A little wrangling of the figures that BGR club post on their website for registrations and completions for the Bob Graham Round shows that the completion percentage is trending downwards at present. For 2018, 199 people registered and 84 completed, which is a 42.2% success rate. I have graphed the figures for the last 7 years* and the picture shows the trends for registrations, completions and percentages (the three dotted lines, which for the mathematicians amongst you are simple linear trend lines).
Comment: Registrations have been steadily increasing, with a high of 233 in 2017. It was a small dip last year, but still the second highest. Completions mirror the registrations pattern, again with a high of 115 in 2017, with last year again the second highest. Despite these fluctuations and trends, the % of completions does seem to always remain pretty much the same. It varies from 53.7% in 2012 to 39.6% in 2014, and as noted is marginally trending downwards. Speculative (and possibly controversial) cause – more less-prepared aspirants having a go these days.
A second graph shows the number of completions for every year since 1971.
Comment: the graph shows a strong trend for more people completing the BGR (solid red line is the linear trend) over time, but also how it fluctuates from year to year (dashed blue line is a 6-year moving average). 2001 was the year of foot and mouth disease, when there were no completions. It is interesting how long it took to get back to previous levels after that, presumably as folk weren’t able to get on the hills to recce. In the 1990s the numbers fluctuated greatly but were in fact trending down for some reason. The graph also shows that the 115 completions in 2017 were the highest ever number.
*NB: these are the only detailed ones I have access to
Notes/links: For more on the Bob Graham Round see the club website at: http://www.bobgrahamclub.org.uk/. For more on the BGR and its history see my book: ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’. For more on Kilian Jornet’s outstanding new record of 12-52 for the round, which he set in 2018, see: ‘Kílian Jornet smashes Bob Graham endurance race record’.
Caveat: I am aware that posting this I may be accused of ‘promoting’ the BGR, something the Bob Graham Club disapprove of. They rightly point out on their website some of the issues that increasing numbers cause, one of which is illustrated below.
I have always have a high regard for endurance runners, but a couple of things recently have seriously increased my respect for those that ‘run far’.
Firstly, I was working with ultra runner Damian Hall at a speaking event the other day, introducing him and compering the Q&A session.
I knew a little of his background already, as he had reached a career high 5th place in the tough Ultimate Tour de Mont Blanc in the summer, and I had been dot-watching as he and Beth Pascall set the FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the 230 mile Cape Wrath Trail this winter. But what really impressed me was his account of what life entails for an ultra runner training for this high level of performance. His talk modestly, and humorously, highlighted the problems of fitting in the training hours, juggling a domestic life, and keeping motivated and suitably energised with sufficient good calories on ultra events. Although I am not sure I will be recommending his top food choice of peanut butter and balsamic vinegar to any athletes I am working with! This was just one of the obsessions he was prepared to admit to. In a previous interview Damian had this to say about another of his obsessions:
I used to be obsessed with the Spine Race, but UTMB replaced it. Every year I think doing it one more time may help me get over it, but it doesn’t work. It’s just the biggest and best race ever. I can’t bring myself to tell anyone how often I think about it, or watch videos about it. It is not healthy behaviour.
His talk encompassed some good advice for aspirant ultra runners, and more can be found on the web, including: Damian Hall’s UTMB Kit List & Secrets To Success.
Secondly there has been the simply awesome achievement of Jasmin Paris in winning the Spine Race outright, in a new record time.
A lot has been made in the media of her being a woman, and of her expressing milk at checkpoints as her young daughter is still being weaned. But to me there are other aspects to the performance that should be lauded first. One is her mental commitment. She admitted in one interview that she had shortened her stop at early checkpoint (where she could get food on board, and sort clothing, before re-charging herself for the next stage) in order to get out in front of a main rival who was there at the same time. Later her self-imposed sleep deprivation regime (she had just 7 hours of ‘down-time’, including her feed stops in the 83 hours 12 minutes of the event) began to catch up with her a bit and she:
kept seeing animals appearing out of every rock …. and I kept forgetting what I was doing out there.
Jasmin rightfully received massive media coverage for the achievement, including being on Breakfast TV and Woman’s Hour (and being tweeted about by Chelsea Clinton). But the best reporting was by Sean Ingle in the Guardian, who reckoned that ‘Jasmin Paris’s feat of endurance was a welcome antidote to modern sport’.
Jasmin Paris has a mightily impressive list of achievements, including holding female records for all three major UK rounds (and fastest overall for the Ramsay Round), in 2016 won the Skyrunning World Champs, and was 2018 British Fell Running Champion. I wrote a blog about her Bob Graham Round record performance (with a downloadable article from The Fellrunner about her linked to it) at: Peak performance – Jasmin Paris’ new Bob Graham record.
There is also an extended piece about this, and Nicky Spinks’ double Bob Graham Round, in my book The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps.
NOTE: if you want more on ultra running, you might look out Adharanand Finn’s new book The Rise of the Ultra Runners, which comes out in May 2019, and has more on Damian Hall and other top ultra runners.
CREDIT: two photos inov-8.com
I am pleased to have been asked by Due North Events to introduce (and MC the Q&A session) Damian Hall at an event in Penrith on Thursday 10 January. Judging by what I know of ‘Ultra Damo’ and by the title of his talk – ‘A Midlife Crisis, a Toilet and the Power Sob: what running long distances in lumpy places has taught me about life, the universe and everything’ – this should be a fascinating evening. Tickets are available from this link, or just rock up on the night and pay.
I am planning some more talking events for the rest of 2019 as well, so if you would like me to present my thoughts on fell running, and its characters, at your festival, running club, race, book club, social event, or wedding, then please contact me. The topic could be linked to any of my three books.
Over the holiday I read two classic mountaineering books. As I had time in between Christmas activities I have reviewed them both. Now, I know writers like Pete Boardman and Chris Bonington don’t need reviews, but I am mindful (as an author myself) of the value to potential readers of a considered view. So, if you like a book you have read, do share a review – on Amazon, Good Reads, or on your blog or via social media.
Sacred Summits covers three very different Boardman expeditions, to Carstenz Pyramid in New Guinea, Kangchenjunga and Gauri Sankar. The book includes very well written accounts of the trips, but more interestingly for me a very frank discourse on the dilemmas facing climbers. This covers the selfish motives they have, and the toll on friends and especially family. The author also considers whether climbers should even go to the summits of such very scared mountains. In fact, on Kangchenjunga they leave ‘the final few yards untrodden in deference to the inhabiting deity’. Boardman is good at illuminating the shifting inter-personal relationships on such expeditions, and also makes good use of the diaries and thoughts of other expedition members to counter-point his own views. He explains his ethical stance on climbing, but also notes that desperate situations call these ethics into focus. He records that to surmount one obstacle they had to:
stand on five rocks piled on each other. This would be seen as cheating on British rock, but I was too tired for ethics.
I have no idea if the conversations he details are real or made-up, but they do nicely draw you in to the atmosphere of the occasion. There were two disappointments for me with this edition of the book. There were a significant number of typos, particularly noticeable in the foreword. Secondly, the photos included were poorly reproduced at the end of the book. This may well be because it is a reprint of book first published many years ago (Boardman died in 1982). Overall though a great read, which is much more than a description of three climbing trips. I was particularly touched by Boardman’s moving account of his father’s death shortly after he came home from Gauri Sankar.
The Everest Years is Part III of a series of autobiographical books by Chris Bonington. It is a very honest and human account of the period of his life that culminated in him finally summiting Everest at the age of 50, back in 1985. It also covers the details of the deaths of several close friends on climbs, which is always a hard read. He has chosen to have a reflective approach, as some of the expeditions have already had their own books written by him, and here he shows how the expeditions related to each other, and he to the participants on them. In the book Bonington admits his style of leadership is not to everyone’s liking, and he is good at highlighting the highs and lows of the inter-personal relationships, particularly on his smaller teams. This is a reprint, under a different imprint, of a book first published in 1986. It does unfortunately suffer from a number of typos, and hyphenations that do not survive different line lengths in the new setting. It is also disappointing that Bonington’s excellent photography is poorly reproduced in this edition. On the plus side it is great to have maps of expeditions, and some route overlays on some of the photos. Overall it is an excellent read, detailing some of the ground-breaking expeditions he led (or took part in, as he was not always the leader) in a period when he was arguably the highest profile mountaineer of his time.
As FRA members await the arrival of the Winter 2018 Fellrunner magazine I will just give a reminder of a piece I wrote for the Spring issue, entitled ‘I wasn’t the best by any means, but I was a tryer’. It is a report of an evening event organised by Due North Events in which Billy Bland and I shared a stage to take questions from a full house in the Skiddaw Hotel.
It was a fascinating evening and the four page report, in full, can be downloaded [PDF file].
Xmas present(s) still needed? Splashmaps have a personalised map offer, which can be taken up until 6pm on 16th December, to be delivered in the UK by Christmas, and with a 10% discount code, due to work I have done with them (on their Bob Graham Round map).
Click the linked image and then use the code steve8 to claim 10% discount.
Personalised SplashMaps are
• Centred anywhere (world wide!)
• Given a personal title
• Printed on weatherproof washable fabric
• Stuffable/ virtually indestructible
It is coming to the end of the year and I noticed that I had read 10 running-related books this year. So here are short reviews of them all, taken from my Good Reads website. It is NOT my top ten running books published in 2018, just some thoughts on those I have read this year. In fact only four are from 2018. There is always catching up to do!
The figures after the author are the grade (1-5) given by me, and the year of publication.
I hope it might inspire some readers to pick up something ‘new’ to read.
Armistice Runner, by Tom Palmer (5, 2018)
This was something of a surprise. I am a sucker for running books anyway, and this was a delight. Although ostensibly written for the younger reader, the themes were very adult. It caught my emotions as the story unfolded, both the war detail and that of the gran’s Alzheimer’s. Subsequently found that the author is doing a lot for literacy in schools, which is brilliant.
The Mountains Are Calling, by Jonny Muir (5, 2018)
The first point to make about Jonny Muir’s book is the clarity and quality of his writing. The book’s subject is ‘running in the high places of Scotland’ which gives him a huge scope, range and landscape to cover. It is significant that he lives in this environment, and runs in it, for pleasure and competition. But it is the people that he meets and their stories that give such a great counterpoint to his own experiences that fascinated me most. Muir considers the origins of running in the hills, the beauty of it, and also the recent commercialisation of the sport (which definitely grates with him and some with whom he speaks). Running through the narrative, but not dominating it, is the Charlie Ramsay Round, which he seems fated to attempt – and finally does. The storyline does jump about a bit, and visits Scottish mountains some readers may not know so well, but his writing is so crisp and engaging that it draws you on and into what may be the unknown. His chapter titles are well chosen and three will suffice to give both a feel for the subject (Mountain Madness) and yet Muir’s feeling for hill running (Beautiful Madness; and Epiphany). Read and be inspired.
North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail, by Scott Jurek (4, 2018)
I warmed to Jurek as I read this. He certainly put himself into a deep place in his AT endeavours. He describes the journey well and I liked his discursive writing but found the sections where his partner Jenny’s gives her thoughts rather less satisfactory. Looking back thought, it is a fascinating insight into the challenge that something like chasing a 50-mile a day FKT on the Appalachian Trail entails.
A Life Without Limits, by Chrissie Wellington (4, 2012)
This is a well written biography of a great athlete containing a nice balance between her personal and her sporting challenges and achievements. I particularly liked the frankness of the ‘issues’ that are talked of – pooing and relationships, etc. The constant reference back to the coach with a past and his influence are an intriguing narrative running throughout the book.
The Pants of Perspective, by Anna McNuff (4, 2017)
A very enjoyable read, easy, informative, and sometimes funny. In travel books like this I always like to see at least a simple map of the route taken, but to no avail.
The best part, as perhaps it should be, are the people met on the way. Overall, a very enjoyable book.
This Mum Runs, by Jo Pavey (3, 2016)
I chose this book as a light read after a major operation. It was fascinating to hear about Jo’s early success, injury years, and slightly left-field fightback. She is certainly a role model for athletes seeking a long career, and describes her achievements in a modest and appealing way.
Twin Tracks: The Autobiography, by Roger Bannister (3, 2014)
I know it is the twin tracks of his life, but the first half on his running was very good but the second was rather tedious, as it wound its way through his medical and sports administration work. A good book about an amazing athlete, who was also an outstanding and very special human being.
Pre: The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine, by Tom Jordan (3, 1977)
A great insight into a great runner. He comes across as tough and hard working, with a bloody mindedness that rubbed some up the wrong way. To beat him you had to run hard and fast, none of this sprint out at the end stuff. Sadly he died very young in a car crash. Although a good read, I still could have done with more of the man and less of the races.
Running the Red Line, by Julie Carter (3, 2018)
Mixed feelings on this one. The author is a doctor/psychologist and tries to analyse herself and also explore the physiology and psychology that comes into play when we push ourselves (the ‘red zone’). It had some interesting stuff on resilience and motivation.
Run or Die, by Kilian Jornet (2, 2011)
Unquestionably an amazing athlete and something of a free-spirit, Jornet certainly seems passionate about his sport and the environment it takes place in. The book is part diary, part personal philosophy, with just a little on technique and nutrition. It is written like a blog which makes it quite disjointed. An entertaining read, despite his high-blown language at times, which may have lost something in the translation.
For a further list of 20 books that I feel show something of the range and depth of the running book genre, see my earlier blog:
Good reads : running books.
And if you are looking for presents to give, look no further than:
Books: ideal Christmas pressies!