Monthly Archives: April 2016

The long distance athlete who believes that we were born to run

Summer evenings you’ll see them playing in the park – running, jumping, crawling, climbing, and having the time of their lives.  Just like the children they used to be.

This fitness class in the park in Ambleside in the Lake District is not another boot camp or drill sergeant session. The grown-ups – ranging in age from 18 to not far short of 80 – are re-learning how their bodies ought to be used, so that they can better enjoy their sport – or life in generalhop

“We believe that the human body is designed for being active within its natural environment for most of its waking life,” says coach Paul Tierney. “It expects to be used for a diverse range of movement patterns, such as climbing, balancing, jumping, running, crawling and manipulating objects.  Before the advent of modern civilisation, humans were generally   mobile, resilient and athletic, relying on these attributes to survive”

To describe Paul as a fitness guru would be resorting to an over-used cliché. But to hear him talk about fitness – in the park, on a Lakeland hillside, or briefly sitting down over coffee in town – is to listen to the passion of a man who’s earned the right to be called a Master of running.

Paul is one of  11 Born to Run coaches in the UK, and of those he is the Master coach, a disciple of the running technique expert Lee Saxby, and eloquently dismissive of the fitness industry and high intensity training. “We shouldn’t be on machines inside rooms for 20 minutes a day to get our heart rate up,” says Paul . “That’s not real life. People need to get out of doors and move more. If you spend all day sitting down, doing something high intensity for half an hour is just adding another physiological stress.  There is no easy way around it. You have to move a lot. But that’s a hard sell for the fitness industry when most people are time-poor. So the fitness industry profits from convincing people that 20 minutes of high-intensity training is the answer.”

Paul has been involved in sport from an early age, playing the Irish sport of hurling to a high level until his early 20s. He then took up mountain running, and twice represented his country at the  World Ultra Trail Championships. He came to the Lake District in 2011 to take part in the Lakeland 100 (mile) race, came third, and fell in love with the area. He’s since been runner-up, and in 2015 – having come to live in Ambleside – he won the race. Known as the ‘Ultra Tour of the Lake District’ this is the most spectacular long distance trail race in the UK, a  circular route around the Lakeland fells on public bridleways and footpaths, with 6300m of climbing.

paul tierney in action, pic by Steve Ashworth

Paul Tierney in action: Photo by Steve Ashworth

His interest in coaching stemmed originally from a desire to improve his own performance but was also motivated by wanting to reduce the high injury rates among runners today. Following a coaching course he set up a fitness business, Missing Link, with his partner Sarah McCormack, a part-time ecologist with Natural England who happens to be one of Britain’s top fell runners. Sarah, to date, prefers “shorter” races, up to 15 miles; Paul, who won the 100 miler in 20 hours 42 minutes, is the endurance expert, and has also won the Lake District Old Counties Tops race with teammate Ben Abdelnoor (37 miles and around 10,000 feet of climbing) and completed the 66-mile, 42-summit Bob Graham round in 17 hours 59. So yes, he does practise what he preaches.

His classes in the park are designed to get people moving in ways they may not have done in a long time, or perhaps ever. “We include a game-based element that’s sorely missing from mainstream fitness.  The feel-good factor generated by our classes should not be underestimated. We make sure that training is invigorating and enjoyable.  I don’t really think of it as a “fitness” class. I see it more as an opportunity for people to move in new ways while socialising and having fun. We now have a running class for those who wish to develop this particular skill, which will include drills and specific running strength and conditioning training.”

This summer (June 11-12) he’s staging a Born to Run “bulletproof runner” weekend workshop designed to “give you the tools to improve your running technique – helping you increase efficiency, improve performance and avoid injury”. Based in Ambleside, it’s likely to appeal to physios and sports therapists as well as runners looking for the tools to training pain-free and unlocking their full potential for speed and endurance. For those who wish to become a Born to Run coach, attendance on a two-day workshop like this is a prerequisite for enrolment in the coaching course.

Each participant will be screened for injury susceptibility, and there will be video analysis of running technique, how to apply the appropriate drills to address individual issues, and learning the best neuromuscular drills to increase elasticity, speed and performance. There will also be sessions in how to structure training, lifestyle and diet for maximum recovery and gains in performance; and the most common causes of pain when running and how to prevent and address them.

“Once the fundamental skill and theory has been mastered, we then develop the runner’s physiological capacity for running further and faster by developing elasticity, reactive ability and metabolic conditioning,” says Paul.

The Born to Run coaching model was developed by running technique coach Lee Saxby and sports scientist Dr Mick Wilkinson. The idea that running is a skill (which can be improved) is the foundation of the BTR system. Says Paul: “By adjusting the three fundamental ‘micro-skills’ of posture, rhythm and relaxation we can dramatically influence the ‘macro-skill’ of running. We can create a better runner by improving the biomechanics associated with greater efficiency and reduced risk of injury.”

A few places are still available for the June course and can be booked via

For more information see Paul’s website

Every Body Hurts…. Ursula’s triathlon training log, part 4


Two months to go….and do I feel ready to do what is billed the hardest full Ironman triathlon in the world?

Mentally…..yes, as I have that annoying positivity that comes with being a generally happy person.


I remember being in my mid-forties and feeling pretty invincible. Nothing hurt, no joints ached after exercise. I was lucky.

However, on the cusp of my 50th birthday everything hurts and honestly, how many colds can you get in a year before the Boots staff hide behind the counter when they see me coming? This year I’ve had one cold a month and they have gone on for weeks, probably because I am overloading my immune system.

Since the last blog, I have done my first sportive bike ride of 43 miles arranged by the lovely people of Brathay. It was an amazing route, fantastic weather and despite falling off to pull my pants up and having a streaming cold, I did it in a reasonable time, enjoyed every minute of it and hurray I didn’t hurt at the end.

However, cycling up Hardknott and Wrynose Passes after already doing 60 miles was a completely different matter. This is the route of the Triathlon X and frankly it is brutal.

I learnt a lot on this ride.

  1. I need to eat a lot more calories. Forget the blueberry and chia seeds and stock up on high calorie flapjacks.
  2. I need to lube up my pedals, as trying to get out of clipped in pedals on a huge gradient is like wrestling with a horse.
  3. I need to rest more. I am already doing over three hours exercise a day just doing my day job and my body is screaming at me to rest.

So, I have taken up 10 minutes meditation a day. I am also visualising each part of the Triathlon.

I have a mantra “I am a nutter. I can do this”

How about the swimming? Well, I have not had the Eureka moment that I was dreaming of in front crawl, so I have accepted I will do an efficient breast stroke. Better to be comfortable than stressed.

Urs and Paul cycling

Ursula with Paul Davies: training partners in the saddle

I did my first mile in a very cold Rydal water last week with my doctor buddy training partner.

Paul Davies is over 50 and is so much stronger than he looks. I can’t wait to see how well he does in this Triathlon as I am convinced he will beat many of the accomplished Ironmen. He is riding strongly out of the saddle and has the fitness and mental strength of a gladiator.

Talking about Ironmen, I have discovered that there will be 14 men to every woman in the Triathlon X. Now that’s a statistic I like. Shame they won’t be around when I need their help. They will probably be finished as I start my run.

I haven’t mentioned the running. My thinking is that if I manage to swim 2.4 miles and cycle all the major passes in the Lake District, I will crawl my way up to Scafell Pike. I like running, but as the years have gone by, it hurts more than any of the other disciplines as it recruits the most muscle power and energy.

I am hoping that many of my friends and clients will run with me on the last stage to keep me going. They can all get their own back and shout “Come on Urs, PUSH, harder, faster”.

Everything that goes around, comes around.

One of my biggest motivators would be to raise money for something that will really make a difference in the community. I am hoping to raise money for a local cause and I won’t start doing that until a month before.

I am training every week. I am going to be one of the slowest competitors but that’s not important. I am going to take part in a local event, from the YHA where I had my children and from a village I love. Of course I’m going to do it. After seeing the brilliant Eddie Edwards film, it kind of sums it up: It’s not about winning. It’s about taking part.

YHA Ambleside all set to welcome international athletes

International athletes and their supporters heading for Ambleside this summer will find a spectacular welcome at the YHA at Waterhead.

YHA Ambleside is hosting Triathlon X, the world’s toughest extreme triathlon, and plans are well under way for a day of celebrations while the competitors battle it out in the water, on the roads and on the fells.

A day-long barbecue, with music and watersports, will be held at the lakeshore venue on June 25, and the YHA staff are also catering for the appetites of the athletes when the race is over.

The event will start at 4.30 am when some 200 competitors from around the world will swim two miles in Windermere, doing two laps from the shore around Seamew Crag island.

They will then set off on the 112 mile route of the Fred Whitton challenge to cycle over all the Lakeland passes, before returning to Waterhead for the final stage. This is a marathon distance run to the summit of Scafell Pike and back.

“This is a fantastic event to be staged here in Ambleside and we are really excited about it,” said hostel manager Damien Parker.

Ambs YHA

Some of the competitors will be staying at the hostel for the most convenient start and finish. It is anticipated that the winner will return to Waterhead at around 6.30pm, in a time of approximately 14 hours, while the tail-enders are likely to be finishing nearer to midnight.

Day-long food will also be served at the nearby Regent Hotel, and there will be opportunities for spectators to hire kayaks or to take a sail with Windermere Lake Cruises while they wait for the transition stages of the race.

The first man and woman to finish will each receive a prize of £1000 donated by Lakeland UK and Heart of the Lakes cottage holidays. Other prizes are being supplied by Hawkshead Relish and Blue Seventy wetsuits.

Local open water swimming experts Swim the Lakes will have a stall at the race venue, along with nutrition company Mountain Fuel.

“This is a great venue and we are looking forward to a very exciting event,” Damien said.

Volunteers are needed on the day, and any who want to help at the race HQ are asked to contact the youth hostel by email at

YHA planning meeting

Planning meeting in the sun at race HQ, YHA Ambleside: Damien Parker (right) and race director Mark Blackburn (left) discuss tactics with YHA staff



How Scandinavian landscape inspired Lakes artist

Ennerdale Lake 2 copyHardanger Fjiord copy 2scawfells copy by AHC

A new exhibition opening in Grasmere will examine  the Scandinavian influence on the north of England has had a profound effect on the Lake District, from place names to Herdwick sheep.

And one artist par excellence explored that influence, the similarities and the connections, in his art over several decades.

Alfred Heaton Cooper (1863-1929) journeyed from his home in the Lake District throughout Denmark, Sweden and Norway, reaching as far as Arctic Lapland, documenting the landscapes, buildings and people he encountered along the way, and finding parallels between Lakeland lives and landscapes and the ones he found in Scandinavia.

Now a new exhibition., From Fells to Fjords,  will celebrate his work at the studio he founded in the heart of the Lakes, in Grasmere.

Heaton Cooper loved Northern Europe so much that he shipped an entire log cabin from Norway to Coniston where he used it as his first studio.

Realising later that there were more visitors to Ambleside, he re-located the cabin again, and it stands to this day on the approach to the town where it houses a restaurant, The Log House.

The artist and his dynasty moved to Grasmere, where the Heaton Cooper Studio’s new Archive Gallery now also operates as a centre for landscape interpretation, and is one of the most significant cultural tourist attractions in the North of England.

But while the Studio carries permanent exhibitions of the work of Alfred, his son William Heaton Cooper, his daughter in law Ophelia Gordon Bell, and other members of the family, the new show, opening at the end of April, concentrates on the Fells and the Fjords.

It will highlight the artist’s process from sketchbook drawings done from life, up to the finished paintings and then onto the colour plates documenting all aspects of Scandinavian life and landscape in the period from 1890 to 1927, which were used to illustrate a series of guide books.

Those books, The Norwegian Fjords, Norway, Sweden and Denmark were published by A&C Blacks from 1905 to 1927.

But the exhibition will also carry a wealth of material – drawings, watercolours and oils – used to illustrate Heaton Cooper’s two masterly and classic books, The English Lakes published in 1905, and Wild Lakeland published in 1922.

“It is a remarkable body of work from a lost era, though one that is not so far back,” said Julian Cooper, the artist’s grandson who is curating the exhibition. “The sketchbooks are crammed full of life and landscape from Sweden, Denmark, Norway right up into the Arctic Circle.

“As well as comparing Lakes with Scandinavia, the subject of the exhibition is also as much about the process leading from ‘on the spot’ sketch book drawings, onto the finished paintings of the same subject, and then their conversion into colour plates as book illustrations.”

The paintings will come mostly from the Heaton Cooper archive, supplemented by work on loan from Charles Nugent, and from the Gertrude Looi collection.

Alfred Heaton Cooper set off to the Norwegian fjords determined to make his living selling landscape pictures to the well-heeled European tourists who were visiting in greater numbers.

He became fascinated by the rural peasant life of the people of the Sogne and Hardanger regions. He studied them and their language and eventually wrote and illustrated a guide book to the fjords. He married a local girl and built a studio beside the fjord at Balestrand, which stands today and is known still as Cooperhus.

Alfred could not make an adequate living in Norway, but he tried to arrange matters so that he could live partly there and partly in England, where he returned with his bride in 1894. He settled first back in Bolton, moving to Southport and finally to the Lake District, where wealthy tourists promised a better livelihood.

“What he recorded in his work are the remarkable similarities in the two landscapes,” says Julian Cooper. “There is a great deal of interest in the Nordic countries and cultures at the moment, and we know that this exhibition will throw new light on how the Lake District was influenced.”

It was in the tenth century that Norse people who had originally settled in Ireland came to the Lake District to escape political turmoil. They constructed monuments like crosses and earthworks marking significant places.

It’s possible to tell where Norse people lived because of local place names, for example names ending in –by such as Ireby mean village; and those ending in –thwaite, like Satterthwaite, mean clearing. Other words with a Norse origin are beck which means stream; dale which means valley; fell which means hill or mountain; gill which means ravine.

The name of Windermere, England’s largest lake comes from the Scandinavian for ‘lake of a man called Vinandr’.

And the iconic Herdwick breed of sheep, now considered native to the Lake District, is thought to have originated from Scandinavia. The word “Herdwyck”, meaning sheep pasture, is recorded in documents going back to the 12th century. Herdwick sheep are the most hardy of all Britain’s breeds of hill sheep, grazing the central and western dales of the Lake District.

The manager of the Heaton Cooper studio, Alfred’s great grand-daughter Becky Heaton Cooper, has made a study of the Norse connection. She said: ““I’m looking forward to this exhibition.  Julian’s intimate knowledge of the Heaton Cooper archive will undoubtedly weave together a fascinating story of the links our family have with Scandinavia and Norway especially.”

The exhibition runs from April 28 until June 12




Young poet Jacob wins Wordsworth prize

A schoolboy from Furness has been judged the best young poet in a competition run by the descendants of William Wordsworth.

Jacob Currie, 14, a pupil at Furness Academy, took the title with his poem The Gap in Life after members of the Wordsworth family judged more than 150 entries from Cumbrian schools.

The theme this year was “Mind the Gap”, inspired by the aftermath of the winter floods which closed the main road between the north and south of the Lake District. Peter Elkington, the curator of Rydal Mount, who organised the contest on behalf of the Wordsworth family, said: “The writers could interpret the theme in any way they wished, but we thought that it would be an opportunity for some of them to consider how the winter storms and the Gap on the A591 have affected their lives and their family lives.”

Announcing the winner in a ceremony at Rydal Mount near Ambleside, Wordsworth’s home for most of his life, was the poet’s great-great-great-great-grandson Christopher Wordsworth.

He said: “There were lots of good poems, but we chose the winning poem because it reminded us of Wordsworth and his nature poems, and the poems of his childhood. It also took the ‘Mind the Gap’ theme and developed it into something more universal than just the road.”

christopher and jacob

Jacob was presented with a £50 cash prize, a personal trophy, and his name added to the roll of honour on the plaque at Rydal Mount.

In the senior schools category, the winner was 16 year old Ross Casson from Dowdales School. The junior school prize went to 11 year old Amelie Tyson from Ambleside CE primary school. They both received books.

There were also books for the young poets whose work was judged “highly commended”. They were Connor O’Hara (14) who is home-schooled;  Elliot Knowles (13),  Joshua L’Anson (14 ), Fay Baron (14)  and Milly Mckinnell (13), all from Furness Academy; Joseph Rollit  (11) and Jack Dixon (9) from Grasmere Primary School; Sammy Barnett (7) from Ambleside Primary; and Kaleb Million (8) and Molly Salt (5) from Storth primary school.

Each entrant received a certificate signed by the Wordsworth family.

The winning poem:

The Gap in Life by Jacob Currie

Climbing the mountains

The gushing streams flow through your mind

Your feet patter over the moss covered boulders

As you set off on your journey

The jumps you must leap

As you hold your fathers hand

Just in case he’s scared

You bound across the emerald – green fields

The vanishing horizon turning pink, purple, and then black

The stars in the sky glimmer like the excitement in your eyes

Your pace getting slower

Until you come to a stop

Turn around

And see the gap

Between man and nature

The beauty of the little daisy by your foot

Compared to the billowing smoke from the factories

The sparkling night sky covered by fog and smoke

But you know

Above you there’s a whole new adventure

Waiting for your feet to wander over the newly paved paths

Just for you.


Lots rolling in for charity auction thanks to Creative Lakes

Kendal-based marketing and branding specialists Creative Lakes have launched a campaign to support a charity “upcycle” auction.

They have provided advice, support and leaflet designs for the Oaklea Trust who are staging the major fundraising event later this year.

Upcycling is to reuse discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original, and the auction lots are already being promised from craftspeople across the North of England.

The auction is to raise money for the Wishlist Fund, providing grants to disadvantaged or disabled young people across the North of England. It will be held at The Pavilion at The Villa, Levens on November 18.

“It’s a very good cause, and also taps into a growing fascination for upcycling which is a great way to reuse materials and reduce our footprint,” said Creative Lakes owner and managing director Neil Corrigan.

Creative lakes-010

Neil Corrigan: helping to find upcyclers

“We are very pleased to help Oaklea, who in turn are asking those who work with old materials if they would like to raise their profile and showcase their work for a worthy cause.”

Neil himself has been making contact with local upcyclers, and has already introduced Oaklea to several including a craftsman who makes firepits from old washing machines and will be donating one for the auction. Others are donating pieces of furniture and jewellery.

The Oaklea Trust is unusual in that they work with older people at home and in the community as well as young people, some with learning or physical disabilities, in their aim to support stronger communities.

To donate items or to book tickets for the auction, call 01539 735025 or register online at


Web company joins campaign to help the hedgehog

AN artist who protects hedgehogs in her Kendal garden has won a pair of head-torches in a competition – so that she can search for the animals after dark.

Wendy Comert, whose business Wendy Elf specialises in Pyrogrography (wood burning), won the torches in an online competition organised by Kendal e-commerce and web development company SYPO (Sell Your Products Online).

“It was a fun competition on social media which resulted in some fascinating ideas,” said SYPO managing director Alan Jewitt. “We asked where and when people would find the best use for a head-torch, and Wendy’s was the best of many unusual responses.

hedgehog pic

Alan Jewitt presents Wendy with a pair of head-torches

“We also had a woman who said she would use it to ‘look under the Leylandii for our tortoise, where he likes to hide when it’s bedtime’.”

Wendy said that the torches would prove very useful when hedgehog spotting in her garden, adding that she had just ‘soft released’ a hedgehog called Bramble from Kendal College animal rescue centre. She also has a resident hedgehog named Noah because he survived the December floods. “We have webcams all over the garden recording their activity,” she said.

Wendy is a mixed media artist creating finely crafted bespoke gifts including wooden hearts.

SYPO has a team of web and technical specialists who can help design, create, manage and promote online businesses and have been advising companies who were forced to close, many of them losing all their stock, when the storms hit Cumbria at the end of last year. They also sell outdoor equipment.

The prize was presented in the week that Cumbria Wildlife Trust launched a campaign to report sightings of hedgehogs:

You can watch Wendy’s videos of Noah and Bramble here: