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Run4It  •  Culture •  22.03.2019 •  4 min read

Real Runners: Graham Kelly on ultra and mountain running

We interviewed Scottish ultra and mountain runner Graham Kelly (better known as Beardy) on his endurance escapades and adventures…

When did you start running?

I was always a mountaineer but when I hit the age of 30, I started to find it harder to get up the steeps as the natural fitness of youth left me. I started road running to maintain a level of fitness which led to various 10km, half marathon and road marathon events. As a parallel activity, I started taking part in two day mountain marathon events such as the KIMM (now the OMM) and LAMM which mixed mountain skills such as route choice, navigation and camp craft with moving quickly between controls. This then led to the current mix of both ultra events (easier to justify going slower on longer distances) and mountain/fell running (my preferred genre of running).

What's your favourite distance?

A good question and the honest answer is any distance if the course, environment or company is inspiring. I’m as happy doing a local 5km with my daughter as I am on an ultra-distance event in some obscure corner of the world or indeed on a narrow ridge as part of an iconic sky race. For me it has little to do with statistics and everything about how it feels.

Tell us your story and how running has changed your life?

Endurance and adventure have always fascinated me. Both have been a major part of my life for well, most of it. A railway signalling engineer to trade but qualified Mountain Leader, spare times are based in the Scottish Mountains – a habit that has led to a full round Munro & Corbett summits, a passion for fell/hill running, scrambling and the occasional graded technical route. In winter, I can be seen on alpine or cross country skis and on a good day, sometimes skinning up a hillside on old touring kit. Firmly in the “never won anything and never will” category, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in ultra and mountain races all over, based in Glasgow or wherever the van is parked up for the night.

Running has taken me on a series of adventures both here in the UK and also Morocco (Marathon des Sables), Australia (North Face 100km as it was at the time high in the Blue Mountains above Sydney), Mexico (Ultramarathon Caballo Blanco – the race described in the book Born to Run) plus various events around Europe and North America. Whilst the actual running experience has been truly amazing each journey has been equally defined by the people I have met. The simplicity of sharing the trails or mountain tends to bring out the very best in humanity with compassion and support being at the fore.

At times when life feels harder than it should or the world spins too quickly – sticking on running kit and heading out has brought a sense of balance back. A couple of years back I bust up my ankle which led to around 8 months of recovery. Since then, I’ve not taken being able to run for granted and have a sense of moral obligation to appreciate my health by using it often.

What's your favourite surface to run on?

Easy – mountain environment every time if possible.

What's your favourite running route?

If I was asked to showcase Scottish running then my go to route is always the Tour de Bookil which heads through the valley between the peaks of the Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag in Glen Coe before journeying north again on the western side of Beag.

What has been your best race to date?

Do I need to pick one?!?! It would have to be the Marathon des Sables in Morocco since that was the gateway event that for me redefined what was possible – ironically, the hardest bit was actually posting the entry (which took me two years to build up the courage for). The highlight was going into a number of primary schools to talk about the event before and after – the questions were epic (kids tend not to filter) and in the case of my local school Carolside (attended at the time by my daughter) the kids sent emails which were delivered to the tent each evening. Those messages kept me going more than any energy gel or drink!

What's your go-to running shoe?

Inov8 X-Talon 212 as it’s the shoe I’ve found to work best across varied off road terrain. They stick to pretty much everything and dry out fairly quickly (important in Scotland).

What couldn’t you run without?

A buff – I’ve got far too many but love them. Each one has a story and memories attached to it.

What's your go-to post-run treat?

Pizza and a dark beer – the recovery meal of kings and queens.

What does the future hold?

In the short term – the Scafell Sky Race down in the Lake District in July, then an increase in mountain routes with technical terrain ready for my return to the Glen Coe Skyline in September. I’m also in the early planning stages of a running / hiking / exploring trip over to Colorado next year… it’s been an itch for too long now.

Keep up with Graham here…

Blog: Glasgow tae Somewhere
Facebook: Graham Kelly
Instagram: @northbound_drift
Strava: Graham Kelly

The simplicity of sharing the trails or mountain tends to bring out the very best in humanity with compassion and support being at the fore.

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