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.
Three things recently have got me thinking again about changes in the sport of fell/mountain running. Firstly it was the World Mountain Running Championships, where Ugandans had a clean sweep in the men’s race. Secondly, the recent debate over whether Kilian Jornet would/could take the BGR record from Billy Bland; and thirdly was reading an advance copy of a chapter of Jonny Muir’s upcoming book on Scottish Hill Running, in which he speculates on the future of the sport.
So, let’s take these one at a time. Mountain running is the de facto global branch of fell running, and has been since it came to prominence in the early 1980s. [For more on its early history see ‘Going Global’, Chapter 17 of my first book, ‘It’s a hill, get over it’] It is organised by the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA), whilst at the extreme end there is also the International Skyrunning Federation – which administers ‘mountain running above 2,000m over extremely technical trails’. Mountain running is more akin to fell running and is predominantly run by Europeans, run in Europe, and won by Europeans. The World Mountain Running Champs were first held in Italy in 1985 and have been held at a European venue each year since, reaching out just once – to New Zealand in 2005 [Correction: there have been two – Alaska in 2003]. A rather selective stat I admit, but taking the results of the men’s race over the years you find that Italy won the team prize all but two years of the first 21 occasions. Then in the next 7 years, Eritrea won 4 to Italy’s 3. But then the big change: in the last 5 years Uganda have won 3 times and Italy just once, with Uganda providing 4 individual winners and Italy none, having not had a winner in the last 10 years.
OK, enough stats but definitely a pattern there. In mainstream athletics we have been used to domination of many events by Africans in recent years, the steeplechase and marathon in particular. For example, the world’s 11 fastest steeplechasers where all born in Kenya (Kenyans have won Gold at the event at last nine Olympic Games), and the 10 fastest male marathoners are either Kenyan or Ethiopian.
Having hopefully got you interested with the slightly provocative blog title, these rambling lead me to ponder whether if the best Eritreans and Ugandans were to run races such as the Snowdon International Race (which leading Italians have for years now) whether they could challenge Kenny Stuart’s superb course record of 1-02-29 which has lasted since 1985. I recall that Kenny was interviewed about his record at the 2010 Snowdon race and as I noted in my third book, ‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’, he replied:
I am quite amazed it [the record] still stands, but is something I am reasonably proud of. I think it is time it was broken. The record might stand for a number of years. If athletes of a certain calibre, maybe Africans, came over en masse they might break it. But it will take some breaking.
But so far that hasn’t happened.
My second reference was to the possibility of Billy Bland’s supreme BGR time of 13 hrs 53 mins being beaten this year, possibly by an ‘incomer’. Prompted by rumours on social media of a fast time having being done ‘under the radar’ and also public statements from the Catalan Kilian Jornet that he was planning an attempt sometime in 2017, I posted a blog with comments on things that Hugh Symonds and Billy Bland had said to me on Jornet’s chances when I interviewed them for my second book, ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’. It was thoughts on an outsider taking the record, which I won’t repeat here, but in many ways reflected some views on the changing sport. But, what about an African mountain runner coming over and having a blast at it? What do you think? If you are interested the blog post is here, and the parallel FRA forum thread is here. Suffice it to say that there was an amazing level of interest in the topic, which meant I had 1,292 visitors to this blog the day after it appeared – WAY more than I normally get.
Thirdly, Jonny Muir will be commenting in his upcoming book about the effect that high profile, high cost, extreme events like the Glen Coe Skyline will have on ‘traditional’ hill running (as it is usually called in Scotland).
He decided to check his fairly robust view by doing a vox pop via the Fell Runners UK Facebook site to try to gauge the views of participants in the sport. There appeared to be a strong anti-commercialism strand in the replies. One I liked was: “Underground, word of mouth races are the future.” I would judge the mood to be worried rather than happy with the way things are/might go. But maybe (like sites like TripAdvisor) there is a tendency for complaint rather than praise in a public forum such as this. Do have a read of the responses (you need to be able to sign in to FB to do so).
I perceive a very insular attitude from the governing body (Fell Runners Association) who in communications say they are very worried about increasing numbers of competitors and their environmental impact affecting race access agreements. This inward looking attitude is exemplified by this response that I got, on behalf of the FRA Committee, when I asked for access to their archive in order to pursue my book research, in 2011: ‘It may be helpful if I make clear that the policy of the FRA is to avoid media exposure of and publicity for the sport. The prospect of yet another book about fell running is not welcomed and the FRA Committee will not wish to co-operate in providing assistance. “Feet In The Clouds” did no favours to the sport.’ At the time I found this a stunning attitude to adopt. Since then I have thought a lot about the future of the sport when writing about it, and I have quite a positive outlook. I will finish with what I said at the time (and which I still stand by):
I am sure though that the good races will survive, and that a responsible attitude to the environment can indeed see the sport prosper. I do think that attitudes have to change and that the sport should welcome all those who want to take up the challenge to compete that it provides. We should be celebrating the variety of events and competitors that there are.
I thought it might be interesting to see which of the blog posts seemed to strike a chord best, and were thus the most viewed each year since this blog has been going. [For the purposes of this review I am necessarily ignoring the homepage, which always shows up as the highest in the hit stats, yet obviously varies as new posts are published.]
For the first year (2013) it was a blog entitled Why I wrote ‘It’s a hill, get over it’, in which I give some background to how I came to write my first book, having as it seemed no previous inclination to do any such thing.
By the second year (2014) I had started thinking that I should write about almost anything BUT the books I was writing. So, the most viewed that year was Are we now a cafe society? Some of my favourites …. – a subject I had actually thought vaguely of writing a book about!
In 2015 my second book (The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps) came out, and I wrote a blog about my experience of supporting a friend’s Round, as a sort of tie in. Good game – a BGR from the roadside support viewpoint was the most viewed posting of that year.
By 2016 I was writing more blog posts (and books!), averaging a post every 3 weeks. The most popular of the year was about attending an amazing event at Brathay Hall to celebrate Joss Naylor’s 80th birthday. Evening with Joss, Billy and Kenny has been the most viewed post of all, so far.
I will be holding two book launches for ‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’, after it is published on Thursday 16 February.
Firstly, I will be at the Greta Suite, Skiddaw Hotel, Keswick (NOT the Moot Hall now, if you saw earlier notifications) at 3-30pm on Saturday 18 February, with both of the main characters from the book in attendance, plus other fell legends. I will be sharing some stories about these two outstanding athletes. Copies of the book will be available (signed if required), as will both my earlier books, ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ and the updated paperback of ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’. This is a ticketed event, and tickets can be obtained from Bookends bookshop in Keswick, or by email from me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Second, will be an event in the Boardroom at Middlesex University at 6pm on Monday 20 February. There will be more stories about Kenny Stuart and John Wild (who will be there), and copies of all my books available. There will be drinks at the launch, and an after-party in The Greyhound, round the corner. Drop me a line if you would like to be there – or just rock up.
Having read the manuscript, Steve Jones (former holder of World Best time for marathon) wrote:
Read of their courage, mental toughness and strategies in a modern, but almost Boys Own, battle and decide for yourself who is Wilson of the Wizard and who the Tough of the Track.
[Update: book launch set for Moot Hall, Keswick at 3-30pm Sat 18 Feb]
Exactly 4 years ago today I had the manuscript for my first book accepted for publication by the wonderful people at Sandstone Press (after being advised to re-think my original synopsis idea). I was unbelievably chuffed about this at the time, being a first time author. It now gives me huge pleasure to see this image on my Amazon page, indicating that part 3 of what I am now semi-jocularly calling ‘The Fell Running Trilogy’ will be published on 16 February 2017.
All three books are available from good suppliers, with Running Hard: the story of a rivalry possible to pre-order. I am now working on the details of the book’s launch – which is likely to be in two parts, one in Keswick and one in North London. Detai6sl here in due course.
The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps comes out in paperback on 19 January 2017, and is also available in hardback and kindle editions.
A linked series of 3 short films recognising the 3 running legends who have given their names to iconic running challenges in the Lake District:
• The Bob Graham Round
• The Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge
• The Gerry Charnley Round
The films aim to mark the contribution of these legends of the fell running scene, whilst giving viewers an immersive experience of what it’s like to be part these challenges.
So says the publicity blurb for The Trailpike Trilogy, which I have just been made aware of. They are being made by fell runner and poet Geoff Cox, who has teamed up with film-makers No Routes Found Collective to create three distinctly different short films. The first of them is called ‘A Shepherds Hand’ and features the Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge. It has it’s premiere at the Kendal Mountain Festival on November 18th and is in final editing at the moment.
Geoff is starting work on the second film now, which will be the Bob Graham Round one. I have been in discussion with Geoff about sourcing some historical photographs for the film, particularly from the early days. He says that there are numerous great photographs of ‘fell racing in the Lake District, but far fewer of fell running. Runners without numbers is how I like to think of this.’ Having done a bunch of photo research for my book on the Bob Graham round, I was able to give Geoff a few leads to follow.
If you want to know more about the project then download the 3 page PDF publicity sheet which has contact details. There is also information on how you can support the venture, especially sponsoring (filming costs, etc).
If you want more information on the challenges then I can only point you to ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ (my book on fell running’s history and characters), and for a full and detailed history of the Bob Graham Round and its innovators to ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’.
[The Round is out in paperback early in 2017, and can be pre-ordered now]
Expanded version of previous blog post was the second article to appear in the latest Fellrunner under my byline. It was much enhanced by three excellent b/w photos from the event by Ian Charters.
The article finishes with an unashamed book plug:
If you want to know more about the three legends, they were my Three Greatest Fell Runners in ‘It’s a hill, get over it: fell running’s history and characters’, and have their extended personal stories told in that book, as well as the history and development of the sport of fell running.
The full article may be viewed here: [PDF proof of article – before photo credits were added]. Next blog: In Profile: Jack Maitland
Another milestone is reached with submission of the manuscript of my third book to the publisher. The title is now fixed as: Running Hard: the story of a rivalry. It is now going through the editorial process and approval of photographs, design of the cover (first version below), incorporation of cover quotes, indexing, proofing, and eventually printing. It is set for publication, by Sandstone Press, in February or March 2017 – which seems such a long time away.
Right now I want to see the finished book, but have to be patient. Looking back I find that this has taken less time to write than either of the first two books for Sandstone Press. I am not sure exactly what to make of this, perhaps I have more confidence in my writing ability (which hasn’t always been the case). What is certain is that I have once again thoroughly enjoyed the processing of researching the material, and also the fascinating times I have spent interviewing the two athletes that are the rivals in the story.
I have also interviewed several of the significant athletes who were their contemporaries. I was absolutely made up to at one point be sitting in Joss Naylor’s front room discussing some of his achievements, and later to be chewing the fat with Billy Bland in his back garden. Absolute heroes both.
So, just a reminder of the storyline (this from the publicity blurb):
Running Hard: the story of a rivalry describes the lives of two very different athletes and covers in-depth the 1983 Fell Running Championships season, when they were the two top runners, battling to win the championship. John Wild was an international steeplechaser from the Midlands who had moved to the fells to go head-to-head with the Cumbrian-born fell runner Kenny Stuart. Stuart later became a 2-11 marathon runner, as their running careers began to diverge, but they remained firm friends. The championship at that time was much tougher than it is now. After fifteen races the title was decided by just twenty seconds at the final race. The events are illuminated by interviews and analysis from several of their main contemporaries.
As I was compiling the manuscript from the interviews, and other sources, I soon realised that I was getting more material than I could possibly use in the book, and that some of it was very interesting but way off topic. So, I decided to re-think some of it for some spinoff writing. A profile of fell runner and orienteer Jack Maitland was accepted for publication in The Fellrunner, and buoyed by this I also submitted two further articles (on the Fell Legends evening – which I have already blogged on, and on Jasmin Paris’ amazing BGR record). They were both accepted, and I am really pleased that all three are in the current edition of The Fellrunner. My next three blog posts will concentrate on this writing, and include the resulting articles.
Yesterday I did not win the Lakeland Book of the Year award. At one level there is a thin line between success and failure. Everyone wants to win the race. However, there are times when relative success is to be cherished.
After the initial disappointment of being ‘merely’ a category runner-up, I am now thinking that it is actually a pretty special achievement. The Lakeland Book of the Year Awards “encourage and celebrate writing and publishing in Cumbria, and contribute to furthering the wonderful literary heritage of the County”. It is a prestigious award, that has been going since 1984. It has high profile judges – this year Hunter Davies, Eric Robson and Fiona Armstrong. The overall winners command respect – last year’s was James Rebanks (for The Shepherd’s Life), and previously it has been Keith Richardson, Harry Griffin and Alan Hankinson.
I was really pleased to be able to travel to the Lakes and attend the award ceremony, which was held in the beautiful Armathwaite Hall Hotel, alongside Bassenthwaite Lake. For the award this year there were over 50 entries, which have to be predominantly about Cumbrian people and places, of which 15 were shortlisted for the 5 category awards (I was in the Guides and Places category), four of which were the eventual short list for the overall Lakeland Book of the Year award.
It was a really great award ceremony, with most excellent food, a fund-raising opportunity for the Cumbria Flood Appeal, and networking possibilities. Two years ago at the same event I met and chatted with mountaineering legend Doug Scott, and this year commiserated with Kendal AC’s top fell runner Rebecca Robinson, who was on crutches after breaking a metatarsal when running the Skiddaw race at the weekend (she was also 6th fastest UK female marathon runner in 2015).
One of the best things about the event is that the judges give their thoughts on the shortlisted books. Eric Robson went through those up for the Striding Edge Prize Prize for Guides and Places, and said the following about The Round:
We come to The Round by Steve Chilton
His earlier book ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ (lovely title), about fell running as well, won the Bill Rollison Prize in 2014. For those of you not of a mountain pounding persuasion, The Bob Graham is a Lakeland mountain challenge. It is 62 miles, takes in 42 peaks and 27,000 feet of ascent, which you have to do in mere 24 hours. As you do. I was trained for the Bob Graham Round by my neighbour in Wasdale – Joss Naylor. He said he would take me out running. I lost. That was just round the function room of the Santon Bridge Hotel. This book about fell running, which is a fairly specialist subject, could have been totally boring. It could have been statistics in hardback. But in fact it is inspirational and it is compelling. It is a great read. It also told me that Chris Brasher failed in his attempt to do the Bob Graham Round, which made me feel a lot better.
When the announcements came, I was runner-up in the ‘Striding Edge Prize for Guides and Places’, a category that was won by The Gathering Tide by Karen Lloyd.
So, I collected my runners up certificate and we waited for the overall winner to be announced. It was the winner of the Illustration and Presentation category, a book called Lakeland Waterways.
It was written by a guy that works on the passenger boats on Windermere.
Reflecting on it now, I am really chuffed to be short listed for this prestigious prize. But there is no time to dwell on it. I am moving on to apply the finishing touches to my third book. I just hope that it is written well enough to get some recognition of this sort when it comes out (in early 2017).
Or signed copies direct from me.