Chris Holdsworth is an elite level runner on fell, trail and road and has represented Lancashire, England and Team GB on the International stage. Chris is also race director for Pennine Trails in the Peak District.
Here's what he has to say...
Age: 29 years... (oh, and my bucket list of things to achieve before I’m 30 has taken a right battering thanks to these last few sodding months!)
Club/s/: The mighty Calder Valley Fell Runners on the fells, Clayton Le Moors for road.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I began as a middle of the pack club runner back in 2013 after a few boozy years at College and Uni. Quickly becoming obsessed with training and racing, I found myself moving closer to the top end of the field. I still train the same way that brought on a quick rise through the field, hard hilly tempos are the things both the best training sessions for me and the ones I enjoy the most - but I’ve become a little more savvy to learning my own limits. Controlling energy levels and sensing oncoming injuries through a, to borrow a phrase from Jurgan Klopp, ‘Heavy Metal’ style of running and training means I’m having less layoffs and more pay offs, but I’m still learning to get it right!
I’ve competed for Lancashire on multiple occasions on the fells, being part of the gold winning team back in 2017. I’ve competed for England in mountain races on a few occasions, once winning team gold and running for Team GB as part of the Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Premana, Italy.
Primarily a trail and mountain runner, I enjoy running up any hilly surface - tarmac, trails, fells… so long as it’s runnable! Likewise, coming back down, a runnable trail I can descend well, but can be abysmal on descending on technical, tusocky fells.
My biggest achievements so far include coming 3rd at the Yorkshire Three Peaks in Sub 2:55, 2nd at Snowdon International Mountain Race and competing for my country on multiple occasions.
First race would have to be Pennine 10k in 2013, being hungover after a Muse gig with an ipod strapped to my arm, without appropriate running gear or trainers. I managed a respectable 40:30 10k. There were a few races I was able to get away with turning up rough with kebab still on my face after that, but those days are long gone… (My stint as Freddie Mercury at my stag do earlier this year after the state I was in is an exception, and probably can be added to my list of biggest achievements for actually making the start line).
I often list the Three Peaks for this answer, but by the time I next race it, it will be 4 years since finishing 3rd and qualifying for GB! Frustratingly, I’m twice the runner now compared to then, but have been injured, ill or a pandemic occurring which has put stop to me having another crack at it.
Other favourites include Snowdon, Trofeo Vanoni, pretty much all of the Lakeland Trails races and I also enjoy a trail marathon or two, including Snowdonia Trail Marathon and Grizedale 26.
Favourite place to run/train/compete/visit?
Absolutely love going up to the Lakes for the Lakeland Trails races, which is why I’ve wanted to create my own little versions down in the Pennines with Pennine Trails - like a homage/love letter to the Lakeland Trails races! There are so many races in the Lakes I need to get to, and hope to fill my 30s with ticking off a few of the bigger mountain races up there. Likewise, there are so many great areas for trail running in the Pennines which deserve to have top trail races in.
I also love to race down in Wales, the mountains and scenery in Snowdonia are fantastic and have always enjoyed to race down there.
The brief taste of competing in Italy has been amazing too, and if I’m lucky enough I’d love to compete at a few more European races over the next few years.
I live and train in Worsthorne, and regularly run on the trails over to Widdop, reaching Hardcastle Crags and Thieveley, where my love of trail running comes from. There is nothing, for me, that beats tearing back down from Gorple Rocks on a mild September evening with the sun setting behind Pendle on the Horizon!
I’ve been following your training during lockdown. You have been running some incredible distances at an incredible pace! How have you managed to stay so motivated during this time?
My running has always been about finding out how long, far and hard I can run for. I love setting off early on a Saturday morning, with a moderately hilly 18 – 26 mile course, setting my legs in one high gear and seeing how long I can hold on for, learning what mile the nuts and bolts began to shake and rattle, seeing the pace on my watch dip under a certain pace I aimed for, or turning the hammer and making sure I get under by the end of the loop.
So when it came to Lockdown, I already had the mentality sort of buried in me, and a few personal goals I’d always wanted to have a go at. With the lack of real races going on it became an opportunity to challenge myself without any pressures of needing to be fit for real races.
Running a sub 2:30 Lockdown Marathon with 1,700ft of climb (including Church Lane in Hebden Bridge), and a 3:38 Haworth Hobble (starting and finishing from Hurstwood) were personal highlights.
You’ve been a great source of inspiration to many other athletes, including myself. Do you have any tips/advice for other people?
Oh you.. I can’t recommend regular tempo running enough. Once or twice a week, different terrains and different lengths can have such a big positive impact on your racing. Mountain runners like Robbie Simpson, Andy Douglas and Tom Adams all regularly do it, and they know a thing or two about racing and winning! Doesn’t need to be hitting a certain pace or time, life doesn’t work like that and life styles don’t allow it. Trying to get into that ‘amber zone’, verging on ‘red zone’ once or twice a week is all it needs to be, whether one week it’s a minute a mile slower or faster, roll with the punches and enjoy a session that develops strength, fitness and mental fortitude. Just remember not to do any hard running if you’re feeling flat or fatigued, or you can feel wiped out for a week or two!
Don’t let anyone negatively impact your enjoyment of running and needlessly make it mentally tougher than it needs to be. Running happy really will have positive results. You won’t be a lesser runner because you don’t enjoy certain sessions or they don’t suit you. There’s not one answer, and there’s certainly not one method to being a better runner, but if mentally you’re out enjoying your running, slowly increasing your efforts and mileage, you’re trajectory to improving is guaranteed to be on the up.
The worst impact for your running, as I found out last year, was stress...
As an example of my own experience, having qualified to run for England at the end of August, at the start of September last year I broke my ribs on the first day of a holiday, my car completely packed in on the 2nd race of three races I was organising over three weeks, my actual job had become very demanding and I had to run for Home International race for England in a couple weeks’ time…
Whilst it was all ongoing, I can remember being unable to even run up a mild hill without feeling exhausted because of the mental impact it all, constantly having a million and one things on the mind and constantly living in dread of the next issue to pop up – less than a month after being care-free and in top condition.
I went on to have an average performance for England, having walked most of the main climb and had to make up for it giving my all on the descent and clawing back a few places.
I made a few changes this year to not let this happen again, and the lockdown life has further helped re-evaluate and improve how to get the best out of myself mentally.
Running is just as much about how mentally strong you are, as it is about how fit or talented you are.
You’ve recently signed for Calder Valley Fell Runners, a big club with a rich history. What are your plans/goals for the future?
I’m very excited to finally race for Calder Valley when it happens! A club I’ve always appreciated (red is my favourite colour after all), I look forward to helping the club in the fell competitions, and to make sure I never rest on my laurels with club mates like yourself, Karl Gray, Darren Kay and Math Roberts all being ready to paste me in a race should I not be on top of my game!
Personally, I hope to try and qualify for Lancashire, England and GB over the next few years, and give the English and British Fell Championships a proper go.
I know you’re a big fan of Mountain Fuel. What are your favourite Mountain Fuel products and why?
I love the Chocolate Recovery Fuel, sometimes I think I’m just doing a long run so I can have one when I get back! Likewise, I find myself dipping into my jellies even when I’m not in need of them. I like the lime one, but the cola ones taste like the ice pops. My favourite of the Liquid Fuels is the Raw Fuel – I can’t even tell you what it tastes like but it’s great! I can remember doing a mile rep session in the heat last year and using it through out and I just kept on going and going, whilst not losing any speed. Really top product.
When competing I will have the sport jellies handy throughout, and try to decide on which sections I’ll need them the most. Cola and Lime are my go-to flavours as mentioned, but when it comes to the energy bars, it’s a toss-up between ginger and turmeric, and the dates - I can’t yet decide which I like more. I’ll usually use these for longer training runs that go on for over 3 – 4 hours, mainly just as a treat and so I have something to look forward to that far into a run! But also to give me an added boost with something substantial in my stomach that’s easy to go down and doesn’t sit uncomfortably.
Do you have any tips for people wanting to try Mountain Fuel for the first time?
My tip is using the Recovery Fuel as a cool chocolate milkshake in the summer, hot chocolate in the winter! You can’t go wrong with choosing the flavours you’d usually enjoy, and going to see Rupert at a Mountain Fuel stand if he's at an event near you to try a few free samples of the Energy bars, they are so good!
You can find Chris on;
And if you'd like to enter one of his Chris' races visit https://www.penninetrails.com/
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