I have published three books on Fell Running now. Firstly, in Aug 2013, there was ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ (a history of fell running and its many characters); secondly, in Sept 2015, came ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’ (the story of the Bob Graham Round); and more recently, in Feb 2017, ‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’ (the parallel lives and running careers of Kenny Stuart and John Wild).
Over the life of the three books ‘It’s a Hill, get over it’ has been the best seller. In part, of course, this is because it was the first out and had such a marvellously catchy title. Counting the sales of all three, the percentage of the total number of books sold that each accounts for are: 53% It’s a Hill, 29% The Round, and 18% Running Hard.
In the last 6 months (the frequency I get the stats from my publisher) however It’s a Hill has not been the biggest seller. In that period the figures are: 40% The Round, 35% It’s a Hill, and 25% Running Hard.
One other (possibly) interesting statistic is the split between books and ebooks. All three have always been available in both formats. For all sales the figures are: 15% ebooks and 85% books. The individual figures (for ebooks) are: 21% For Running Hard, 14% for The Round, and 14% for It’s a Hill.
By the terms of my contract I get a percentage of the net profit on each book. This amounts to something under £1 per book, with a slightly higher margin on ebooks (due to there being no print costs to cover).
REQUEST: if you have enjoyed any of them and have a moment please drop a short review on Good Reads, Amazon, my blog, your blog, or wherever. It helps authors tremendously to have readers sharing their thoughts on what they have read (and hopefully enjoyed).
Over the holiday I read two classic mountaineering books. As I had time in between Christmas activities I have reviewed them both. Now, I know writers like Pete Boardman and Chris Bonington don’t need reviews, but I am mindful (as an author myself) of the value to potential readers of a considered view. So, if you like a book you have read, do share a review – on Amazon, Good Reads, or on your blog or via social media.
Sacred Summits covers three very different Boardman expeditions, to Carstenz Pyramid in New Guinea, Kangchenjunga and Gauri Sankar. The book includes very well written accounts of the trips, but more interestingly for me a very frank discourse on the dilemmas facing climbers. This covers the selfish motives they have, and the toll on friends and especially family. The author also considers whether climbers should even go to the summits of such very scared mountains. In fact, on Kangchenjunga they leave ‘the final few yards untrodden in deference to the inhabiting deity’. Boardman is good at illuminating the shifting inter-personal relationships on such expeditions, and also makes good use of the diaries and thoughts of other expedition members to counter-point his own views. He explains his ethical stance on climbing, but also notes that desperate situations call these ethics into focus. He records that to surmount one obstacle they had to:
stand on five rocks piled on each other. This would be seen as cheating on British rock, but I was too tired for ethics.
I have no idea if the conversations he details are real or made-up, but they do nicely draw you in to the atmosphere of the occasion. There were two disappointments for me with this edition of the book. There were a significant number of typos, particularly noticeable in the foreword. Secondly, the photos included were poorly reproduced at the end of the book. This may well be because it is a reprint of book first published many years ago (Boardman died in 1982). Overall though a great read, which is much more than a description of three climbing trips. I was particularly touched by Boardman’s moving account of his father’s death shortly after he came home from Gauri Sankar.
The Everest Years is Part III of a series of autobiographical books by Chris Bonington. It is a very honest and human account of the period of his life that culminated in him finally summiting Everest at the age of 50, back in 1985. It also covers the details of the deaths of several close friends on climbs, which is always a hard read. He has chosen to have a reflective approach, as some of the expeditions have already had their own books written by him, and here he shows how the expeditions related to each other, and he to the participants on them. In the book Bonington admits his style of leadership is not to everyone’s liking, and he is good at highlighting the highs and lows of the inter-personal relationships, particularly on his smaller teams. This is a reprint, under a different imprint, of a book first published in 1986. It does unfortunately suffer from a number of typos, and hyphenations that do not survive different line lengths in the new setting. It is also disappointing that Bonington’s excellent photography is poorly reproduced in this edition. On the plus side it is great to have maps of expeditions, and some route overlays on some of the photos. Overall it is an excellent read, detailing some of the ground-breaking expeditions he led (or took part in, as he was not always the leader) in a period when he was arguably the highest profile mountaineer of his time.
It is coming to the end of the year and I noticed that I had read 10 running-related books this 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 2018, just some thoughts on those I have read this year. In fact only four are from 2018. There is always catching up to do!
The figures after the author are the grade (1-5) given by me, and the year of publication.
I hope it might inspire some readers to pick up something ‘new’ to read.
Armistice Runner, by Tom Palmer (5, 2018)
This was something of a surprise. I am a sucker for running books anyway, and this was a delight. Although ostensibly written for the younger reader, the themes were very adult. It caught my emotions as the story unfolded, both the war detail and that of the gran’s Alzheimer’s. Subsequently found that the author is doing a lot for literacy in schools, which is brilliant.
The Mountains Are Calling, by Jonny Muir (5, 2018)
The first point to make about Jonny Muir’s book is the clarity and quality of his writing. The book’s subject is ‘running in the high places of Scotland’ which gives him a huge scope, range and landscape to cover. It is significant that he lives in this environment, and runs in it, for pleasure and competition. But it is the people that he meets and their stories that give such a great counterpoint to his own experiences that fascinated me most. Muir considers the origins of running in the hills, the beauty of it, and also the recent commercialisation of the sport (which definitely grates with him and some with whom he speaks). Running through the narrative, but not dominating it, is the Charlie Ramsay Round, which he seems fated to attempt – and finally does. The storyline does jump about a bit, and visits Scottish mountains some readers may not know so well, but his writing is so crisp and engaging that it draws you on and into what may be the unknown. His chapter titles are well chosen and three will suffice to give both a feel for the subject (Mountain Madness) and yet Muir’s feeling for hill running (Beautiful Madness; and Epiphany). Read and be inspired.
North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail, by Scott Jurek (4, 2018)
I warmed to Jurek as I read this. He certainly put himself into a deep place in his AT endeavours. He describes the journey well and I liked his discursive writing but found the sections where his partner Jenny’s gives her thoughts rather less satisfactory. Looking back thought, it is a fascinating insight into the challenge that something like chasing a 50-mile a day FKT on the Appalachian Trail entails.
A Life Without Limits, by Chrissie Wellington (4, 2012)
This is a well written biography of a great athlete containing a nice balance between her personal and her sporting challenges and achievements. I particularly liked the frankness of the ‘issues’ that are talked of – pooing and relationships, etc. The constant reference back to the coach with a past and his influence are an intriguing narrative running throughout the book.
The Pants of Perspective, by Anna McNuff (4, 2017)
A very enjoyable read, easy, informative, and sometimes funny. In travel books like this I always like to see at least a simple map of the route taken, but to no avail.
The best part, as perhaps it should be, are the people met on the way. Overall, a very enjoyable book.
This Mum Runs, by Jo Pavey (3, 2016)
I chose this book as a light read after a major operation. It was fascinating to hear about Jo’s early success, injury years, and slightly left-field fightback. She is certainly a role model for athletes seeking a long career, and describes her achievements in a modest and appealing way.
Twin Tracks: The Autobiography, by Roger Bannister (3, 2014)
I know it is the twin tracks of his life, but the first half on his running was very good but the second was rather tedious, as it wound its way through his medical and sports administration work. A good book about an amazing athlete, who was also an outstanding and very special human being.
Pre: The Story of America’s Greatest Running Legend, Steve Prefontaine, by Tom Jordan (3, 1977)
A great insight into a great runner. He comes across as tough and hard working, with a bloody mindedness that rubbed some up the wrong way. To beat him you had to run hard and fast, none of this sprint out at the end stuff. Sadly he died very young in a car crash. Although a good read, I still could have done with more of the man and less of the races.
Running the Red Line, by Julie Carter (3, 2018)
Mixed feelings on this one. The author is a doctor/psychologist and tries to analyse herself and also explore the physiology and psychology that comes into play when we push ourselves (the ‘red zone’). It had some interesting stuff on resilience and motivation.
Run or Die, by Kilian Jornet (2, 2011)
Unquestionably an amazing athlete and something of a free-spirit, Jornet certainly seems passionate about his sport and the environment it takes place in. The book is part diary, part personal philosophy, with just a little on technique and nutrition. It is written like a blog which makes it quite disjointed. An entertaining read, despite his high-blown language at times, which may have lost something in the translation.
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!
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.
Blogger Meanwood Rambler recently wrote an interesting piece about Victoria Wilkinson’s record breaking spree, and the (relative) stagnation in men’s fell race course records [Link to his blog post]. It prompted me to look back at the situation, and I decided to share my thoughts from my research for ‘It’s a hill, get over it’. The following is an extract from the relevant chapter in the book:
Record breakers and champions
“My whole feeling in terms of racing is that you have to be very bold. You sometimes have to be aggressive and gamble”
This chapter covers some of the male fell champions and the records they set. Mind you, analysing fastest times for fell races is a somewhat tricky area, as there is so much that can change, not least the conditions that an event is run in. Even more important is the fact that courses necessarily have to change, due often to access issues, or changes in start points due to facilities/parking etc.
Over time who have been the top record breakers? Three of them have been Billy Bland, John Wild and Kenny Stuart. In 1980 Billy Bland won his only British title and had a record breaking spree, which was followed by the next two champions over the next five years – John Wild and Kenny Stuart, who hold ten records between them still, with Bland holding two still.
However, these three record breakers have quite different racing profiles. Bland’s two records are both categorised as long and are both in the Lakes – Borrowdale at seventeen miles and Wasdale at twenty-one. Wild’s three are all short and in Northern England – Wrekin (5.5 miles), Rivington Pike (3.25 miles) and Burnsall (1.5 miles). Stuart by contrast has seven records, or which three are short, three are medium and one is long, and they are in Wales, Scotland and the Lakes. They are Wansfell (2.5 miles), Latrigg (3 miles), Eildon 2 Hills (3.5 miles), Skiddaw (9 miles), Snowdon and Ben Nevis (both 10 miles) and Ennerdale (23 miles).
Obviously records get beaten, and those above are ones that have held up. An interesting comparison is given by figures produced by a statistician in 1989. He counted the number of course records held at that time for all races in that year’s FRA calendar. The results are pretty startling. For the men, Colin Donnelly, who was in his triple British title winning spree at the time, had sixteen, to Kenny Stuart’s twelve and John Wild’s nine. For the women Carol Haigh, who never actually won the British title, had a staggering forty-three, to Angela Carson’s seventeen and Vanessa Brindle’s eleven.
However, many of the major races, for example Wasdale and Fairfield, have had significant changes to their courses. Sadly, when change like this happens the holders of the records for a previous course are then down-graded when a new record is subsequently set on a shorter or longer course. Who is to say that in some cases they wouldn’t still be the record holder if the change hadn’t happened? Having said that, there is a certain fascination in knowing who has set the fastest time for a course and in which year. The list of men’s records for the ‘classic’ courses (see Appendix 3) shows three that have lasted from 1977 – Langdale, Lantern Pike and Eldwick. For the women the oldest are four that date from 1984 – Ben Nevis, Pendleton, Saddleworth and Lantern Pike.
In the Sept/Oct 1990 issue of Up and Down magazine Neil Shuttleworth speculated on improving standards in an article entitled ‘The Record Has Stood …’. He noted that fell runners have only a once a year opportunity to break records, unlike track and marathon runners (when comparing records for the distance, not the particular marathon). Shuttleworth concluded that race conditions were probably the most important factor to consider, that is to say both the weather and the underfoot conditions. Popularity of events also has an effect, in that a more popular event will attract more, and better, runners and possibly increase the likelihood of records. Shuttleworth also felt that neither improved footwear or better diet were likely to have a significant effect, but that competition (i.e. intense rivalry between top athletes) was likely to be a big factor.
There are many instances where it can be shown that records were broken due to close rivalries, both in individual races and throughout seasons. One of the examples noted above is the Langdale record from 1977. It is held by Andy Styan, and when asked by Shuttleworth about it (in the article just quoted), he reckoned it was so fast for two reasons: good conditions and a very strong field. Styan commented:
Billy Bland, Alan McGee, Mike Short and myself pulled clear off Thunacar Knott, and the four of us pushed each all the way. Billy and I got away on the descents, and Alan and Mike would pull us back on the climbs until we got away off the Crinkles and held it over Blisco. I left Billy by the cattle grid and that was that.
Even so, these four all finished between 1 hr 55 mins 3 secs and 1 hr 56 mins 8 secs, and it was the first time four runners had finished inside two hours for the course.
Similarly, John Wild set a record of 12 mins 48 secs (by two seconds) for the Burnsall Classic in August 1983. Kenny Stuart was first to the top but was overtaken by a speedily descending Wild, who in Kenny’s view was “taking risks he just wasn’t prepared to take, including leapfrogging the wall”. Two weeks later at Ben Nevis they met again, and faced strong challenges from Sean Livesey and Jack Maitland. Strong winds and mist made for a difficult race. Maitland led Stuart to the summit, with Wild and Livesey close behind. Somehow Wild took the lead on the way down to the burn in heavy mist and had a lead of twenty seconds there, holding Stuart off by seventeen seconds at the end. Despite the foul weather these two, and third placed Livesey, beat Dave Cannon’s 1976 record, with Wild taking 1 min 20 secs off it. John Wild credited the record to Maitland’s pushing so hard on the ascent against a known climber such as Stuart.
My main conclusion was that it was the number of absolutely top quality athletes that there were running the fells in the 1980s, and the way they raced so hard against each other, that were the two main factors in these records being set, and still in many cases not yet beaten. This is explored further in ‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’, which tracks Kenny Stuart and John Wild’s careers, and their rivals, such as Billy Bland.
The table is a list of the course records* that are still held by those three brilliant runners.
Not forgetting, of course, Andy Styan’s Langdale record which has resisted all challenges, including Billy Bland’s (who came within 14 secs), since way back in 1977.
* according to the FRA race page for each race
Myth: Billy Bland’s 13-53 Bob Graham Record will never be beaten.
Fact: Kilian Jornet took 1 hr 1 min of it on Sunday on a boiling hot day.
Monday’s Guardian reported the news under the misleading headline above (it is NOT a race), and included this marvellous picture of Carl Bell leading Jornet down what looks like Blencathra’s Halls Fell ridge on leg 1.
I am still getting over the intensity of the occasion, even though I wasn’t there. I spent a great deal of the day (Sun 8 Jul 2018) watching different social media feeds for updates on Jornet’s progress. Judging by this (admittedly filtered view), it was interesting to observe how the mood of the day seem to swing from a certain amount of ‘he won’t do it’ (and even ‘I hope he doesn’t do it’) to one of amazement at the predicted time as the day went on, and the sense of ‘history being made’ as Jornet ran through a Tour de France-like throng to touch the door at the Moot Hall.
The setup: It all started with Kilian Jornet posting a picture of himself ‘on Dale Head’ on Friday, with the rumour-mill taking over from there. [The best posting I saw was ‘what is Kilian Jornet doing in the Lake District?’, to which the very first reply was ‘visiting the Pencil Museum’]
The rumour strengthened and then he was ‘definately doing it’ according to some, with Sunday morning a favoured start time.
The day: So it turned out. Someone in the know confirmed that he had set out at 6am from the Moot Hall, and there was a video clip showing Keswick AC’s Carl Bell as main pacer. They were making great time over the Skiddaw-Blencathra section and arrived at Threlkeld a few minutes up on Billy Bland’s schedule already.
I had reason to contact Billy Bland about another matter, and his wife Ann replied that he had cycled over to Dunmail to ‘see him come flying through’. By now a confirmed pacing list had leaked out through the ether, and it was clear that he had got absolutely top runners supporting him. Jornet gained more time over the Helvellyn range, and there was a photo (courtesy of Danny Richardson) of Billy shaking Jornet’s hand as he started off up Steel Fell – a fine gesture from Billy.
The finish: It is not for me to decribe the round as it unfolded. There are reports out there, and will be more (particularly from Salomon). Search on Google and take your pick. What was amazing was the build-up to the finish. Live video streams were promised. One of the best was grainy phonecam video shot by Matt (?) of CFR of the run-in from Portinscale.
The crowds around the Moot Hall were amazing, and parted like a Tour/Giro mountainside crowd as Carl Bell led Jornet up to the finish (photo from Salomon). A pacer reckoned him at about 7min/miling on the road section. I do wish I been there to see it.
Billy Bland was there atop the steps to meet him, and he sat down with him for this iconic photo of the previous and new record holders (photo Charlotte Mellor). On a video from Wild Ginger Films Billy seems to reach behind himself and produce a bottle of champagne to give Kilian, another fine gesture. I’d love to have heard their first words together. (Photo below Trail Running Magazine)
What was most impressive was that Kilian went off for a shower and shortly came back to talk with people who had come to watch him take on the BG challenge. For 40 mins or so he talked with individuals, signed autographs and patiently sat for photographs (on the bottom step of the Moot Hall).
Background: as the day unfolded, and in subsequent reports, a picture emerged of how Jornet had gone about planning to take the BGR on. He decided to do it only on the Monday beforehand, having recovered well from his recent broken leg, having tested it in winning the Marathon du Mont-Blanc. Being fit, not too tired from other events (due to the layoff), and knowing the conditions were ideal seemed to seal it. Martin Stone was helping coordinate pacers, but was having trouble getting sufficient high quality ones. But Rob Jebb was apparently planning a round himself on the Saturday, but bailed as he thought it to be too hot. He offered several of his pacers to Jornet which completed his team.
The man: Jornet seems to be very aware of the tradition of the BGR and is big on the history of mountain running. He planned as low-key a round as a person of his stature could achieve, with virtually no presence from his sponsor, and certainly no big advance publicity. He acknowledges that he knew about the BGR from back in 2008 when people like Ricky Lighfoot were going out to the Alps. Although he didn’t reccie it all he says it is ‘powerful to discover the mountains’. What he did do was call on Billy Bland to have a chat, and says that the first time he called Billy was out on a bike ride! But they met up on the Friday. His approach and demeanor certainly endeared him to many observers.
Snippets: finally a few other snippets cleaned from watching from afar. One thing that was great was the way the fell running community embraced him and the event. Coordinator Martin Stone had been a pacer on Billy Bland’s record round. One of Jornet’s pacers was Martin Mikkelson-Barron, whose father was also a pacer on Billy’s round, and was there to watch, along with Kenny Stuart, who had paced Billy on his leg 1, which finished right near Kenny’s house.
On a personal level it was rather cool to see that he had got two books to read as part of his prep, and one was my history of fell running ‘It’s a Hill, Get Over it’. The book covers the BGR and I concluded that I would certainly like to see him try for the BGR record.
He has, and the result has certainly caught the wider world’s attention. Apart from the Guardian article (noted above) it has been on the Radio 2 News, and Jornet appeared on the Chris Evans breakfast show this morning. All a bit much for some of the traditionists in the sport, I suspect.
The future: so what next? Will it close the door on any record attempts from UK runners, or spur them on? Apparently Jornet was heard to say that two of his pacers (Carl Bell and Rob Jebb) were capable of running as fast as he had. We will see. Will Jornet be tempted to other UK events, challenges or races? A Ramsay Round for Jornet was mentioned at some point or other.
Talking with him after, Kenny Stuart suggested he have a crack for his Ben Nevis race record (now 34 yrs old), to which Jornet replied ‘I would love to do that’. He also said that his girlfriend, Emelie Forsberg, would love to do the BGR, and in an interview that he would love to have a go at Billy’s Borrowdale fell race record. So, watch this space.
Thanks to everyone for the media, videos and photos, which have been acknowledged where possible. And don’t forget if you want to know more about the man Bob Graham, how the original round happened, and how it developed, together with some of the heroes and innovators, then get hold of my book ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’, available from all good bookshops, and online from Amazon. [It has been described as ‘something very special’ (by Joss Naylor); ‘essential reading’ (Kenny and Pauline Stuart); and ‘unfailingly inspiring’ (Claire Maxted).]
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