I’m very pleased to be part of the blog tour for Steve Chilton’s book Running Hard: the story of a rivalry, which is published in paperback on Thursday 19th October.
Nothing can compare to the sight of top-class fell runners in full flight. It is impossible to describe the way they bound mid-race down rock-strewn mountainsides so effortlessly, as if the slope, heather, and boulders beneath their feet don’t even exist. Unfortunately, such feats are rarely captured for mere mortals to see. They take place in such remoteness that only the athletes themselves can relate afterwards what epic battles they had against the mountain and against each other for the ultimate race spoils.
The writer, Steve Chilton, is one of those rare people who has made it their mission to document such fell-running events. In his latest book, Running Hard, he tries to capture the impossible. Firstly he dives back to the early 1980s, to when legendary fell-runners such as Billy Bland were competing and winning, and British mountain-running records were broken with amazing regularity. But even more incredibly, Chilton uses all his powers of investigative journalism to uncover the mysteries of the season of 1983, when two fell-running greats, John Wild and Kenny Stuart, did battle on the hills.
Chilton gained intimate access to the two men themselves, and through extensive and illuminating interviews, manages to piece together what exactly happened over the 1983 British Fell Running Championship. He shows where Wild and Stuart respectively excelled, depending on the race distance and terrain. He highlights their different training regimes, combining brutally long runs with gruelling speed sessions covering close to a hundred miles a week. Incredibly, the whole championship boiled down to the final race of the season, and even then, only a few seconds divided this formidable pair.
Chilton also provides in-depth information about how Wild and Stuart arrived on the fells together from very different backgrounds, one a track and road specialist, the other a born and bred Lakes man. It is humbling to see the incredible talent and the belligerent dedication that made these two men push each other to set times on the fells that remain unbroken today.
Reading Running Hard reminded me of our own mountain-running folklore here in Ireland. When I started racing with Irish Mountain Running Association (IMRA) back in 2006, a hush always fell at any starting line when Ireland’s first and still only World Mountain Running Champion, John Lenihan, arrived. That hush was all the more deafening when we were lined up at the bottom of Carrauntoohil. John won the Irish Championship race up our island’s highest mountain an incredible nineteen times and still holds the course record for the route.
However, I was two years too late to miss the dramatic happenings at the 2004 Irish Championship. Lenihan had a challenger, in the form of John Brookes. To this day, I still don’t know the full twists and turns of the battles these two Irish men had on our mountains over a decade ago. Though John Lenihan’s own personal athletic history has been already documented in the book Tough as Leather, no one has tackled the titanic battles he had against his mountain-running adversary, Brookes. Maybe this is why Steve Chilton’s account is so important: that it captures and preserves the Wild versus Stuart story forever, for future generations of mountain enthusiasts. This rivalry unfurled on the fells, clocked in thickly clad mist, rather than on the televised track, as in the case of Coe versus Ovett: it deserves as much to be told.
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.
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/.