Oi Polloi

Interview: A Room Full of Runners (and Walkers)

Published: Fri Jun 09 2017

As you may already know, two lads from our HQ recently ran some mad race around the hills of Yorkshire.

They wrote an article about it here that’s worth a look, but for those aching for more readable nuggets about this magnanimous feat… here’s a few interviews with some people we met in a school hall on the evening before the race. 

The first person I talked to was a man called David in a Fjallraven jacket...

Have you done this before? 

I tried it once before. I didn’t quite finish it last year, but I’ll keep going until I’ve done it. I had food poisoning before I started last year, and I’d lost eight kilos in the twelve days before I did it. I didn’t have enough in the tank to do it. I didn’t sleep the whole night before. I’ll finish it tomorrow though. 

I know a lot of the race is done through the night. What’s that like

Last year there was close to a full moon. But this year there was a new moon two days ago, and its forecast for low cloud, so it’s going to be as black as a sack out there. There’ll be nothing except darkness. You’re not going to see any shadows or silhouettes.   

What are your thoughts when you’re doing something like this?  

My obsession is making sure my feet don’t get wet. You’ve got to finish as early as possible, as it’s going to be cold out there. That’s the thing that shocks people the most. The wind chill last year was below -10. If you’ve been running and you stop for just a minute to navigate, you could be in a bad way in the cold. 

What do you think attracts people to things like this. Why do people enter?

Why? Well, there are three groups here if you look around. First, there’s the serious runners who do it time and time again, year after year. Then there’s the ones who do think, “That sounds like a challenge, I’ll have a crack at that.” And then the third group are people who are trying to avoid growing old. I’m in that group. 

I started doing bigger distances as I got older – I wanted to prove that as I got older, I wasn’t losing anything. I was proving to myself that I was still alive.   

You know when you do some exercise – you know that feeling you get after from the endorphins? If you’ve done a big event, that lasts quite a while. I can still be feeling high as a kite three days after.  

Is it competitive? 

Oh definitely. I time everything. 

Who are you against? Yourself? 

Yeah, but I’ve got a nineteen year old son. He could run this, but if I asked him to walk it with me he’d probably struggle. I’ll be looking to prove that I can walk further than he can. 

Haha - is that what it is then? Beating your son? 

The thing is, when your kids are ten, you have to let them win. But when they get to thirteen or fourteen, they start getting pretty good and you start having to get competitive. I’m prepared to let him beat me at some things if there are some things I can still beat him at.  

For me it’s competitive against myself, and it’s to prove that I’m alive. 

I suppose it’s a bit of a step away from normal life too 

It’s one of those things that everyone says is mad. And I quite like that. There’s probably only 5000 people in this country who do things like this.

The next person I chatted to was a woman named Karen. She was no stranger to running long distances.   

How long have you been fellrunning? 

25 or nearly 30 years. I’ve run one way or another for my whole life.  

How many times have you ran this race? 

Maybe four or five times. 

How does it differ? Surely weather condition plays a big part. 

It does. We did it one year into a desperately cold wind and everyone was snow blind. No one could see anything. And then two years ago it was really, really wet. I’ve had it in other races where I’ve had one side coated in sleet, and I’ve been so cold I’ve not been able to open the buckles of my rucksack to get another layer out or more food.  

What draws people to do this sort of thing? 

I think it’s the challenge. Doing it and completing it. My husband is 73, and he’s hoping to beat the time he did last year. After the race you get a feeling of real satisfaction. Just have a cup of tea, a shower and then crash. Even the next day, you’re hobbling around a bit. I’m not running this race because I’m running on Friday instead. I’ve entered something really silly. 

What’s that? 

It’s a race over on the North York Moors200 miles.  

200 miles. How does that work? 

I’m not quite sure yet.  

Do you sleep along the way or something? 

You’ve got to have support, and I’m lucky as I’ve got a campervan, so my husband is supporting me in that. I’m just wondering if I can do it in 50 hours, whether I can do it without sleep. I’ve done 39 hours running without sleep before.  

What about food? What do you eat? 

Eating as much as you can is important. I know that I run better on real food. You end up carrying some gels because they’re easy to carry, but good food is important.  

What’s going through your head when you’re doing that? 

When I did 39 hours, I had a few sleep monsters. Coming off the last hill and going down through the forest, I thought every big tree I saw was a bear or something. I thought I was running home to bed, so I kept saying goodnight to people. All the tree roots looked like snakes.  

Do you notice certain character traits in people doing these races? Especially when you get into these longer distance races, it must take a certain sort of person to want to do that. 

It’s mostly people who are determined and up for a challenge… people who want to see it through. I did this race once with a horrendously swollen ankle. I’d have to be having a really bad time to not finish and not persevere. 

I have to say that next weekend, if I get more than half way and I miss a cut-off, I’ll still carry on anyway. I want to see if I can do the 200 miles.  

How serious is this for you? Is running all you think about? 

Two years ago I did 62 ultramarathons. It just happened every weekend. I was still working then too.

By this point the hall had cleared out as most people had headed off to bed. Apart from a few stewards supping wine from enamel camping mugs, the last man standing was a chap named Andrew from County Durham.   

How are you feeling about the race then? 

I wasn’t too bothered about it all day. I was in a really jolly mood – more than what I usually am. But now it’s crunch time. Usually if I start something and I’m feeling easy before the event, then usually I’m going to struggle with it. That goes for things in general life too. It’s good to have a bit of healthy apprehension.  

Is there a certain sort of person who enters this sort of thing? 

Yes, middle aged men in a crisis. In less than two years’ time I’ll qualify for Saga, so that gives it away. As you get older, you’ve got to focus on something. I let my fitness go for a number of years, and I thought to myself, “You’ve got a choice, you can either lay in bed until two in the afternoon every weekend, or you can pull your finger out.” 

There’s not only health benefits to things like this, but mental benefits also. Sometimes I can come out into the countryside literally chewing at my steering wheel, but by the time I’ve finished my walk I’m so relaxed and chilled. 

Why do you think that is? 

I think it’s the change of environment. I’m no neurosurgeon, but I think there are certain chemicals in the brain which change during good exercise. 

I suppose the world is so fast paced with all these phones and everything. Is it a break from that? 

Yes, that’s it. It’s good to have a break from technological gadgets.  

How did you get into doing this long distance stuff? Was it something you did when you were younger? 

No, when I was a teenager I did three years in the forces and to be honest with you, that did put me off the outdoors. The weather is an effective weapon against the person. It was the weather that defeated Napoleon and Hitler, and it can make you or break you. In my younger days I would walk well into the night as I would misjudge distances on the map. I’d be trudging along foggy moorland roads like something out of American Werewolf in London  

But later I got a series of jobs, and I wanted escapism. I find if you have a good weekend in somewhere like the Lake District, it can bounce you through anything until at least about Wednesday. I get back to the office on Monday and my head is still in the Lake District.


How do you find the night time stuff? 

I've never liked it, because although you're in a group of people, you're in you own world. All you can see is somebodies boots in front of you or their luminous kit. I'm under no illusion - there's a lot that could go wrong.  

What's going through your head at that point? 

The cold. Definitely the cold. You just want the dawn to break and get into that new day. The night isolates you. People don't do a lot of talking through the night.  

How do you feel at the end of it all? 

I did the Yorkshire Dales 100 in 2008. And when I got back to Skipton it was a feeling of disbelief that I'd actually done it. When I got half way round my energy plummeted and I literally ground to a halt. I actually prayed to get round. I'm not afraid to admit it.  

When I finally did get round I was on a high. I drove back along the motorway and I was on top of the world.  

Do you have to do much training for this sort of thing? 

Normally I'll just train on the weekends, but I got back from holiday and I saw my photos and I'd put a hell of a lot of weight on. So I've been out through the week a bit.  

Have you got any wise words for people wanting to do stuff like this? 

Yes if you want to get in shape – don't bite off more than you can chew. Rome wasn't built in a day. You're not going to have a physique like Mr Motivator in any short space of time. And if you want a good pair of boots – you're going to have to spend over £100. You get what you pay for. 

Do you think people want too much too soon? 

Yeah – you hear stories every year about people with New Year's resolutions. People go to the gym – try it once – then give up. I see people who clearly haven't done any exercise for some years trying to run. They should just be walking.  

Literally running before they can walk? 

Instead of parking closest to the supermarket doors you can park on the other side of the car park. Or maybe get off the bus a stop early. When I used to work in a call centre – I was the only one who would go out for a walk on my lunch. That was two and a half hours of exercise through the week.  

Do you feel like you've got one up on the normal person – doing things like this? 

Yes – I did actually question whether or not this was doing me any good at all. But then I went in to my favourite pizza shop one evening and saw the general physique of a lot of the people in there. I thought, "Right Andrew – you are doing the right thing."  

If you look at lot of people's lower legs these days – there's no calves and there's no ankles. There's just one homogenous blob. In another 100 years there'll be no such thing as ankles. Darwin's theory of evolution will have advanced a stage further.  

Wise words indeed. I left Andrew at half past 12 to go and try and sleep in the large sports hall. It wasn't the best night's sleep – but at least I didn't have to run for 60 miles the next day.