A new winter Bob Graham Round record – a Compass Sport article

A new article has been added to my blog. It is a report on Kim Collinson’s new winter Bob Graham Round record, which resulted from a long chat I had with him in December, just after he had taken the record. It was published in the February issue of Compass Sport magazine, and can be downloaded here [PDF link].winterBGR

NB: An upcoming blog will give links to several articles I have written in the last couple of years, together with some longer blog posts – hopefully something will be interest to folk in these difficult times of coronavirus lockdown. Many are available from my CV page.


Full cover and all cover quotes


I can now reveal the cover for my new book: All or Nothing At All: The Life of Billy Bland (detail above). It has again been designed by Heather MacPherson (of Raspberry Creative Type). The cover image is of Billy Bland in dominant mode, as he leads the Ben Nevis race in 1981.

The Foreword to the book concludes with:

In this book, Steve continues to explore the history of fell running in the brilliant style of his previous books, his in-depth analysis leading us to understand Billy Bland, whilst highlighting his achievements.
Billy Bland is a legend, and he is a fine man. Steve takes us through Billy’s life, to meet and know the man behind the legend.

Fine words indeed from the current Bob Graham Round record holder.

Final coverI am so very pleased (and indeed honoured) to note that the Foreword has been written by surely the finest mountain runner of his era (Kilian Jornet); and that the two cover quotes are from: someone I think one of the finest writers on sport of running (Adharanand Finn), and the other arguably the greatest female fell runner  of all time (Jasmin Paris).

A series of quotes by these latter two runners, together with four others (who all read advanced copies of the book), will adorn the back cover; and I can now reveal them to you.

Those six ‘quoters’, and Kilian, are the only people not involved in the direct publication process to have seen the full manuscript, so it was with some trepidation that I awaited their thoughts. I was not to be disappointed, as thankfully they all seemed to rate it.

‘A pacy jaunt along those muddy trails where Billy Bland set records few people have approached since. Anyone with a love of running will find this an engrossing and enjoyable read.’

Adharanand Finn, author of Rise of the Ultra Runners


‘Born in the Lake District and moulded by its hills, Billy Bland is a truly fascinating character’.

Jasmin Paris, record breaking ultra-runner


‘A detailed insight into the life of legendary fell runner Billy Bland, a straight talking Cumbrian who thinks as deeply about the environment as he does about running.’

Steve Birkinshaw, author of There Is No Map in Hell

Rebecca Robinson

‘This tale of fortitude and formidable athleticism transports readers to the heart of the fell running scene. Billy Bland is undisputed king of the fells.’

Rebecca Robinson, Consultant in sports and exercise medicine and mountain runner

‘An engaging look at the life of running legend Billy Bland of Borrowdale, encyclopaedic on his training, his character, and his wider contribution to life in the Lakes.’

Damian Hall, ultra-runner, author, and outdoor journalist

Denise Park

‘A truly inspirational book that highlights the importance of passion and hard work in achieving goals.’

Denise Park, Chartered Physiotherapist, internationally recognised for her work with fell/mountain runners

The book (ISBN 9781913207299, to be published in July by Sandstone Press) can be pre-ordered from all good bookshops (most of which are still offering mail order in these difficult times), where you can also order my three other running books.

Further book reveal blogs will include: the chapter that got dropped; other things that didn’t make it (inc some pics); an extract; and the story of the chapter illustrations.

Upcoming talks/book signings

I will be doing some book signing/talks when ‘All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland’ comes out (in July 2020), and they will be noted on the blog as they are arranged.

The first event arranged is 4 pm Sat 18 Jul 2020, nr Skipton. As part of the Yorkshire Dales Outdoors Festival (organised by Due North Events) I will be doing a talk entitled ‘It’s a hill, get over it’. It will cover everything from the early fell running events, to the dominance of Billy Bland. Full details, including booking link: http://outdoorsfestival.com/talks/ [all my books will be available for purchase at the event, including ‘All or nothing at all’] – Sadly this event is not able to take place now, due to coronavirus.


Meanwhile: the book is available to pre-order from all good bookshops.

Mistaken for someone famous

Have you ever been mistaken for someone famous? It has happened to me at least twice, both times with amusing results.

The most recent was last week whilst I was on a break in the Lakes. I was there partly to set up the book launch for my latest book [All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland]. As part of this task I had arranged to meet Chris, the owner of The Fellpack/The Round eateries in Keswick. When The Round had just opened I had called in and donated a signed copy of my book [The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps] which they have on the shelves now. My wife and I met him last week to look at the possibility of using the upstairs room at The Round for the launch – which will be in July. After the chat we had sat down for a meal in The Round [they do possibly THE best burgers around, btw]. Chris came over as our food was delivered and asked if he could take a photo of the author of the definitive book on the Bob Graham Round, in The Round bar, eating a Round burger. I said fine and sat holding my book and waiting to eat my veg burger. After Chris walked away the guy on the table next to us said: “Are you Bob Graham?”. He had recently started running on the fells, but obviously didn’t know his history, as Bob Graham did the BGR in 1932, and had died in 1966! We discussed the fells, and the book, and by the end of the chat I think I had convinced him to go to Bookends shop in the morning to buy a copy.bobgraham

If I tell the story of the earlier occasion it happened, I should point out that though it amused my friends and I, now I am certainly not proud of behaviour at that time.

It was many years ago, and I was with some friends in a pub in Edale after a long day in the hills. It is fair to say that drinks had already been taken, when I guy comes up to me to ask if I was Doug Scott (the reknowned climber and now organiser of Community Action Nepal). I don’t know why (but see last sentence) but I said “yes” – I looked a fair bit like him at the time (specs, scraggy hair, beard, in mountain gear – sorry Doug). This would have been fine, then the guy offered me a drink, and plied me with drinks all evening. Then it got worse. He came over and asked if I would sign his book. It was a book about Everest, which of course Doug had pioneered a new route up in 1975. Carrying on my ridiculously fraudulent behaviour I signed it ‘Doug Scott’ with a flourish. Just as I was doing it I saw that it had already been signed by Edmund Hillary. If only the guy knew, the value of his book and signature had just plummeted down. I left the pub soon after that.DougScott

The coda to that story is that I met Doug Scott at a book award ceremony in the North Lakes a couple of years ago and couldn’t resist telling him the story. He had a good laugh about it and said he would be retelling it for a while!

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: https://youtu.be/nNqZVVP2F6s

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).

ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL – Book Number IV: Reveal #3

So here it is then: I can reveal both the title and the synopsis of my fourth fell running book, to be published by Sandstone Press later this year.allornothingatall

This was my original synopsis, as pitched to the publisher back in early 2018:

The book will tell the story of Borrowdale man Billy Bland, and of his extended family, many of whom competed in fell running, and one of whom is considered to have been one of the best in the sport for a period (his nephew, Gavin Bland). Billy and Gavin achieved greatness whilst still working full time in traditional Lake District jobs (as quarryman/stonewaller and shepherd respectively), being a million miles away from the professionalism of other branches of athletics. Billy set records in the ‘80s and ‘90s that have not been beaten since. This, then, is the story of the Blands of Borrowdale.

The book will give the background to Billy’s life; including his parents, his upbringing, introduction to the sport, training, working life, later cycling achievements, legacy and community involvement, plus his records and achievements. The scope will be extended to include details of the other related fell running Blands – see family tree diagram. His family know Borrowdale. Billy worked at quarrying/stonewalling, brother Stuart in tourism, and nephews Jonathon and Gavin farming. They are all in a position to reflect on changes in the Borrowdale valley in their lifetimes, a topic dealt with in a separate chapter.

The book’s treatment will be thematic rather than chronological, to avoid being a listing of races and times. The highlights of his achievements will be included in the sub-sections dealing with Billy’s: life choices, physical ability, training, rivals, mental aspects, injuries/setbacks, and relationships. It will also explore why the Blands have stayed so local, and never came off the fells to perform in other branches of athletics.

Taken at face value Billy Bland seems to be a straightforward man, who happened to be exceptionally good at running up and down hills (he was also a county level footballer when young, had no coach, was fell running champion, and formed Borrowdale Fellrunners). But look closer and there are a series of tensions and conflicts that moulded his character and affected his life over the years.


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.