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Interview with Northern Exile

santababy asks: well done NE :) as you've said before, how do you follow a BG round, you must have something in mind to keep you motivated, whats the dream race you're planning?

Northern Exile says: Hello Sandra, thanks for a good starting question :-) Well, I must admit that in the days that followed my BGR I also asked myself the same thing (I think I was still in some sort of stunned trance at this point) because the whole Bob Graham thing had seemed so impossible. The truth is that once my body had recovered - and this may have been very foolhardy - I began to believe that I could conquer anything and went a bit wild with entry forms. Since then I've taken part in a few moderately tough off-road ultras and have entered the 2013 Fellsman and Lakeland 50, both these pose a significant challenge, although possibly the biggest of all will be the Day in The Lakes triathlon at the end of June, this is a 70.3 Ironman centred on Ullswater and the Eastern lakes, definitely one you have to pull your Big Boy/Big Girl pants up for. These are all big events and the training for them is keeping me very busy. The Fellsman in particular is taking more time than I thought it would to learn the route, it's about 62 miles and 11,000ft of climb (less than half that of the BG), but the territory is very unforgving and in places desperately difficult to navigate. At least in the Lakes you have dirty great big mountains sticking up here and there that serve as fairly obvious landmarks ..... the Fellsman is not the same and unlike the BG, it IS a race. I'm hoping to complete it somewhere around the 18-hour mark. Please cross your fingers for me!
Mushroom asks: Well done! White Kendal mintcake or brown?

Northern Exile says: I prefer brown :-) Mintcake saved me on leg 3 of my BGR, I'd just reached the stage where it was getting difficult to eat anything at all and one of my supporters (Rick) pulled out the mintcake, it tasted wonderful, in fact it might have been my saviour! Rick did me a massive favour actually, running ahead to Wasdale to tell my support team that I needed more mint cake. This is no small matter - it's a heck of a run from the top of the Scafell range down to Wasdale!
bree asks: Why are you called Northern Exile?

Northern Exile says: I knew someone would ask this - it's a boring answer and nothing to do with running, but I'm going to be honest about it: "Northern Exile" was the name I decided on for use on a Northern Soul music forum about 12 years back, it all centered around the fact that at the time I was living in the South West and was therefore in northern (soul) exile - i.e. I really wanted to be living back in Yorkshire, but work and divorce had conspired against me. The name stuck and when I registered my name for Fetch Everyone I was all out of inspiration and just re-used it.
Argie asks: I voted for you because you have done some running and don't bang on about cakye etc. Well done.

Are photos of "funny" cats acceptable? Ermmugghhed etc.

Northern Exile says: Thanks Argie, I knew I could rely on you for robust support :-) Pictures of "Funny Cats" are very acceptable, I would even go as far as to say that pictures of wierd and freaky cats are also acceptable. I know you have a big collection, want to trade any?
_andy asks: Well done NE - many congrats to you :-) Since Santa has picked the best question, I'll ask the next one for the BG round. What would you say is the single most useful bit of advice for your Bob Graham round that anyone gave to you?

Northern Exile says: Hi Andy, thanks for asking that one .... it's just caused me to spend several minutes scratching an already sore and hair-depleted head while searching for a decent answer. There are literally dozens of important things to bear in mind when contemplating a BG attempt, however probably the best single piece of advice that was given to me was to spend as much time as possible resting before I set off. And I don't mean propped up in an armchair or in front of the TV, I mean in bed, asleep, trying to get as much real sleep as possible. If you've done all the training and all your preparation is done, then there is very little you can do in the last 48 hours leading up to the off, so getting some solid rest is always going to pay dividends - if you think about it, you're most likely going to be awake for the best part of 36 hours on any given BG attempt and every minute of sleep will be vital.

I took this advice to heart and spent the best part of two days in bed leading up to my second (successful) BGR and on the day felt fantastic. I felt like I was flying as we went up Skiddaw (the first peak), it was an unbelievable feeling :-)
Penny asks: What are your fav places to run

Northern Exile says: Hi Penny ..... this is going to be a tough one, but as you'd expect I will have to go with the Lakeland Fells. I don't believe there is anywhere else quite like it in the world, you can be out there and in a single day experience gorgeous scenery, gob-smacking panoramas that make your heart sing, but also a landscapes of dark menace, forbidding crags and rock that remind you that this is not a place to be trifled with.

I've never taken Lakeland for granted and will never get tired of visiting the area, it is truly a blessed and very special place.
Night-owl asks: Well done NE Tell us the story of your profile picture where is it? and why were you there. Looks great

Northern Exile says: Nice one! That picture was actually taken in Lanzarote a few weeks after my BGR, we stayed in Playa Blanca and as anyone who's been there will tell you, there are several big hills in the vicinity (the locals say they're mountains but I don't think so). The landscape in the background of the picture is the southern slope of Montana de La Brena Chica, the biggest of those hills and one that Bobs and I decided to run up on a beautiful sunny day. Great fun and very entertaining .... nothing like as tough as we get in the UK of course!
heffaroo asks: Obviously knowing your way around the fells pretty well (understatement!), do you think you'll ever give the Lakeland100 a blast?

Northern Exile says: Heff, I see from your profile that you are no stranger to the Lakes and have done the L100 yourself (well done). The answer to that is "I dunno". I ran the first 45 miles of the 100 last year in training (the bit from Coniston to Threlkeld) and found that OK, however the L100 is no small matter and demands a lot of dedicated training to stand a hope of completion, I'm not sure I'm ready to devote that amount of time to anything just yet.

That said, I actually HAVE entered the 2013 Lakeland 50 and only the other weekend did a recce of the final section to Conistion. Navigation on the 50/100 is much more straightforward than the BGR, as it trends towards established paths and trails and avoids specific summits - that's not to say it's at all easy and I imagine the night section(s) of the 100 will be very challenging.

Good luck if you doing it again this year.
Sunbed Athlete asks: Congrats fella. Fake bake or Stand and tan before a race?

Northern Exile says: Has to be Stand and Tan. I actually do go brown pretty quickly (see profile pic :-)) so fake bake will never be an option. Besides, I sweat like a stuck pig on hot days so it would most likely make the fake stuff go very streaky and I know it would mess up the towels.
Derby Tup asks: Who sells the best oatcakes in Leek? ;-)

Northern Exile says: DT, this is probably the toughest question so far as it has, in fact, been a while since I've visited a Leek oatcake shop. I have therefore consulted with my mum (who lived in Leek for a while) and extensively with other oatcake afficionados, the general consensus is that the Leek Oatcake Shop (no marks for originality there!) on Haywood Street provides the best oatcake in town, however their range of fillings leaves something to be desired. The best oatcakes are probably the ones available at Povey's in Biddulph http://www.poveysoatcakes.com/, however this is a bit subjective. The Oatcake Guide theoatcakeguide.co.uk does provide a list of shops http://theoatcakeguide.co.uk/shops_list.htm, so you may care to print this off and keep it handy in case you ever find yourself in North Staffordshire. Remember to bring some back to Yorkshire for me! :-)
Dave A asks: Top stuff mate :-) A well deserved round following a massive period of training and dedication. So, why the BG?

Northern Exile says: Dave, it won't surprise you to know that I saved this question until last :-) Actually, before I do get down to it and just for the record, I'd like to thank you for introducing me to the Bob Graham Round in the first place, those winter recces way back in 2010 seem a time ago, but I do recall feeling like I was out on a real Boy's Own adventure and I would never have guessed what would follow for both us - a lot of mud, sweat and tears, to say nothing of huge elation and (at times) dejection. I was overjoyed that you could make it for my successful attempt and I'll own up that when I met you in Keswick the day afterwards for a cuppa and saw that huge grin on your face, I was very close to tears, I knew you were over the moon for me and it seemed a very fitting end to my BGR campaign. I suppose you knew how I was feeling :-)

Anyhow, Why The BG? It's a tough one. Why would anyone be crazy enough put themselves through it? Let's discount the very select few to who such things come easily, most normal mortals don't stand a chance of completing the BGR without some considerable investment in terms of time, money and (of course) massive physical exertion. I believe that everyone will have their own reasons, for some it will simply be a tick in the box, but for me? I think it comes down to wanting to make a mark and quantify time spent doing a particular activity. I came to fell-running relatively late in life and once bitten, loved everything about it. Running the fells of the Lake District was (and is) the most liberating and satisfying thing I had ever done and, following a difficult time in life that involved divorce, children, career transitions and all the other things that can mess you up, it was just what I needed. I loved it. As things progressed and I'd been introduced to the whole concept of the BGR, it seemed that trying to do it would quantify my love for the fells, be a rite of passage if you like - and of course, once you start down the road, it's impossible to stop. Once I'd met some of the people involved, I also knew that it would be a massive honour to stand shoulder to shoulder those who had done the BGR and trying to get to that impossible target became all-consuming. I wanted to do the BGR so badly, it hurt to even think about it sometimes.

So that's it I reckon. My passion for it is still there and I will be doing my best to support other BGR contenders this year, am really looking forward to it. Hope to see you both soon.
stuart little asks: Well done mate, richly deserved from all the effort you put in. Squirms or Snakes?

Northern Exile says: Stu, thanks very much for that - and thanks for all support you gave me. I'd expect a man of science and numbers to pose a deeply technical and perhaps philosophical question and you haven't let me down: I actually prefer squirms, I find their consistency to be just that bit gooier than snakes and easy to wolf down when you're feelilng rough. I also have a lifelong aversion to anything snake-like (some former colleagues spring to mind :-)) so this is a factor. If you ever have the time, are you in a position to do a comparative study of carbohydrate levels for me? I feel it would be useful.
Naomi P asks: So how did you learn to love trail? I get all the gorgeous scenery, being in the middle of nowhere, incredible tasting pint at the end etc, but how do you cope with the weather, the mud, the tricksy footpaths and stuff? Do you fell runners have indestructible ankles?
Well done btw :-)

Northern Exile says: Naomi, to start with let me tell you that fell runners don't necessarily have indestructible ankles. Strengthened and a bit more elastic perhaps, but still vulnerable. I say this with a smile because I actually have an ice pack on my ankle as I type this, a result of last night's training session :-)

Back on to your question though and yes, I do love running off-road, although I think there is a very clear distinction between trail-running and fell-running. I got into it because I was getting very bored with running on the roads, obviously it still kept me fit but I was tired of the same old scenery and I'll be honest, tired also of chasing after unlikely PBs. There's also the fact that the repetitive nature of road running and associated impact meant that I got injured far more often than I would have liked! I started doing a few local (small) off-road events, then graduated to stuff like the Lakeland Trail races, which are a nice introduction to more demanding terrain but still on a marked course and pretty benign by comparsion with some of the longer distance fell events.

Once I'd tried a few "proper" fell races though, there was absolutely no going back. There is something about running on the open fells that absolutely captivates me, I'm not sure if it's the freedom, the devastating beauty of the surroundings, or the fact that you have to be totally self-reliant and able to look after yourself in some pretty demanding circumstances, whatever - I was smitten and still am. I know it's not for everyone, my club did an off-road session last night and I was genuinely surprised by the trepidation some runners showed when coming down what I would have said were some exceptionally easy and forgiving descents. It's horses for courses I suppose.

The weather can be a negative factor, but the old adage that there is "no such thing as having bad weather, just the wrong kit" really does apply. Once you've sorted that out - and got used to being battered by wind, rain etc - it's not that bad. I have spent extended days out in what amounted to blizzard conditions and really enjoyed it!
Amanda68 asks: If you could run any trail in the world with anybody, where & who would you choose?

Northern Exile says: Hi Amanda, I had a good think about this and if I had the opportunity - and of course came close to having the the physical capability that would be required - then I would absolutely love to join Killian Jornet on one of his Mont Blanc ascents from the square in Chamonix. I don't know if you have ever seen one of his videos on YouTube, but he manages this in around seven hours, which is just unbelievable. Without doubt the best mountain athlete alive today.
Special*K asks: Well done NE! What's your favourite mountain and why?

Northern Exile says: Hmmm. A while back I would have said Pike O' Blisco (which overlooks Langdale in the Lake District), for a while I seemed to be climbing it every week and I absolutely LOVE the descent down to Langdale, it's tricky, muddy, steep and epitomises fellrunning. However, it's not my favourite. Like many others I have to hand this accolade to Great Gable, it's monolithic bulk never fails to send a chill down my spine and I am always amazed at how different it appears when viewed from from its opposite flanks. It truly is the quintessential English mountain and rules Wasdale with inpunity, there are few like it. The monument to the Fallen on its summit is pretty unique too.

Just as an aside, Great Gable is part of the BG route (on Leg 4) and is a hard climb so late on in the round. There is a general rule of thumb that if you reach the summit with 4 hours to go, you stand a chance of completion. I was there with 4 hours 30 minutes remaining and it gave me a real boost when the realisation hit me.
shanksi asks: Well done on the BGR and a well deserved MOTM. Which runners, past and present, do you admire most and why?

Northern Exile says: Tricky. Despite my focus on off-road running, I'm also a big fan of track athletics and consider Haile Gebrselassie to be the greatest long-distance runner the world has ever seen, the man has kept his dignity and common touch throughout his career and never bowed to the avarice and ego issues that seem to tarnish so many of his kind. I also am a big fan of Michael Johnson, as a sports commentator he has no equal and he didn't do too badly on the track either :-) A true gentleman and someone I'd very much like to meet. In terms of off-road runners, well, I'm going to be very predictable here: There have been some fantastic fell-runners over the years and their exploits are largely unsung, of course this is probably the way they would want it. For all-out mountain grit, dogged determination and refusal to bow to the elements can there be anyone better than Billy Bland? A true legend - I doubt his BGR record from 1984 will ever be broken, probably the only man alive capable of getting close would be Killian Jornet - and I doubt Killian has time to come over to the Lake District and spend the time required to learn the BGR route! en.wikipedia.org
minardi asks: Congratulations on MotM. If you could have a super power, what would it be?

Northern Exile says: I wonder how many people spend time daydreaming about this :-) ? Invisibility? Invinciblity? On reflection, I think being able to levitate would be very nice, anything that would help me get to the to the top of some of those mountains without effort would be something I'd really value. Argie would probably go for invisibilty of course, as the lure of lurking in the corner of a ladies changing room would be hard to resist :-)
milemonster asks: What injuries have you overcome and how did you overcome them? If you've not had an injury then what do you put that down to?

Northern Exile says: Daniel, over the years I have had lots of injuries, but the majority of them were sustained during the years that I was running mainly on the roads, I've had far fewer since I switched exclusively to off-road stuff. Saying that, the injuries that I have had since then have tended to be quite spectacular and involved blood and missing skin. I had a heck of a pile-up in the 2011 Three Shires fell race for example and it was the first time I'd actually seen one of my own bones :-) I also suffered a really good one on my first BG attempt, the muscle wall in my right shin (tibialis anterior if we want to be technical) gave way when coming down the Sca Fell descent (which if very long) and the resultant hernia was quite nasty. It might have done me a favour, as it was at least four weeks before I could train again. Anyhow, I think it's true to say that fellrunners have sore ankles most of the time along with the usual aches and pains and in this respect I'm very lucky, as my wife (Bobs) is a qualified sports massage therapist and gives me a good roughing up - sorry, massage - on a regular basis. I also go to see an Aussie physiotherapist once a month, she keeps my pelvis and back aligned, the net result is that I'm hardly ever sidelined due to injury. About the only thing that stops me is exhaustion!
flip asks: well done mate ,very well deserved. it looks like all the question I was going to ask have been asked so I'll just echo argies comment and add my own congratulations.

Northern Exile says: Cheers Phil, good of you pal :-) I know you were out supporting Jon the day before my BG and have a good idea of what it's all about, so I really appreciate your good wishes. Be careful of echoiing ANYTHING that Argie says, there are plenty of innocents around who've ended up in trouble this way. But yes, pictures of "funny" cats are very acceptable and even to be encouraged.
phal asks: YaY! Congrats M, well deserved :-) As a collector of kit and all things technical; What's your favourite/most useful piece of kit?? :-)

Northern Exile says: Thanks Alix :-) :-) I know that - cough - in the past I might have been a bit kit-crazy and I'll totally agree that I love technical gizmos, but I wonder if I'm finally growing out of it? Over the last couple of years I have learned that it's much more important to be out there and have functional equipment that works, rather than a complex gadget that looks shiny but I don't know how to operate. Anyhow, in answer to your question I think this has to be a split decision - it's either my Salomon cap (which I really love and has been a constant companion) or more likely the Garmin eTrex 30 that Bobs gave me for my birthday. It's a fantastic device, small enough to hold in your palm and it's possible to load it with OS 1:25,000 mapping. It will never replace a map and compass, but it's a pretty good second best. I'll admit that it was a steep learing curve, but it now works for me rather than the other way round :-)
northernslowcoach asks: Many congratulations - well earned!
What is your favourite post day in the hills meal and beer?

Northern Exile says: Hi Mel, that's a good question and I know it's a deeply important one :-) I've been experimenting with this just lately and have come up with mixed results, however think I can say with absolute certainty that my favourite thing to eat after a day on the fells is fish and chips from the "Kingfisher" in Keswick, it's by some margin the best chippie thereabouts and the prospect of going there really gives you a lift when you're cold, tired and hungry and (more often than not) stuck on the top of some mist-shrouded mountain. The perfect follow-up to this would be beer in the "Dog & Gun" in Keswick town square, mix this with the company of some good friends and I will be in my happy place. See you there soon? Are you going to the Mountain Festival? Of course you are, stupid of me! :-)
Duchess asks: Have you been forgiven for buying *that* headtorch yet?

Northern Exile says: I think so. Well, nearly. For those who don't know what Duchess means here, I very innocently ordered a Hope R4 headtorch a few months back but omitted to seek permission from Bobs (my wife) and foolishly - and entirely by mistake - had it delivered to her work address. You'd have thought that hell had frozen over, I was locked in the doghouse for some time :-( They're very expensive you see, but undeniably brilliant - in every sense of the word! hopetech.com
paul the builder asks: Congratulations! Most folk are asking running questions, so I'll ask: has your view of the Olympics opening ceremony mellowed over time at all?

Northern Exile says: You remembered my little outpouring about that then :-) ? You know, I think it has. I was fortunate enough to have good tickets for the night that Jess, Mo & Greg won their gold medals and I was completely swept away by Olympics fever and frankly amazed by how wonderful the whole thing was, it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I felt guilty afterwards for criticising the opening ceremony, perhaps my angst was because I didn't believe it portrayed our nation in the correct light ..... whatever, it seems I was dead wrong because it got pretty good worldwide review didn't it? When I'm wrong, I usually do it in a big way :-)
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