Archive | April 2017

World Coal Carrying Champs

This Easter Monday saw the holding of the 52nd World Coal Carrying Champs (http://www.gawthorpemaypole.org.uk/). Each year men and women race the streets of Gawthorpe carrying huge sacks of coal. The event consists of Men’s, Women’s and Children’s races. Men carry 50kg (8 stone) of coal and women 20kg. Races start from the Royal Oak public house, Owl Lane, Ossett and continue for a distance of 1012 metres to the finish line at the Maypole Green in Gawthorpe village (your time is recorded when your sack of coal hits the village green).

The fastest time this year was 4 minutes and 31 seconds by Andrew Corrigan, and the record for the event is 4 min 6 secs by David Jones from 1991. Now think about that for a moment. If you ever train on a track for speedwork you will probably do 1000m reps at some point. The athletes (and they are of a very good standard) that I coach will routinely do a session of 5 x 1000m (just short of the length of the coal race) and complete them in anything from 2-50 to 3-40. The record holder would not be far off the back of my group. They might look a bit out of place at the track, and certainly wouldn’t be able to complete the set of 5 reps at that pace.

This all came to mind because I mentioned the event in ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, suggesting that way back the event used to be held in conjunction with the Kendal Gathering Gala Sports. I mentioned it as I noted that it was won on one occasion by a fell runner – professional ‘guides’ racer Steve Parsons. Just recently I had a polite email about the book, commenting on this statement, that went:

“Just one minor mistake I noticed. In one of the early chapters (on guides races), the athlete who also won the coal carrying championship was not Steve Parsons, but Reuben Parsons. How do I know? It’s my dad. He was the World Coal Carrying Champion in 1972/3. After milking 100 cows in the morning, he rode over the Pennines from Cumbria on his motorbike, to Gawthorpe. Won the 1 mile uphill course, carrying a hundredweight of coal and then got back in time to milk the cows in the evening. He did hold the course record, until the course/route was changed. As a guides racer, he never won Grasmere, but did win Ambleside. He used to tell me that he could run all the way to the top of the Ambleside course, but he used to get full of nerves at Grasmere and never ran well there, (his best was a 4th).”

This message was from Johnny Parsons, who used to run for Pudsey and Bramley and now lives in Lima (Peru). He sent a follow-up email that corrected his earlier one, saying: “Spoke to my dad today, it was 1970 & 1971. I got it wrong with the course change, it was actually a weight change; dropping from a hundredweight to 50kg (~2lbs difference). Dad practised by running up & down the farm lane with a hundredweight of animal feed in a sack. He is a lot shorter, stockier & stronger than me. I’m a lanky 6’4″ with a glass back, so I never tried the coal race, but a lot of fellrunners have.”

The Gawthorpe event website carries the following history of the event: ‘At the century-old Beehive Inn situated in Gawthorpe the following incident took place one day in 1963. Reggie Sedgewick and one Amos Clapham, a local coal merchant and current president of the Maypole Committee, were enjoying some well-earned liquid refreshment whilst stood at the bar lost in their own thoughts. When in bursts one Lewis Hartley in a somewhat exuberant mood. On seeing the other two he said to Reggie, ”Ba gum lad tha’ looks buggered!” slapping Reggie heartily on the back. Whether because of the force of the blow or because of the words that accompanied it, Reggie was just a little put out. ‘’Ah’m as fit as thee’’ he told Lewis, ‘’an’ if tha’ dun’t believe me gerra a bagga coil on thi back an ‘ah’ll get one on mine an ‘ah’ll race thee to t’ top o’ t’ wood !’’ (Coil, let me explain is Yorkshire speak for coal). While Lewis digested the implications of this challenge a Mr. Fred Hirst, Secretary of the Gawthorpe Maypole Committee (and not a man to let a good idea go to waste) raised a cautioning hand.” ‘Owd on a minute,’’ said Fred and there was something in his voice that made them all listen. ‘Aven’t we been looking fer some’at to do on Easter Monday? If we’re gonna ‘ave a race let’s ‘ave it then. Let’s ‘ave a coil race from Barracks t’ Maypole.’’(The Barracks being the more common name given by the locals to The Royal Oak Public House)’

This raised some doubts in my mine as to whether I had got it wrong. In a search for more info I contacted Kenny Stuart, as he had been running on the pro scene in this era. He replied that he, “has a newspaper article  from 1978 which states Steve Parsons won the coal carrying race [at Kendal]. He was a guides racer from Halifax who came to work in Cumbria in hotels. and was coached by Harry Harper.” At the same time I contacted another former pro racer, Mark Mclincy, as he knows his history of this aspect of the sport. He confirmed some details of the Kendal Gathering Gala Sports, including the fact that it included a fell race from Kendal to Benson Knott and back. He also gave me the contact details for Johnny Morgan, who organised the Kendal Gala Sports back in the day.

Last night I spoke to Johnny Morgan (who is in his 80s) and he confirmed that the Gawthorpe event was the original event, which started in 1964. Morgan finished second in the event one year, and fancied setting up something similar. So, he instigated another event at the Kendal Gala in 1972, which didn’t last so long. It was over 880 yards, on grass, again with a hundredweight of coal. Morgan remembers Steve Parsons also winning the Benson Knott fell race at the Gala, and also that there used to be big bank holiday Galas at Penrith and Keswick. He also told a story of one event not being able to obtain coal sacks. so they used grain sacks instead, which was all very well until one sack sprung a leak and the athlete left a train of grain as they progressed – his sack getting lighter as he went.

The discourse concluded with a further comment from Johnny Parsons in Peru: ‘My Dad isn’t aware of the other race, nor of Steve Parsons. He’d heard of the Gawthorpe race and so started training for it (as it didn’t clash with any guides races). The Gawthorpe (to Ossett, deepest, darkest West Yorkshire) race was an uphill mile, carrying a hundredweight of coal. Shortly after he won it, the course was changed. I saw a report of the race from this year and it is considerably shorter.’ Then surprisingly, he commented that: ‘Obviously the Cumbria race would have been much closer as my Dad lived and worked in Levens, near Kendal (South Lakes), but as he’d never heard of it, he went across the Pennines instead.’

A little further research brought out the fact that Johnny Morgan was a pretty good runner himself, and he also instigated the Kendal Winter League, which started in 1972 with the Benson Knott fell race, a cross country event in Kendal, and a road race at Burneside; and which is now much expanded and a major series of local races. There is a profile of Johnny Morgan on the Grasmere Lakeland Sports and Show website.

So, there we have it, two (and more) competing events. The Gawthorpe event was the original and now boasts the ‘World title’. Anyone reading this with memories, or stories, of these events is welcome to share them as a comment. Meanwhile, have a look at the video from this year’s Gawthorpe event.

 

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On tour – Running Hard in Sheffield and the Lakes

The talk at Ecclesall Library in Sheffield Libraries’ Multi Story Festival on April 6th seemed to go well, plenty of interaction and interesting questions (and a good few books sold). The photos show the audience, and myself answering questions and signing books. [For other book talks/events see here] I also called in at the excellent Outside shop in Hathersage and signed copies of my books there.

We went on to the Lakes for a spot of relaxing, and Wainwright bagging (below on Holme Fell), before going to Fred Holdsworth (Ambleside), Sam Read (Grasmere, left) and Bookends (Keswick) to sign their stock of books. It was gratifying to see that all three shops were stocking all three of my books, and say that Running Hard is selling well.

Running Hard in Sheffield

Really looking forward to the first ‘Running Hard’ book talk, at Ecclesall Library, Sheffield – tomorrow (Thu 6 April) at 7pm, as part of the Multi-Story Library Festival, with support from Rhyme and Reason bookshop.

I am now setting up further talks/events as follows: at the Snowdon International Race on Jul 12th; with The Little Bookshop in Ripon (TBC); in conjunction with Pete Bland Sports (TBC); and possibly with Abingdon AC. [Let me know if your running club, bookshop or organisation would like to host an event.]

Downhill from here

I have now been asked on two occasions to read an author’s manuscript, with a view to providing a cover or publicity quote. I don’t mind doing so, but also insist on my right to not do so if I don’t think the manuscript merits it. Recently I read Gavin Boyter’s Downhill from here: running from John O’Groat’s to Land’s End.

In the book Gavin admits to having had spells of deep depression, and also to suffering with hypermobility (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome). He tells the story of seeking a major challenge and using his film-making skills to record it, and then write about it. Having made one (not especially successful) short film, he used an unlicenced quadcopter and a GoPro to make the film version of his JOGLE [see ‘The Long Run’ film trailer].  There are tales of some entertaining navigation errors, which are interspersed with good childhood memories. He also makes some personal points about running being ‘me time’ to him, and using it as a ‘brain reboot’, and his ‘life work’, as he approached his middle forties.

Reading another account of a JOGLE may not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it very entertaining. Gavin was not the first nor fastest (as he readily admits), but he did at least go down the Pennine Way and chose a pretty interesting route in many places. It is also very good on the problems faced by ultra running efforts such as this.

passport scans051Originally I provided two possible quote which were something like: “Good on the realities of running (and filming on the go) a JOGLE, and also the great de-stressing benefits of it”, and ” Entertaining navigation mishaps are interspersed with good childhood stories”.  They were combined in the one shown above (which is on the back cover), and also cut down to a single word quote on the book’s font cover. Happy to accept that the publicist knew best!

‘Downhill from here’ is published on 20 April. Info on the book launch at Waterstones.