The CVFR History Makers: a tale of friendship, encouragement and dedication by a group of keen fell runners and their wider support crew – without whom none of this would have been possible.
Written by Paul Haigh, with support from Dougie Zinis, Lee Shimwell, Charlie Parkinson, Andy Wright, Phil Wells and Andy Ford.
4.06am Sunday 12th September. Message from Craig Stansfield flashes up on Dougie Zinis’s Double BG messenger group “Finished 45.03 🤜👏🤟” and a dozen grown adults who’d been fighting sleep watching a dot inch around a map of the Lakes for almost two days go potty.
Over the next few months Dougie would quite rightly go on to become a fell/ultra running household name. But for a group of Calder Valley Fell Runners (CVFR) this achievement marked the culmination of an unprecedented 19 weeks of 2021 successes; results baked in hard yards on the CVFRs winter ‘Pain Train’, a mental toughness bred through the ethos of the club and a belief that no matter what went wrong throughout the training blocks, or on the day itself we had each others backs.
No doubt you’ll have heard of Dougie’s Double Bob Graham (DBG). You’ve probably heard of Andy Ford’s Lake Meres & Waters (LMW) – the 2nd fastest of all time; fastest completion in 38 years and only other person than Joss Naylor to have done it in under 25 hours. You should know of Charlie Parkinson’s Bob Graham (BG) – the under 20s record holder and first under 20 to break the sub 19 hour time. And if you’re unlucky enough to hear me witter on about it (as club Captain Shaun Godsman would put it) you may have also heard a Calder Fell Runner broke the Double Yorkshire 3 peaks record this year too. But what these individual stories don’t tell is the wider story: of the other big rounds these club-mates were involved in; how each one of these big days out was connected; how each one of us kept each other going and the remarkable success rate (CVFR enjoyed a 90% success rate on these big days – against a BG average of 42% – according to Steve Chilton). The full roll call of these remarkable days of late spring to the last breath of late summer reads:
- 1st May – Paddy Buckley Round – Lee Shimwell (22hrs 41mins) & Dougie Zinis (20hrs 44mins)
- 28th May – Bob Graham Round – Paul Haigh (20hrs 10mins)
- 12th June – Bob Graham Round – Charlie Parkinson (18hrs 58mins – Under 20s record)
- 19th June – Paddy Buckley Round – Andy Wright (23hrs 57mins)
- 3rd July – Bob Graham Round – Phil Wells (20hrs 31mins)
- 24th July – Double Yorkshire 3 peaks FKT – Paul Haigh (8hrs 53mins) – nb Dougie also chose that day to become the fastest ever Yorkshireman round the Lakeland 100 (22h 53mins)
- 22nd August – Lake, Meres and Waters – Andy Ford (24hrs 42mins – FKT Alan Heaton way J)
- 12th September – Double Bob Graham Round (HRH Douglas Zinis 45hrs 03mins)
(nb – this list could also be complemented by Calder’s Ed Hyland and Stephen Hall – the first & only people to complete a double Calderdale Way – one Calderdale Way loop is 50 miles – on 1st May; and JD Anderson & Emilia Wright – the youngest pair we know of to complete a Double Yorkshire 3 peaks on 27th June. But in fairness unlike the aforementioned rounds neither of these rounds had our involvement in terms of support)
So where do we begin? Firstly it would be remiss of us not to point out CVFR is steeped in the tradition of Ultra running. Our membership sometimes feels like a who’s who of Ultra running containing legends such as Anne Johnson (former ladies Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley and Lakeland 24hr record holder who would think nothing of crushing a nettle in her hands to take away the pain in her legs);
her husband and ex chair Bill Johnson (13thoverall in Spine 2018 and 5 times winner of mixed pair at Mountain Marathon events with Anne); Simon Bourne (6th fastest BG ever in 2006, 4th fastest Joss Naylor challenge ever 2019, twice 2nd at Fellsman, 2nd v50 at TDS race in UTMB); Holly Page (2018 Skyrunning World Series Classic Champion); Kevin Hoult (2016 Runfurther UK Ultra champion and holder of the 50ml Calderdale Way Ultra record) not forgetting possibly the G.O.A.T Karl Gray (holder of the 48 miles, 17000ft Joss Naylor Challenge record and the 3rd Fastest ever Paddy Buckley, besides both the v40 and v50 records for the Yorkshire 3 peaks race). And then there are mere mortals like Jonnie Watson who’s competed and finished UTMB, The Spine and Tor des Geants. Therefore when you rub shoulders week in week out with these lot, and you count them as friends (CVFR is renowned for its down to earth, friendly club spirit and the sense of humour of the club means if the unthinkable happens and one day Ben Mounsey walked in and announced he was God he would be very quickly be brought down to Yorkshire with a bump), some of that magic fairy dust rubs off and you can’t help but puff out your chest, be inspired and push your body that bit harder.
Anyway, on with the story…11th January 2020 was a day to stay inside and forget. Although it started off warm, the wind picked up and started blowing race numbers off competitors backs. As he approached the White House at 4pm, a check point 6 hours and 31 miles from the start of the 108 mile Montane Spine Challenger course, it began to rain incessantly. But Dougie Zinis, a newcomer to 100 mile Ultra races, let alone Spine Challenger, and a relatively unfancied unknown took the lead. At that point subconsciously in the heads of his fell running friends a switch went off.Read More
Although we’d been watching his dot all day, and half joked with him in the build up to not set off too quick so he could save his legs for the sprint finish, we knew if we could get out and support him it could be the boost he needed to pull off the unexpected. Lee Shimwell popped up at Blackstone Edge. Martin Howard, one of our key mules in the 2021 big days out, stood getting soaked on the hills above Hebden Bridge with his dad, club membership secretary (and my BG road support) Bob Howard, whilst singing “there’s only one Dougie Zinis”. When he got to Lothersdale at midnight Dougie was almost 30 minutes ahead of 2nd place so decided to stop at the checkpoint for some soup and a nice warm cup of tea. At that point a campervan alarm went off waking up the entire village. It was me, deciding that although it was my son’s 4th birthday party the next day I’d lose a bit of sleep to trudge through some Yorkshire Dales bogs for 5 minutes with my hardy mate. If Dougie thought this was bizarre worst was to come. In the pre-dawn hours, somewhere near Malham, Andy Wright made Dougie pinch himself to ensure he wasn’t hallucinating as he appeared from behind a rock, whilst Luke Meleschko incurred the wrath of his wife to throw his Sunday plans out the window and see Dougie take the win in 29 hours and 32 seconds, over half an hour ahead of his nearest rival.
For his mates this changed something in us too. Although we weren’t daft enough to enter something like the Spine challenger, sub-consciously this made us sit up and think maybe, just maybe, if we borrowed a bit of Dougie’s mental resolve and trained a bit more like him we too could perhaps survive to tell the tale of a BG or Paddy Buckley. We began to enter Ultras just to push ourselves that bit further … The Haworth Hobble, The Manx Marathon and Lakes in a Day were all in the club 2020 Ultra championship. On 14th March, despite sporting fixtures being cancelled across the country due to growing concerns with a new virus called Covid-19, our season kicked off in Haworth. Kev ‘Usain’ Hoult finished joint 1st that day, with Jonny Croston (another of our all-important 2021 mules) on peak form in 13th.
But then things nationally got really bad, and lockdown kicked in. Whilst we didn’t consciously set out to do things with the end goal of a big round in mind, the respite from week in week out racing that lockdown gave us, proved the perfect time to explore new local paths and go further and higher, rather than necessarily faster, in our training. And whilst we didn’t consciously do things differently, Calder Valley Fell Runners certainly did. CVFR’s vision is “To be one of the friendliest, most inclusive running clubs in the country which is renowned for its great team spirit”. Therefore lockdown rules meant the club needed to do something to keep that team spirit alive and the club together whilst we were all apart. The committee responded to the unprecedented situation brilliantly – first of all by sending a message to all its members on the day of lockdown stating its intent of making sure we all stick together through this, virtually if we had to – and then by setting members the challenge of collectively climbing the equivalent ascent of all the Lake District “Wainwrights” from Sea level. For each 1000ft climb we achieved the club would give £1 to the Halifax Homeless and Community Kitchen. Members were asked to create their toughest category climbing route in AS (up to 10km); AM (up to 20km) or AL (30km) races. For a competitive lot missing racing this all spurred us all on and a whole range of 6mile – 3000ft; 10mile – 4500ft and 18mile – 7000ft courses were created as the whole club pulled together to smash the attempt.
All this meant that when things began to open up in July and we could begin to run in small groups we suddenly found we had (to coin a phrase) ‘hills in our legs’. For many of us the first time these hill legs were tested was on 25th July 2020 when Dougie set off on his first Double Bob Graham attempt. Whilst ultimately this ended in disappointment (and for Phil Wells an immediate about turn at Threlkeld to drive straight back home after hearing Dougie had been carried down off Seat Sandal) a number of lessons were learned that day. For Dougie, the knowledge that having been up on the record time, he had the double in his legs if he could avoid falling down a crack again; for Charlie Parkinson, who supported on Leg 1, a new set of red n white mates who would go on to help on his record attempt. For me having been entrusted, alongside the legend Bill Johnson and club rising star and running pal Martin Howard, with Dougie’s leg 3 and 4 (basically BG leg 3 there and back plus Yewbarrow) the daunting knowledge that having finished the 35mile – 16000ft day out strongly I should probably attempt a ‘Bob’ sooner rather than later.
By the end of summer, CVFR’s Math Roberts and Karl Gray had set the first and second faster ever Paddy Buckley Rounds, whilst Karl followed it up with the Joss Naylor 50mile record. Whilst this wasn’t enough to inspire Andy Wright (yet), who having experienced the pace of supporting Karl decided “I didn’t want to do a big round, just get plenty more long enjoyable days out”, it was clear in September a number of us were going to attempt some big days in 2021 so a scramble for diary dates to ensure we sufficiently spaced out attempts ensued. My May 28th date was picked firstly around Spring Bank holiday, so I had time to recover afterwards, and the fact a couple of ‘Toddies’ had already set April and early May dates. Following this announcement I soon learned Charlie planned to set off 2 weeks after (hopefully if I was lucky just about giving me time to recover to support him) whilst 3 weeks after it would be Phil Wells turn. At this stage Dougie was quiet but we knew based on previous years he was keeping his powder dry – and based on how quickly he managed to recover from his setback in July he was on a mission. I also decided (having promised a mate at work that I’d help him raise money for Abbie’s Army, a charity helping fund research into a DIPG, a rare form of child brain cancer) if I recovered from my BG in time I’d have a good go at the Double Yorkshire 3 peaks (the FKT whilst kept firmly in my head seemed achievable if I could summon the inner CVFR Ultra beast mode).
On 6th October 2020 we should have been tapering for Lakes in a Day. But as with most races that season, and especially for a race of its distance, that crosses multiple landowners estates, logistics with Covid rules proved too complicated; yet another race that many of us had entered as a stepping stone to bigger things has been postponed. And therefore instead at 6pm on a bright crisp Tuesday evening, post a hectic day at work, I found myself racing round the house changing my running gear multiple times, and getting the sort of fear you normally get pre big races where you know its going to hurt.
Tuesday night at 6.45pm is engrained on our mind. Its CVFR’s club night. And with the nights drawing in the CVFR speed-machines switch training to hilly road. These c8-10mile runs with at least 1500ft of elevation aren’t christened ‘The Pain Train’ in these parts for nothing. Invariably one or all of current Calder A team stars Andy Worster, Martin Howard and Ed Hyland turn up, and for us mere mortals the job is try and get at least half way up the hills before you see them hare back to you to pull you up the rest of the way. And when you get to the top there’s no respite as they just tempo along the flats at 6min miles ready for the next hill on route. This Tuesday is no exception. As current lockdown rules allow us to only run in groups of six I’m joined tonight by Dougie and Lee (Shimwell) for a ‘beasting’ off Andy, Martin and Ed. And our route takes in Mytholm steeps – a notorious hill between Hebden Bridge and Blackshawhead that rises 634ft within the first 0.9 of a mile. As if that’s not enough even when the road begins to almost level out it doesn’t quite end for another 1.1miles, and to keep you from catching breath that’s where the Strava segment ends; so Martin, Andy and Ed are going to keep running off into the distance for what almost seems an eternity when my heart rate is at 180!! At the end of the evening we finish knowing we’ve earned a drink having run just over 9.5miles in an 1hr 07sec at an average graded adjusted pace (GAP) of 6.30min miles.
Some may question what running these hard road runs have to do with long ultra-distance runs. But training on hard fast hills improves leg muscle strength, builds muscular endurance and develops your cardiovascular system. In short, hilly road running made us stronger, faster and last longer on the big days out. We’d seen how these runs had got Dougie fit for his big challenging days out. And if it was good enough for Dougie it was good enough for us! There was also another side to these runs. They bonded us as a group. When you’re running that hard week in week out, you learn to trust and look out for each other (which is the sort of bond you need with your support team on a big round). If someone was having a bad week we’d work harder to pull them up the hills. Well we did until the PM announced the country was going into a second lockdown on 31st October.
This time the CVFR committee were more prepared than the first time around. Bob Howard and kit officer Gill Dickson had been planning for some time a follow up to our spring challenge (in the very likely event that eating-out to help out would turn out to mean more about helping the virus spread than the economy kick start). So on 1st November the ‘Canurunavirus’ challenge was launched. The challenge would last for the month of November, and CVFR members were challenged to run as many fell races as they could in a virtual championship. Members would get 5 points for completing a race with an additional 1 point for each complete mile and 1 for each complete 1000ft of climb. Once again CVFR had stumbled on the perfect recipe for building up distance for the big days. If points were to be gained for distance and speed, those of us training towards Bob’s and Paddy’s would use it to our advantage. Bill Johnson set the tone by deciding in the first week to run the Calderdale Way, which set the seed, that before the month was out I better test whether my legs were as big as my mouth was and bite the bullet and do it myself!
So it was after the three previous weekends that had seen me run Heptonstall Fell race (15mile, 3000ft) with Ed (Hyland) and Martin (Howard); The Wadworth Trog (19miles, 3900ft) with Martin; and the Haworth Hobble (31miles, 5500ft) with Dougie; my alarm clock on Saturday 28th November was set for 5am. Originally I was going to do this alone, with road support at various points along the day for a much needed coffee and various refreshments from ‘running-widow’ (as Dougie’s wife Marie puts it) Tasha and Teddy, my much too energetic 5 year old son. However, early on in the week Andy Wright decided he needed a few miles in his legs and would join me for the first 20miles or so and see how it went. For preparing mentally for a Bob this was a perfect day. Although it started dry, as soon as daylight came at c8am the weather became damp. And it went downhill from there. In fact it became so grey and miserable Andy decided at lunchtime having ran more than half the route he was having such a great time he’d try and stay and finish the job! When it’s cold, damp, miserable and dark and you can’t see your hand in front of your face, despite the temptation, you refuse a perfectly acceptable offer of a lift home at 4pm with 10miles to go that’s when you think you’ve got the sort of mental toughness to complete a round. At 5.57pm, with 51miles and 8,684ft of climbing done, and almost 12hrs of time on our feet me and Andy were a pair of satisfied Wallys – even if Andy still had plans to do the UTS in 2021 rather than a BG or Paddy Buckley.
At this point let’s fast forward a few weeks. We all know what happened in December 2020 and January 2021. Aside from a brief respite around Christmas we ran by ourselves or in pairs, and through the darker days we kept ticking over for brighter days to come. For us History Makers we egged each other on virtually on Strava, WhatsApp groups and Messenger. To keep ourselves amused we may have also goaded one local road runner who took his Strava crowns far too seriously (but that is a story for another day). The key to this period was trying not to over-do it (we didn’t need to train in earnest until ten weeks before the round) whilst praying to the Corona gods that Wales and The Lake District would open up in time to attempt the rounds (let alone recce).
On 22nd February the Prime Minister announced a roadmap to come out of lockdown. The news almost made us feel like the running gods were on our side. From 29th March we were allowed to run in groups again whilst the ‘stay at home’ order would end. By 12th April outdoor only pubs and restaurants would open for Easter and by the time of our rounds 30 people would be allowed to mix outdoors whilst pubs and restaurants would re-open indoors. We began to plan; whilst Wales followed a different timetable Dougie and Lee (together with Phil) would build up by pencilling time in the Lakes to run round the Abraham’s Tea Round, whilst on the following Saturday (3rd April) we arranged to recce the 2nd half of Leg 3 and then all of Leg 4 in a loop from Honister.
In the meantime we had the hills of the Calder Valley to get us fine-tuned, using what we had to hand to gain every advantage. We adopted the mentality of ‘A 5 mile runs doesn’t count unless it has at least 1000ft of elevation’. Personally as a warm up for the Tuesday pain train my Monday consisted of a c6mile lunchtime road fartlek session, followed by a light strength session in the evening. Pain train Tuesdays would be followed by workout Wednesday where sessions designed for a turbo bike would be carried out on a vertical climber to try and replicate the lactic feeling I’d get in the legs going up Clough Head, Steel Fell, Yewbarrow or Red Pike on the day. Thursday would see reps of the hill behind home (‘The Wee Wee Hill’ as Teddy had christened it when he was just 3). It’s 130ft of ascent in 0.11miles so 14 reps to get 2000ft climb in; followed by a double run Friday. By the time Saturday had come my legs were well and truly tired – but this was now the time we really turned the screw on our bodies and tried to replicate the ascent of a BG. I designed a route nicknamed ‘The Rollercoaster of Ludd’ – a 20mile route that took in every single up and down around the Luddenden Valley from the front door to get to 6000ft of climbing. Dougie and Lee devised similar routes – a particular evil one being 3 reps of the steep ascent of Stoodley Pike, followed by 5 x ‘Daisy Bank’s (a steep climb out of Mytholmroyd on the way to Stoodley) followed by another 3 x ‘Stoodley’ reps just for fun – 6,700ft in 17.5miles!! We were getting our bodies attuned to pain – so much so that one Saturday run I did with Phil my toes felt like they were being prodded with glass all the way round. Despite chewing Phil’s head off about the pain virtually the whole 4 hours and 20miles we were out I wouldn’t quit. When I took off my shoes at the end of the run they had rubbed the skin off the top of my little toes whilst 2 areas of hard skin between the joints on my big toe (on both feet) had cracked leaving open sores. But this was the sort of pain you may confront on the day – so why not get prepared for it now?
Just before lockdown restrictions were lifted our gang were boosted by the news Andy “The Otter” Ford had decided to join Andy Worster in joining the red n white side of the valley. Rumour at the time was Andy W had told the Otter you get a free pair of red n white gloves and a Ben Mounsey Café Robso coffee on arrival. We all knew we’d raced hard against one another in 2019 and Andy “the Otter” had supported Dougie’s big rounds, trained week in week out at Mark Goldies structured training sessions with Martin Howard, and he’d become a key support in all of our rounds. Andy was already a part of what we had together and felt it was the right time to join us at CVFR.
Saturday 3rd we woke up as giddy as kittens. The forecast was for wall to wall sunshine (well much better than on the previous Monday when Dougie, Lee and Phil endured biblical rainfall and a wind-lashing whilst daring to enter the Lakes the day restrictions were lifted) and we all had a pass out to play out in the Lakes. It was one of those days that fills the memory banks for life. Just before we set off to climb Scafell Pike and join Leg 3 of the BG via Grey Knotts, Brandreth, Green Gable and the Corridor route the sun rose lighting up Borrowdale from the top of the Honister pass – and the day just got better from there on in. Wall to wall sunshine, blue skies and views for miles – and the confidence booster that after 19miles, 10,000ft of climb and most of Leg 3 and all of Leg 4 the training that we’d put in certainly told, as Martin H, Phil and I looked much fresher than the others that joined us back at the cars J. Lee and Dougie had a similar experience putting Gav Mulholland through his paces clocking up nearly 12,000ft of climb in 22miles up and down the Langdales to Wasdale via Scafell Pike and then back via Scafell and the other side of the Langdales.
We were ready. All that was left were recces that not only stamped the route in our minds, and helped as useful mental prep (for instance on the day of my BG I had the confidence of having completed the steep climbs at the start of legs 2, 3 and 4 on my recces after doing the previous leg beforehand so I knew how each felt on tired legs) but they also persuaded Andy Wright he was ready to join in the Big round fun. Andy explains “In March the UTS 100 I was planning to do was postponed to a date later in the year that I couldn’t manage, so I was thinking what should I do with my ultra training? In April I went for a recce with Lee and the decision was confirmed, I was going to go for the Paddy Buckley instead. My thinking was it was just like the UTS in terms of distance and terrain, but you don’t have to carry a bag or a map, what could be easier?!!”
So it was that on 1st May at 9pm Lee and Dougie set off from Llanberris (Lee with a borrowed shoelace!) supported by Charlie Parkinson and Craig Stansfield. The experience was enough to persuade Charlie he wanted to be a permanent part of the Calder Valley ultra nutters. And Craig swear he’d never ever support Dougie on a first leg of his big rounds again. And the rest, as they say is History..
Whilst we trained, planned and recce’d for these big days out – and supported one another – we were nothing without the time and hours other gave supporting us. 66 other people supported these 9 individual achievements and without them none would’ve gone ahead. For Andy they even managed to rearrange weekend plans at the last minute:
‘But by a large margin, the most important date was Thursday 17th June, at that point this was still 2 days before the attempt but the weather forecast showed lightning storms on the summits for the Sunday. There was no way I was going to encourage people to run miles from civilization with lightning forecast.
So I asked the question of my group “Could I bring this forward 18 hours?” Bearing in mind this was asking them to go to work tomorrow morning with all their kit already packed so they could come straight from work and support me for a leg or two. I was so humbled when almost everyone agreed to this, making whatever compromises were necessary to give this attempt the best chance of success.
The choice of shifting by 18 hours rather then 24 meant that nobody had to skip work Friday, but this had a huge impact on the round. What had been daylight became darkness and vice versa which certainly messed with my head and my plans for what picnics constituted what meals, but also meant we ended up switching around who was on which leg somewhat in order to cover availability.
On the day of the challenge I had one job, just keep my legs moving, but the support crew are the ones who really made the round what it was and I was so proud to have such a great collection of selfless individuals in our club who would willingly do this.’
So in no particular order thank you: Alice Swift, Ambi Swindells, Andrew Laycock, Andy McFie, Andy Slattery, Andy Swift, Andy Worster, Bob Howard, Ben Griffiths, Bethan Gay, Bill Johnson, Cass Chisholm, Chris Dewhirst, Clark Hind, Craig Stansfield, Damian Briscoe, Dan Gibson, Dave Motley, Ed Hyland, Fiona Lynch, Guy Illingworth, Helen Buchan, Iain Illstone, Jason Lewis, John Allan, John Kelly, John Millen, John Minta, Johnnie Watson, Jonny Croston, Josie Greenhaigh, Jules Coleman, Karl Gray, Kevin Hoult, Lisa Stansfield, Leo Illstone, Luke Meleschko, Mark Whittaker, Martin Davies, Martin Howard, Matt Dunn, Matt Kay, Matt Owen, Matt Perry, Mike Clayton, Mike Wardle, Natasha Butterfield, Paul Davison, Paul Swindles, Peter Kerridge, Phil Scarf, Ricky Parish, Rob Green, Russell Clarke, Sam Clayton, Sara Hollins, Simon Fisher, Stephen Hall, Stu Russell, Suzie Richardson, Tim Campbell, Toby Cotterill, Toby Sydes, Tom Bamford, Tom Hollins, Tori Miller, Tristan Watson, Will Herman
Without you we were nothing.
Appendix: List of running support on each round