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Six running/sport book reviews

Relentless: Secrets of the Sporting Elite
by Alistair Brownlee 5*

Alistair Brownlee (and his named co-author) have compiled a very interesting account of what drives people at the top of their sport, and all the hard work they have to put in. He has used his priviledged position to interview many top sports people, some of whom may be something of a surprise. The two most interesting chapters for me were on Kilian Jornet (and how he has balanced his love of different sports and life itself), and the one on failing, in which he points out many top sportsmen do much more than they succeed. Brownlee also embeds some of is own experiences, and anecdotes, which give a good counterpoint to his interviewee’s stories, which give great insights into being the best you can.

Faster! Louder! How a punk rocker from Yorkshire became British Champion fell runner
by Boff Whalley 5*

A fascinating book about a very interesting character, who managed to combine a punk lifestyle with being a champion fell runner. What makes it so believable is that Boff was also in the same music scene, and was a clubmate of Devine’s. He was there and did it, on both fronts. He has a delightfully honest explanation of the problem of recalling situations or conversations of yore. His answer to that is explained early in the book, when he says to Devine: “…. the bits you can’t remember, the conversations and the details and all that – I’ll make those bits up.” I really like Boff’s relaxed writing style and thoroughly recommend the book.

Joss Naylor’s Lakes, Meres and Waters of the Lake District: Loweswater to Over Water: 105 miles in the footsteps of a legend
by Vivienne Crow 5*

A beautiful book on just one aspect of Joss Naylor’s amazing legacy. His run around the lakes, meres and waters was undertaken in 1983. He recently re-walked most of it (he is now in his 80s), accompanied by photographer Stephen Wilson and author Vivienne Crow. Naylor relives moments from the day and comments on the landscape and nature that surrounds him, including the changes that he notices. The book is enhanced by some photos from the original round, and benefits from a generous and well-designed layout, that shows off Wilson’s photos well. It was an amazing achievement back in the day, and the book is a brilliant re-telling of the tale.

Faster: The Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists
by Michael Hutchinson 4*

A very thorough and detailed book, which I found fascinating. Hutchinson writes in a style that conveys fairly complex and scientific ideas in an engaging way that aids understanding. Enormous amounts of detail about all the science, and technology (and more offbeat ideas) that have been tried in order to go faster. A serious read, which is not meant to be a training guide. But you will have a better understanding of the concept of marginal gains and how they might be harnessed for your own good.

The Meaning Of Sport
by Simon Barnes 3*

Simon Barnes understands his sport and its meaning and importance in society. He writes very effectively on the subject. The book does jump about between different sporting events, but somehow it remains coherent. He’s particularly good on boxing, which he hates, but has had to report on. He argues that it relies for its success on the deliberate infliction of irreversible brain damage. He adopts the term ‘Redgrave’ as a measure of sporting greatness, which is quite neat and justified too. A wide ranging and good background read.

Coasting: Running Around the Coast of Britain – Life, Love and (Very) Loose Plans
by Elise Downing 3*

I have read several similar stories about long runs. This had a certain honesty and a rolling sense of humour. It certainly made you feel the ups and downs (metaphorically and literally) of such a journey. On the negative side it was hard to believe that someone could be so ill-prepared prior to the trip, and yet still not learn lessons required to get along better as she progressed.


NB: if you want to see some reviews of my latest book (All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland) then go to my reviews page:
The book is a biography of iconic fell runner Billy Bland, and is full of great quotes from him, including “One leg past t’other – that is all running is”

Pysiological testing of athletes

I have written a short article with some thoughts on testing of athletes, particularly with regard to older athletes and issues around that aspect. It was prompted by a desire to get a leading Veteran athlete into a lab and have them tested – both as a measure of their base physiology and also to hopefully use the data to help their current training.

The full article, entitled ‘Some thoughts on physiological testing of athletes’, is available to read – as a PDF file/download.

Postscript (from Yannick Bianchini, in response to the article): In physiology, there are 3 factors useful in predicting performance. One’s VMA/VO2max is one. Then endurance (time capable of sustaining an effort), and finally running economy. In that last factor, you can include mental ability, like you said in the article. Adding to that mental ability, the fact of being capable of turning negative into positive, and keeping a very low RPE (rated of perceived exertion) is nowadays beginning to be almost the most important aspect in endurance sports. The best example is Eliud Kipchoge, who did not have the best physiological results when they were testing and choosing runners for the Nike project. But he had the most potential mentally, that’s why he was chosen. [Thanks for the comment, Yannick]

NB: Thanks to Jim Johnston for sending me an interesting article entitled ‘Maximal Aerobic Capacity Testing of Older Adults: A Critical Review’, which gives some interesting background to the topic. It is quite an academic piece so I have not included it here, but can send it on to anyone who is interested – just ping me.

Two recent great books on endurance/ultra running

Recently two great books have come out that give a real feel for the effect that the (covid) lockdown situation has had on runners, and particularly how it has been the catalyst for some of them to turn their attention to attempting new records for the classic rounds and off-road endurance challenges. They are Damian Hall’s ‘In it for the long run’, and Ally Beaven’s ‘Broken’.

Damian Hall has been a journalist much of his life and has shown he can research and weave stories, but can he write a book about himself and his move into ultra running? He writes fairly briefly about his upbringing and admits to not having it particularly easy. He also says that on reflection he had ‘a kind of chronic outsider syndrome’. Rejecting team sports, which he did not excel at, he took to running, eventually entering a half marathon. This was something of a lifechanger and the rest of the book details his descent (or ascent, depends on how you look at it) into off-road trail/ultra running. When he realised he needed coaching advice he seemed not to be able to settle on a suitable coaching arrangement (working with several different coaches and going solo sometimes). Eventually he became a coach himself, as he moved towards supporting himself (and his family) by coaching and with sponsorship (seemingly reluctantly). Having described his obsession with the UTMB, several record ’rounds’ he achieved (including solo/unsupported ones), and some ‘fastest known times’ on long-distance challenges (I do not like the acronym FKT), he gradually became edgier as he moved to the climax of his ultra career (so far) and describes the build-up and execution of his record for traversing the Pennine Way (beating friend John Kelly’s record set just 8 days previously). He displays a fine turn of phrase in highlighting the highs and lows of that effort, with some good banter about, and with, his top quality support crew. So, to answer my initial question, he DID write well about himself. It is a fascinating read if you are remotely interested in ultras, being in the ‘lumps’ he so loves, running itself, and also how you can do all this and try to contribute less to climate change by making some life choice changes. As a tribute to the author I have included as many explanations in brackets as I can (where possible), as I have never seen so many in one book, and am pretty sure my editor wouldn’t have allowed them (all).

Ally Beaven may be a part-time barman, but in this his first book he has an engaging writing style. These may be a series of similar sounding endurance efforts but the nuances between them come out with the author’s analysis. He is not afraid to question assumptions and shares his views with some spicy vocabulary and some telling phrases. Just one example I liked, when talking about reaching a summit with no view and which was just a pile of rocks, he writes: “All the toil, none of the reward. Hill running for Calvinists”. The narrative is very readable, helped immensely by Beaven concentrating on the unique aspects of each record that is broken (several of which he was supporting on), whilst also putting each into its context. The book, summarising one year, was produced to a tight deadline, but still Vertebrate had time to design a good looking book. It is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in fells, mountains, endurance running and how some folks combined them to see how far a human can push themselves.

Both books are great reads, and can be obtained direct from the publisher – Vertebrate, or through good book shops. If you are interesting in hearing more of the their stories, and they both have a very lively sense of humour, you can catch them at this event on 4 May – SHAFF ONLINE – DAMIAN HALL TALKS TO ALLY BEAVEN (and/or afterwards on Youtube).

Sub 7 Sub 8 Triathlon Project

In February 2020 it was announced that there was a project being setup to beat the existing Ironman (triathlon) records for both men and women. Not just beat them but smash through the 7 hour barrier for men and the 8 hour barrier for women. The first impression is that it is mirroring the Nike Sub-2 and Ineoes 1-59 projects setup recently to see if someone could beat the 2-hour barrier for running the marathon distance.

There is not much information available yet, but it seems to be setup to be a double header of male and female one-on-ones. Alistair Bownlee versus Kristian Blummenfelt, and Nicola Spirig versus Lucy Charles-Barclay. It is set to be held in Spring 2022 at a venue to be announced. One thing strongly in its favour is the gender equality, apparently the same incentives for either sex, something that I believe is the norm in that sport (unlike mainstream athletics). Whatever happens it will not be recognised as a new Ironman record, due to the artificial nature of the event. It will be interesting to see how much technological advantage can be gained in each of the three triathlon disciplines (swim, bike and run) as there is a lot of time to carve off in each case.

Some basic data: the distances are swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run a marathon. The existing records are: Jan Frodeno (GER), 2017, 7 hrs 35 mins 39 secs and Chrissie Wellington (GBR), 2011, 8 hours 18 mins 13 secs. From that you will see that the men have to ‘lose’ over 35 minutes and the women a lesser amount of 19 minutes. The following table gives (an estimate, as data is difficult to find) the fastest splits done by different individuals within standard Ironman events, and a theoretical total time as if those times all came in the same event.

The data suggests that the women’s task might be an easier one. But where will that time be gained, in which disciplines and by what methods? There could be thicker, more buoyant wetsuits, pacing by kayak in the swim (would that help?). Drafting behind a phalanx of bikes (like a Tour de France peloton), or even using pace vehicles for the bike section. Laser pacing, with shielding pacers for the run. Specialists in each event in each pacing team. Women using men as pacers? Then there are shoe and bike innovations. What do you think?

A worry that I have is that there will changes that will adversely affect traditional triathlon events. This has certainly been the case in running since the 2 hour barrier was broken. The shoe developments that initiative prompted have seen a sea change in athletics, with carbon plates and thicker soles being added by most shoe manufacturers. It has produced a rush of unprecedented times both on the road and track. It seems you now have to wear these new (very expensive) shoes to be able to compete, which actually produces an un-level playing field. Might a similar situation happen in triathlon?

As a result of shoes developed for sub-2, in 2020 World Athletics announced major changes to its rules on footwear.

The new regulations imposed an immediate ban on any shoe with a sole thicker than 40mm, as well as on shoes that contained more than one plate. In a bid to ensure shoes worn by some athletes didn’t offer an unfair advantage, the rules also stated that any shoe used in competition must have been available for purchase on the retail market for a period of four months. This move effectively banned the use of prototypes in competition.

There is a parallel in some aspects between the sub 7 sub 8 project and the Hour Record in cycling. In that challenge the idea is to cover as much ground as possible in 60 minutes. These days it takes place on an indoor track, which pretty much removes weather and terrain from the equation, predicting/controlling both of which factors both sub-2 and sub7sub8 aim(ed) for. It seems that the Hour Challenge was something that came into cyclists sights towards the very end of their careers at the top of their sport. That was the case for Bradley Wiggins, who took the record in 2015, before retiring in 2016, and writing a book about The Hour (cover to left).

Although Alistair Brownlee plans to compete in the Tokyo Olympics if possible, there is a thought in my mind that this high profile triathlon challenge might be his swansong. As far as I can see his last competition was in Sept 2020 in the Helvellyn Triathlon, which ends with a 9 mile fell race up Hellvellyn (yes, I know he has been a noted fell runner when he chosen to race on the fells) – which is hardly ITU-level competition [he won]. You could argue that Nicola Spirig is in the autumn of her career too, but that is not the case for either Blummenfelt or Charles-Barclay, so it is a weak argument.

Conclusion: is it a good thing, and will I watch it when it happens? At the moment I see it as a cleverly pitched publicity move by the sponsor. Looking at the times I would say there is a strong chance of the woman’s sub-8 happening, but really think the men’s sub-7 is asking too much (but am happy to be proved wrong). I am skeptical now, but know full well that I will be sucked in and will probably set aside time to sit and watch the whole thing unfurl. That is certainly what happened with the Ineos 1-59 effort of Eliud Kipchoge and his team.

Afterthought: As I recall, in the Nike sub-2 effort there were three athletes all shooting for the time, and two of them couldn’t hack the required pace and dropped out at various stages. I wonder if all 4 triathletes will be fit enough to ‘chase the pace’ or whether one or more of them will drop off it and drop out, although the pacing of the three disciplines isn’t a simple numerical factor, and it won’t be really possible to second guess the outcome until well into the marathon running stage. We will see.

Project website:

Self-publishing. It ain’t been easy

My fifth book is co-authored, but unlike the other four is self-published, and is just out. I thought I would record what the latter part of the process of self-publishing has been like, as it was certainly interesting, and not perhaps what I was expecting. Covid-19 and Brexit both hindered things quite a bit.

It all started in November 2019, so has taken just over a year from idea to fruition. The book is a hardback celebrating the great fell and mountain photographer, Pete Hartley. The first ten months were all about (co-author) Denise Park sorting through some 60,000 photographic images and working with me to make a suitable selection of 400 or so to go in the book. This took countless hours of work, and many discussions about inclusions/exclusions. Having pulled together the necessary contextualising text and done a dummy layout in Word, we had the material ready to hand over to a graphic designer to produce the camera-ready artwork. On 29 October I posted the text file, and all the folders of original hi-res images into a Dropbox, and in effect handed-off the project for a while to a professional.

Before that we had already investigated and selected a printer. This was important to get right as the images needed quality paper and printing to show them off to best advantage. Fortunately, we were recommended to contact (and get a quote from) Latitude Press, in the Lake District. Having seen samples and had a warm welcome we agreed the quote with them. It gave me an extra good feeling that they were based in the Lakes, and had printed two excellent recent books about the area. Having said that the actual print works recommended by them was in the EU, but were likely to be able to turn the work around within an agreed 4-5 week window. [For those interested in the finer details of the book, I am happy to discuss if you want to contact me for further info on our particular print specifications. Below are details of the print company.]

Back with the layout phase, we were fortunate that our chosen graphic designer was also a fell runner and very sympathetic to, and in tune with, what we were looking for in the look and feel of the book. Again it is pleasing that Britas Design are based in the Lakes, just outside Keswick. The deal was that if we could get the camera-ready PDF files to the printer by 6 Nov we could have a 17 Dec delivery for the final copies of the books. A tough ask.

At this point (31 Oct) we decided on a process for accepting pre-orders of the book. Denise also researched post and packing options. We found a supplier of cardboard wraps and inner bubble wraps, which with postage were going to add £5 to the cost of delivering books to folk. We agreed a payment to a photographer for reproducing two of their photos of Pete, and quietly waited for progress/info on the layout.

We decided that we would advertise the book on 7th Nov which would have been Pete’s birthday, offering pre-orders. We had decided to deal with the payments for, and the despatching of, pre-orders ourselves – which added quite a burden, which mostly fell on Denise. We started sounding out publications for a mention, including Fellrunner and Trail Running magazines, and flooded every social media channel we could access with info on the book, and how to order. Meanwhile, we had missed the print deadline, but had received the first few pages from the designer.

By 16 Nov only a third of pages were done, so we agreed a new deadline of 29 Nov, which Latitude fortunately were happy to go with. This still allowed a new delivery date of 21 Dec, which was getting tight, but amazing to hear. We supplied them some pages to do a test print, to ensure we were happy with the result.

Even on 23 Nov we were STILL making small corrections to the text as we proof-read the pages as they came through to us. On 26 Nov we agreed the final proof copy, and the next day it was received in the Czech Republic at the print works. We were contacted by Latitude on 1 Dec that somewhere in the process of making the final PDFs an error had occurred in the cover layout and in the internal cut marks positioning. As they were unable to ‘rip’ the files to the press, they couldn’t proceed with our printing. We were already passed our deadline so this needed to be rectified as a matter of urgency or we would completely miss our newly allocated printing slot. Anxious emails and phone calls between Denise, the designer and Latitude Press ensued over the next 24 hours until Denise received an email at 13-31 on 2 Dec saying they had finally managed to ‘rip’ the files and now needed final approval to go to print that afternoon. This hiccup even more confirmed our wisdom of hiring a professional for the layout rather than trying to do it ourselves (which we did consider at one point). Now the fun started.

On 5 Dec we were informed that it would be two pallet loads, which would be delivered to Denise’s business address, in a small road in Clitheroe. A week later the news reported port delays, but we avoided the worst of these. Then the books were held in customs on 17 Dec. The packaging was all labelled and ‘postaged’ in readiness. TIP: buy your Royal Mail postage online,as it is slightly cheaper and lessens issues at PO itself.

We were then informed that the books would be delivered on a 40-tonne ‘international’ articulated wagon which didn’t have a tail lift, so the wagon sides would be raised and a forklift truck would lift the palettes off the wagon. This wasn’t the original plan! The international freight company then contacted Denise to say they had Googled her business address and were concerned that the wagon would not make it down the small road of Denise’s business address. A quick decision was made to have them delivered to her home address instead – but as Denise drove home to meet the wagon, unannounced roadworks had been set up outside her house with the road being closed to traffic. Another rapid decision had to be made – and it was decided to divert yet again to a delivery company based in Manchester where the books could be unloaded and reloaded onto a smaller English wagon.

Eventually, on 21 Dec, two palettes weighing one and a quarter tonnes of books were unloaded onto the road outside Denise’s business address, and Denise and her secretary embarked on carrying 94 boxes of books inside the clinic before the inclement weather could also add it’s toll. We had a distribution company booked (Despatch Bay) to deliver them in bulk into the Post Office system, and they did a marvellous job in that people started receiving them on 22 Dec. The designer, printers, delivery company had all worked wonders to get a good number of the books in people’s hands prior to Christmas. Thanks to you all.

We were thrilled to receive our books today. Thank-you for getting them here so speedily. Wow – what a tribute to Pete – really impressive. Makes you smile and admire, and yet feel sad and nostalgic at the same time. Well done.

A real trip down memory lane, it is excellent, exceeded my expectations. Please accept my thanks on a great book and pass on my thanks to everyone involved in its production.

A lot of hard work, but we are really pleased with the result – and so it seems are purchasers. Even after all the issues noted here, we both decided that we would consider self-publishing again.

To order this beautiful 200-page hardback book, please send an email to: to be sent order details. Further details on the book webpage and on another blog by me.

BGR Completions – 2020 update

Bob Wightman has just released the figures for Bob Graham Round (BGR) registrations, completions, male/female split, direction of travel, etc. for 2020, which make interesting reading, and that I have commented on before. []

I have updated my spreadsheet, and the graphs of several aspects of the data, which are illustrated below with a couple of comments on each.

This first graph shows the data just for completions since 1971. The black line is the actual numbers completing, which was at its highest ever level in 2019, although not surprisingly it was another downturn in 2020. The red line is the trend line which is obviously up (after recovering from the Foot and Mouth blip of 2001) and the blue is the moving mean, also trending upwards.

More recently figures for registrations and completions have been published, allowing analysis of completion percentages. The graph above is of the last 9 years, showing upward trends in registrations and completions (these figures are for males and females combined), but interestingly NOT an increasing percentage actually completing. It invariably hovers either side of 50%. The next two graphs look at the male/female data.

The men’s data pretty much follows the pattern of the total data (there are still many more men than women involved). 2020 shows a dip in all three data sets for the year, after all going up in 2019. The completion rate of 51.32% for men is the third highest since I have been looking at this (the highest was 54.95% in 2019). The male completions, at 78, is the third highest it has ever been in one year.

The women’s completions (red) were the equal lowest in this 9 year period, but that is mostly because the registrations was the second lowest in this period. The percentage lines (green) are at the top of this graph as the numbers are higher than either the registrations or completions, and had previously shown an upward trend, but this year’s percentage of 37.5% completions bring that trend line down. Admittedly from a small sample size.

My original analysis was in an earlier blog [BGR completion rate is 42%], with a follow-up on women’s completions [Women’s completions at BGR]. Both were based on data up to and including 2018.

What did you do this lockdown summer?

At 8:30am on the 4th October, waved off by her 3-year-old daughter, Lynne Cox stepped out of her front door and ran a marathon in the pouring rain on her own, finishing around 5 hours later. Why? Looking at how some athletes coped with the lockdown summer may give us an insight.

When the government imposed the national lockdown on 23 March 2020, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, athletes were initially allowed one period of exercise a day. That was fine for a while but soon people were needing challenges – both for motivation and satisfaction. My athletic club (Barnet & District AC) started a weekly series of virtual time trials. These varied from popular training routes, 1-mile timed efforts, or a self-measured 5km, and even one that stipulated that you had to achieve as much height gain as possible in 30 minutes running. These all satisfied a small core of club athletes.

Soon bigger initiatives were started. One of the best was the Virtual National Road Relay Championships. It was setup by James McCrae, with the hope that it would encourage some keen competition for runners. It ran from Saturday April 4 to Wednesday April 8. Athletes were to run a 5km leg in their local area, measured by their GPS watch. This was uploaded to the central results platform, which updated over the five days, allowing athletes and team managers to compare performances. The event strictly enforced a ‘run solo’ rule, as well as discouraging athletes from running in busy areas, to comply with the government restrictions in place.

My club publicised it internally and we had 14 men and 13 women entered by the closing date. Over 8,000 athletes entered altogether. The individual times recorded by our runners are not especially relevant here, more pertinent being how they reacted to it. Two random comments were that “it brought us together as a team”, and that it “gave me the impetus to continue with my training”.

Alex Lepretre (of Highgate Harriers) gave a longer reflection when I spoke to him soon after the event. (photo: Brian Graves)

One of the most obvious differences about a virtual 5k is that there’s not one standardised course, so the first question for me was where to run it. North London (especially the Highgate area) isn’t blessed with the flattest of terrain so options were limited. I opted for Regent’s Park. One loop of the Outer Circle is 2.75m so it would be just over one lap. It was a bit of an odd feeling walking up to the (virtual) start line as even though no one else who was about would have known I was there for a race, I still felt a bit of pressure knowing my time would be going up online for everyone to see and compare against. I think the nerves took their toll a bit as I went out a bit quick, clocking a 2:45 first km and 4:28 first mile, and from there it was just a matter of holding on. I quite enjoyed the format of the competition and with the race being held over a few days, team positions changed throughout the course of the event, and it certainly added to the excitement. I’m definitely looking forward to when races resume again and you can race side-by-side with your friends and then grab a beer with them afterwards, either in celebration or commiseration.

As an observer (online), I enjoyed the build-up, the banter, watching people recce routes (via Strava), and the times as they gradually popped up on the results page. This obviously met a lot of people’s needs at the time.

By August some races were being organised again, as the new restrictions allowed. One of the most successful ones was the NoblePro MK 5km PB Special, held on the byways of Milton Keynes. Karen Murphy, a leading Vet with Barnet and District AC, ran in both the events on 21 August and 27 September. She recently reflected on the experience. (photo: Brian Graves)

On the start line we were like a bunch of kids. There was a huge adrenaline rush, and I am thinking to myself ‘I really want to be here, racing’. I had been measuring myself against my Garmin, but there are always doubts about exact distances. So, I had a target time in mind, based on achieving a virtual sub-19 5km. I was happy with the results. Overall, there was a complete buzz about the event, which was brilliantly organised. I even got to see a friend coming in and was able to cheer them on.

Co-organiser of the events, Elliot Hind (Milton Keynes AC), worked countless hours within a team (Mick Bromilow, Paul Mizon and himself) to put on those events and give fellow club athletes the chance to race. There were 28 waves of 12 similar ability runners to push each other to fast times, which worked brilliantly and feedback was overwhelmingly positive, resulting in them running the second one a month later.

Elliott adds:

It was such a joy to see friends old and new for the first time in months and all doing what we love. As well as so many great friends, it was incredible to be able to attract fields of top-class athletes with the stars of the show Australian Olympians Ryan and Gen Gregson winning our A races during our second event. What an absolute pleasure!

In September Barnet and District AC started a monthly Safe and Simple Time Trial Series. It was cross country, but not as we know it. Forty-five club members competed in waves of half a dozen over a 7.6km course in Trent Park, with 16 running a shorter course option as well. Will Morris was in the fastest wave at the first event and commented:

I was very motivated as it was a great measure of improvement versus myself and others each month. Like a lot of people I was relatively unfit at the start of the winter due to lack of training in lockdown. Having said that, it wasn’t the same though. I love cross country for the team element as you are usually racing for something more than just yourself.

Race organiser Pete Ellis comments:

By using a reverse handicap, with staggered groups of runners of similar ability, we can ‘race’ whilst maintaining social distancing on a familiar course, meaning organisation and marking out of the course is kept to a minimum. Numbers are pre-allocated for the race series so after our first race we have been able to race at the push of a button.

This may well be an idea that other clubs could use.

On 4 October thousands ran the virtual London Marathon, including Barnet’s Lynne Cox, whom we met at the top of this article. Looking for competition, she  was booked to do an obstacle course race called Nuclear Rush on Saturday 3 October, so thought that Virtual London the following day could be a focus for that weekend if Rush was cancelled for Covid reasons.  However, as the weekend drew closer, it became clear to those close to her (even if she didn’t necessarily admit it herself) that she actually wanted to do both races, if she possibly could! Rush went ahead (8 miles of obstacles and a lot of mud, on what turned out to be the wettest day for UK-wide rainfall since records began in 1891) and she had tremendous fun doing it. 

Lynne takes up the story.

On the morning of the marathon I woke up with legs that felt tired but not broken, so decided to at least give the marathon a try.  I pinned the London Marathon number to my rucksack, donned my rain jacket and headed out early into more pouring rain.  My feet were drenched within a mile, and when I was running through calf-deep flooding at 2.5 miles I seriously began to question my decision!  Having the number pinned to my back meant that I got a lot of support, both from other runners also clearly out doing Virtual London and from other runners, walkers, cyclists and even people in cars.  I’d planned my route to include a pit-stop at the home of my best friend, which I reached at 16.5 miles.  After being plied with fluids and chocolate I reluctantly set out again to run the final section.  The last few miles were really hard, and not having the support of the London crowd made them even harder!  However, once I finished (in 5 hours and 9 minutes, including the 15-minute stop), I felt a massive sense of satisfaction for running a marathon, on my own, in horrendous conditions.  Not necessarily an experience I’d hurry to repeat, but something I’m genuinely proud of myself for.

I know that Alex, Karen, Will and Lynne had managed in their own way to keep a good level of training up through the difficulties that lockdown presented, but that they all needed something extra – that intangible feeling of competition and also the satisfaction of pushing themselves through that competition. But I also know that we should all be grateful for the work and time that folk that James, Elliot and Pete put in to enable us to challenge ourselves in running events in these difficult times.

George Foster and Billy Bland: two great BGR times. Some thoughts on their splits

When I saw George Foster had done an brilliant time to record the second fastest Bob Graham Round (BGR) to Kilian Jornet, and had taken 9 minutes off Billy Bland’s 1982 time of 13-53, I was intrigued to know how he had done it, and where in fact he had made that time within the round. I decided to dig into it a bit and see what I could find. [Update: Title and intro edited]


The BGR is nominally broken into 5 legs, with a road crossing where support can be received (if required) at the junction of each of the legs. Knowing that Billy Bland had stopped for a total of 21-minutes at these 4 road crossings on his round, I formed a hypothesis that George could have gained his 9 minutes on Billy all within that 21-minute window. Having access to a full set of splits for both Billy and George’s rounds allowed me to test that hypothesis.

LEG SPLITS: In both cases the split times have been recorded for each leg, and also broken down into each summit to summit sub-section of the route, and for the stops at the road changeovers. This allows one to see the mode of approach of both athletes with regard to stopping en route, and in fact in running the event. A quite remarkable picture emerges.

The following two tables show the accumulated running time for each leg for both runners, and the breakdown of the stoppage times at the changeovers. In the first table the columns show: the leg number, Billy’s cumulative time for running that leg, George’s cumulative time for running that leg, and the difference between the two (-ve is Billy faster, +ve is George faster). Note the stoppage time is NOT included in any of the legs, but accounted for separately (in Table 2).

Leg numberBilly’s timeGeorge’s timeDifference

In this table the times at each changeover and the differences are shown.

ChangeoverBilly’s stop timeGeorge’s stop timeDifference
Dunmail Raise35-2
TOTAL2112+9 minutes

So, there you have it. According to the splits – Billy ran faster on legs 1 and 5, George ran faster on legs 2 and 4, and on leg 3 (the longest) they took exactly the same amount of time. The cumulative effect is that they both had an exactly equal running time of 13-32. Furthermore, George had two stops longer than Billy, and Billy two longer than George. But crucially George gained that vital 9 minutes overall on account of his whistling through Honister with a mere 1-minute stoppage time.

It might be of interest to revisit Billy’s round to see what that 13-minute stop at Honister was about. Here is how he told it to me when researching ‘All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland’*:

Billy adds: ‘Martin was there on Kirk Fell and I heard him or Joss say, “he is gonna get under 14 hours”. I don’t know whether I was supposed to hear, but I did, and subconsciously we must have just picked up the pace a little. Then coming off Grey Knotts I just ran out of petrol and had to sit down. I was looking at Honister a few hundred yards away and I needed to be down there, but I had gone all dizzy. Changing the pace is definitely something you shouldn’t do, because you will bring on a bad patch. We then spent 13 minutes at Honister sorting me out. I refuelled and off we went again.’

SUMMIT SPLITS: Another way of comparing the two runs is to analyse the individual summit splits. Given that it has already been established that they were both travelling at the same average speed when on the move, it comes as no surprise that of the 43 splits (42 summits plus the run-in to the Moot Hall) that they have a very even spread of fastest splits between them. Billy was fastest over 17 summits and on the long run in to the Moot Hall, whilst George was fastest over 17 summits, and on 8 they were equal. Table 1 (above) shows that the two legs with most difference were Leg 1 with Billy running 7 mins faster, and Leg 4 with George also running 7 minutes faster. These may be explained by a) Billy seeming to start very fast, such that we was faster on all three summits of the leg and the run down to Threlkeld; and b) by Billy having a bad time on the early part of Leg 4, losing a lot of time over Yewbarrow and Red Pike (this was where he had the famous ‘Naylor shake’ from Joss to (allegedly) sort him out of his what might loosely be termed ‘lethargy’. This is how I described the shake situation in the book:

Billy took the story up. ‘Yep, Joss was there too and you [Martin] went to Sail Pass. I got to the top of Yewbarrow and Joss says, “I’ll just give your legs a shake out”. This has become known as the Naylor Shake, which you may have heard about. It is supposed to shake the lactic acid out. There was nowt wrong with my legs, but he wanted to do it anyway!’ You need to imagine Billy Bland lying on his back with his legs in the air for Joss to give them a good shakeout.

The other three legs (2, 3 and 5) were all evenly split and show very little deviation from the average pace for either of them, and also a pretty even distribution of fastest summits between them.

VIRTUAL RACE-OFF: Another way of looking at it is to imagine that they were racing directly against each other. Setting up a virtual race-off with both setting off at the same time gives this resulting ding-dong battle. Billy would be virtually ahead right through to Bowfell, then George would take over to Scafell, Billy slipping ahead till Red Pike (George overtaking him somewhere between Yewbarrow and Red Pike), and George staying ahead all the way to the finish, apart from Billy sneaking ahead for one summit (Brandreth) before losing time on his ‘bonk’ going into Honister.

All of that takes no account of Billy’s stops on the way round (within the legs) – or indeed the time he spent sitting on his arse looking at Honister from the descent of Grey Knotts (see above). Billy claims that he:

‘also met various people on the route, Pete Parkins at Ore Gap, and I remember having sandwiches and coffee with him. Not for a long time, just a minute or so. That was the manner that it was done in. Not like now when people think they can’t stop, I don’t go for that at all.’

I don’t know about George, just noting how Billy went about his BGR. There are also imponderables like the differences in weather conditions, and the change in paths (arguably) making navigation easier. But I do hope you can see why I suggest that George actual ran no faster than Billy.

NOTE: All of this is a bit of fun and no way am I taking anything away from George’s fantastic achievement, which I hope he will be writing up some time soon for us to get his view of the his day on the fells.

* Book details (inc ‘View Inside’): ‘All or Nothing at All: the life of Billy Bland [Sandstone Press, 2020]

Info about the new book

You can watch the virtual book launch here, via the Wild Ginger Runs Youtube channel:

You can find some of the book’s first reviews here, and some good reviews on Netgalley here.

Details of the BLOG TOUR for ‘All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland’ are here, including some excellent writing on and about the book and fell running:

A short piece I wrote about writing the book, for the Sandstone Press news blog:

Finally, there are a series of blogs that reveal: the cover quotes; what was left out and why; the illustrations; and the acknowledgements.

Acknowledgements from my latest book

There are always many people to thank when producing any book, and this is no exception. First and foremost, I must acknowledge Billy and Ann Bland, without whose cooperation the project would have remained just an idea. Billy Bland, whose very aura and reputation worried me at the start of this journey, proved to be a very charismatic subject. He was endlessly polite and honest, however personal my probing became. He always tried to say it like it was and has always produced great quotes when interviewed by myself or others. Ann Bland supported Billy, and myself, all the way. She prompted Billy if memory temporarily failed him, responded to my interminable follow-up queries, and proved herself to be the rock that she has been for him all their life together. My many visits to the top end of Borrowdale to talk with them both have been pivotal in telling this story, but it has always been a pleasure to discuss the old and recent times with them.

As well as Billy and Ann, I have also had some in depth conversations with several contemporaries, friends, family and rivals. To the following in particular I give my heart-felt thanks for finding the time to answer my sometimes naïve questions:  Pete and Anne Bland, Pete Barron, Jan Darrall, Jon Broxap, Colin Donnelly, Howard Pattinson, Ross Brewster, Mark Wilson, Hugh Symonds, Kenny and Pauline Stuart, Joe Ritson, Tony Cresswell, John Wild, Gavin Bland, Dave Hall, and Scoffer Schofield.

Help comes in many different ways. For finding and suggesting various reference sources I turned to Jeff Ford and Charlotte McCarthy (both from the Mountain Heritage Trust), the latter inviting me to look through material at the Trust library, where I also bagged some mountaineering book bargains as they were clearing out some unwanted stock. I also received some good leads from Julie Carter (author of Running the Red Line) and Joe Ritson, who followed a great chat at the Keswick Museum café with some really useful material from his own archive. Martin Stone was instrumental in connecting me to Kilian Jornet, who generously agreed to write the Foreword to the book.

That thing called the internet is also wonderful for finding contacts and resolving queries. So, thanks to diligent folk on the Fell Runners UK Facebook group and the FRA Forum for responding to my random requests for info, race results, or other trivia. For furnishing me with contact details for people that I wanted to speak to I am particularly grateful to Matt Bland, Chris Knox, Hugh Symonds, and Ann Bland. In a similar way I needed to refer to some Fellrunner magazines that I didn’t have (and weren’t on the brilliant FRA website archive) and both Marcus Covell and Simon Blease kindly offered to send me missing ones that they had and were prepared to donate to aid my research.

Let us not forgot the value of librarians. On several visits to the excellent Kendal Library Local History section Kate Holliday and Sylvia Kelly were invariably welcoming, and happy to search out my obscure reference requests from their stock. Equally valuable was the support I received from Vanessa Hill, of the Middlesex University Library, who tracked down (and sent me) some references when I was looking into re-wilding and specifically the Wild Ennerdale project. I have also done much reading around the subject as I have been writing the manuscript, and the main books and other resources referred to are listed in the references section below.

Huge thanks are due to the following for help in sourcing photographs from their own collections and archives, and for giving permission to use them in the book: Pete Barron, Steve Bateson, Allan Greenwood, Denise Park, Neil Shuttleworth, Martin Stone, Boff Whalley, and Mark Wilson.

A writer always benefits from the support of friends, whom they can tire out with stories of how badly, or well sometimes, the manuscript is going. Among such friends one who stands out is Mike Cambray, who was always happy to accommodate me on dashes to the Lakes, and act as a sounding board for my ideas regarding this project. On one walk through his local Craggy Woods he came up with the brilliant suggestion of illustrating each chapter with a line drawing relevant to the part of the story within it. Moira Chilton somewhat nervously took on the task of providing the pen and ink illustrations which introduce each chapter. I hope you will agree that they are marvellous, helping set the scene and giving an excellent locational context to the journey.

On the many journeys to interview people for the manuscript Bruce Springsteen has many times been my companion. He has been the soundtrack to my writing and researching and is an inspiration to me on several levels. I once listed his ‘Born to Run’ in a blog on my favourite running books. It is actually the best written rock autobiography, in my opinion. The discerning reader/rock fan may detect his tangible presence in this tome.

At some point an author has to show their work to someone, ideally someone who is willing to read it and give constructive feedback. Massive thanks go to Ed Price for being my critical friend, despite having a very busy domestic and working life himself. He made some very sound suggestions regarding structure and style when reviewing the first draft of the manuscript for me, and I am sure the subsequent re-drafting has produced a better and more readable result. Any errors in the script are of course my responsibility.

Thanks to my editor Robert Davidson, proof-reader Joy Walton, cover designer Heather MacPherson of Raspberry Creative Type, indexer Roger Smith and all at Sandstone Press who, as always, have been a pleasure to work with.