Running Hard: the story of a rivalry

Blog Tour Review

I’m delighted to have been asked to take part in the blog tour which marks the publication of Running Hard in paperback. All views expressed in the review are entirely my own. Details about the book and the author can be found below.

The 1983 amateur fell running championship was contested by two men: John Wild and Kenny Stuart. Of course, hundreds of other runners took part in that year’s series of short, medium and long championship fell races, but only one of Wild or Stuart ever really had a chance of winning overall. Each was a formidable athlete in top form. Each went into the season with a string of successes behind him, and each knew well that there was only one other runner that could stop him from taking the championship. Steve Chilton’s new book Running Hard is the story of that season, and the story of that rivalry.

In recent years, Steve Chilton has established himself as fell running’s chronicler in chief. His first book was the impeccably titled It’s a Hill, Get Over It, in which the author took on the task of telling fell running’s entire history. In his second book, The Round, Chilton set his sites on one of the sport’s most well-known challenges, the Bob Graham Round. In both, the author displayed a knack for presenting detailed and thorough research in a way that was both a pleasure to read and accessible to seasoned fell runners and newcomers alike.

I’m pleased to report that the same is true of his latest book, which is made more compelling for the fact that its narrative is so clearly honed: one season, two runners. Where It’s a Hill and The Round succeeded in covering long periods of time and vast amounts of ground (quite literally in the case of The Round), in Running Hard Chilton is able to focus on just two protagonists and their battles on the fells.

Which is not to say that he doesn’t give us plenty of background. In the early chapters, we learn about the men’s lives leading up to 1983; Wild had been a multiple inter-counties cross country winner who had represented England in the steeplechase at the Commonwealth Games (he was also the two-time, and reigning, amateur fell champion), Stuart had been a three-time championship winning professional fell runner before making the contentious switch to the amateur code. But the part of the book that gripped me most was the four chapters in which Chilton outlines, race by race, the 1983 season in full.

Everything that had happened up to then, including Kenny Stuart winning the pro championships three times and John Wild the amateur championships twice, was just a prelude to an amazing 1983 season. Both athletes were at the peak of their powers and went hammer and tongs at each other over a full, and demanding, fell season.
The 1983 Burnsall Classic Fell Race. John Wild in first position, Kenny Stuart in third

Variously beset by injuries and illness, or flush with successes when in unstoppable form, the two men spent the whole season taking wins and points off each other. It culminated in a thrilling denouement over just 4.3 miles at Thieveley Pike. In the end, the season’s winner finished with 311 points, and his rival was second with 306 (no spoilers as to who was who — you’ll have to read the book).

Chilton also gives space to the other characters who were around at the time — family members, friends and other competitors — which means we get to hear the views of some of fell running’s other leading lights. Here’s Joss Naylor on Kenny Stuart:

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.

And Billy Bland on John Wild:

John Wild was a class runner. He could push himself until he was sick, which I could never do. He was a hard man in that respect. If Kenny hadn’t have been about then he would have been way out there, and maybe no-one else could have pushed him like that.

Chilton has been able to speak to both rivals at length, and what comes across is two very different men, who nevertheless had (and still have) a great deal of respect for one another. Rivalries make such fascinating narratives, not only because of the drama they provide, but because of what one rival reveals about the other. As Bland’s comment suggests, it is precisely because Wild was forced to run against Stuart that season, that we are able to appreciate just how incredible his achievements were — and vice versa.

Thanks to Running Hard, the story of these two men and the incredible season they shared has been told. Chilton’s keen eye for detail, and pleasure in relating anecdotes, makes it an honest and fair assessment of both men and their legacy. It took me longer to read than I originally anticipated, mainly because it kept making me want to go out for a run, and I can’t give a running book much more praise than that.

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: