This was the first year I had attended the Keswick Mountain Festival, and very enjoyable it was too. Crow Park, by the Theatre on the Lake, was a beautiful setting, with Derwentwater and Cat Bells and the Borrowdale fells as a backdrop.
I was there on the Saturday to give a talk in the Adventure Tipi. The subject was The Bob Graham Round, it’s history and characters. It was obviously a plug for my latest book ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’, but also a chance to share my thoughts on the recent stunning BGR achievements by Jasmin Paris and Nicky Spinks.
The Adventure Tipi was surprisingly small but suitably filled. It was nice to see Steve Birkinshaw in the audience, who had been talking earlier in the weekend about his Wainwrights record and his problems recovering from it. My talk seemed to be well received, and a few folk came and had a chat and to buy books after. It was necessary to shut out the noise of people having fun coming through the tipi walls. To clarify, it was the noise that was coming through the walls, not the people! Once I had started I soon forgot about that though.
It was great to have Mike Cambray there in support, and his short video of the first part of talk is available below. It was also great to have a quick chat with friend Rob Morris (having a quick break from his festival volunteering duties).
We had a quick scoot round the fascinating range of stalls, with Mike doing his best to keep Alpkit in business with his enthusiasm for their range of products. In the evening we were back to hear two of the climbing world’s finest give their talks in the Theatre. Simon Yates gave a whistle stop run through of his career, including a reference to the rope-cutting Joe Simpson incident, but more interestingly for me some of his recent trips. Mick Fowler was a very relaxed presenter, very entertainingly outlining his approach to climbing new routes on some of the more obscure mountain ranges of the world. I was intrigued by his claim to use Google Earth as a planning tool for searching out new and potential lines on said remote peaks.
A full-on weekend was completed by a range of activities, including bagging 3 new Wainwrights, a run on Hardknott, a couple of trips to Wilfs, and doing two great interviews for my next book – with Kenny Stuart and Joss Naylor. Oh, and a temporary separation from my wallet. Fortunately the lovely people at Woodlands Tearooms in Santon Bridge phoned me to inform me of my stupidity in leaving it on a table there.
I am pleased to confirm that I am giving a talk at the Keswick Mountain Festival in May as part of what looks like an excellent ‘Adventure Tipi Talks’ programme. My slot is 1-45pm on Saturday 21 May, and is entitled (predictably enough) ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’.
It is a highly topical subject in light of Jasmin Paris putting down such an awesome new women’s fastest BG round only last week. There is a short bit of video from a friend’s 2015 round, which I was in charge of road support for, to give you a real insight on what it can be like on such a challenging day in the fells.
There will also be an opportunity to purchase signed copies of the book, and also my first book ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, both at special festival prices. If you are interested then check out the website and book tickets at: http://www.keswickmountainfestival.co.uk/.
Full description of the talk: The Bob Graham Round is a classic Lakeland endurance challenge of 62 miles and 42 peaks, to be completed in 24 hours. This will be an illustrated talk that will explain the genesis of the round and who Bob Graham was. It will also showcase some of the outstanding male and female endurance athletes who have completed it, such as Billy Bland – who set the fastest time of 13 hrs 53 mins in 1982. I will also hope to illustrate what it can be like with video footage from a round I was involved in last year.
I hope to see you at my session, or at some of the other excellent talks (eg Hinkes, Yates and Fowler on the Saturday ‘Mountain Evening’).
“Just enjoy it .. and don’t ivver leave it”, says Joss Naylor, about fell running. That was just one gem of sound advice from Three Fell Running Legends at Brathay Hall’s Evening with Joss, Billy and Kenny on 1 April. Around 300 people had bought tickets for the talks and charity auction, which was being held to celebrate Joss Naylor’s 80th birthday, and also 70 years of the Brathay Trust. On a wet and miserable night we had crammed in to a marquee in the Hall grounds to await The Legends.
Brathay’s Scott Umpleby eventually announced the Legends and they ambled to the stage to great applause. Scott explained about the Trust and how the evening would run and handed over to Selwyn Wright (left: jointly the first to do a winter Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours in 1986) to MC the first part of the evening. He gave some background to each of The Legends’ achievements, before starting the ball rolling by asking some questions. I think my favourite fact was that in one period of 23 years Joss Naylor and Billy Bland won the Lake District Mountain Trial nineteen times between them. Kenny Stuart’s 2-11 marathon was mentioned too, but that time has actually been beaten by a few English marathoners since then contrary to what the announcer said.
Being prompted on such topics such as how they got into fell running and memories of their first races gave them all scope for a bit of storytelling. I now wish I had recorded the session as I am struggling to remember specific quotes from the stage. Those included here are paraphrased or are taken from tweets on the night.
On his first race, Joss told the story of how he had entered his first Mountain Trial pretty much on the spur of the moment, running in working boots and cut-off jeans. Billy Bland’s first race was as a 17 year old – and he came last. Kenny finished halfway down a field in a junior pro race (I think he said it was at the Keswick Sports).
Later the questioning was thrown open to the floor, which produced some more really interesting responses. These ranged from the sensible to the extreme. On fell running for youngsters, Joss’ advice was, “enjoy it and stick to the short stuff”, whilst Kenny suggested that cross country helps. I am pretty sure I am right that Billy then chipped in with, “train hard, and then train harder!” Hope that helped the young questioner!
Anyone who has ever seen Joss running will know that he has what can best be described as a ‘unique’ running style. But his advice on descending well was sound enough: “look 4-5 paces ahead, concentrate & keep your knees slightly bent to run downhill with confidence.” Kenny admitted to being a better uphill than downhill runner, and Billy thought that you were either born to be good at it or not, but conceded that you might be able to improve somewhat.
One questioner asked about coping strategies in a race or challenge when the body had had enough, where the biggest laugh was probably raised by Billy commenting that “if you ran out of petrol you might as well get a lift home.”
On noting their memorable occasions, the two I can recall were Joss’ long story about the magic of training for and then completing his Lakes and Meres Run in 1983, and Kenny saying that frankly some of the ‘failures’ in races were those that stuck out sometimes.
Finally, a couple of gems from Billy, who when asked about his training and why present fell runners weren’t beating some of the old records even now, replied, “that’s the trouble wi young uns today!! They don’t train hard enough!!” Secondly, he slipped in fine joke about Kenny’s navigation skills, “he’d git lost in a field if tha left gate open.”
I just wish I could remember some more.
There was then a break for a fine hotpot and drinks, before Joss came back on to tell a lovely story about his father’s shepherding days. He then revealed his own 80th birthday running challenge. He will be running on 25 June in memory of his father, Joe Naylor, and to support disadvantaged children and young people. He will set out from Caldbeck, his father’s birthplace, and follow a route that includes Great Calva, Skiddaw House, Little Town, Dale Head Tarn, Honister, Sty Head and on to the Naylor family landmarks in Wasdale, finishing at Joss and Mary’s home at Low Greendale. Please support Joss at www.justgiving.com/JossNaylor80.
He then handed over to auctioneer Kevin Kendal who worked hard at encouraging the audience to bid for some Naylor memorabilia. Prints, certificates, challenge route maps, and other artefacts all went for good amounts, before the last two lots came up, which were two pairs of The Man’s trainers – from the 60@60 and 70@70 challenges. Joss’ wife had already been brilliant at coming round the marquee to show of the items so potential buyers could see them better. She now came round with the clapped out trainers and a ready smile at the strangeness of the moment. They both went for bids of £160 each if I recall correctly.
Overall it was a fantastic night. Just seeing and hearing three absolute heroes in one night is something I was so glad we had travelled up for. On the down side was that from our seats we did not have a very good view (hence some poor photos) as they were on a low stage and seated to boot. On the plus side we all had in our bags one of Mary Naylor’s ‘award winning’ Rock Buns, which each had the regulation 3 cherries in that Joss’ challenge-sustaining fuel of choice have always had.
If you want to know more about the three legends, they were my Three Greatest Fell Runners in my book ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ (from Sandstone Press), and have their extended personal stories told there, as well as the history and development of the sport of fell running.
Note: the two threesome photos above are a blatant ‘borrow’ from tweets by Martin Campbell and Trailrunning. If you read this guys I hope you don’t mind, you had a far better photo spot than we did! The others are thanks to my great friend Mike Cambray.
The results by the British team in the World Indoor Champs in Portland, Oregon were disappointing. In fact the only Gold medal won was by Barnet and District’s Dave Wilcock in the v60 invitation 800m race. The top v60 800m runners in the world were invited to compete. Dave once again proved that he is still the man to beat on the Vets track scene. Not only that but he was involved in probably the finest race of the champs, and certainly the most dramatic finish. What follows is a brief backstory to this fantastic achievement.
Dave Wilcock lost to Joe Gough twice in finals at the European Vets Indoor Champs in Gent in March 2011. First in the 800m by 1.26 seconds (2-11.51 to 2-13.17) and then in the 1500m by a mere 36 secs. As it was so conveniently located, Moira and I had taken the Eurostar over there to support Dave. That 800m defeat hurt, and in the 1500m Dave had decided that Joe was going to have to work darned hard if he was going to beat him.
This marvellous photo shows mild-mannered Dave giving Joe a thousand-yard stare on the start line. In the race he sat in for a while and then took the race on with a lap or so to go, actually surprising the field (and Joe Gough in particular, who for a moment seemed to have missed the break). However, as Dave strode out for the win Joe seem to open up his stride, eat up the ground between them, and then drift past for victory. The raised arms and smile showed what it meant to him to have beaten Dave. It is pleasing to know that Dave arranged to go out for a meal and some craic with Joe that evening.
So, on last Saturday Dave reversed the positions in the Invitation v60 race at the World Indoor Champs at Portland Oregon. I am certain that he will be very proud of that result, but knowing him won’t see it as any sort of ‘redemption’ for the earlier performances, where the fitter man had won the day.
What the result in Oregon does show are three essential characteristics of Dave Wilcock’s make-up as an athlete, whom I have worked with closely over the years. First he is unlike anyone else that I know in his ability to use races to get fit. When he received the invite to compete in Oregon he naturally upped his training in the weeks available. But also he found a series of races to test his increasing fitness, and also finesse his racing tactics. On 14 Feb he ran 2-16.76 in an indoor race at Lea Valley, and followed that with three more 800s in similar times in the next few weeks, plus three 1500s which brought his time for the longer distance down by 22 seconds. In all these he was untroubled, including the British Vets Champs just the weekend before Oregon, and was able to try fast starts, long runs for home and other racing variations.
The second characteristic is a proven ability to take something positive from all these races and build a superb confidence level as he goes through, which he was able to take forward to the race that really mattered. During this time Joe Gough had become the de facto race favourite for the race as he had already run faster than Dave this year. But Dave had an unshakeable believe in his own fitness and ability to rise to the occasion.
The third trait is one that I have witnessed on so many occasions. That is Dave’s commitment to racing. Hard. For him this often means taking it out hard and making others work that bit harder to beat him. There are no easy victories against him. I have seen rivals wilt under this pressure, and others take him out. But interestingly, for someone who can run so well at the shorter distances he hasn’t so often sat in and out-sprinted his rivals, although physiologically he is quite capable of doing it to most of them. I think that deep down he wants to both win and run as fast as possible. The ‘Ovett-kick’ tactic may win races but may come off a slower mid-race pace and not be so satisfying time-wise for him.
So, to the Oregon race. I was not able to be there, and have yet to find a full video of the race [one subsequently surfaced]. But from Matt Treasarden’s phone video of the first 550m or so and from the online clip of the last few metres I think I can talk you through it. For the first 200m Dave sat in in third, with Joe just in front of him, as they hit 34secs. The same positions were held for the second lap, which was reached after another 36 seconds. 70s for 400m was too slow, so Dave took it on down the back straight to open the field up and get a more respectable pace. Joe surged to the front just before the bell and entered the final straight with a narrow lead. Now the race was on, and it was there for whoever wanted it most.
The video of the finish shows Dave (with his surname mysteriously spelt wrong thoughout) taking it in what must have been the last 2 metres, to win by just 0.11 seconds (2-15.90 to 2-16.01). In his effort Joe crashes to the track as he crossed the line, and Dave raises his arms in triumph. A brilliant win, just shy of the World best – which is 2-14.06, by (you got it) Joe Gough, in 2014.
Dave was very eloquent when interviewed afterwards, saluting his fellow competitors and the vocal, supportive fans, saying: ‘You know the guys gave a good competitive race and the crowd, that Portland crowd down there, really lifts you. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was a good time. That is what it is about – to entertain the crowd and just give it a 100%.’
On many levels Dave Wilcock is a class act, and one that his club and country should cherish.
Now watch the video of the full race. The build-up, the race developing, and the denouement. It is a classic:
I was pleased last week to see a piece I wrote some time ago appear in the latest Like the Wind magazine. It is entitled ‘The dark art of coaching’, and is a reflection on some of the characters and issues I have faced in my coaching career. Since writing my first book on running I have been regularly trying to write for other outlets. This is partly, I think, to practice writing for different audiences, but also because I have got the bug, and just love to write – and then (importantly for me) see that writing getting published.
In the last year I have had two other publications accept articles from me. Firstly, The Fellrunner accepted a piece entitled ‘Bob, the navigator’ [read: bobnavigatorfull] in its Spring 2015 issue; and then Trail Running magazine commissioned an edited extract of my second book, which was published as ‘The 24 hours that changed running history’ (not my title!) [read: Steve Chilton BGR] in its Oct/Nov 15 issue. The one aspect that I have been disappointed over is not being able to get anything published in The Guardian’s online ‘Running Blog’ yet, despite submitting what I thought was a good piece entitled ‘Off-road running – an antidote to life’s worries and expensive adventure races’.
It does show that as an author (but not professional journalist) you can find a variety of outlets to publish in. I have yet to try Athletics Weekly or the Daily Telegraph (which is picking up the running baton online now). You could say, why not just be satisfied with your own blog? Even though some stuff goes here, it doesn’t give me the same buzz somehow. The intangible ‘yes’ of acceptance by an outside ‘publication’ is a feeling/reward that I crave.
I have always read a lot. Since trying to write I have probably read even more, and certainly have covered the running books scene pretty well. Are more books on running being published than ever before, or am I maybe just more aware of them? Examples of ones that were published recently include: 2 Hours (Ed Caesar), Runner (Lizzy Hawker), Way of The Runner (Adharanand Finn), and Natural Born Heroes (Christopher McDougall). However, and despite very much enjoying Caesar and Finn, I still would argue that the running oeuvre overall has a way to go to match cycling on the quality writing front.
But maybe some of those that I have noticed that are scheduled for publication this year (or later) will change that. Some good ones to come, are from: Richard Askwith (Today We Die a Little: The Rise and Fall of Emil Zátopek, Olympic Legend, out 21 Apr 2016), Rick Broadbent (Endurance: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Emil Zátopek, ALSO out 21 Apr 2016), Jonny Muir (next project – due for publication in late 2017/early 2018 – is a book on Scottish hill running and racing with a particular focus on the Charlie Ramsay Round), and myself (an as yet untitled third book, a biography of Kenny Stuart and John Wild, due out March 2017).
Meanwhile, if you want a good running read then blogs are often the place to find it. Some examples I like are those of: Ed Price, Ben Mounsey, Jonny Muir, and Karen Murphy. A good place to find new blog posts is on the FRA Forum thread dedicated to blogs. [If you have a favourite running-related blog DO let me know, via a comment.]
Footnote: A new (old one) one on me, and on my book wish list now, is Pat Butcher’s ‘The Destiny of Ali Mimoun’, which I only knew about after his piece in the latest LTW magazine. And bizarrely, his biog in LTW states that he is ‘currently writing an account of the life of Emil Zatopek’. So, if that comes out it will be three new books on that great athlete. Of course you can always search out a copy of Bob Phillips’ 2002 book, with the excellent title of: ‘Za-to-pek! Za-to-pek! Za-to-pek!’
Despite being the author of two mildly successful books*, I still have regular crises of confidence as I try to bring together a third manuscript. I am working in the non-fiction field, so it is not really writer’s block or blank page syndrome that I am talking about. Nor is it issues of plot or storyline (which I imagine novelists might have). No, it is about flow or style. I have usually got enough to write, but it is HOW to write it that I struggle with. I know that if I need to write more, then I must research more, or do another interview, both of which are tangible and usually achievable.
But quite often one can’t help thinking “well is this garbage writing”? Some say that authors don’t (or shouldn’t) read reviews of their own work. Well this one does. I have seen reviews that say my writing is “clunky”, or “academic” (the latter usually meaning ‘dry’, I guess). I tend to assume that those reviews that appear in magazines, etc., are giving the reviewer’s honest view, so I tend to give a measure of respect to that view. On the other hand those reviews by readers on Amazon may be less credible, as you do get some quite vindictive/vitriolic types who haven’t a good word to say about anything (cf Tripadvisor – where I would guess dis-satisfied customers are more likely to post than satisfied ones).
I did have one unsolicited comment from someone that my second book had a more natural flow to it, which I suppose shows some progress! But now I am working on Book III and it is biographical, rather than the previous two, which have been historical. It needs a different writing style. I need to define and find that style, which I haven’t done yet.
Much of the material I am working on comes from interviews with the two main protagonists. So, I am wondering to myself, ‘How much should be in quotes and how much converted to third person?’ This train of thought just leads to more and more questions. ‘How to be dispassionate?’ Bear in mind they might just be heroes of mine. The subjects are both very much alive and I am conducting a series of interviews with them. ‘Might it be easier to write about people after they have passed on?’ Then having written up, interpreted and contextualised what they say to you, ‘Do you show everything that you write to the book’s subjects?’
Then there is the thorny ‘How much of me goes in to it?’ I also keep asking myself, ‘Have I analysed things enough?’ Or is my attempt to critically analyse just producing stuff that will come across as ‘pop or cod psychology’?
In order to get a broad picture I am trying to seek the views of a number of family, friends or associates of the main characters. ‘What if I come across something about the subjects that is highly critical of them?’ Do I exercise caution, and stand accused (by myself not least) of censorship?
‘What if independent commentator on events says something I don’t agree with, or I think is inaccurate?’ As much as possible I am cross-referencing sources and checking, certainly being mindful that memories can be distorted unwittingly. Much of the action takes place in the 1980s and even earlier, so memories fade.
Bearing all this in mind I am finding writing this manuscript to be a very different process to previously. This time I will compile the material and then WRITE the manuscript. I expect this to involve some sort of ‘writing retreat’. It may be a virtual retreat, or it may be a hermit-like removal of self from my ‘normal’ life. Either way, I plan to address the style issue by trying to (re)write consistently throughout the manuscript in one go, and achieve an appropriate ‘voice’ that will make for a readable account of these two fascinating people’s lives.
* The day I was writing this posting I saw an article in The Independent called How to be more Zen about our failures and learn from our disappointments. In this an editor at Picador tells Giles Coren in his upcoming TV documentary Giles Coren – My Failed Novel (part of a season on Sky Arts looking at different aspects of failure) that: “Failure is about 800 [hardback] copies”. My first book ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ sold over 1900 hardback copies, which is why I said “mildly successful” at the top of this post. NB: The paperback is available again (via link above). And the second book ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’ is well on the way.
Two great reviews of ‘The Round’ have recently appeared on the Amazon page for my book. It is always nice to hear of readers enjoying something you have put a lot of yourself into writing.
One goes (in part): “What makes Steve Chilton’s book stand out is the numerous first person accounts from runners, as well as their pacers and supporters: authentic voices, describing real experiences. Either through interviews, or use of diary entries and other contemporaneous accounts, the author builds up a detailed picture of both the landscape and the characters of those who have responded to the challenge it sets. The book’s centrepiece is an exclusive interview with fell running legend Billy Bland, who in 1982 completed the BGR in 13 hours and 53 minutes – a record no-one else has yet come close to. This and other interviews make this book an essential document in the history of the BGR in particular, and endurance challenges in general.”
The second includes: “I’d been looking forward to The Round with great anticipation. In every way, it exceeded my expectations. Further to his first book ‘It’s a Hill’, Steve Chilton has yet again managed to describe with intrigue and passion the rich history of a fascinating and unique facet of fell running. Yet also, and importantly, The Round takes you on a journey, deep into the minds of those brave enough to attempt, or even simply involve themselves in, the Bob Graham Round. It is this clever first hand narrative throughout the book that drew me in, leaving me inspired.”
Someone asked me the other day how the second book has gone compared to the first. It is not easy to say, and my gut feeling was perhaps that it hadn’t gone as well. I have just got the first sales statement from the publisher which possibly counters this guesswork. In the period from book launch in mid-Sept to 31 Oct the sales of ‘The Round’ have been just over a third more than those that were achieved by ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ in the exact same period after its launch in 2013. The task is now to keep up some momentum. What I have noticed this time around is that I have achieved less reviews for book II than book I. I have also not had a series of book talks to back up the launch this time. So, I feel there is a task to be done to get ‘The Round’ out there and noticed by more potential readers.
As a diversion to all this I have been recently encouraging a friend to blog about her own athletic experiences. It is based on a first trip to train at altitude, in this case at the Lornah Kiplagat HATC in Iten (Kenya). The trip is along with another Barnet & District AC clubmate, and they are both hoping for good times at the London Marathon. As someone who is working with both of them I will now frighten them by putting it on record that I am confidant that if they both run well they can break the respective female and male Club Records. I really would encourage you to drop by the On track. On tour blog to read how the training has gone and to hear some light-hearted stories about mixing with the GB internationals and ‘training with the Kenyans’.
Footnote: if anyone goes to Amazon to purchase ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, they haven’t got paperback copies of it any more. Other shops and online suppliers may still have them. I have copies myself and they can be purchased direct from me for £6-99 (inc p&p).
Postcript: after writing this note I have just heard that Sandstone Press are printing another 1,000 copies of ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, which will be available from end of month. The above offer still holds though.