Monday, 16 October 2017

The Running Hard Blog Tour: guest post

I am delighted to welcome Steve Chilton to my blog as part of the Running Hard Blog Tour. His book Running Hard: the story of a rivalry is published in paperback on Thursday 19th October. It is a fascinating book covering the 1983 fell running season looking at the rivalry between Kenny Stewart and John Wild. These two set many fell running records, a number of which have still not been broken. So how did they train to get so fast and strong? Steve Chilton's blog has all the details. So over to Steve Chilton

Steve Chilton Guest Blog

When I was in my thirties I was a serious runner for a decade, and I THOUGHT I trained hard. I DIDN’T, I now realise. At the time I was running for my club in cross countries, doing marathons and also doing fell races and mountain marathons.  Looking back through my diaries, and doing a few sums, made me realise three things. Firstly, that I never did particularly high mileage in my marathon build-ups. For instance I had an average of 55 miles/week in 18 weeks build to the 2-34-53 PB, with just one high week of 82 miles. Secondly, that I now seem to be advocating much higher mileages than I ever did myself for people that I advise on their marathon training. And thirdly, that there are lessons to be learned from what I did to try to take my time down even further than the PB the next year. In simple terms I tried to do more miles, and hard ones at that, and became injured. Lesson learned.
after the World Vets Champs at Keswick 2005. Credit Mike Cambray

I realised all this before I started researching my third book, although it does rather confirm my point. Running Hard: the story of a rivalry tells the life stories of two of fell running’s finest proponents, Kenny Stuart and John Wild. In the many interviews I did with both of them we discussed their attitude to training, and racing. There are also excerpts from both their training diaries in the book to back up their comments.

It is probably not stretching things too far to say that reflecting now neither of them think they were particularly hard trainers, though I think they were. They both argued that they trained well, and as much as possible, specifically. Originally I thought that perhaps John in particular was prone to over-training. In fact I challenged him on this at one point in the book, which elicited this exchange:

You might conclude that Wild might have been someone who had a tendency to over-train at times. I suggested just that to him, or that he just did not stop at warning signs sometimes. His robust response was, ‘not really, and there were sometimes I didn’t think I trained hard enough. I was briefly at [RAF] St Athan with Steve Jones, I’d do say 4 x 5 min efforts but he’d be doing 6, or I’d do 6 x 1000m hills but he would do 10. But it’s always a question of balance. When I got to the fells my intensity and quantity of training dropped significantly.’ Less is sometimes more.

So, rather than thinking he over-trained, he came back with someone who topped him in his training loads. Steve Jones is of course still the British Record holder for the marathon, with his 2-07-13 at the Chicago Marathon in 1985. I am not sure whether it was in recognition of his own hard training, or him just being realistic, but Steve Jones once famously said that he was, “one hamstring tear away from oblivion”.

Coming as he did from a track background, John Wild did more track training than Kenny Stuart ever did. He trained with some great athletes, and for a while joined a group under Harry Wilson (who was also Steve Ovett’s coach), as this excerpt shows:
‘The Tuesday evening sessions at Welwyn Garden City were fantastic and worth driving the 50+ miles to get there. There was a large number of athletes and we would do a particular effort session such as 8 x 3 minutes with 1-minute recovery. It was good to train with an athlete of the calibre of Tony Simmons, and on occasion we were joined by internationals such as Ian Stewart, who would turn up in his primrose TR6.’

Some more of the athletes he trained with, and the quality of the sessions he was doing are shown from this next quote from John:
He says now, ‘I’d also never been frightened of training hard and managed over the years to hold my own with anyone I trained with - including the Tucks, Tony Simmons, Dave Black and Roger Hackney (although Jonesy was bloody hard!) I also feel that with my years of running over 100 miles per week I had put plenty in the bank. I guess we would do one and a half mile repetition sessions at 4m 20s per mile pace. Certainly later, when I was training for the marathon, I was running accurate one and a half mile efforts in under 6m 30s.’

The illustration gives typical week’s training for them both (from the book). 

Kenny Stuart wasn’t really a natural runner, and didn’t win races as a youngster (unlike John Wild, who won his County cross country champs as an under 17, and also went to the English Schools track champs, for instance). But Kenny was determined to improve. He sent away for some running books and in effect taught himself to train. In discussion with him I noted that:
By 1980 Stuart comments that his training diary, ‘records average weekly mileages of seventy-plus – mostly on the road in the dark! As the 1980 season started my much improved aerobic capacity pushed my capabilities from strength to strength.’

At the age of 23 then, he was getting a really good background and was starting to have an impact in the professional fell racing scene.
One commentator noted that Kenny Stuart’s training then got up to around 80 miles a week, but had significant amounts of quality work, though not track based (due to his location in Northern Cumbria):

Throughout his career Kenny’s approach to training has more closely resembled that of a cross country runner than a traditional fell runner. This is illustrated in several key areas: Lower overall mileage than most top fell racers; limiting his running on fells to one third of total mileage in order to maintain leg speed; inclusion of regular interval and fartlek sessions on road and grass.
Finishing work at 5.00 pm in winter generally meant that sessions were on tarmac roads around his home in Threlkeld. At weekends with more time and daylight available Kenny was able to train around the steep grass slopes and rock ridges of the Blencathra range which rise impressively above his home. Winter mileage would generally be around 80 per week.

At one point Kenny says that:  

‘My training plans were flexible and varied with the differing demands of upcoming races. The quality of effort was emphasised at all times, hence the road work to maintain leg speed. The hill rep sessions were run VERY HARD and would not be included in the same week as a race. I often felt hangover fatigue from a Tuesday hill session on Saturday! It took many years to adapt to this level of training, so it was a gradual build-up. The actual pace of the repetitions was difficult to gauge given that they were not accurately measured. However, based on split times achieved in later events such as the Great North Run, I reckon that my mile reps would have been run around 4-20 to 4-30 pace.’  

A hard trainer then, with significant DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) to deal with.
One of the other joys of researching the book was talking with Kenny and John’s contemporaries and rivals, and asking them for their thoughts on the both of them. On one memorable occasion I was sitting in Joss Naylor’s front room trying to keep him ‘on subject’ when he offered this spot on assessment of Kenny:

‘He was a great athlete; he was a front runner was Kenny from day one. He was good at climbing, good at descending, and good at training. He trained very hard all through his career, and put a lot into it. He was just a genuine athlete. You wouldn't come across anyone who worked harder than him, or had more dedication.’

John and Kenny after the Kinniside race 1983. Credit: Compass Sport

I hope that gives a good feel for how hard Kenny and John trained, and what types of training they did. Although I would still maintain they were hard trainers, it is also true that they were hard racers too. There is much more of that in the book, but for now I will finish with their own assessments of themselves as racers, and friends:

Finally, reflecting back on the amazing battle they had throughout the 1983 fell season, Kenny Stuart commented, ‘In some races I pushed myself beyond the limit, but then I’ve consoled myself thinking that if I am going to kill myself I’ll be killing a few others at the same time.’ 

John Wild agreed, ‘We’ve raced each other into the ground.’

Kenny Stuart added, ‘That is it about fell running. John and I have knocked ourselves up against each other, but still gone out for a few beers.’ 

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: