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.
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.
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!
A little wrangling of the figures that BGR club post on their website for registrations and completions for the Bob Graham Round shows that the completion percentage is trending downwards at present. For 2018, 199 people registered and 84 completed, which is a 42.2% success rate. I have graphed the figures for the last 7 years* and the picture shows the trends for registrations, completions and percentages (the three dotted lines, which for the mathematicians amongst you are simple linear trend lines).
Comment: Registrations have been steadily increasing, with a high of 233 in 2017. It was a small dip last year, but still the second highest. Completions mirror the registrations pattern, again with a high of 115 in 2017, with last year again the second highest. Despite these fluctuations and trends, the % of completions does seem to always remain pretty much the same. It varies from 53.7% in 2012 to 39.6% in 2014, and as noted is marginally trending downwards. Speculative (and possibly controversial) cause – more less-prepared aspirants having a go these days.
A second graph shows the number of completions for every year since 1971.
Comment: the graph shows a strong trend for more people completing the BGR (solid red line is the linear trend) over time, but also how it fluctuates from year to year (dashed blue line is a 6-year moving average). 2001 was the year of foot and mouth disease, when there were no completions. It is interesting how long it took to get back to previous levels after that, presumably as folk weren’t able to get on the hills to recce. In the 1990s the numbers fluctuated greatly but were in fact trending down for some reason. The graph also shows that the 115 completions in 2017 were the highest ever number.
*NB: these are the only detailed ones I have access to
Notes/links: For more on the Bob Graham Round see the club website at: http://www.bobgrahamclub.org.uk/. For more on the BGR and its history see my book: ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’. For more on Kilian Jornet’s outstanding new record of 12-52 for the round, which he set in 2018, see: ‘Kílian Jornet smashes Bob Graham endurance race record’.
Caveat: I am aware that posting this I may be accused of ‘promoting’ the BGR, something the Bob Graham Club disapprove of. They rightly point out on their website some of the issues that increasing numbers cause, one of which is illustrated below.
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!
Having had a really good ‘Conversation with Billy Bland’ in Keswick last week*, I am now prepping another talk in Cumbria next month. This is part of the ‘Slide and Supper Evenings’ at Wilfs, in Staveley, on Thu 8 March.
The illustrated talk is at 7pm on Thurs 8 March, and will be entitled ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’ and will:
detail the history of the Bob Graham Round & explore the what, why and how of this classic fell endurance challenge. It will cover its development from a more or less idle challenge to its present status as a rite of passage for endurance runners. Interspersed with this detail of the round are snapshots of many of the event’s most significant individuals: innovators, record setters, recorders and supporters. Finally, some thoughts on why Billy Bland’s record time for the BGR has lasted since 1982, whether someone will soon beat it, and also concerns about the impact it’s challengers are having on the environment.
THURSDAY 8 March
• Starting with a light supper & brew at 7pm. Talk starts 7.45pm prompt
• Booking with payment required
• Some tickets may be available on the night
• Email : email@example.com
• Credit / debit cards
Cafe: Staveley Mill Yard, Back Lane, Staveley, Nr. Kendal, Cumbria LA8 9LR. Tel: 01539 822329
The talk is based on my book of the same name, which was shortlisted for the TGO Awards Outdoor Book of the Year 2015 and the Lakeland Book of the Year Award 2016. A few signed copies of the book, and my other books (‘Its a hill, get over it’ and ‘Running Hard: the story of a rivalry’) will be available on the night.
* there will be a short blog on last week’s Billy Bland evening (with great quotes) shortly, and news of a second Due North event with Billy.
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.
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].
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.