I wanted to do the BGR, I would have really regretted it if I hadn’t. I had half thought of doing it on the way down through the Lakes on my continuous run over all the 3000 foot mountains of Britain and Ireland. Wouldn’t that have been cool?
Hugh Symonds reflected on his career in the fourth article to appear in the Fellrunner under my byline. It resulted from an interview I conducted with him as part of my research for my latest book, Running Hard: the story of a rivalry. After the long and fascinating interview I realised there was more info on Hugh than I needed on his background for the book, so I decided to write a profile of him as well (with his approval, and with some of his photos).
The full article (from the Winter 2016 issue) may be viewed here: [PDF of the article].
The next issue of The Fellrunner will include a piece I have written (with Steve Birkinshaw) on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Has the perception (and reality) of training/running hard changed over the years? I will be exploring this theme in a discussion with Kenny Stuart and Ben Mounsey in Skipton in October. It should be a brilliant evening as Kenny and Ben are giants in the sport. Kenny ruled fell running for a period in the 1980s, and Ben is one of the finest exponents currently, but they have quite different backgrounds, as I will explain shortly.
At the talk, which I will be MCing, we will all be discussing, amongst other things:
Comparisons – between the two eras – as noted Kenny and Ben are from different fell running eras – the then and now.
Training – the what, where, when – we will compare their training – again then and now. They are very different people living very different lives. I am sure the audience will be especially interested to know what Kenny used to do in his prime. One major difference is that Kenny’s training was manually recorded (and he still has the detailed training diaries) and Ben is a Strava addict and records all his training digitally in the public domain.
Work, training, life – a balancing act – This will link in with the previous topic about training – Ben says his training is very much controlled and driven by work/life balance; Kenny’s was too really, although work was kind of ‘organised around’ training.
Fell running – individual or team sport – The team ethic of fell running applies to both club and general camaraderie. It’s also something Ben is quite passionate about as he does lots for the team CVFR (and Kenny’s Keswick AC have just become fell champs for the first time since his days!). I think it’s part of what makes fell running so special.
We will also take questions from the audience, so will also cover: Experiences/races – a good opportunity to ask Kenny and Ben specifics about their training, and about their favourite fell running experiences, races and memories. Imagine yourself sat in the audience and being able to ask a legend anything that you want to know about their training or their lifestyles.
A little about the speakers:
Kenny Stuart is one of those people that the much bandied about tag of ‘legend’ really does apply. Ben Mounsey had this to say about him (on his blog when they met for a filming event): ‘He is one of my heroes and arguably the greatest fell runner of all time. During his incredibly successful career he set a number of truly outstanding records, many of which will never be broken. He was also British champion in 1984 and 1985 and among the records he set in those years were 1:02:18 at Skiddaw, 1:25:34 at Ben Nevis, and 1:02:29 at Snowdon. A truly inspirational man.’ Born and raised in Cumbria his life story is told (along with that of another legend, John Wild) in my latest book, ‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’.
Ben Mounsey (according to his own blog) is ‘a 35 year old runner from mighty Yorkshire who loves nothing more than spending time on the fells and trails. I compete for Calder Valley Fell Runners and Stainland Lions and during my career I’ve been lucky enough to represent Yorkshire, England and Great Britain at mountain running.’ As a sign of the times he is also supported by Inov-8, Mountain Fuel, Suunto and Back To Fitness Physiotherapy. His performances include: UK Inter-Counties Fell Running Champion 2016, 3rd in the English Fell Running Championship 2016, Represented England 5 times and Great Britain in the World Mountain Running Championships in 2015 and the European Mountain Running Championships in 2016.
Steve Chilton is a long-time member of the Fell Runners Association (FRA) and a qualified athletics coach with considerable experience of fell running, and a marathon PB of 2-34-53. In a long running career I have run in many of the classic fell races, as well as mountain marathons and has also completed the Cuillin Traverse. My work has been published extensively, particularly in academia through my role as Chair of the Society of Cartographers. I co-edited Cartography: A Reader (a selection of over 40 papers from the archive of The Bulletin of the Society of Cartographers, the Society’s respected international journal). My third book ‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’ (from Sandstone Press) was published on 16 February 2017, and has been nominated for the Boardman-Tasker Award. The second book ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’ was published on 17 September 2015; and my first ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ won the Bill Rollinson Prize for Landscape and Tradition, and was short-listed for the TGO Outdoor Book of the Year.
The talk will be held on 27 October at 19:00–21:00 at the Rendezvous Hotel, Keighley Road, Skipton. All 3 of my books will be for sale at reduced prices.
Three things recently have got me thinking again about changes in the sport of fell/mountain running. Firstly it was the World Mountain Running Championships, where Ugandans had a clean sweep in the men’s race. Secondly, the recent debate over whether Kilian Jornet would/could take the BGR record from Billy Bland; and thirdly was reading an advance copy of a chapter of Jonny Muir’s upcoming book on Scottish Hill Running, in which he speculates on the future of the sport.
So, let’s take these one at a time. Mountain running is the de facto global branch of fell running, and has been since it came to prominence in the early 1980s. [For more on its early history see ‘Going Global’, Chapter 17 of my first book, ‘It’s a hill, get over it’] It is organised by the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA), whilst at the extreme end there is also the International Skyrunning Federation – which administers ‘mountain running above 2,000m over extremely technical trails’. Mountain running is more akin to fell running and is predominantly run by Europeans, run in Europe, and won by Europeans. The World Mountain Running Champs were first held in Italy in 1985 and have been held at a European venue each year since, reaching out just once – to New Zealand in 2005 [Correction: there have been two – Alaska in 2003]. A rather selective stat I admit, but taking the results of the men’s race over the years you find that Italy won the team prize all but two years of the first 21 occasions. Then in the next 7 years, Eritrea won 4 to Italy’s 3. But then the big change: in the last 5 years Uganda have won 3 times and Italy just once, with Uganda providing 4 individual winners and Italy none, having not had a winner in the last 10 years.
OK, enough stats but definitely a pattern there. In mainstream athletics we have been used to domination of many events by Africans in recent years, the steeplechase and marathon in particular. For example, the world’s 11 fastest steeplechasers where all born in Kenya (Kenyans have won Gold at the event at last nine Olympic Games), and the 10 fastest male marathoners are either Kenyan or Ethiopian.
Having hopefully got you interested with the slightly provocative blog title, these rambling lead me to ponder whether if the best Eritreans and Ugandans were to run races such as the Snowdon International Race (which leading Italians have for years now) whether they could challenge Kenny Stuart’s superb course record of 1-02-29 which has lasted since 1985. I recall that Kenny was interviewed about his record at the 2010 Snowdon race and as I noted in my third book, ‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’, he replied:
I am quite amazed it [the record] still stands, but is something I am reasonably proud of. I think it is time it was broken. The record might stand for a number of years. If athletes of a certain calibre, maybe Africans, came over en masse they might break it. But it will take some breaking.
But so far that hasn’t happened.
My second reference was to the possibility of Billy Bland’s supreme BGR time of 13 hrs 53 mins being beaten this year, possibly by an ‘incomer’. Prompted by rumours on social media of a fast time having being done ‘under the radar’ and also public statements from the Catalan Kilian Jornet that he was planning an attempt sometime in 2017, I posted a blog with comments on things that Hugh Symonds and Billy Bland had said to me on Jornet’s chances when I interviewed them for my second book, ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’. It was thoughts on an outsider taking the record, which I won’t repeat here, but in many ways reflected some views on the changing sport. But, what about an African mountain runner coming over and having a blast at it? What do you think? If you are interested the blog post is here, and the parallel FRA forum thread is here. Suffice it to say that there was an amazing level of interest in the topic, which meant I had 1,292 visitors to this blog the day after it appeared – WAY more than I normally get.
Thirdly, Jonny Muir will be commenting in his upcoming book about the effect that high profile, high cost, extreme events like the Glen Coe Skyline will have on ‘traditional’ hill running (as it is usually called in Scotland).
He decided to check his fairly robust view by doing a vox pop via the Fell Runners UK Facebook site to try to gauge the views of participants in the sport. There appeared to be a strong anti-commercialism strand in the replies. One I liked was: “Underground, word of mouth races are the future.” I would judge the mood to be worried rather than happy with the way things are/might go. But maybe (like sites like TripAdvisor) there is a tendency for complaint rather than praise in a public forum such as this. Do have a read of the responses (you need to be able to sign in to FB to do so).
I perceive a very insular attitude from the governing body (Fell Runners Association) who in communications say they are very worried about increasing numbers of competitors and their environmental impact affecting race access agreements. This inward looking attitude is exemplified by this response that I got, on behalf of the FRA Committee, when I asked for access to their archive in order to pursue my book research, in 2011: ‘It may be helpful if I make clear that the policy of the FRA is to avoid media exposure of and publicity for the sport. The prospect of yet another book about fell running is not welcomed and the FRA Committee will not wish to co-operate in providing assistance. “Feet In The Clouds” did no favours to the sport.’ At the time I found this a stunning attitude to adopt. Since then I have thought a lot about the future of the sport when writing about it, and I have quite a positive outlook. I will finish with what I said at the time (and which I still stand by):
I am sure though that the good races will survive, and that a responsible attitude to the environment can indeed see the sport prosper. I do think that attitudes have to change and that the sport should welcome all those who want to take up the challenge to compete that it provides. We should be celebrating the variety of events and competitors that there are.