It was a great gig at the Buxton Adventure Festival last week, where I interviewed hill runner Colin Donnelly in the second half of the evening, after we had been charmed and entertained by Judith Jepson’s account of her running career. Having audio recorded the talk, I have some great material, from which I plan to write a profile of Colin for a future edition of The Fellrunner. I will just share here two responses to questions I asked. I feel they give an insight into this fascinating, and I think under-rated, endurance runner. He has had an amazingly long career, still running well as he approaches 60, having won the Ben Nevis race as a teenager (photo below).
What would you say was your most satisfying performance? I loved all the big rounds I have done, the Bob Graham, Charlie Ramsay, Paddy Buckley, and South Wales Traverse. One year I heard of an ultra-race in Reunion, that was like running the Bob Graham, slightly more distance but the same amount of climbing. I did that race and it gave me an immense amount of satisfaction. I didn’t do particularly great.
Another one I was very pleased about, as I didn’t think I was going to finish it, was when I had a crack at doing the Scottish 4000s one year. I set off from Fort William and my dad was supporting me at the road sections. I got to Glen Feshie and I was limping badly. I was going to carry on anyway as I was ahead of the record schedule. I may not get the record, but I am going to finish it. I will crawl over that finish line if necessary. I got to the roads off Cairngorm and my dad was there. I had five miles or so down the road. He said, “well you have done all the 4000s now son. You are limping along and in real pain. Just finish here and we will be in the car and off.” I said, “dad, I am going down to Loch Morlich and I am going to touch that hostel door, whether I manage it within the 24 hours or not. I have come here to do it and I will.” And I did. But I suffered for that for quite a while afterwards. You have got to keep up your standards and do things properly.
How would you like to be remembered? Interesting. I am not really bothered about people remembering me at all. I don’t much like the limelight, even sitting here I am a bit uneasy.
I was just a guy that was good in his day and got a few records and did a few things, and that was that.
My youngest girl runs, and she was complaining that she didn’t do well in some cross-country race. I said, “it is not about how well you do, it is the taking part.” It is not about winning, and it is not about sitting back on the couch and saying, “I am 60 I am too old for all this”. It is about trying to explore your horizons, and never giving up.
That is the thing I would like to leave people with, it is about challenging yourself.
We also showed the video ‘re-enactment’ of Colin’s Welsh 3000m run. If you haven’t seen it you should, it is poetry in motion.
There is a terrific double bill at the Buxton Adventure Festival this coming Tuesday (13th Nov). It will feature two top fell runners, Colin Donnelly (Cambuslang) and Judith Jepson (Dark Peak). TICKETS AVAILABLE
Colin will talk about his record-breaking running career, as well as showing a short award-winning film of his Welsh 3,000s run. I will be interviewing him on stage, talking (amongst other things) about his Buckden Pike race record (not beaten since 1988), solo Bob Graham Round, three British Fell Championship wins, and his amazing career longevity (he is still in contention in races as he runs strongly in his mid-50s, and was second in the World Mountain Running champs last year for over 55s).
Now, I have written about some keen trainers in my books, and Colin has always been something of an obsessive about getting the training in. Jonny Muir records these feats in an exchange with him in his excellent book ‘The Mountains are Calling’:
Colin once said in an interview he sought to climb a cumulative 365,000 feet every year. The maths is staggering. That figure (or 110 000 metres) amounts to 9,200 metres every month. ‘Is that true?’ I ask. He nodded. ‘The whole idea is to get 1,000 feet (300 metres) a day ……… I keep logs and some years there have been getting towards 500,000’
Colin has an incredible range of achievements, of which the following are just a few:
- He won the Ben Nevis race at his first attempt – as a teenager (image above)
- He won the British Fell Running Championships three consecutive times from 1987 to 1989
- In 1986 he had another victory at Ben Nevis in one of the fastest times ever recorded for the race, and in 1988 he won the Snowdon Race
- Also in 1988, he set a still-standing record for the traverse of the Welsh 3000s with a time of 4:19 and he has won the Welsh 1000 m Peaks Race several times.
- Donnelly finished second in the short race at the World Mountain Running Trophy in 1989 and as a vet he won the over-40 title at the World Masters Mountain Running Championships in 2001.
- He still holds the course records for the Buckden Pike Race, set in 1988, and the Shelf Moor Race, set in 1989.
- He continued to win races as late as 2017, thirty-eight years after his first Ben Nevis win.
- He has completed the Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley and Ramsay Rounds, as well as the Scottish 4,000ers, South Wales 2,000ers traverse, the Manx 1,000ers and the Nant Gwrtherin to Conwy Traverse.
- He’s competed the Munros, Donalds, Corbetts and Wainrights (not all at once).
- He is currently (2018) the UK Cross Country campion for the 55-60 age group.
Judith Jepson is multiple times British and English Vet Fellrunning Champion. Her talk will a light hearted and motivating account of her life and running career, with her philosophy being that anyone can do it and have lots of fun on the way.
I will also have a few of all three of my fell running books (which all have more on Colin Donnelly) for sale, so do come and see me if interested in a signed copy of any of them.