Archive | Ramblings RSS for this section

‘Kílian Jornet smashes Bob Graham endurance race record’

Myth: Billy Bland’s 13-53 Bob Graham Record will never be beaten.
Fact: Kilian Jornet took 1 hr 1 min of it on Sunday on a boiling hot day.

Monday’s Guardian reported the news under the misleading headline above (it is NOT a race), and included this marvellous picture of Carl Bell leading Jornet down what looks like Blencathra’s Halls Fell ridge on leg 1.

guardianpicI am still getting over the intensity of the occasion, even though I wasn’t there. I spent a great deal of the day (Sun 8 Jul 2018) watching different social media feeds for updates on Jornet’s progress. Judging by this (admittedly filtered view), it was interesting to observe how the mood of the day seem to swing from a certain amount of ‘he won’t do it’ (and even ‘I hope he doesn’t do it’) to one of amazement at the predicted time as the day went on, and the sense of ‘history being made’ as Jornet ran through a Tour de France-like throng to touch the door at the Moot Hall.

jornetThe setup: It all started with Kilian Jornet posting a picture of himself ‘on Dale Head’ on Friday, with the rumour-mill taking over from there. [The best posting I saw was ‘what is Kilian Jornet doing in the Lake District?’, to which the very first reply was ‘visiting the Pencil Museum’]

The rumour strengthened and then he was ‘definately doing it’ according to some, with Sunday morning a favoured start time.

The day: So it turned out. Someone in the know confirmed that he had set out at 6am from the Moot Hall, and there was a video clip showing Keswick AC’s Carl Bell as main pacer. They were making great time over the Skiddaw-Blencathra section and arrived at Threlkeld a few minutes up on Billy Bland’s schedule already.

dannyrichardsonUKCNewsI had reason to contact Billy Bland about another matter, and his wife Ann replied that he had cycled over to Dunmail to ‘see him come flying through’. By now a confirmed pacing list had leaked out through the ether, and it was clear that he had got absolutely top runners supporting him. Jornet gained more time over the Helvellyn range, and there was a photo (courtesy of Danny Richardson) of Billy shaking Jornet’s hand as he started off up Steel Fell – a fine gesture from Billy.

The finish: It is not for me to decribe the round as it unfolded. There are reports out there, and will be more (particularly from Salomon). Search on Google and take your pick. What was amazing was the build-up to the finish. Live video streams were promised. One of the best was grainy phonecam video shot by Matt (?) of CFR of the run-in from Portinscale.

finishsalomonThe crowds around the Moot Hall were amazing, and parted like a Tour/Giro mountainside crowd as Carl Bell led Jornet up to the finish (photo from Salomon). A pacer reckoned him at about 7min/miling on the road section. I do wish I been there to see it.

charlottemellortwitterBilly Bland was there atop the steps to meet him, and he sat down with him for this iconic photo of the previous and new record holders (photo Charlotte Mellor). On a video from Wild Ginger Films Billy seems to reach behind himself and produce a bottle of champagne to give Kilian, another fine gesture. I’d love to have heard their first words together. (Photo below Trail Running Magazine)

trailrunningWhat was most impressive was that Kilian went off for a shower and shortly came back to talk with people who had come to watch him take on the BG challenge. For 40 mins or so he talked with individuals, signed autographs and patiently sat for photographs (on the bottom step of the Moot Hall).

Background: as the day unfolded, and in subsequent reports, a picture emerged of how Jornet had gone about planning to take the BGR on. He decided to do it only on the Monday beforehand, having recovered well from his recent broken leg, having tested it in winning the Marathon du Mont-Blanc. Being fit, not too tired from other events (due to the layoff), and knowing the conditions were ideal seemed to seal it. Martin Stone was helping coordinate pacers, but was having trouble getting sufficient high quality ones. But Rob Jebb was apparently planning a round himself on the Saturday, but bailed as he thought it to be too hot. He offered several of his pacers to Jornet which completed his team.

petebarronThe man: Jornet seems to be very aware of the tradition of the BGR and is big on the history of mountain running. He planned as low-key a round as a person of his stature could achieve, with virtually no presence from his sponsor, and certainly no big advance publicity. He acknowledges that he knew about the BGR from back in 2008 when people like Ricky Lighfoot were going out to the Alps. Although he didn’t reccie it all he says it is ‘powerful to discover the mountains’. What he did do was call on Billy Bland to have a chat, and says that the first time he called Billy was out on a bike ride! But they met up on the Friday. His approach and demeanor certainly endeared him to many observers.

Snippets: finally a few other snippets cleaned from watching from afar. One thing that was great was the way the fell running community embraced him and the event. Coordinator Martin Stone had been a pacer on Billy Bland’s record round. One of Jornet’s pacers was Martin Mikkelson-Barron, whose father was also a pacer on Billy’s round, and was there to watch, along with Kenny Stuart, who had paced Billy on his leg 1, which finished right near Kenny’s house.

katecarterOn a personal level it was rather cool to see that he had got two books to read as part of his prep, and one was my history of fell running ‘It’s a Hill, Get Over it’. The book covers the BGR and I concluded that I would certainly like to see him try for the BGR record.

He has, and the result has certainly caught the wider world’s attention. Apart from the Guardian article (noted above) it has been on the Radio 2 News, and Jornet appeared on the Chris Evans breakfast show this morning. All a bit much for some of the traditionists in the sport, I suspect.

The future: so what next? Will it close the door on any record attempts from UK runners, or spur them on? Apparently Jornet was heard to say that two of his pacers (Carl Bell and Rob Jebb) were capable of running as fast as he had. We will see. Will Jornet be tempted to other UK events, challenges or races? A Ramsay Round for Jornet was mentioned at some point or other.

stuartTalking with him after, Kenny Stuart suggested he have a crack for his Ben Nevis race record (now 34 yrs old), to which Jornet replied ‘I would love to do that’. He also said that his girlfriend, Emelie Forsberg, would love to do the BGR, and in an interview that he would love to have a go at Billy’s Borrowdale fell race record. So, watch this space.

The Round front coverThanks to everyone for the media, videos and photos, which have been acknowledged where possible. And don’t forget if you want to know more about the man Bob Graham, how the original round happened, and how it developed, together with some of the heroes and innovators, then get hold of my book ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’, available from all good bookshops, and online from Amazon. [It has been described as ‘something very special’ (by Joss Naylor); ‘essential reading’ (Kenny and Pauline Stuart); and ‘unfailingly inspiring’ (Claire Maxted).]


Cartography. Some thoughts

cart_lgKen Field’s ‘Cartography.’ [note the full stop] has now been published and copies are winging their way out to early purchasers. But, what is it really like, and is it worth the hefty price tag?

Disclosure: I made a small contribution [of a double page spread] and also was one of  a small group of people who were asked to review a working copy of the book in its early developmental stages …… and I am a friend of Ken.

I always take the request to be a critical friend of someone’s work very seriously and duly I set about making notes, with suggestions for clarification and emphasis to (hopefully) enhance some of its 500+ pages. This produced a 1,000 Word file which went back to the author for consideration. One example will suffice to show the detail. There is a page on ‘map traps’ – deliberate errors included to try to catch copyright infringement. I suggested: Map traps – maybe an aside in this page about cartographers ‘signatures’ in maps. See page 105/6 in Mike Parker’s ‘Map Addict’ on OS names of surveyor in cliff drawings on IoW.

I hope the critiquing was useful, though I’ve not been back to see if any suggestions were taken up.

howtouseThe most impressive thing about the book is the radical approach taken. Ken explains its different take on structuring the information on the mapping process. This is not likely to be a book that is read in a traditional way. Folk are likely (positively encouraged) to dip in and out, the layout has linked navigation aids. There is a colour-coded thematic index, and an alphabetical index, together with multiple ‘see also’ links on each double page spread.

What else is in there? A neat idea is the inclusion of 25 ‘guest spreads’, where emminent cartographers were asked to provide examples of maps that interest them, with short explanations of why. Seeing the names of Waldo Tobler, Mark Monmonier, Danny Dorling and Menno-Jan Kraak alongside my own gives me a quiet sense of pride. My contribution is a map of ‘Airspace: The Invisible Infrastructure’ commisioned by the National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which coincidentally one of my sons has just finished training with.


NB: It is a still from a video, so for best effect check the video it comes from:

One other thing that really pleased me was to see that Roger Anson had been asked to write the Foreword. He was the Senior Lecturer who ran the cartography course at Oxford Polytechnic/University who inspired me in my career, and obviously did for Ken too.

See what do I think of the book?

First off, may I say that I am very impressed overall with the book. I like the concept and the delivery.

These were the first two sentences of my feedback when critiquing the early version of it. When I saw a further iteration I pronounced it a ‘game-changer’, and I really think it is the best text on cartography in recent years.

But don’t just take my word for it . When writing about the book in the Bulletin of the Society of Cartographers, Chris Wesson concluded his detailed review:

What Kenneth Field has created here is a brilliant reference book on behalf of our field of cartography. Finally! A book that truly represents Cartography in 2018.

See his full review, which is thorough and considered, at this link [PDF].

Finally, is it worth the cover price, which is admittedly on the high side. I feel that it is, given the breadth of coverage and particularly the most excellent illustrations, many of which have been created especially for this volume. Buy it if you can afford it.

moocPRO TIP: and if you CAN’T afford it, then sign up for the next Esri Cartography MOOC, which I can guarantee will include loads of stuff from the book, as it is run by Ken, plus his colleagues at Esri who worked on putting the book together.



Joss Naylor and I share a stage at the Buxton Adventure Festival

JossandIonstage2smallerJoss Naylor was on great form at the Buxton Adventure Festival gig at the Buxton Opera House (on 19 June 2018), as we shared stories of his life and times.

operahouseI arrived early to book into the marvellous Old Hall Hotel, have a bite to eat, scope out the Opera House and meet BAF organiser Matt Heason and Joss to setup the visuals, do a soundcheck, and check how the timings of our parts of the event.

soldoutIt was a lovely sunny evening and it was great to see the SOLD OUT sign on the doors as they set up an outdoor bar for the audience who were starting to congregate on the space outside of the theatre. Six hundred was apparently the auditorium size.

firstslideAfter an intro from Matt, and a few words on The Brathay Trust, which it was Joss’s wish that all the profits should go to, I took the stage before possibly the largest crowd I had given a talk to. I ran through my presentation on The Bob Graham Round, its history and heroes, interspersed with stories and photos/videos from my friend Neil Walker’s recent BGR. We then had a short break for drinks, and for a chance to sell and sign a few books.

audienceThe audience were perhaps surprised when Joss chose to give them what he called a ‘little lecture’ to start the second half. His theme was badgers  and foxes and how we mistreat the animal kingdom, with specific examples local to him.

JossandIonstageI then sat down with Joss and fed him some questions, which I hoped would bring some good stories out from him, and later took questions from the audience. This produced some fascinating responses from Joss, only some of which I can remember.

Some examples will have to suffice to show the range of topics, and highlight Joss’s humorous and informative replies.

On being asked from the floor what the Queen said to him when he was presented with his MBE (for his charity work) he replied without blinking: “You are a good looking boy!”.

When I asked him why he hadn’t beaten the UK 24 hour track record when he attempted it he replied it was the physiotherapist’s fault. I think I heard him correctly, as he said ‘he was massaging his leg and stuffed it up my arse’. He had been tracking at 2-38 marathon pace before that happened and reckoned he would have smashed the record without that painful intervention.

extendedroundsAfter dissing those that planned endurance challenges ‘on a computer’, he revealed that when he did his Lakes 72 peaks extended BG record in 24 hrs  in 1975 he ‘ran out of peaks’. (This was subsequently raised to 77 by Mark Hartell, quite possibly with the aid of computer planning!).

I thought I knew Joss pretty well, but he surprised me when he said at one point that he had done 30 mins for a 10k road race once. His witty put-down of slow latter day fell ‘runners’ who chatted all round the course was based on how long he had to stand around in wet and cold conditions marshalling them in races.

He replied to the question: How would you like to be remembered? – “As a man who enjoyed life”.

He gave his thoughts on nutrition and hydration (salt water apparently being his secret), and training, and described some of his many race successes but also was not afraid to mention the less successful days out. He closed with the advice: “Be nice to each other”.

JossbooksigningWe then repaired to the foyer where Joss patiently signed absolutely loads of books and autographs, speaking with and posing for photos for everyone. The photo shows the queue going out of the foyer entrance as people waited patiently for their turn.

A fabulous evening. What a legend he is and a fabulous human being too.

brathayBAF-logoFor more information on my book ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’ (and my other 2 books), see my page at Sandstone Press.

JossquoteThe image is part of the cover quote for ‘The Round’ from Joss Naylor.


Did I really write that?

didireallywritethatI have had conversations with two friends with books out in May and June about that long wait from write/edit to publication, and the notion of feeling divorced from the whole process during that time. When researching it seems all consuming, in my case a seesaw of pleasure and pain, and signing off the proof can be some kind of relief.

When you see the end product there is the tangible pleasure of holding a book, and thinking how much of you it represents. You are then embroiled in the round of publicity that is absolutely necessary if you want to get the book known about, and hopefully purchased in decent numbers. Some find that easy to do, and others less so. You have decide for yourself how blatant your self-publicity should be, and accept being called a ‘media tart’ if you manage some spectacular paper, radio, or podcast appearance.

You want reviews to appear, but can’t bear the thought of a bad one. I still cringe inside when I think of the worst book review I have ever had:

If you want a copy of xxxxx, mine is in the bin at Geneva airport.

Actually I find it funny now, and often relay the story when talking on the subject.

It is even possible to lose your connection with your own work. One of the friends mentioned above recently said,

I haven’t really looked at it since receiving the hard copies. It seems surreal that I ever wrote it.

I have had similar feelings, but usually after a somewhat longer time has elapsed. I do know that something can come to me and I will want to refer back to one of books to get the story. This can produce two strange situations. Firstly, I might not be able to recall which book it was in (oh come on Steve, they are similar but not that much so!); or secondly, when I find it and re-read it I think, ‘did I really write that?’.

These thoughts have arisen because I have recently been mulling over the possibility of writing Book 4, and have been trying to write the synopsis. Possibly starting the long haul of another book also took me back to something I wrote earlier on this blog about finishing one of my earlier books [].

So, who were those two friends? Well, they have
written books on subjects very close to my heart.

muircoverJonny Muir’s ‘The Mountains are Calling’ is (as I have noted elsewhere) written a lyrical style that brilliantly evokes the emotions one experiences in what Boff Whalley called running wild. It is the story of hill running in Scotland, ‘charting its evolution …. heralding its characters and the culture that has grown around them, ultimately capturing the irresistible appeal of running in high places.’ Jonny also writes a very entertaining blog.

cart_lgKen Field’s ‘Cartography.’ is (in publicity speak): ‘an inspiring and creative companion along the nonlinear journey toward making a great map. This sage compendium for contemporary mapmakers distills the essence of cartography into useful topics.’ I was critical friend, contributed a miniscule piece, and think it is a game changer. Ken also writes an interesting blog.

Talk, talk

A great ‘Conversation with Billy Bland’ at the Due North Events gig in Skipton last Friday. Brill to have a bunch of family there, meet some friends, and sign a few books. Billy was on good form, coping well with a reluctant sound system. His responses were invariably educating and amusing.

introsA different audience and a interesting variety of questions came up. I particularly liked hearing Billy talk about some stuff I hadn’t known about before, or were uncertain of their veracity: for instance appearing on an ITV programme in 1986 called ‘Survival of the Fittest’ (a sort of Superstars contest); his having challenged himself by cycling up and down Honister 700 times one year; and confirming what I always thought was a rural myth, that he ran on the spot in his kitchen once for three hours (but only once he laughed!).

withBillyafterTopically, as it takes place this Sat, I was fascinated to find out that he once won the Old County Tops race (37 miles run as a pair, with 10,000 feet of ascent, starting in Gt Langdale and taking in Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and Coniston OM before returning to Gt Langdale).

In 1992 he partnered Scoffer and said that he suffered mid-race but finished strongly as Scoffer began to suffer towards the end, chuckling as he said it, as he felt he had the last laugh, particularly as they held on to win.

Billy is a fascinating man, who was one of my three ‘fell legends’ in my book that tells the history of the sport of fell running – It’s a hill, get over it.

JossforBAFNEXT TALK: on 19 June I will be doing a double act with Joss Naylor at the Buxton Adventure Festival. He will be talk about his life of running and farming before taking questions. My talking will be about the history of the Bob Graham Round, but also an exploration of the what, why and how of this classic challenge. Details.

On the fells and marathons: Dave Cannon

cannonken“A fully trained athlete is on the verge of illness all the time. Someone once said this when asked how much training you should do: “it is a bit like blowing up a balloon. You blow, you blow a bit more and then POP, back to square one”.
Dave Cannon in a profile published in the Winter 2017 issue of Fellrunner.

This comes from a profile I wrote of him after I met him in 2017, when he was working as elite athlete coordinator for the London Marathon. He was British Fell Champion in 1972, and later moved to the marathon to run 2-11.

cannonroyleI had a long and fascinating chat with him at Marathon HQ, about his running, on the fells in particular, and also his marathon running days and work with elite marathoners, including coaching Kenny Stuart.

Cannon was known as a great descender on the fells, and gave this description of competing in the Whernside Junior race:

You have a wall to get over when descending. Well I was coming down so fast, I was not going to stop to climb it, so I took off a few yards from the wall, got one foot on top and over! There was a fell race follower watching the race at this point and he said to me afterwards that he had never seen anything like it before. I hadn’t the heart to tell him it hadn’t been intentional.

The full article can be read here [PDF link], and includes some great stories about his training and racing, together with him talking about being diagnosed with ME/CFS, which effectively finished his career.

Cannon is one of four case studies on CFS that are included in an article I wrote with Steve Birkinshaw, which was entitled Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in elite athletes, and was also published in Fellrunner.

[Other profiles: Jack Maitland; Hugh Symonds and Malcolm Patterson]

Excitement (and disappointment) on the road to the VLM marathon

More thoughts from the coach’s viewpoint on the marathon journey for three club athletes. Since the original blog post, an exciting marathon journey, there have been two months of great training, interspersed with weather disruptions and some injury and recovery issues to address. The three athletes (who retain their anonymity* for these blog posts, for the moment) have handled the build-up well, considering their differing degrees of disruptive incidents.

StravaTP has had the clearest run of training weeks, clocking the eight weeks of January and February at a steady build.

The Strava graphic shows that build since serious training started. It pretty much exactly matched the plan I had set, with easier weeks included at regular intervals. On a low-ish mileage plan agreed with me it has been interesting to hear TP looking with wonder (and possibly envy, I suspect) at the mileages two of the club’s top runner’s are putting down (up to 100 miles per week just now). The last week of Feb for TP was 48.5 miles.

The great thing about the build has been the long run progression (in miles): which has gone 11.6, 15, 16, 17, 15, 18.5, 20, 18, 19.5. All have been handled with increasing confidence, and parallel increases in leg weariness. The 15 mile week was a mini taper to do a half marathon, picking up a PB on the way, for another confidence boost.

Reading back through TP’s online diary, which is virtually always the first to be completed for me to review, shows only very minor disruptions. A bit of a cold in January didn’t hold things back too much, and the comment after the 18.5 miles (longest run at time) was:

Painfull toenail, but if that is the worst then I am OK with that.

SP had some foot issues in December that necessitated some days off, and two very low mileage weeks in the steady comeback. Insoles that were supposed to ease the foot issues in fact produced massive blisters, which were a problem for quite a while, which SP seemed to gutsily ignore (I will spare you a photo of the damage!). The positive attitude is shown by this diary entry, after a 16 mile run in January:

Really tough run today, legs felt heavy and tired. [TP] pulled me round most of the way but got it done, that’s the main thing. Blisters heeling well, think the 2 days off helped. Onwards and upwards!

Despite this issue, the build-up went pretty well, going from 35 miles in the first week of the year to 43.8 by the end of February. There were long runs of: 12.2, 15.2, 16, 17, 14, 18.5, 20, 18, 19.4. The 14 mile week was for a new PB in a half marathon, part of my standard marathon preparation planning. Talking of which, SP is monikered from having added a neat ‘Planning’ tab to the diary that indicates exactly how each week was planned to happen, giving coach great information and encouragement on the commitment that was going into the training.

So, despite hiccups the long runs have been great, and the weekly mileage good, though sometimes less than the plan. SP is very sensitive to this shortfall, and gets (unnecessarily in the bigger scheme of things) stressed about it, which usually involves a WhatsApp discussion between us, with me just trying to keep things in perspective.

On a week with 5.5 miles shortfall (from a plan remember, so all relative) SP Whatsapped me:

My foot is really sore and decided an extra 6 miles wouldn’t be productive. Unfortunately it does leave me 5.5 miles short which I am not happy about.

thumbsupOne week later the longest week’s training (including a first 20 miler) had been done, and another week on, and with a solo 18 mile run in the bag, I was sent this photo to show things were back on track.

Two of the greatest pleasures of working closely with athletes are seeing them overcome setbacks, and the joy with which they let you know that they have.

HT had got up to 15 miles on the long run by mid-January, but then holidays took priority and three very quiet week’s ensued (in terms of both HT’s mileage and in the banter level at the track!). Since then the mileage has been erratic, but the long runs have been fitted in diligently, with 14, 17 and 18.2 completed strongly to the end of February. Circumstances have to be taken into account in any coach-athlete relationship, and I was well aware of HT being in a difficult place in some aspects of life at the moment. We had a short heart-to-heart at one point, agreeing that in the circumstances a lowering of the expectation that we should both have regarding a potential finish time for the VLM would be best. After the discussion I received a positive message, looking forward:

Thanks for caring. It’s just hard to get motivated sometimes, I’m just up and down! See you tomorrow at track!

So in a positive mood all three athletes were due to run in the Rhayader Round the Lakes 20 mile event on the first weekend in March. A trip away, a change of training scenery, and a bunch of fun was anticipated. Unfortunately this was when the ridiculously named ‘Beast from the East’ hit the UK. The snow conditions meant that travel was risky and the trip was off. rhyadercancelled

All got out together at home and managed 19.5 miles training in ‘slushy and slippery’ conditions, prompting a WhatsApp photo and message: ‘Tough conditions but all done, Stevo!’

Seven more weeks of training. All three need to take that attitude forward.

* The identifiers are not their initials, but are respectively: TP = Teacher’s Pet; SP = Spreadsheet Planner; and HT = Holiday Time; for reason’s best known to me, but which might have become obvious as we progress.