The Running Hard Blog Tour: author Q&A
I recently met Steve Chilton at one of his book talks (at the Snowdon International Race this year), and fell into conversation with him as we were staying at the same hotel. This has developed into a (mostly social media) friendship since then. So, recently I got a chance to have a chat with him about his own running and also writing the book, Running Hard: the story of a rivalry. Before I could ask him any questions though he threw a few at me, which I enjoyed answering:
Cal, when did you start fell running and who encouraged you to give the sport a go?
I did some fell races when I was very young, I have results from Woodentops quarry runs from 1997 & 1998, but, I have a results sheet from Shooters fell race in 1995, so I was either 4 or 5! I then basically played football 6 to 7 days a week along with a bit of rugby union until I was about 24. My fell running return, I suppose, was the David Staff memorial race in November 2013. My major influence was my Grandad, a British & English vet fell champion in his day. He encouraged me to get back in to running after a major knee injury and once I tried a fell race, I was hooked!
My early running days with Grandad
Where did you grow up and what kind of opportunities did the area give you to run?
I grew up in, and still live in, Darwen in Lancashire. The town is in a valley so it’s perfect for hill training and the local moorland has everything you could need to train for fell running. Darwen Tower is my local summit, but Rivington Pike, Great Hill and Winter Hill are all a short, runnable distance away across the fells. Perfect!
How much are you currently running and where do you most run?
At the moment, 40 miles/6000ft a week is about where I’m at and I feel the fittest I have since I started training properly (around March 2015), although I do plan on increasing it soon, in line with my improved fitness. Near enough all my training is in and around Darwen, with the odd weekend or two each month in the Lake District.
Steve's trio of publications (L to R): It's A Hill, Get Over It - The Round in Bob Graham's Footsteps - Running Hard: The Story of A Rivalry
What is your favourite fell race?
I’ve not done all the races I aim to do just yet, but so far, I’d probably have to say Borrowdale. I ran it for the first time this year and had the racing buzz from it for about 2 weeks! A few others I really enjoy are Dollar hill race (in Scotland), the Tour of Pendle, Scafell Pike and Bleasdale Circle.
Over the fells who do you particularly admire, and why?
Tough one. Anyone who gives it a go deserves praise, but, this season I would have to say Carl Bell. Nearly every time I’ve raced in the Lakes, this fella has taken the race by storm. He took the time to chat with me after my first Borrowdale earlier in the year, even though he’d probably been home, showered and eaten by the time I crossed the finish line! Fantastic athlete and all round nice guy. Victoria Wilkinson is also worth a mention, her results this season have been unbelievable, I’ve lost count of the records she has broken in 2017 and that started on New Year’s Day. Phenomenal. I do admire a lot of others on the fells, a few worth a mention; Ian Holmes, Rob Jebb, Scoffer, Simon Bailey, Ben Mounsey, Sam Tosh and of course, the likes of; Billy Bland, Joss, Kenny & John Wild.
What ambitions do you have on the fells?
I am an ambitious person, in general, but, also realistic! I dream of a Championship medal one day but I do doubt that will ever happen. Personally, I just see continuous improvement and enjoyment as my main aims for the moment, while my fitness seems to be always improving. I love to work hard and I have a burning desire to succeed, I guess in honour of my Grandad! I plan to keep on training, racing and hopefully improving, then, who knows, maybe one day that will take me further up the race field and I’ll be able to claim prizes.
I then turned to questioning Steve, and got some interesting responses that nicely illustrate his background:
Steve, tell me a little about your own running and your background?
When I was younger I always just played football. All day. After studying at Uni I made some poor lifestyle choices, and I made a decision to get fit and lose weight at the age of 30. I started easy running, initially inspired to enter the Sunday Times Fun Run. I enjoyed that so jumped straight in and entered the first London Marathon in 1981. That went well (3-05, feeling easy) so I joined a club and ran a lot of cross country and road races for them. By the time I peaked at the marathon (2-34-53) in 1985 I had been doing some fell races. I had always done a lot of walking in the mountains and it seemed a natural progression to run up and down them with this new found fitness. So, whilst living in London we used to travel to the Lakes and elsewhere to have a go at some of the great fell races, and also do some 2-day mountain marathons.
What was your favourite fell race and why?
I would have to say Fairfield for that, I think. I was never really that good at the longer races, so preferred medium length ones. I liked the fact it was a horseshoe round, going up the first significant fell then being runnable on most of the undulating ridge section, before the rapid descent towards the finish. I also liked doing some of the less ‘profile’ events such as those on Shipman Knotts, and Loughrigg, as well as out of the way such as Ras Beca (over the Preseli Mountains).
What was the toughest event you competed in?
As in my worst race performance, I presume you mean?! Several contenders for that. I had a ’mare at the OS-sponsored Lake District Mountain Trial when it was held in Eskdale, taking a full immersion in the river crossing just near the finish field – in front of my wife and friends – after taking far too long in navigating around the Crinkles and Bow Fell. Then there was the Three Shires race, where I bonked on Lingmoor (described in detail in the intro to It’s a hill). And the mountain marathon where I broke my glasses on day one ….
What made you decide to write a book on fell running?
Joss Naylor has always been a real hero to me. He is in many people’s minds the greatest fell runner ever, perhaps the greatest endurance runner of all time. So, in 2009 I was wondering why no-one had written a book about him and his exploits. The germ of an idea formed and I suddenly decided that I would be the one to right/write this wrong. I have no idea what made me think I could achieve this, or how I would go about it, but there we are. I was just beginning to give the thought some space in my brain, when lo and behold I heard a biography of Joss was coming out. Keith Richardson’s Joss: The Life and Times of the Legendary Lake District Fell Runner and Shepherd Joss Naylor came out in October 2009. I ordered a copy of the book and read it with interest. Good though the book is, I concluded I would have told his story in a somewhat different way, and dealt with some things that are glossed over in it. This made me think that maybe there WAS a book in me, and so I looked for a different subject to apply myself to. That subject turned out to be the sport’s history and characters, which became It’s a hill, get over it, finally coming out in 2013.
Kenny Stuart & John Wild doing battle on the final Championship race of the 1983 season, at Thieveley Pike (photo credit: Neil Shuttleworth)
What attracted you to Kenny Stuart and John Wild as possible subjects to write about?
In the first book I wrote about many of the great fell legends, and also the history of many of the classic races. I realise that what happened in the 1980s when Kenny Stuart hit the amateur scene, when added to what John Wild had already achieved, was to produce the epic season of 1983 when they carried all before the on the fells. They had such different backgrounds and characters too, it just seemed their lives were a story waiting to be told. There was also a feeling I had that Kenny was pretty highly regarded for his exploits but that John deserved further recognition. I wanted to try to help give that recognition.
You have written 3 books now, what particular memories do you have of writing Running Hard?
The best thing about the whole writing process is the time spent researching the subject. I may be unusual, but this is the case as far as I am concerned, way more than actually writing the words that appear on the page, which I often struggle with. For Running Hard I interviewed many contemporaries of Kenny and John, and they were the best of times. Spending time with people like Jack Maitland (now part of the Brownlees coaching setup) and Hugh Symonds, and talking over incidents and activities that they clearly recalled was just brilliant. And I will take to my grave the awesome memory of sitting in Billy Bland’s garden, and also my aforementioned hero Joss Naylor’s front room, trying to think of them both as just two more runners I was interviewing, and desperately trying not to gush too much.
Steve, along with Sandstone Press, will be running a giveaway of the book through his own blog page. Please check it out if you're interested in a chance to win a free copy, I've copied the link to the blog below
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.
Running Hard: the story of a rivalry
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/.
Steve at the 2005 World Vets Championships in Keswick (photo credit: Mike Cambray)