In my final few competetive seasons whilst I was running I enjoyed competing in many International Mountain races on the European Grand-Prix circuit. Here are a few of my favourite races, and some details of the 'main contenders' I raced against in the early 2000's...

In the January of 1999 I underwent surgery on both shins to remove thickened fascia that had caused years of problems which had curtailed my progress since my junior running days. After being referred to renowned orthopeadic surgeon, Mr Porter at Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital, I was hopeful that post surgery I would be able to once again enjoy my running 'pain free' as I had in my earlier years of training. Thankfully, Mr Porter did a great job and I was out of bed and up on my feet under the watchful eyes of the hospital physio's just 24 Hrs after my operations. My first few steps felt extremely weird, with tightness around my shins and calves like you wouldn't believe! I just hoped that the opp. had worked and I was going to be able to get back running competetively once again.

After the initial few weeks of complete rest things were progressing nicely, and after the removal of my stitches I resumed light training in the pool with some steady 'aqua-jogging' which I gradually built up over the weeks to include some hard efforts of 10 x 2 mins flat out /40 seconds easy. Just 3 weeks prior to the 1999 12-stage I started some gentle jogging, which initially felt like I had never ran a step in my life! It wasn't long though before I started to feel the benefits of the pool sessions, and my running strength began to return although my legs, which were not exactly painful as such, just felt weird and 'tingley' around the operation areas, which I suppose was to be expected.

After just 3 weeks of running I was back in my black vest racing for Birchfield, with my job to safely anchor the 12-stage team to hopefully a good position. Race day came round and the team had performed strongly as I lined up ready to go out in 4th position. I wished the Morpeth runner good luck as we lined up, with him going out in 3rd about a minute infront. My hopes were raised slightly as I estimated he must have been well into his forties, and thought maybe, just maybe I could take a minute out of him if I was lucky. Unfortunately I hadn't reckoned on the Morpeth veteran to be such a good runner. His name was Les Atkinson, and he performed well to run 15:21, and so easily held off my 14:50 effort around the final 3 mile 'short stage' to hold on for the bronze medals. My run was pleasing and showed I was progressing in the right direction, although I was constantly aware of trying to run on soft ground in training to keep the shins in one piece. I also found that running uphill was less of a strain on my recovering shins, and so I kept to a 5.5 mile route that climbed up grassy fields to local beauty spot Barr Beacon, running the climb out hard and then easing off on the return jorney home. This seemed to work, although running the same route each evening after work got a bit tiresome, but as long as the shins kept in one piece I didn't care at the time.

It wasn't until close running friend Tim Werrett suggested I had a go at some uphill running with him whilst on a camping trip up in the lakes, that I'd ever considered doing a mountain or fell race. We were camping in Grassmere at the time, and Tim having taken up fell running himself due to injury problems in 1996, had a steep hill session of 10 by a minute hard with jog down recoveries planned in his schedule. I decided to join Tim on the session for a change from another steady run, but was nervous when I saw the rough 'stairway' of rocks he pointed to on our arrival at the base of the climb after our warm up jog. The climb was a technical rocky 'step up' sort of climb, and upon resuming the session I can remember feeling great throughout it with the steep climbing seeming to come naturally to me. It was funny because I had never considered myself a strong climber before, as it wasn't a feature of my cross country races that I had previously excelled at. I had just really 'held my own' on gradual XC drags before, but being introduced to some steeper stuff seemed to suit my style, and I bounded up the craggy ascent thinking ''this is great!''. Tim seemed impressed with my first session and suggested I should have a go at some uphill races, and so we went in search of my first encounter into uphill running.

Just a few weeks away, the 'trial' races were being held for the European championships and so I pencilled this in for my first bash at mountain running. The race started form Fitz Park in Keswick and I remember lining up on the start line and thinking, God, they're all great runners, I hope I don't come last!! I could see Scottish and GB International's Bobby Quinn and Chris Robison, top XC and road runners Richard Findlow, Billy Burns, Mark Croasdale and Neil Wilkinson along with fell champions Gavin Bland, John Taylor, Alan Bowness and many other top runners in the smallish field of around 40 runners.

Pictured above (right of shot-No.20) is Scottish & G.B International athlete over all surfaces, Bobby Quinn. Quinn tied for equal first with another great International athlete Richard Findlow in my first mountain 'trial' race. He achieved great success in many World & European Mountain Championships throughout his career, as well as representing G.B on the X/C and roads in the World cross and World Half Marathon Championships before embarking on the mountain running scene. Quinn is pictured above racing in the Belfast International XC in 2000 with one of my Birchfield team mates (No.17) Julian Moorhouse, along with 1994 Commonwealth 5000m champion Rob Denmark (No.3). The three athletes would only be separated by a couple of seconds at the finish line taking 11th, 12th & 13th positions behind a phalanx of top african running talent, with Quinn taking the fine 'scalp' of Demnark in the process.

 

As we set off around the initial couple of flat laps around Fitz Park, the field stayed tightly bunched and it wasn't until we hit the first part of the climb up 'Latrigg' that the pace increased as CFR's Alan Bowness put his head down and hit the front. I felt good and so closed the gap straight up with all the main contenders all to the fore. As we continued up the main Latrigg path and round tothe bottom of the steep climb leading up to the summit of Latrigg, there was still a large group with former World junior Silver medalist Adam Crossland now mixing it with the seniors. I glanced across as the path skirted round and counted a group of 12 which had now broken away from the rest of the field.

As we all turned sharp left to start the incredibly steep section up Latrigg, I managed to slip in my racing flats and lost a few yards. Now just a stride infront were a line of International athletes who were of the calibre I had never really mixed with previously. Athletes I looked up to like Chris Robison, Richard Findlow and Bobby Quinn who were at the time, some of the cream of British distance and mountain running were all there just a stride ahead! This gave me confidence, and we all climbed to the summit of Latrigg together with nothing between any of us. Over the top to start the descent we were really motoring. A figure appeared at my left shoulder, it was Robison, head back, arms and legs pumping purposefully as he powered by. I was still in touch with the leaders as we negotiated the 2nd climb up Latrigg, re-tracing our steps of the first lap with me battleing in 4th spot alongside Alan Bowness, and now Bingley's expert fell runner John Taylor. I had taken a cheeky glance back and noticed the stream of classy athletes we had left behind which again gave me a lift, and then pushed on towards the start of the real test of the race - the main climb up Skiddaw's near 3000ft ascent.

Chris Robison pictured right in the 1997 World Half marathon Championships running for G.B. The Scottish National X/C champion took to the mountains with great success and finished 3rd in the 1999 European Trial race up Skiddaw, which was my first mountain racing experience. With strong track and road bests of 4:00 for the mile, 13:55 & 28:39 for 5 & 10,000m and 62:58 for the 'Half' it is no surprise that Robison showed great ability on the mountain racing circuit, where he achieved many fine results.

I had never been up Skiddaw before, and not had a great deal of experience of being up in the mountains at all, which I don't know if that was a good or bad thing? Not knowing exactly what to expect maybe helped me, but I remember the climb seemed to go on forever, and I was now detatched running alone in 6th spot. As we climbed ever nearer to the summit I was caught by Bingley's Champion fell runner Robb Jebb. I can just remember hanging on to 'Jebby's' back as he ploughed on strongly up the steep relentless ascent. Now with a grimace firmly engraved on my face that even when I tried to relax my facial muscle's, just re-contorted to resemble the features of a champion gurner going for the winning 'gurn'! It was the toughest race I had done so far, and upon thinking I was near the finish as we crested 'Little man', my hopes were quickly dashed as 'Jebby' raced away as we descended down 'little man' with me now wondering and praying when the finish line was going to appear. Little did I know that we still had a good way to go to reach the finish on the summit of Skiddaw, and the final 8 minutes of 'slogging' up the final climb seemed like a life time and was complete torture, with Jebby easing further away from me. Now I was wishing I had been up Skiddaw before, ''it can't be much further...can it''?! Ithought to myself. Finally the ground leveled out beneath my feet and I noticed the finish only yards ahead. I summonsed a sprint for the line, now feeling great in the knowledge that I had conquered my first mountain adventure.

Rob Jebb pictured above winning the famous Grasmere Sports fell race in 2009, and right, on International duty in the 2001 Commonwealth uphill race representing England. 'Jebby' gained the final England spot in my first mountain race when finishing 6th in the 'Trial' & just beating me. Both Photos are the great work of Dave Woodhead-www.woodentops.org.uk

 

Upon reaching the summit cairn, as my time ''sixty-thirty'' was shouted by the timekeepers, I was greeted by Bingley's expert fellsman John Taylor who shook my hand and offered his condolencies to me for just missing out on the England team. I was initially puzzled as I knew it was the 'first 4 past the post' who would be selected, and so with me finishing in 7th I had thought I was way off the team. Having forgotten that two of the runners infront of me were Scottish (Quinn & Robison) that now made me 5th Englishman to finish, and so I was a bit gutted to think about if I had been able to hang on to Jebby for the final few minutes, I'd have now been looking forward to making my England International debut! So near, and yet so far!! Something I had dreamt about for the past few years but had never quite managed to achieve. John was pleased with his run finishing in 5th place thus making the European team and he continued to quiz me about my running background, and told me that I would definately be in line for an International vest off my performance, in maybe one of the 'GrandPrix' races abroad which really pleased me.

One of the toughest things about mountain racing (uphill only) in this country is that you have to run back down the mountain you have just climbed! I initially started the long 5 mile descent chatting to John, before feeling a little queezy and having to tell john to carry on without me. As I sat down on the grass, I had completely run out of steam now lying on my back having given my all up the climb. It was lucky I had been able to hang on in the race, but now finished, I was completely out of energy and spent the next hour and a half staggering back down Skiddaw and latrigg having totally 'bonked'. As I rolled up back at the start area, I remember Richard Findlow, who had tied equal first with Bobby Quinn in the race strolling out of the cricket pavilion with the rest of the lads, all having already showered and been to the presentation and now on their way home. I staggered past them in a desperate search for Mars Bars and flapjacks to re-fuel my exhausted body! They all looked as though they could have gone up again, while I felt, and must have looked like death!

Here's the final result to my first encounter into the world of mountain running...

1999 European Championships mountain running Trial race - 11K / 3000ft -Latrigg / Skiddaw

Eq.1st Richard Findlow (Brad) / Bobby Quinn (Kilb)-58:44

3rd Chris Robison (Shett)-59:29

4th Alan Bowness (C.F.R)-59:34

5th John Taylor (Bingley)-59:41

6th Robb Jebb (Bingley)-59:53

7th Mike Bouldstridge (Birchfield)-60:30

8th Billy Burns (Salf)-60:42

9th Mark Croasdale (L&M)-60:52

10th Matthew Moorhouse (Salf)-61:41

Although my run didn't earn me my first International vest, it did get me some attention from Athletics weekly who called me up and wrote a small article about my first exploits into mountain running which is shown below....

 

 

My First Mountain race abroad...

My first taste of racing on the mountains abroad came in Italy, when I tagged along with training partner Claire Tomkinson, and trials winner Richard Findlow along with Charlotte Sanderson of Bingley, who were both friends of Claire's. The race was in Northern Italy in a small village called Molten near Bolzano.

I had gone into the race confidently having been in good form of late and posting the 4th fastest 'long stage' of the day in the National 12-stage Road relays at S.P only two weeks earlier. The race was over 9KM and climbed a total of 925mts with some descending thrown in for good measure, and the field assembled was a particularly strong one with Italy's reigning European Champion and former World Champion Antonio Molinari heading the line up.

I started the race with intent and pushed the pace with Italy's Molinari and Olympic 2:10 marathoner and former multiple World and European Mountain running Champion athlete Helmuth Schmuck of Austria. At 3k and with the course actually dropping down a steep road there were 5 of us away with me on the front testing the lead runners as I pushed on. As the course steepened at 4K I was soon dropped by the mountain experts who seemed to ease away effortlessly up the steep and loose underfoot gravelly ascent. Not long after, Findlow appeared and his mountain experience told as he too glided effortlessly past me, as I was now starting to regret my over enthusiastic start in the 80 degree heat, and was not feeling quite as sprightly as I had done only minutes earlier. I hung on well for a solid 7th position amongst some of the World's leading mountain runner's at the time, with the strong field featuring all three medalists from the previous season's world Championships!

It was also nice to have attracted the attention of Former World Champion Helmuth Schmuck, who quizzed me after the race about my previous mountain running experience, and seemed all the more impressed when I told him I didn't really have any! He then tried to fatten me up by feeding me his chips, saying I needed them more than him!!

 

 

Pictured above: from L. to R. Ladies first & second placers, Claire Tomkinson and Charlotte Sanderson and men's fifth placer Richard Findlow pictured relaxing after the finish of the 2000 Molten-Meltina International Berglauf. Findlow's fine XC and track pedigree transferred well to the Mountains where he gained instant success, with the highlight's being a magnificent World Silver medal in 1999 followed by European Silver the following season. It was no surprise that the Bradford athlete achieved such heights, with a XC C.V that boasted National XC Youths & Junior Champion in '84' & '87'as well as Inter-Counties XC Silver where he just missed out on Gold by 1 second behind Spencer Duval's victorious run in 1995. Findlow was no slouch on the track either holding best times of 7:59 and 13:44 for 3 & 5,000m respectively.

Richard Findlow sprinting to 2nd in the 1995 Inter Counties XC, where he missed out on victory by a single second! & below, an article from Athletics Weekly after Findlow lifted the 1999 Northern XC title.


Here's the final result to the 2000 Molten International berglauf- 9KM / 925Mtrs - Nr. Bolzano / Italy.

1st Antonio Molinari (Italy)-45:15.9 (96 World Champ & 98,99,2001 Euro Champ)

2nd Marco Gaiardo (Italy)-45:32.4 (Future Euro champ)

3rd Helmuth Schmuck (Austria)-45:39.6 (92,94 World Champ & 95,97 Euro Champ)

4th Roberto Pedretti (Italy)-46:08.2

5th Richard Findlow (Great Britain)-46:44.1 (World & Euro Silver, 99 & 2000)

6th Matteo Pigoni (Italy)-47:05.5

7th Mike Bouldstridge (Great Britain)-47:10.4

8th Lorenzo Della Pietra (Italy)-47:18.7

9th Gino Caneva (Italy)-47:28.6 (World Bronze 99 & 2nd Snowdon 95 in 63:35/41:02 Ascent)

10th Allesandro Piccoli (Italy)-48:09.0

1st Lady-Claire Tomkinson (Great Britain)-58:42.9

2nd lady-Charlotte Sanderson (Great Britain)-61:31.1

 

Pictured from left to right: Roberto Pedretti, Helmuth Schmuck, Antonio Molinari, (you can just see the top of my head and shoulders tucked in behind Molinari!) and in yellow, future European Champion Marco Gaiardo.

 

The following year we returned to Molten for the International Berglauf but didn't improve on our previous years placings with me taking 10th in 47:18 and Rich Findlow 12th in 48:47. Below is a good shot just after the start of the 2001 race.

Pictured from L. to R. is multiple World & European Champion Antonio Molinari, obscurred behind Molinari is Italy's 2001 World Silver medalist Emanuele Manzi, again obscurred 3rd from left is another Italian Multiple World Champion, Marco De Gasperi. In Black (No.5) is European Champion Marco Gaiardo with me (No.131) centre of shot mixing it with the 'big boys'. These four mentioned athletes would all finish in the first seven, with me finally winding up 10th just 7.7 seconds slower than the previous years 7th place.

 

Two of the World's leading mountain runners, Marco De Gasperi (left) and Marco Gaiardo (right) both finished second in the Molton berglauf races in the years I competed in 2000 & 2001. Gaiardo took 2nd in 2000 with De Gasperi 2nd the following year with both men having to settle for the 'runners up' spot behind former World Champion Antonio Molinari's winning runs.The two Italian athletes pictured here hold many World and European mountain running titles between them.

 

Another favourite mountain race of mine was the Lenzerheide Grand Prix race which was held in Switzerland as part of the World Mountain Running grand Prix each season. I ran the race twice in 2000 and 2001 and was pleased with both results where I finished in 7th position the first year and followed that up with a 5th and a 30 seconds p.b the following year. I also made the trip in 2002 while in good shape, but unfortunately I had checked into the Hostel in Lenzerheide with a couple of mates two nights before the race, only to be struck down with an horrendous sickness and diarrhoea bug that, unknown to us when we checked in was sweeping it's way through the hostel at lightening speed! I awoke at 4:00 a.m the morning of the race with terrific stomach pains, urgeing me quickly in the direction of the toilet, which unfortunately for me (and the poor cleaning girl) I didn't quite make in time! The next hour or so was spent leaning over, or sitting on the toilet whilst sweating proffusely inbetween several near fainting episodes! then I had to attempt to clean the worst of my mess up, and thankfully the cleaner was extremely understanding! It was not how I had envisaged the last few hours before my race to be spent...The next day was spent in bed feeling like death and thinking about the great race I was missing.

Thankfully, my first two attempts at the Lenzerheide Berglauf had gone much more to plan, and with the 2000 race falling just a week after the European Championships, it was a good guage of form whilst comparing against the other athletes who had competed in the Championships which had been held in Poland over the previous weekend.

 

Regular Lenzerheide competitor and 1998 & 2002 race winner Martin Cox (No.317) is pictured splashing his way to a fine 4th place in the 1995 Inter-Counties XC at Luton. 'Coxy' is shown racing eventual winner John Downes (No.381), Dominic Bannister (No.406) and obscurred Tim Dickenson of Blackheath.

Here are the results to my two Lenzerheide mountain races...

2000 Lenzerheide International Berglauf - 10.4KM / 536Mtrs.

1st Antonio Molinari (Italy)-40:41 C.Rec (3rd in Euro's last week)

2nd Martin Cox (Great Britain)-41:06

3rd Marcel Matanin (Cze Rep.)-41:21  (11th in Euro's last week)

4th Richard Findlow (Great Britain)-41:49 (2nd in Euro's last week)

5th Bobby Quinn (Great Britain)-42:05 (6th in Euro's last week)

6th Mitiku Megersa (Ethiopia)-42:23

7th Mike Bouldstridge (Great Britain)-42:29

8th Matin Sambale (Gemany)-42:36

9th Helmuth Schmuck (Austria)-42:59

10th Beat Blatter (Switz)-43:13

11th Paul Lowe (USA)-43:27

12th Franz Engel (Switz)-43:32

 

Former Lenzerheide 1999 winner Bobby Quinn of Scotland (No.120) demonstrates his Cross Country prowess in the Cardiff round of the Reebok Challenge series, where he is pictured tracking 2003 National XC Champion Matt Smith (No.10). Quinn finished 5th in the 2000 edition of the lenzerheide International Berglauf just a week after placing 6th in the European championships.

The following year's 2001 Lenzerheide berglauf saw me run faster than the previous year by half a minute to finish only 5.3 seconds off the podium! (see result below...)

 

Lenzerheide 1999 race pictured above with the G.B boys to the fore being led by eventual winner Bobby Quinn who recorded a fast 41:04.1.Richard Findlow is shown centre of shot and eventually finished 2nd in 41:39, with Chris Robison shown 3rd in line, also being where he finished in 41:49.

2001 Lenzerheide International Berglauf - 10.4KM / 536Mtrs.

1st Antonio Molinari (Italy)-40:39.6 C.Rec (European Champion last week)

2nd Martin Cox (Great Britain)-41:12.0 (6th in Euro's last week)

3rd Stephen Tapala (Kenya)-41:53.9 (62:11 1/2 M'thon (2001) & 22:44 5M (2002)

4th Jan Blaha (Cze Rep.)-41:58.3 (2:15 Prague M'thon (2001)

5th Mike Bouldstridge (Great Britain)-41:59.2

6th Miroslav Vitek (Cze Rep.)-42:35.5

7th John Brown (Great Britain)-42:49.3

(John won Euro's open race last week in time that would have placed 10th in Euro's)

8th Richard Findlow (Great Britain)-43:05.3 (23rd in Euro's last week)

9th Bogdan Dziuba (Pol)-43:33.6

10th Kaspar Sollberger (Switz)-43:41.6

11th Gerd Frick (Austria)-43:47.2

12th Toni Johl (Switz)-43:52.9

Pictured left is Lenzerheide 11th placer Gerd Frick of Austria seen here racing in his home countries 'Grossglockner Berglauf'. The Grossglockner climbs nearly 1100m & finishes at 2370m above sea level, which is 300m higher than Lenzerheide's finish line.

As you can see Lenzerheide was a good result for me as I was only 1:19 down on the great Molinari who had clipped his own Course record by 2 seconds & seemed to scoop up everything in the late nineties / early 2000's in the mountain running world. It was a pity my 2002 race plan was scuppered with illness as the time I ran in 2001 would have placed me a comfortable 3rd in 2002 behind Martin Cox's brilliant 40:48 victory (before his brilliant 4th in the World's held in Innsbruck!) and 2001 World Silver medalist Emanuelle Manzi's 41:29 runner's up time, which would have earned me a few buck's too (or Swiss Francs!!).

The idea to compete in many of these 'Grand prix' races were often last minute 'spur of the moment' decisions to race in, where we would often book last minute cheap flights with Easyjet, drive down to Luton airport, fly out to Zurich or wherever was closest to the race venue, hire a car and drive to the race hoping that the race organisers would let us enter on arrival (and hope they could put us up somewhere!!) This was where knowing top mountain racers like Martin Cox and Richard Findlow came in very handy several times as they were masters at getting accomodation and race entries as they seemed to know everyone on the mountain running scene!! I must add that all of the race organisers were extremely generous and always pleased to see us. They would often go out of their way to look after us in every way they could, by feeding us and finding us somewhere to kip for the night.

 

Top mountain racer, Martin Cox (No.169) pictured right leading the way in the Mike Sully International XC in 1996. Coxy's 29:30 10k speed, coupled with his immense climbing ability saw him take many great mountain race victories throughout Europe in the late nineties and well into the new century. Now well into the veteran ranks, the Salford Harrier can still be seen to the fore in many high quality races, and is now concentrating on longer distances where his undoubted strength comes into play. Still possesing great speed, Cox set a new record in the National Master's road relays where he ran close to 14 Minutes for the undulating 3 mile leg in Sutton Park.

 

After completing the races we would often have to race back to the airport to catch our flight without any time for even attending the prize presentation sometimes! Often I would get back home in the early hours of Monday morning, lie on my bed for an hour and then get up to go to work, and then spend all day 'nodding' at my desk staring bleary eyed into a computer screen, and hiding behind it from my boss too! It was all good fun though and a great experience.