All or Nothing at All

Preview of “All or Nothing at All – The Life of Billy Bland”, by Steve Chilton

Undoubtedly one of the greatest fell runners of all time, Borrowdale’s Billy Bland is quite simply a legend of our sport. Held in the same high esteem as men like Joss Naylor and Kenny Stuart, very few people can rival his achievements – most notably his former long-standing Bob Graham record of 13:53, set in 1982. Bland is renowned for being a tough, no-nonsense, no-frills kinda guy; and it’s safe to say, they don’t make em’ like they used to.

Although fell running hasn’t changed all that much over the years, our lifestyles certainly have, highlighting some very noticeable differences between the then and now. The world has changed. We don’t live like we used to and we don’t train like we used to. These days it’s very rare for an elite athlete not to have a coach, or at least not to meticulously think about the planning and structure of their training. With the introduction and influence of GPS devices, mapping software and apps like Strava, we’re immersed in an ocean of digital data. We literally have the world at our fingertips. Obsessed with numbers and mile splits, summit selfies and instagram stories, for most of us our training is certainly very different to that of our predecessors. The following extract, taken from Steve Chilton’s latest book, “All or Nothing at All”, takes a look at the training of the Billy Bland in direct comparison to this new digital era…

He didn’t train especially hard when he was racing as a pro. Initially, as a newly re-instated amateur, he was doing just forty miles a week in training. However, he was putting a lot into it when he went out and thinking that he was doing enough. Looking back from today’s perspective, he says it obviously wasn’t. Over the years he progressed training-wise and results-wise.

By the first six months of 1980, his championship year, he was up to eighty miles a week in training. But when racing often it would come down to the middle sixties. Mischievously, he says, ‘I’ve made a point of never doing more than 99 miles in a week just to say I’ve never done 100 – but maybe I was telling lies!’ This was all done on the fells when it was light enough, but when the dark nights came in it was mostly on roads in the week and on the fells at weekends.

Photo credit: Eileen Woodhead

The normal training pattern for Billy would be that virtually every day he would be out running. For him there was no such thing as days off. There had to be a reason to have a rest day. He would just get out and run, anything from 70 to 100 miles a week. Now the truth comes out. ‘I didn’t often top a 100, but I did sometimes, and I did average seventy right through the year. It doesn’t sound a lot, but it was nearly all on the fells.’ They weren’t cheap miles, and they weren’t soft miles. He would be running at 90% of race pace a lot of the time. Re-emphasising his life choices, he would get himself off to bed at night, get plenty of sleep and recover for the next day. He didn’t go down the pub, and he wanted to wake up ready to go again. He emphasises that work had to come first, mind. ‘I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, actually. That is amateur sport isn’t it? I was doing what I liked doing, working and running.’

Mind you, he could combine his work and running by doing the latter straight after the former, sometimes to quite an extreme level. ‘Once me and Chris [Bland] were working on a job at Ambleside and I ran home over the tops at the end of the working day from there once a week – via Red Bank and up to Sergeant Man and then via Angle Tarn and Sprinkling and come back in here just to make it a bit longer.’ That is something like 17 miles. Just training, he says quietly.

I once suggested to Billy that one of the keys to being successful at any endeavour is to be enjoying what you are doing and wondered if that applied to him and his training. ‘Absolutely, for me’, he replied. ‘I am the sort of person that if I didn’t want to do it, then I wouldn’t do it. You have got to mean what you do. But you have also got to do it because you like it. You have come home from work and instead of sitting on your arse watching TV, then you have got to go out and run for two or three hours on the fells. You do that because you like it, not because you necessarily want to win some particular race. You mebbe had a bad day at work and someone annoyed you, and you get your shorts on, get up on the fells and you are on your own and your mind floats away. By the time you come back, what was bothering you doesn’t matter anymore. It is a great stress buster.’

With this regime in place, he kept getting better. The better he got, the more he felt he could train.

Pictured: Author Steve Chilton & Billy Bland

“All or Nothing at All – The Life of Billy Bland” will be published on Thursday 20th August and can be obtained from all good bookshops and online at Amazon.

Look out for the live and interactive book launch, on Thursday 20 Aug at 6-30pm:

About the book

All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland. Sandstone Press. Format: Hardback. ISBN: 9781913207229. Publication Date: 20/08/2020 RRP: £19.99

This book tells the life story of Billy Bland, fellrunner extraordinaire and holder of many records, including that of the Bob Graham Round until it was broken by the foreword author of this book, Kilian Jornet. It is also the story of Borrowdale in the English Lake District, describing its people, their character and their lifestyle, into which fellrunning is unmistakably woven.

About the author

Steve Chilton is a runner and 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 as Lead Academic Developer. He has written three other books: It’s a Hill, Get Over It; The Round: In Bob Graham’s footsteps; and Running Hard: the story of a rivalry. He has written for The Fellrunner, Compass Sport, Like the Wind and Cumbria magazines.

He blogs at:


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