Race the train!

‘I FIND THAT THE HARDER I WORK, THE MORE LUCK I SEEM TO HAVE’ Thomas Jefferson

Running has provided me with a tremendous amount of opportunities over the last few years. I’ve been fortunate enough to represent my club, county and country at what I do best, I’ve competed in some brilliant races at home and abroad and I’m supported by three fantastic sponsors who have all helped me to achieve some amazing things. I consider myself to be a very lucky and privileged person. That said, I also know that I’ve worked extremely hard for all of my success thus far. I set myself challenging targets and do everything I can to achieve my goals. To quote the great Thomas Jefferson – ‘I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have’.
 A few weeks ago I received a phone call from one of the producers of BBC TV’s programme Countryfile. He asked me if I might consider being involved in an episode that would be filmed in Snowdonia. Immediately he had my full attention. This particular part of North Wales is extremely special to me. I love the Welsh people and I love the beautiful, natural environment with its majestic mountains and stunning coastline. I have many fond memories of spending summer holidays here during my childhood but most of all, I’ve always had a natural affinity and obsession with the country’s greatest natural landmark – Mount Snowdon. I’ve climbed Snowdon many times and last year I even finished 3rd in the prestigious Snowdon International mountain race. Since then I’ve made it my personal goal to one day return and try to add my name to the history books with a memorable victory of my own.
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Pictured above: A glorious sunset over the town of Llanberis, taken after the Snowdon Twilight Race 2015
So what exactly did they want me to do?
The proposal was particularly exciting. The idea being that I would take part in a race to the summit against one of the nation’s best loved presenters –John Craven‘Brilliant!’ I said. ‘I can definitely beat him’ (I hoped!)…I mean he must be at least 70! I might not even need a warm up!. Then came the real challenge – John would hitch a ride on the Snowdon Mountain Railway and I would run to the summit. It seemed I might just need that warm up after all.
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Pictured above: The summit of Snowdon (courtesy of the Snowdon Mountain Railway)

JOHN CRAVEN IS QUITE POSSIBLY THE NICEST AND HUMBLEST MAN I’VE EVER MET IN MY LIFE’

As I made my journey to Llanberis I started to feel a little anxious, especially at the thought of working with a TV legend like John Craven. But there was no need for me to feel nervous in the slightest. As soon as we met, any fears I had were immediately put to rest. I can confirm with the utmost confidence that John Craven is quite possibly the nicest and humblest man I’ve ever met in my life. In fact,  5 minutes later I’d completely forgotten just how famous he was and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of his company – what an absolute legend.
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Pictured above: The pre-race picture – Red vs Blue!
The morning of filming finally arrived and I woke up full of excitement. The sun was shining and the conditions were perfect – the mountains around Llanberis looked breathtaking. John was in such a good mood after watching Sunderland AFC avoid relegation the night before that I thought he might even have the energy to run up Snowdon with me! Although when he realised just how warm it was I think he was very relieved to have a ticket for the train.

‘HE (KENNY STUART) IS ONE OF MY HEROES AND ARGUABLY THE GREATEST FELL RUNNER OF ALL TIME’

I was given an Osmo camera to film my journey whilst John took the train and conducted three interviews en route to the summit with Stephen Edwards (Snowdon Race director), Ken Jones (Snowdon Race founder) and Kenny Stuart (Snowdon Race record holder and fell running legend).

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Pictured above: John interviewing myself and Kenny on the summit of Snowdon.
I must confess to being very relieved when I heard Kenny was taking the train to the top of the mountain – I was more scared of racing him than the train! At 59 years of age he is still in fantastic shape and looks every inch the athlete. One of the highlights of the day for me was getting to meet and chat with him. 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 and I was grateful for all of the advice he gave me.
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 Pictured above: With fell running legend Kenny Stuart – one of my heroes!
Unfortunately I must remain tight-lipped as to the result of the race but I can confirm it was a very close finish and should certainly make for good viewing.
In addition to this Top Gear style contest the episode will also help raise the profile of mountain running in the UK, showcase Snowdonia in it’s glorious splendour and highlight the effect the race has on tourism in the area. Remarkably it adds a colossal £250,000 to the area’s economy during race weekend. It’s amazing what the power of one mountain can do.
The programme is scheduled to air on BBC 1 on Sunday, 29th May 2016 at 7.00pm.
The 41st Snowdon International Race will take place on Saturday 16th July 2016 at 2.00pm and the highlights will be shown on S4C (time and date TBC).
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Pictured above: The final ascent to the summit (courtesy of the Snowdon Mountain Railway)

 

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The Mountains Are Calling…

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Like a drug, I need my regular fix. I can’t stay away for too long, it’s an addiction that needs feeding. Thankfully my problem is easily cured – a trip to the mountains is my only salvation.

The mountains are calling and I must go.

Ben Mounsey x Keswick x Shot By Robbie Jay Barratt-6

My love affair with the Lake District began 12 years ago. I’d been persuaded by a friend to join him for a weekend break in Keswick. It was my first experience of walking the fells and at the time I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know that this would prove to be a life-changing experience.

‘THERE STOOD BLENCATHRA, ITS SWEEPING CURVES BATHED IN GLORIOUS SUNSHINE’

My first glimpse of the impressive Lakeland peaks was from the car. As we drove down the A66 towards Keswick, the view in front quite literally took my breath away. It was a beautiful day and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. There stood the majestic Blencathra, its sweeping curves bathed in glorious sunshine. A little further on our left was the steep face of Clough Head, standing tall and proud at the head of the Helvellyn range. There was a stunning view in every single direction I turned. I was already getting excited and we’d not even reached our destination.

We were heading towards the tiny village of Grange, to walk up my first ever Lakeland fell, Catbells. I was promised a steep and challenging climb, with unbelievable panoramic views at the summit as my hard-earned reward.

I wasn’t disappointed. From the moment we began to rise above the valley bottom, I was in complete awe. That feeling of being immersed in the outdoors, with the sun on my back and amazing views of mountains in every direction will always remain one of my favourite memories.

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‘HE WAS MOVING EFFORTLESSLY, COMPLETELY WILD AND FREE

As we approached the summit we were passed by the lonely figure of a runner, I couldn’t believe it. Why would anyone want to run up a mountain? I was out of breath just walking! In comparison to me, he was moving effortlessly, completely wild and free. What was this strange and wonderful sport? I’d never seen anything like it in my life. It was an image I couldn’t get out of my head and when I returned home after the weekend I was determined to try ‘fell running’ for myself.

16th April 2016

Fast-forward 12 years. Today I’m making that very same journey I did all those years ago. As I head down the A66 I’m once again greeted by the ever-changing face of Blencathra and the range of impressive peaks that first helped me fall in love with this beautiful place. I can’t wait for my latest adventure to begin.

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I’ve been invited to Keswick to take part in a blogging event hosted by the outdoor retailer George Fisher, in partnership with Patagonia. The aim – to raise the profile of the organisation Fix The Fells and to make others aware of the fantastic work that they do. The event is also being held in conjunction with Patagonia’s Worn Wear tour. The Worn Wear program celebrates the stories of the clothes we wear. The company’s dedicated repair team keeps outdoor gear in action longer and provides an easy way to recycle Patagonia garments when they’re beyond repair.

I’m excited to meet the other bloggers and then embark on my own adventure for the day. It’s my choice what I decide to do today, but there’s only one thing I have in mind. I’m eager to return to the place where my fell running obsession began back in 2004.

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‘TODAY, FOR A CHANGE, I CAN ENJOY THE FELLS AT MY OWN PACE AND LEISURE

After a quick meet and greet at George Fisher, I make the short journey from Keswick to Grange and begin my steep walk to the summit of Catbells. It’s a fantastic opportunity to try out all my new inov-8 gear in the environment it was designed for. There is of course another reason to climb this fabulous peak, as today, I can watch the two fell races that are taking place on this mountain range – The Anniversary Waltz and the Teenager With Altitude. Both are extremely tough challenges and not for the faint-hearted, especially the latter which has a strict selection policy for those even attempting to make the start line. I was initially planning on taking part in the Waltz, but time constraints mean that I’ll have to settle for spectating. To be honest, I’m not too disappointed, as after a few months of hard racing, my body feels ready for a break. It means that today, for a change, I can enjoy the fells at my own pace and leisure.

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‘IT’S POPULARITY IS WELL DESERVED, IT’S SHAPELY TOPKNOT ATTRACTS THE EYE OFFERING A STEEP BUT OBVIOUSLY SIMPLE SCRAMBLEAlfred Wainwright

I take my time to reach the summit. Just as I arrive the sun breaks through the clouds and I’m basking in its warm golden glow. I find a quiet spot to enjoy the breathtaking, panoramic views. There is no other place I’d rather be right now. Laid before me is the magnificent sight of Derwent Water, with the mighty Skiddaw rising into full view and Blencathra in all its splendour. To the east lies the Newlands Valley and beyond it the Coledale Round, with the intimidating summit of Grisedale Pike poking majestically through the clouds. Towards the west, I admire the great Helvellyn range and beyond. I can appreciate why Alfred Wainwright described this as a firm family favourite, a beloved place where people of all ages can climb the heights together. It’s in this perfect moment that I’m reminded exactly why and how, I fell in love with the Lake District.

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‘NOW IT’S TIME I GAVE SOMETHING BACK TO A SPORT AND A PLACE THAT HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH WITHOUT RETURN’

Since that first ascent of Catbells I’ve worked hard to become one of the country’s leading fell runners. The journey I embarked on all those years ago has been very challenging, yet extremely rewarding. I’ve so much to be thankful for and the Lakeland fells will always hold a deep and special meaning to me. I’ve enjoyed running on the trails and paths in all kinds of weather conditions. I’ve met some amazing like-minded people along the way and made lifelong friends. We’ve shared experiences that have changed my life and shaped the person that I am today. Each and every visit has been memorable – the mountains are where I belong and I’m always drawn back to them. Now it’s time I gave something back to the sport and to the place that has given me so much without return.

Ben Mounsey x Keswick x Shot By Robbie Jay Barratt-73

‘FOR YEARS I’VE TAKEN THEIR AMAZING WORK FOR GRANTED’

Fix the Fells protects our spectacular Lakeland fells from erosion. Their team of skilled rangers and volunteers repair and maintain the mountain paths that are used by so many of us. It should also be noted that they receive no government funding and rely solely on income generated from donations and partners. After the heavy flooding at the beginning of this year there is much work to be done. Without our help and support it would be an insurmountable task to repair all the damage that’s been caused by nature’s powerful hand.

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For years, I’ve taken their amazing work for granted – it’s easily done. I’ve used the fells for my own benefit and enjoyment and not once contributed or spared a thought to the great work that they do. I know I’m not alone either. Millions of people each year walk, climb and run in this beautiful environment and it’s important that we now work together to preserve the trails and paths so that we may continue to enjoy them for many more years to come.

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So what can we do to help?

Everyone can help by keeping to the paths wherever possible to avoid causing erosion damage and by raising awareness of why that is important. You can of course make a donation to the organisation to ensure that they can continue their superb work – every penny counts! You could also volunteer to help with vital restorative work and improvements to the appearance and functionality of the Lakeland fells. Most importantly, we need to make sure that we publicise and support this superb organisation as much as possible. Please spread the word, encourage others to get involved, but most of all respect our beautiful environment.

The mountains need us and we must obey.

Mountains

Ben Mounsey x Keswick x Shot By Robbie Jay Barratt-4

All photographs taken by Robbie Jay Barratt

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