Join me in the Ambleside University Lecture Theatre on Saturday evening 7th September 2019, as I introduce and interview running legend Joss Naylor MBE. It is part of The Climbers Shop Ultra Running Weekend.
I was very chuffed to be asked to be compere for this event, for three main reasons. Firstly, Joss is great fun to work with, and we shared the stage at a brilliant evening at the Buxton Adventure Festival last year. Secondly, I really like helping the Brathay Trust with their work, especially as they do so much to help young people. I recently worked with them on publicising another Joss Naylor charity effort – on 20 July where he will be completing the route of the 1962 Mountain Trial which he had to drop out of through injury. There is still time to donate to that brilliant event, or go along with him on it.
Thirdly, Joss will be talking about his International Three Peaks Record and his 60 at 60 run. These are both incredible endurance events that not everyone will know about.
I have a special affinity with the Three Peaks – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon – as I had one of the best days of my life running them back in the day. [Photo is at the finger stone on the descent to finish the Snowdon leg]
The funds from the evening event with Joss will support: Brathay Young Minds Matter appeal.
The number of young people struggling with mental health difficulties has more than doubled in recent years, which means providing targeted programmes to support them is a priority for Brathay.
Brathay are working to help reduce these numbers, but we need your help. Poor mental health is something that affects one in four of the population and it is increasing, especially among young people.
Nationally, the number of young people experiencing mental health problems is growing:
- One quarter of young people in the UK experience suicidal thoughts
- Rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers have increased by 70% in the past 25 years
- About 25% of young people self-harm on one occasion
Tickets for the event are selling fast, so get across to the website to purchase yours.
Following on from my post BGR completion rate is 42.2% a couple of people mooted the idea that the women’s completion percentage might be higher, giving reasons such as: ‘they’ve generally prepared better; they don’t sprint the first two legs and then run out of steam on leg 3; they are stronger’ (h/t Paul Wilson). The Bob Graham Club website has data for the last 7 years by gender, so I have graphed it for women only.
Comment: All three sets of data – percentages, registrations, and completions are all trending slightly upwards (the dotted lines). The completion percentage varies significantly for women from year to year, which might be partly explained by the small sample size – meaning that one person swinging from succeed to fail would change the resulting numbers a fair bit. The lowest % is 31.6 and the highest is 60.0 (for all completions in the same period it ranged from 39.6 to 53.6%). Although the percentage for 2018 is high, at 58.3%, only in three of the seven years is the women’s percentage higher than the overall percentage. To me that is inconclusive and doesn’t really prove the point.
[Yes I know I should compare women to men and not the overall completers, so here is the men’s data graphed]
Comment: not much to say, except that it almost exactly mirrors the original graphs for all completers regardless of gender. It does show that although registrations and completions for men are trending upwards, the percentage completions is slightly down-turned, and is consistently around the 50% mark (with a range of 40.8 to 52.5).
As a Patron of the Brathay Trust fell running legend Joss Naylor is always thinking up new ways to help them, often with novel fund-raising events. His latest effort will be on July 20 this year, when he is inviting folk to join him on a run from Kirkstone to Patterdale. I wrote about the back-story to this in the latest Fellrunner magazine. The full article is available to read/download – in PDF format. If it inspires you, please feel free to join him – and sponsor him while you are at it. For details see: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/joss1962
Billy Bland, Jasmin Paris, Steve Birkinshaw, Martin Stone and I regaled the Theatre by the Lake crowd at the Bob Graham Night, as part of the Keswick Mountain Festival. After Martin introduced proceedings, I talked about the history of the Bob Graham Round (BGR), then interviewed Billy Bland on stage. Steve Birkinshaw talked about his Wainwrights round, and Jasmin about women on the BGR. After the break and a showing of a short film on Kilian Jornet’s new BGR record, we all took to the stage as a panel to answer questions from the audience. The following is a transcription of the Q&A section of the evening, pretty much as it occurred.
Questions in italics, answers follow – with credit to speaker when more than 1 response. Qs were addressed to all panel, unless stated in the Q line:
Steve B – Atrial fibrillation: Have you managed to reverse that or are you still running with it?
Strangely yes. I didn’t know to start with what it was. I went to the doctor and they put me in hospital for the night. As the fatigue has got better so the fibrillation has got better as well. I still occasional get it if I am out for like a 5-hour run on the fells. But mostly it has gone.
What is the age of the oldest person to have done the BGR? Is there any hope for me?
Martin: It is Ken Taylor, who was 72. That was last year. He was my old mountain marathon partner. The amazing thing about Ken Taylor is that he had stomach cancer. He had just won the v60 fell championship and on the very last race he felt absolutely dreadful and went and had some checks done. They found he had a growth the size of a golf ball in his stomach. So, he had his stomach removed. This was nearly 10 years ago now. He was stitched back together, and he had to learn how to digest food again. He started fell running again and found by managing his energy levels he was able to do the long races. He had been keen on races all those years and then thought it was about time he got around to doing the BGR. HE cruised round in under 22 hours I think it was. Phenomenal.
Is eating fruit cake still the way to go, or what is your nutrition plan?
Billy: I haven’t a clue. [laughter] We just did what we thought was right. If we were doing everything wrong then we were quite good, weren’t we? If we had known everything they know now we might have been a laal bit better.
Jasmin: I just eat normal food. I would go for fruit cake over a gel any day.
Steve C: In the really long endurance events it is really what you can get down and what you can eat. I remember talking to Nicky Spinks about this and she said really struggled to find things that were palatable under pressure that didn’t make her feel ill. I think the magic food in her case was rice pudding.
How important is equipment and could you imagine running as fast with the equipment of 30+ years ago that Billy had?
Jasmin: I feel that one of the joys of running is that all you need is a pair of shoes and off you go. I don’t really think the kit makes that much difference. I like the freedom of running. Shoes need to have good grip mind. Shorts and t-shirt are fine.
Steve B: I pretty much agree with Jasmin. Things like waterproofs are loads better than they were 30 years ago. Lightweight ones are a step up. Mountain marathon tents are loads better than they were.
Martin: there didn’t used to be these vests they wear now. You generally had to have stuff in a bumbag or a day sack but had to get them out. Now it is easier.
Steve B: I am still old school. I take water from becks as I go past. If you have vest it is more difficult to put a top on and off. I did an ultra last summer and I think I was the only person wearing a bumbag rather than a fancy vest.
Billy: when I see people starting fell races carrying water, I think ohoh! Use the streams, that is where the water comes from anyway. Water is quite heavy too, isn’t it?
Martin – did you ask Jasmin to pace Kilian, and if you didn’t, why not? [laughter]
Martin: I did ask Jasmin, yeh.
Jasmin: he did ask me, but I can’t remember why I wasn’t available. I might have been nervous about keeping up, but I could have asked to be on the last leg. It would have been amazing to be there at such a historical moment.
Jasmin – Did being a new mum help with your Spine race effort?
I think it did, yeh. It was a real bonus because I was used to sleeping less. By then I was back at work and my daughter was still waking up every three hours through the night. I was training at 4 or 5am in the morning. I wasn’t getting as much sleep anyway, so it may not have been as much of a shock as it was for other competitors.
Jasmin – how did you prepare for the Spine race, and did you feel well prepared?
Previously I had never focussed my training for just one race, I just kind of ran a lot because I love doing it. For three months I trained specifically for the Spine race. I built up the mileage to 100 miles a week by the end, which some may say is nothing. I did back to back long days with a pack, so I got used to that. In the race I carried about 5.5 kilos in my pack. I was also doing some speed sessions and hill work too. I had done multi-day races before, but never one where sleep deprivation comes into it.
Billy – how many times did you run 100 miles a week?
Maybe a couple that is all. I did 1,000 miles by March each year but not at 100 miles a week.
What impact do you all think Richard Askwith’s book has had on the Bob Graham Round?
Steve C: can I answer as an author who has tried to write a book after that. I had issues with the FRA, the governing body, who said “after Askwith we don’t want anyone else to write a book about it”. The governing body was a bit insular about its own sport. At one level it was an issue for some people in the sport, and at another level it brought a lot of people into the possibility of doing that sort of thing. It depends on your point of view. If you look at the numbers on that chart (of completions) I showed (earlier) it went up significantly in the years following the book.
Jasmin: it is interesting that more recently Jonny Muir has written a book about the Ramsay Round and it will be interesting to see if that affects numbers there. It has nowhere near the numbers doing it as the Bob Graham does.
Martin: the FRA went through a period, quite a large number of years, where it was important they felt to not grow the sport in terms of total numbers involved. That was because of issues with landowners and the size of race fields. They had a publicity officer and the job was to put the cap on publicity. At the time I understood some of the reasons for this, but I think his book has had a massive impact.
Jasmin – what is next?
Running for Great Britain in the World Trail Champs in Portugal. I had some thoughts about some non-race things I might do this year, but I am not sure on that. The whole media thing after the Spine Race has been incredible but also a bit overwhelming. I am almost ready to sink into obscurity. I am not really chasing things at the moment. In August I am doing a multi-day race with Konrad and I have told him that for the next couple of months if our daughter wakes up in the night, he is dealing with it. [laughter]
Billy – did you taper at all before big race like Ennerdale or Borrowdale?
No. I would do the [carbo] diet, depleting myself on the Sunday with a long run. Then I would still run on the Monday and the Tuesday and try to run on the Wednesday. I just ran every day, like. I ran because I like it. That is what my body was used to. I don’t think I would benefit from a day off. I honestly don’t. If you don’t have days off your body gets used to recovering quickly. Yes, you have to get to bed and have a good night’s sleep. And the refuel with good food. I think that people that have lots of days off will not move to the next level. That is how I saw it anyway.
What does it mean to be a professional fell runner?
Billy: well, when I first started as a teenager there was Keswick, Ambleside and Grasmere Sports. I was just a valley lad who didn’t venture far. So that was all there was really. If you were lucky enough to be in the prizes you might get a fiver or a tenner. If you think we could make a living at it then you can just forget it. We all had to work as well.
Jasmin: I think that now you can get sponsored and that involves doing social media stuff. But you have to be winning events really. Personally, I like to free of all that. I am not tied into any contract. We do it because we love being in the hills and doing the running. If you want to benefit financially you will be tied down to a contract.
Steve B – at what point did 214 Wainwrights become a good idea? [laughter]
Ot was definitely not a good idea by halfway through, when I was in pain. Someone suggested it when I was trying to do the Lakeland 24 hours. I thought, yeh. It is a good way to see the whole Lake District in a week. [laughter] It appealed to me.
Steve B [from Jasmin] – would you do it again if you knew the problems you would have afterwards?
I would do it again. Knowing how I have struggled afterwards I would still do it. It is a memory that will live for ever. It would have been better if my feet hadn’t played up so much, but there is always something that is going to wrong. As you know the pain goes away in time. All I have got now is good memories of that week. Paul Tierney is having a go at the Wainwrights shortly and I have advised him and will be supporting him on the first leg.
Are there any techniques for getting through the hard times on endurance events?
Steve B: for me I focus on short term things. So, on the Wainwrights I was in agony on very downhill, but I knew the climb would be fine. So, I would think just get to the bottom of the hill and don’t think too far ahead.
Jasmin: I would agree that breaking it down helps. The more you do these things the more you realise that you will always go through bad patches. If you go through a patch and come out the other side, you get more confidence that you can succeed. It is better to keep on going than to sit down and try to recover. Keep moving and keep eating, if you can. The first night on the Spine was the hardest because my body hadn’t clicked that I was running a race without sleep. But I was doing really well in the race so that really helped.
Billy: If it happened in a race you can feel it coming and you usually know what is causing it. On the BGR I had a bad patch, got fed and away I went again. But, I haven’t done stuff like these two have. I am too damn soft to take part in that sort of stuff! [laughter]
I have been doing loads of interviews for Book IV recently and there is always way too much material to use. The following are five tales from the hills from five of the finest fell runners, and alround entertaining interviewees.
These stories may or may not make the cut into the manuscript. Enjoy.
In 1982 Kenny won the Ben Nevis race at his first attempt, a very rare feat. He had been up to Red Burn the day before, but didn’t have time to go any higher than that. He explains how the race went. ‘I ran it tactically in a roundabout sort of way. That day I knew that Billy Bland was going to come and catch me, it was inevitable. I played with him a bit after Red Burn, and I tried to get him to do a lot more than he was wanting to do. He was up for it as he was nearer me than he thought he might be. On the way down he caught me, and I stayed with him until the Red Burn and on the grass bank he belly-flopped. I thought he would get up from that as he had plenty left but I went right past and he didn’t come back. Whether he was winded or he realised that he had spent his lot, I am not sure’.
He says he never really concentrated on fell running, but did quite a lot of track running, and road running and cross country. ‘Fell running I did just because there were some fell races on, it was just part of life. I never actually won a fell race, but got a good few seconds and thirds. I did win one in France, believe it or not. That was more of a trail race though really, and it was marked so you couldn’t get lost. My problem was that if I got to the front then I wouldn’t have a clue where I was going. That is despite having a Geography degree! My best performance was possibly Latrigg because I almost won it one year. Billy Bland was the man that beat me. I ended up third behind Malcolm Patterson. They both passed me on the way down.’
Tony I did his first BGR in May 1980, and it was the seventh fastest time at the time (19-40 something). He talked about his other Bob Graham exploits. ‘My second Bob was later the same year as part of an attempted double BGR. I did it clockwise because everyone in those days did it anticlockwise. I still advocate that. Clockwise is not the right way. I knew I had to do the first round in about 20 hours to give 28 hours on the return trip. We ran into rain and electric storms on Kirk Fell and I finished the first part in 23 hours and forget about the second part. My third round was in 1985 with my dog Glen which was a Wainwright rescue dog. I think it was the third dog to do a round. I hadn’t intended to do it all but did in the end.’
Gavin reckons his 1993 Three Peaks was the luckiest win ever, as he explains. He had gone round the course a fortnight before, as he recalls. ‘There were three of us – me, Scoffer and Paul Sheard. I was absolutely knackered and hanging on like. I thought, “what am I doing this for?”. Scoff fell off a sink and he couldn’t run. Paul Sheard went wrong half-way round and me and Mark Roberts ran round with Paul Mitchell thinking we were running for 2nd, 3rd and 4th, or whatever. We got to the last field and Mark Croasdale appeared behind us. He had been in the lead but got lost coming off Ingleborough. Me and Mark left Paul, who had showed us the way round, and had a sprint finished in that last field and I won it.’
He tells me a story about how he went up to the Lakes for a week’s holiday with a girlfriend. She didn’t know anything about fell racing, what Dave called a ‘London disco type of girl’. He decided to do the midweek Tebay fell race. ‘I had never done it before and we got to this ridge at an angle and I went one way and the guy I was with knew the way and he went the other way. I was so annoyed that I hammered this climb and caught him and finished second to Hugh Symonds. The girlfriend went out to watch, as there was a road near the course, and she saw what went wrong and had a right go at me for going wrong. She said if he had gone the wrong way you would have told him. I said no I wouldn’t!’
There is always a special relationship between coach and athlete, each case being “an experiment of one” as the great coach athletics Wilf Paish once described it. [He has the unique record of coaching athletes to Olympic medals in widely differing events – Peter Elliott to silver in the 1500m in 1988, and Tessa Sanderson to gold in the javelin in 1984. He was also a huge influence on my coaching ethos, having led a fascinating coaching course I went on when learning my trade.]
At the end of the day, as a coach you give some advice, the athlete does the work, and then s/he has to deliver the result on the day. If the target is a marathon there are many ways that this result can turn out, some good, some not so.
I have watched two friends run marathons in the last couple of weeks, once remotely via a tracker and the other time on the course at three separate locations, but both times highly emotionally engaged in the event and the outcome, having been that advisor.
Firstly, it was my niece Linda in the Great Welsh Marathon. She has two young children, aged 2 (at time of race) and 10 months, and was trying to regain some form and fitness, and I suspect some “me time” (much as she loves her children btw!). She approached me in December to ask for advice on maximising her training time, explaining about her husband Mark’s support and their joint commitment to juggle life to make it happen.
We worked on this over the months, with a result that she went (knowingly) into the race on far less training than I would normally recommend to a (first time) marathoner. In summary Linda did a gradual build up month on month, going a mile longer on each long run each week from January to a peak of 21 miles, with one other run of 20 miles. The weekly mileage was necessarily low. For example in the biggest month of March there was just 141.4 miles in total, giving an average for those ‘big’ weeks of 35 miles per week. Many runs were also done alone, and quite a few with a racing buggy with one (or two) children in it – good strength training.
How did it go? Very well in the end. Whilst on pace for something in the 3-40 range for a good part of the first half, the finish time drifted a little in the second half. In fact, the pacing was very good throughout, but gradually became harder to sustain. For example, the first mile was at 8-28 per mile, while the 13th was at 8-44 and the 26th at 9-22, but with a brilliant 8-06 pace for those last 385 yards. The finish time was 3-50-57, for 37th female out of 183.
How did Linda feel it went? The instant response came in a Whatsapp message: “Job done. Serious serious head wind. Smashed it.” The more considered afterthought was, “you know what, I might do a 50k ultra next!”. One tough cookie.
Secondly, clubmate Paul did the London marathon this year and we hooked up for training together back in the autumn. This consisted of me suggesting weekly mileages, long runs and sessions each week, with him fitting the efforts he did each day into his busy lifestyle – two young kids and two jobs (one of which is DJing, which involves very unsocial hours). We were joined by Tim from a neighbouring club for many sessions, particularly the important track ones (see first photo in this blog).
Looking back, the training went pretty well, with a couple of minor blips on the way. There seemed to be a natural limit of 60 miles/week, which was achieved five times in the build-up. An impressive eight 20+ runs were included, with a longest of 24 miles, one of the vital parts in marathon training in my book. Another important ingredient is good long track training sessions, as they are monitorable for effort and progress. Paul did some excellent ones, including 8 x 1 mile in times ranging from 5-45 for the first down to 5-30 for the last.
He achieved several PBs on the way, confidence was high, tapering went well and a sub 2-50 PB very much looked on the cards. He ended up with 2-58.
So, what happened? It is very difficult to be specific and pinpoint any particular issue. The training had been done, and the weather was far kinder than it had been the year before. Paul’s initial thoughts were, “people will not understand when you put so much time/effort, and sacrifice so much for one race for it not to go to plan, it is so so so frustrating. I wish I could just go yeah never mind but today has hurt big time.”
The graph shows his splits from Strava, and the significant tail-off in the latter stages of the race. On further reflection he added that he was very disappointed, “as I was on for 2:46:00 for 18 miles. Severe cramp kicked in from 21. I know a lot of people would kill for that time but for me I know what shape I’m in and it turned out to be a frustrating day! Thank you for the amazing support from my family & friends – you guys were awesome, thank you.”
Having got new PBs in the build-up for 20 miles, half marathon, 10 miles and for the parkrun, Paul has come out the other side disappointed, with severe DOMS, but massive fitness. I have advised him to put it down to a ‘bad day at the office’. He has plenty of opportunities to put that fitness to the test at forthcoming races at a range of distances, starting perhaps with a 10k.
The point of writing this is to emphasise that a) there are different ways to prepare for a marathon, but b) that you cannot guarantee that things will turn out well on the day. While these two examples demonstrate two of the possible outcomes, a quick look at some of the elite athletes at London can show even more variants. Not all is as it seems at first sight.
It is clear that winner Eliud Kipchoge had a pretty awesome day – a course record, the second fastest marathon ever, and a run that had negative splits – with his first half done in 61-37 and the second half in a sparkling 61-00. Much heralded Mo Farrah could be said to have had a bad day though, despite his 5th place. He lost contact with the leaders at the halfway mark, but at 35k he was still on sub-2-04 pace and within a minute of the lead, but he faded and ended up with 2-05-39.
Charlotte Purdue had a great breakthrough running her own (even) pace race to finish 10th in 2-25-38. Her running was so even that the Marathon App shows her 5km splits varying by no more than 2 seconds, with a range from 3-25 min/km to 3-27 – amazingly consistent if correct. Other than running faster, she couldn’t really have had a better day. Callum Hawkins has been given great credit for his Scottish Record of 2-08-14 in 10th place. He said in an interview straight afterwards that he was going for 2-07, and was quoted on social media as saying he, “went all in today and the wheels came off in the last 5k. Ground it out and held on for 2:08 and a Scottish record. Thank you to everyone for all the support, really helped me through the tough bits.” It’s a fine line though if his splits from the App are to be believed. Having consistently run 2-59 splits for each 5k up to 35k, he then slipped to 3-01 per km (just 2 seconds slower) from then on. Those 2 seconds multiplied by the 7 remaining kilometres only account for the 14 seconds over 2-08 that he ran. Hardly a dramatic falling off, and to me more a case of the pace being harder to run at, because of the accumulated fatigue.
I had a similar good/bad experience in my best marathon, in London way back when. Despite achieving a massive PB of 2-34-53, I had an unwelcome stitch for three miles from 17 miles onwards. Having run at faster than 6 mins per mile up to then, that 5-mile sector from miles 15 to 20 was at 6-15s, and every mile after 21 was slower than 6 mins. So, a very pleasing result, but I have often thought of those lost minutes that drifted away from me and how cool 2-31 something would have sounded now. Anyway, I hope these examples illustrate the range of possible levels of satisfaction, or indeed disappointment, that athletes can have after completing that unforgiving beast The Marathon.
Whilst we wait for the Spring edition of The Fellrunner to arrive, containing I hope a piece from me (a profile of a top fell runner), here is an article (for downloading) which touches on some of the shenanigans in the early pro fell running scene.
I walked from my friend’s house, where I was staying at the time, down the back alley of a row of neat terraced houses in Staveley, in the southern Lakes. Past Rob Jebb’s house, and in through Pete Bland’s ‘yard’ to their comfortably appointed house, to interview him for a writing project I am just embarking on. An hour and half later we had put the fell running world to rights, having chatted about way more than is presented here.
The full article can de downloaded here [as PDF].
Other stuff from the interview is included in the book I am currently working on, my fourth on fell running. Info on my previous books.