The ‘Running Hard’ Blog Tour 

blog tour

It is a great and enduring argument to determine just who is the greatest sporting athlete of all-time. Exactly what criteria would determine the winner? Should their success be simply measured in honours; or is it the influence and impact that they have on others? In my opinion, it should always be both. Therefore, it’s not possible for everyone to agree on the matter. What is certain, however, is that we would all choose a different sporting hero for reasons of our own.

I am often asked who I consider to be the greatest. For me, a passionate and seasoned fell runner, it’s an easy question. My answer is, and will always be the same; the legendary fell runner, Kenny Stuart. Now you may be reading this and perhaps wondering exactly who he is. It doesn’t surprise me if this is the case. The fact that you might not have heard of him is one of the many reasons why he is my number one choice. Aside from the obvious, in my opinion, a sporting hero should be humble, down-to-earth, hard-working, respectful and honest. Kenny Stuart has all of these qualities and more. He is one of the greatest athletes our country has ever produced. A modern day, unsung hero. A regular, working-class, no-nonsense kind of guy. A real person, with real values. Someone who we should all aspire to be more like. An idol and an inspiration.

IMG_4135Pictured above: With my fell running hero, Kenny Stuart.

It is therefore, with great pleasure, that I am able to introduce a new guest blog which features my own sporting hero, Kenny Stuart. This superb literary contribution has been provided by renowned author, Steve Chilton, as part of his ‘Running Hard‘ Blog Tour.

I have requested this particular extract from his book, because it holds a very special and personal meaning to me. It features an account of the Snowdon Race in 1985 and Kenny’s attempt at winning this iconic race. Something, I myself might hope to accomplish one day.

 

CHAPTER 19: Like winning the FA Cup

A few weeks later came what I consider one of the greatest fell racing performances ever. On 20 July 1985 Kenny Stuart set a new record for the Snowdon race that has not been bettered since, against a top field that included some of the leading Italians. Fausto Bonzi held the record of 63-46 from the previous year’s race, but Stuart took this apart with a startling time of 62-29.

Kenny Stuart has very clear memories of that day. ‘I got three quarters of the way up and Robbie Bryson started to push hard and I went with him. I expected the Italians to follow suit and they didn’t. I was really on a knife edge when we hit the summit. So I let him get there, about nine seconds ahead of me. I was more frightened of the Italians coming from behind than Robbie. I just felt I could beat him going down. He wasn’t a brilliant descender, and I had the strength to do it. I caught him and the Italian challenge didn’t materialise. It was a bit like the Butter Crags race [earlier that year], in that I felt really good on the day, conditions were good. It was warm but not too warm, with probably a slight wind behind you going up. Everything just fell into place.’

At the turn in the race, Bonzi was 30 seconds adrift of Bryson and Stuart. The television report on the 2015 Snowdon race (which was the 40th anniversary of the event) noted in the commentary that on this day in 1985 the first five runners at the summit took under 40 minutes for the ascent, and that no-one has done that since, which Kenny thinks is quite likely to remain the case.

1984 Snowdon race.jpgPictured above: Kenny Stuart (106) sandwiched between two Italians (102 and 103) on the climb towards the summit of Snowdon (1984).

Bryson lost his lead going down, and Bonzi closed on him. Stuart pulled clear to win by over a minute. Renowned as a fast descender, Jack Maitland thundered down in a time that was actually six seconds faster than Stuart, taking 2nd place for his troubles, with Bonzi 3rd – well beaten yet still only 10 seconds off his record time. Colin Donnelly also distinguished himself, coming down in a time that matched Maitland to take 4th place from Italian Pezzolli, with Bryson 6th. Hugh Symonds was 12th, commenting, ‘Bryson may still have the fastest time to the summit. He was good. But the path here burns your feet on a hot day, possibly worse than Skiddaw.’

Symonds went on to point out, ‘that there is no point in being first to the top in a race if you are not first to the bottom. That was very much my attitude.’ Taking up this point, I wondered whether Symonds was actually better at going up or down. ‘At first I was much better at ups. I thought if I am going to be any good I need to train for downs. I had a good training partner in Bob Whitfield from Kendal AC. He lived in Clapham (in the Yorkshire Dales) and we used to alternate our training between Sedbergh and his patch (and run around the Ingleborough area). Bob was a fantastic descender. I think training with him helped me learn to descend. I would also choose some of the steepest places in the Howgills and specifically practise running downhill fast. I would do rep sessions with downhill as well as uphill in them.’

Although he admits he was beaten by the better man on that day Jack Maitland is justifiably proud of how much he and Bryson contributed to the result that Kenny Stuart achieved. ‘Robbie was a great Irish guy, a good climber but not so good as a descender. Although I was well beaten by Kenny, I would be interested to see all-time records for times down Snowdon. Mine was a pretty fast descent time.’

As part of the race build-up in 2010 Kenny Stuart was interviewed, now 25 years on, about his memories of the day, and thoughts about the record’s longevity. In part, he commented:

I remember the conditions being very good. I do recall being pushed at least until three-quarters of the way up by the two Italian chaps, who were very good. Bonzi held the record actually. Then it was taken on by Robbie Bryson who pushed very hard to the summit. It was a memorable ascent because it was very fast and I knew it. I held back a little coming off the top as I didn’t know if Robbie had taken it out too fast. I think he had taken it too fast for himself, but I recovered and went on to break the record, fortunately.

I think every fell runner knows when they start a race, within the first half mile he knows how he is going to feel, and I felt good right from the start. The year before that, it was a very red hot day and the Italians set a blistering pace and I died a death at three quarters. I managed to come back and hold on to third position but I ran 65 minutes and it felt a lot slower than that.

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.

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Pictured above: The ‘Top 10’ results at the Snowdon International Race, 1985

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.

His book Running Hard: the story of a rivalry is published in paperback on Thursday 19th October.

About the book’s 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. He blogs at: https://itsahill.wordpress.com/.

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Summer of Run

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted a campervan. The idea of being able to travel, eat and sleep in a vehicle is something that greatly appeals to me. It’s a holiday on wheels, a golden ticket to a lifetime of adventure.

I suppose my camper obsession can be traced back to the time when my Dad took us to look round a motorhome dealership. Prior to this, we’d always stayed in a caravan during the summer holidays, typically on the South West coast. So when my Dad suggested that we might finally ‘upgrade’ and buy something of our own, you can imagine how excited I was. I had this vision of us travelling around the country as a family, visiting new and exciting places every weekend. I was going to be the envy of all my friends. Unfortunately for me however, it wasn’t meant to be, especially when my Dad saw the price tag for purchasing such a luxurious commodity. So the dream was firmly put on ice, but it never disappeared from my mind.

“I’M AN IMPULSIVE KIND OF GUY”

Fast-forward 25 years and my dream suddenly became a reality. I was finally in the enviable position of being able to afford a campervan. Although, given that I have absolutely no DIY skills or practical skills whatsoever, I knew I would have to buy something that was already converted or pay someone a great deal of money to do the work for me. Now, when I say I have no DIY skills, perhaps I’m doing myself a disservice. Last year I changed a lightbulb in the kitchen and 5 years ago I also changed a fuse in a plug. So although I’m not completely useless, I still figured it was best not to attempt to carry out any work above my skill level.

So I began some extensive research into which campervan would be best for me to buy. This extensive research involved typing ‘VW camper’ into Google and then clicking on the ones that looked the best. It didn’t take me long to find one that met my criteria and a few days later I found myself driving it home, after almost having to sell one of my kidneys to pay for it. Now, if you get the impression that I’m an impulsive kind of guy then you’d be absolutely right. I don’t do forward planning, organising, researching or reading instructions. This will become even more apparent as you continue to read this blog…

Our plan for the summer was to head to Italy (shock horror!) for a few weeks as we had 3 races planned during August; the PizTri Vertikal (a VK), the FlettaTrail, both in Malonno, and Staffetta 3 Rifugi, in Collina. I was especially excited about the first two races as Malonno was somewhere I’d never been before, which is surprising, given the fact I spend around 5-6 weeks in Northern Italy almost every year. It’s also famously considered as the ‘home of mountain running’, so of course it was only a matter of time before I had to pay a visit.

BOOKED IT, PACKED IT, F*****D OFF” Peter Kay

Our holiday checklist was almost complete, I now had a van and I roughly knew where we were heading. All that was left to do now was carefully and meticulously plan our journey. So the night before (yes – the night before. That wasn’t a typo), I booked a ticket on the ferry to Calais for the following day and bought a Sat Nav from Halfords. Obviously I spent time copious amounts of time researching which was the best one to buy. Basically, I just went in the shop and bought the most expensive one that had the biggest reduction in price, figuring it would be the best. No point in messing about. Plus, time was of the essence; I still needed to finish packing and buy everything else I thought we might need for a few weeks on the road.

IMG_4326Pictured above: The beautiful view from the end of the Mont Blanc tunnel – crossing the border from France into Italy.

With our journey now fully planned (cue me typing Malonno into the Sat-Nav), we were soon on our way and heading towards sunshine and mountains. A quick stop over in France en-route, then through the Mont Blanc tunnel and into Italy. The journey was surprisingly problem free, all except for the fact that I’d not budgeted or planned on paying toll fees, for what felt like every motorway in Europe. To be fair, I’d not planned anything at all, so it shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise. However, I soon forgot about everything the moment I took my first glimpse of the mountains. Or was it my first sip of cheap French wine? Either way, both did the trick and we enjoyed a fantastic night in the Aosta valley, near Cogne, before heading to Malonno the following day. The views of the mountains were simply spectacular and I’ll certainly visit again, although next time for more than a few hours.

IMG_4335Pictured above: A charming view on my evening run, the Cogne valley, Gran Paradiso.

Eventually we arrived in Malonno and thankfully had a couple of days to relax before our intended races. The GB representatives, aside from myself, were Kirsty Hall (VK), Heidi Davies (FlettaTrail), Jack Wood (FlettaTrail) and Karl Gray (FlettaTrail). I planned on running both the VK and FlettaTrail, as I just wanted to make the most of every experience and opportunity.

FullSizeRender 2Pictured above: The view of Malonno from our bedroom window.

The organiser Alex, who also runs the Corsa in Montagna website, made us all feel extremely welcome and we were literally treated like celebrities around the town. It was an amazing feeling, especially when we arrived at the pre-race celebration to be presented with our numbers. It can only be compared to the start of a wrestling or boxing match, with Alex doing an amazing job of introducing each one of the invited elite athletes to the stage. Check out the video below to get an idea of how a mountain race is organised in Italy… #TheBullet #JackWooooooooooooooooooood

20861800_1606778012722951_3159098109873626804_oPictured above: The elite male athletes take to the stage.

RACE NO.1: THE PIZTRI VERTIKAL

The day before the FlettaTrail, I had the small task of racing in the PizTri Vertikal. Kirsty Hall was also competing in the ladies’ race, both of us making our VK debuts. Once again we were introduced to the crowds of spectators in similar fashion, before tackling a brutal 1000m of climb in little over 2 miles. Now I love to climb, but this was something else! It made Trooper Lane look flat. I began the race at a sensible pace and for the most part I was jostling for a top 15 position, pretty impressive considering that nearly all of the Italian national team were competing.

I felt pretty good in the first half of the race, probably up until 750m of continuous ascent. Then we hit the final section and my wheels well and truly fell off. The incline ramped up more steeply than ever before and by the end I was literally clawing my way to the finish (see evidence below).

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The reward for my effort was a few pints of Bèpete BAM at the finish. At first I thought the beer pump was a mirage, but after drinking three at altitude, I knew it was the real deal. A surreal post-race experience at the top of a mountain, but one I could certainly get used to. It’s a shame I had another race to prepare for, as I’d probably still be sat at the top with a beer in my hand right now.

RACE NO.2: THE FLETTATRAIL

Glorious sunshine? ✔

Amazing mountainous location? ✔

Perfect organisation and hosts? ✔

Elite competition inc. the full Italian national team? ✔

12.5 miles of mountainous trail? ✔

4,500ft+ climb? ✔

Free food and beer at the finish? ✔

Priceless experience? ✔

I was really excited, but at the same time extremely nervous. I wasn’t well prepared, especially considering the fact I’d not run over 10 miles for months. I was however, determined to enjoy the atmosphere and the spectacular surroundings. I wasn’t going to let a few nerves spoil my day because I knew I was part of something very special. As a mountain runner it doesn’t get much better than this.

IMG_4420Pictured above: Digging deep during the FlettaTrail, Malonno, Italy.

I set off sensibly and let the main protagonists slowly disappear from sight. I had to run my own race or risk blowing up on the first climb. I’d not had time to recce the course either, so I was unsure of what to expect. Although, after studying the race profile, the first half of the race looked much harder than the last. Therefore, I worked hard on the initial climbs and placed myself inside the top 15, aiming to hold this position all the way to the finish.

IMG_4846Pictured above: Halfway into the FlettaTrail, Malonno, Italy.

My race tactic was working perfectly, I was climbing well and feeling strong. At one point I even thought I might improve on top 15. However, about 8 miles later I really began to suffer. I was desperately thirsty and in need of an energy gel or a sugar boost. By mile 11 my wheels had well and truly fallen off. I reached the last checkpoint after a long descent and just stood for a minute whilst I downed about 5 cups of water. I walked for a small section and then dug deep for the last 2km until I reached the outskirts of the town. I’d lost 4 places in the last couple of miles but it wasn’t a complete disaster. 18th was still a respectable result and considering I wasn’t anywhere near top shape before the race, I can’t really complain.

IMG_4528Pictured above: The finish line with the FlettaTrail GB team and organisers

 

RESULTS | PHOTOS | STRAVA

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE WINNING. IT’S ABOUT THE JOURNEY, THE EXPERIENCE AND THE FRIENDS WE MAKE ALONG THE WAY.

Of course the race finished in the usual fashion, with plenty of wine, beer and food at the finish, followed by a party of EPIC proportions. The Italians might be the undisputed kings of mountain running, but we proved that the English are world leaders in drinking. What began as a fairly tame evening, suddenly transformed into one of the best nights I’ve ever had. By 8pm, it was like a scene from a typical FRA annual dinner. The beer was flowing, men were dancing topless and people were being thrown around the dancefloor as it began to turn into a mosh pit. Rob Jebb would have been proud. One of the funniest moments was when Marco Filosi, AKA. The Condor, took to the stage, grabbed the microphone and belted out some unplanned karaoke to hundreds of onlookers. The carnage continued long into the early hours. I unleashed a catalogue of my finest dance moves e.g. ‘The Chainsaw”© and “The Carrier Bag”©, Jack Wood was last seen licking men’s nipples and Heidi Davies drank more in 4 hours than she has done in 4 years.

It was certainly a night to remember.

IMG_4412Pictured above: Enjoying a beer with my friend Francesco Puppinho AKA. Puppi

PARTY.jpgPictured above: Heidi with the Italian team at the beginning of the night (Pre-carnage).

It’s not about the winning, it’s about the journey, the experience and the friends we make along the way. This was another unforgettable trip that I’ll never forget and I thank everyone who made it so memorable.

Of course, I couldn’t finish this blog without a huge thanks for the man that made all this possible. Alex Scolari AKA Skola, is a truly amazing guy. The time and energy he devotes to mountain running and the passion he has for the sport is unrivalled. It’s not possible to praise him enough. The FlettaTrail is a very special and unique race, and one that I’d recommend goes on every trail runner’s bucket list.

It’s true what they say, Malonno really is the home of mountain running.

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Pictured above: Enjoying a run in the mountains on our final day in Malonno with Jack, Kirsty and Puppi.

 

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