2017 has been a great year for female hill and trail runners. In September Swedish sensation Emelie Forsberg made waves by breaking the female record for the Glen Coe Skyline race; more recently, two incredible US athletes smashed up the endurance running record books, with Camille Herron breaking the overall 100mile record at 12hrs 42mins, and Courtney Dauwalter winning the Moab 240 Endurance Run outright, 10hrs before the 2nd placed man. With more new records being set closer to home too, some which had remained untouched for decades, now's the time to highlight the top British female off-road running stars of all time. Those in the running community will know these ladies as friends or inspirational front pack runners, but their achievements remain widely unknown by the wider world. Here we celebrate 12 outstanding female fell, trail and mountain runners, living legends who have dazzled the outdoor world and deserve a place in the hall of fame.
1 Victoria Wilkinson, Skipton
Remedial and sports massage therapist Vic has been smashing records left, right and centre this year. In April she started by taking a huge chunk off the nine-year-old ladies Yorkshire Three Peaks Fell Race record. She stormed over the finish line in 3hrs 9mins and 13th place overall, over 5mins faster than Anna Pichrtova's 2008 time for this classic 23 mile 'marathon with mountains' over the area's three famous summits. Also a prolific cyclo-cross rider, Vic was the first woman to win both running and cycling Three Peaks events. Come June, she set a new ladies' record of 1:21 in the Tebay Fell Race; in August she won Kilnsey Crag Fell Race in a new record of 9mins 39secs, then she knocked 15 seconds off her 2015 record at Grasmere Sports, racing up and down Butter Crag in 15mins 5secs. This November she has just broken Angla Mudge's 20 year old Tour of Pendle record by 13mins in 2:23, coming 3rd overall. Talented as a junior, Vic has previously represented GB at the World Mountain Running Association Grand Prix and Commonwealth Mountain Running Championships, and she has been crowned British and English Fell Running Champion multiple times, the latter including this year, 2017.
- In this interview, Vic reveals how best to train for the Three Peaks Fell Race if you have limited time, plus top tips for speed sessions and generally ensuring you have a successful race:
2 Nicky Spinks, Glossop
Breast cancer survivor and cattle farmer Nicky knows how to celebrate - the former triple mountain round ladies record holder marked 10 years post diagnosis in 2016 by setting the overall record for the fastest Double Bob Graham Round. That's twice the famous 42 peak Lake District challenge with a grand total of 84 summits over 132miles with 16,460m ascent. Possibly just as famous for managing to refuel on fish and chips half way round, Nicky took an hour off Roger Baumeister's 1979 time, making her the second person and first woman to run the double in under 48 hours.
- Nick Brown's award-winning film Run Forever follows Nicky on that epic double:
Until 2016 Nicky also held the women's record for all three classic UK mountain rounds, Bob Graham in the Lakes (18:06 in 2015), Paddy Buckley in Wales (19:02 in 2013)and the Charlie Ramsay in Scotland (19:39 in 2014). To celebrate her 50th birthday in April this year, Nicky set a new women's record on the Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge, 11:02. We told you she knows how to celebrate.
- We caught up with Nicky at the Keswick Mountain Festival 2017:
3 Jasmin Paris, Edinburgh
A small animal vet, Jasmin is currently famous in the fell running world for coming within 91 mins of the now legendary 13hr53min Bob Graham Round record held for three and a half decades by Billy Bland from Borrowdale, Cumbria. No men had run within an hour of Billy's time since he set the record in 1982, but in April 2016 34 year old Jasmin smashed the ladies record down to 15:24, giving the men a fright and also taking over 2.5hrs off Nicky Spinks' record from the year before. Later that year Jasmin went on to run an overall fastest time on the Ramsay Round, 16:13 in June, followed by a blistering Paddy Buckley record of 18:33 in October. Last summer she also came 6th in her first 1000-mile race, the famous Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc (while still finding time for a dip in a lake she passed) and became champion in the Extreme series of the 2016 Skyrunner World Series after winning Tromso Skyrace and Glen Coe Skyline. And to top all that, this week she's just had a baby - congratulations Jasmin!
- Here Jasmin reveals some possibly stomach-churning food choices, shocking training wake up times and the easiest, most important thing YOU can do to complete the Bob Graham round successfully - without any extra training! Who doesn't want to know that???
4 Lizzy Hawker, Switzerland
Environmental scientist Lizzy has won the famous Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc (UTMB) ladies race an incredible five times, and in 2013 she set a new world record running from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu, Nepal which lead to her becoming the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. It's not off-road but we can't fail to mention that Lizzy held the overall world record for 24hours road running until May 2013, and was 100km World Champion in 2006. She is the author of the autobiographical book 'Runner: A short story about a long run' and organises the Ultra Tour de Monte Rosa 116km 4-day stage race or full ultra every September.
5 Angela Mudge, Stirling
Being 'Mudged' (not mugged!) at a mountain race is well known in the fell running community as Angela Mudge passes you on a climb, but did you know just how many records this Scottish-based powerhouse has stacked up?
Sports masseuse Angela has performed at International level, represented GB in Cross Country having won the Inter-counties in 1999 and she has been British Fell Running Champion five times. She has won her local Carnethy Hill race 14 times, was World Mountain Running Champion in 2000 and runner up in 2003. And she has been the Two Breweries Hill Race record holder since 2000. The list goes on. She was the first women to break 3 hours at the classic mountain race Sierre Zinal, Switzerland in 2001 and was 2nd team overall in the OMM elite in 2003.
We're not done yet: Angela has been three times runner up in the European Championships, twice World Skyrunning Champion and runner up in the World Ultra Trail Running Championships. Phew!
6 Helene Whitaker (nee Diamantides), Harrogate
Harrogate physio Helene's most well known achievement is winning the infamous 1992 Dragon's Back Race, beating all the male pairs in a mixed entry with Martin Stone. This race was so tough that only 16 teams finished the inaugural event and it wasn't run again until a decade later. Helene was asked to run again and she came back to win first lady, 4th place overall, proving that, "1992 wasn't just a flash in the pan." Before the first Dragon's Back, Helene was smashing records in the 1980s, including the famous 42 summit Lake District challenge the Bob Graham Round in 20hrs 17mins in 1988. The next year she was the first to complete all three classic British mountain rounds, Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley and Charlie Ramsay over one summer. It took her 72 days, in which she took the Paddy Buckley record down to 20hr 8mins and became the 6th person to run the Ramsay. Helene also held records for the Wasdale Fell Race and Langdale Horseshoe until 1997 and 2016 respectively.
7 Wendy Dodds, Kendal
Kendal-based now-retired GP Wendy Dodds must win an award for longevity too. Still going strong aged 67, Wendy has completed the most number of OMMs (2-day Original Mountain Marathon events) with 43 to her name, having been part of the first female pair in 1972 with Val Pacey.
She must also have a record number of wins, at least 15 times for the A-category female pairs and three with mixed pairs, and two female pair wins in the elite. In 1982 she became the first person to complete the Paddy Buckley Round in 25hrs 38mins (unlike the other classic British rounds, Paddy himself has never run it). She was English Veteran Fell Champion aged 49 in 2000, and two years later became the first woman to complete the 50 at 50 Lake District challenge, despite being 51, as foot and mouth outbreak prevented her in 2001. Wendy celebrated her 60th birthday with 60 races within a year. She completed the notoriously difficult 5-day 2012 Dragon's Back Race across the mountainous spine of Wales proudly wearing her age number of 61, the oldest to take part.
8 Pauline Stuart (nee Howarth), Threlkeld
Nurse Pauline from Keswick AC was the first lady to win many of the classic fell races in the late 1970s and early 1980s, some as soon as they allowed women to enter (gasp), and one that still stands today. Indeed, Pauline still holds the ladies record for the Ben Nevis race (1hr 43mins) which she set in 1984. In 1978 she was the first lady to do and win the Wasdale Fell Race (4hrs 51mins); she set a Borrowdale course record in 1984 (3hrs 26mins) and won the Langdale many times during the early 80s. The first time they allowed women to compete in the Ennerdale Horseshoe fell race was 1980, which Pauline won and therefore set a ladies course record of 4hrs 37mins. That year she was also awarded Lady Fellrunner of the Year. Three years later she went back to break her own record in 4hrs 27mins in her third championship win that season. In 1985 she married similarly talented fell runner Kenny Stuart and they both won their third successive club championship.
9 Carol Greenwood (nee Haigh)
Carol's Snowdon Race record of 1hr 12 from 1993 has yet to be beaten (no one tell Victoria Wilkinson!). That year the Bingley Harriers athlete won nearly 40 consecutive fell races including the Ben Nevis and Three Peaks, to win the English Fell Championships a second time. She won the World Mountain Running Trophy in Morbegno in 1986 and represented GB at the World Cross Country Champs twice during the 1980s and 90s. Despite suffering from sciatica during the middle of her running career, she dominated during this era at the Rivington Pike fell race and became the only female to break the 20min barrier, doing so twice in 1987!
10 Ros Evans (nee Coats), Renfrewshire
Teacher Ros won the British Fell Champs twice, set the ladies Bob Graham record at 20hrs 31mins in 1979 and won the Ben Nevis race on seven occasions - more times than any other woman. She still holds the ladies record for the Cow Hill Race, Fort William - the oldest record in the Scottish Hill Running Calendar no less (again, shhhh, no one tell Victoria Wilkinson). She has also won most of the classic British fell races including the Ben Lomond, Langdale Horseshoe, Sedbergh Hills, Borrowdale, Fairfield, Kentmere, Pendle Hill and Snowdon Race. She was also a highly accomplished skier and orienteer, representing GB in both disciplines.
11 Anne Johnson (nee Stentiford), Macclesfield
Macclesfield Harrier Anne held held the ladies 24-hour Peaks record of 62 Lake District summits in under 24 hours in 1994. It wasn't broken until 17 years later when the incredible, cancer-beating Nicky Spinks raised it to 64 peaks in 2011. In the traditional fell running way, Anne was out on the route to encourage her predecessor onwards, cheering her on rather than tripping her up over the Langdale Pikes, and attending the celebration meal in the pub afterwards. Anne also held the ladies Bob Graham round record of 18hrs 49 for a whopping 21 years until Nicky Spinks broke it in 2012. In 1997 Anne ran 5hrs 16mins at the Everest Marathon, which stood until Angela Mudge broke it by 13mins in 2007.
12 Sarah Rowell, W.Yorkshire
Sarah was originally a record-breaking road runner, turning to the mountains later in life to win the Three Peaks Race four times, plus the Wasdale, Borrowdale and Ben Nevis fell races.
She also won both the British and English Fell Running Champs in 1995 and 1996, and came 2nd in the World Mountain Running Trophy in 1992. Her road records should not go unnoticed - she broke the British marathon record at the London 1985 event, finishing 2nd in 2:28:06.
Sarah is author of two books: Off-Road Running and Trail & Mountain Running co-authored by Wendy Dodds.
Also on our radar:
Carol Morgan, Ireland
Not British, but so close by we couldn't fail to mention Carol who won this year's 268-mile Spine Race along the Pennine Way, and the 200-mile, 5-day Dragon's Back Race across Wales. On the former she smashed the women's record by 43hours in a time of 109hrs 54mins and was joint 6th place overall.
Jean Dawes, Lake District
Jean was the first lady to complete the Bob Graham Round in 1977. She ran the Lake District's most famous challenge - 65miles over 42 summits - in 23hrs 37mins.
Joan Glass, Wales
Welsh runner Joan Glass was the first lady to complete the Ben Nevis race and won the ladies' International Snowdon Race three years in row between 1977 and 1979.
Sue Parkin, Yorkshire
Champion orienteer and fell runner from Airedale & Spen Valley A.C. who dominated the scene during the early 1980s, winning the Three Peaks race in 1980. She then went on to plan the Lake District Mountain Trial for many years.