The P.W. Runner’s Tale

Tales from End to End
The P.W. Runner’s Tale

by Dennis Weir

John and I were colleagues at Stand Grammar School in Manchester. He had a reputation for being an accident zone: handles would mysteriously break off hot mugs of tea when he picked them up; notice boards would suddenly fall from their perches when he walked past; and on the very first day that he drove his car to work he hit the school wall. But it was as part time P.E. teachers actively involved in athletics that we shared a common interest. He was a 440yd hurdler while I was into long-distance running. Together we organised a Track and Field League for Manchester Schools and started running together on the Peak District Moors.

Eventually John felt strong enough to enter his first Fell Race – the iconic Yorkshire Three Peaks of Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent. Not too many hurdlers enter the Three Peaks, so to avoid too fast a start, I suggested that John find and follow the legendary fell-runner Stan Bradshaw and this would guarantee an award-winning time. ‘But beware,’ I warned, ‘if Stan feels he is being taken for granted, he’ll stop and pretend he has to tie his shoelace. While you carry on, he’ll disappear into the mist.’ John followed my advice but during the race, Stan really did twist his ankle and had to stop. ‘You can’t fool me, Stan,’ quipped John merrily, ‘I’ve heard all about your little tricks.’ Even the saintly Stan showed signs of irritation but in due course he led John to the finish and to a creditable time.

On one occasion we took a party of ‘O’ Level lads on a walking / running / history / Latin trip to Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria. One night I lay, tossing and turning in my Youth Hostel bunk, kept awake in this idyllic countryside by the wailing of a Bellingham disco. John was sound asleep. Suddenly I recalled that an attempt on the Pennine Way relay record was shortly due to pass through the village and – flash! Why don’t I run it end-to-end? In the morning, John unhesitatingly agreed to help. It meant that he would have to curtail his own Pennine Way run that he was planning with Alistair Lawson but he was willing to sacrifice that in order to act as my support.

The individual record stood at just over 7 days and so in 1970 with Ted Dance, a friend from the Rucsac Club, I decided to aim for 5 days. John did all the driving for us and with my wife Margaret and our 5 year-old son Robert, fed us, patched blisters, read fairy stories, sang umpteen nursery rhymes and gave cheerful encouragement at every stop. We stayed at Youth Hostels, which we had vetted first so that fierce wardens (a lot of them in those days) were avoided. Of course John being John (a phrase expropriated elsewhere) there had to be a minor glitch. After the longest drive of the whole trail, it was discovered that the bag of clean socks had been left behind. So John had to do the double journey again. He still met us on schedule and only told us afterwards that he’d also found time to land the car in a ditch on that same leg of the journey. (Surely he’d not fallen asleep?!)

The last hostel was Earby where the warden sacrificed his own supply of hot water so that Ted and I could soak in a bath. All the bunks sloped sideways and so we had to hold ourselves in to stop rolling on to the floor. John, of course, slept soundly.

After that, Stan Bradshaw met us on the Peak District moors with a flask of hot soup and offered to keep us company for a couple of hours. In fact, he stayed with us through the rest of the day and the following night and delivered us safely to John at Edale. We finished on 10th August, my wedding anniversary, beating the 5 day barrier by just 40 minutes. We’d smashed the record! Stan had been a great help but without John the record just would not have been possible.

The modern individual record for running the Pennine Way is less than three days. The holder made do with just one hour of sleep in the entire journey. Nevertheless I like to think that our venture sowed the seed in John’s mind for the sort of mighty epic that he and Nancy are now undertaking.

Oh, I nearly forgot. I was high on adrenalin and feeling remarkably perky after running 268 miles in five days and setting a new long distance record, so naturally, I drove us all home. John took a well-earned nap in the passenger seat.

Margaret and Dennis
Margaret and Dennis

Editor’s note: I owe Dennis and Margaret an enormous debt for introducing me to fell-running and the adventure Dennis has just described did, indeed, develop my appetite for long-distance trailing.