Finlay Wild – Hill Runner

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We spoke to this determined athlete for our Jan/Feb 2016 edition of the magazine. Here’s a taster, plus some of the answers we couldn’t fit in.

In August you became British Fell Running Champion. How much did that mean to you?
Three years ago I remember talking to Joe Symonds who had won the British Champs and thinking about how that must feel. I had a good go at the Champs in 2013 but made some mistakes, which cost me – mainly navigational and tactical mistakes. In 2014 I hadn’t really learnt my lesson and got horribly lost in thick mist on Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland, along with half the competitors. Come 2015 I was determined to have a more planned approach and so made sure to reccy (practice the race route) before each race. This paid off as I had some good lines and a good knowledge of each race – I knew when to push on and when to conserve energy. Knowing that I had done enough to win the Champs when I came in second at the Lingmell Dash in the Lakes was a brilliant feeling. I had to run the race with a minor leg issue that I wasn’t sure would hold out on the fast, steep descent. Being strongest as a descender I knew I would have to give it my all on the way down to get from fifth into second place. Thankfully the leg held out and I could just enjoy the low-key prize-giving knowing that the Champs was in the bag. Receiving the trophy with my name alongside those of many of the greats of the sport was really very satisfying.

Do you enjoy running abroad, and does the hill running culture differ from one country to another?
I’ve only done a few races in Europe, and this is an area I would like to do more in. Certainly in the Italian Dolomites the race atmosphere in the small mountain villages was phenomenal – with streamers and banners, hordes of spectators shouting you on and cow bells frantically ringing. Having done more ski mountaineering races in France and Switzerland I’d say they’re just as psyched and spectator support is huge there. For one famous race, the Pierra Menta, spectators get a chairlift at 4am and then cross country ski up to a prominent summit, where they are provided with hot drinks, to then cheer on the competitors when they pass racing through hours later. That’s an intense memory – lung busting effort racing down a spectator corridor of whistling and bell ringing on both sides, atop an alpine peak in the sun. The Scottish weather sometimes doesn’t make it easy to spectate.

Which other hill runners have inspired you, and who has supported and encouraged you in your running?
Too many to name really – greats such as Kenny Stuart and Joss Naylor who were so hardy and whose times are still amazing 30 years later. Rob Jebb for his longevity with over 10 years at the top, and his ascending speed. People doing long rounds in the hills such as Jon Gay with his Winter Ramsay round record. Kilian Jornet as one of the very best runners, and also for his phenomenal feats mixing running and mountaineering. Lots of people over the years who just like to get out in the hills for a run and a blether.

You live among spectacular mountains – is Lochaber your favourite running region?
I lived in Inverness for a few years and I loved it for its ease of access to so many special places – from Torridon to the Cairngorms. In Lochaber, there is so much on the doorstep that I think it’s hard to beat. The Cuillin of Skye is another favourite and I regularly head back there to explore places old and new alike.

Finlay on Gars Bheinn in the Cuillin range. Photograph: Rob Beaumont

Finlay on Gars Bheinn in the Cuillin range. Photograph: Rob Beaumont

Do you still enjoy climbing or is there not room for both climbing and running in your life?
I still think of myself as a climber too, although it is difficult to keep both up at the same time. I do regularly combine the two at an easier technical level, going out for scrambling missions in running gear – moving fast and light on serious terrain.

What are you looking forward to in 2016?
I hope to have another good ski mountaineering racing season both at home and in Europe. One of my main goals is to attempt some long-distance mountain running challenges, but using lightweight skimo racing kit. Into the running season I hope to compete in several “skyraces” as well as classic Scottish hill races such as Jura Fell Race and of course, another go at Ben Nevis.

Finlay at Glen Brittle on the Isle of Skye. Photograph: Roger Wild

Finlay at Glen Brittle on the Isle of Skye. Photograph: Roger Wild

Finlay is sponsored by Norman Walsh UK and Anatom / Dynafit UK. He has talks coming up for Carnethy Running Club in Edinburgh on 11 April 2016 and at the Buxton Adventure Festival on 12 April 2016. He also has an exhibition of mountain art, called Kaleidoscape, at the John Muir Trust Wild Space in Pitlochry from 3 February 2016 until 8 April 2016.

Buy the Jan/Feb 2016 edition to see the rest of the interview with Finlay Wild.

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