Following on from the interviews for my last book (‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’), I have been doing some research into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). This resulted from talking through the issue with Kenny Stuart and Steve Birkinshaw, who have both suffered the debilitating effects of CFS, and ‘recovered’ to varying degrees. I floated the idea of writing something about it, and Steve agreed it would be good to talk to another couple of high profile runners we knew, and write up the four case studies resulting from this. The link below is the article Steve Birkinshaw and I wrote.
The case studies show both similarities and differences, and although drawing no particular conclusions, we feel the stories are worth hearing, and may strike a chord with some readers. There are also a couple of resource links, and a note of some more scientific research being done on the subject. Following the interest shown in the article I am now working with Dr Rebecca Robinson (a top fell runner and consultant in sports and exercise medicine) on writing a paper for a prominent medical journal on the topic.
A copy of the full original article (which was in the Summer 2017 issue of
The Fellrunner) may be viewed and downloaded here: [PDF of the article].
A future blog post will include a download of an article I wrote entitled “In Profile: Dave Cannon” (a former top fell runner and 2-11 marathoner), which was also recently published in The Fellrunner.
It was great to spend time with the family in the Peak District last weekend, and take our Ordnance Survey maps out for a wander. We had a fabulous house booked in Hope for the weekend and planned to do some walking and climbing if possible, as well as just enjoying quality time together. There was snow on the tops and it was cold, so bouldering wasn’t a good option, and we set out to get some snow walking in on the first day.
Coming up to Thornhill Brink there was snow on the ground and then suddenly in the air. Trundling on to Win Hill there was almost a whiteout, and a fun scramble through the iced rocks to Winhill Pike.
To make a circuit we headed down in deep snow towards Yorkshire Bridge and then along Thornhill Carrs, with Bamford Edge now appearing through the misty clouds.
Heading down towards Aston we had marvellous views of the delightfully named Shatton Moor, before heading down and home.
On the Sunday there was more snow and, with two youngsters in carriers with us, we did a low level circuit to Castleton and back, out via the path alongside Peakshole Water and back via the paths behind Losehill Hall. Great walking, muddy in parts and no views to speak off. I had seen that there was an event in Castleton that day and wondered if we would see any competitors from Round 4 of Peak Raid 2017. It is a four hour score orienteering event, and we saw just one entrant coming in to Castleton. He seemed happy enough about his lot.
Two great walks, which have just got me thinking excitedly about our next trip, which is for 5 days to the Lakes at half term. Included in this trip is the unique ‘Conversation with Billy Bland’ event on Friday 9th Feb in Keswick, for which tickets are selling fast (but still available as I write).
My coaching has suddenly become more interesting and challenging this winter, thanks to three athletes. I will try to explain why.
I have been coaching for well over 30 years, and much of it has been fairly unmemorable on looking back, consisting of running group sessions for groups of senior and young athletes. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy that type of coaching, as I noted in an earlier post on the anatomy of a track session. I have also worked with many different athletes over those years, some of whom feature in the dark art of coaching. I have also at times tried to work with athletes whom I consider uncoachable, and wrote a piece called coached or uncoachable on this topic.
So, what was the cause of the big uplift in my current excitement about coaching? It was the instigation of what I call ProjectVLM.
Back in early October I agreed to coach three athletes at my club through to the Virgin London Marathon, in April 2018. Appropriately it is two virgin marathoners, and one with a little more experience. I have been asked on a number of occasions whether I am going to write a coaching book some time, and I always say ‘no’, as I am not sure I have anything original to say on the topic. However, I have written down my thoughts on training for a marathon, in an article called there is no one right way to train for a marathon – some thoughts. These thoughts are the basis for the training pattern I will be advising these marathon aspirants to undertake.
Once we had agreed to work more closely together on ProjectVLM (all three train in my group session normally) I suggested we all have a meal out together to seal the arrangement and discuss the way forward. More than that it was a chance to get to know them all a little better, and suss out how they ticked, if I could. We sat down at Fantozzi’s and I was immediately presented with a surprise. One of the team announced that they had done a session together to acknowledge the start of a new phase of training. I naively assumed that ‘doing a session’ involved them having run hard together in some way. I tried to keep a straight face when it was gleefully revealed to me that the ‘session’ had in fact been going out on the lash together! I hadn’t even discussed the training load with them by this stage, but it was explained that they all thought it would be the last chance they had to have a social life of any sort for the next 6 months or more, due to the amount of training they were expecting me to be advising them to do.
Over excellent Italian food I explained how I envisaged we might work together, what commitments I expected from them, and also what support I would be offering to them. Fundamentally, we agreed that a gradual build-up of both mileage and long runs (with easier weeks interspersed) was appropriate. Also, that recording training online (in a diary) and sharing with me would help me monitor progress, and that they would be on the same schedule initially (they are of similar abilities), but that I would adjust individually according to how they coped with the training.
A schedule is actually a misnomer in this case, as I was only planning on setting targets for each week, in terms of overall effort and long runs. Knowing they all have busy lives to lead there is no daily schedule, and it is up to them to arrange what they do day by day to suit what is happening in that particular week. One other tenet is for them all to keep some speed and speed endurance in place in their training, so as not to become long slow runners. To this end Tuesday track and Thursday club sessions feature as much as possible. To try to make the (long) miles go as well as possible they are encouraged to meet as often as is reasonable during the week and at weekends, to get the runs in in company – which makes long runs so much more pleasurable.
So how has October, November and December gone? Well, not as smoothly as we all would have liked. Three athletes, one injury that stopped everything for a couple of weeks, one enforced illness break and one workload that precluded much training for a whole month. Having said that, in general there has been a great commitment shown, with two of the team regularly clocking weeks just as specified, albeit with some tiredness noted in the diary comments.
Why am I excited by all this? Well, all three athletes have great personalities and are really good to work with, and as I get to know them better I am starting to note particular characteristics in them all. Some of these characteristics are likely to bring results both in the next training phase and the eventual race result, and some have to be addressed where possible, so as to not be allowed to have negative impacts. This is not the place to highlight them (good or bad), but my task as coach is to try to find a good way (and time) to address them individually.
I get a buzz when I see, or hear about, a particularly good session or full week’s training being completed, but experience a somewhat impotent angst when things don’t go well. For instance, what does a coach do if training just doesn’t seem to be happening at the suggested level, or even not at all? At the end of the day you are just a guide. If an athlete just can’t train, or won’t, there is little you can do. You can offer sympathy, try to find out the background details and then try to encourage the athlete and provide a collaborative and supportive environment.
I am watching the development of the group dynamic with interest. One athlete seems to always put their diary entries up first and make it more readable, respond to a Whatsapp request immediately, and also meet all the training requirements exactly on the dot and to the decimal place. This has earned the sobriquet of ‘teacher’s pet’ from the other two, which is now a running joke (pun intended)!
We are now in January, which is designated as further build-up, gradually increasing the training load, interspersed with some easier weeks. Next month will see the first of some keynote races (starting with a half marathon), that will be used to monitor progress and help with understanding the individual’s capabilities, and thus eventually a good guide to what pace to set on the day. A further post will follow later, as we progress the project together.
For now I remain excited about working with them all, and am starting to anticipate what they might achieve come marathon day.
Just a reminder about my three books, which all would make great pressies for the runner in your lives, with a brief description of what they are about.
It’s a hill, get over it is a detailed history of the sport of fell running. It also tells the stories of some of the great exponents of the sport through the ages. Many of them achieved greatness whilst still working full time in traditional jobs, a million miles away from the professionalism of other branches of athletics nowadays.
[Me talking about it: https://youtu.be/8BWWA3z2QrI]
The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps is a history of the Bob Graham Round, but also an exploration of the what, why and how of this classic fell endurance challenge. After covering the genesis of the BGR in detail, it documents its development from a more-or-less idle challenge to its present status as a rite of passage for endurance runners. [Read an extract: The 24 hours that changed running history]
Running Hard: the story of a rivalry describes one brilliant season in 1983, when fell running was dominated by the huge talents of John Wild and Kenny Stuart. Wild was an incomer to the sport from road running and track. Stuart was born to the fells, but an outcast because of his move from professional to amateur. Together they destroyed many race records, only determining who was top by a few seconds in the last race of the season. The book is the story of that season, and an inside, intimate look at the two men. [Talking with John Wild about the book: https://youtu.be/LjbiwhcMRHY]
In all cases they are available from good bookshops (try Waterstones), and from Amazon (where you can ‘Look Inside’ each of them for a flavour of the contents).
…. and if you want other book recommendations from me, see: earlier blog
It was with pleasure that I accepted an invitation to attend the end of year event for the ‘Run The Moors’ fell race series. It was a great night, with a fine and photogenic bunch of people.
The getting there wasn’t so amusing though. I drove up from London on the day and dawdled across country via Huddersfield, then found there was a massive jam on the M62 for the last bit to Rochdale. A quick decision and I took the A640 option to avoid the motorway completely. Little did I know that it went over Saddleworth Moor AND that it was going to throw an immense snowstorm at me when I got away up the road, and I nearly came a cropper big time. The snowstorm turned into an almighty whiteout. After it being fun for a while it suddenly wasn’t. I lost control of the car momentarily and did a slide, skid, wiggle, panic, over-steer, rightening move, slow by gear not brakes effort and ground to a halt at the edge of road. Shaken badly by the experience, I had to get a grip and drive on as I was slap in the middle of a remote moorland, with a real chance of being stranded if I stopped. Gently easing along, and eventually down to a lower level, I got there for a reviving pint of Robinsons in the Grapes, where I had agreed to meet Andy Ford.
I set up for my talk, getting all the usual ingredients in place: a book advert t-shirt on, a pint on the go, some books out, and an eye-catching slide to gain attention. The talk was on ‘the history of fell running’, but in truth was a random ramble through that history, stopping off now and again to tell a few stories that I think illustrate the ethos of this great sport.
After some questions from the audience, on topics as diverse as a comment in my acknowledgements in the latest book, further explanation of the diets of fell legends then and now, and my own fell running heroes, we moved to the pie and peas supper. Then a bit of banter with some of the runners and a relaxed pint.
I also helped with the prize giving, and the raffle, and did a bit of book signing and selling, of all three of my books (now only available in paperback format). As noted, a fantastic evening with some wonderful people.
Finally, a special thanks to Andy and Sophie for putting me up for the night.
That is it for book talks for this year, but am already setting some up for 2018, with the Buxton Adventure Festival and Wilfs café ones already in place [more coming on the events page soon].
Inspired by Jonny Muir’s recent blog post I looked back over the good running books I have read in recent years. The following 20 books are ones that I feel show something of the range and depth of the running book genre. For the research for my 3 fell running books I read everything I could find on off-road, fell and mountain running. These books are excluded from this list, and are actually very well covered in Jonny’s post*. I tried to organise the books in categories, but they are VERY loosely defined, and I ended up forcing 4 books into each category, just to make a layout that worked. I hope you might be led to some books that you might have missed. Enjoy, and feel free to suggest others, via comments on this blog, or via social media.
* What to read when you read about hill running
Endurance – Zatopek had won the 5000m, 10000m and marathon at the 1952 Olympics. This book is well researched, not only describing his upbringing and athletic feats but also gives a great feel for the man himself, his eccentricities and his hard training ethic. His life after his running career is only briefly described which does not fully illustrate the price he paid for the stance he took in 1968, which was shaped by the oppressive hand of communism.
Running for their lives – An extraordinary story, predominantly about prejudice, with a sort of sad tone rather than being particularly uplifting. The runners’ double life stories are well intertwined by the author. An example of a book about ‘unknowns’ that reads better than many better known athlete biographies.
The Perfect Mile – The dramatic race to be the first man to run a sub-4 minute mile which had been thought unreachable. A well-researched book, reconstructing conversations and documenting the feelings and emotions of those involved. The protagonists are Bannister of the UK, Landy of Australia, and Santee of the US. The perfect mile was not Bannister’s run that first broke the barrier in 1954, but the later showdown between Bannister and Landy – which is covered in great detail.
Today we die a little – Zatopek was inspirational athlete and a complex and interesting person. Askwith tells his story well, and always engages the reader. He captures why Zatopek was one of the greatest of all time, but doesn’t try to cover up his flaws. Difficult to choose between this and ‘Endurance’.
BORN IN THE USA
Duel in the sun – You may know the basic story of this New York marathon epic, but do you know the life stories of the two protagonists. The format is to tell the story of the race inter-weaved with chapters about the backgrounds and post-race traumas of Salazar and Beardsley. Interesting to see the parallels and subsequent (different) demises they suffered.
Iron War – A story of human struggle, elite athletic prowess, suffering, and individual achievement, it is a great triathlon book. It is the personal stories of Dave Scott and Mark Allen who were greats of the sport. Massive respect to these elite athletes on the one hand for their discipline and courage, but pity for them for their inability to manage their actions and emotions better. There is also the post-publication defamation hooha, which is partly down to the author’s hard-hitting insights.
Bowerman and the men of Oregon – Detailed story of both the man and the times. He did so much more than coach. Kenny Moore tells it all well, from a good position of journalist and one-time trainer with Bowerman. He brings out the quirks in the man’s character well. The chapter on his fight against a ‘cult’ settlement was a bit of a surprise. The end very emotional – I had gotten to like this probably hard to like guy by then.
Born to run – OK, it is not even about running, but is possibly the best, and best written, book on the music world. It is an example of the artist’s own words being the best source. Springsteen once claimed that his parents wanted him to be a writer not a musician, and despite the quirky style he justifies that thought.
SCIENCE (of training/coaching)
Bounce – Fantastic bringing together of research into succeeding as athlete (and in business). Interspersed with incidents from Syed’s career that illustrate the points being made. Tries to analyse why Africans dominate distance running.
Two hours – A kind of homage to the art of marathon running. More than the sub-2 hr quest, it is a fascinating insight into one man (Geoffrey Mutai) and his life and training. Visiting the training camp in Kenya’s Rift Valley and following him at Berlin, New York and London, Caesar also interviews many of the world’s top runners, experts and sports scientists. He also gives wonderful insights into the minds and lives of top athletes.
How to support a champion – A great insight into sports science, and what it can bring to sporting performance. He also writes of his work with some world class performers, admitting that he was learning from them as much as vice versa. As an athletics coach this helped me focus on areas of potential improvement by identifying some of the important things an athlete (and coach) needs to work on to perform to their very best.
Black box thinking – You could sum up Syed’s thesis as: learn from your mistakes. He uses a wide range of examples but also takes time to probe why we often don’t learn. The examples range across transport, sport, and health care, amongst others. He is perhaps weakest in offering any practical changes required to embrace failure, but he does clearly illustrate the need to make such changes.
TRAINING (sort of)
From last to first – This is way more than a biography. It has some good points to make about doing things ‘your way’, not always the way ‘the book’ tells you. It is also surprisingly good on altitude, lactate, psychology and stuff of a more academic nature. Has more practical information to offer than many a coaching book.
Swim, bike, run – This is a (ghost-written) joint autobiography of the Brownlees. They are quite open about each other and their relationship, which I liked. Shame their achievements in, and love of, fell running was hardly mentioned (I AM biased mind). Their training tips are instructive, giving a good picture of what it takes to be (arguably) the top two triathletes in the world.
Running Scared – This was originally published in 1997, but had resonance when the Salazar investigation and other news came out and still makes depressing reading. Athletics is arguably Britain’s most successful sport, and Mackay investigates the cost of that success. He charts the trials and tribulations of the Olympic Games’ principal sport and reveals some pretty awful drug, money and corruption issues, even before the turn of the millennium.
Austerity Olympics – The whole story about the ’48 Olympics was fascinating in comparison to the 2012 version. It is the result of some pretty serious research. A good read, which in a strange way pointed up the fact that some of the main players from this era have never had THEIR full story told – Fanny Blankers-Koen for example.
RUNNING WITH THE ………
Running with the Kenyans – A fantastic insight into the culture of running in what many consider the leading distance running country in the world now. Finn takes his family to live there and he tries to run with the locals and work out their ‘secret’ – which there isn’t of course. The inter-weaving of family life, his attempt to train a team of contenders and the insights into the greats makes a marvellous mix.
Running with the Buffaloes – An unbelievably compelling read, not surprising considering the distance athlete (and coach) in me. It takes a while to get used to the Americanisms, I even had to look some up. Some scenes and quotes now have regular use among athletic clubmates who are ‘in’ on the book. A good combination of story and ‘coaching’ which certainly made me think about how I have gone about things.
Born to run – Argues that modern trainers cause injuries and we should all return to barefoot running, or as near as reasonably possible. Written in what might be called a ‘gonzo’ style, it is good at telling of the tale of the big race at the core of the story, the characters within the story, and his search for the legendary Caballa Blanco, a Tarahumara Indian.
Way of the runner – Finn writes about the Japanese lifestyle and also the traditional Ekiden relay race. Long-distance running is big business in Japan and they have plenty of young/university athletes, but can’t seem to translate it to the world stage and take on the Ethiopians and Kenyans at the marathon. Finn immerses himself in the culture to try to find the answer.
… and of course there are my three books, all from Sandstone Press.
It’s a hill, get over it – A detailed history of the sport of fell running. It also tells the stories of some of the great exponents of the sport through the ages. Many of them achieved greatness whilst still working full time in traditional jobs, a million miles away from the professionalism of other branches of athletics nowadays.
The Round – A history of the Bob Graham Round, but also an exploration of the what, why and how of this classic fell endurance challenge. After covering the genesis of the BGR in detail, it documents its development from a more-or-less idle challenge to its present status as a rite of passage for endurance runners.
Running Hard – For one brilliant season in 1983 the sport of fell running was dominated by the two huge talents of John Wild and Kenny Stuart. Wild was an incomer to the sport from road running and track. Stuart was born to the fells, but an outcast because of his move from amateur to professional and back again. Together they destroyed the record book, only determining who was top by a few seconds in the last race of the season. Running Hard is the story of that season, and an inside, intimate look at the two men.
The paperback of Running Hard was launched at a great event at The Rendezvous Hotel, Skipton, on 27th October. Kenny Stuart and Ben Mounsey were both on great form as we discussed the topic of ‘running hard, then and now’. Thanks go to Due North’s Mel Steventon for organising the event. A proportion of the entry fees went to two charities – The Brathay Trust and Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association – to the tune of just over £300. Thanks for coming, I enjoyed it greatly, and obviously was pleased to sell and sign a good few books (or is that a few good books!).
There was a great crowd there, to whom I must apologise for the late start (waiting while Ben got the drinks in for he and I!)
I introduced Kenny and Ben and we discussed differences and similarities between the training and lifestyle of runners then and now, with me orchestrating the questions.
Both were interesting on how they had trained, revealed a few good tips, and also raised a few laughs with their responses to questions about such topics as diet and Strava dependence (in Ben’s case).
A thoroughly enjoyable evening, thanks Mel and team, Kenny and Ben. Do check out other events from Due North, including one I am very excited to be involved in (details of which have to remain under wraps till finalised), but it does involve another absolute fell legend.
Finally, just a reminder that the book launch was accompanied by a fantastic Blog Tour. You may still read the nine guest blogs by going to my blog tour post, where the live links are.
Running Hard: the story of a rivalry is available in paperback from good bookshops and online (as are my other two fell running books). [Amazon link].