All three of my books on fell running are available from good bookshops and on Amazon. They are respectively: a history of the sport of fell running, the story of the Bob Graham Round, and the lives and achievements of two of the sport’s finest (Kenny Stuart and John Wild). Running Hard will be out in paperback next month, and will be launched at an event with Kenny Stuart and Ben Mounsey, helping raise money for The Brathay Trust and The Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association.
Last month I speculated on whether the East Africans who are starting to dominate mountain running could come over and take longstanding UK fell race records like Snowdon. The blog drew a few comments, as did the social media coverage. Subsequently I have had a long discussion with the Snowdon race organiser (Stephen Edwards), who explained his take on it.
A tad provocatively perhaps, but the conversation started with me asking how ‘international’ The International Snowdon Race really is? It obviously has great Italian runners coming, but as an event do they try to get the nations that do well at WMRA’s World Mountain Running Champs (for example) to send athletes. I was particularly thinking of the Eritreans and Ugandans, mentioned in that first blog posting.
Stephen replied that he understood my point of view and that it’s a question that a few others have asked, but that money comes into the equation. The race pays approximately £5,000 for the hotel accommodation and food for athletes at present, with the number of international team member having gone up now to four males and four females, so cost is always increasing. However, the rule to change the number of team members came with no financial support from the rule changers.
The race organisers would love to get more different countries coming to the race, but another issue is the timetabling of events. It doesn’t help that this year the European Mountain Champs were held a week before Snowdon and the Worlds two weeks after. There is also a feeling many of the current runners don’t like the terrain of the Snowdon race. There is room for all these events, but only so many top class runners to share around them. Stephen commented that they would love to get the Snowdon Race as the European or World Championship event. [It was host to the European Mountain Trophy in 1996.] He also feels that it’s not just getting more country’s teams to Llanberis, it needs the highest quality athletes to compete at the highest level to challenge the record. He adds that in the past they have come from a few different countries, but in the end local runners were quicker than them.
The World Mountain Champs race came to Betws-y-Coed in North Wales in 2015 but it was run on what was really a trail route in a forest and consisted of a multi-lap course. Stephen felt that having looked at the pictures of this year’s Worlds (in Italy) it was basically running on grass – well grass on the side of a mountain.
We ended up discussing the idea of a UK Cup, consisting of the Snowdon, Scafell, and Ben Nevis races. Run in all three and best placed runner is the champion. I liked the idea but can imagine issues with FRA approval, and of the races being too popular and perhaps not wanting more entries. Out of curiosity I went to the FRA website to check when the Scafell race is. Well, it is this Saturday (16th Sept) but is by far the least well attended of the three races – having only 31 pre-entries as of today (11th), perhaps due to a class with the Three Shires race. Interestingly though, presumably in an attempt to raise the race profile, the FRA race page for Scafell says: Note trophies/prizes for “Jack & Jill” fastest couple and for King and Queen of “Snowden/Ben Nevis/Scafell Pike mountains”.
Having speculated here on the future of fell/mountain running, I was interested to note that Jonathan Whyatt was recently elected as President of the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA). Under a title ‘Newly elected WMRA President Jonathan Wyatt shares ideas for the future’ he makes some interesting points on the future of the sport on the WMRA website.
His nine main points included:
- Ensure that courses for World events will be a good test of true mountain running ability so we need to look for more difficult tracks than in the past. This is something we will be talking about as well as trying to work together with other groups that organise events in the off-road environment.
- Bring together the best athletes at the most important events. The sport needs this, so we can show to the World how good Mountain and Trail Sports can be. We will start the discussion with the calendar in mind, so that we give the athletes the chance to run a World Championship all together on one day.
- Support iconic mountain events and make the most of events that are held in beautiful mountain terrain, thereby showing how positive Mountain Running is.
Tougher courses, the best athletes, support for iconic events. Fine words that I would like to see them deliver on, a view Stephen Edwards totally agrees with. Watch this space.
Finally, cycling back to my point about East Africans, the Guardian last week carried an article entitled ‘Untold stories: why we should know more about East African runners’. It emphasized the achievements at the recent World (track) Champs at the London Stadium, particularly some lesser-known Kenyans and Ethiopians. The article concluded:
If athletics is to remain popular in the post-Bolt/Farah era, we need to make more of an effort to engage translators, journalists and managers in getting to know the top East African athletes a little better.