There will be a book launch event for the paperback of ‘All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland‘, on Thursday 22nd July 2021. It will be at the Skiddaw Hotel (Greta Suite), Keswick, from 6-30 to 8-pm. I will be talking about the book and doing a Q&A with Billy Bland. Bookends (Keswick) will be there with books for sale/signing as well. No booking required, just rock up. [It would be good if folk would let me know they are coming, though]
It will be quite a low-key event, as I still have concerns about the Covid situation, and hope that attendees will respect any social distancing or other local rules that are in place.
What is the book like? Well, here are the thoughts of a couple of people, whose opinions I respect. First off, Adharanand Finn:
Jasmin Paris said: “Born in the Lake District and moulded by its hills, Billy Bland is a truly fascinating character”; while Rebecca Robinson said: “This tale of fortitude and formidable athleticism transports readers to the heart of the fell running scene”.
Finally, this review appeared, on NETGALLEY, from Kelly Furniss:
It was great to open the first box of paperback copies of ‘All or nothing at all’ recently. It looks absolutely grand, and will be published on 15th July 2021. I am still hopeful of being able to hold a launch event, but the Covid uncertainty make it very difficult to plan and book anything. I do have two radio appearances booked, so will give more on those on social media nearer the time.
For now, it is available to pre-order. Please use your local independent bookseller, who should be able to arrange a pre-order for you. It is already available to re-order directly from Sam Read Bookseller, with the added bonus of them all being signed copies, by my own hand. The pre-order page is at: https://www.samreadbooks.co.uk/product/AllOrNothing/1015
For more information about the book, click the image above (for some cover quotes), or go to my Sandstone Press page.
NB: Hardback copies are likely to be increasingly difficult to get hold of, but a quick check shows several shops and online services still having copies (eg The Big A). I have 5 hardback copies which I am happy to post out (signed if required).
To win a British Championship you have got to be dedicated. If I didn’t give the time to it there was always a runner who was better. When I was super fit I was as good as anybody. I had to do a proper winter’s training if I wanted to do well. I don’t miss training when I am not doing it, that is my problem. When I was injured, I didn’t miss racing. When I was fit, I would rather race than do three weeks training. I’d race myself to fitness.
That is the intro paragraph to the latest in a series of in-depth profiles of runners I have written, of Gavin Bland, surely one of the finest fell runners of the last few decades. Part 1 of the profile can be read in full, and downloaded, at the following link [PDF file]. Part 2 will be published shortly, in the next issue of The Fellrunner.
I have written a short article with some thoughts on testing of athletes, particularly with regard to older athletes and issues around that aspect. It was prompted by a desire to get a leading Veteran athlete into a lab and have them tested – both as a measure of their base physiology and also to hopefully use the data to help their current training.
The full article, entitled ‘Some thoughts on physiological testing of athletes’, is available to read – as a PDF file/download.
Postscript (from Yannick Bianchini, in response to the article): In physiology, there are 3 factors useful in predicting performance. One’s VMA/VO2max is one. Then endurance (time capable of sustaining an effort), and finally running economy. In that last factor, you can include mental ability, like you said in the article. Adding to that mental ability, the fact of being capable of turning negative into positive, and keeping a very low RPE (rated of perceived exertion) is nowadays beginning to be almost the most important aspect in endurance sports. The best example is Eliud Kipchoge, who did not have the best physiological results when they were testing and choosing runners for the Nike project. But he had the most potential mentally, that’s why he was chosen. [Thanks for the comment, Yannick]
NB: Thanks to Jim Johnston for sending me an interesting article entitled ‘Maximal Aerobic Capacity Testing of Older Adults: A Critical Review’, which gives some interesting background to the topic. It is quite an academic piece so I have not included it here, but can send it on to anyone who is interested – just ping me.
Recently two great books have come out that give a real feel for the effect that the (covid) lockdown situation has had on runners, and particularly how it has been the catalyst for some of them to turn their attention to attempting new records for the classic rounds and off-road endurance challenges. They are Damian Hall’s ‘In it for the long run’, and Ally Beaven’s ‘Broken’.
Damian Hall has been a journalist much of his life and has shown he can research and weave stories, but can he write a book about himself and his move into ultra running? He writes fairly briefly about his upbringing and admits to not having it particularly easy. He also says that on reflection he had ‘a kind of chronic outsider syndrome’. Rejecting team sports, which he did not excel at, he took to running, eventually entering a half marathon. This was something of a lifechanger and the rest of the book details his descent (or ascent, depends on how you look at it) into off-road trail/ultra running. When he realised he needed coaching advice he seemed not to be able to settle on a suitable coaching arrangement (working with several different coaches and going solo sometimes). Eventually he became a coach himself, as he moved towards supporting himself (and his family) by coaching and with sponsorship (seemingly reluctantly). Having described his obsession with the UTMB, several record ’rounds’ he achieved (including solo/unsupported ones), and some ‘fastest known times’ on long-distance challenges (I do not like the acronym FKT), he gradually became edgier as he moved to the climax of his ultra career (so far) and describes the build-up and execution of his record for traversing the Pennine Way (beating friend John Kelly’s record set just 8 days previously). He displays a fine turn of phrase in highlighting the highs and lows of that effort, with some good banter about, and with, his top quality support crew. So, to answer my initial question, he DID write well about himself. It is a fascinating read if you are remotely interested in ultras, being in the ‘lumps’ he so loves, running itself, and also how you can do all this and try to contribute less to climate change by making some life choice changes. As a tribute to the author I have included as many explanations in brackets as I can (where possible), as I have never seen so many in one book, and am pretty sure my editor wouldn’t have allowed them (all).
Ally Beaven may be a part-time barman, but in this his first book he has an engaging writing style. These may be a series of similar sounding endurance efforts but the nuances between them come out with the author’s analysis. He is not afraid to question assumptions and shares his views with some spicy vocabulary and some telling phrases. Just one example I liked, when talking about reaching a summit with no view and which was just a pile of rocks, he writes: “All the toil, none of the reward. Hill running for Calvinists”. The narrative is very readable, helped immensely by Beaven concentrating on the unique aspects of each record that is broken (several of which he was supporting on), whilst also putting each into its context. The book, summarising one year, was produced to a tight deadline, but still Vertebrate had time to design a good looking book. It is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in fells, mountains, endurance running and how some folks combined them to see how far a human can push themselves.
Both books are great reads, and can be obtained direct from the publisher – Vertebrate, or through good book shops. If you are interesting in hearing more of the their stories, and they both have a very lively sense of humour, you can catch them at this event on 4 May – SHAFF ONLINE – DAMIAN HALL TALKS TO ALLY BEAVEN (and/or afterwards on Youtube).
With the next stage of relaxing the Covid lockdown (in England) most bookshops will be re-opening to customers on Monday 12 April. One thing this does mean is that if you haven’t had a chance to have a look at our photographic book ‘Fell and mountain running: through the eye of a lens’ then you can if you visit one of these four brilliant shops:
Do take a look at the book if you get a chance. I am sure you will be delighted with the range and quality of Pete Hartley’s mountain photography. The book can be bought in any of those shops, and can be ordered online from them all, or direct from this link (which has more details of the book itself, plus a review of it from Athletics Weekly).
You can, of course, also get any of my other four fell running books at any of those shops, and also many other good bookshops.
In February 2020 it was announced that there was a project being setup to beat the existing Ironman (triathlon) records for both men and women. Not just beat them but smash through the 7 hour barrier for men and the 8 hour barrier for women. The first impression is that it is mirroring the Nike Sub-2 and Ineoes 1-59 projects setup recently to see if someone could beat the 2-hour barrier for running the marathon distance.
There is not much information available yet, but it seems to be setup to be a double header of male and female one-on-ones. Alistair Bownlee versus Kristian Blummenfelt, and Nicola Spirig versus Lucy Charles-Barclay. It is set to be held in Spring 2022 at a venue to be announced. One thing strongly in its favour is the gender equality, apparently the same incentives for either sex, something that I believe is the norm in that sport (unlike mainstream athletics). Whatever happens it will not be recognised as a new Ironman record, due to the artificial nature of the event. It will be interesting to see how much technological advantage can be gained in each of the three triathlon disciplines (swim, bike and run) as there is a lot of time to carve off in each case.
Some basic data: the distances are swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run a marathon. The existing records are: Jan Frodeno (GER), 2017, 7 hrs 35 mins 39 secs and Chrissie Wellington (GBR), 2011, 8 hours 18 mins 13 secs. From that you will see that the men have to ‘lose’ over 35 minutes and the women a lesser amount of 19 minutes. The following table gives (an estimate, as data is difficult to find) the fastest splits done by different individuals within standard Ironman events, and a theoretical total time as if those times all came in the same event.
The data suggests that the women’s task might be an easier one. But where will that time be gained, in which disciplines and by what methods? There could be thicker, more buoyant wetsuits, pacing by kayak in the swim (would that help?). Drafting behind a phalanx of bikes (like a Tour de France peloton), or even using pace vehicles for the bike section. Laser pacing, with shielding pacers for the run. Specialists in each event in each pacing team. Women using men as pacers? Then there are shoe and bike innovations. What do you think?
A worry that I have is that there will changes that will adversely affect traditional triathlon events. This has certainly been the case in running since the 2 hour barrier was broken. The shoe developments that initiative prompted have seen a sea change in athletics, with carbon plates and thicker soles being added by most shoe manufacturers. It has produced a rush of unprecedented times both on the road and track. It seems you now have to wear these new (very expensive) shoes to be able to compete, which actually produces an un-level playing field. Might a similar situation happen in triathlon?
As a result of shoes developed for sub-2, in 2020 World Athletics announced major changes to its rules on footwear.
The new regulations imposed an immediate ban on any shoe with a sole thicker than 40mm, as well as on shoes that contained more than one plate. In a bid to ensure shoes worn by some athletes didn’t offer an unfair advantage, the rules also stated that any shoe used in competition must have been available for purchase on the retail market for a period of four months. This move effectively banned the use of prototypes in competition.
There is a parallel in some aspects between the sub 7 sub 8 project and the Hour Record in cycling. In that challenge the idea is to cover as much ground as possible in 60 minutes. These days it takes place on an indoor track, which pretty much removes weather and terrain from the equation, predicting/controlling both of which factors both sub-2 and sub7sub8 aim(ed) for. It seems that the Hour Challenge was something that came into cyclists sights towards the very end of their careers at the top of their sport. That was the case for Bradley Wiggins, who took the record in 2015, before retiring in 2016, and writing a book about The Hour (cover to left).
Although Alistair Brownlee plans to compete in the Tokyo Olympics if possible, there is a thought in my mind that this high profile triathlon challenge might be his swansong. As far as I can see his last competition was in Sept 2020 in the Helvellyn Triathlon, which ends with a 9 mile fell race up Hellvellyn (yes, I know he has been a noted fell runner when he chosen to race on the fells) – which is hardly ITU-level competition [he won]. You could argue that Nicola Spirig is in the autumn of her career too, but that is not the case for either Blummenfelt or Charles-Barclay, so it is a weak argument.
Conclusion: is it a good thing, and will I watch it when it happens? At the moment I see it as a cleverly pitched publicity move by the sponsor. Looking at the times I would say there is a strong chance of the woman’s sub-8 happening, but really think the men’s sub-7 is asking too much (but am happy to be proved wrong). I am skeptical now, but know full well that I will be sucked in and will probably set aside time to sit and watch the whole thing unfurl. That is certainly what happened with the Ineos 1-59 effort of Eliud Kipchoge and his team.
Afterthought: As I recall, in the Nike sub-2 effort there were three athletes all shooting for the time, and two of them couldn’t hack the required pace and dropped out at various stages. I wonder if all 4 triathletes will be fit enough to ‘chase the pace’ or whether one or more of them will drop off it and drop out, although the pacing of the three disciplines isn’t a simple numerical factor, and it won’t be really possible to second guess the outcome until well into the marathon running stage. We will see.
Project website: https://www.sub7sub8.com/
Where can you get hold of my books?
The latest one, Fell and Mountain Running: through the eye of a lens has until recently only been available from the authors. But now it is available from four independent sources, as detailed below.
(Click for book link):
Sam Read’s Bookshop (Grasmere)
Fred Holdsworth’s Bookshop (Ambleside)
Pete Bland Sports (Kendal)
All my other four books are all available too, and may be found at any of those outlets listed above, plus many more good shops and online services. Just a reminder about each book and what they are about.
All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland – is the life story of Billy Bland, fellrunner extrordinaire and holder of many records including that of the Bob Graham Round until it was broken by the foreword author of this book, Kilian Jornet. It is also the story of Borrowdale in the English Lake District, describing its people, their character and their lifestyle, into which fellrunning is unmistakably woven. Filled with stories of competition and rich in northern humour, All or Nothing At All is testimony to the life spent in the fells by one of their greatest champions, Billy Bland.
A recent review: Fantastic read for anybody remotely interested in running. This book brings you totally inside the world of fell running and the great people that compete to win.
Running Hard: the story of a rivalry – For one brilliant season in 1983 the sport of fell running was dominated by the two huge talents of John Wild and Kenny Stuart. Wild was an incomer to the sport from road running and track. Stuart was born to the fells, but an outcast because of his move from amateur to professional and back again. Together they destroyed the record book, only determining who was top by a few seconds in the last race of the season. Running Hard is the story of that season, and an inside, intimate look at the two men.
A recent review: A riveting read that takes you inside the world of Fell Running’s royalty.
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. Some links to resources for potential BGR completers are included.
A recent review: The story of the iconic Bob Graham Round. Excellent history of the BGR and fell running in general.
It’s a hill, get over it – is a detailed history of the sport of fell running. It also tells the stories of some of the great exponents of the sport through the ages. Many of them achieved greatness whilst still working full time in traditional jobs, a million miles away from the professionalism of other branches of athletics nowadays. The book covers the early days of the sport, right through to it going global with World Championships. Along the way it profiles influential athletes such as Fred Reeves, Bill Teasdale, Kenny Stuart, Joss Naylor, and Billy and Gavin Bland. It gives background to the athletes including their upbringing, introduction to the sport, training, working life, records and achievements.
A recent review: I would recommend this to all who are Interested in any form of running, but if you are a fell runner and haven’t read it, get it bought!
It seems a good time to review this blog from the weird year that was 2020. As it happens, I did the normal number of blog posts over the year, almost three per month.Two other stats: referals came from Facebook at a 5:1 ratio over Twitter (which surprised me, except that Twitter is one account, whereas I can post notifications in a number of FB Groups). Visitor’s came from 75 different countries, with USA and Ireland being distant second and third places behind the UK.
MOST VISITED PAGES
The third most visited page on the blog was actually one from March 2019. It was on some of the shenanigans from the professional fell racing scene, and included an interview I did with Pete Bland. I guess people had searched it out when he sadly passed away towards the end of 2020. It can be accessed here:
The second most visit page was one from January 2020, 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 the new record in 2018. The post can be accessed here:
The most visited page was from October 2020, and again was BGR connected. It was some analysis of the splits from George Foster’s round (the third fastest ever) against those of Billy Bland, which made fascinating reading (well I thought so!). It can be accessed here:
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 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 and top marathoner Dave Cannon, again an article I wrote for Fellrunner, way back in 2017 (so no idea why that was so popular, but it was downloaded over 250 times). It can be accessed here [PDF file].
The third most downloaded piece was an article I wrote for Compass Sport magazine on Kim Collison’s Winter BGR record, which was published in early 2020. It can be accessed here [PDF file].
NB: Most of my writing can be accessed through the links on the CV page on this blog: https://itsahill.wordpress.com/curriculum-vitae/.
My fifth book is co-authored, but unlike the other four is self-published, and is just out. I thought I would record what the latter part of the process of self-publishing has been like, as it was certainly interesting, and not perhaps what I was expecting. Covid-19 and Brexit both hindered things quite a bit.
It all started in November 2019, so has taken just over a year from idea to fruition. The book is a hardback celebrating the great fell and mountain photographer, Pete Hartley. The first ten months were all about (co-author) Denise Park sorting through some 60,000 photographic images and working with me to make a suitable selection of 400 or so to go in the book. This took countless hours of work, and many discussions about inclusions/exclusions. Having pulled together the necessary contextualising text and done a dummy layout in Word, we had the material ready to hand over to a graphic designer to produce the camera-ready artwork. On 29 October I posted the text file, and all the folders of original hi-res images into a Dropbox, and in effect handed-off the project for a while to a professional.
Before that we had already investigated and selected a printer. This was important to get right as the images needed quality paper and printing to show them off to best advantage. Fortunately, we were recommended to contact (and get a quote from) Latitude Press, in the Lake District. Having seen samples and had a warm welcome we agreed the quote with them. It gave me an extra good feeling that they were based in the Lakes, and had printed two excellent recent books about the area. Having said that the actual print works recommended by them was in the EU, but were likely to be able to turn the work around within an agreed 4-5 week window. [For those interested in the finer details of the book, I am happy to discuss if you want to contact me for further info on our particular print specifications. Below are details of the print company.]
Back with the layout phase, we were fortunate that our chosen graphic designer was also a fell runner and very sympathetic to, and in tune with, what we were looking for in the look and feel of the book. Again it is pleasing that Britas Design are based in the Lakes, just outside Keswick. The deal was that if we could get the camera-ready PDF files to the printer by 6 Nov we could have a 17 Dec delivery for the final copies of the books. A tough ask.
At this point (31 Oct) we decided on a process for accepting pre-orders of the book. Denise also researched post and packing options. We found a supplier of cardboard wraps and inner bubble wraps, which with postage were going to add £5 to the cost of delivering books to folk. We agreed a payment to a photographer for reproducing two of their photos of Pete, and quietly waited for progress/info on the layout.
We decided that we would advertise the book on 7th Nov which would have been Pete’s birthday, offering pre-orders. We had decided to deal with the payments for, and the despatching of, pre-orders ourselves – which added quite a burden, which mostly fell on Denise. We started sounding out publications for a mention, including Fellrunner and Trail Running magazines, and flooded every social media channel we could access with info on the book, and how to order. Meanwhile, we had missed the print deadline, but had received the first few pages from the designer.
By 16 Nov only a third of pages were done, so we agreed a new deadline of 29 Nov, which Latitude fortunately were happy to go with. This still allowed a new delivery date of 21 Dec, which was getting tight, but amazing to hear. We supplied them some pages to do a test print, to ensure we were happy with the result.
Even on 23 Nov we were STILL making small corrections to the text as we proof-read the pages as they came through to us. On 26 Nov we agreed the final proof copy, and the next day it was received in the Czech Republic at the print works. We were contacted by Latitude on 1 Dec that somewhere in the process of making the final PDFs an error had occurred in the cover layout and in the internal cut marks positioning. As they were unable to ‘rip’ the files to the press, they couldn’t proceed with our printing. We were already passed our deadline so this needed to be rectified as a matter of urgency or we would completely miss our newly allocated printing slot. Anxious emails and phone calls between Denise, the designer and Latitude Press ensued over the next 24 hours until Denise received an email at 13-31 on 2 Dec saying they had finally managed to ‘rip’ the files and now needed final approval to go to print that afternoon. This hiccup even more confirmed our wisdom of hiring a professional for the layout rather than trying to do it ourselves (which we did consider at one point). Now the fun started.
On 5 Dec we were informed that it would be two pallet loads, which would be delivered to Denise’s business address, in a small road in Clitheroe. A week later the news reported port delays, but we avoided the worst of these. Then the books were held in customs on 17 Dec. The packaging was all labelled and ‘postaged’ in readiness. TIP: buy your Royal Mail postage online,as it is slightly cheaper and lessens issues at PO itself.
We were then informed that the books would be delivered on a 40-tonne ‘international’ articulated wagon which didn’t have a tail lift, so the wagon sides would be raised and a forklift truck would lift the palettes off the wagon. This wasn’t the original plan! The international freight company then contacted Denise to say they had Googled her business address and were concerned that the wagon would not make it down the small road of Denise’s business address. A quick decision was made to have them delivered to her home address instead – but as Denise drove home to meet the wagon, unannounced roadworks had been set up outside her house with the road being closed to traffic. Another rapid decision had to be made – and it was decided to divert yet again to a delivery company based in Manchester where the books could be unloaded and reloaded onto a smaller English wagon.
Eventually, on 21 Dec, two palettes weighing one and a quarter tonnes of books were unloaded onto the road outside Denise’s business address, and Denise and her secretary embarked on carrying 94 boxes of books inside the clinic before the inclement weather could also add it’s toll. We had a distribution company booked (Despatch Bay) to deliver them in bulk into the Post Office system, and they did a marvellous job in that people started receiving them on 22 Dec. The designer, printers, delivery company had all worked wonders to get a good number of the books in people’s hands prior to Christmas. Thanks to you all.
We were thrilled to receive our books today. Thank-you for getting them here so speedily. Wow – what a tribute to Pete – really impressive. Makes you smile and admire, and yet feel sad and nostalgic at the same time. Well done.
A real trip down memory lane, it is excellent, exceeded my expectations. Please accept my thanks on a great book and pass on my thanks to everyone involved in its production.
A lot of hard work, but we are really pleased with the result – and so it seems are purchasers. Even after all the issues noted here, we both decided that we would consider self-publishing again.