A lot can happen in six months: Surprise wins from newcomers, double Everests, inching closer to the 35 year old Bob Graham record, incredible multi-day mountain race victories and more - winter/spring has been an exciting couple of seasons for trail, fell and mountain running. Former editor of Trail Running magazine, Claire Maxted from Wild Ginger Films, sums up the action.
The record-smashing started in January at the brutal Montane Spine Race with Ireland's Carol Morgan knocking a massive 43 hours off the ladies record on this non-stop 268-mile race from Edale to Kirk Yetholm (news piece here). The advanced practitioner in emergency medicine from Leeds outpaced the rest of the female competition during the entire race along the Pennine Way, finishing in joint 6th place overall in 109 hours 54 mins. "I had four aims," she said to reporters at the end. "Finishing, winning the ladies race, placing in the top 10 and to finish in 4.5 days - I didn't quite manage the last!" Following her was Canadian endurance athlete Helene Dumais in second, third was Gabriele Kenkenberg (GER). British runners Sarah Fuller and Clare Holdcroft came in fifth and sixth in the ladies race.
Surprising everyone in the men's race, relatively unknown endurance runner Tom Hollins crept up on the previous three Montane Spine Race winners to take first place. "I've never raced this distance before," said Tom as I ran with him over Hadrian's Wall. "I had no idea it would go this well as my last two practice races ended in DNFs! You have to keep going steadily, and don't underestimate the power of a good sleep." Incredibly, this unstoppable anaesthetist from Yorkshire managed to bank more sleep than the chasing three, catching 9 hours compared 2015 winner Pavel Paloncý's (CZH) 5 hours, and 2013 winner Eugeni Rosello Sole's (ESP) 7 hours. Columbia athlete Eoin Keith (IRL) retired with a broken rib on Day 4, but his 2016 record of 95 hours 17 mins still stands, still 3 hours 43mins faster than Tom's time this year.
The super impressive Jim Mann was the first to whiz round the three classic mountain rounds in a single winter season, finishing with the Bob Graham Round at the end of February (see here). The entrepreneur from Durham set a new winter Ramsay Round record of 22 hours 23 mins in Jan (here) and flew round a Winter Paddy Buckley mid-Feb, supported by fell running greats like Jasmin Paris, Jo Zakrzewski and Carol Morgan. Characteristically unbothered by social-media, in a rare tweet he described his Winter Paddy as a, "Great way to see out my 30's. Amazing day with some of my best friends in top mountains. That's the only bit that really matters about it."
Any fell runner worth his/her salt will have worn a pair of Ronhill Tracksters in their time, but regretfully their inventor, Ron Hill, ended his daily running streak of 52 years this February. The 2:09 marathon runner and European Champs gold medallist (1969) started running at least a mile a day on 21 Dec 1964 and managed 19,032 days without missing a beat, despite time spent in hospital. He told Streak Runners International: "It is great sadness that I have to report the end of my streak. I have been having heart problems and…on Saturday 28 January I ran my last one mile."
'Barefoot' runner Aleks Kashefi solo-ed 3,846 miles in 196 days from Nordkapp in Arctic Norway to Punta de Tarifa in Spain. The Buxton-based teacher started in August 2016 and was raising money for Mountain Rescue England and Wales, the Stroke Association and the Thomas Theyer Foundation for young people with ADHD. Aleks ran on average a distance of 30 – 40 miles a day with around 8kg of kit, wild camping the length of Europe and crossing the Swiss Alps and the Apennines of Italy in winter. He now plans to swim the length of Britain…
Three Blind Mice and a Farmer's Wife - what a great team name for the new women's record holders for the High Peak Marathon this March. The Farmer's Wife, Double Bob Graham record-holder Nicky Spinks, plus Kirsty Hewitson, Beth Pascall and Joan Brown bog-trotted this 42 mile Peak District overnight mountain marathon around the Derwent Watershed in 9 hours 32 mins, coming 4th overall.
Outstanding running from Bingley Harriers Victoria Wilkinson brought the Yorkshire Three Peaks record back home this April. The Lancs-based sports and remedial masseur took advantage of the dry, calm conditions, knocking 4 mins off Anna Pichrtova's (CZH) 2008 time to reduce the ladies record to 3 hours 9 mins. Vic also came 13th place overall in this 23 mile 'Marathon with Mountains' over Yorkshire's highest three peaks with 1,509m total ascent. This is the highest ever for the ladies after Sarah Rowell's 15th place in 1992. Over a beer afterwards Vic told me "This is my London Marathon. It's one of the races the fell running community respects most, so I'd never see how fast I could do on a road marathon as I prefer mountain races. I've brought the record back to Yorkshire now and that's what I hoped to do. I'm very pleased." In the men's race, Bingley Harriers Andy Peace was relieved that his 2 hour 46 min record from 1996 remained intact, with winner Murray Strain from Hunters Bog Trotters, Edinburgh, coming home in 2 hours 49 mins.
Beer and a pub dinner might be the way most people celebrate their 50th birthday. Not fell runners. Especially not Double Bob Graham record holder Nicky Spinks. The Glossop-based farmer chose to spend her 50th smashing up the 50mile Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge in 11 hours 2 mins, knocking 1 hour 15 mins off Jane Meeks' 2011 record. Joss himself met her with a hug at the finish at Greendale Bridge after the 30 summit route with 5,182m ascent, starting from Pooley Bridge. The breast cancer survivor was raising money for Odyssey, a charity that enhances the quality of life for people with cancer with outdoor activities.
There was both triumph and tragedy in Nepal this season, starting with the tragic death of speed-climbing legend Ueli Steck at the end of April. He fell to his death while climbing on Nuptse near Everest. Nickamed the 'Swiss Machine', Ueli is credited by legendary climber Alex Honnold as being the first to bring Olympic-style training to climbing. I met him once at the Outdoor Show in Germany to interview him and show him his photo on the cover of Trail Running magazine. He pointed at the main sell on another issue, 'Speed, Strength, Power' and said, "I need zat". I just stared at him open-mouthed to think he considered himself lacking!
On Facebook, the world's best ultra runner Kilian Jornet wrote:
"Thank you Ueli for being a mentor in alpinism and a constant source of inspiration. Every climb with you was a learning to keep improving along with a mountain lover. My thoughts are with Ueli's family and friends. In loving memory Ueli Steck."
The loss of a dear friend didn't prevent Kilian ascending Everest without supplementary oxygen - TWICE in six days this May. Less than 200 people have climbed Everest without bottled oxygen yet the Catalonian mountain muncher managed the 12,296ft from Base Camp to the summit in 26 hours. He also had a stomach upset and did not use the fixed ropes. He was slower than planned so he summited again, this time 7,703ft from Advanced Base Camp in 17 hours. Kilian has now completed his Summits of my Life project; the Lake District's famous Bob Graham Round and the Salomon Glen Coe Skyline are on his calendar for the remainer of this year (see here).
Montane Spine Race winner Tom Hollins attempted a Double Bob Graham, 132 miles and 84 peaks around the Lake District this May. However, battling thunderstorms and braving heatstroke, he pulled out with 39 summits to go after 29+ hours of running. He said it was, "much tougher than he'd anticipated," and that a virus a week prior had not helped. Many of his support team think he'll be back for another crack…
Storming running saw Peaks-based Marcus Scotney win the infamous Berghaus Dragon's Back Race across Wales in mainly warm, sunny conditions at the end of May (see here). However, when I met him on Day 4 of this 315km five-dayer with 50,850ft ascent, this outcome seemed unlikely. Marcus, a GB 100k athlete, sports therapist, coach and actor told me, "I might not be running tomorrow, my knee is in so much pain."
Whereas Jim Mann in 2nd place was raring to go after a frustrating nav error on Day 3, "I've got a personal trainer and have been doing strength-training like calf raises, core exercises and plyometrics. I feel like I could go on a few more days, it really makes a difference to my recovery time." But it wasn't all plain sailing - "My dentist told me to stop as I did the calf raises while brushing my teeth, got distracted doing so many and started brushing the enamel off!" Marcus rallied, and I saw him running without even a hint of a limp through CP7, heading towards the last couple of hills before the finish and a well deserved victory in 37 hours 58 mins. Jim came 2nd and Neil Talbott third.
Here's Marcus on pre-race training:
And here's Jim on the navigation error that nearly disqualified him from the race:
In the ladies race, Sabrina Verjee was leading when I met her on Day 4, "I'm tired," she said, "but loving it. This might sound anti-social but I just really like running alone in the mountains! I made up a lot of time today by navigating shortcuts that cut off maybe even 10k from the recommended route. Caroline [McIlroy, 3rd lady] is a much faster runner than me but she was running further so we kept leapfrogging each other." On a hot Day 5 however, Montane Spine Race winner Carol Morgan overtook Sabs to take the ladies victory and 9th place overall.
The last finisher Tom Withers got a special trophy, 80 hours hours 17 mins out in the mountains (more than twice the winning time) he deserved to be recognised with the resounding cheers he received at the post-race awards ceremony. Another mention must go to the invincible Joe Faulkner from Nav4Adventure, who completed the first ever Dragon's Back Race in 1992 and every one ever since, making 2017 his 4th successful completion. "Training? Training????" he laughed at me as I asked him how his prep differed from 35 years ago, "I'm just surviving on my years of mountain experience. I'll definitely be back in 2019 but marshalling rather than running I think. You never know though…"
Unbelievably, only six women have completed the Charlie Ramsay round within 24 hours - the latest being Liz Barker on 20th June. Alicia Hudelson from the USA also took advantage of a good weather window to cram in a 2nd attempt this June before her flight home, clocking a time of 23 hours 46 mins over this 56 mile route with 28,5000ft climb over 24 Munros in Lochaber, including Scotland's highest, Ben Nevis. Charlie Ramsay himself wrote the report on the Carnethy Hill Running Club page, saying, "Huge congratulations to Alicia on being the 100th sub 24h finisher; enjoy your recovery. Well done." For more on this run see Alicia's blog
Shortly after, author Jonny Muir ran the 101st Ramsay, in 22 hours 8 mins, catching the best of the weather before a forecast lightning storm the following afternoon. He said, "Thank you so much to all the Carnethy runners who helped me fulfil a very long-held ambition. What a privilege it is to be among those 101 rounds." Jonny is writing a book on Scottish Hill Running, focusing on this round, due out early next year.
Super strong Beth Pascall had a great weekend on Wales' 61mile Paddy Buckley Round with 28,000ft ascent over 47 mountains in early June, writing on Facebook: "Yesterday I completed the Paddy Buckley Round in 18hr50. I was blessed with near perfect conditions supported by my incredible friends & family. I enjoyed most of it (the sunrise over the Glyders is something I'll never forget), but there were times I wanted to chuck my shoes in the bog." Beth is going from strength to strength after placing 4th overall at the Montane Lakeland 100 race last summer, breaking the female record by almost 3 hours in a time of 21 hours 29 mins.
An exciting month for the Bob Graham round, people are still chipping away at Billy Bland's 13 hour 53 min record from all the way back in 1982. Speaking at Keswick Mountain Festival 9 June, ladies record holder Jasmin Paris told me, "I think all the fast lads are having a crack now I've done 15 hours 24!"
Jon Duncan becomes the 4th fastest officially, in 14 hours 59 mins. Jon was supported by Wainwrights record-breaking great Steve Birkinshaw and endurance athlete Bruce Duncan, who tweeted "Amazing achievement by my brother Jon, 3rd fastest ever official time in the Bob Graham Round! 42 peaks, 65 miles and 27,000ft of climb!! Under 15 hours! Wow!" Ultra runner Ryan Smith from the US also posted a time of 14 hours 17 mins the same day which would make him 2nd fastest, but this time is not official as he didn't carry a tracker or have a person with him on each summit to validate his run. Official times: 13:53 Billy Bland 1982; 14:30 Rob Jebb 2016; 14:54 Mark Hartell 1999; 14:56 Stuart Bland 1982; 14:59 Jon Duncan 2017; 15:24 Jasmin Paris 2016.
Unbelievably, the weekend after coming 2nd in the Berghaus Dragon's Back Race, Sabrina Verjee posted this on Facebook: "Just finished an impromptu self-supported Bob Graham Round starting on Harrison Stickle :) Chuffed to bits to finally have the BGR ticked off the list and a fairly respectable 20hr40. Thank you to Ben Turner for putting up with my "crazy antics" and making sure I was okay descending Halls Fell in the wee hours!" Good work Sabrina!
Not to be beaten by busy event organising and only being able to fit in 10k runs at a time, Berghaus Dragon's Back Race re-igniter and director Shane Ohly was thrilled to win the Elite class at the LAMM in early June with partner Duncan Archer. He said, "I did my first mountain marathon at the 2002 LAMM and finally won the LAMM Elite this weekend with Duncan Archer. I really hope that current novice mountain marathon runners will dream big too!" The pair also won the Elite category at last October's OMM 2016 racing hard against Jim Mann and Nick Barber. Later that month, Shane and Jim teamed up to do a Mark Rigby Round of 18 Cairngorm Munros in 80mph gusts of wind, rain, and low cloud, heroically completing this 75mile route with 19,000ft ascent in 21 hours 24 mins.
Jo Meek took 17th place for the ladies in the Trail World Champs in Tuscany, Italy this June. Team GB times were:
On Saturaday 24 June Rob Sinclair won the West highland Way Race, setting an impressive new course record of 13:41:08 - taking over 30 minutes from the previous fastest time. The 95 mile race along the full length of the WHW includes 14,760ft of ascent, and has to be completed in a time limit of 35 hours. Since its inception in 1985 it has gained a worldwide reputaiton as one of the classic ultra marathons.
So, it promises to be an exciting summer with Billy Bland's famous Bob Graham record potentially there for the taking, the Skyrunning season starting, and a little bird tells us Pavel Paloncy of Spine Race fame is currently trying for an FKT (Fastest Known Time) along the Pennine Way…
For more from Claire Maxted or to contact her regarding any other mountain running achievements this year, see:
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