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Any surprises in your new book?

Further to post about my new book and its synopsis, I have added a very (poor) short video on YouTube of me talking about it:

Reminder: it is published by Sandstone Press, and can be pre-ordered from any good bookshop – eg Sam Read, Fred Holdsworth or Bookends (if in the Lakes) or any Waterstones (elsewhere).

Weather v BGR completions

Following on from my blog about BGR completions for 2019 (and previous years) I have had look at weather data for the last 10 years to see if one can infer any relationship between weather in the Lakes and BGR completion levels. [NB: I am quite prepared to accept that this analysis shares some pretty dodgy statistical analysis]

Firstly, I made an assumption (extrapolating from the monthly data of completions) that the most significant months of any year would be May to September. I then calculated the average rainfall (in mm) for those months for each year from 2010 to 2019, and plotted this against the numbers of completions for those years. The hypothesis being that wetter years would have lower numbers of completions.

weathereffectIn the resulting graph [above] the orange line is numbers of completions (not % but absolute numbers) and the blue line is rainfall (in mm, as per calculation above). For the hypothesis to be true the high rainfall years would have less completions. It can be seen from the right of the graph that for 2017, 2018 and 2019 this does not follow. 2017 and 2019 are high rainfall – high completions, and 2018 is conversely low rainfall – low completions. For 2010, 2011 and 2012 it varies from fitting the hypothesis for 2012 (high rainfall lower completions – but see 2013 onwards), and sort of fitting for the 2010 (low rainfall, moderately high completions), to no pattern for 2011. For 2013 to 2016 it seems that it is counter-intuitive, in that the completions goes down with low rainfall and up with higher rainfall.

Being not satisfied with this aspect I moved on to look at one year, month by month, to see if the was any inferable weather effect there.

Taking the monthly completions data and monthly actual rainfall data, I plotted the two against each other for the year of 2019.

rainfall2019In the resulting graph [above] the left axis and blue line is rainfall and the right axis and orange line is the number of completions for that month. [The months are numbered from1 to 12 along the bottom axis, representing Jan to Dec] The completions line is a normal curve, showing the normal distribution you would expect of completions data (ie more in summer months and less in winter, peaking this year in June). The rainfall shows three peaks in March, Aug/Sept and Dec. At a stretch you could argue that the March peak drags the completions data lower than it might have been – there is a small downward bulge in the curve for that month. Similarly the August peak also produces a dip in (expected) completions.

At the end of the day it has proved to be not a particularly meaningful analysis. I have made some pretty big assumptions, for instance that rainfall would have an immediate effect on completion numbers, and used a fairly small data set – so will accept any criticisms of my methodology. Looking back, it may have better to plot, say, June/July/August rainfall against the completions data as that might well have a better correlation, as that is when more people plan their rounds. Thoughts or counter suggestions welcomed, through the ‘Comments’ link.

If anyone wants to look further, the data is available. See: here for BGR completions data [this year is the first time by month data has been published), and here for the weather data [which is for the weather station at Newton Rigg, and includes max temp, min temp, and hours of sunshine for each month, going back to 1959].

Credit: Steven Thurgood for the weather station link via Facebook.

BGR Completions – 2019 update

Bob Wightman has just released the figures for Bob Graham Round (BGR) registrations, completions, male/female split, direction of travel, etc. for 2019, 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. 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.

Below are some updated graphs and a couple of comments on each.

completionsThis 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, after a minor downturn in 2018. [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]

last8yearsMore recently figures for registrations and completions have been published, allowing analysis of completion percentages.  The graph above is of the last 8 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.

mensThe men’s data pretty much follows the pattern of the total data (there are still many more men than women involved). 2019 shows a rise in all three data sets for the year, after all going down in 2018. The completion rate of 54.95% for men is the highest ever since I have been looking at this (the second highest was 52.5% in 2012). The male completions, at 111, is the highest it has ever been in one year.

womensThe women’s completions (red) have been the similar recently (13, 13, 14 and 14 in the last 4 years), but because the registrations have been going down (28, 27, 24, 22) there has been an increase in completion percentage for the last 4 years. The percentage lines are at the top of this graph as the numbers are higher than either the registrations or completions, but do clearly show that trend, which ended up with an impressive 63.64% completion rate for women this year, the highest ever, male or female, ever recorded. Admittedly from a small sample size.

While I am here, and apropos of nothing in particular, and not directly related to anything above, but there was an interesting article in the Guardian recently by Kate Carter that highlighted some ‘female ultra-athletes leading the field’ that they compete in, including the incomparable Jasmin Paris, whose blog on her Montane Spine race win is well worth a read.


Popular blogs/downloads 2019

ICYMI: The last day of the decade is as good a time as any on which to share my most popular blog posts (ie reads) and files (ie downloads) for 2019. Listed, described and linked are the top three in both categories, plus a bonus in each category that looks like it may have been missed by a few.


Jan 28 2019, with 899 reads in 2019

BGR completion rate is 42.2% bgrcompletions

Stats and comment on the completion rates for the Bob Graham Round, including: ‘… a strong trend for more people completing the BGR (solid red line is the linear trend) over time, but also how it fluctuates from year to year.’

June 5 2019, 401 reads in 2019

Bob Graham Night at the KMF 20190518_224959

Report on the Bob Graham Round session at the Keswick Mountain Festival, with a transcription of the Q&A section of the evening, pretty much as it occurred, including Jasmin Paris speaking about professional athletes:  ‘I think that now you can get sponsored and that involves doing social media stuff. But you have to be winning events really. Personally, I like to be free of all that. I am not tied into any contract. We do it because we love being in the hills and doing the running. If you want to benefit financially you will be tied down to a contract.’

Oct 9, 2019, 242 reads in 2019

Long-running running champs DonnellyWMRA

Discussing longevity at the top of the sport (fell running), starting with Colin Donnelly and taking in Billy Bland, John and Kenny Stuart. Including this on Billy Bland, who: ‘… won his first race at 17 years old and his last when he was 50, giving him 33 years of winning.’


Uploaded 21 Nov 2019, 208 downloads in 2019

“I don’t much like the limelight” donnellypart2

A profile of fell runner Colin Donnelly that appeared in two parts in The Fellrunner magazine is reproduced in full as a downloadable PDF file. An in-depth profile of the ‘long-running running champ’. [see above]

Uploaded Feb1 2018, 155 downloads in 2019

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) CFSsnapshot

A case study of four elite athletes who suffered from CFS, who are interviewed on their background and how it affected them, in two cases ending their elite careers.

Uploaded Aug 27 2017, 68 downloads in 2019

In profile: Hugh Symonds hughSprofile

A detailed profile of a champion fell runner that appeared in The Fellrunner back in 2017 – but is still being downloaded frequently. In it he describes meeting Joss Naylor: ‘… who was also doing a reccie. He seemed to be dressed in a sack held together with safety pins.’


Blog: Telling Stories (May 15 2019) – five tales from the hills from five of the finest fell runners, and alround entertaining interviewees. These stories may or may not make the cut into the manuscript of my next book (out in summer 2020).
Download: Memories (Aug 24 2019) – some thoughts from me on not being able to run and some past runs, which was an article published in Like the Wind magazine this year (issue #20).

Top running books read in 2019

It is coming to the end of the year and I decided to list the running books I have read this year. I notice I have only read 8 running-related books this year, compared to 10 last year. So here are short reviews of them all, taken from my Good Reads website. It is NOT my top ten running books published in 2019, just some thoughts on those I have read this year. In fact only four are from 2019. There is always catching up to do!

The figures after the author are the grade (1-5, five is best) given by me, and the year of publication. I hope it might inspire some readers to pick up something ‘new’ to read.

1  The Rise of the Ultra Runners, Adharanand Finn (5, 2019)
ultraMuch anticipated, as I liked his two previous books – on the Kenyan and Japanese running cultures. It lived up to expectations, giving fascinating background to ultra running, and the author’s initiation into the sport. In some ways he had a similar approach to Richard Askwith and his move into fell running – do it yourself and also speak with some of the best exponents and find out how they do it and cope with the rigours of such a tough sport. A solid five stars.

2  Gone feral, Steven Freeman (4, 2019)
feralFreeman camped out for a year in the Lakes and held down a routine job at the same time. He writes well and in great detail about living close to nature and trying not to think of himself as not normal. I particularly enjoyed him recalling his unique long run over the fells.


3  The Perfection Point, John Brenkus (3, 2012)
perfectionAn interesting book, but very American-biased. Enjoyable to read, but ultimately pointless as the premise of a ‘perfection point’ is so hypothetical. The fictional stories at the beginning of each chapter detailing a possible future scenario were initial off-putting, but ending up being some of the best parts. Preferred reading elsewhere about the possibility of a sub-2 hour marathon.

4  Endure, Alex Hutchinson (3, 2018)
endureThis is a reasonably easy read, except that in some of the in-depth sections you have to concentrate hard, but that is fine. The author is most interested in how we can push ourselves closer to our absolute limit. He covers everything from motivational words to playing tricks on the body and includes a nervy section on electric currents to the brain. Unfortunately, the practical elements and even his conclusions are weak.

5  The Greatest: what sport teaches us about achieving success, Matthew Syed (3, 2017)
greatestSyed’s book suffered from being a collection of short articles previously published elsewhere. It made it a very disjointed read, and one that had no central theme that you can latch on to. I enjoyed his other books more, and am sure I gained more from Bounce and Black Box thinking. Having said that, it has some good backgrounders on some of the greatest sports stars in the book.

6  Running up that Hill, Vassos Alexander (3, 2018)
UphillThe author shares his experiences of running a series of ultra-running events. It jumps about a bit too much for me, with the 153-mile Spartathlon being the running motif throughout, but sometimes going forwards to other events and sometimes backwards. He does get to interview an impressive range of endurance runners whose love for the sport, rationale for doing it, and benefits gained from going way out of their comfort zone all shine through.

7  Outrunning the Demons, Phil Hewitt (2, 2019)
demonsI had to stop reading this about half-way through and left it a while, eventually taking over 2 months to read it. I just found the stories too similar and depressing to read. All very worthy – covering peoples’ troubles and traumas and how running had helped them. The author’s own story sent chills through me and I admire his tenacity, and then energy in tracking down folk with similar tales and helping them get through them (which surely off-loading them did).

8  Getting the buggers to turn out, Bob Smith (2, 2019)
buggersPerhaps a book to appeal to running nerds only, this was a disappointment to me, despite fitting that description. It outlines a decade or so of performances from one club, concentrating on the major championships. Because the team won a lot it becomes a bit predictable, and the author does become a bit too full of himself at some points.


For a further list of 20 books that I feel show something of the range and depth of the running book genre, see my earlier blog:
Good reads : running books

And if you are looking for presents to give, look no further than:
Books: ideal Christmas pressies!

Book Number IV: Reveal #2

20190116_160858This blog will give a feel for the researching and writing process that I have been through for Book IV – including finding sources, contacting interviewees, collecting facts and opinions, sorting themes, scheduling chapter breaks, and starting to write.

The book started out as a standard biography, so I started by setting up some meetings with ‘the subject’, initially covering the early days and exploring both upbringing and family background – the traditional starting point for a biog. But it soon became obvious that the manuscript was not going to be researched in chronological order, nor in fact would it be written in the order of the eventual chapters. No surprise here, as all the other books had been written in a random order as I covered topics that matched sources and interviews as they popped up, which tended to be pretty randomly.

These first interviews with the subject of the book took pace in August 2018. One of the first decisions I made was that there were what I grandly called ‘areas to investigate’, and being an inveterate list maker, I did just that. This then morphed into a list of twelve ‘tensions and conflicts’ that I had identified in the subject. Just as an example, the first item on that list was:

He had a father who did not encourage him as a runner and wanted him to get into farming in the valley.

It was time to get networking – I decided that I needed to try to speak to as varied a selection of people that have shared aspects of his life, but also that I should get a better understanding of the changing Lake District that he has lived in all his life. This latter aspect entailed collecting and reviewing background material, books, press cuttings and previous writings of my own. This produced over a dozen books about the Lake District and its history, which mostly I bought second-hand online, and eagerly devoured as part of the research process.

Google searches sometimes bring up surprising answers, and even some decidedly left field info. One surprise, that turned out to be quite useful, was turning up a blog post from a Dane living in Ireland who analysed the training of several top fell runners, including my subject.

One important decision that I made fairy early on was that the book treatment would be thematic rather than chronological, to avoid being a listing of races and times. These race details would be included, and commented on, but the race highlights and his achievements would be interspersed by sub-sections dealing with: life choices, physical ability, training, mental aspects, injuries/setbacks, and relationships.

EXcelBy September 2018 I had the initial chapter structure. It allowed the racing career chapters to be interspersed with the topic chapters listed in the paragraph above. I soon made a spreadsheet for the chapters and started accumulating word counts as I wrote. For me this is an important progress marker, and I am afraid to say that I became obsessed with wordage. I just can’t stop myself.

I soon started having success with contacting people to be interviewed for the book and got three more in the bag that month. I always use a pocket digital recorder for these meetings and then spend ages transcribing the discussions when I get home. But, as I have said before [See: Telling stories and Four interviews], I do find these interviews a most fascinating part of the process of researching a non-fiction book. The interviews produce masses of material, often way too much to be used in the manuscript. Two of these early interviews resulted in me having enough surplus material for a long blog (The work of the Friends of the Lake District) and an article in Fellrunner magazine (Short piece on professional fell running).

Next reveal: should be a title and cover reveal, and possibly a short piece from the preface on why this book and this subject.

“I don’t much like the limelight”


The second part of my profile of Colin Donnelly appeared in the Summer/Autumn issue of The Fellrunner [with the first part in the Spring issue]. I would normally make available a downloadable PDF of the article, as is the author’s right. However, this time I have gone back to my original submission and this is available to read [as a PDF]. This is because there were a couple of issues with the production. Firstly, the new design of the magazine, whilst looking great to look at, is actually hard to read in parts. Secondly, I was not happy* with the way the material appeared after it had been chopped about when making it into the two parts. I fully understand it to be editorial perogative, but in doing so many parts were moved around and merged, which resulted in some bits being left out and some not making sense as the quotes were juxtaposed badly.

* I accept the Editor’s explanation of how this happened, and have happily submitted another piece for publication in the next issue, which is being put together right now.

NB: for another piece on Colin Donnelly’s long-running career, and comment on others with similar longevity, see: Long-running running champs.