“Stay humble, don’t get an ego and let your racing do the talking. Work hard but buy regular Dominos pizzas to make up for it.”
James Boult interviews Chris Holdsworth on his return from his Team GB debut at the World Mountain Running Championships in Italy.
Chris, so far 2017 has seen you reach some incredible achievements; your performances at the Howarth Hobble and the Yorkshire Three Peaks; Heptonstall Fell Race and Griezdale Trail Marathon course records and obviously your International call up. To what do you owe your success?
A lot of patience, consistent training and not expecting too much too soon, setting achievable goals and steadily working towards them – these then form the basis of working towards a big race or performance. I think it’s important to enjoy your training, if you do then the results will follow. For me it was all about seeing how fast I could run up hills (Strava CR addiction began here), or seeing how fast I could get round one of my favourite hilly routes. I wasn’t overly concerned with results or who I was or wasn’t beating at first, racing was just to enjoy the results of hard training. Enjoy the progress you can make on the things you do enjoy/are good at, and then focus on the things you think you’re not so good at later. Your training will then begin to show consistent progression and you’ll see rare plateaus and more success.
Taking it all back to the beginning then, what first made you start running and who, if any, was your inspiration?
Uncle Breton. I had just finished University and had been running more regularly (2 or 3 times a week) and had done my first parkrun in Leeds, finishing at about the 21 minute mark. He persuaded me to come out running with him and join him on a few of the Clayton fell sessions. The first one of which was up Boulsworth, where he, Neil Worswick and a few others well and truly beasted me! I was struggling to keep up and couldn’t run one step up Boulsworth, but enjoyed it nonetheless and knew fell running was for me!
At the beginning of this journey did you ever think you would be pulling on an England vest?
Not at all, I didn’t know it was even possible to run for your country. In fact, I didn’t really know much about anything up until a year or so ago! I try not to think about qualifying for England or GB vests, race wins or who I should or shouldn’t be beating as it can eat away at you and make you not even want to start the race due to nerves! I try to target things like getting certain times, or course records as it not too dissimilar to my training runs then. That way it’s just you racing against the clock and anything else you may achieve is a happy bonus at the end.
What does an average training week in the life of Chris Holdsworth look like?
When training for a big race, most of which are quite long distance these days, I aim to try get up to 70 miles for the week. If I’m struggling with niggles, ailments or fatigue I’ll drop it to 50-60. To break it down, my week would look like:
Monday: steady 8-10 hilly miles (1000ft or more) where I will be trying to push on up or down the hills if my body feels okay after the weekend.
Tuesday: ideally some sort of rep session. This will either be 0.5 or 1 mile sustained hard efforts.
Wednesday: midweek hilly miles – this will ideally be between 12-16 miles and 1200ft – 2000ft depending on the route. Effort will be steady – to hard
Thursday: tempo 8 mile run or hill rep session if I didn’t manage a session on Tuesday.
Friday: rest day – just as important as any other to let the week’s training settle in and muscles recover
Saturday: race day or tempo 13 miles, preferably quick hilly trails or roads.
Sunday: hilly steady long run between 15 – 24 miles depending on the distance I’m training for.
Do you have any rituals you go through before a big event?
Always two big bowls of Frosties cereal, but proper athletes usually go for porridge. Go for whatever suits you and makes you feel light and quick on the day.
Running wise I try to reduce the mileage and quicken my cadence and try to get my body race ready. I will often throw in a run over from Widdop res and push my legs round quickly back down to Gorple to get them firing.
How has your International call up affected your current training regime, and your life in general?
It’s been tough.. I’ve not eased off on my training since January. First I trained for the Hobble, next the Three Peaks, after that it was the call up for England with Sedbergh and Snowdon, and of course lastly Giir di Mont for Great Britain. It’s been a long hard slog to get here with constant training, and mostly it’s my friends or family that are most affected as I will ruin most occasions as I have to get a run in.
Going to a city for the weekend? I’ll have to get my run in first. Friends wanting to drink on Saturday? Sorry, I can’t.. Have to do a long run the next day or have a race.
My friends and family put up with my schedule all the time and I thank them a lot for it. Most of all my girlfriend Sophie, who has heard me moan about every niggle imaginable, put up with me being away for countless hours whilst I run, and me always telling her we can’t do something with friends or family because I have to stay fit and/or go for a long run. I couldn’t be the runner I am without someone supportive like her.
How has your coach, Chris Singleton, influenced your running?
He has helped push me out of my comfort zone and made sure I’ve kept on schedule to meet race goals. I pretty much used to just do tempo runs everyday, but he’s helped introduce a little structure that has benefited some of the aspects I was weaker at.
I have never been a descender, but at the recent Snowdon race I was one of the quickest back down. Evidence that the coaching is working and I’m moving in the right direction!
What is your biggest goal?
If I can compete regularly at the top end of the sport I’ll be very happy when I look back at what I have achieved. However, if I was to answer the question properly, I’d have to say a win at one of the UKs biggest mountain races would be up there. Another goal would be to finish in the top three of the English fell championships.
We all have favourite events, races we look forward to more than any each year; what is your favourite race and why?
Has to be the Three Peaks for me. There is no other race like it and the atmosphere is brilliant. It will be a race I will hopefully come back each year to and see if I can chip away at my personal best time.
What is your best race to date, and what is your best running achievement so far?
A running theme here, but possibly this year’s Three Peaks race! I wanted to break the sub 3 hour mark, so to finish sub 2:55 and in 3rd was very unexpected. I’m also pretty proud of breaking Morgan Donnelly’s record at Lowther Trail last year and Marcus Scottney’s CR at Greendale marathon this year.
I think a question we all want an answer to is; do you still get nervous when you line up waiting for the start?
Absolutely.. If you’re not nervous on the start line then I don’t think you’re taking the race seriously! Anyone and everyone can be beaten on the day, so you have to be focused and mentally prepared for the race ahead – the nerves are a by-product of this!
Is there any member, past or present, that you look up to in the club, and speaking of clubs, what made you pick Clayton-le-Moors Harriers as your club?
We are blessed with a lot of legends at our club thanks to its long and illustrious history. When I first joined the club it was clear we had a very successful period with a lot of these members now competing as successful veterans in their respective categories. The one most relevant in influencing myself and how I progress through attempting to try and seek similar success would be Garry Wilkinson. He has been there and done it all, competing in the same fell and mountain races as I’m currently doing, many for the first time. I’ve still a lot of work to do if I want to achieve the same level of success as he did!
As I mentioned above, there are so many club legends at Vet level in Clayton to look up to, from the likes of Garry, John Roche, Martin Brady, Dave Scott, Kieran Carr, Geoff Gough, Jean Brown, Wendy Dodds and many others, but I admire any of our current senior and junior members looking to push and better themselves.
In terms of why did I join the club? For me it was due to a family member running for the club, as well as another family member (my sister) previously running for the club, it meant it was the only club I’d heard of at the time! I think we all just fall into the clubs we are at, but the important part for me is why do we stay at the club. Personally, I am at Clayton-le-Moors due to our history of being a club that predominantly focuses on fell running competitions. Many of our members have won some of the biggest Fell and Mountain races in the country, but this hasn’t happened in some time. I would like to help put Clayton’s name back up there in the results and help Clayton compete regularly at the top end of these races again.
The right gear is essential; what is your choice of gear for the big race?
The right gear is very important. Wearing something that even slightly irritates you or feels wrong whilst racing can massively affect your result… I can think of manly occasions where I’ve worn the wrong shoes (or even the wrong shorts!) and felt it’s added minutes to my time at the end of the race. However, we are all different and one man’s holy grail pair of shoes are another man’s idea of hell.
Here’s my kit:
1× Salomon S-Labs 6 (for me they are the best all-rounders at taking on all conditions)
1× shortest of short shorts (let those thighs free!)
1× buff cut in half for head (keep my mane out my eyes and protect my ears from wind damage and tinnitus)
1× buff (when cold to protect wind pipe)
1× pair of long socks (I damaged my shin a few years ago and gave myself shin tendonitis and can no longer run without)
1x ladies small fit Clayton vest (I like it snug and close fit to avoid wind blowing it about)
1× Karrimor bum bag (they’re cheap and have a good fit – if I break them shoving too much in I can easily pick up another)
1× Mountain Fuel gel (for long distances, not available yet but are a brilliant product – look out for it soon!)
1x Mountain Fuel soft flask filled with Mountain Fuel Blackberry flavour (for long distances, easy to carry and can keep supping all the way round – easy to shove back in bum bag after)
1× OMM jacket. (Haven’t been able to try all brands as they can be quite expensive. This jacket is a great fit and works well.)
1× small ladies cheapest of cheap water proof pants. (It’s rare you’ll need to wear them, so as long as you can fit them on in case of emergencies, make sure you have a pair that fold away small so that they don’t take up too much space.)
What is your favourite discipline and distance and why?
My favourite distance is around 10-15 miles over undulating runnable trails between 1000-2000 ft of climb. This is due to what I have on my doorstep running around the likes of Boulsworth, Widdop and Hurstwood. I am now more interested in becoming adept at more technical longer distance mountain running, so I have to leave the comforts of gorple road and try push myself on harsher, steeper fells.
Hopefully if asked the same question is a year or so, I’ll be answering 20+ miles of nasty technical mountain running!
Do you have any regrets so far?
I often think ‘should I have tried getting into running sooner?’. If I had though, I don’t think I’d have achieved all that I did before I began running. I started at 22, I’m now at 26. I’ve had to work very hard to get where I am but I have plenty years left to achieve more yet too.
The one thing I do regret is not looking after myself properly. Battering myself everyday has led to many niggles over the years. Not wanting to see any decline in my progress, I often trained through these injuries, often making them worse and now I live with many long lasting issues.
The worst came last year when I first injured my hamstring. Firstly I gave myself hamstring tendonitis, which moved up into my hamstring, which then moved up into my glute/hip and injured my piriformis. This all happened whilst training for a marathon and the three peaks. Afterwards, it all calmed down, only to get redamaged two months later at the start if August. I carried on racing and training, but kept getting intense pain on certain terrains on my lower back/hip area.
One day after a speed session, I got up from my chair after sitting down for a couple of hours at work and I couldn’t walk or stand up straight. Nothing particularly went, my body just packed in and I had severe sciatic pain constantly. It turned out I had damaged my SI joint, which is the bit between your hip and spine. This is the joint that takes all your impact when running, so when this goes the impact now goes through your glute, piriformis, groin and hamstring. I had intense pain for months and had to take 3-4 months off racing whilst I healed.
I now live with chronic sciatic pain that I have to manage everyday through strengthening and conditioning it, as well as regularly self-massaging to relieve the pain and regular sessions with Garry.
I regret not putting in the time to strengthen my core and punishing my body each day without letting injuries heal up properly. It’s no excuse, but after running 15 miles in the dark and rain, the last thing you want to do is come home and do some stretches and strength moves for half an hour..
Nonetheless, it’s very important and should be apart of your training!
Do you have any advice or training tips for new runners or other members of the club?
For new members, don’t worry about PBs, speed work, hill climbs or anything like that. Just get out and enjoy your running for 20-30 miles a week. Learn what terrains you like running on, what times of day you like to run, what distances you like/don’t like and build yourself a solid base of fitness. After 6 months to a year, once the habit of running regularly has become your natural state, and then start to think about how you can begin to improve yourself. This way, your body will be conditioned to run regularly and can the manage increases of demand in your training.
For current members my advice is this. No one is naturally talented at running. Yes, some of us start at better levels of fitness. Some of us are just naturally better at hill climbs/descending on technical climbs – but when it comes to plain running, talent is not the reason someone can run a 16-17 minute 5k. It’s because they have put in the time and effort to be that fit and quick. If you’re in a 10k and someone wins it in 31.00 minutes, or 35.00 for ladies, just know that if they can do it, so can you. You just need to put in the right training and the same level of dedication as the winner of that race. Over time, you’ll be exactly where you never thought you could be. It’ll hurt the same, but you’ll be quicker!
How do you like to train?
During the week I try to train straight after work, especially in winter! Rather than come home and potentially talk myself out of going for a run, I’ll do it before I even get back in the comforts of my warm home.
I often train alone, but hopefully in the coming months I’ll be training with a few more of my Clayton teammates now that I’m able to change up my training a little with the summer of international racing coming to an end.
What do you do to relax / how do you spend your downtime?
Not a right lot! By the time I’ve worked, ran, come home and eaten, it’s usually around 8.30pm so there’s not a lot of time left to do anything. I’ll have to tidy the house, do the washing, prepare tomorrow’s dinner and by the time that’s done it’s time to go to bed! At the weekends I’ll have a few (many) beers if I’ve raced on the Saturday, ready to run hungover on the Sunday.
Outside of running, who is Chris Holdsworth?
In my day job I am a Graphic Designer for a Horticulture company based in Trawden. Before this I studied Fine Art at Leeds College of Art and gained a first class degree. I had a particular interest in sculpture – even winning a national award and prize money for one! Sadly I can only seem to focus on one thing at once – so art is out, running is in…
I designed the most recent incarnation of the Clayton-le-Moors Harriers badge and also designed the pattern on the orange buffs for the FRA Relays held at Pendle two years ago. For the newer members who possibly won’t remember, I was also the Weekly Round Up writer before Adrienne!
What are your lifetime PB’s?
Current PBs are:
10 Mile: N/A
Half Marathon: N/A
I haven’t raced a 5k since 2014 and a 10k since early 2016 as I have been focussing on fell and trails, but I will have to give a few road races ago to see how I fare!
Any comments / final thoughts?
The biggest tip I can give is to stay humble, don’t get an ego and let your racing do the talking. You’ll only have egg on your face if it all doesn’t go to plan.
On a similar note, don’t reveal your goals (unless asked nicely in an interview by James Boult). Things can go wrong and plans can change. Keep your cards close to your chest and the pressure is lessened.
If you begin to say I WILL achieve this or that, or I WILL do this or that time, then you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself trying to meet everyone’s expectations.
Lastly, reward yourself and reward yourself often.. Don’t overdo it with a slab of cake every three mile dog jog you do, but if you restrict yourself too much with diet and social events, then it’ll just get on top of you and will become unenjoyable. It’s just a hobby for us all at the end of the day, so work hard but buy regular Dominos pizzas to make up for it.
Finally, Hendon Brook course record?
Haha, I don’t know about that. Tom Cornthwaite has set a phenomenal record on that course, and many other top runners have come and had a go and fallen very short. It’s one of my favourite races and a course I do regularly in training, so every year I can race it I’ll be racing my hardest. That being said, I’m still the fastest man ever up Lenches (Strava official, nothing else counts) and I’ll take pride in that!