“The struggle is great, the task divine – to gain mastery, freedom, happiness and tranquility” Epictetus
Monday morning and already the thermometer shows over 30’C in Vieste, Italy and it’s not even 8am. Decision made. Back up to the cool shade in Foresta Umbra, the venue for the recent 2022 World Masters Orienteering Championships.
Opening ceremony in Vieste
Hard to believe almost 3000 competitors were here only a couple of days ago. Now the woods are empty, I have them all to myself. It’s my first run since finishing the Long Distance race on Saturday and my right achilles has tightened up.
First I go for a walk, stretch the legs, have a look at where the finish Arena was. Just a few butterflies fluttering around in the sunny grass paddock. A big terrapin plops into the brown water of the lake when I venture for a closer look.
Back to lace up my shoes, then a slow jog with a map and my phone for taking photos.
Foresta Umbra is perched high above the coastline of south-eastern Italy, around 1000m above sea level. It’s ancient beech woodland on limestone. In addition to the usual hills, lumps and bumps, there are huge holes worn into the rock.
This makes the orienteering here so challenging. Contours mark both hills and these depressions creating confusion with your mental picture when you mistake one for the other. It’s also hard to see these big depressions from far away. They only take shape when you’re right on the edge. Some of them are very steep, guarded by cliffs a few metres high.
Sprint Qualification in Peschici
A perfect place for these World Championships.
Jogging along and the map reading is easy. It’s a whole different ball game with the pressure of competition, when you’re running as hard as you can, making smart decisions, trying to look at map, compass and the ground all at the same time. Difficult to ignore other competitors running in all directions, some going quicker and looking more competent than you.
It’s such a tempting place to run faster than you can map read. A small error can lose a huge amount of time as everywhere looks the same and can be made to ‘fit’ with only a small amount of imagination.
So easy to lose concentration. Any lapse is going to get punished severely.
Confidence – gone.
Sprint Qualification in Peschici
That’s the game. That’s the reason we do it. To test ourselves against the forest, the terrain, the map and the course. It’s both physically and mentally challenging.
You’re on your own. It’s a time trial and you haven’t a clue which way others are going to the various checkpoints, or how fast they may be running. The pressure can mount too as the fastest orienteers in qualifying set off last. Only when everyone has finished do you get to compare times, see how you fared, what your final position is.
Anyone can have a ‘good run’ orienteering. Do enough events and one of them is sure to stand out.
Yet it’s harder to produce the goods when it really matters. And the World Masters is the biggest stage of all for orienteers around the world aged 35 and over. Being an ‘open’ championships, you’re not ‘picked’ to represent your country, so there’s no politics to bother about. No selection policies, no selection panels.
Anyone, anywhere, can have a dream, enter online, put the hard yards in, turn up and see what they’re made of against the best in the World.
That’s what I like most about the event.
Sprint Final Medal ceremony in Vieste
So what does success feel like now that I’ve stood on top of the podium with a gold medal round my neck after the Sprint Final and can now call myself a World Champion?
Here’s a great definition of success from the coach John Wooden:
“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming”
I’m sitting in a doctor’s surgery waiting for my appointment. I can’t walk properly anymore. Most of my toes are battered and bruised, the nails blackened, and my left big toe is horribly swollen and inflamed with infection.
Let me explain.
I’ve been up in Scotland for a week, helping my friend Dan achieve a life long ambition to complete a continuous Munro round climbing all 282 of them. For the uninitiated, Munros are all the mountains in Scotland over 3000ft, and the idea is that you do it all under your own steam : running and walking in the mountains, cycling or kayaking between them.
The proposition initially sounded quite simple – just come along to keep Dan company, maybe carry some extra gear for him, going nice and slow for a few hours each day, no worries…
The reality was a little different.
Dan Duxbury is a likeable primary school teacher from Kendal, renowned for his good humour and general bonhomie. Unfortunately for all his friends and family, 20 years ago, Dan read “Running High”, by Hugh Symonds. Hugh was an outdoor fitness fanatic who taught at a posh public school in Sedbergh and decided to take time off work for a personal challenge to complete all the Scottish Munros under his own steam. The momentum of his efforts, along with, I guess, a strong desire not to return back to work, made him extend the trip to Wales and then Ireland.
Dan read the book and wanted to follow in his footsteps.
There’s nothing like a deadline to get a job done, and I guess Dan turning 40 this year has had the desired effect. A plan was made. A plea was made. The school governors met in secret in the Rifleman’s pub in Kendal and after 7 pints agreed to let Dan take some unpaid leave to see if he could emulate Hugh.
It’s not as though he’d be needed for an Offsted inspection or anything …
So Dan set off on 14th April 2014, determined to stick to Stephen Pike, “Spike’s” record schedule, mainly because it was easier to follow Spike’s than to create a new schedule of his own. Spike completed his continuous Munro round in 2010 in 39 days, and Dan re-worked the schedule to his own requirements, making his own record attempt of 38 days.
Remarkably, Dan kept on Spike’s schedule for the first 14 days until an unlucky twisted ankle forced him to take a day off. Instead of just enjoying a few weeks of freedom from work, he got the ankle strapped up, paid a visit to a pharmacy, and got stuck in.
I joined the team a week ago, as a weak excuse to get away from the responsibilities of having a young family and running a business, and to “enjoy” a week in the mountains of Bonnie Scotland with some good friends.
I travelled up to Scotland with Fred – aka Jon Deegan, a specialist optometrist who works three days a week preying on the rich, old and vulnerable who have come to the Lake District to live out their twilight years. The rest of the week he’s out running in the hills or cycling on the lanes, skiing in the winter – he only stops for food and drink. Fred is 47 years old, but could outrun someone 20 years younger. His cheekbones stand out like a challenge, as if to say, “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”.
Time keeping isn’t one of Fred’s strong points though, and we eventually set off from Kendal 3 or 4 hours later than planned. We called Ben at mission control with our new ETA. After a short detour to one of Fred’s favourite Highland pubs for haggis, neeps, tatties, and a pint to quench our thirst, we finally joined Dan and the team an hour later than expected. We pitched the small two man tent in the pouring rain, crawled into our sleeping bags, and got rudely awoken only hours later at 3am by a cacophony of bird song.
We’d been assured by Dan that the first day was an “easy” day, with a late start, so we didn’t need to get up until 6am and could have a lie in. By 7am we were on our way in Fred’s car to our rendezvous point near Loch Laggan a few miles up the road. Dan would be cycling there – into the wind, into the rain. We’d been loaded up with all the food for the day, Dan’s gear, ice axes, poles etc and headed off in good spirits into the heavy grey clouds where the hills must be. It even stopped raining briefly so we could get our bearings and admire the rainbows. Dan quickly caught us up – this time he was on a mountain bike, having exchanged the road bike at the rendezvous point. He rode as far as he could along the rough track, before discarding the bike. It would be picked up later by Ben & Christeen during a romantic walk in the rain.
So the three of us climbed into the clouds, following the compass bearing to the summit of Creag Pitridh, the first of the seven Munros on today’s schedule. Most of the Munros have stupid, made up, Scottish names, a jumbled mix of vowels and consonants that no one can pronounce or even remember afterwards. This adds to the charm of the whole enterprise of Munro bagging, as you can only talk about them in sweeping, generalised terms. These next two days would in future be referred to as the Ben Alder Munros – it makes it sound easy, as though you’ve only been up one mountain, when in fact the real tally is fourteen.
On the penultimate snow capped summit, we were greeted by the distinctive lone figure of Mark Roberts, appearing like a Ghost runner out of the clouds. Mark had cycled more than 10 miles on a mountain bike, with Sam, to our overnight accommodation, both weighed down with more food, extra clothing and camping gear. Now he’d run up today’s final two Munros to guide us safely back down the dangerously steep, narrow snow slope – the only way off the mountain.
When we reached the valley floor eight and a half hours after setting off, the bothy was closed, contaminated with asbestos. “Do not enter, serious health risk” said the signs. But it was raining hard, we were wet through and cold, the bothy was understandably empty and we would have it all to ourselves. It also had a wood burner with three damp pieces of wood and five soggy pieces of peat. The main selling point though was the door was unlocked, so we threw caution to the wind and made it our home for the night.
We got a miserable, smouldering fire going eventually. It didn’t give off any heat, but the dense smoke masked the asbestos dust. We kidded ourselves that this was better than camping. We huddled around a “pocket rocket” gas stove boiling water to rehydrate dinner. To cook, you simply pour the boiling water into a bag of toxic looking dust, leave for 5 or 6 minutes, until the mess has turned into a sludge, then eat it all up trying to guess what the hell it is. It’s survival food really, and Dan has been eating this filth since he started. He even had his favourite brand. Sad but true.
It’s worth looking on at the scene inside, from the fly on the wall perspective. Not that there were any flies in this particular bothy anymore – they’d all died long ago from asbestosis. This imaginary fly can see four grown men, grey stubble on the chins of three, and a silver beard on the chin of Dan, their “master”, all sitting close together in semi darkness, in thick smoke, wearing plastic shopping bags on their feet, stinking of stale goat, and steaming gently, telling stories and laughing. They are ENJOYING themselves! Their wives and children are all watching telly back home in the comfort of their warm living rooms, yet this quartet seem to PREFER the bothy after eight and a half hours of running over seven huge mountains in the rain.
We were woken abruptly early the next morning. The hammering rain on the roof of the bothy suddenly stopped, and an eerie silence shattered our slumber, making us all wake with a start, as if still in a dream. It really had stopped raining though, we could quite clearly hear Fred attending to a call of nature outside, against the back wall of the bothy.
Breakfast was more dehydrated filth, this time the sludge had a porridge like consistency, and it was some relief to find all the dried food had been consumed and we could get outside, get moving, and warm up again. The clock was ticking and it would soon be 6.30am. Dan assured us we were in for another easy day and we spent the first hour dreaming about having a good strong coffee in Fort William later that afternoon, after knocking off the seven Munros on today’s list. The only one anyone can remember, is also the biggest of the lot, Ben Alder.
We left Mark behind to tidy everything up. There was no point in all four of us being exposed unnecessarily to the dangerous asbestos dust, and Mark was the oldest. He’d had a good life so far, and it would probably end soon anyway on the ten mile mountain bike ride back to his van parked at Dalwhinnie, weighed down by an impossibly heavy rucksac of wet, used running and camping gear, including Fred’s four season sleeping bag.
With the weather looking good, the views were truly spectacular. Yet this also made things a shade harder for us, as today we could actually see where we were going. The mountains on our list looked enormous, and the distances between them appeared impossible.
You can tell the Scottish prefer a wee dram inside a warm pub to hill walking, as there are very few signs of the eroded paths we take for granted in the Lake District. This means you’re pretty much on your own in the mountains and you have to find your own routes. Underfoot conditions varied from thigh deep peat bog to ankle deep peat bog, with some rock and snow near the summits. This meant you were literally wading through wet, cold, black bog all day long. It was a relief to cross the streams and rivers to briefly wash it all off before starting the process all over again. With no paths to follow, we simply took straight vertical lines up and down the Munros, and straight lines between them.
After seven hours, we were still some way off finishing, and still had three Munros to climb. We had a food amnesty and pooled our remaining meagre resources to divide up the final calories for the day. In an asbestosis fuelled fit of enthusiasm, Mark had suggested catching up with us for the final few Munros. Providing, of course, he’d survived the weighed down mountain bike ride back to his van. We knew he was out there somewhere too, because we’d passed his “spoor” some time ago – footprints of his size 4 ½ Mudclaws heading off in the opposite direction. Despite the good weather and good visibility, he’d not seen us.
We’d been banking on Mark to bring us much needed extra food, and we chatted amongst the three of us about how selfish some of these elite international athlete types can be. Going off on their own on long training runs when they really should be helping Dan.
After ten hours, there were still two Munros left and we were half way up a vertical incline when the silhouette of a stag appeared on the distant horizon behind us. We were hallucinating slightly as the stag was a small one and only had two legs with no antlers and seemed to be shouting. It was Mark. We were saved. There was still a long way of vertical ascent to go before we would meet in the middle of the col, and we guessed what goodies he may have brought for us. Fresh doughnuts with jam inside, dusted with sugar? Three mini pork pies each and a family sized packet of smoky bacon flavoured crisps to share between us? Sandwiches of avocado, bacon and mixed salad leaves with a light balsamic dressing on thick wholemeal bread plastered with REAL butter?
When we finally met with our saviour, we wolfed down the packet of Jaffa cakes on offer, and headed for the summit. Having saved us from starvation, Mark then jogged off on another long training run on his own and left us to get on with the day’s final Munro – Stob Coire Sgriodain. That really is what it’s called by the way, I’m not just making it up.
By the time cars and vans had been picked up from various rendezvous points, kit sorted, a quick meal wolfed down, it had gone dark, was well after 11pm and it had started raining again. Fred set off on the long drive back to Kendal throughout the night so he could be in time for his daughter’s 10th birthday, arriving home around 4.30am.
Another restless night in a wet tent with damp sleeping bag and the improbable 3am dawn chorus, then into yesterday’s wet and smelly gear, then off again at 6.30am with Dan and Mark for a long, long day ticking off the 10 Munros of the Grey Corries – Ben Nevis being the only one of the group that can be remembered, and that beast was the final one of the day. I dropped off Aonach Mor to hitch back to get Mark’s van, but that’s another story. As was the next day, with the 10 Munros of the Mamores.
So that covers the first few days and the week keeps going and going with the days on the hill getting longer and longer culminating in a mammoth 15 ½ hour day and 8 Munros on Knoydart. I could write a whole book about that experience.
The combination of trench foot conditions for 12-15 hours a day, kicking snow steps with Mudclaws, little sleep and poor hygiene finally reduced me to the damaged state I’m now in. Almost everyone coming back from Scotland is in a similar situation – broken and humbled by the sheer scale of this daily challenge.
Yet remarkably, one bearded, determined, strong, young man keeps going relentlessly and shows no signs of stopping. Despite the pain from his ankle, despite the impossible, monumental task he has set for himself, despite the lack of sleep, despite missing his family, Dan continues to make incredible progress, setting off at dawn and finishing at dusk, day after day after day.
It’s been an amazing week in so many ways, yet there is an image that stays with me, of Dan rhythmically climbing yet another almost vertical slope, not stopping for a breather until he’s reached the summit, then jogging off in search of the next one on his list.
Dan, you are an inspiration – thank you for letting me play a small part in your amazing Munro round. I’m already looking forward to sharing a celebratory pint with you on your successful return.
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you’ve got”
17th March 2022
I’d forgotten all about writing this piece until recently finding ‘Running High’ in a charity shop, the book written by Hugh Symonds and the inspiration for Dan Duxbury’s own solo round in 2014. I thought it would be good to publish on my own website, as it brought back so many happy memories of a great week in Scotland. Most of the photos were taken in better weather conditions on Knoydart. Me and Dan set off at 4.45am, completing all the 8 Munros in an epic 15 hour day. It finished me off, yet Dan kept on going, with a further 99 Munros left to complete the lot.
Thursday evening and I’m a little apprehensive. This was my first time recording a Zoom chat and I’m interviewing GB athlete Chris Holdsworth. I’ve known Chris for a number of years. He’s a Lakeland Trails regular, one of inov-8’s ambassadors, a proper nice guy and I’m looking forward to finding out a bit more about him.
I’m nervous because me and tech don’t get on. I think something’s bound to go wrong, that I’ll cock it all up and will waste Chris’s evening.
To my surprise, everything technical went smoothly. Almost two hours later, conversation still in full flow, we had to call a halt. It was way past my bedtime!
Here’s a snapshot of the recording of my ‘run in with Chris’.
When did you first start running?
I was around 22, so a late starter, really. It was after finishing studying for an Arts degree at Leeds. Running was just not on my radar back then and when I did start, it was like being introduced to another world. I did a couple of low key races, setting off too fast and dying badly. Then in 2015 my Uncle Breton took me along to the Lakeland Trails in Cartmel and that event completely blew me away. I was hooked and in love with the sport.
How many Lakeland Trails have you run and won? Which is your favourite?
So far, I’m up to 16 Lakeland Trails events, winning 9 of them. Every time I run one of the courses, I think that’s my favourite. Then I change my mind when I run a different one, and that becomes my new favourite. Currently, it’s the Coniston Trail, I think!
Would you please tell me a little bit about yourself?
I’m 31, Burnley born and bred, living here with my wife Sophie – we married only a month ago, the pandemic threw our plans out a bit. Until very recently I worked as a Marketing Manager. I’m a member of Clayton le Moors Harriers for road, trail and cross country and Calder Valley Fell Runners for fell races.
How often do you train?
I train a minimum of 6 days a week, with either an easy jog or a rest day usually on the Friday, or working around the current job if needs be. Usually I will clock around 8-9 hours of running and aim to get 80 miles in by the Sunday. A comfortable target at the minute, and aim to increase this, body allowing, to progress the long distance running further.
Any cross training?
I wish I enjoyed cycling, but anytime I cycle, I just wish I was running! I strength train, focusing mainly on glute activation as I’m woefully weak from years at sitting at a desk.
What about your metrics – your resting pulse, height and weight, could you share these with me please?
My resting pulse averages between 40-42. I am 5ft 11” and weigh 9 stone 10 – at least I did the day before my wedding just over a month ago. I’ll pretend it’s still the same despite a honeymoon, Christmas and my birthday occurring since then!
How about PB Times?
5K: 14.55 (Podium 5K in 2018)
10K: 30.27 (Telford 10K in 2018)
Half Marathon: 68.21 (North Lakes New Year Half Marathon in 2019)
Marathon: 2.37.11 (Edinburgh Marathon) – although have since run a 2.28 marathon including 1,700 ft of climb in training during Lockdown, though I don’t think Power of 10 will accept it!
Favourite Running Shoes?
For long distances, I’ll use inov-8 Terra Ultra G270. For short distances I usually switch between the inov-8 X-Talon 210 and inov-8 X-Talon 225 depending on the length and technicality of the course.
You have represented Great Britain a few times. How did your International journey start?
By accident, really. I ran in the Three Peaks Race without realising it was a Trial Race for the GB Team. So it was a real surprise being told afterwards when I finished 3rd and sub 2 hours 55 minutes, that I was selected to run for Great Britain in the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Premana, Italy. The course was the most technical I’d ever run, far from my comforts of pure out and out speed on runnable trails and was a tough day at the office. Finishing battered and bruised, in around 35th, from memory, but gaining lots of experience from it. Sadly, injuries and pandemics kept me out of subsequent qualification races, despite feeling a much stronger runner since then, so hopefully I can have another crack at that again in the future.
Best GB Position?
Possibly coming 2nd at the Snowdon International Mountain Race. Maybe I was good enough to win on the day, but misjudging the climb, arriving at the top in 5th, managing to pull it back with a descent, passing Zak Hanna, Rob Samuel and the late Chris Smith to finish first GB runner home.
Now I hear you’re following in my footsteps and have become a race organiser. Could you tell me how the Pennine Trails came about?
I started Pennine Trails in 2019. We started from scratch, with no investment and nothing but our enthusiasm, a love of trail running and creating good time experiences. After one year, and a Global Pandemic, we have 7 races to our name and intend to expand further.
They’re an open love letter to Lakeland Trails and some European trail races – my sole intention is to bring exciting and scenic trail races to the Pennines.
Thanks very much for your time Chris – it’s been a pleasure and best of luck for the future!
After our interview, I thought about all the things we’d talked about, liking Chris, as a person, even more. An open love letter? What a lovely thing to say about the Lakeland Trails, events I’d put my own heart and soul into for 16 years.
If inspiration is the spark that ignites the fire, then motivation is surely what keeps that fire burning.
That pull to get out when it’s freezing cold, grey and pouring down outside. When you feel knackered after a poor night’s sleep. Despite the time demands of family and work life. The persistence, patience and optimism you need to struggle with an illness or injury.
High on Helvellyn
It’s easy when the sun’s shining, when things go well. Yet how do we keep our motivation going strong when the wheels fall off?
We all have times when things don’t go to plan. When life throws a ‘wild card’ and it’s a struggle to come to terms with a cheese that’s moved. The wind goes out of our sails. Motivation ebbs away.
When I started writing this piece, I was two months into a chronic achilles injury that just wasn’t responding to physio treatment. I couldn’t run a step. Now I’m back running and on the road to recovery. It’s taken almost four months, yet I’ve taken strength from others who have had even greater hardships to overcome.
Covid-19 has been a big one affecting motivation in all of us, especially young people.
Imagine being just 17 or 18 again. You’re motivated, training hard in Lockdown on your own, dreaming of that big moment. Putting in the miles running from home, using a turbo trainer or treadmill indoors. Succeeding in the GB Orienteering Trials, getting picked to represent your country for a major Junior Championship.
Then bang. It’s over.
At the last minute the GB team is pulled from the event. Dreams are shattered. Totally and utterly demoralising. Enough to put out anyone’s fire.
How do you motivate a young person after such a setback?
Remarkable then, that one young woman, Megan Keith, simply switched to a different discipline, winning the recent Under 20’s European Cross Country Championships in Ireland. Another gold medal to add to the World Junior Orienteering Championship gold relay medal she won in Denmark two years ago. What a role model she is!
As we get older and more experienced with life’s ups and downs, it’s easier to rationalise, to see the upside of these hurdles. Being injured for a few months was like that for me. What could I do to keep myself motivated? Maybe start seeing my injury as an opportunity?
Time to change old habits? Try something new? Every day that passes can now go into recharging my motivation batteries. Just thinking how great it’s going to be when the injury has resolved, running pain-free again, helps with motivation.
Running pain free in Hungary, August 2021
It concentrates mind and body overcoming challenges. Doing what it takes. Getting advice and treatment. The dreaded cross training. Strength and conditioning exercises.
No better time to set yourself a lofty goal or two. Enter an event in the distant future – in my case, the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Italy next July and of course, some of the Lakeland Trails events.
Sit down and make a plan. You can drop me a line if you need help or any coaching advice.
I could still go Nordic walking with poles in the mountains and on the Lakeland Trails instead of running, to shouts of ‘where are your skis’? Using poles is great cross training too, taking 25-30% load off your lower limbs, improving upper body strength and keeping stride symmetry, essential when you’re recovering from injury and have a tendency to favour the non injured leg.
The author Nordic walking October’s Ullwater Trail
And who would have thought cycling on a turbo trainer in the dark winter nights could actually be a perverse kind of pleasure? Additional aerobic, impact free, training hours too.
Reading, or listening, to books. Almost any biography written about a famous sporting person will reveal how they overcame their own hardships and challenges, over and over again. My all time favourite amongst these is “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.
Closer to home, taking inspiration from others by remembering success stories from a couple of the runners I have worked with. Witnessing first hand and achieving what was thought impossible, such as Jamie Rennie’s Bob Graham Round back in April.
Jamie Rennie with son Charlie training for the Bob on the Helvellyn ridge
Matt Jenkinson’s zero to hero dream of running the Lakeland 50 and the kind words he sent me afterwards:
“The goal of running the Lakeland 50 was born from frustration at a National lockdown affecting other activities, a need to stay fit following the birth of my son and the realisation that, at nearly 40 years old, I had never trained for any physical activity, or goal, in my life.
It took a lot of work, and a lot of support and advice from Graham, to get me over that line. It felt like every single step during training I’d had to grit my teeth and remind myself of the goal to get through.
Snowing – tough. Can’t be bothered – tough. Too hilly – tough.
When I crossed that line, it seemed like every single minute of grind and effort was released in a wave of relief, excitement, sadness that it was over and personal pride that I had shown I could do this, mentally and physically.
I was a walking contradiction.
I told the lady who met me and my friend at the line that I was never running again, whilst also wondering when the 2022 entries would open again.
Do it. Find a goal, find the right people to support you ,and go for it. You won’t regret it and those emotions at the finish line will stay with you, if not indefinitely, for a very long time. And then you will need a top up!”
Matt Jenkinson, Finisher, Lakeland 50, July 2021 (and 2022 entrant!)
Matt immediately after finishing the Lakeland 50
Reminders that nothing really memorable or worthwhile comes easy in life. We need these setbacks to test our character, to see what we’re made of. We can all look for the gift in adversity.
As the sun sets on another year, there’s no better time to put our motivation in motion right now. Is there?
Finding Inspiration at the Lakeland Trails “Dirty Double”
Isn’t it always the same when you’re side-lined with a running injury? As days turn to weeks, then into months, there’s almost an acceptance that races are a thing of the past. Having achilles trouble has meant I haven’t run with a spring in my step for three months.
High on the Kentmere fells
That’s not stopped me from enjoying the mountains, the autumn, the fresh air and even exercising. I’m still able to Nordic walk with poles, get on my bike and go for a ride. Then there are the boring exercises from my physio. Tentative easy walk/jogs along the river, hoping to see the flash of a kingfisher.
It’s just not the same as bounding along, day-dreaming about how fast you may be able to run one day.
Hard to believe that the last time was in the heat of the summer, in the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Hungary, finishing 4th, only twelve seconds behind the winner. That race was the beginning of the end.
Finishing the World Masters Championships in Hungary back in August
Running too fast, too soon without a cushion of decent training in the bank. Punching above my body weight. Coming as it did only ten weeks after a bad fall in the woods of Witherslack. Racing at full tilt, when my foot caught in rusty wire from a fence hidden in the bracken. In a split second I was shot down. Suffering broken ribs, a dislocated finger, a whack to my head and torn quad muscles when I was reaching the peak of fitness after months of hard training.
Dreams shattered and a literal tumbling back down to earth.
When Lakeland Trails Event Director, Phil Blaylock, reminded me about running at Helvellyn and Ullswater a few weeks ago, I told him that I was still injured and couldn’t make it. Somehow, this final straw made the wind go out of my sails. I could feel my motivation ebbing away.
However, my mantra with the runners I coach, is that when things don’t go to plan, they should always look for the gift in adversity.
Maybe I could take part in the Challenge events instead? Walk them, instead of running them? Take my poles along? Enjoy the atmosphere, the views, the moving mass of humanity threading their way along these beautiful Lakeland Trails.
Would this give me some much needed inspiration to persevere in my long battle with injury?
At the start of this year’s Ullswater Trail
After all, that’s why I set up the Lakeland Trails all those years ago. To make them as inclusive as possible. As much an occasion for the back markers as the front runners.
So, on Saturday 6th November, I made my way to Glenridding in lashing rain. Proper Lake District weather. Taking my place at the back of the main Challenge ‘wave’, setting off at a walk, a gentle ribbing by friends who would normally expect me to be running.
My plan was to Nordic walk everything uphill and anything on tarmac, jogging only the flat sections and descents. Hope not to get carried away. Look after my achilles.
At first, I was so far behind everyone, I wondered if it was such a smart idea. Gradually, I caught up some of the competitors suffering from setting off too fast. I could now enjoy the banter, smiles and camaraderie that make the Lakeland Trails so special.
After the Helvellyn YHA, the trail double backed and levelled out, and I could jog along, even overtaking a few folk.
Battling the elements on the Helvellyn Trail
My ‘secret weapon’ is knowing pretty much every step of the route, every slippery rock. Having planned all the Lakeland Trails courses and run them many, many times over the last two decades, it was great being back on familiar terrain. Even better without the demands of racing. Or organising!
Simply admiring the views, enjoying the shock from some of the marshals who would suddenly recognise me with a double take. Then I’d stop, say a few words, thank them and move on.
With marshal Geoff Lowe on the Ullswater Trail
By the time I’d finished the Helvellyn Trail, I was really looking forward to the new route on Sunday’s Ullswater Trail. I said a few words at the prize giving, thanked Phil and his amazing team and drove home, soaked through, yet buzzing.
Autumn colours by Ullswater
The next day, my spirits were soaring just walking to the start. Autumnal sunshine filtering through the trees by the side of Ullswater. Views to die for.
This was going to be epic.
At the start of the Ullswater Trail
Keeping the same plan as yesterday, I set off at the back of the Challenge. With more tarmac at the start, I was miles behind everyone by the time we hit the trails.
High on the Ullswater Trail
It was difficult to get into a rhythm. The scenery meant I just had to keep stopping to take photos. I even took photos for others who were running together, memories that will hopefully last them through the dark days of winter.
High on the Ullswater Trail
More encouragement between those being overtaken and those overtaking. Everyone buzzing, high on endorphins, euphoric.
Enjoying the Ullswater Trail
Simply a joy to be alive in this special part of the world.
Two Lakeland Trails legends, pirate Kev Kendal, and photographer James Kirby
Then I caught up with a pirate wearing gold hot pants. Kev Kendal has been a regular at the events for years and years. We chatted on the climb to Boredale Hause, remembering some good old times on the Steamer with the RockTarts in fancy dress.
The Ginger Bread Man from ten years ago on the Ullswater Trail
I remembered my all time favourite, Lee dressed as a gingerbread man, and my pun at the time for the fancy dress winner “this one takes the biscuit”.
The finish in sight
Too soon, the finish appeared on the shores of Ullswater and I stepped across the timing mat. A chat in the sunshine with Phil and star runner Jonny Cox, before returning back home to Kendal, smiling.
Knowing I’d found some much needed inspiration from this year’s Dirty Double, Lakeland Trails working it’s magic once again.
A couple of days ago, I saw a photo on Facebook that brought back a few memories, as well as a smile to myself. A red-haired bloke grinning like a Cheshire cat, being presented with a piece of paper by none other than ultra running supremo Beth Pascall, in heels.
Jamie with Beth Pascal
It wasn’t just any bit of paper though. This was a hard-earned certificate, proving that Jamie Rennie had completed the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours and was now officially in the BG Club. Beth herself smashed the women’s BG Round record, her time one of the fastest ever, male or female. I guess she ran in studs.
Jamie’s BG certificate
So, I thought I’d ask Jamie a favour. Pen a couple of lines about me helping him with a bit of coaching advice. The idea being to put it on my website somewhere. I like being a bit of a ‘background figure’ with my coaching, although it’s something I’m enjoying doing more of.
When Jamie got back in touch with his reply, I was both humbled and touched by the words he wrote for me. Certainly it’s not just a line or two.
It’s a story in itself. One that may inspire others.
Maybe someone like you?
These are the words Jamie sent me:
“I’m 51 this year and have been running since I was 29. Before that, I played a lot of team sports, but my longest run had been once around the local park where I lived in Leicester – about 2 flat kilometres – and it knackered me!
Jamie training for the Bob with son Charlie
I first tried running properly when my brother decided to lose some weight and get fit back in 1999. I plodded around with him for a few months and gradually got a bit fitter. We entered a couple of road races and really enjoyed them. By 2005 we had graduated from joggers to runners and were looking for a new challenge.
Jamie’s family, Team Rennie, on the summit of Seat Sandal during a training run
The following year we entered the OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) for the first time. Being from Leicester, the highest hill we’d run up was the local high point, Bradgate Park, around 250m above sea level. Not great prep for a mountain marathon!
Recce run on Leg 3 with Charlie, nearing Pike O Stickle
To compensate for this I read Richard Askwith’s new book – Feet in the Clouds, which had been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year. Suddenly, a new world opened up to me! That book first introduced me to the Ultimate Running Challenge – The Bob Graham Round. Just like Richard Askwith, as soon as I read about the BGR, I knew I wanted to do it.
Jamie setting off on his Bob Graham Round, with young WCOC orienteers for company
What followed was a journey into the joys of mountain running that lasted for 10 years. But during that time, despite running each individual leg of the BG several times, and taking part in numerous Mountain Marathons and fell races, I never truly believed that I could do the Bob Graham. It just seemed too big of a challenge, one that would forever stay as a dream rather than reality. In 2016 I got into orienteering, and the BG dream was put to bed.
Early light of dawn during Jamie’s Bob Graham Round
Then, in early 2020, Covid-19 appeared, and all competitive sport was postponed. Luckily, in 2017, my family and I had made the decision to move from Leicester to Cockermouth, so when the pandemic struck we were living on the Lake District’s doorstep. With no orienteering available, I decided to resume my love of mountain running.
Sunrise on High Raise
At the same time, my son Charlie – a promising young orienteer – was being coached by Graham Patten. Graham and I spoke regularly about Charlie’s coaching, but we also talked about my running, and it was during one of these informal chats that he persuaded me to have another look at the BGR.
Jamie digging in on the Langdale Pikes
Graham convinced me that not only was it possible for me to do the Bob Graham, it was also highly likely that I would succeed, and have a great time along the way, both during the training and on the attempt itself. He agreed to write me a training programme in late 2020, with a view to making an attempt on the round in Spring 2021.
The make or break Leg 3 – Jamie finding out what he’s made of
What followed was exactly what Graham had convinced me would happen. A series of specific training runs (some of which Graham accompanied me on himself), weekly zoom calls, advice and coaching tips that not only were highly enjoyable, also gave me the belief that a successful attempt was likely. Something that I never thought would have been possible a few months before.
Jamie descending into Wasdale at the end of Leg 3
Graham’s experience and knowledge of the BGR, long distance running and elite running in general is comprehensive. Training had gone perfectly and we began to think about possible dates for an attempt. In late March, with the programme Graham had designed almost completely fulfilled, we noticed a weather window. The date was set, pacers and supporters organised, and final preparations began.
Leaving Wasdale NT car park, just get up Yewbarrow and you’ll make it!
On the night of April 16th 2021, me and three pacers set out from the Moot Hall at 8pm, cheered on by Graham and a few family members. Conditions were perfect. By Dunmail raise I was just about keeping to the schedule. I met Graham, who was pacing Leg 3 for me, and we set off up Steel Fell at 4.30am. Leg 3 is the most difficult of the BG, and it’s where many attempts fail.
Only 3 summits left – Jamie leaving Honister Pass for the glory leg
Graham’s encouragement and friendly banter throughout Leg 3 made sure I got to Wasdale with the attempt still in good shape. He gave me the belief that if I could get myself up the next hill, Yewbarrow, then I would get back to the Moot Hall in Keswick within 24 hours of leaving there.
Finishing the Bob – now who’d have thought?
And so it proved to be. At 7.15pm, me and a hoard of supporters ran into Keswick to be greeted by friends, family, and of course Graham. There at the start, middle and end of my BG. His advice, coaching, encouragement and friendship were invaluable in my completion of the round. The dream had finally become a reality.”
Jamie Rennie, WCOC
A well-earned pint, the Bob Graham Round completed – never in doubt!
Thanks Jamie, for letting me be a part of your adventure, a really good day out on the fells. Thanks also to everyone involved, especially Jamie’s wife Helen, who had the hardest job of all keeping the show on the road.
Living in the Lake District, I am lucky enough to be able to run from the back door of my house in Kendal and in just a few minutes be on limestone hills with panoramic views of the fells.
I want to share some of this Lakeland inspiration with you, gathering together twelve of my favourite photo memories taken whilst running over the mountains in last few years. There is one photo for each month of the year, with the story behind it too linked up too. I hope you enjoy them.
Fingers crossed, the national Lockdown will soon be lifted. Then everyone will be able to come and enjoy this beautiful part of the world too.
Just thinking about Pete Hartley brings a warm glow deep inside and makes me smile to myself. Despite all the current world troubles and freezing cold winter weather.
What a lovely man.
On the Garburn Trail – photo Pete Hartley
Memories come flooding back as I’m looking through all the photos Pete gave me from the early days of the Lakeland Trails. From 2005 through to 2012, Pete regularly came up to the Lake District capturing the true essence of the events.
On the Derwentwater Trail – photo Pete Hartley
He really did understand the ethos of what I was trying to achieve. His iconic, picturesque images catapulted the Lakeland Trails into people’s imagination, directly contributing to the events becoming so successful. With Pete’s dramatic photos, normal everyday people could picture themselves running in the stunning Lake District landscape. Maybe you were one of them?
On the Marathon Trail – photo Pete Hartley
He tirelessly helped me behind the scenes, sending his images to National magazines and newspapers, always letting me know with his infectious enthusiasm and positivity.
On the Derwentwater Trail – photo Pete Hartley
“Runnersworld asked for a good shot from the Garburn Trail” he’d tell me on the phone. ”Their readers just voted it ‘the most scenic race in Britain’, so I’ve emailed one for you, I’m sure you’ll like it”
“The most scenic race in Britain” – on the Garburn Trail – photo Pete Hartley
When Pete first came to photograph the events, he was working for an outdoor website. He needed to sell quite a few of his photos direct to our runners, just to cover his travel expenses. This seemed a complete nonsense to me.
On the Kentmere Trail – photo Pete Hartley
Instead, I came up with a much better plan. Simply cut out the middle man and pay Pete myself for a proper day’s professional sports photography. We could then give the photos away digitally to anyone that wanted them. It was one of those win, win, win moments. Everyone benefited. Our competitors could download free photos via Facebook, Pete was paid properly for his work and we got some amazing images. This soon became standard practice with almost every mass participation event since. Yet we are proud to say we were the first!
At the Derwentwater Trail – photo Pete Hartley
Through the eye of a lens
Pete’s work still lives on in the Lakeland Trails through our current photographer, James Kirby. For a number of years, both would be working at our events, Pete quietly taking James under his wing. It’s fantastic to see many of the locations James still uses today are ones Pete originally highlighted. Capturing runners in their element was a real skill of Pete’s and he willingly passed on all his experience to James. A true teacher.
On the Marathon Trail – photo Pete Hartley
It was fitting that James came along to help me at Pete’s funeral, taking photos, helping with our gazebos, outdoor PA and speakers. The church was packed and hundreds more were crowded outside.
Pete’s funeral – photo James Kirby
In the pub afterwards, everyone had a story about Pete. Smiles all round. Tears of joy through knowing him. Pete brought something special to all of our lives.
Through the eye of a lens – A tribute to Pete Hartley
Just before Christmas, a new hard cover book was published, featuring Pete’s stunning photographic work. It’s been a labour of love for Pete’s partner Denise Park, as he left behind over sixty thousand images.
Pete Hartley and Denise Park – photo Pete Hartley
“Through the eye of a lens” is a fond tribute to someone who was liked and loved by so many in the running world, me included. The book is full of beautiful images, stunning scenery, total mountain and trail running inspiration. If you want a copy, you can order one here
Six years have passed since Pete lost his battle with cancer back in November 2014. I remember writing some words in his memory at the time and thought I’d share them once again here:
The Magic of Pete Hartley
It’s early evening and I’m sitting at home in front of the wood burner, plugging in the laptop for a quick check on the internet. Suddenly I’m stunned. Shocked. I read Denise’s post on Facebook, that Pete Hartley has died from cancer.
I didn’t even know Pete was so ill. I must admit, I didn’t know Denise and Pete were so close.
Like many others, I’d been enjoying the quiz Pete had been posting on Facebook, guessing the runners and races. His photographs brought back so many long forgotten memories of all those people that have been part of my running life. I’d also seen Facebook images of Pete and Denise travelling around, enjoying themselves. I naively assumed they must have just got together and were spending some quality time with each other – good on them, I thought. I was at Edisford Primary School in Clitheroe with Denise, and we even share the same birthday. Knowing them both for so long and then hearing this sad news completely out of the blue, stopped me in my tracks
Pete Hartley. Pete Hartley …
I first met Pete when I was a young lad at local orienteering and fell races in and around my home in the Ribble Valley. He was always friendly, he always had time to chat and encourage. It was Pete’s images of the fell running greats that helped inspire me to take running more seriously. Imagine being on the cover of the Fellrunner one day? Although I never did make that honour!
Time goes on and throughout the next two decades, I’d often bump into Pete at fell and mountain races, with his camera and ready smile. He never changed. Always friendly, always time to chat.
Over the last decade, we met each other much more regularly – he was my first choice photographer at the Lakeland Trails events. That’s when I realised how hard Pete worked to capture those unique and iconic running images. Pete always arrived a day or two before an event, having first spoken at length on the phone about the course, who the favourites were, discussing who we thought would win. His enthusiasm for everything to do with running seemed boundless. Then he’d set off around the courses, checking the backdrops, checking the light, re-checking start times, calculating the best places to be throughout the day. A true professional.
It didn’t just stop there though. After going around the course, he’d help us in any way he could. I vividly remember our very first event in Keswick in 2006. The day before the event it was bucketing down. Pete abandoned his course check and helped us assemble the marquees and run in, smiling and chatting to everyone, all day long, in the pouring rain. He decided he was going to join me and Claire camping in the marquee. We couldn’t afford security in those days, so had to do it ourselves. In the evening, we brought fish and chips back with us to the marquee, and in the fading light, watched the downpour from the shelter of the tent, still chatting and laughing. Pete held up a chip and said “magic fish and chips, these!”
Last Sunday evening I went out for a walk on the limestone scars above my home in Kendal, and thought about Pete, about what made him such a special person for me and countless others. I know he would have enjoyed the spectacular sunset with the Lakeland fells in silhouette. I thought about the strength of his personality, how he dealt with his own struggles after the car accident cut short his running career. About how he turned to photography, to enable him to continue being a part of the sport he loved the most. And the photographs themselves, what they meant to so many people. I thought about his recent battle with cancer, how he just got on with it, keeping it all to himself. His partner Denise too, I thought about what she must be going through.
The one word I kept coming back to was “magic”, and I realised that was a big part of Pete’s special gift. He could see the magic that surrounds us all, the magic in people, in wild places, in the simplest of things. Yet he could do even more than that. He could capture that magic moment forever in his photographs for us all to see the world through his own eyes.
It was dark by the time I got home, and whilst my little boy Ash was playing with his Lego, feeling sad, I turned on the laptop.
I read this, from Pete’s son Michael :
“My sister Claire and I grew up assuming that it was everybody’s Dad who climbed the Matterhorn, ran the London Marathon, cycled across deserts, took them canoeing down rapids and was the master of fancy dress. As we got older, we realised how lucky we were to have such an inspiring, supportive and loving Dad. His optimism and enthusiasm for life inspired nothing but kindness.
Yesterday, our Dad’s fight against cancer came to an end. Our heads are full of happy memories which will last forever, so please don’t be sad for us. He’s just off on his next big adventure…”
Reading those words made me feel so much better and I can think about the pleasure he brought to me and be reminded of him forever through his photographs.
I can remember Pete’s big smile and think of him, off on his next big adventure.
Sunset at Pete’s funeral – photo James Kirby
10th January 2021
Sign up to my blog and have a chance to win a copy of “Through The Eye Of A Lens”– A tribute to Pete Hartley. We’ll be making a draw on 15th January 2021 and two lucky subscribers will win one of these beautiful books.
Time has simply flown by so fast. Yet at the end of last year’s season, after more than sixteen years as Event Director, the time felt right for me to pass the Lakeland Trails flag over to Phil Blaylock.
Phil has been involved with our events for over eight years and we’re all very lucky to have him. From competing himself, then volunteering as a marshal, he’s made steady progress to the top of our Lakeland Trails family tree. Phil’s been a keen student during all the various stages in his event management development and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed mentoring him through all of these over the years. I couldn’t have hoped for a better successor. When Phil took over the Event Director reigns last December, I officially ‘retired’ from the Lakeland Trails and stepped down from my role with the events.
Phil running at Keswick in 2017
I thought I could sit back and reflect on all this work with a degree of pride. Take stock and enjoy that contented feeling of a job done to the best of your ability. Like a proud parent, I quietly let go without any fuss, confident that we’d done everything possible to ensure the future of the Lakeland Trails for everyone’s enjoyment.
Then suddenly the ‘cheese moved’. Who could have foreseen back in March the first total lockdown situation only a week or so before the 2020 opening event was due to take place at Cartmel? Phil and his team will need the support of everyone, to ride out all the challenges imposed by the current coronavirus pandemic.
Running at Cartmel in 2018 and the Beast from the East
There’s always a balance running an enterprise for altruistic reasons. Often things just stop when a founder decides to call it a day. Sustainability has always been a big priority for me. Not just environmentally, but economically and personnel-wise too. We’re fortunate to have built some great relationships over the last sixteen years, and there are so many people to thank for helping make my dream of the Lakeland Trails come to fruition.
To everyone who has been involved in any way at all – from you, the competitors, to our fabulous volunteers, event crew, landowners, stakeholders, sponsors, entertainers, service suppliers, catering concessions – many, many thanks for all your support over the years. It just couldn’t have happened without you all!
A typical Lakeland Trails scene from the start
Looking back, since creating the first event in 2004, I was the Event Director for over 100 Lakeland Trails events. Totting up the total number taking part comes to around 150,000 competitors. It’s remarkable when you think the very first event had just 80 entrants and trail running was a relatively new sport to the UK back then. We’ve contributed well over £150,000 directly to local regional charities and community groups. In all, our region, Cumbria, has benefitted economically to the tune of well over £20 Million from the Lakeland Trails during my time. Truly amazing!
My first Lakeland Trails as a competitor in the Derwentwater Trail in 2017 – Back to Front
And who was there in 2015 at the start of the Ultra 55K when Kim Collison broke the 110K course record? I remember we delayed the start by a few minutes so we could welcome him home with a cheering guard of honour and Batala Lancaster drums. Magic sporting moments like these bring tears to your eyes.
Watch the opening 30secs of this video to see Kim Collison’s “Ultimate finish”
Sadness too, with four very special characters from our Lakeland Trails ‘family’ passing away recently and now running in those big trails in the sky. Peter Samuelson, Charm Robson, Lawrie Woodley and Lance Saxby (aka Gerry Giraffe) will be forever in my thoughts. All of them positive, happy people.
Phil at the finish in Staveley with Charm Robson in 2018
Many people start their own running journeys with us, getting off road for the first time and onto the stunning trails I created here in the Lake District. Every now and again I’ll get stopped with “is that Graham from Lakeland Trails?” and then someone will tell me an inspiring story or anecdote. How they’ve just completed an Ultra, even a Bob Graham. Or they’ve just run the 10K event with their teenage daughter, who ran her first Fun Trails as an 8 year old.
It never fails to make me smile when I see someone out and about wearing a Lakeland Trails T shirt, or see one of our car stickers on a vehicle, sometimes far away from the Lakes.
Finishing (and winning!) the Coniston Trail 10km in 2018
Retiring from the Lakeland Trails doesn’t mean sitting around in my slippers. It means I have finally closed one big chapter and can look forward to some different challenges. With more time I’ll be able to coach a few more people in trail and ultra running – give me a shout it you need any help!
Maybe spend more time partying with my partner Claire?
Party time with Claire for one of Ash’s birthday parties
Over a year ago I started a new Primary schools orienteering pilot project in Kendal coaching Year 5 and Year 6 children which ultimately fell victim to Covid-19. I’d love to see more youngsters and newcomers taking part in ‘the thought sport’ – maybe this could be a new project in the making?
Orienteering in the Italian Dolomites
My own performances in orienteering have steadily improved since returning back to the sport just over three years ago, after an absence of 30 years. I’ve been at the top of my UK age group ranking list for almost two years and was just seconds away from winning the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Latvia last year, coming 4th. The previous year, in Denmark, I was 2nd, only one second behind the Swiss winner. I was shaping up nicely too for this year’s cancelled World Masters in Slovakia in August 2020. With hopes of a Covid-19 vaccine, there’s now an excuse to take part in next year’s World Masters in Hungary.
Enjoying the atmosphere of European orienteering
No doubt there will be some new running adventures to write about and photograph, to keep this TrailRunning blog more regularly updated. Maybe recount some fond memories from the early years of Lakeland Trails – what do you think, would you be interested? It also still rankles a bit that I didn’t complete the 55 Lakeland summits at 55 years of age a couple of years ago – some unfinished business maybe?
If anyone does have any memorable Lakeland Trails stories or anecdotes they’d like to share with me, then please do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.
Finally, I want to wish Phil and his team every success for the future of the Lakeland Trails in these difficult times.
Here we get to find out more about our Lakeland Trails event manager, Phil Blaylock, the man organising all the work behind the scenes to ensure everyone has a great time whilst out on the trails. I caught up with Phil last week and asked him a few questions :
Would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’ve just turned 44 and currently live by myself in the small village of St Bees, which is on the most western point of the Cumbrian coast. It’s a bit remote which means lots of travelling to get anywhere but having access to a stunning beach, the quieter side of the Lake District and having a fantastic group of friends to go exploring with make up for the time spent in the car. When I’m not running or cycling around the fells, or travelling further afield to bigger mountains, I love spending rainy days in the kitchen (setting up an informal crew Bake Off when I was Marshal Manager was great fun) and taking photos. I also regularly play the guitar but I’m not going to divulge my dodgy musical tastes!
How did your Lakeland Trails journey start?
Love brought me back to Cumbria six years ago to be with my girlfriend at the time. As so often in life, things didn’t quite go to plan. So I joined St Bees Triers to build up my social circle and used running as a way of finding my feet. That in turn motivated me to take part in my first Lakeland Trails in Keswick back in 2013. Even though I was reasonably fit, I still had the nerves on the start line – I suppose it was because I didn’t feel like a ‘proper’ runner and didn’t know what to expect. I needn’t have worried! I loved the event so much that I quickly signed up for the Helvellyn Trail, deciding to volunteer as a marshal as well as run. Even though I was the wettest I’ve ever been, the enjoyment from having hundreds of drenched but happy runners going past meant that I was addicted! Once you’ve been to a few Lakeland Trails, you soon recognise familiar faces and feel part of the community, so a couple of years later, I took on the Course and Marshal Manager role. That progressed to me getting involved with developing our in-house radio communications and here I am now managing and delivering the events.
When did you first start running?
My running journey started out of chance. I was part of the school fell-walking club and the teacher who organised that, a lovely chap called Mr Horsford, was also responsible for the cross-country team. Apart from anything else, I was flattered when he suggested I could be a good runner. So I joined the club, ending up representing my school. It’s strange that the memories I have of that are the green swimming pool at Stonyhurst College (apparently, it’s still there) and listening to a tape of Bon Jovi on the coach trips!
Do you run for a club?
I’m a member of St Bees Triers. The club shares a similar philosophy as Lakeland Trails – it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are, so long as you enjoy yourself and try your best. It’s a great club – everyone’s warm and welcoming and we’ve a couple of fantastic coaches. I organise weekly trail runs and have a bit of a reputation for finding the hilliest, boggiest routes – they just make running even more fun!
Last year was your first year in charge of managing and delivering the Lakeland Trails events. How was it?
Well, last year was certainly a challenge! When you asked me if I’d be interested in taking on the event management, it really seemed like a no-brainer. Lakeland Trails has brought me so much happiness and it was a privilege to be able to put my skills to good use to allow people to keep experiencing the magic of the events. The fear of the unknown and the risk of ‘making mistakes’ have been tricky to deal with, so it’s been great to have your support and guidance along the way, as well as that of our wonderful team of crew and volunteers at the events. Putting on the events is like a huge jigsaw. I counted up my action list at the Lakeland Trails in Keswick and there were over 100 points to sort out just on the Saturday! Of course, the event crew did a fantastic job getting them ticked off and the event was a great success. I don’t remember ever getting more than 2-3 hours’ sleep on the night before each event which is definitely something I want to improve on this year.
Any high points from the year?
I think one of the high points (literally) was at Staveley when I left the event start/finish area to climb up to the top of Reston Scar (aka The Sting in the Tail) to do some cheering. I felt the confidence that everything was running smoothly and if anything cropped up, the crew were more than capable of resolving issues. I’ll often be watching the finishers come in too, and seeing their smiles and sense of achievement is so rewarding. Of course, another high point is when I have to pinch myself because my job involves running a lot in the Lake District – turning the corner of Silver Howe on the ultra-course or dropping into the Grisedale Valley on the Helvellyn course always makes me stop and smile.
When you want everything at every event to be a success for everyone, it can be hard to focus on all the positives as there are always things which could have gone better. The first two events last year had a number of issues which I found difficult to overcome. For example, at Cartmel, we could have found a better route through the woods at the finish when the original route was not possible at the last minute due to the waterlogged racecourse. (Incidentally, I had a meeting at the racecourse last week and we have a weatherproof solution so that so runners won’t face that demoralising run in again). Maybe my car parking plans were too complex at Cartmel too, so I got sucked into helping sort that out during the day. I hold my hand up for overlooking the props and signs for theming the Coffin Trail at Hawkshead – I promise that will come back with a vengeance this year! All the things which did or didn’t go to plan are thoroughly discussed in meetings afterwards and lessons learnt for the future. After a busy, challenging weekend, it can be hard, too, to remember that so many people have had an amazing day.
Now I’ve had a complete Lakeland Trails season under my belt, I am much more confident about the year ahead. Hopefully that experience will translate into relaxing and enjoying my role more. Lying awake in bed at 2am thinking things over on the Saturday morning is probably not the best way to prepare for the day! Sometimes the best laid plans don’t always come off, even though we always have a Plan B, or even Plan C to fall back on. Carefully reflecting over the whole event, to learn for improving in the future is really important too.
What did you do before managing the Lakeland Trails?
I suppose you could describe my previous jobs as varied! I’ve got an unused degree in Construction Management as I went straight into Retail Management after university (selling Peruvian alpaca jumpers with the added bonus of regular trips to South America). I got the 7-year itch and re-trained to be a teacher, working in a deprived area of Blackburn before moving back to Cumbria, where after a brief spell in a new school, ended up working in an HMRC call centre for a few months – something I never expected to have on my CV. I was given the option of returning to my old school in Blackburn, but I’d fallen in love with the Lake District great outdoors. I’d been used to working 70 hours a week as a teacher, which I don’t regret, but I certainly wouldn’t do it again. Luckily that was when your offer of managing the Lakeland Trails came up.
You’ve just completed climbing all 214 Wainwright summits – how did that feel?
It was great to finally finish them (although I’m not sure Mr Wainwright would approve of people ‘bagging’ his fells!) A bit like the Lakeland Trails, the challenge has taken me to parts of the Lakes I might not have seen otherwise. Just last week I was high above Ullswater on a glorious day, but I joke that I’m going to publish a book called ‘Mountain Tops in the Mist’ as so many have been covered in clag, and the weather for my final summit last Saturday didn’t disappoint. Fortunately the group of friends I was with remained in suitable humour and we celebrated on the top of Bonscale Fell in 50mph winds and rain.
Any challenges pencilled in for the future?
I tend to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to outdoor activities so have lots of ideas on the burner. Next up is the Fred Whitton Cycle Challenge the weekend after the Lakeland Trails in Staveley in May. For those who don’t know it, the route is, let’s say, demanding. It’s just over 110 miles long, taking in all the Lake District passes, as well as some lesser-known climbs, with Hardknott Pass, England’s steepest road to look forward to at around the 100-mile mark. I loved it when I took part a couple of years ago. There’s a great atmosphere along the course and several friends (including some who are also Lakeland Trails crew) were out to support me, providing much-appreciated supplies and encouragement. I managed to meet my goals of cycling up Hardknott Pass and finishing!
What would you say is the best thing about the Lakeland Trails?
This is an easy question because I’ve found it out from my own experience as a runner that it brings so much happiness and a sense of accomplishment and belief to so many people. I love being out on the trails myself and enabling others to experience that pleasure in a safe and controlled way is amazing. It’s a combination of the dedication and friendliness of the crew and volunteers as well as the runners, which generates such a lovely atmosphere at the event and out on the course. Oh, and how can I forget the stunning scenery!
Anything else you’d like to add for our competitors this year?
I can’t wait to be back on the trails in Cartmel on 16th March and am working hard to make things even better than my ‘debut’ last year. As we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary of the Cartmel Trail this year, all our finishers will earn a delicious Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding as a special treat, as well as an event T shirt. I always enjoy chatting to our runners on event day so come and say hello and let me know how we’re doing.
Thanks very much Phil – it’s been a pleasure working with you over the last five or six years and I’m looking forward to many more in the future. Co-ordinating and taking responsibility for the Lakeland Trails events is a massive undertaking, and certainly not for the faint hearted. Experience is hard earned. You’re learning all the time and I have no doubt this all helped with the way you managed the horrendous conditions for our 2018 Dirty Double finale weekend.
We’re all lucky to have such a positive and enthusiastic person at the helm. Good luck with the events this year. Now me and my family are back from France, I’m looking forward to running in some of them myself!
Early bird entry for the 2019 Lakeland Trails is open until 31st January. Visit the Lakeland Trails website to check out the events and enter online.