Evening with Joss, Billy & Kenny
“Just enjoy it .. and don’t ivver leave it”, says Joss Naylor, about fell running. That was just one gem of sound advice from Three Fell Running Legends at Brathay Hall’s Evening with Joss, Billy and Kenny on 1 April. Around 300 people had bought tickets for the talks and charity auction, which was being held to celebrate Joss Naylor’s 80th birthday, and also 70 years of the Brathay Trust. On a wet and miserable night we had crammed in to a marquee in the Hall grounds to await The Legends.
Brathay’s Scott Umpleby eventually announced the Legends and they ambled to the stage to great applause. Scott explained about the Trust and how the evening would run and handed over to Selwyn Wright (left: jointly the first to do a winter Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours in 1986) to MC the first part of the evening. He gave some background to each of The Legends’ achievements, before starting the ball rolling by asking some questions. I think my favourite fact was that in one period of 23 years Joss Naylor and Billy Bland won the Lake District Mountain Trial nineteen times between them. Kenny Stuart’s 2-11 marathon was mentioned too, but that time has actually been beaten by a few English marathoners since then contrary to what the announcer said.
Being prompted on such topics such as how they got into fell running and memories of their first races gave them all scope for a bit of storytelling. I now wish I had recorded the session as I am struggling to remember specific quotes from the stage. Those included here are paraphrased or are taken from tweets on the night.
On his first race, Joss told the story of how he had entered his first Mountain Trial pretty much on the spur of the moment, running in working boots and cut-off jeans. Billy Bland’s first race was as a 17 year old – and he came last. Kenny finished halfway down a field in a junior pro race (I think he said it was at the Keswick Sports).
Later the questioning was thrown open to the floor, which produced some more really interesting responses. These ranged from the sensible to the extreme. On fell running for youngsters, Joss’ advice was, “enjoy it and stick to the short stuff”, whilst Kenny suggested that cross country helps. I am pretty sure I am right that Billy then chipped in with, “train hard, and then train harder!” Hope that helped the young questioner!
Anyone who has ever seen Joss running will know that he has what can best be described as a ‘unique’ running style. But his advice on descending well was sound enough: “look 4-5 paces ahead, concentrate & keep your knees slightly bent to run downhill with confidence.” Kenny admitted to being a better uphill than downhill runner, and Billy thought that you were either born to be good at it or not, but conceded that you might be able to improve somewhat.
One questioner asked about coping strategies in a race or challenge when the body had had enough, where the biggest laugh was probably raised by Billy commenting that “if you ran out of petrol you might as well get a lift home.”
On noting their memorable occasions, the two I can recall were Joss’ long story about the magic of training for and then completing his Lakes and Meres Run in 1983, and Kenny saying that frankly some of the ‘failures’ in races were those that stuck out sometimes.
Finally, a couple of gems from Billy, who when asked about his training and why present fell runners weren’t beating some of the old records even now, replied, “that’s the trouble wi young uns today!! They don’t train hard enough!!” Secondly, he slipped in fine joke about Kenny’s navigation skills, “he’d git lost in a field if tha left gate open.”
I just wish I could remember some more.
There was then a break for a fine hotpot and drinks, before Joss came back on to tell a lovely story about his father’s shepherding days. He then revealed his own 80th birthday running challenge. He will be running on 25 June in memory of his father, Joe Naylor, and to support disadvantaged children and young people. He will set out from Caldbeck, his father’s birthplace, and follow a route that includes Great Calva, Skiddaw House, Little Town, Dale Head Tarn, Honister, Sty Head and on to the Naylor family landmarks in Wasdale, finishing at Joss and Mary’s home at Low Greendale. Please support Joss at www.justgiving.com/JossNaylor80.
He then handed over to auctioneer Kevin Kendal who worked hard at encouraging the audience to bid for some Naylor memorabilia. Prints, certificates, challenge route maps, and other artefacts all went for good amounts, before the last two lots came up, which were two pairs of The Man’s trainers – from the 60@60 and 70@70 challenges. Joss’ wife had already been brilliant at coming round the marquee to show of the items so potential buyers could see them better. She now came round with the clapped out trainers and a ready smile at the strangeness of the moment. They both went for bids of £160 each if I recall correctly.
Overall it was a fantastic night. Just seeing and hearing three absolute heroes in one night is something I was so glad we had travelled up for. On the down side was that from our seats we did not have a very good view (hence some poor photos) as they were on a low stage and seated to boot. On the plus side we all had in our bags one of Mary Naylor’s ‘award winning’ Rock Buns, which each had the regulation 3 cherries in that Joss’ challenge-sustaining fuel of choice have always had.
If you want to know more about the three legends, they were my Three Greatest Fell Runners in my book ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ (from Sandstone Press), and have their extended personal stories told there, as well as the history and development of the sport of fell running.
Note: the two threesome photos above are a blatant ‘borrow’ from tweets by Martin Campbell and Trailrunning. If you read this guys I hope you don’t mind, you had a far better photo spot than we did! The others are thanks to my great friend Mike Cambray.