Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Tebay - A post race chat with Bowland's Chris Arthur

Chris Arthur at Tebay (photo by Norman Berry)

After Saturday's English and British Championship race at Tebay (listed as 8 miles and 3000ft of ascent), I had a little chat with Chris Arthur, the man currently at the top of the English Championship table. I asked him how it had gone.....
"I never feel great before races. I don't feel nervous as such, but it seems to manifest itself physically with headaches etc. As it's the norm though, I try not to read too much into it and just trust that I'll feel alright when we get going. Sure enough, as soon as we were through the gate I started to feel fine and comfortably worked through the stampede to get out in front on the track. I've never really raced Fin or Sam before (I'm sure I've been at races with them but certainly not where we ran together) so I didn't really know what to expect beyond the fact they're obviously great runners."

'Fin' is Finlay Wild, who has won the Ben Nevis race seven times in a row, won the (Fellrunning) British Championship in 2015 and amongst other credits has the fastest know time across Skye's Cuillin Ridge to his name.

'Sam' is Sam Tosh, who last year finished in a bridesmaid's silver place in not just the English Championship (to Si Bailey's Gold) but also the British Championship (to Rhys Findlay Robinson). Tebay was Sam's first Championship race this year.

Ok let's go back to Chris who we left running along the track not long into the Tebay race......

Fin (668), Chris behind (215) at Tebay, before the sheepfold - photo by Norman Berry
"Dropping down to the sheepfold I didn't look behind me but think I had at least a few seconds' gap. I gambled at this point and ignored the flags to take (what I always thought to be) the usual racing line going more directly to the top of Rispa Pike (Checkpoint 1). This proved to be possibly the crucial point of the race at it let Sam put a few seconds into me at the top and bought me neck and neck with Fin. I quickly got back on Sam's heels with Fin not far behind."
"At this point I think it's a real shame that they flagged the route this year. Last year I gambled on a sneaky line that kept high between Rispa Pike and Checkpoint 2 on Uldale Head, whilst everyone else dropped left to contour round. Unfortunately for me, they sent everyone my way!"
"I pushed Sam once or twice and nipped past him to lead into Checkpoint 2 but he answered straight away to get just in front on the descent and take the lead through the singletrack contour path. Not much you can do to overtake here so I just settled in and trotted along behind him towards Linghaw (Checkpoint 3)."
"Descents are never my strong point but I think I hung on, off Linghaw to keep the same few seconds behind Sam down to Carlin Gill and the start of the last and biggest climb of the race, up Blease Fell. About half way up Fin came storming past me (told you I was crap at walking up hills)"
FRB - yes you did, and I told you you'd be fine once racing! but anyway what happened next!?

"Sam continued to look strong up ahead. I got to the top in third but quickly overtook Fin as we started running, due in no small part to his calves cramping. I quickly checked he was alright when he stopped briefly to give them a rub but he told me to crack on and catch Sam. With the best of intentions, that never quite happened!"
Sam Tosh leading Chris Arthur off the long fast runnable descent of Blease Fell - photo by Norman Berry
"I think I closed the gap slightly, but his win was never really in question so the last few hundred metres, I didn't try and sprint, finishing about 15 seconds behind."
1 Sam Tosh - Rossendale Harriers - 1:12:51
2 Chris Arthur - Bowland Fell Runners - 1:13:06
3 Finlay Wild - Lochaber - 1:14:16

FRB - Really! So in some ways, the fact that you couldn't climb as strongly as Fin helped you, as it allowed you to run off better, cramp free!
"Fin did say, at the end, that he knew he was taking a risk pushing that hard on the last climb but had to try it! I don't think I've ever had calf cramp in a race thankfully but Sam said his calves were bad on the run-in as well."
"It was good to see Sam back on it after his long lay off with injury, and it will certainly make the rest of the English champs a bit more dramatic!" Photo Norman Berry
Tebay was only the third race in a series of six, that make up the 2017 English Championship. The remaining races are at Wasdale (8 July), Castle Carr (3 September) and Great Whernside (23 September).

I then asked Chris a little about himself, as he's relatively new to the fellrunning scene and it's quite unusual for someone to take to it so well and rise straight to the top. Chris has spent a lot of this year beating our usual superstars (Carl Bell, Ben Mounsey, Robs Hope and Jebb etc) and this is his first season at the Champs.

Chris Arthur trying to disguise his vest at Long Mynd Valleys
"I'm living in Lancaster, though as I'm sure as you can tell from my accent, I'm originally from down South. I moved here about 6 years ago to return to Uni. I didn't have any ties to Bowland, but being the most local club to Lancaster, it seemed the obvious choice, in order to meet a few more people and share lifts to races etc. I really like the club; it's relaxed without any pressure whilst being exceptionally friendly, enthusiastic and supportive (admittedly most clubs seem to fulfill that criteria). We've also got a disgraceful vest." 
FRB - Er you said it.
"I started running in May 2015 really (I did do the odd bit of very slow road running a few years ago when I used to climb, I did it to stay light, but we're talking 5k twice a week and then straight home for a fag!)" 
FRB - I'm sure we need some sort of shocked face image here!
"You're right about the Champs though, this is my first attempt. I intended to have a go last year but got hopelessly lost at Black Combe (I was in a group with Jebby, Simon Bailey, Rob Hope and Karl Gray so thought I was in safe hands! To be fair though I'd have been even more lost if I was on my own), and then slightly broke my ankle at the last KWL at Arant Haw which scuppered things."
I then forced Chris to tell us about his climbing as I know some of you will be interested and understand what it all means, you can ask him about them in person when you next see him, (don't bore me with his responses please).
"Most runner-climbers would probably be disappointed to know that I pretty much exclusively bouldered, with a year or so of sport climbing latterly. I was never a bold Lakeland trad legend but I've got a pretty good knowledge of Lake District bouldering if anyone is after any information on that! I was alright at climbing and it accounts for a large part of my life, but I don't have the time or the energy to get out anymore, at least not at anywhere near the level I used to. I guess Raindogs at Malham would be the most notable sport route I did which isn't very hard by decent climbers standards!"  
"There's a big overlap between climbers and runners though as you say, and it's only through climbing friends that I started running in the first place. My friend Steve (who owns Frontrunner in Sheffield) announced a few years ago that he was effectively stopping climbing to concentrate on fell running and I remember thinking he was an absolute idiot. I get it now though! There's almost a sub-subculture of ex-climbing fell runners."
"But I started to get a bit jaded with climbing. I think I had a finger injury at the time and was getting restless so decided to try and batter myself running up a hill. I absolutely loved it and was hooked almost instantly. About three weeks later I did my first race on Hutton Roof which I really enjoyed to my surprise. What initially appealed about running was the fact it wasn't pass/fail like climbing and it wasn't competitive. Somehow I still find that with running, but racing just adds an extra element. I've barely climbed since I started running, it's definitely been over a year now." 
FRB - OK so what about the future.....goals, running ambitions??
"As for future goals....basically everything!"
"The English and British Championships are obvious ones to aspire to, but this year has made me realise quite how consistent and rounded (and lucky to some extent!!) you need to be to win them. I'd love for everything to go right one year but we'll see."
Chris finished 4th at Long Mynd Valleys
"There are lots of races I'd like to run just because they look brilliant, or for their history/prestige, like Snowdon, Ben Nevis, The Three Peaks, Scottish Island Peaks etc etc." 
"I'm going to run the European Championships in Slovenia next month which I'm really looking forward to, so 'Mountain Running' might be something else to look at more closely in the future. It seems a bit regimented and serious compared to fell running though. Because fundamentally I want to just continue enjoy running and using it as an excuse to explore new places. I've been up to Scotland a few times this year which really drives home how small an aspect of fell running, racing is. And how ace it is just to go and mess about in the hills with your mates."
FRB - Well, that's what it all boils down to for most of us, messing about in the hills with our mates! The relays are always a really good team bash, the Hodgson Brothers in early October and then the FRA relays a couple of weeks later, hopefully you'll be part of Bowland's Team.

Well thanks Chris, I am really glad I had a chat with you, I hope you don't mind, if I share your thoughts with a few close friends of mine! I'll just wish you good luck in Slovenia and for the rest of the season and er don't be bringing back any duty free fags from Slovenia now!

All above photos thanks to Norman Berry.

More photos here - Athletes In Action and Grand Day Out

Full results from Tebay here.

Chris on the final descent at Tebay  - Photo by Athletes In Action

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