Short piece on professional fell running, starring Pete Bland

Whilst we wait for the Spring edition of The Fellrunner to arrive, containing I hope a piece from me (a profile of a top fell runner), here is an article (for downloading) which touches on some of the shenanigans in the early pro fell running scene.

I walked from my friend’s house, where I was staying at the time, down the back alley of a row of neat terraced houses in Staveley, in the southern Lakes. Past Rob Jebb’s house, and in through Pete Bland’s ‘yard’ to their comfortably appointed house, to interview him for a writing project I am just embarking on. An hour and half later we had put the fell running world to rights, having chatted about way more than is presented here.


The full article can de downloaded here [as PDF].

Other stuff from the interview is included in the book I am currently working on, my fourth on fell running. Info on my previous books.


EDINA Geoforum 2019

I was very pleased to be asked to speak at the EDINA Geoforum 2019 event last week. The blurb said: ‘GeoForum is a free all day event aimed at lecturers, researchers and support staff who promote and support the use of geospatial data and services at their institution. Throughout the day we there will be talks and demonstrations to showcase recent geospatial developments at EDINA and opportunity to offer your feedback on the services we provide and discuss geospatial issues with the EDINA team.’Geoforum

I was presenting on OpenStreetMap data, which has recently been added to the ‘Global’ layer of the Digimap portal. I gave it the full picture; OSM project history, my involvement, the data, and how it might be useful to university students in many disciplines. The presentation seemed to go well, generated a pleasing number of questions, and I didn’t fall off stage (as per the recent SoC/BCS conference disaster).

osmThere were two outcomes for me from the day. Firstly, in one of the networking sessions I was told by the Getmapping representative that as well as releasing their aerial imagery via EDINA they would also consider releasing it to OpenStreetMap – I had mentioned that Bing, DigitalGlobe, Esri and Mapbox had done so with theirs. So, if anyone from the OSM core/foundation reads this get in touch with me and we can pursue it (I will also put a post on the OSM forum sometime soon).

steveSecondly, in the discussion session at the end of the day I made a rash statement that I would ‘offer to speak with university students about OpenStreetMap’, at a research forum or another appropriate occasion. I would like to think that like-minded people in the project will join me in this outreach idea, especially if the call comes the North, Midlands or far South-West, so as to reduce my travel. It would be good to get more students involved and meantime also increase the amount of detailed mapping coverage right across the country.

hotelroomThe event was held at the Lancaster House Hotel, which is attached to Lancaster University, and is a fine establishment. The suite I was provided with was top class, and not exceeded in my experience in recent times, probably since Alex Kent obtained a First Class upgrade for us both at the Windsor Atlantica for the International Cartographic Conference in 2015. This included the full treatment, champagne on arrival and a separate dining room!

BGR night at the Keswick Mountain Festival

KMFspeakersHeads-up on what looks like a great night at the upcoming Keswick Mountain Festival in May. There is a talk and panel session on the Saturday night of the festival, with a great list of contributors (from top left in image: Steve Birkinshaw, Martin Stone, myself, Jasmin Paris and Billy Bland). Plus a showing of the film of Kilian Jornet recent BGR record. Tickets are likely to be snapped up, and are available at:

BGR completion rate is 42.2%

A little wrangling of the figures that BGR club post on their website for registrations and completions for the Bob Graham Round shows that the completion percentage is trending downwards at present. For 2018, 199 people registered and 84 completed, which is a 42.2% success rate. I have graphed the figures for the last 7 years* and the picture shows the trends for registrations, completions and percentages (the three dotted lines, which for the mathematicians amongst you are simple linear trend lines).

bgrdataComment: Registrations have been steadily increasing, with a high of 233 in 2017. It was a small dip last year, but still the second highest. Completions mirror the registrations pattern, again with a high of 115 in 2017, with last year again the second highest. Despite these fluctuations and trends, the % of completions does seem to always remain pretty much the same. It varies from 53.7% in 2012 to 39.6% in 2014, and as noted is marginally trending downwards. Speculative (and possibly controversial) cause – more less-prepared aspirants having a go these days.

A second graph shows the number of completions for every year since 1971.


Comment: the graph shows a strong trend for more people completing the BGR (solid red line is the linear trend) over time, but also how it fluctuates from year to year (dashed blue line is a 6-year moving average). 2001 was the year of foot and mouth disease, when there were no completions. It is interesting how long it took to get back to previous levels after that, presumably as folk weren’t able to get on the hills to recce. In the 1990s the numbers fluctuated greatly but were in fact trending down for some reason. The graph also shows that the 115 completions in 2017 were the highest ever number.

*NB: these are the only detailed ones I have access to

Notes/links:  For more on the Bob Graham Round see the club website at: For more on the BGR and its history see my book: ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’For more on Kilian Jornet’s outstanding new record of 12-52 for the round, which he set in 2018, see: ‘Kílian Jornet smashes Bob Graham endurance race record’.

Caveat: I am aware that posting this I may be accused of ‘promoting’ the BGR, something the Bob Graham Club disapprove of. They rightly point out on their website some of the issues that increasing numbers cause, one of which is illustrated below.bgrstatement

Ultra. Impressed.

I have always have a high regard for endurance runners, but a couple of things recently have seriously increased my respect for those that ‘run far’.

Firstly, I was working with ultra runner Damian Hall at a speaking event the other day, introducing him and compering the Q&A session.

img_20190110_222906I knew a little of his background already, as he had reached a career high 5th place in the tough Ultimate Tour de Mont Blanc in the summer, and I had been dot-watching as he and Beth Pascall set the FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the 230 mile Cape Wrath Trail this winter. But what really impressed me was his account of what life entails for an ultra runner training for this high level of performance. His talk modestly, and humorously, highlighted the problems of fitting in the training hours, juggling a domestic life, and keeping motivated and suitably energised with sufficient good calories on ultra events. Although I am not sure I will be recommending his top food choice of peanut butter and balsamic vinegar to any athletes I am working with! This was just one of the obsessions he was prepared to admit to. In a previous interview Damian had this to say about another of his obsessions:

I used to be obsessed with the Spine Race, but UTMB replaced it. Every year I think doing it one more time may help me get over it, but it doesn’t work. It’s just the biggest and best race ever. I can’t bring myself to tell anyone how often I think about it, or watch videos about it. It is not healthy behaviour.

His talk encompassed some good advice for aspirant ultra runners, and more can be found on the web, including: Damian Hall’s UTMB Kit List & Secrets To Success.

Secondly there has been the simply awesome achievement of Jasmin Paris in winning the Spine Race outright, in a new record time.

jasminfinishingA lot has been made in the media of her being a woman, and of her expressing milk at checkpoints as her young daughter is still being weaned. But to me there are other aspects to the performance that should be lauded first. One is her mental commitment. She admitted in one interview that she had shortened her stop at early checkpoint (where she could get food on board, and sort clothing, before re-charging herself for the next stage) in order to get out in front of a main rival who was there at the same time. Later her self-imposed sleep deprivation regime (she had just 7 hours of ‘down-time’, including her feed stops in the 83 hours 12 minutes of the event) began to catch up with her a bit and she:

kept seeing animals appearing out of every rock …. and I kept forgetting what I was doing out there.

Jasmin rightfully received massive media coverage for the achievement, including being on Breakfast TV and Woman’s Hour (and being tweeted about by Chelsea Clinton). But the best reporting was by Sean Ingle in the Guardian, who reckoned that ‘Jasmin Paris’s feat of endurance was a welcome antidote to modern sport’.

Jasmin Paris has a mightily impressive list of achievements, including holding female records for all three major UK rounds (and fastest overall for the Ramsay Round), in 2016 won the Skyrunning World Champs, and was 2018 British Fell Running Champion. I wrote a blog about her Bob Graham Round record performance (with a downloadable article from The Fellrunner about her linked to it) at: Peak performance – Jasmin Paris’ new Bob Graham record.

The Round front coverThere is also an extended piece about this, and Nicky Spinks’ double Bob Graham Round, in my book The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps.

NOTE: if you want more on ultra running, you might look out Adharanand Finn’s new book The Rise of the Ultra Runners, which comes out in May 2019, and has more on Damian Hall and other top ultra runners.

CREDIT: two photos

Midlife Crisis, a Toilet and the Power Sob: a talk with Damo Hall

damianhallI am pleased to have been asked by Due North Events to introduce (and MC the Q&A session) Damian Hall at an event in Penrith on Thursday 10 January. Judging by what I know of ‘Ultra Damo’ and by the title of his talk – ‘A Midlife Crisis, a Toilet and the Power Sob: what running long distances in lumpy places has taught me about life, the universe and everything’ – this should be a fascinating evening. Tickets are available from this link, or just rock up on the night and pay.

I am planning some more talking events for the rest of 2019 as well, so if you would like me to present my thoughts on fell running, and its characters, at your festival, running club, race, book club, social event, or wedding, then please contact me. The topic could be linked to any of my three books.

Two great mountaineering books

Over the holiday I read two classic mountaineering books. As I had time in between Christmas activities I have reviewed them both. Now, I know writers like Pete Boardman and Chris Bonington don’t need reviews, but I am mindful (as an author myself) of the value to potential readers of a considered view. So, if you like a book you have read, do share a review – on Amazon, Good Reads, or on your blog or via social media.

BoardmanSacred Summits covers three very different Boardman expeditions, to Carstenz Pyramid in New Guinea, Kangchenjunga and Gauri Sankar. The book includes very well written accounts of the trips, but more interestingly for me a very frank discourse on the dilemmas facing climbers. This covers the selfish motives they have, and the toll on friends and especially family. The author also considers whether climbers should even go to the summits of such very scared mountains. In fact, on Kangchenjunga they leave ‘the final few yards untrodden in deference to the inhabiting deity’. Boardman is good at illuminating the shifting inter-personal relationships on such expeditions, and also makes good use of the diaries and thoughts of other expedition members to counter-point his own views. He explains his ethical stance on climbing, but also notes that desperate situations call these ethics into focus. He records that to surmount one obstacle they had to:

stand on five rocks piled on each other. This would be seen as cheating on British rock, but I was too tired for ethics.

I have no idea if the conversations he details are real or made-up, but they do nicely draw you in to the atmosphere of the occasion. There were two disappointments for me with this edition of the book. There were a significant number of typos, particularly noticeable in the foreword. Secondly, the photos included were poorly reproduced at the end of the book. This may well be because it is a reprint of book first published many years ago (Boardman died in 1982). Overall though a great read, which is much more than a description of three climbing trips. I was particularly touched by Boardman’s moving account of his father’s death shortly after he came home from Gauri Sankar.

boningtonThe Everest Years is Part III of a series of autobiographical books by Chris Bonington. It is a very honest and human account of the period of his life that culminated in him finally summiting Everest at the age of 50, back in 1985. It also covers the details of the deaths of several close friends on climbs, which is always a hard read. He has chosen to have a reflective approach, as some of the expeditions have already had their own books written by him, and here he shows how the expeditions related to each other, and he to the participants on them. In the book Bonington admits his style of leadership is not to everyone’s liking, and he is good at highlighting the highs and lows of the inter-personal relationships, particularly on his smaller teams. This is a reprint, under a different imprint, of a book first published in 1986. It does unfortunately suffer from a number of typos, and hyphenations that do not survive different line lengths in the new setting. It is also disappointing that Bonington’s excellent photography is poorly reproduced in this edition. On the plus side it is great to have maps of expeditions, and some route overlays on some of the photos. Overall it is an excellent read, detailing some of the ground-breaking expeditions he led (or took part in, as he was not always the leader) in a period when he was arguably the highest profile mountaineer of his time.