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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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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‘Better call Phil!’

HOW IMPORTANT IS A RACE RECCE? 

Fell running is becoming an increasingly popular sport. These days the racing calendar is so heavily saturated you could race a couple of times a week if you wanted to or even twice in the same day like my hardy friend Darren Fishwick of Chorley AC. However, it’s almost impossible to find the time to practise every single race that you intend to do. So just how important is a recce?

This year I’ve had to think very carefully about choosing which races I want focus on, everything else has to fit in and become preparation for these key events. My first major goal is to try and prepare for Black Combe, the opening race of the British Fell Championship. I’ve competed on this course once before in 2008, the last time it was a Championship fixture. Unfortunately for me I don’t have any fond memories of that miserable experience.

Results: Black Combe Fell Race 2008

Many of you reading this will be very unsurprised to hear that I didn’t have time to recce the course beforehand, so I turned up blind on race day and relied on the rest of the field to show me the way. The only ‘small’ problem that I had with this plan was the bad weather. Black Combe is located on the edge of the west coast so there is very little protection from the wind and rain. In addition to this the heavy fog clouded our vision and as soon as we climbed up to the first summit it was impossible to see much for the rest of the race. My plan of following the leaders soon came to a swift and very abrupt end when I lost sight of the person in front of me. I wandered aimlessly trying to find my way to the final checkpoint and trudged into the home straight several minutes down on my expected time. I finished way down in 47th position with many of the other big names in fell running, most notably Morgan Donnelly and Ben Abdelnoor. It was certainly one of those days to forget. Still it could’ve been worse- by all accounts Steve Smithies ran most of the fell race on the main road, much to my amusement!

‘BETTER CALL PHIL!

This year I’m desperate not to repeat the same mistake as I did in 2008. I would simply have to make more effort to recce the course.

So what to do in my hour of need?

Only one thing for it I thought…better call Phil!

Better Call Phil

Within the fell running community Phil Winskill barely requires an introduction. He’s the life and soul of every post-race party, the undisputed king of social media and head of online banter. His daily running diary on Strava is what inspired me to start writing my blog so it seems only fair to honour him in this post. We’ve been good friends for many years and it’s a highlight of every fell race or away weekend when we get to meet up. Whenever I require some navigation help, a laugh or a beer then Phil’s the man to ring. So naturally when I needed to spend some time getting familiar with the Black Combe race route he was the obvious choice to show me the way. It was nothing to do with the fact that I’d exhausted all the other fell running contacts in my phonebook or because everyone else I know was actually working midweek. Luckily for me we’re both teachers and we’d agreed to find a few hours on a Friday (Feb half term) in between marking and planning outstanding lessons for the following week 😉

Pictured above: Classic Winskill taking fell racing seriously in Grizedale Forest (left) and looking good in the Latrigg Fell Race (right) www.granddayoutphotography.co.uk

I woke up that Friday morning with a smile. The weather had been stunning the previous day and I was praying for similar conditions. Plus heading up to the Lakes instead of going to work always fills me with excitement. I’d agreed to meet Phil close to the race start at Silecroft and he’d also managed to persuade a couple more runners to join us – Borrowdale’s Martin Mikkelsen-Barron and Keswick’s latest signing James Appleton. I’ve been friends with Martin for years and we’ve battled against each other many times on the fells. He’s a great bloke and without doubt one of the best climbers in the country (It probably helps weighing less than 10 stone!). I’d never met James before and at first I did wonder what he was letting himself in for when he set off through the mud in a pair of Hoka road shoes. However any doubts about his experience and ability were quickly put to rest once I watched him skip effortlessly up the first climb. It also turns out he’s quite a famous photographer and unbelievably one of my students had recently written about him as part of their coursework – weird!

‘ANYONE WHO GOES OFF TOO HARD AT THE START OF THE RACE WILL INEVITABLY PAY A HEAVY PRICE FOR THEIR EARLIER EFFORT’

It was on this initial ascent that we paused to discuss route choice. Was it quicker to climb steeply to the top of Sea Ness or traverse around on a longer but more runnable path to the summit? Martin and I decided to test our climbing legs and head straight up as Phil and James opted for the latter. We jogged slowly, chatting on the way and emerged as the first pair to the top. Phil assured me that his route was still quicker as he’d stopped for a leak on the way up. It doesn’t matter anyway as I know which way I’ll be going on race day – no doubt following Martin’s footsteps on the steep ascent. One good reason so far for making the long journey up to Cumbria.

From here we climbed steadily to the summit of Black Combe. It’s difficult to appreciate the elevation gain as this section of the race is extremely fast. There is a real temptation to push hard at this point but I have a vague memory of the punishing climb in the last few miles from the Stream Junction to the South Summit. Anyone who goes off too hard at the start of the race will inevitably pay a heavy price for their earlier effort. Mental note to self – don’t be that guy! (fully aware that I’m probably gonna be that guy!).

It wasn’t long before we disappeared into a thick layer of mist and the weather quickly began to deteriorate. The glorious sunshine from the day before was all but a distant memory – I was regretting not checking the weather forecast in advance! The nice enjoyable part of the recce had drawn to a close and I was very grateful for the fact that I was wearing 2 pairs of gloves and 3 layers! – merino, softshell and waterproof. If anything I was probably too warm in my choice of attire but it was comforting to listen to the other lads whimpering about being too cold halfway round the route.

FogPictured above: The ‘stunning view’ from the top of Black Combe. If you look closely you can see the coast of Ireland 😉

At this point we were using Phil’s handheld GPS to guide us to the next checkpoint but he was already very confident about getting to White Combe. It’s a good job really as the rest of us didn’t have a clue in which direction we were suppose to be heading. This section of the race is almost featureless and there are many paths and trods that can lead you astray. It’s very easy to go wrong and it brought back painful and frustrating memories of 2008.

Eventually we dropped to the stream junction, probably not the easiest or quickest way, but we got there in the end. Just the evil climb up to the south summit to contend with. I dropped a cheeky gel on the approach to try and give me some extra energy to beast Phil on the climb. He caught me red handed but it was too late by then, he knew the score. We hit the ascent and quickly settled into a steady rhythm/slow shuffle. It’s important to pace your effort on this climb as it’s notoriously long and steep. This is where the race will undoubtably be won OR lost. I’ve been really concentrating on improving my climbing ability this year and I was keen to test my legs. My Trooper Lane hill sessions have obviously been doing the job as I managed to run every section of the ascent. I’m not convinced that this will be the case on race day but I felt really strong so it’s given me a big confidence boost. Annoyingly it appears Martin is also climbing well (not that this was ever in doubt) and we chatted most of the way up. James was equally as impressive – it must be all the training he does carrying expensive photography equipment to the top of mountains!

When we eventually reached the summit we didn’t hang about, the weather was atrocious. I was almost tempted to lend Phil my spare pair of gloves but I was enjoying the feeling of warm hands far too much. We descended at pace, all except James who was of course wearing road shoes. He did explain later that he’s nursing an injury and the extra ‘bounce’ in the sole helps to ease the pain.

A SURE SIGN THAT IT WAS DEFINITELY TIME FOR A PINT’

By the time we reach our cars it was raining hard and we were all completely soaked to the bone. I unlocked the car door and quickly jumped onto the back seat to get changed into some warm clothes. 10 minutes later and I found myself in a rather embarrassing predicament. I’d borrowed my mum’s car for the drive up and didn’t realise she had a child lock on both of the back doors. Thankfully Martin was kind enough to let me out (after laughing for a few minutes) so it’s a good job I wasn’t on my own or I might have still been there. A sure sign that it was definitely time for a pint!

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/497194149

SO WHAT DID I LEARN FROM TODAY

  1. In terms of the route it looked exactly like it did in 2008. Had it not been for Phil’s navigation and handheld GPS I’d probably still be running around on top of Black Combe like a headless chicken. I’m no more confident about the navigation except for the steep climb to Sea Ness.
  2. I managed to run all of the climbs so I know I’m in great shape.
  3. Always check the weather forecast before a recce.
  4. If you borrow your mum’s car, always take off the child lock.
  5. Martin weighs less than me.
  6. Martin is still a better climber than me.
  7. James is one amazing photographer www.jamesappleton.co.uk
  8. The Miners Arms in Silecroft doesn’t open till 3pm on a Friday
  9. The inov-8 X-talon 190 are miles better than Hoka road shoes for fell running ;-)(especially downhill!).
  10. A recce is best shared with friends and washed down with a well earned pint.
  11. But most importantly what I really learned is that everyone needs a bit of Winskill in their life.

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