Meet Rhys Findlay-Robinson, the 2016 British Fell Running champion. In this new blog post, Rhys reflects on his achievements over the past 12 months, looks ahead to fresh challenges in 2017 and discusses everything from training secrets to nutrition plans and his favourite places to find pure, unadulterated muddy fell running fun.
1. You won the 2016 British Fell Running Championship. Can you sum up in words what this meant to you?
It meant everything – last year was a very difficult year for my family, so to win something so prestigious was a real surprise. That said, running and racing has always given me something to channel myself into, so it’s been very therapeutic. I don’t think I’m the most talented runner on the scene, but I try hard and got a bit of luck at the right times. That epic final championship race at Merrick with Sam Tosh was the most stressful race of my life! Sam is a fantastic runner and will be super-strong again in 2017.
2. What were your other standout running highlights of 2016?
Aside from the British title, Dark Peak’s team performance across the year was a standout – it was great to win the lot with the club for the first time. The best was winning the Hodgson Brothers Relay where we had a great race with Keswick and Borrowdale. We’ve spent years trying to get that one race right, so it was brilliant to finally do it on my seventh attempt.
3. And, what about your sister running an epic Bob Graham Round. How proud were you of her achievement?
I was probably more proud of her Bob Graham Round Round than anything I did myself last year. Rachel did not like running as a teenager so to see her going so deep whilst in so much pain to dip under 24 hours by mere minutes is so inspiring. The fact she did it to raise funds for Cancer Research in memory of our mother who died of liver cancer last year just adds to the achievement.
4. Has she – and the achievements of others in 2016 – got you thinking about a potentially fast Bob Graham Round at some stage?
Yes, I am interested to find out how fast I could go. I’m under no illusions, it’s bloody hard whatever speed you do it, and the top times have been done by some top fellsmen (and women). The main aim would be to relax and enjoy it, and just see what happens. I’ve never done anything like it really, so it’s a total unknown. (Ed- Don’t know what the Bob Graham Round is? Watch the film below of fell runner Nicky Spinks doing it – twice!
5. What are your plans for 2017? Defend your title? Go for the English Championship? Seek new adventures?
2017 is looking very busy as usual – I will try to squeeze in enough races to defend the British but my main focus is on other things than championships this year – it’s important to keep things interesting. The opportunity to run in the big Scandinavian orienteering relays (Tio Mila and Jukola) has come up, so I will hopefully be attending those, as well as some new running things I’ve dreamt up. The English champs races aren’t really catching my imagination this year in all honesty, but I’m sure some are rubbing their hands together at the counters – you can’t do everything.
6. You’ve had experiences of racing multi-day big events abroad (like Trans Alps). Any aspirations to get back out into the big mountains and race?
I would love to, there are so many interesting looking races abroad but I am limited by financial constraints (and there being so much great stuff in the UK). I was very fortunate to get to do the Trans Alps on the cheap, so would jump at the opportunity to do something else in the BIG hills.
7. What does an average training week look like for Rhys FR?
I think most serious runners would be surprised at the low mileage, but I do most of it on the fells itself where time is as important as mileage, in my opinion. I believe consistency is key – what’s the point in being a hero for a month or two, only to spend most of the year on the treatment table? So I’ll run every day generally, with mileage varying from 3 to 10 miles on average with the occasional longer effort. I’ve learnt to focus on the races I want to do well in, and train more specifically for them – i.e. for Wasdale (a 21-mile fell race which includes 9,000ft of ascent), do some VERY long runs. It’s not rocket science!
8. You work in a pub, where temptation must be strong. Do you indulge or stick to a strict nutrition plan?
To be honest, by the time my shift is finished I usually just want to get out of there! I’m partial to a nice pint mind you. As for nutrition, there’s no specific plan, but I think I eat pretty well as standard, though I don’t like almost any fruits (hard to believe given my glossy complexion, I know).
9. If you could run anywhere in the world (no expenses spared) where would it be and why?
Hmm, that’s way too difficult to answer – too many places I’ve not been. The Inca Trail in Peru looks like it could be a good route but dodging tourists might be a problem! (Mind you, I get plenty of that living in Keswick).
10. Living in Keswick, Lake District, you have outstanding trails galore on your doorstep, many of which are super-muddy in winter. Where are your 3 favourite Lake District places to run in the mud?
The Stile End-Outerside-Stile End-Barrow loop near Braithwaite is a favourite – short steep climbs and a variety of tricky descents. I enjoy looping over Walla Crag and Bleaberry Fell which is super-muddy at most times of year, but you can’t beat the Langdale Horseshoe for a proper high fell mudbath.
Kit recommendations for muddy running
Hugely popular for soft and muddy underfoot conditions is the inov-8 MUDCLAW 300 running shoe. Weighing just 300g, this shoe has 8mm rubber studs which have been specifically designed to literally claw through all mud-sodden terrain and come back up begging for more! Nothing grips better in mud.
The weather can also be inclement at this time of year, so it’s best to think about protective clothing. Longer tights keep the muscles warm and firing, while Merino base layers help keep your upper body at the optimal temperature. On top of that you may want a lightweight windproof jacket for extra protection or, if weather conditions are really bad, a waterproof jacket.
Rhys says: My favourite piece of running kit right now is the MUDLCAW 300 shoe. For the high fells, where I love running, it’s perfect for my needs. It has an aggressive grip which is necessary to give me confidence on the roughest and steepest descents, and is a bit thicker than a lot of fell shoes which adds extra protection from loose rocks and scree. Added to this, they are pretty durable so you can get some good mileage out of them.