The Columbia Mountain Running Session. From trail to ultra, adventure to just starting out, the Mountain Running session incorporates all disciplines and abilities of the sport, delivering a broad and diverse speaker panel, who’s expertise range from half marathon to 100 miles, multi day, self supported adventures and beyond.Simon Freeman, co-founder of Like the Wind Magazine, was our host for the evening, one of the most passionate people you will meet when it comes to running and more over, the stories it creates. Sharing these stories is the reason Like the Wind Mag exists and it was fitting to have Simon as Parky. The audience were shown a number of photos submitted from some of the best photographers in the world, which personified why the magazine exists and set the theme for the session.
A contender for the most featured man on this website, Damian has had a year to remember, with his podium performance at UTMB, realising a dream he has pursued for years and surprising himself in the process, taking 5th this year. It should also be announced, at the time of writing, UNDERDOG, the film from Summit Fever Media, which follows him on his build up and race to 5th place, won Kendal Mountain Festival’s Peoples Choice Award.
To put the cherry on an ever growing cake, it was his 43rd (sorry Damian) birthday on Saturday!
But who is Damian?
An outdoor journalist, Damian is relatively new to competitive running, after a hiatus of some 20+ years following not making a district or county XC team at school and opting for football instead. To provide some perspective, in 2011 he ran his first half marathon, 2012, first marathon and ultra, and in the following 6 years has represented Great Britain at the Trail Running World Championships, has 4 UTMB finishes to his name, a 2.38 marathon PB, podium on the Spine Race and more. Success, moreover, dedication to the sport has been condensed into a relatively short time frame, but what stands out for me is consistency. UMTB being the prime example, 4/4 finishes, each climbing higher up the finisher roster, culminating in the 5th place this year.
“I like being muddy, it’s good to be outdoors”
“To me it’s about having adventure, be it your races or your training runs”Damian is the first to say his obsession may well be an addiction, but one of the better ones to have. The first half marathon wasn’t planned or measured out, his brother had run 1:46, so that is what he went for – “Remember running past a group of kids with jelly babies, smashed it out of their hands“. With a background in long distance walking, on top of football, being on feet for extended periods of time was already part of Damian’s skill set. In may ways ultra races are similar to long walks, you walk up hills after all.
“Cheat sticks – I’m a big fan of them, unless there’s a photographer around – look less heroic”
Speaking about his obsessive personality, once Damian gets into something, he really does get into it. Take music as an example, if a specific song resonates and he really likes it, Damian will have to listen to it 5 to 6 times a day, every day. Other addictions included nut butter and currently balsamic vinegar…..“Nicky Spinks should be on the WADA (World Anti Doping Association) banned list”
No stranger to the race, it’s atmosphere, the training and time dedicated to racing at the sharp end of what has rapidly grown to be the most competitive ultra out there, Simon asked what things stood out for Damian.
Love running through the night – stars, snow on mountains,
The competition – Up against the best the sport has to offer
The crowds – you have people supporting you on the sides of mountains in the early hours, the entire town celebrates.
“Allez Allez Allez – it’s sounds a bit pushy”
Simon “You’re one the most modest people I’ve ever met,” Damian, without a pause “I’m probably more modest then you’ll ever realise.”
When asked about what Damian can attributhis success at UTMB to – “Much of my success is due to finding someone who can train bumble bees” – a reference to Kilian Jornet being stung prior to the race, which induced an allergic reaction, resulting in his withdrawal from UTMB.
I stuck my neck out and called out Damian to be the Andy Kirkpatrick of running… I still hold onto this for Damian’s whit, ability to tell a story and humour.
Jenny Tough is an adventurer and racing, with a ever increasing list of world firsts to her name. Coming to Kendal after recently setting an FKT traversing the Bolivian Andes, in terms of long distance, Jenny was far ahead of the the other speakers for time, complexity and remoteness of her endurance feats in mountains.
Jenny openly admitted she started running for negative reasons, because she hated her own body at the time. However, this has lead to positivity and a series of adventures that inspire many.
Asked why she predominantly doesn’t race:
“I like my own adventures, doing the unknown, not knowing what you’re doing,” “May be a bit too zen, but I don’t like running against other people.”
What became apparent and helps explain the self supported racing, is the people who inspire Jenny. Inspired by people everyday, from those that she meets who have completed a couch to 5km, random people on the trail that spur her on. The act of running is “so innate, everyone can run.”
With the same question posed to Damian, it was the people you meet along the way, in a low situation, it sounds cliche “it makes you feel better about the world”.
Given the remoteness of many of Jenny’s adventures, Simon asked a question on the lips of any of the audience, how do they respond when they see you?
“Like you are bonkers. A Gringo has landed, is someone chasing her?” You are doing something weird they haven’t seen before, what on earth are you doing and yet, all they want to do is help.
In Bolivia, Jenny was told again and again she would be murdered before she traveled out, you’re just a girl running in the mountains. “After weeks alone in the mountains, you come to Kendal and every wants to know your route. The contrast couldn’t be bolder.” Why put yourself at risk?
“I’ve been doing this as a solo woman for 10 years. Proved again and again this world is full of more good people that bad people. It spurs me on to go to that place and prove it is not full of horrible people. You have to explore these places & not accept what you are being told.”
Jon Albon may be the silent assassin of mountain running. Despite being one of the most successful OCR and mountain running racers of the past few years, he manages to stay under the radar of most and carve his own path.
A career that started with Roller Hockey, he found OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) advertised in a newspaper article. After completing his first race, Jon enjoyed the fact it wasn’t just running. OCR requires rounded fitness and there is no formula to success. As the sport evolves, so do training techniques, theories and the athletes at the top of the sport. As is often the case of those that stick with a sport, Jon kept entering and winning. So much so, he became World Champion.
“It’s really horrible, but it’s gives you a great sense of achievement”
Fundamentally it relies on Caveman fitness, you need to be strong, fast and tough. At the same time you are being exposed to your fears – fire, ice, dark, confined spaces and even electrocution.
“OCR & Ultra running compliments each other”
One of the few who can say they beat Kilian, and possibly the only one to say he beat him at his own race, Jon is at the very top of the sport, but may rival Damian for humbleness. A two time Extreme Skyrunning World Series winner and current Ultra Skyrunning World Champion, technical terrain features highly on Jon’s racing, utilising skills from OCR.
Jenny “I love sky running – love it at my own pace”
Damian – “love the terrain, a bit short,” “Need a long race, fast guys can blow up & then I can run past”.
Eoin Keith is unanimous in his style of racing – “I need it long.”
A late bloomer like Damian, Eoin started running when he was 30. Some 20 years later, he’s showing little sign of slowing down, though challenging runners half his age in the elite field has new challenges. Asked whether he has hallucinated in the dark, at the Northern Traverse race – for an hour running into the 3rd aid station, Eoin had an imaginary friend, resulting in a huge argument! So, that’s a yes.Turning 50
Whereas many may hang up their shoes, Eoin is relishing the opportunities it brings. “A new age category spurs me on,” an “insurance policy to win your age group.” Yet, he will always race the entire field and it is his older friends that inspire.
Officially finished 1 lap on his last attempt, overtime on the second lap, breaking his collar bone in the process.
Why would you go to a race where the number is 0 who finished?
“Because it’s there, it has the reputation, right on the edge of what is humanly possible. I’d like to go back for more.”
Sports coach, international mountain leader, Nordic walking, canoeing, rock climbing, & mtb qualifications, Julia has a professional skill base developed for the mountains. To top this off, a 4th place finish at CCC.
“You are the voice of reason on the panel”
Becoming a personal trainer from herself, before turning her passions to her profession, originally from Essex, now residing in Chamonix, sharing her passions with everyone has become the basis of her life. Having trained at Glenmore Lodge, Julia has climbed in the Himalayas, ran the Everest Marathon with Anna Frost and a podium at CCC. Trail running takes Julia around Europe for work, while skis unlock Scandinavia – the basis of all jobs, “to encourage people to get out there.”
“Once you’re a guide, it opens up a world to you”
On the subject of coaches, Simon asked the panel for their experiences.
Damian – “had 4 coaches, I didn’t have one this year”
JON – “no coach / may take the fun out of it”
Julie – “Pretty hard to reign people’s training in, make sure they aren’t over training,” “it’s more about facilitation how to get someone around UTMB.”
“Making something possible”
Tips & Q&A
Find kindered spirits – someone who has the same passion – run with others – set yourself a couple of goals. Short term and long term. It Might be your goal is 5-10 years down the line. Above all, get some skills.
“The dot watching helps me have some adventure from home, it’s quite inspirational”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years times?
Eion Keith is big inspiration – maybe not 6 days Racing
In 10 years I’ll have 10 years more skills – I’ll do bigger badder expeditions
No goals – go with the flow
Stay injury free
If I’m retired – I can do huge races
One friend ran 4 years around the world
Lucky to have the job I have
Every year brings new opportunity – the options are endless
Jon will you do a Bob Graham Round & smash Kilian’s time?
“Ouch, he looked completely destroyed afterwards”
“Not sure a human can beat him”
“I purposely haven’t run any of the legs” and went on to say he’d like do it on his own, carrying all his kit, unsupported.
“Don’t need to be in the club”
The Mountain Running Session was a great couple of hours, expertly lead and crafted by Simon Freeman, who gradually added to the panel, incorporating every member and utilising their different skills and experiences, to provide answers which informed and entertained. With audience participation encouraged throughout, this was a session for those who want to engage, learn and laugh.
If you’d like to see more – check out the up coming Kendal Mountain Festival Tour
A big shout out to Paul Scully for inviting me along.