On the morning of February 9 I received an email from abroad - the U.K. specifically - letting me know that our World Mountain Running Association (www.wmra.info) president Danny Hughes had died that morning at his home in Gosforth. Surprise, shock, disbelief were my immediate emotions for I had just run with Danny in January following our council meetings on a Saturday afternoon in Monaco. There was certainly no indication that this spry and energetic 72 year old would succumb to a sudden heart attack.
I had known Danny since 1995 when I first attended the World Mountain Running Trophy events at Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland, as part of the first U.S. women's mountain running team. Over the past 14 years I spent time with Danny in my changing role from athlete to team manager, and since 2000 as a member of the WMRA Council. We traveled together in the U.S. during a site visit to Alaska prior to the 2003 World Trophy. Danny came to Colorado in 2006 for the WMRA World Long Distance Challenge held at the Pikes Peak Marathon. That year he rode to the top of the mountain with Pikes Peak Marathon Race Director Ron Ilgen on Ascent day and then hiked back down the Barr Trail to Manitou Springs - some 13 miles - a great accomplishment for a 69-year-old flatlander. Danny was himself a runner, an event organizer, and a leading force in the worldwide mountain running movement. He will be missed at this year's 25th World Mountain Running events - events that received championship designation from the IAAF (www.iaaf.info) for the first time this year - something Danny fought for during his tenure at the helm of the WMRA. I, like so many others, will miss the sparkle in his eye, his passion for our sport, and most importantly his friendship.
I visited Danny's home this past week when I flew to the U.K. for the services. It's no wonder he always spoke so fondly of his family and of his life in the Cumbria region and the Lake District.
I arrived in Manchester on the Monday (February 16) and was met at the airport by a long-time Kiwi friend from Wales via Canada and New Zealand. Kelvin Broad competed on the New Zealand Mountain Running Team for the first time in 1994 and was instrumental in getting the Canadian Trail and Mountain Running Association formed. During the nearly three hour drive to Nether Wasdale in the Lake District (which would have been longer if we were not armed with a GPS tracking system telling us precisely where to go at every turn and juncture in the crisscrossing motorways), we marveled at the scenery which reminded both of us of New Zealand. Narrow, winding roads, sheep dotting the landscape, lush green hillsides, and farms far and wide.
Upon arriving at our destination, the Screes Inn for me in Nether Wasdale and another B and B for Kelvin in nearby Wasdale, we decided to go for a run. We started on the road marveling at the lush fields around us and looking for a pathway to connect us to a trail system. We were heading toward Wast Water, a lake which is approximately 4.6 kilometres (almost 3 miles) long and 600 metres (more than a third of a mile) wide. It is the deepest lake in England, at 79 metres (258 feet), and is owned by the National Trust. The head of the Wasdale valley is surrounded by some of the highest mountains in England, including Scafell Pike (3,209 feet) Great Gable and Lingmell. The vistas were magnificent. What we found instead of a "trail-specific" system were a series of bridle paths which connected farm to farm and meandered across the lower valleys between the fells and wound up the scree fields. There was a bit of cloud cover and the skies were turning grey at about 5:00 p.m. There was not a breath of wind on this late afternoon and temperatures were a humid 48 or so. We ran among the Herdwick sheep, a variety familiar to this region and bred for its mutton rather than its coarse dark-colored wool. Kelvin, a PhD in language studies and a professor at the University of Calgary, specializes in literacy studies. He spends much of his "free" time these days with his brood of border collies - some 14 - of all ages bred to herd sheep. Kelvin and his wife Angie compete in local sheep trials and moved to Wales to pursue their passion for the sport. During our run we stopped to watch a local farmer put his dog through training with his small herd of sheep. It was fascinating to watch the dog run at lightning speed to gather sheep which had strayed from the herd. We ran across the grass - moist and sponge like from the ever-constant moisture nearly sucking our shoes off our feet especially in the muddier sections by creek beds. Our hour-long run was a perfect way to enjoy the countryside and for me to unwind after a long flight from Colorado Springs via Denver, Chicago, Frankfurt, and finally Manchester.
The Screes Inn is a quaint pub/five-room bed and breakfast owned by Danny and Norma's daughter Rachel and son-in-law Nick. The middle son - Johnny - served as head chef. The eldest of the three - David - worked as an engineer at a nearby facility. It was so special to meet and spend time with the family sharing memories and learning about Danny's life beyond running. Tuesday was spent at the services with friends and family all celebrating Danny's life.
On Wednesday some of my fellow WMRA Council members - Bruno and Tomo - enjoyed time with Norma and the family and even watched some movies (transferred to DVD) of fell runs that Danny organized in the mid 70s. Late in the day Bruno and I departed by train from Seascale to Stockport, a suburb of Manchester boasting some 300,000 residents.
Alan Barlow, chairperson of Mountain Running within UK Athletics, and his wife hosted us for the evening and would take us to the airport in the morning. I got up for a pre-flight run at 5:30 a.m. assuming I'd go out solo. Bruno doesn't run and Alan had given me instructions the pervious night to locate the key and unlock the door. Imagine my surprise as I descended the stairway in near darkness to find Alan dressed for a run awaiting my departure at the bottom of the stairs. He said he didn't want me to get lost and would go with me. I told him he needn't go with me that I had run all over the world and I'd be fine. He insisted, so off we went. Our 41 minute run started out at a good clip and maintained a precision pendulum-like pace for nearly the entire run. Alan has been running for 50 years and at age 62 there are no signs of him slowing down. I learned his age when, between footfalls I inquired how old he was. I then asked if he was a four-minute miler as a youth. He chuckled a bit and with an "of course you must be joking" attitude said, "No, my best was just 4:08." He followed that up with a note of his PB at 800 meters - a modest 1:54 to which he added that so many other Brits were way faster. I was glad that I ran with my guide since doing even an easy out-and-back would have been a recipe for disaster. Combine short, twisting roadways, numerous street crossings, dark pathways, and nearly non-existent street signs that were too low to discern in the darkness, and getting lost was a near certainty.
Before leaving for the airport, Alan supplied me with a few copies of The Fellrunner magazine, the thrice-yearly publication of the Fell Runners Association. The last time I saw the magazine (some 20 years ago) it was a rather short and non-descript newsletter. Now a full glossy publication, the magazine serves as a tribute to the growth and interest in the sport throughout the UK.
As I think about the upcoming World Champs in Campodolcino without Danny at the helm, I become reflective. I look forward to continuing on the path that Danny helped form - one that will surely include continued growth in our sport, further worldwide participation, and opportunities for athletes and administrators to share ideas and their love of mountain running.