Whilst we wait for the Spring edition of The Fellrunner to arrive, containing I hope a piece from me (a profile of a top fell runner), here is an article (for downloading) which touches on some of the shenanigans in the early pro fell running scene.
I walked from my friend’s house, where I was staying at the time, down the back alley of a row of neat terraced houses in Staveley, in the southern Lakes. Past Rob Jebb’s house, and in through Pete Bland’s ‘yard’ to their comfortably appointed house, to interview him for a writing project I am just embarking on. An hour and half later we had put the fell running world to rights, having chatted about way more than is presented here.
The full article can de downloaded here [as PDF].
Other stuff from the interview is included in the book I am currently working on, my fourth on fell running. Info on my previous books.
There is a terrific double bill at the Buxton Adventure Festival this coming Tuesday (13th Nov). It will feature two top fell runners, Colin Donnelly (Cambuslang) and Judith Jepson (Dark Peak). TICKETS AVAILABLE
Colin will talk about his record-breaking running career, as well as showing a short award-winning film of his Welsh 3,000s run. I will be interviewing him on stage, talking (amongst other things) about his Buckden Pike race record (not beaten since 1988), solo Bob Graham Round, three British Fell Championship wins, and his amazing career longevity (he is still in contention in races as he runs strongly in his mid-50s, and was second in the World Mountain Running champs last year for over 55s).
Now, I have written about some keen trainers in my books, and Colin has always been something of an obsessive about getting the training in. Jonny Muir records these feats in an exchange with him in his excellent book ‘The Mountains are Calling’:
Colin once said in an interview he sought to climb a cumulative 365,000 feet every year. The maths is staggering. That figure (or 110 000 metres) amounts to 9,200 metres every month. ‘Is that true?’ I ask. He nodded. ‘The whole idea is to get 1,000 feet (300 metres) a day ……… I keep logs and some years there have been getting towards 500,000’
Colin has an incredible range of achievements, of which the following are just a few:
- He won the Ben Nevis race at his first attempt – as a teenager (image above)
- He won the British Fell Running Championships three consecutive times from 1987 to 1989
- In 1986 he had another victory at Ben Nevis in one of the fastest times ever recorded for the race, and in 1988 he won the Snowdon Race
- Also in 1988, he set a still-standing record for the traverse of the Welsh 3000s with a time of 4:19 and he has won the Welsh 1000 m Peaks Race several times.
- Donnelly finished second in the short race at the World Mountain Running Trophy in 1989 and as a vet he won the over-40 title at the World Masters Mountain Running Championships in 2001.
- He still holds the course records for the Buckden Pike Race, set in 1988, and the Shelf Moor Race, set in 1989.
- He continued to win races as late as 2017, thirty-eight years after his first Ben Nevis win.
- He has completed the Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley and Ramsay Rounds, as well as the Scottish 4,000ers, South Wales 2,000ers traverse, the Manx 1,000ers and the Nant Gwrtherin to Conwy Traverse.
- He’s competed the Munros, Donalds, Corbetts and Wainrights (not all at once).
- He is currently (2018) the UK Cross Country campion for the 55-60 age group.
Judith Jepson is multiple times British and English Vet Fellrunning Champion. Her talk will a light hearted and motivating account of her life and running career, with her philosophy being that anyone can do it and have lots of fun on the way.
I will also have a few of all three of my fell running books (which all have more on Colin Donnelly) for sale, so do come and see me if interested in a signed copy of any of them.
Just a reminder about my three books, which all would make great pressies for the runner in your lives, with a brief description of what they are about.
It’s a hill, get over it is a detailed history of the sport of fell running. It also tells the stories of some of the great exponents of the sport through the ages. Many of them achieved greatness whilst still working full time in traditional jobs, a million miles away from the professionalism of other branches of athletics nowadays.
[Me talking about it: https://youtu.be/8BWWA3z2QrI]
The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps is a history of the Bob Graham Round, but also an exploration of the what, why and how of this classic fell endurance challenge. After covering the genesis of the BGR in detail, it documents its development from a more-or-less idle challenge to its present status as a rite of passage for endurance runners. [Read an extract: The 24 hours that changed running history]
Running Hard: the story of a rivalry describes one brilliant season in 1983, when fell running was dominated by the huge talents of John Wild and Kenny Stuart. Wild was an incomer to the sport from road running and track. Stuart was born to the fells, but an outcast because of his move from professional to amateur. Together they destroyed many race records, only determining who was top by a few seconds in the last race of the season. The book is the story of that season, and an inside, intimate look at the two men. [Talking with John Wild about the book: https://youtu.be/LjbiwhcMRHY]
In all cases they are available from good bookshops (try Waterstones), and from Amazon (where you can ‘Look Inside’ each of them for a flavour of the contents).
…. and if you want other book recommendations from me, see: earlier blog
It was with pleasure that I accepted an invitation to attend the end of year event for the ‘Run The Moors’ fell race series. It was a great night, with a fine and photogenic bunch of people.
The getting there wasn’t so amusing though. I drove up from London on the day and dawdled across country via Huddersfield, then found there was a massive jam on the M62 for the last bit to Rochdale. A quick decision and I took the A640 option to avoid the motorway completely. Little did I know that it went over Saddleworth Moor AND that it was going to throw an immense snowstorm at me when I got away up the road, and I nearly came a cropper big time. The snowstorm turned into an almighty whiteout. After it being fun for a while it suddenly wasn’t. I lost control of the car momentarily and did a slide, skid, wiggle, panic, over-steer, rightening move, slow by gear not brakes effort and ground to a halt at the edge of road. Shaken badly by the experience, I had to get a grip and drive on as I was slap in the middle of a remote moorland, with a real chance of being stranded if I stopped. Gently easing along, and eventually down to a lower level, I got there for a reviving pint of Robinsons in the Grapes, where I had agreed to meet Andy Ford.
I set up for my talk, getting all the usual ingredients in place: a book advert t-shirt on, a pint on the go, some books out, and an eye-catching slide to gain attention. The talk was on ‘the history of fell running’, but in truth was a random ramble through that history, stopping off now and again to tell a few stories that I think illustrate the ethos of this great sport.
After some questions from the audience, on topics as diverse as a comment in my acknowledgements in the latest book, further explanation of the diets of fell legends then and now, and my own fell running heroes, we moved to the pie and peas supper. Then a bit of banter with some of the runners and a relaxed pint.
I also helped with the prize giving, and the raffle, and did a bit of book signing and selling, of all three of my books (now only available in paperback format). As noted, a fantastic evening with some wonderful people.
Finally, a special thanks to Andy and Sophie for putting me up for the night.
That is it for book talks for this year, but am already setting some up for 2018, with the Buxton Adventure Festival and Wilfs café ones already in place [more coming on the events page soon].
Inspired by Jonny Muir’s recent blog post I looked back over the good running books I have read in recent years. The following 20 books are ones that I feel show something of the range and depth of the running book genre. For the research for my 3 fell running books I read everything I could find on off-road, fell and mountain running. These books are excluded from this list, and are actually very well covered in Jonny’s post*. I tried to organise the books in categories, but they are VERY loosely defined, and I ended up forcing 4 books into each category, just to make a layout that worked. I hope you might be led to some books that you might have missed. Enjoy, and feel free to suggest others, via comments on this blog, or via social media.
* What to read when you read about hill running
Endurance – Zatopek had won the 5000m, 10000m and marathon at the 1952 Olympics. This book is well researched, not only describing his upbringing and athletic feats but also gives a great feel for the man himself, his eccentricities and his hard training ethic. His life after his running career is only briefly described which does not fully illustrate the price he paid for the stance he took in 1968, which was shaped by the oppressive hand of communism.
Running for their lives – An extraordinary story, predominantly about prejudice, with a sort of sad tone rather than being particularly uplifting. The runners’ double life stories are well intertwined by the author. An example of a book about ‘unknowns’ that reads better than many better known athlete biographies.
The Perfect Mile – The dramatic race to be the first man to run a sub-4 minute mile which had been thought unreachable. A well-researched book, reconstructing conversations and documenting the feelings and emotions of those involved. The protagonists are Bannister of the UK, Landy of Australia, and Santee of the US. The perfect mile was not Bannister’s run that first broke the barrier in 1954, but the later showdown between Bannister and Landy – which is covered in great detail.
Today we die a little – Zatopek was inspirational athlete and a complex and interesting person. Askwith tells his story well, and always engages the reader. He captures why Zatopek was one of the greatest of all time, but doesn’t try to cover up his flaws. Difficult to choose between this and ‘Endurance’.
BORN IN THE USA
Duel in the sun – You may know the basic story of this New York marathon epic, but do you know the life stories of the two protagonists. The format is to tell the story of the race inter-weaved with chapters about the backgrounds and post-race traumas of Salazar and Beardsley. Interesting to see the parallels and subsequent (different) demises they suffered.
Iron War – A story of human struggle, elite athletic prowess, suffering, and individual achievement, it is a great triathlon book. It is the personal stories of Dave Scott and Mark Allen who were greats of the sport. Massive respect to these elite athletes on the one hand for their discipline and courage, but pity for them for their inability to manage their actions and emotions better. There is also the post-publication defamation hooha, which is partly down to the author’s hard-hitting insights.
Bowerman and the men of Oregon – Detailed story of both the man and the times. He did so much more than coach. Kenny Moore tells it all well, from a good position of journalist and one-time trainer with Bowerman. He brings out the quirks in the man’s character well. The chapter on his fight against a ‘cult’ settlement was a bit of a surprise. The end very emotional – I had gotten to like this probably hard to like guy by then.
Born to run – OK, it is not even about running, but is possibly the best, and best written, book on the music world. It is an example of the artist’s own words being the best source. Springsteen once claimed that his parents wanted him to be a writer not a musician, and despite the quirky style he justifies that thought.
SCIENCE (of training/coaching)
Bounce – Fantastic bringing together of research into succeeding as athlete (and in business). Interspersed with incidents from Syed’s career that illustrate the points being made. Tries to analyse why Africans dominate distance running.
Two hours – A kind of homage to the art of marathon running. More than the sub-2 hr quest, it is a fascinating insight into one man (Geoffrey Mutai) and his life and training. Visiting the training camp in Kenya’s Rift Valley and following him at Berlin, New York and London, Caesar also interviews many of the world’s top runners, experts and sports scientists. He also gives wonderful insights into the minds and lives of top athletes.
How to support a champion – A great insight into sports science, and what it can bring to sporting performance. He also writes of his work with some world class performers, admitting that he was learning from them as much as vice versa. As an athletics coach this helped me focus on areas of potential improvement by identifying some of the important things an athlete (and coach) needs to work on to perform to their very best.
Black box thinking – You could sum up Syed’s thesis as: learn from your mistakes. He uses a wide range of examples but also takes time to probe why we often don’t learn. The examples range across transport, sport, and health care, amongst others. He is perhaps weakest in offering any practical changes required to embrace failure, but he does clearly illustrate the need to make such changes.
TRAINING (sort of)
From last to first – This is way more than a biography. It has some good points to make about doing things ‘your way’, not always the way ‘the book’ tells you. It is also surprisingly good on altitude, lactate, psychology and stuff of a more academic nature. Has more practical information to offer than many a coaching book.
Swim, bike, run – This is a (ghost-written) joint autobiography of the Brownlees. They are quite open about each other and their relationship, which I liked. Shame their achievements in, and love of, fell running was hardly mentioned (I AM biased mind). Their training tips are instructive, giving a good picture of what it takes to be (arguably) the top two triathletes in the world.
Running Scared – This was originally published in 1997, but had resonance when the Salazar investigation and other news came out and still makes depressing reading. Athletics is arguably Britain’s most successful sport, and Mackay investigates the cost of that success. He charts the trials and tribulations of the Olympic Games’ principal sport and reveals some pretty awful drug, money and corruption issues, even before the turn of the millennium.
Austerity Olympics – The whole story about the ’48 Olympics was fascinating in comparison to the 2012 version. It is the result of some pretty serious research. A good read, which in a strange way pointed up the fact that some of the main players from this era have never had THEIR full story told – Fanny Blankers-Koen for example.
RUNNING WITH THE ………
Running with the Kenyans – A fantastic insight into the culture of running in what many consider the leading distance running country in the world now. Finn takes his family to live there and he tries to run with the locals and work out their ‘secret’ – which there isn’t of course. The inter-weaving of family life, his attempt to train a team of contenders and the insights into the greats makes a marvellous mix.
Running with the Buffaloes – An unbelievably compelling read, not surprising considering the distance athlete (and coach) in me. It takes a while to get used to the Americanisms, I even had to look some up. Some scenes and quotes now have regular use among athletic clubmates who are ‘in’ on the book. A good combination of story and ‘coaching’ which certainly made me think about how I have gone about things.
Born to run – Argues that modern trainers cause injuries and we should all return to barefoot running, or as near as reasonably possible. Written in what might be called a ‘gonzo’ style, it is good at telling of the tale of the big race at the core of the story, the characters within the story, and his search for the legendary Caballa Blanco, a Tarahumara Indian.
Way of the runner – Finn writes about the Japanese lifestyle and also the traditional Ekiden relay race. Long-distance running is big business in Japan and they have plenty of young/university athletes, but can’t seem to translate it to the world stage and take on the Ethiopians and Kenyans at the marathon. Finn immerses himself in the culture to try to find the answer.
… and of course there are my three books, all from Sandstone Press.
It’s a hill, get over it – A detailed history of the sport of fell running. It also tells the stories of some of the great exponents of the sport through the ages. Many of them achieved greatness whilst still working full time in traditional jobs, a million miles away from the professionalism of other branches of athletics nowadays.
The Round – A history of the Bob Graham Round, but also an exploration of the what, why and how of this classic fell endurance challenge. After covering the genesis of the BGR in detail, it documents its development from a more-or-less idle challenge to its present status as a rite of passage for endurance runners.
Running Hard – For one brilliant season in 1983 the sport of fell running was dominated by the two huge talents of John Wild and Kenny Stuart. Wild was an incomer to the sport from road running and track. Stuart was born to the fells, but an outcast because of his move from amateur to professional and back again. Together they destroyed the record book, only determining who was top by a few seconds in the last race of the season. Running Hard is the story of that season, and an inside, intimate look at the two men.