A week or so ago the World Masters Mountain Running Champs were held in Puglia, Italy. There was a UK winner in one of the age group events that subsequently has got very little publicity. This is not unusual, as he is a runner that often goes under the radar, yet is an outstanding example of someone running at the very highest level throughout his long career. I am talking about Colin Donnelly, who won the v60 category at those WMRA Masters Champs [image above].
Donnelly won by just over a minute in a time of 33-10 on a course described (by the organisers) as one that was, ‘a tough technical track and made a true test of mountain running ability’. [There were two other UK winners: Adam Osborne in the M40 category, and Geoffrey Howard in the M70s, plus there should be an honorable mention for Ben Mounsey, who was second v35]
Colin Donnelly has been winning races since he was 20 years old. At that tender age he won the Ben Nevis race, at his first attempt. So, he has had a winning career spanning 40 years (as he has just moved into the v60 category). Is that unusual for fell runners?
I was prompted to look back at some of the other top fell runners that I have written about and to see how long they were winners for, and also at what sort of age they retired (or stopped being competitive at). Taking Billy Bland first, he won his first race at 17 years old and his last when he was 50, giving him 33 years of winning. His career had been winding down actually from the age of 45. His nephew Gavin Bland also won his first race when he was 17/18 and his last (at a Champs race in Northern Ireland) when he was 42, giving him 24 years of being a winner. Again though, he had some fallow years in there where he certainly didn’t win any races.
Kenny Stuart and John Wild are another two of the very best fell runners that I have looked at the careers of. But they are both slightly different as the fells were not their surface of choice for their full careers. Nevertheless, it is intriguing to see that they both had relatively short careers, compared to Colin, Billy and Gavin.
John Wild won his first serious race when he was just starting his RAF career, a services cross country when he was 17. His last win was also an RAF race when he was just 31 years old, a span of 14 years. As to the fells he won races from 1977 (Worcestershire Beacon) to 1985 (the Offas Dyke race), a mere 8 years. After the amazing tussle with Kenny Stuart in the 1983 season, John Wild came off the fells, tried for a good marathon and his running career never really hit the heights again.
Kenny Stuart’s first win on the fells was as a 17 year old, in a pro race in 1974. His last fell race win was probably Butter Crag at the end of the 1985 season, as he abruptly came off the fells to go marathoning in 1986. His last significant win was the Houston marathon in 1989, giving him a 15 year winning career. His fell winning span was 11 years, including his time racing in the pros.
This random selection of athletes is chosen just to offer a base line for assessing Donnelly’s achievement.
What it highlights is that Colin has kept his enthusiasm, and fitness, over a remarkably long time. When I interviewed him recently he explained the background to that continued enthusiasm:
Running is about the experience, the wind in your hair and the different seasons. A few years ago, I had a serious cartilage injury and I thought that was the end of running. I got it operated on and I have now come back. Doing mountain biking while injured kept me about 80% fit. I have gone back to cycling a lot now. I live in a town and don’t like running tarmac, so I cycle out a few miles and go for a run and cycle back. I probably cycle every day and run every day. Someone asked if I HAD to run every day. I don’t have to, but I like to.
He also added that it is about deeper things than just running. It is for his mental health as much as anything else. ‘Thinking time’, as he puts it. He also added his thoughts on still being competitive through the age groups, which turned out to prescient:
Going for the v40 or v50, they are new challenges mind. You must accept you were right up there, but that is finished. I am eligible for the v60 category at the World Mountain Running Trophy, so I think I will have a wee crack at that and see if I can do something here.
If you want to read more about this very interesting character I have written a longish piece on him, which is being published in two parts in The Fellrunner magazine. The first part appeared in the Spring 2019 issue [extract to right], and the second part is in the issue that is just about to come out. When that has been published I will post the full article [as a download] on this blog, as the editor had to cut quite a bit out due to its length.
Meanwhile, marvel at Colin Donnelly’s achievement in being a World Champion in his sport. If you want to share any examples of similar longevity in running performance then feel free to do so via the comments for this blog post.
If you want to read more about John Wild and Kenny Stuart then I can do no more than point you to my book Running Hard: the story of a rivalry, which covers their parallel careers in depth. The book was described by Steve Birkinshaw (author of There is No Map in Hell): ‘This meticulously researched book is a compelling and fascinating account of their lives, and their rivalry and friendship.’
[Maybe I’ll write a book about Billy Bland next, or Colin Donnelly.]
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].
Over the three days before the book’s paperback publication there will be a Running Hard Blog Tour. Visit the blogs via the links below to find out more about the book, it’s author and how someone is planning on emulating Kenny and John’s training.
On Monday 16th October there will be three stops on the tour:
- Jonny Muir’s Heights of Madness blog has a guest post from me on the writing of Running Hard
- Ceris Jones discusses the design of the book cover (plus the other 2 in the fell running trilogy) with the designer, Heather
- Ed Price has written a review of the book on his blog
On Tuesday 17th October three further stops will be at:
- Steve Birkinshaw’s blog, where I have written a guest post on hard training (one of the book’s themes)
- The sabbatycle blog for a discussion between Dan Haw and I on Kenny Stuart and John Wild’s training methods and their applicability to a modern fell runner (Dan)
- Running legend Nicky Spinks’ blog for her review of the book
Finally, on Wednesday 18th October the last three stops on the tour will be:
- The Young Feller blog for a Q&A session between Cal Ferguson and I on running on the fells
- a review of the book by runner and author Moire O’Sullivan on her blog
- An extract from Running Hard on Ben Mounsey’s blog
The paperback version of Running Hard will be published on Thursday 19th October and can be obtained from all good bookshops and online at Amazon.
About the book
Running Hard: the story of a rivalry. Sandstone Press. Format: Paperback. ISBN: 9781910985946. Publication Date: 19/10/2017. RRP: £9.99
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 professional to amateur. 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.
About the author
Steve Chilton is a committed runner and qualified athletics coach with considerable experience of fell running. He is a long-time member of the Fell Runners Association (FRA). He formerly worked at Middlesex University where he was Lead Academic Developer. He has written two other books: It’s a Hill, Get Over It won the Bill Rollinson Prize in 2014; The Round: In Bob Graham’s footsteps was shortlisted for the TGO Awards Outdoor Book of the Year 2015 and the Lakeland Book of the Year Award 2016.
The formal launch of the book is on Fri 27 October in Skipton, where I will be in discussion with Kenny Stuart and Ben Mounsey [more info].
The paperback launch for Running Hard will take place at a talk with Kenny Stuart and Ben Mounsey in Skipton on 27 October. You can book a ticket here, which will include £4 off the book if bought at the event. The event is also raising money for two charities, the Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association, and Due North’s chosen charity The Brathay Trust.
It should be a brilliant evening as Kenny and Ben are giants in the sport. Kenny ruled fell running for a period in the 1980s, and Ben is one of the finest exponents currently.
Our theme will be: “Has the perception (and reality) of training/running hard changed over the years?”, with plenty of chance to ask questions of all of us.
You can find profiles of Kenny, Ben and myself here, together with more about the topics to be covered.
All three of my books on fell running are available from good bookshops and on Amazon. They are respectively: a history of the sport of fell running, the story of the Bob Graham Round, and the lives and achievements of two of the sport’s finest (Kenny Stuart and John Wild). Running Hard will be out in paperback next month, and will be launched at an event with Kenny Stuart and Ben Mounsey, helping raise money for The Brathay Trust and The Upper Wharfedale Fell Rescue Association.
Has the perception (and reality) of training/running hard changed over the years? I will be exploring this theme in a discussion with Kenny Stuart and Ben Mounsey in Skipton in October. It should be a brilliant evening as Kenny and Ben are giants in the sport. Kenny ruled fell running for a period in the 1980s, and Ben is one of the finest exponents currently, but they have quite different backgrounds, as I will explain shortly.
At the talk, which I will be MCing, we will all be discussing, amongst other things:
Comparisons – between the two eras – as noted Kenny and Ben are from different fell running eras – the then and now.
Training – the what, where, when – we will compare their training – again then and now. They are very different people living very different lives. I am sure the audience will be especially interested to know what Kenny used to do in his prime. One major difference is that Kenny’s training was manually recorded (and he still has the detailed training diaries) and Ben is a Strava addict and records all his training digitally in the public domain.
Work, training, life – a balancing act – This will link in with the previous topic about training – Ben says his training is very much controlled and driven by work/life balance; Kenny’s was too really, although work was kind of ‘organised around’ training.
Fell running – individual or team sport – The team ethic of fell running applies to both club and general camaraderie. It’s also something Ben is quite passionate about as he does lots for the team CVFR (and Kenny’s Keswick AC have just become fell champs for the first time since his days!). I think it’s part of what makes fell running so special.
We will also take questions from the audience, so will also cover: Experiences/races – a good opportunity to ask Kenny and Ben specifics about their training, and about their favourite fell running experiences, races and memories. Imagine yourself sat in the audience and being able to ask a legend anything that you want to know about their training or their lifestyles.
A little about the speakers:
Kenny Stuart is one of those people that the much bandied about tag of ‘legend’ really does apply. Ben Mounsey had this to say about him (on his blog when they met for a filming event): ‘He is one of my heroes and arguably the greatest fell runner of all time. During his incredibly successful career he set a number of truly outstanding records, many of which will never be broken. He was also British champion in 1984 and 1985 and among the records he set in those years were 1:02:18 at Skiddaw, 1:25:34 at Ben Nevis, and 1:02:29 at Snowdon. A truly inspirational man.’ Born and raised in Cumbria his life story is told (along with that of another legend, John Wild) in my latest book, ‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’.
Ben Mounsey (according to his own blog) is ‘a 35 year old runner from mighty Yorkshire who loves nothing more than spending time on the fells and trails. I compete for Calder Valley Fell Runners and Stainland Lions and during my career I’ve been lucky enough to represent Yorkshire, England and Great Britain at mountain running.’ As a sign of the times he is also supported by Inov-8, Mountain Fuel, Suunto and Back To Fitness Physiotherapy. His performances include: UK Inter-Counties Fell Running Champion 2016, 3rd in the English Fell Running Championship 2016, Represented England 5 times and Great Britain in the World Mountain Running Championships in 2015 and the European Mountain Running Championships in 2016.
Steve Chilton is a long-time member of the Fell Runners Association (FRA) and a qualified athletics coach with considerable experience of fell running, and a marathon PB of 2-34-53. In a long running career I have run in many of the classic fell races, as well as mountain marathons and has also completed the Cuillin Traverse. My work has been published extensively, particularly in academia through my role as Chair of the Society of Cartographers. I co-edited Cartography: A Reader (a selection of over 40 papers from the archive of The Bulletin of the Society of Cartographers, the Society’s respected international journal). My third book ‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’ (from Sandstone Press) was published on 16 February 2017, and has been nominated for the Boardman-Tasker Award. The second book ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’ was published on 17 September 2015; and my first ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ won the Bill Rollinson Prize for Landscape and Tradition, and was short-listed for the TGO Outdoor Book of the Year.
The talk will be held on 27 October at 19:00–21:00 at the Rendezvous Hotel, Keighley Road, Skipton. All 3 of my books will be for sale at reduced prices.