Billy Bland: “I wasn’t the best by any means, but I was a tryer”
Billy Bland was on top form at the Due North ‘Conversation with Billy Bland’ event at the Skiddaw Hotel (Keswick) on 9 Feb. After a brief introduction from me, he fielded questions from the audience and entertained them royally for over an hour and a half. Thanks to Billy, and to Due North, and especially the audience for making it such a great evening.
I met with Mel Steventon (from Due North) and Billy in the bar beforehand to go over the plan for how the event would hopefully go. I was having a pint to try to settle the nerves I get before these events, and Billy sipped an orange juice. He was as calm and accommodating as you like saying, “let them ask whatever they like”, and “yeh of course you can tape the responses for later”.
The questions from the floor, and a few prompts thrown in by me, were wide-ranging and meant that Billy covered topics such as his background, training, rivals (with some exquisite put-downs, including some of his own family!) and current lifestyle. Looking back at the transcript there is a masterclass in training and preparing from an (old school) elite endurance athlete in there, such were the depth and reach of some of the responses.
Just one example was when he was asked what he would do differently, with hindsight. His reply included:
I would always say to anybody who was a winner immediately that I was sorry for them. Because I think you need to get beaten a lot of times, and serve your time. Then there is a lot more enjoyment when you get to where you want to be, or as good as you can be. I wouldn’t want to change owt really.
Billy actually wasn’t a very good runner early on, finishing nearly last in his first race, and took several years before he was able to win his first race.
A real bonus was Martin Stone being in the audience, as he was one of the pacers on Billy Bland’s 13-53 Bob Graham Round record run in 1982. He gave a real feel for that epic event from the inside, so to speak. I had interviewed Martin [in the long track bottoms in the photo, which is of the run-in to the Moot Hall from the 1982 round] for my book The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps. In responding to Billy on the night he said that he was privileged to be part of it, and pointed out something that I wasn’t actually aware of.
It was quite possibly one of the very few BGRs where no vehicle has gone round to Wasdale. Billy insisted that was too over the top, so Bob Whitfield and I had to walk over from Borrowdale with bottles of Mackeson and his wife’s fruit cake in our sacks.
I am transcribing the audio file, and will be writing the event up for the next Fellrunner (and later this blog). Suffice it to say for now that it was a marvellous evening, which I heard some excellent feedback on. Billy spent ages talking to people and signing books.
I will be working with Due North on another ‘Evening with Billy Bland’ at Skipton, on 11 May. [Details and tickets] Come along to that event and ask your own questions.
My wife and I stayed on a couple of days to experience the Lakes in snowy conditions. Doing a couple more Wainwrights even though the weather wasn’t great, the best experience was coming off Barrow, where it had been blowing a hoolie. Down towards Barrow Door it was more sheltered and the scenery just magical (photo above, no filter or adjustment).