The joy of research interviews

I am deep into the research for my sixth book, and as I have said on many an occasion – the research phase is such a pleasure. At the moment I am doing a good number of interviews, which rather nicely include some of the greats of fell running that I have never chatted with before. One weekend recently I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing five fabulous folk that span several generations (literally for three of them).

A trip to Trawden gave me the chance to speak to three generations of the running Walkers, and one of their close friends. We had a grand natter, looked at some old press cuttings and photos, and finished up with a lovely lunch, provided by Harry’s wife, Sheila. I have transcribed the fascinating discussions we had for possible use in the manuscript, and will just leave here a quote from each of the five athletes.

Harry Walker: First time we ran abroad it was Joss Naylor, Jeff Norman and myself. The Swiss were promoting Sierre-Zinal. I think they wrote to Bournemouth AC and they said you really need to be going up north where the fell runners are.

John Calvert: I wasn’t an out and out fell runner. I wasn’t that good at boulder running or climbing steep fells though. The Three Peaks was a tough running race and suited me though. My main aims were road and cross-country. But I had a strong aim to win the Peaks.

Dave Walker: It was just natural that I would follow dad into fell running. I wasn’t especially talented. I just kept grinding at it. I tried really hard when I was 14/15 and got to a reasonable standard. But the story of my running career was overdoing it. I didn’t do as much in my late teens. Got back into it when I was 21. I often did too much and had a lot of injuries.

William Walker: I remember going to Wasdale Head with dad and grandad in a van, and we went up Lingmell to watch dad running. Even at that age I just enjoyed being in the environment. Fell running has that as an added bonus. I am currently in the under 19s. This year I have had my best performance in the Junior Champs, coming second. I certainly have an ambition to run the Three Peaks.

Earlier the same weekend I met up with this guy (here leading John Wild at Thieveley Pike – in a Pete Hartley photo) and had a fascinating chat about his running career. I realise now that I missed a trick in not interviewing him for my book ‘Running Hard’, as he was very much in the mix in the 1983 season. This was when Kenny Stuart and John Wild were battling it out for the British Championship title. Shaun Livesey was the third part of a racing triangle in that long season. He never managed to win the British Champs, but won the English twice. It was such a great chat that I have written a profile on him based on it for the next Fellrunner magazine. In it he explains why/how he didn’t win the British Champs due to a mix up, and also has some great stories about his racing experiences. For now, here is just one extract from the profile, about the effect of being coached by John Wild:

He was training harder with John Wild, the hardest Shaun had ever trained. He was now doing around 70 miles a week. ‘I am extremely good at doing what I am told, and not question it. Always do a mile or two more rather than a mile less. I followed his training to the letter. By 1983 the only people who consistently beat me then were John Wild and Kenny Stuart. I was 20 at the time. John’s training definitely worked. It was a mindset as well. John was a hard man, and he wouldn’t mince his words with you. If it was bad run, he would say so. He wouldn’t hold back in any way.’

Blog 2022: most visited pages and most downloaded content

It is time to review the blog after another year. I did far fewer blog posts over the year, less than one per month. Two other stats: referals came from Facebook at a 7:1 ratio over Twitter (the same ratio as last year). Twitter is one account, whereas I can post notifications in a number of FB Groups. Visitors came from 75 different countries, with USA and Germany being distant second and third places behind the UK.

MOST VISITED PAGES

The third most visited page on the blog was one from 3 Nov. It gives information about my next book, ‘Voices from the Hills’, explaining that it ‘is the story of the barriers and struggles encountered and the personal courage and self-confidence shown by female athletes doing things because they wanted to in the male-dominated sport.’ Read about it here: https://itsahill.wordpress.com/2022/11/03/voices-from-the-hills/ The book is available to pre-order here.

The second most visited page was one from February. It was a piece I wrote about the surprise, and pleasure, I had in watching a leading triathlete (Alex Yee) and a top fell runner (Dan Haworth) finish in 3rd and 7th paces at the National Cross Country Champs. It can be read here: https://itsahill.wordpress.com/2022/02/27/surprises-at-the-national-cross-country-champs-at-parly-hill/

The most visited page was from 6 January, where I did a little gentle analysis of the completions from the previous year on the Bob Graham Round. It shows the continuing interest in the BGR since Kilian Jornet set a new record in 2018. It also gives some info on the male/female stats for the year. The post can be accessed here: https://itsahill.wordpress.com/2022/01/06/2021-data-for-bgr-completions/

MOST DOWNLOADED CONTENT

The most downloaded content was an article I co-wrote with Steve Birkinshaw for The Fellrunner way back in 2018. It was a case study of four athletes who had suffered CFS [chronic fatigue syndrome] in varying degrees of seriousness, and how they came back from it, or didn’t. It can be accessed here [PDF file].

The second most popular content on the blog was a profile of fell runner Hugh Symonds, again an article I wrote for The Fellrunner, way back in 2016 (so no idea why that was so popular, but it was downloaded 197 times). It can be accessed here [PDF file].

The third most downloaded piece was a profile of fell runner Malcolm Patterson, for Fellrunner, back in 2017. Researching one of my books I had a long and fascinating discussion with him, which gave me a window into his career and life. It can be accessed here [PDF file].

MY FAVOURITE POST

Finally, the blog post that is my favourite from the year is one from 17 September 2022. It is my thoughts on the new Bob Graham Round record set by Jack Kuenzle, knocking 29 minutes off Kilian Jornet’s time. In an interview Jack said: ‘Billy Bland was generations ahead of his time, and his was the craziest achievement in fell running’. The blog can be read here: https://itsahill.wordpress.com/2022/09/17/thinking-about-the-bgr-record/

NB: Most of my writing can be accessed through the links on the CV page on this blog: https://itsahill.wordpress.com/curriculum-vitae/.

Bob Graham Round data for 2022

The figures for Bob Graham Round (BGR) registrations, completions, male/female split, direction of travel, etc. for 2022, have been released on the BGR website. It always make interesting reading, and I have commented on it previously. [eg https://itsahill.wordpress.com/2020/01/08/bgr-completions-2019-update/]

I have updated my spreadsheet, and the graphs of several aspects of the data, which are illustrated below with a couple of comments on each.

This first graph shows the data just for completions since 1971. The black line is the actual numbers completing, which was at its highest ever level in 2021, after a downturn in 2020 because of lockdowns. It was slightly down again in 2022. The red line is the trend line which is obviously up (after the data recovered from the Foot and Mouth blip of 2001) and the dashed blue line is the 6-year moving mean, also trending upwards, quite steeply in last few years.

More recently figures for registrations and completions have been published, allowing analysis of completion percentages. The graph above is of the last 11 years, showing upward trends in registrations and completions (these figures are for males and females combined) despite a drop-off in each for the year, but interestingly NOT an increasing percentage actually completing (the trend line is slightly down over time). It invariably hovers either side of 50%. The next two graphs look at the male/female data.

The men’s data pretty much follows the pattern of the total data (there are still many more men than women involved). 2022 shows a fall in men’s registrations and completions for the year, but with both being some of the highest ever. The completion rate of 44.21% for men is the lowest since 2018 (the highest was 54.95% in 2019), although it has wobbled between 40.8% (2014) and that 54.95%.

The women’s completions, of 19 (red line) were the highest in this 11 year period, from an equal highest ever registrations number (40). The percentage line (green) is at the top of this graph as the numbers are higher than either the registrations or completions, and had previously shown an upward trend, but this last three year’s completion rate brings that trend line down as 2022 was only 44.2%, admittedly from the usual small sample size.

The original data, and much more (including gems like: the average age of successful contenders was 37 yrs 1 months) is available at the Bob Graham Club website.

Feedback: I’d be interested in anyone’s comments on why they think it might have been a quieter year in 2022 for numbers of Bob Graham rounds.

Publication hitch for next book

Publishing has had a number of economic pressures in the last year; some merely inconvenient, others serious.

This is a quote from the blog of a publisher that I follow. The blog carries on:

The serious issues have centred around the cost-of-living crisis and a doubling in printing costs. In an industry with very small margins, this alone will force all publishers to make changes, and some publishers simply won’t survive. Other issues include the fallout from Covid as publishers need to dismantle systems they put in place for Covid and operate in a more traditional market once again. Brexit continues to frustrate the export of books to EU customers, the import of goods and selling rights.

Then we have had a host of smaller niggles like the postal strikes which have been very challenging. To manage this, and keep viable, we have had to make some tough decisions and reduce our output over the next two years. Unfortunately, we need fewer people to do this. We will also have to put prices up for new books.

My publisher tells a similar story. This all has had a knock-on effect for my latest book.

Due to certain unforeseen difficulties at the publisher, that I am not fully cognisant of, release has been delayed until 20 April. Hopefully this will not prove too long a wait for this appreciation of women runners whose trials and tremendous successes have been underappreciated for so long.

On a brighter note, I have just signed off the cover design to go to the printers. A couple of people have seen advance copies of the book and have given their thoughts on reading it, which appear as cover quotes.

I am super chuffed that two of them are from fellow authors that I really respect, and hope that their kind words will give you a feel for the book, and will encourage you to take a look at it when it comes out.

If you want to reserve a copy of ‘Voices from the Hills: Pioneering women fell and mountain runners’, you can pre-order it from Sam Read Booksellers.

Voices from the hills

‘Voices from the hills: pioneering women fell and mountain runners’ – my fifth book – is set to be published on 23 February 2023, by Sandstone Press.

You can pre-order it from Sam Read Booksellers at this link.

Praise from pre-press review copies:

‘A must read for anyone with a passion for women’s equality and sport.’ Sue Anstiss, Game On: The Unstoppable Rise of Women’s Sport  

Voices from the Hills is the story of the barriers and struggles encountered and the personal courage and self-confidence shown by female athletes doing things because they wanted to in the male-dominated sport. They suffered discouragement and even resistance in those early days. Steve Chilton has researched the subject deeply, interviewing many female athletes whom he rightly describes as pioneers. Thanks to them, female participation has become accepted and now increasing numbers of athletes are competing at the traditional fell races, international mountain races, and the endurance challenges such as the Bob Graham Round. The story is predominantly told through the words of those early pioneers, who look back over their lives, and running careers, and who fought for equality of opportunity and reward.

Thinking about the BGR record

There has been some interesting stuff around Jack Kuenzle’s recent Bob Graham Round record, including a report/write-up by the pacers, and a podcast in the Singletrack series. The following are a few thoughts from me on it and a couple of quotes from Kuenzle (but if you are really interested it is worth listening to the podcast, which is linked below, as is the report).

It was quite a shock when Kilian Jornet rocked-up in 2018 and took an hour off Billy Bland’s record, which had stood for 36 years. I reckon it was even more of a shock when Jack Kuenzle took another 29 minutes off in on 2 Sept 2022. This is not to say that Kuenzle was not a good enough athlete to hit that time, but more that he was very much an under-the-radar runner to most people before then, despite having done some pretty impressive FKTs elsewhere [Edit: under my radar].

So, how did Jack get those 29 minutes over Kilian, who was acknowledged to be running pretty damn fast on his round. In the podcast Jack explains in detail how he was over here (from the States) to get prepped for the BGR, and how his setting of a new record for Tranters Round was part of that physical preparation. He also reckons he did the BGR in sections almost three times in prep. Before the BGR attempt he says he must have done 3 weeks of 100 miles and 47,000 feet of climbing each week. As part of the build-up he was networking with local runners to create a bank of potential pacers. This included one day when he ran Legs 1 and 2 of the BGR (some 26 miles or so), then hitchhiked back up to Keswick to go on an 8-mile Keswick AC club run.

Talking with Billy Bland at the Moot Hall after finishing. Photo: Paul Wilson

Like Kilian had, Jack met up with Billy Bland to chew the fat about the BGR and what it had been like in Billy’s day. Jack seemed to really hit it off with Billy, and suggested that “there was no way that anyone could run that fast [over the BGR] in the 1980s”. He argued that the revolution in fueling, the way the route has changed to be easier to follow and tun over, and the tendency to not stop at road crossings, all made a huge difference now. He added that he couldn’t believe Billy had a drink of beer en route and stopped for a sandwich, and also that the BGR hadn’t really been Billy’s focus that for that year. All this added together made Jack suggest that, “Billy Bland was generations ahead of his time, and this was the craziest achievement in fell running”.

Jack boldly opinied that “Kilian’s time was a little soft”, and set out to prove it by attacking Leg 1 aggressively. How this panned out and some near-catastrophies that occurred on the round are highlighted in the pacers report (http://keswickac.org.uk/jack-kuenzles-record-breaking-bob-graham/). Jack concludes his own lively description of the round (on the podcast) by saying his view that when he was suffering a couple of bad patches during it he was thinking, “I’m gonna make it as painful as possible for the next person to break it”.

He also makes a couple of interesting observations on consumerism and professionalism. At one point recently he was given some Inov8 running shorts costing something over £50. He said he didn’t really need those fancy ‘technical’ shorts, as “shorts just need to cover your genitalia”. Talking about Inov8 and the fact they help him, he accepts the conflict there is about this when he says he wanted to do the BGR “without the consumer spray on social media”.

Jack Kuenzle finished by talking about any ‘mistakes’ he made on the BGR, who might beat the record, and what he might be tempted to do next.

The mistakes were really small, except saying he probably didn’t drink enough, and might have benefitted from more ‘waterboys’. As to time savings they were SO marginal: a better line off Halls Fell could have saved a minute or so, and he rues the 90 seconds changing shoes for the run-in as “time wasted”. For ‘who next’, he just mentioned three names: Jonathon Albon, and repeats by Finlay Wild and Kilian Jornet. As to his own ambitions, he mentioned several prominent USA FKT targets, but also thought that possibles would include: Kim Collison’s Lake District 24hr Peaks Record, Kilian’s Mont Blanc Record, and Finlay’s Cuillin Ridge Traverse Record (although suggesting it might be too technical for him to run fast enough over). All would require him to train harder and smarter. A fascinating guy.

The Singletrack Podcast: (it is a long one, with poor picture later on) – Youtube version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1_h7z2bRIU Audio only version: https://www.runsingletrack.com/jack-kuenzle-fastest-known-time-bob-graham-round/

Extra: for more about the Bob Graham Round and its history, see The Round: https://sandstonepress.com/books/the-round-1

For more about Billy Bland, see his biography – All or Nothing at all: https://sandstonepress.com/books/all-or-nothing-at-all-1

Next book coming soon

Info coming very soon on ‘Next Book”. Meanwhile a reminder: Copies of all of my books are available from good book shops. Use this link to purchase from @SReadBooks in Grasmere, who have an excellent online service.

https://www.samreadbooks.co.uk/s/search?q=Steve%20Chilton

Marathon du Mont Blanc 2022

I was watching a replay of the stream of coverage of the 2022 Marathon du Mont Blanc the other day and was struck by two things: how well a couple of Africans performed and how the race (ie the podium positions) changed throughout the 42km event. The event has over 2500m of height gain, is based in Chamonix, and is now part of the Golden Trail World Series.

Photo: Golden Trail Series

The race was eventually won by Jonathan Albon (centre, UK), from David Magnini (left, Italy) and Ruy Ueda (right, Japan). But I am here to have a look at two African-born competitors, Elhousine Elazzaoui (Morocco) and Robert Pkemboi (Kenya, sometimes Robert Pkemboi Matayango).

Let’s look at how the race panned out for the two Africans. These notes are taken from a second skim watch of the live stream, and relative positions on the course are usually in time elapsed:

After 30 minutes of mostly flat running three runners had got away. Robert Pkemboi, Petro Mamu Shaku (Eritrea) and Juan Carlos (Mexico) were trying to get a a decent break going. As the course started rising Jonathan Albon picked them up, and these four ran together for ages. After the highest point (Col des Posettes at 19.5 km) Carlos was dropped. The remaining three were together after 2hrs 4mins, then Albon broke away around the 2-20 to 2-25 mark. From 29.5km onwards Davide Magnini seemed to have tracker problems, as did a couple of others. At this time Elhousine Elazzaoui seemed to be 4th and Ruy Ueda (Japan) 7th (although quite difficult to tell from the footage). Then at around 35km the leaders were shown as: Albon, Elazzaoui, Shaku, Baronian (France) and Pkemboi. Still no sign of Magnini, but Juan Carlos had dropped out. After 3-06 Elazzaoui was 3 mins behind Albon, and Magnini was up to 3rd, with Ueda up to 4th. Pkemboi was seen walking briefly. At 3-18 the leaders were Albon, Elazzaoui, Shaku, Pkemboi, Baronian, and Ueda (Magnini seeming to be not in top 10, although that was because of tracker malfunction). Then the stream suddenly at 3-20 shows that he is in second. Not much further changed.

The final top 6 were: Jonathan Albon (U.K., lives in Norway) 3:35:20; Davide Magnini (Italy) 33:39:41; Ruy Ueda (Japan) 3:40:42; Elhousine Elazzaoui (Morocco) 3:43:19; Thibaut Baronian (France) 3:47:27; Robert Pkemboi (Kenya) 3:50:44. Albon was at front for much of the race, Elazzaoui moved through in the second half, and Pkemboi faded after his fast start, but held up well in the end.

So what do we know about the two Africans? [Credit: the internet]

Elazzaoui is a son of the desert, born in the Berber tribe of southern Morocco. As a boy, having to contribute to the surveillance of the camels, he would ask his father to let them go far away so that he could run and get them back (barefoot). In March 2017, he moved to Switzerland where he now trains and competes in the major international mountain races, including vertical kilometres.

For more about Elazzaoui see: https://en.everybodywiki.com/Elazzaoui_Elhousine

Pkemboi is part of a project for Kenyan athletes to participate in mountain running (Sky Runners Kenya), created by Octavio Perez. He pulled together a group of runners who had run mountain races in Kenya. Perez says, ‘the idea came to my mind when Kilian Jornet started doing some road races. I thought; If Jornet is capable of doing great things on the road, what would Kenyans be able to do in mountain running? After a lot of turning my head, I prepared some workouts in Iten [Kenya] with several runners there.

For more on the project see: https://www.berria.eus/paperekoa/2093/025/002/2022-05-24/podiumerako-aukeran-ikusten-dut-kenyarren-bat-beroa-eginez-gero.htm

Left to right, Bem Kimtai, Reuben Narry, Octavio Perez, Robert Pkemboi and Matthew Kiptanui. Photo: MAIALEN ANDRES / FOCUS

All of this reminds of something that Sarah Rowell said to me when I interviewed her at the end of last year (for my upcoming book on pioneer women fell and mountain runners). Sarah now spends time supporting the development of international mountain running. ‘I recently joined the WMRA Council as it was a role I felt I could contribute to. My ambition is to see a proper mountain style relay at the Olympics. Two men, two women, over say a 20-minute course, which I think would be better than cross country. The more mountain running becomes mainstream the more in some ways it moves away from its roots. The top runners are earning a living from it. I would like to see them getting the plaudits they deserve. Now we are seeing the Africans coming in, and increasingly winning.’

The Africans will do it if it is financially advantageous for them. The way they get in is through their agents. When you know what the top ones are earning doing marathons it tiers down. They are starting to look at mountain races. At the World Mountain Champs there have been a podium runners from Eritrea before now, and from Kenya too. Personally, but I may be proved totally wrong, I think if you have a course with a technical descent then that helps even things up. Classically you will see the best European descenders can often outdo some of the Africans. By Europeans it is normally the Spanish, Italians and the Brits. In my own way I was always a much better descender than climber.

Postscript: Elazzaoui and Pkemboi placed 4th and 5th respectively in the Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon back in May, also part of the Golden Trail Series (an event won by Kilian Jornet, with Davide Magnini a fine second, after they had gone neck and neck for much of the race).

The top-five men in the 2022 Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon (l-to-r): 4. Elhousine Elazzaoui, 2. Davide Magnini, 1. Kilian Jornet, 3. Manuel Merillas, and 5. Robert Pkemboi Matayango.

For my earlier thoughts (from 2017) on African mountain runners see: https://itsahill.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/future-of-fellmountain-running-are-africans-set-to-take-over/

And for a postscript on that blog post see: https://itsahill.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/postscript-on-african-dominance/

MapMen – on running and maps

My running and life as a cartographer are briefly highlighted in an article recently published in The Fellrunner. It was also interesting to compare (and contrast) both those aspects of my life with the similar/differing pathways of a fellow running cartographer. Andy Ford is a far better (fell) runner than I ever was, but I do think I may have taught him a thing about cartography and data visualization. [Awaits rebuff on that idea from Andy]

The full 4-page article can be read here [PDF of the article]

Details of my CV and both of the maps mentioned are available on the map resources page of this blog.

Andy Ford’s map work can be viewed, and commissions requested, at: https://www.ottermaps.co.uk/

An image of Andy that there wasn’t space for in the article. It shows him on top of a claggy Coniston Old Man on the way to a win in the Turner Landscape race in 2021.

New women’s Rivington Pike course record after 35 years

A description of the early Rivington Pike races (in the late 1880s) suggested that: “tricks of all descriptions were played on the runners in the old days, and that it was impossible to win unless ‘well in’ with the Horwich people.” I have no idea whether Sarah McCormack is ‘well in’ with said Horwich people, but she certainly had no such problems when winning the Rivington Pike fell race this Easter.

Photo: Victoria Wilkinson

She floated over the 5.5km in a new course record of 19-11, beating a record that has stood since 1987, when Carol Greenwood ran the race in 19-38. Glynne Lever, chairman of Horwich commented: “Course records are special and to break one that has stood for so long takes a special performance. What Sarah achieved on Easter Saturday was incredible and will take some beating”.

Fellow race competitor David Barnes enjoyed seeing Sarah set the record, as he explained in a message to me: “What an experience to be in a race with a world-class athlete, thrilling to see Sarah McCormack descend as I toiled my way to the tower, only reaching it after Sarah had crossed the finish line, smashing the record.”

I have not had a chance to speak to Sarah about the race, but she did say on an Instagram post: “Really quite excited to have set a new CR for Rivington Pike fell race! Nice to have two cooperating hamstrings for a very short sharp run.”

Sarah McCormack has competed for Ireland in many international competitions including winning the Mountain Running World Cup series in 2019, and has had a rich vein of form recently, with that record just topping it off. You can read more about Sarah at her profile page here.

HISTORY

Rivington Pike is reckoned to be the second oldest amateur fell race, with its 1893 inauguration being only preceded by the Hallam Chase in 1863. Despite the race’s long history, women have only been racing the Pike since the late 1970s, as I found out when researching my latest book, on the pioneering women fell runners.

After a lot of pressure, including running officially in various races to make their point, women were starting to be given official race status from 1977. In 1978 women’s race numbers were high at several of the established fell races. There were, for example: 21 women running at Fairfield, 17 at Kentmere, and the Burnmoor Chase, 16 at Pendle, and 14 at Rivington Pike. However, they had a separate race at Rivington, an hour earlier than the men, and shorter, despite going to the Pike summit.

That women’s race was witnessed by Bill Smith, who reported it, with helpful comments on who was whose wife:

There were fourteen competitors and Colin Robinson’s wife, Brenda, assumed the lead on the final steep climb to the summit tower, with Sue Styan (Andy’s wife) in second place and Gillian Pile lying third. Brenda increased her lead on the descent to finally beat Sue by 17 seconds, though Gillian was beaten into third place by Anne Pendlebury.

In 1979 the women at least ran the full race, with the men, as many more races, sometimes grudgingly, accepted their presence.

Photo: Dave Hughes

The Rivington Pike race record holder prior to Sarah McCormack was Carol Greenwood/Haigh. Carol was in top form in 1987. She started off the season as she had finished the last, by setting new records at Criffel and Rossendale. Carol then went on to set the Rivington Pike record, which as noted she held for over 30 years. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find much detail of that outstanding record. Even the book that P L Watson wrote to record the history of the fell race* doesn’t give it any space, despite being published 14 years later. It just records: “In the ladies race Carol Haigh was back once more strolling away from a field of 28 women to establish her third record time in a time of 19min 38secs.” This was one of many Course records that Carol Greenwood set, and due to its longevity has iconic status to my mind, and has been acknowledged as such in many comments on FB. Let’s not forget that Carol also won the World Mountain Running Trophy (in 1986). I am sure Sarah’s astonishing Rivington record will also be revered in years to come, especially if remaining unbeaten for a significant spell.

RIVINGTON PIKE MEN’S RECORD

Switching to the men’s Rivington Pike race, it is intriguing to see that it has lasted even longer than Carol’s had. There is a quite a story to that men’s record, which I recorded in my book Running Hard: the story of a rivalry. The following is a slightly edited down extract from the book that tells that story, which unfolded in 1981.

Photo: John Wild

At Easter, John took on the short Rivington Pike fell race, the only occasion he competed in it. John comments on the challenge, ‘I met one of my fell rivals, Brent Brindle, at the 2015 Snowdon race gathering and he reminded me of some background I’d forgotten. Apparently Brindle, Mike Short and lots of the Horwich lads were fed up with Ron McAndrew constantly bragging about his Rivington Pike record from 10 years earlier and how invincible it was.’ An advert was placed in Athletics Weekly citing the record, but John didn’t see it, he went purely on the say so of the others. ‘Both Brent and Mike persuaded me to come up and have a crack at it – so I came up from a holiday and had a go at the record.’

He adds, ‘I had done some very good long distance training, and I was quite relaxed.’ John was certainly building his mileage in training at the time. The four days before Rivington had been 12, 10, 9 mile days and then a 7 mile taper, with his diary noting that the day after he did, ‘a steady 20-mile run on Cannock Chase. New record for time on feet 2 hours 7 minutes.’

Referring to the Rivington Pike race, John added that, ‘it just went so well. You don’t realise what you are doing when you do it, you just run to your capacity, and I took 37 seconds off the record. Later they invited us up for a reunion for the 100th anniversary. The organiser invited all the previous winners back. My daughter was quite young at the time, and she was getting quite agitated as she didn’t want anyone to beat my time.’

Wild was obviously in sparkling form, although he says, ‘when I did my first season in 1981 I kept breaking records. I wasn’t trying to, but it just happened.’ The Rivington Pike race report notes that conditions were good, fine and sunny with a cool breeze and good underfoot conditions. Bill Smith notes in Stud marks on the summits that, ‘Wild was first to the tower in 9-48, 22 seconds ahead of Alan Buckley, and swooped down to victory. Long-serving RMI Harrier Cyril Hodgson, who was officiating at the summit tower, afterwards remarked that he’d never seen a fell runner complete an ascent looking so fresh and as unstressed as Wild did.’ Andy Taylor overtook Alan Buckley on the descent for 2nd, with Jeff Norman coming in 4th.

Studmarks records the pre-race setup thus: ‘An advertisement for the 1981 race in Athletics Weekly cited McAndrew’s record of 16-30, adding: “Ten years is a long time – can it not be beaten?” A further challenge was extended on the race entry form: “Ron says it can’t.” Cross country ace John Wild (RAF Cosford) accepted the challenge.’ Ron McAndrew came 31st in the race and congratulated Wild at the prizegiving afterwards. Ten years may have been a long time, but over four decades later Wild still holds that record.

ALL-TIME GREATS: Time has shown Carol Greenwood and John Wild to be two of the finest exponents of fell and mountain running. I am sure Sarah McCormack will be up in that pantheon too if she carries on running the way she is, both locally and globally.

* ‘Rivington Pike: history and fell race’ by P L Watson, Sunnydale Publishing, 2001