote ‘The Round’ quicker than ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, partly because I had increasing confidence and partly because my networking tentacles extended further and contacts and interviews seemed to come more easily. Whilst finishing the manuscript I had an idea for Book III, which I started working on. I pitched it to my publisher who was initially interested in the synopsis. But when I later asked about the timescale for my planning I got a sort of ‘whoah, slow down’ message, which I am not sure whether to take as ‘no’ or ‘maybe, but later’. So I am working on the manuscript, but more slowly now, having established really good relationships with the two main protagonists. And yes it is a third book about fell running!

BGmapsSo, to keep my creative juices flowing I have tried to write for other media. Having had an article on navigation published in The Fellrunner recently, I thought it would be a cinch to get stuff accepted elsewhere. Having talked to a friend who had his writing accepted for Like the Wind magazine and The Guardian Running Blog, I decided to write something specific for both to see if it would be accepted. I was not put off by some of the almost abusive comments that my friend got to his piece in the latter, Fartlek: Sweden’s gift to running. So, pieces loosely entitled ‘the dark art of coaching’ and ‘are you tough enough’ were sent to the respective editors. Time has passed and I have heard from neither. Frustrating, but will be thickening the skin as necessary as rejection seems more likely as time goes by.

Footnote: that weekend trip mentioned in the last blogpost resulted in 4 more Wainwrights – Barf, Lord’s Seat, Broom Fell and the lovely Walla Crag (from whence the photo at the top of the blogpost was taken). However, I am still not convinced I will actually chase completing the Wainwrights.

(Thinking about) Doing the Wainwrights

ManwithwainwrightbookFor no apparent reason, apart from the fact that I have just read in ‘Never mind the Quantocks’ about Stuart Maconie completing the ‘task’, I wrote a Facebook posting the other day on how many Wainwrights I have bagged. Bizarely, it turns out that I have completed exactly half of them (107 of the 214). No, not impressive at all, but some very happy memories – and some I must admit I have no memory of ascending. Mind you at this rate of progress it may be a while till completion! Six decades (and counting) for me ….. or a six day run out for Steve Birkinshaw.

guideSo, I nerdily sat down on a damp afternoon to get the bigger picture. I wanted some answers. Was it even across the 7 Wainwright guides? How many of the ‘big uns’ have I not done? Are there clusters I could easy put together to hit? And most importantly do I actually want to chase completing – having not been at all bothered about doing so up till now? If so would it even be feasible with what will become fading powers/fitness eventually.

Firstly then, some basic facts. I have recorded in my copies of the Wainwright guides the tops I have bagged. This is a fairly random process, only very rarely with dates included. It is by adding up these ticks that I come to the startling fact that I am only half-way through the task. If you had asked me I would have said I had done way more than half

table1How have I fared book by book (measured by the Wainwright guides)? I seem to have concentrated my effort(s) in the Eastern and Southern Fells, but that the Far Eastern Fells need the most care and attention.

table2However, I have done the 19 highest peaks in the list, which might be a bonus later. In fact if you take the top 50 peaks, in order of height, there are just 8 of them to do. Four of these are in Book 6 (North Western Fells) and the other four in Book 2 (The Far Eastern Fells). The highest missing fells, by Book, are listed in the second table.

So, what strategy to take – if going for them? Hit them all randomly, concentrate on the books with most to do, or hit the eastern Fells to get the boost of knocking one book off? And what summit to leave for last? In my mind that would be a celebration of some sort, with my wife, family and some friends with me preferably. Should it be an easy one, or an iconic one with a top view? Or just let it happen and see what ends up last?

The Round sample 6Finally, how am I on the Bob Graham Round peaks? Surely as the author of a book on the subject I have done the round? No! Well at least done all 42 of the peaks on the Round? No, again. To my surprise, and somewhat shamefacedly, I have to admit that I have not bagged two of them. The first is Hindscarth. Having done Dale Head and Robinson, did I just bypass it, or do them on separate occasions, neither of which took me on to Hindscarth? The other is Great Calva. I have no recollection of going up there, despite vivid memories of Skiddaw House and stream crossings out that way. Maybe I was just working round from Skiddaw to Blencathra then.

It seems weird now to think that I can’t remember ascending some of these 107 peaks at all, but have recorded the fact that I did. You have to remember that there have been a lot of trips, over a lot of years. Also that some of the 107 have been done many, many times, especially those on the fell race routes that I competed in.

Oh well, it is something to give thought to. Which I will do as I go to the Lakes this weekend, to possibly add a couple to the list.

When is a book finished?

theendWhen you are reading a book it is (obviously) finished when you get to the end. However, that is not always literally true. A good book may stay with you for a long time afterwards, particularly if there is an unresolved or intriguing ending. I have always been an avid reader, and ages ago I said to myself that once I had started a book I would always finish it – and I have stuck to that mantra. This has mostly been easy, but was less so when I had a period of reading some of the (Soviet) classics. I remember Anna Karenina taking a while, but I got there.

There is another ritual that I go through now when finishing a book. I subscribe to the Good Reads website (‘the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations’), and since 2009 have disciplined myself to write a short review of each book I read. Unfortunately my reviewing is less disciplined than my reading. I am hugely in appears in adding my ‘reviews’. Right now I am 27 books behind in reviewing, almost a year’s worth of reading.

Anyway, enough waffle. This post is really about when the WRITING of a book is finished. My first is finished, at one level, but not at another. It is still selling in trickles, and I still look at the Amazon page about once a day – to see what ‘ranking’ it has. Today is has an Amazon ranking of 22,845th. OK not a best seller, but will produce royalties when the next update comes (it happens every 6 months, and one is due).

Although the manuscript for the second book went to publisher in March, it was far from finished. The rest of this blog details some of the post-manuscript tasks that I have had to encompass on the way to the publication date (in September). I thought it might be of interest to some to see the range of work involved for an author. If you are not interested then I suggest you stop now, and go and read a good book!

The same day the manuscript was submitted I received a reply from the Editor saying: ‘you really do seem to have produced a worthy successor.’ Then came The Sting. There were requests for changes: ‘Move the map to the beginning?’ Then: ‘Chapters 6 to 10 are all pretty long. I would say that 6000 words is a pretty long chapter.’

After bit of thought, I found a way to break the chapters that I am happy with. I had to rewrite a couple of the endings and beginnings of the changed chapters to make it work. I moved the map out of the chapter into the prelims, and renumbered and renamed the chapters. Originally I was going to call four of the new chapters what they covered, but they would all have been “Fastest this that or the other”. I decided to go with the names of the protagonists in each case instead. That left one chapter split into two covering the same topic, now called “Impressions” and “Further impressions”. Realise that chapter naming may not be one of my strongest points!

The Round sample 6Then the Editor queried a couple of possible omissions, and reference errors, which I dealt with, and then started on the process of looking for and contacting possible people for cover quotes [link to Guardian piece on being suspicious of them]. This is a test of your networking capabilities really. Mine have improved since the first book, so I was hopeful of some results.

I approached a noted author. They replied ‘I’ve no idea when I’ll get a chance to look at it. I’m up against a desperate writing deadline myself & already have no time for reading. In addition, I have two large soon-to-be-published running books, written by friends of mine, sitting on my desk waiting for me to read them. So your book would have to go to the bottom of the pile, and, to be honest, the chances of my being able to read it before September look pretty slim. And I really can’t give a cover quote about a book I haven’t read. I’m happy to give it a try, though, if all that doesn’t put you off; but I can’t promise anything. Alternatively, would it make more sense for me to give you some kind of general quote about the BG that you could use?’ Not being one to take anything resembling ‘No’ for an answer, I agreed on the offered BG blurb, and said I would send him a copy of reviewer’s proof anyway ‘on the off chance’.

At this point my Editor queried the amount of quotes, and whether they were all agreed and/or within ‘fair dealing’. Whilst never quite understanding this term, I responded with evidence and justification for my usage of other’s words.

There was then an editing switch, where a different person to my familiar Editor at Sandstone Press (a freelancer) was brought in due to The Editor’s workload and our planned timescale. This took a little adjustment, by me, but worked out just fine. Once we had exchanged a couple of emails I could see that we understood our respective roles, and that we would get on fine – which we did.

Next we started on the photo section – with me sending the hi-res photos to the designer and the editor. The designer declared some as being too low a resolution, so I started hurriedly investigating alternatives. Meanwhile, the first big edits came back on the main manuscript, and I was recommended to accept them by main editor. I agreed changes, and was also able to add in bit about Nicky Spinks beating the ladies’ BGR record over Easter.

Sandstone were very good about allowing more time to get the photos and edited manuscript ‘publisher ready’. We all agreed there was time in hand, and that if necessary could go to print in July and still meet the September publishing date. To facilitate this timescale the new editor and I agreed to accept considering the edits in sections and work on each section in turn to save time.

It was now halfway through April and the Section 1 corrections arrived. The editor also sent some text for my consideration. It nicely expanded on a point I was making in what had turned out to a considerably revised chapter. The second section was received, and both 1 and 2 were returned with changes that day (I am now working only 3 days a week so have more time for turning this stuff around). Section three and four was received and the smallish number of changes were soon dealt with.

Meanwhile, I started working on the text/information for the hardback’s flycover. This involved editing my profile, and deciding on a call-out quote to use from the book – a sort of content tease. I had several competing ideas for this quote, so asked a couple of friends for their preferences from the list, which interestingly varied somewhat from mine.

The need to use some different photos meant the re-start of negotiations for copyright. For one source this proved awkward at first, but then became productive when some new photos were offered. One other source kept passing the buck from one organisation/person to the other but this was eventually resolved.

BGmapsI had just got all the corrections back into one file when an article I had written was published in The Fellrunner. There were some nice responses about it, including out of the blue email from a Cambridge academic with some late leads and information. Some small, but significant, bits were slipped in right at the last moment. Interestingly the photo credit chasing also turned up some extra information, but it was not important really and rejected, and the definitive version of the manuscript dispatched.

The final illustrations and final selection of photos were sent to the designer and editor on the 14th May, and just that day even more information arrived from one correspondent but it was now definitely off-topic stuff (eg did I know of  a real tough guy triathlon – Windermere swim, followed immediately by the Fred Whitton Challenge and then the Bob Graham Round – all hopefully with 48 hours).

The last thing was to tie down the cover quotes. I had compiled a list of good people to approach and carried on the chase. It was pleasing to get the first agreement in, from a former outdoor magazine editor, and this was swiftly followed by one from a current outdoor magazine editor. The next two were very pleasing to get agreement from, being two legends of fell running (see It’s a hill, get over it for hints as to who they might be – I lay my cards out pretty clearly there). The last piece of this particular jigsaw was Sandstone agreeing to print four uncorrected proof copies to send to these ‘quoters’ so they can read a copy of the book before penning their words of wisdom. I await these with deep interest.

Bob, the navigator – thoughts on maps and navigation

Riverdunking“It was towards the end of the Lake District Mountain Trial, one very wet year when it was held in Eskdale. The river I had to cross was higher than normal and I plunged in carrying my map in my hand, as I wanted to start navigating again as soon as possible on the other side. I was tired and the swift current swept my legs from under me mid-crossing. Flinging my arms out to save myself I registered that the map was spiralling upwards and then downwards, to be taken off to retirement in a watery cartograve. Fortunately, when navigating in such circumstances I tend to look ahead and try to ‘learn’ the broad details of what is to come, which I then refine with finer detail as I go on. I had done enough of that to at least have a reasonable idea of where I needed to go to reach the finish of the event.

So, how do YOU navigate? Is it efficient? Do you practice, or do you just do what you have always done, and hope for the best? These thoughts came to me when planning for a recent trip.”

BGmapsThese are the first two paragraphs of an article I recently wrote for The Fellrunner magazine. The article contains my thoughts on navigation and maps (including using newer ones such as Splashmaps and/or a GPS). It also includes some thoughts on the subject from four notable fell runnners – all Bob Graham Round completers and major endurance record holders.

You can read the full article here: bobnavigatorfull

My second book’s manuscript is now with the publisher

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.

The Round sample 6So, 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.

One Wainwright weekend

BlencathraLast 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.

startofheavenOn 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.

Bowder StoneOn 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.

intro at Keswick ACFrom 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.

from Gowbarrow FellSunday 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.

Research in fell running – three papers sampled and summarised

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

MatthewsThe 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:

Fred Helen
Age 36 12
Height 177 150
Weight (kgs) 63.9 37.6
Waist (cms) 77 61
Leg length (cms) 84 71
Body surface area (sq cms) 180 126
Mean skinfold 5.2 8.025
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.
Fred Reeves 177 63.9 84
Marathoners 171 59.9 81.6
5/10k runners 174.4 60.8 83.2
3k Steeplechasers 179.2 64.8 86.2
800/1500m runners 180.5 68.9 87.7

Next came the results of a survey of 10 leading fell runners (7 had been Fellrunner of Year)

Mean age 31.3
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
Strength training none
Flexibility work 2
Diet conscious 2
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

SimpsonThe subjects of this research were from the Clayton and Skipton clubs ‘who gave both their time and blood in unselfish quantities’. The sample consisted of 10 seniors and 12 vets.

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

HayesNormanThe 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[1] 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:

  1. Their revised Naismith Rules are a useful indicator of the time taken to traverse a route in mountainous country at a constant work route.
  2. 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’]
  3. 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

[1] It should be noted that have been variations to Naismith proposed at various times (eg Tranter’s variations).


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