Running Hard Blog Tour

Ascending Snowdon at the end of the 1983 Welsh 3000's; Neil Shuttleworth

I'm very pleased to have been invited to be part of this blog tour for Steve Chilton's Running Hard; the story of a Rivalry which is published in paperback on Thursday 19th October. Although I have never written a Book Review I chose to write this one as I hope it will give you an insight into this great fell running classic.

When I started reading Running Hard I couldn't put it down as the history behind both runners; John Wild and Kenny Stuart, was interesting and compelling reading. I always find it incredible how much dedication athletes can put into training around their work and home life. It is also interesting to learn about the development of the sport that is "fell running" through the difficulties between a "professional" versus the "amateur" race and runner; something I am glad isn't around today in the sport.

As the book progressed into the runners early running careers I lost interest a bit because I wasn't running myself in the 1970's and therefore don't have the connection to the people, the races and the sport that I do now. My interest was immediately renewed when the book heads into 1980's and runners such as Joss Naylor, Billy Bland, Colin Donnelly, High Symonds, Jon Broxap and Malcolm Patterson emerge. Some of these runners I have met, some I know personally and others I have discovered and researched. I would probably admit that if any of these individuals were giving a talk that I would immediately sign up to it! Everything about these runners fascinated me as I've always wanted to learn more about them and also Kenny Stuart. This renewed interest did make me realize that without some connection to either the people, the races or the events in the book it is hard to stay focused, digest and remember the sequence of events. So it became throughout the book that Wild was and remained an enigma. Maybe I need to meet him!? I think the book would be absolutely compelling reading to anyone who was in the fell running scene in the the 1980's and especially doing the fell championships in 1983.

The book then takes us through the runner's build up to the fell championships of 1983 (which as Steve explains and I agree, was a much harder system that it is today). I found all the comprehensive race descriptions and battles between all the runners involved, not just Kenny Stuart and John Wild, fascinating as it resonates with my own experience of the fell championships. Steve has made me want to do all the races that he describes as they all sound must do's and especially the Ben Nevis race which has never appealed to me before! It's lovely to read about the Lakeland Classics that I love so much and discover that they paid an integral part in Wild's and Stuart's training and racing too.

The finale to the 1983 series was suitably gripping with reports from all the runners involved. This is one commendable aspect of the book that Steve has obviously spent many hours talking to every runner and piecing together all the different sides and stories. You certainly get the feeling that you are reading about every different perspective of the battle from those involved on the fells to everyone in the sidelines! After the 1983 championships draw to a close we continue to follow the runners into 1984. More training, more races and more battles. We learn more about the fell running scene in these chapters and get to know how other runners such as Jack Maitland, Hugh Symonds, Mike Short and Billy Bland take on the challenge of competing for the top positions. But also that  Kenny Stuart then went on to set many records for fell races that still stand today. 

I slightly disagreed with Steve's appraisal of how both runners finished their careers in the last chapter saying "Many sportsmen have a real difficulty knowing when to retire from top level sport".  It's well known that you can't keep getting better as you get older and so you have two choices a) to stop when the going is good or b) to continue until you can't run anymore. I think most runners would prefer the latter only because they still enjoy running and are not there for the winning. I do believe that we all only have so many miles in our legs and so the more miles you use up early on, the shorter your running career will be. I'm hoping that my theory works as I started running later in life and do a relatively low training mileage! It was a lovely way to finish the book catching up with both John Wild and Kenny Stuart in their present day lives; learning about their interests and passions now.

Overall I enjoyed reading the book and looked forward to the next chapter and installment. I don't have much time for reading so it took me a while to finish the book as I read a few pages at a time. I was eager to read about the various training theories, distances and both uphill and downhill sessions that both Kenny and John did as I'm sure all runners that strive for improvement will wish to learn about too! It was lovely to learn about the social side of John and Kenny's racing and the way that they always encouraged each other on. There is a very humorous thread throughout the book as all the runners Steve interviewed divulged very funny stories about various runner's antics; both on and off the hill! Overall a thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining and informative book.

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 bookís 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: Itís a Hill, Get Over It won the Bill Rollinson Prize in 2014; The Round: In Bob Grahamís 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/.