‘The more you do, the better you get. – Billy Bland
Extract taken from All or Nothing at All: The Life of Billy Bland
By Steve Chilton
Published by Sandstone Press
When I came to England to consider doing the Bob Graham Round (BGR) I was very keen to meet Billy Bland, but also unsure about how a meeting would go. He is a legend and I had been told that he doesn’t particularly like non-fell runners coming to run the fells.
Nervously I knocked on the door. I was somehow pleased when Ann, his wife, said that he wasn’t at home. He was out for a ride on his bike and she wasn’t expecting him to be home for a few hours. ‘He likes biking now,’ Ann explained. I could comprehend that for someone as compulsive and addicted to sport as Billy Bland that it didn’t just mean that he’d take an hour bike ride twice a week, even in his 70s. I came back the day after, and Billy was home this time. We discussed me doing the BGR for a fair while, and early on he asked me, ‘are you going to use poles?’. I said no. ‘All right,’ he said. Real fell runners don’t use poles, apparently. We talked for ages, and he explained to me how he ran the Bob Graham Round nearly 40 years ago. It was in a time nobody has come close to since. He told me how much he likes cycling now that he can’t run, mainly because of ankle problems. We also talked about some of his races and the training that he did in the past. A few days after that I ran the Round myself and Billy was at different locations on the route, with his bike, cheering for me.
Probably the first time I heard about Billy Bland was back in the early 2000s. At a race some fellow fell runners told me about races in the Lakes and Scotland which had records unbroken since the 80s. When I came to look up those races, the names of the winners were often the same; Kenny Stuart, Joss Naylor or Billy Bland. When the trail running scene was starting to develop in the rest of the world the UK scene (more often called fell running) had been around for years. With more than a hundred years of history, these races weren’t something new with a few people running mountains. Fell running was already a sport with a long history, and the competition was fierce. Many of the best times for the fell races date from the period that Billy Bland was at his peak. The fell runners were pushing each other so hard that nobody has been able to beat some of those times since then. Billy Bland was outstanding among those runners. He dominated the classic fell races, even the short ones. But what was most inspirational was the strategy he used when taking on the longer races. He started sprinting and kept the pace up for as far as possible and used exactly the same strategy even up to the 60 or so miles of rounds like the Bob Graham.
Remember that this was a different time. Life was harder. They had no fancy shoes, or gels and training plans. But they just ran harder, with Billy perhaps being the hardest of all. His races and records have been inspiring generations of runners. His fame has spread from Borrowdale and the districts around the Lakes. It has crossed the seas to inspire the sky runners and trail runners in Europe, and even to America to show how to run ultras. But his legacy isn’t in his performances, it is his generosity. He has helped many, many others to achieve their dreams, even down to pacing or advising them in their Bob Graham round attempts or fell race achievements.
In this book, Steve continues to explore the history of fell running in the brilliant style of his previous books, his in-depth analysis leading us to understand Billy Bland, whilst highlighting his achievements. Billy Bland is a legend, and he is a fine man. Steve takes us through Billy’s life, to meet and know the man behind the legend.
All or Nothing at All: The Life of Billy Bland by Steve Chilton is published by Sandstone Press, priced £19.99.