At 8:30am on the 4th October, waved off by her 3-year-old daughter, Lynne Cox stepped out of her front door and ran a marathon in the pouring rain on her own, finishing around 5 hours later. Why? Looking at how some athletes coped with the lockdown summer may give us an insight.
When the government imposed the national lockdown on 23 March 2020, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, athletes were initially allowed one period of exercise a day. That was fine for a while but soon people were needing challenges – both for motivation and satisfaction. My athletic club (Barnet & District AC) started a weekly series of virtual time trials. These varied from popular training routes, 1-mile timed efforts, or a self-measured 5km, and even one that stipulated that you had to achieve as much height gain as possible in 30 minutes running. These all satisfied a small core of club athletes.
Soon bigger initiatives were started. One of the best was the Virtual National Road Relay Championships. It was setup by James McCrae, with the hope that it would encourage some keen competition for runners. It ran from Saturday April 4 to Wednesday April 8. Athletes were to run a 5km leg in their local area, measured by their GPS watch. This was uploaded to the central results platform, which updated over the five days, allowing athletes and team managers to compare performances. The event strictly enforced a ‘run solo’ rule, as well as discouraging athletes from running in busy areas, to comply with the government restrictions in place.
My club publicised it internally and we had 14 men and 13 women entered by the closing date. Over 8,000 athletes entered altogether. The individual times recorded by our runners are not especially relevant here, more pertinent being how they reacted to it. Two random comments were that “it brought us together as a team”, and that it “gave me the impetus to continue with my training”.
Alex Lepretre (of Highgate Harriers) gave a longer reflection when I spoke to him soon after the event. (photo: Brian Graves)
One of the most obvious differences about a virtual 5k is that there’s not one standardised course, so the first question for me was where to run it. North London (especially the Highgate area) isn’t blessed with the flattest of terrain so options were limited. I opted for Regent’s Park. One loop of the Outer Circle is 2.75m so it would be just over one lap. It was a bit of an odd feeling walking up to the (virtual) start line as even though no one else who was about would have known I was there for a race, I still felt a bit of pressure knowing my time would be going up online for everyone to see and compare against. I think the nerves took their toll a bit as I went out a bit quick, clocking a 2:45 first km and 4:28 first mile, and from there it was just a matter of holding on. I quite enjoyed the format of the competition and with the race being held over a few days, team positions changed throughout the course of the event, and it certainly added to the excitement. I’m definitely looking forward to when races resume again and you can race side-by-side with your friends and then grab a beer with them afterwards, either in celebration or commiseration.
As an observer (online), I enjoyed the build-up, the banter, watching people recce routes (via Strava), and the times as they gradually popped up on the results page. This obviously met a lot of people’s needs at the time.
By August some races were being organised again, as the new restrictions allowed. One of the most successful ones was the NoblePro MK 5km PB Special, held on the byways of Milton Keynes. Karen Murphy, a leading Vet with Barnet and District AC, ran in both the events on 21 August and 27 September. She recently reflected on the experience. (photo: Brian Graves)
On the start line we were like a bunch of kids. There was a huge adrenaline rush, and I am thinking to myself ‘I really want to be here, racing’. I had been measuring myself against my Garmin, but there are always doubts about exact distances. So, I had a target time in mind, based on achieving a virtual sub-19 5km. I was happy with the results. Overall, there was a complete buzz about the event, which was brilliantly organised. I even got to see a friend coming in and was able to cheer them on.
Co-organiser of the events, Elliot Hind (Milton Keynes AC), worked countless hours within a team (Mick Bromilow, Paul Mizon and himself) to put on those events and give fellow club athletes the chance to race. There were 28 waves of 12 similar ability runners to push each other to fast times, which worked brilliantly and feedback was overwhelmingly positive, resulting in them running the second one a month later.
It was such a joy to see friends old and new for the first time in months and all doing what we love. As well as so many great friends, it was incredible to be able to attract fields of top-class athletes with the stars of the show Australian Olympians Ryan and Gen Gregson winning our A races during our second event. What an absolute pleasure!
In September Barnet and District AC started a monthly Safe and Simple Time Trial Series. It was cross country, but not as we know it. Forty-five club members competed in waves of half a dozen over a 7.6km course in Trent Park, with 16 running a shorter course option as well. Will Morris was in the fastest wave at the first event and commented:
I was very motivated as it was a great measure of improvement versus myself and others each month. Like a lot of people I was relatively unfit at the start of the winter due to lack of training in lockdown. Having said that, it wasn’t the same though. I love cross country for the team element as you are usually racing for something more than just yourself.
Race organiser Pete Ellis comments:
By using a reverse handicap, with staggered groups of runners of similar ability, we can ‘race’ whilst maintaining social distancing on a familiar course, meaning organisation and marking out of the course is kept to a minimum. Numbers are pre-allocated for the race series so after our first race we have been able to race at the push of a button.
This may well be an idea that other clubs could use.
On 4 October thousands ran the virtual London Marathon, including Barnet’s Lynne Cox, whom we met at the top of this article. Looking for competition, she was booked to do an obstacle course race called Nuclear Rush on Saturday 3 October, so thought that Virtual London the following day could be a focus for that weekend if Rush was cancelled for Covid reasons. However, as the weekend drew closer, it became clear to those close to her (even if she didn’t necessarily admit it herself) that she actually wanted to do both races, if she possibly could! Rush went ahead (8 miles of obstacles and a lot of mud, on what turned out to be the wettest day for UK-wide rainfall since records began in 1891) and she had tremendous fun doing it.
Lynne takes up the story.
On the morning of the marathon I woke up with legs that felt tired but not broken, so decided to at least give the marathon a try. I pinned the London Marathon number to my rucksack, donned my rain jacket and headed out early into more pouring rain. My feet were drenched within a mile, and when I was running through calf-deep flooding at 2.5 miles I seriously began to question my decision! Having the number pinned to my back meant that I got a lot of support, both from other runners also clearly out doing Virtual London and from other runners, walkers, cyclists and even people in cars. I’d planned my route to include a pit-stop at the home of my best friend, which I reached at 16.5 miles. After being plied with fluids and chocolate I reluctantly set out again to run the final section. The last few miles were really hard, and not having the support of the London crowd made them even harder! However, once I finished (in 5 hours and 9 minutes, including the 15-minute stop), I felt a massive sense of satisfaction for running a marathon, on my own, in horrendous conditions. Not necessarily an experience I’d hurry to repeat, but something I’m genuinely proud of myself for.
I know that Alex, Karen, Will and Lynne had managed in their own way to keep a good level of training up through the difficulties that lockdown presented, but that they all needed something extra – that intangible feeling of competition and also the satisfaction of pushing themselves through that competition. But I also know that we should all be grateful for the work and time that folk that James, Elliot and Pete put in to enable us to challenge ourselves in running events in these difficult times.
Pete wanted to publish this book before he passed away, but his cancer was far more advanced than he ever wanted to accept. It has been my wish to do it for him at some stage, but had I not had a chance meeting with Steve in November 2019, followed by the announcement of lockdown in March, I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened for quite some time. Denise Park
The meeting was because I was looking for a couple of photos for my fourth book (‘All or Nothing at All: the life of Billy Bland’). I travelled up to Clitheroe and looked through part of Pete’s huge archive of photos, finding a couple that fit the bill, which Denise was happy for me to include. Just talking casually afterwards Denise mentioned Pete’s book idea. Somehow we came away from our first ever meeting having agreed to collaborate on the book.
Steve agreed to select the images for the book, but before Steve received his ‘digital selection’, I searched though approximately 60,000 images which were on a variety of hard drives, cd’s, memory sticks, slides, negatives, computers and boxes of printed images! Whilst Pete had them all catalogued in his head – I’m sure you will appreciate the enormity of the task.
We soon agreed on some chapter headings and Denise started sending files over by Dropbox in the New Year. To cut a long story short, Covid-19 changed everyone’s situation and we both had a bit of time to work on it. I pitched the idea to a couple of publishers, but neither were interested, thinking it ‘not a seller’. So, we decided to self-publish, and tried a couple of printers for quotes. The second were excellent, and very helpful. They are based in The Lakes, and have the print job set to run in the EU, giving a slightly better lead time.
As I was making decisions about which photos to include I was also writing some contexualising text, and tweaking the captions (mostly from Pete’s file data). I was also working up a rough layout plan to see how many pages it would be for print quote purposes. Having finalised the content and draft layout with Denise, and having had someone proof-read the draft, it is now being laid out professionally by a graphic designer who is also in The Lakes.
We have set up a system for taking pre-orders, as there is a strong possibility of it not being delivered from the printers prior to Christmas. This will allow people to still be able to gift the book.
Once pre-ordered, digital gift vouchers will be made available so you can still give that ideal Christmas present.
The book is hardback, full colour and 200 pages. It is available to pre-order for £25 by emailing your details to: email@example.com
When I saw George Foster had done an brilliant time to record the second fastest Bob Graham Round (BGR) to Kilian Jornet, and had taken 9 minutes off Billy Bland’s 1982 time of 13-53, I was intrigued to know how he had done it, and where in fact he had made that time within the round. I decided to dig into it a bit and see what I could find. [Update: Title and intro edited]
The BGR is nominally broken into 5 legs, with a road crossing where support can be received (if required) at the junction of each of the legs. Knowing that Billy Bland had stopped for a total of 21-minutes at these 4 road crossings on his round, I formed a hypothesis that George could have gained his 9 minutes on Billy all within that 21-minute window. Having access to a full set of splits for both Billy and George’s rounds allowed me to test that hypothesis.
LEG SPLITS: In both cases the split times have been recorded for each leg, and also broken down into each summit to summit sub-section of the route, and for the stops at the road changeovers. This allows one to see the mode of approach of both athletes with regard to stopping en route, and in fact in running the event. A quite remarkable picture emerges.
The following two tables show the accumulated running time for each leg for both runners, and the breakdown of the stoppage times at the changeovers. In the first table the columns show: the leg number, Billy’s cumulative time for running that leg, George’s cumulative time for running that leg, and the difference between the two (-ve is Billy faster, +ve is George faster). Note the stoppage time is NOT included in any of the legs, but accounted for separately (in Table 2).
|Leg number||Billy’s time||George’s time||Difference|
In this table the times at each changeover and the differences are shown.
|Changeover||Billy’s stop time||George’s stop time||Difference|
So, there you have it. According to the splits – Billy ran faster on legs 1 and 5, George ran faster on legs 2 and 4, and on leg 3 (the longest) they took exactly the same amount of time. The cumulative effect is that they both had an exactly equal running time of 13-32. Furthermore, George had two stops longer than Billy, and Billy two longer than George. But crucially George gained that vital 9 minutes overall on account of his whistling through Honister with a mere 1-minute stoppage time.
It might be of interest to revisit Billy’s round to see what that 13-minute stop at Honister was about. Here is how he told it to me when researching ‘All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland’*:
Billy adds: ‘Martin was there on Kirk Fell and I heard him or Joss say, “he is gonna get under 14 hours”. I don’t know whether I was supposed to hear, but I did, and subconsciously we must have just picked up the pace a little. Then coming off Grey Knotts I just ran out of petrol and had to sit down. I was looking at Honister a few hundred yards away and I needed to be down there, but I had gone all dizzy. Changing the pace is definitely something you shouldn’t do, because you will bring on a bad patch. We then spent 13 minutes at Honister sorting me out. I refuelled and off we went again.’
SUMMIT SPLITS: Another way of comparing the two runs is to analyse the individual summit splits. Given that it has already been established that they were both travelling at the same average speed when on the move, it comes as no surprise that of the 43 splits (42 summits plus the run-in to the Moot Hall) that they have a very even spread of fastest splits between them. Billy was fastest over 17 summits and on the long run in to the Moot Hall, whilst George was fastest over 17 summits, and on 8 they were equal. Table 1 (above) shows that the two legs with most difference were Leg 1 with Billy running 7 mins faster, and Leg 4 with George also running 7 minutes faster. These may be explained by a) Billy seeming to start very fast, such that we was faster on all three summits of the leg and the run down to Threlkeld; and b) by Billy having a bad time on the early part of Leg 4, losing a lot of time over Yewbarrow and Red Pike (this was where he had the famous ‘Naylor shake’ from Joss to (allegedly) sort him out of his what might loosely be termed ‘lethargy’. This is how I described the shake situation in the book:
Billy took the story up. ‘Yep, Joss was there too and you [Martin] went to Sail Pass. I got to the top of Yewbarrow and Joss says, “I’ll just give your legs a shake out”. This has become known as the Naylor Shake, which you may have heard about. It is supposed to shake the lactic acid out. There was nowt wrong with my legs, but he wanted to do it anyway!’ You need to imagine Billy Bland lying on his back with his legs in the air for Joss to give them a good shakeout.
The other three legs (2, 3 and 5) were all evenly split and show very little deviation from the average pace for either of them, and also a pretty even distribution of fastest summits between them.
VIRTUAL RACE-OFF: Another way of looking at it is to imagine that they were racing directly against each other. Setting up a virtual race-off with both setting off at the same time gives this resulting ding-dong battle. Billy would be virtually ahead right through to Bowfell, then George would take over to Scafell, Billy slipping ahead till Red Pike (George overtaking him somewhere between Yewbarrow and Red Pike), and George staying ahead all the way to the finish, apart from Billy sneaking ahead for one summit (Brandreth) before losing time on his ‘bonk’ going into Honister.
All of that takes no account of Billy’s stops on the way round (within the legs) – or indeed the time he spent sitting on his arse looking at Honister from the descent of Grey Knotts (see above). Billy claims that he:
‘also met various people on the route, Pete Parkins at Ore Gap, and I remember having sandwiches and coffee with him. Not for a long time, just a minute or so. That was the manner that it was done in. Not like now when people think they can’t stop, I don’t go for that at all.’
I don’t know about George, just noting how Billy went about his BGR. There are also imponderables like the differences in weather conditions, and the change in paths (arguably) making navigation easier. But I do hope you can see why I suggest that George actual ran no faster than Billy.
NOTE: All of this is a bit of fun and no way am I taking anything away from George’s fantastic achievement, which I hope he will be writing up some time soon for us to get his view of the his day on the fells.
* Book details (inc ‘View Inside’): ‘All or Nothing at All: the life of Billy Bland [Sandstone Press, 2020]
It was great to be on BBC Radio Cumbria last week. Being interviewed by Helen Millican on her show gave me the chance to talk about my Billy Bland book. Her deft prompting allowed me to waffle on about the gestation of the book, the research, and the writing of it.
Just before I was on, Helen played a short clip of a conversation with Billy Bland she had that week up in Borrowdale, in which he was as entertaining as usual. He explained how he didn’t want to do the book, but never quite got round to saying ‘no’ to the idea, being convinced by wife Ann to go with it.
You can listen to that Billy Bland interview here: https://youtu.be/h000OUx9yw4
I was on after Helen had played ‘Born to Run’ by Bruce Springsteen. I didn’t realise at the time how appropriate a track it was – as ‘All or nothing at all’ (the title of the book) is a classic Springsteen track. Furthermore all the chapter titles in the book are Springsteen song titles too. In the interview I hope I was able to put Billy’s running in context with the rest of his life, all lived in the Borrowdale valley.
You can listen to the interview with me here: https://youtu.be/W_bsTru8POk
You can watch the virtual book launch here, via the Wild Ginger Runs Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVbuEUURETE
Details of the BLOG TOUR for ‘All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland’ are here, including some excellent writing on and about the book and fell running: https://itsahill.wordpress.com/2020/08/17/blog-tour-for-all-or-nothing-at-all-the-life-of-billy-bland/
A short piece I wrote about writing the book, for the Sandstone Press news blog: https://sandstonepress.com/news/2020/8/26/thoughts-on-writing-all-or-nothing-at-all-the-life-of-billy-bland
There are always many people to thank when producing any book, and this is no exception. First and foremost, I must acknowledge Billy and Ann Bland, without whose cooperation the project would have remained just an idea. Billy Bland, whose very aura and reputation worried me at the start of this journey, proved to be a very charismatic subject. He was endlessly polite and honest, however personal my probing became. He always tried to say it like it was and has always produced great quotes when interviewed by myself or others. Ann Bland supported Billy, and myself, all the way. She prompted Billy if memory temporarily failed him, responded to my interminable follow-up queries, and proved herself to be the rock that she has been for him all their life together. My many visits to the top end of Borrowdale to talk with them both have been pivotal in telling this story, but it has always been a pleasure to discuss the old and recent times with them.
As well as Billy and Ann, I have also had some in depth conversations with several contemporaries, friends, family and rivals. To the following in particular I give my heart-felt thanks for finding the time to answer my sometimes naïve questions: Pete and Anne Bland, Pete Barron, Jan Darrall, Jon Broxap, Colin Donnelly, Howard Pattinson, Ross Brewster, Mark Wilson, Hugh Symonds, Kenny and Pauline Stuart, Joe Ritson, Tony Cresswell, John Wild, Gavin Bland, Dave Hall, and Scoffer Schofield.
Help comes in many different ways. For finding and suggesting various reference sources I turned to Jeff Ford and Charlotte McCarthy (both from the Mountain Heritage Trust), the latter inviting me to look through material at the Trust library, where I also bagged some mountaineering book bargains as they were clearing out some unwanted stock. I also received some good leads from Julie Carter (author of Running the Red Line) and Joe Ritson, who followed a great chat at the Keswick Museum café with some really useful material from his own archive. Martin Stone was instrumental in connecting me to Kilian Jornet, who generously agreed to write the Foreword to the book.
That thing called the internet is also wonderful for finding contacts and resolving queries. So, thanks to diligent folk on the Fell Runners UK Facebook group and the FRA Forum for responding to my random requests for info, race results, or other trivia. For furnishing me with contact details for people that I wanted to speak to I am particularly grateful to Matt Bland, Chris Knox, Hugh Symonds, and Ann Bland. In a similar way I needed to refer to some Fellrunner magazines that I didn’t have (and weren’t on the brilliant FRA website archive) and both Marcus Covell and Simon Blease kindly offered to send me missing ones that they had and were prepared to donate to aid my research.
Let us not forgot the value of librarians. On several visits to the excellent Kendal Library Local History section Kate Holliday and Sylvia Kelly were invariably welcoming, and happy to search out my obscure reference requests from their stock. Equally valuable was the support I received from Vanessa Hill, of the Middlesex University Library, who tracked down (and sent me) some references when I was looking into re-wilding and specifically the Wild Ennerdale project. I have also done much reading around the subject as I have been writing the manuscript, and the main books and other resources referred to are listed in the references section below.
Huge thanks are due to the following for help in sourcing photographs from their own collections and archives, and for giving permission to use them in the book: Pete Barron, Steve Bateson, Allan Greenwood, Denise Park, Neil Shuttleworth, Martin Stone, Boff Whalley, and Mark Wilson.
A writer always benefits from the support of friends, whom they can tire out with stories of how badly, or well sometimes, the manuscript is going. Among such friends one who stands out is Mike Cambray, who was always happy to accommodate me on dashes to the Lakes, and act as a sounding board for my ideas regarding this project. On one walk through his local Craggy Woods he came up with the brilliant suggestion of illustrating each chapter with a line drawing relevant to the part of the story within it. Moira Chilton somewhat nervously took on the task of providing the pen and ink illustrations which introduce each chapter. I hope you will agree that they are marvellous, helping set the scene and giving an excellent locational context to the journey.
On the many journeys to interview people for the manuscript Bruce Springsteen has many times been my companion. He has been the soundtrack to my writing and researching and is an inspiration to me on several levels. I once listed his ‘Born to Run’ in a blog on my favourite running books. It is actually the best written rock autobiography, in my opinion. The discerning reader/rock fan may detect his tangible presence in this tome.
At some point an author has to show their work to someone, ideally someone who is willing to read it and give constructive feedback. Massive thanks go to Ed Price for being my critical friend, despite having a very busy domestic and working life himself. He made some very sound suggestions regarding structure and style when reviewing the first draft of the manuscript for me, and I am sure the subsequent re-drafting has produced a better and more readable result. Any errors in the script are of course my responsibility.
Thanks to my editor Robert Davidson, proof-reader Joy Walton, cover designer Heather MacPherson of Raspberry Creative Type, indexer Roger Smith and all at Sandstone Press who, as always, have been a pleasure to work with.
Over the three days before the book’s publication there is an ‘All or nothing at all’ Blog Tour. Visit the blogs via the links below to find out more about the book and it’s author, and also more about it’s subject and the content of the book. Two blogs will be released on each day of the tour.
On Mon 17 August there are two stops on the tour:
Having seen an advance copy, Paul Foster [@longrunuk] takes us through the process, asking me about the idea, research and writing, and then publication and promotion. It gives a unique insight the stages that I went through to produce this book. See: https://www.longrun.co.uk/articles/all-or-nothing-at-all
Dave Middlemas [@meanwoodrambler] has lived in Borrowdale and takes a look at the changes that in the book Billy Bland highlights that have happened in Borrowdale during his life, which has all been spent living in that valley. See: https://meanwoodrambler.com/?p=4242
On Tue 18 August there are two stops on the tour:
In an instructive piece on his blog, Ed Price highlights what a critical friend is, how important they can be, and how he reacted to being asked to be my critical friend for this book. See: https://medium.com/@edprice/learning-how-to-read-the-trail-8e43431d27dd
Runner and blogger Jeff McCarthy did a probing interview with me, in question and answer format, about: myself, Billy Bland and some of the things that are in the book. See: http://runeatrepeat.co.uk/steve-chilton-interview-on-billy-bland-book-and-bob-graham-round/
On Wed 19 August there are two stops on the tour:
I turned the tables on Boff Whalley and interviewed him, about: getting into fell running, discovering the BGR, and how he suddenly had Billy Bland pacing him on the last leg of his own round. See: http://boffwhalley.com/blog.php
Finally, Ben Mounsey’s blog carries a short edited extract from the book on Billy Bland’s training, what he did, and didn’t do, and some reflections from Ben. See: https://benmounsey.net/2020/08/19/all-or-nothing-at-all/
‘All or nothing at all’ will be published on Thursday 20th August and can be obtained from all good bookshops and online at Amazon. Look out for the live and interactive book launch, on Thursday 20 Aug at 6-30pm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVbuEUURETE&feature=youtu.be
About the book
All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland. Sandstone Press. Format: Hardback. ISBN: 9781913207229. Publication Date: 20/08/2020 RRP: £19.99
All or Nothing At All is the life story of Billy Bland, fellrunner extraordinaire 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.
About the author
Steve Chilton is a runner and coach with considerable experience of fell running. He is a long-time member of the Fell Runners Association (FRA). He formerly worked at Middlesex University as Lead Academic Developer. He has written three other books: It’s a Hill, Get Over It; The Round: In Bob Graham’s footsteps; and Running Hard: the story of a rivalry. He has written for The Fellrunner, Compass Sport, Like the Wind and Cumbria magazines.
The other day I had a long chat with Boff Whalley, as he is providing one of the stops on the Blog Tour next week to celebrate the launch of my book ‘All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland’. His blog post that results from the chat will cover, amongst other things, the Bob Graham Round (and having Billy Bland as a surprise pacer on his own). Here we cover some of Boff’s recent writing output – for book and stage. As he has much more interesting things to say than I have it is in a series of questions, which he answered willingly. So, here goes, (my words/links in italics):
Photo is a tease for Boff’s Book Blog Tour post – see above
Do you have a writing scheme/schedule/routine?
I do. For songwriting I have to know what it is for. I don’t just walk round with a notepad in my pocket and come up with inspiration. I have to have a subject or a reason to do it. But with writing writing (with books and that) I just find it really difficult to find the time.
Have you been trying to write in lockdown?
What happened is that I have been thinking of writing a book about Gary Devine. It has been on the cards for about two years. I had kind of shelved it as it wasn’t really going anywhere. But when lockdown happened I instantly thought – this is the time to do it. But I hadn’t taken into account home schooling. I have got a ten-year-old and it is just crazy trying to write a book whilst you are responsible for stopping a child from spending all day at a screen! You know, re-learning primary school maths and all that. And doing projects too. Once I am in that space, I presume it is the same for you, I love it. I could sit and write all day if I had the chance.
[STEVE] I find I have to have something to start me off – having talked to someone else, or read something. I hit the task in random patterns. I certainly don’t write logically through a manuscript.
Are you writing what might be seen as a standard biography or trying to write through Gary’s eyes?
A lot of it is quite novelistic, in the sense that I didn’t want it to be just a biography. I am not very good at writing those kind of things. I am not good at the journalism part of everything. I have had lots of discussions with Gary about this. Basically, I said, we will sit down and go through everything, and I can keep asking you lots of questions about facts here and there. Essentially, I want to write this so that it is an exciting story. Not just about running, I want it to be about punk rock, and about the 1980s, and squatting in Leeds and getting iced by the police.
Did you know him before running?
Yes. I knew him vaguely. I knew him from the punk scene and had seen him about. When I went to watch my first fell race, he won it. It clicked and I suddenly thought, yeh that is that guy. I have known him since then.
What band or music did he play?
He was in a band called Pagan Idols. They were absolutely awful. I am sure he would agree with me. They were lovely people and they had really good hearts. They really meant it, and were very loud and extreme.
At this point I checked: Is it OK to mention the book?
I am kinda assuming that no-one is else is gonna write on that subject.
Have you got a publisher?
Yeh. Great Northern Books are publishing it.
At this point we digressed somewhat, which led to an interesting story
I originally planned to write a book about Joss Naylor, but Keith Richardson got there first. Did you know Joss worked at BNFL for a while? An ambassador even, you might call it nowadays.
I think they [BNFL] were very good at keeping the local community happy. They employed loads of people who barely did any work. So, it kept people from complaining about things. It had a nickname, what was it? Something like a ghost job. It meant you turned up and didn’t do anything.
What do you think of the whole GPS tracker/Strava thing?
Steve Bottomley from Pudsey & Bramley was talking about Strava when it first started. He used to wait at the bottom of a hill on his bike and as soon as a lorry came along get in its slipstream and get a good time. Life is too short for that sort of antics. In the early days of GPS trackers for football clubs one manager found that he gave them to his players to show how much training they were doing on their own. He found some of them were attaching the trackers to their dogs.
You have been working on a project called ‘These hills are ours’. What is it?
An 85-mile run from Lancaster down to Kinder Scout was part of the backbone of the story we are telling. It is to do with land rights and land ownership. It is the history of land ownership as told from the standpoint of runners.
Is it a stage show?
It is a theatre thing but not playing characters. It is two of us presenting these ideas and with songs and discussion and things like that. Bits of film even. It gave me an excuse to write a set of 8 or 9 songs about fell running, which I have never done before. Well there was an album about sport on which there are two fell running songs. It was a delight to write these new ones. I really enjoyed it. We had 40-odd dates pencilled in for March to June and they all disappeared with lockdown.
The idea reminds me of Ewan McColl and the ‘Shoals of herring’ song series
Yeh – the radio ballads. They were brilliant. When I first discovered those I thought they were brilliant and I was inspired by them. This is similar. The songs I have written tell the story of different aspects of running and how you feel on certain things – races, and different aspects.
Is your co-creator (Daniel Bye) a songwriter or what?
He is a theatre maker and performance artist. He is a writer as well. But he is also an obsessive runner. Part of the reason we thought we might do a show about it all was because as we talked about it we realised that I have old-fashioned traditionalist attitude to a lot of things about running, whereas he is Mr Heartrate Monitor GPS Watch Strava Segment. He knows the whole thing and that is his world. I so like to wind him up. I bought a sundial watch which I wear when I meet him. The joke is I am playing Billy Bland and he is Kilian Jornet. Our two characters meet with running in the middle.
Link to Daniel’s blog about it: http://www.danielbye.co.uk/these-hills-are-ours.html
Finally, what is your fitness and commitment to running just now.
Just enjoying running at the moment. I am 60 next year so I need to get fit for that. Jack Maitland used to run his age in one go every year on his birthday. Once you get to about 60 it is getting hard. He used to do it over the weekend, so over the weekend when he was 30 he ran 30 miles and drank 30 pints on the Fri-Sun. Just madness.
PS: Just for the record, in lockdown I have been working (intermittently) on three books. One on the Ordnance Survey, one on photography, and one on fell running.
There are just two weeks to the launch date for my book ‘All of Nothing at All: the life of Billy Bland’, which is Thursday 20 Aug. This is the last reveal, consisting of two bits of content.
Firstly, each chapter has a pen and ink drawing on the first page as a lead-in to what the chapter is about. This arose from a casual conversation I had with Mike, a very good friend of mine whom I go ‘way back’ with, as we walked through Craggy Wood, just by Staveley in the South Lakes, when I was visiting him one time. Out of the blue he suggested the idea of chapter illustrations, knowing I am a big fan of Wainwright’s pen and ink work. I tentatively suggested the idea to my wife Moira, and she agreed to have a go at one. Looking at that first one, we both really like it – so she agreed to do one per chapter, which became quite a task, but SO worth it as I look at them now.
I suggested various views or locations that fitted the themes of the chapters and away we went. Finding source material to refer to was not usually a problem, as we searched our own photos and on the web. The criteria was a good clear image that had really good colour contrast to show the detail. This was because Moira had to overlay heavy tracing paper over the image (that was taped on the top edge to allow flipping up). She then drew the detailed image with her favourite pens – Sakura Pigma Micron – to produce each piece of artwork. [The image shows Ashness Bridge – which was on one of Billy Bland’s long training run routes – with the left half having the underlying photo visible]
It was then scanned and reduced to see if effective. Some of the images chosen at first were rejected for various reasons, usually poor contrast and clarity making them difficult to interpret. One such was an image of a slate splitter at Honister Mine – where Billy worked for years – because of the difficulty of making the close-up of the worker’s hands look realistic. The images were sent for approval to the editor, who loved them, and set under the titles for each chapter [as illustrated below].
That leads us nicely on to the second snippet of content, which is a very small section of the chapter entitled ‘Reason to Believe’, which deals in detail with Billy Bland’s training. This introduces another of the characters of the Borrowdale fell running scene (Scoffer) and his relationship with Billy. Scoff told some marvellous stories when I met him to chat about Billy, only some of which were suitable for publication!
One other person who trained with Billy has subsequently become a close friend, and that is Andrew Schofield – who henceforth in this volume will be referred to, as everyone does, as Scoffer. How it all started is rather unusual as well, as I recently found out when talking with him.
Scoffer was born in Rochdale in 1967 and is a painter and decorator by trade. He ran first for Rochdale, and then for Rossendale. ‘Dave Lewis was the main man there. But also Ken Taylor, Pete Irwin and Bob Ashworth, I used to look up to them all’, Scoffer recalls.
He is a bit younger than Billy and it was all going pear-shaped between the professional and amateur sides of the sport when Scoffer got into it. There wasn’t really a pro scene in Lancashire. It was all in the Lakes really. Scoffer was up a lot at weekends with friends and decided he might as well move up and live in the Lakes.
In 1983/4 Scoffer started doing the Junior fell races, and progressed to longer Senior races, like Wasdale and Borrowdale. ‘I was OK, but not brilliant’, he says. ‘Gary Devine and Robin Bergstrand were the top Juniors, and they could also do well as Seniors. I might be fourth or fifth maybe, never winning.’
Once he knew Billy, he would sometimes stay with him and they would go out training. He just got to know Billy by going to races and knowing who he was. ‘He was The Man, and I watched him and then introduced myself. If you show an interest, he will give you as much time as you want. I used to come up for weekends and go for a run with Billy. I used to sleep on his settee, or camp in his garden. “You are welcome to come with me, but I am not waiting”, he would say.’ So, the same treatment as all other training partners, even though Scoffer was really young then, being 17 or 18. Scoffer does say that Billy didn’t used to rub him into the ground too much. He used to come up to Borrowdale by bike and public transport, or cadge lifts off people.
But Scoffer didn’t train regularly with Billy much, apart from those times when he used to come up for weekends. Billy was tailing off really as Scoffer was getting going. But that early training with Billy certainly helped his progress. ‘The advice I got off Billy was in showing us where to go in fell races. It is just common sense with running really isn’t it. You train and you get better. I was good trainer, and I still go running every day. I wouldn’t call it training. It is just going for a run now. If you have no natural ability you have got to run harder to keep up with those that have.’
Although still running, Scoffer reckons that the highlight of his career was winning Wasdale in 2002. There was no hesitation in that response. He also did a Bob Graham Round in 17-01. ‘Billy clapped me through at the top of Honister’, he laughs. ‘No that is not right, he did the last leg with me. It was OK for ten hours, then it was a walk.’
One story that I wasn’t sure whether to believe or not was confirmed by Scoffer, who was there. It concerned Gary Devine at the Ben Nevis race one year. ‘The lads were in the chip shop the night before the race and the guy in the chip shop the night before said to Gary, “if you win I will give you all free pie and chips”. Gary had bright pink hair and to look at him you would think he would not be able to run a bath, never mind up and down Ben Nevis. But we knew he could win, like. He did, and we got free pies and chips all round.’
I hope that, and the other five book reveals (see for instance what was left out), have given a feel for what you would get for your money. You can spend that money at the Sam Read Bookseller Online Shop (other online outlets are also available). Look out for details of the book launch.
At the beginning of 2020 (before lockdown) I interviewed Kim Collison about his recent Winter Bob Graham Round record*. The interview produced so much excellent material that I was also able to write a long profile of him, which was published over six pages in the Spring Fellrunner magazine.
At the end of the interview I asked him what he thought was likely to be the next challenge for him. In the profile he says that he thinks that probably the Bob Graham is done for him, because:
I know I am not a Kilian Jornet or a Billy Bland so I think 15-47 and in winter stands up for itself.
I ended the profile by just saying: ‘it will certainly be interesting to see what he chooses to challenge himself with next.’
What he had also said at the time, and asked me not to reveal, was this:
Now my focus will be towards other rounds or other Lake District Challenges. Mark Hartell’s 24 hr 77 Lake District Peaks is a possibility. I don’t necessarily want to step on Adam Perry’s toes, who has got so close before.
So, it was not a surprise to see him take on Hartell’s 77 peak record and add one himself, when he went round 78 peaks in less than 24 hours on Sat 11 July 2020, adding in Fleetwith Pike to the previous tally.