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The Carnethy Interview - Andy Spenceley

Andrew Spenceley

My excuse for not interviewing “The Everlasting Spenco” earlier is that The Interview Policy was that the prominent and well-known need not be interviewed. All that has been slowly changing and the famous are to be made to feel as vulnerable as ordinary mortals. Anyway, I was getting a lot of flak from various people for not interviewing him. Andy has been at the very centre of Carnethy from 1984, soon after the Club was formed. He has been on the Committee almost continuously for nearly 20 years, serving as Secretary and Captain (twice) and organising Caerketton, the Carnethy 5 (7 times !) and the 1999 FRA Relays. In 1995 he was on the organising committee of the World Mountain Running Trophy, when it was held in Edinburgh.

You once said you always wanted to be a runner, even wanting to do the Ben Nevis race at the age of 11. Was there a history of running in your family?
None at all but I always knew I was going to be a runner. It was on my first visit to Scotland, when 11, that I found out about the Ben race and decided I would do it !

You were born in Nottingham. Do you have brothers and sisters?
I have 3 brothers, all have been involved in different sports. Two are/were involved in extreme sports such as rock climbing, mountain climbing (in the Alps etc), paraponting (including climbing mountains in the Himalaya and jumping off them). My youngest brother is a star hockey player (that's what he tells me anyway, though he does get his name in the paper regularly as the goal scorer).

Are your family still in the Nottingham area?
No, we moved from the East Midlands to the Stafford in the West Midlands when I was nine and they are now scattered as far afield as New Zealand. My family actually comes from Kent so when I lived in the Midlands we were the most northern branch.

You started in track and road, but the knee problem stopped you.
Actually I started in school cross-country races and then this led to joining a local athletics club (Stafford Athletic Club) who introduced me to the road and track. I had two successful track seasons (when I was 17 and 18) and ran times such as 9mins for 3km; 15m30secs for 5km; 25min 47secs for 5miles (road). But after that have never been able to race on the track (or road) since as always get a knee pain (and still do) that no-one was ever able to cure.

Then took up orienteering.
Just when I had to give up road I went to university and this is an ideal place to orienteer as it’s a very social thing to do, i.e. you all pile in a minibus and go away to somewhere like the Lakes for the weekend, run, drink etc. Also I always did enjoy running off-roads best so instantly took to it (and found I had a flair for map reading).

And then hill running.
My hill running didn't really start until after I moved to Edinburgh. Though I did a few Peak District races when I was at Nottingham Uni and ran the first Criffel race in 1981 when I was on an orienteering holiday up here and, again, like orienteering found it to my taste. So once I moved to Edinburgh, I naturally started doing some of the races.

I would have thought that rough country running would be harder on the knees than road and track.
The problem with my knee is caused by continuous repetition of exactly the same movement on a hard surface. When running off roads (even down hill) you don't get this as every footfall is slightly different.

You read Maths at Nottingham University. How did you get into Information Technology?
I started working life by trying to by an actuary, but that is something you have to be enthused about to succeed in and I wasn't really interested so went back to university (Strathclyde this time) to do an MSc in IT which was much more up my street.

Did you enjoy your education?
I enjoyed university but although I got a good degree in Maths I wasn't going to take it any further. I was always a "take it easy until the last minute" student and worked very hard for the two months before my exams and did the minimum the rest of the time (to allow more time for hard training !)

How do you come to be in Edinburgh?
Purely because I was offered a job as an Actuary at Guardian Royal Exchange in Edinburgh (the interview was in London and they were either going to send me to Edinburgh or Lytham St. Annes !).

And did you marry Hilary because she was a mathematician?
Not at all …. Think it was because I persuaded her to come to watch Ben Lomond and I had a good race, and then we spent the evening drinking with some Fifers (the normal crowd, Tom Ross, Frank Cation etc, except they were younger in those days !) in the Rowardennan Hotel and then we camped by the shore and she seemed to enjoy the weekend and wanted to go camping again. A couple of weeks later she even met me at 4am in Troon at the end of the first Scottish Islands Peaks Race I did (in 1985).

You were hot stuff in the Orienteering world – Elite in the British Championships and all that. Did you continue orienteering when you came to Edinburgh?
I orienteered very seriously at university and carried this on when I arrived in Edinburgh. At that time Edinburgh was the number one spot in Britain for orienteers and you had a good crowd to pull you along and keep the standard up. We had regular training weekends and it was good fun.

You don’t do much orienteering now?
Very little. I still enjoy it when I do it but other pastimes now take up my time when I'm not hill running, such as hill walking and cycling, which I've become very keen on in the last few years.. Basically I found I enjoyed the simplicity and brutal effort of hill running more than orienteering, as you know you have run your best when in orienteering there is always the question, if only …

And yet you still like very long hill runs and have done the Bob Graham Round and the Yorkshire Three Peaks.
Long races are a love-hate relationship. I love to have done them, but don't like doing them ! Not quite true, they're growing on me. But I'm not really built for long races … too skinny ! I generally did best at races up to just over an hour but like many people I think I enjoy the longer ones as I get older. Some of the best I've done are the Manx Mountain Marathon, the Scottish Islands Peaks Race (6 times), the Bens of Jura Race (more than 10 times), many Mountain Marathons but particularly enjoy the Lowe Alpine MM. This year I did the 42 mile High Peak Marathon (a winter over-night run) and the epic Mull Monster (thanks to John Coyle). The Bob Graham round was something I enjoyed all the way round. We went at an easy pace and the weather was great and were so well supported that it turned into a continuous feast ! I do admire people who can run really well at very long stuff … Hilary running the St Cuthberts Way was superb, she just went on and on at a decent pace and was almost sprinting the last couple of miles to try to get under 12 hours. Not something I could do.

When you are 50 you can do the Jos Naylor Challenge.
My more immediate priority when I am 50 will be to make the most of the few months I have before the rest of the world (Adam, Ronnie, Stewart, Des Crowe, Dermot McGonigle, Mark Rigby etc etc) turn 50 and try to win a few races !

You obviously don’t have any enthusiasm or motivation problems. Why not?
Everybody is competitive but everybody is competitive in their own chosen field. I remember someone in the club accusing me once of being too competitive but that person is a successful businessman and was out to make money, i.e. he is as competitive as me but in the business field and just uses running as pure relaxation. For me running is such an important part of my life that I am motivated and enthused by it. However, I'm just not the type who gets worked up and competitive about work.

I assume you have completed the Munros. Was that “necessary” or accidental?
Nothing is ever accidental ! It is something you just have to do (again it's the competitive instinct). My last munro was Blaven, in 1998, where I had a joint finishing weekend with Jane Robertson. I'm actually a bit sadder than you think, as am actively ticking off Corbetts at the moment and don't have too many left ... the plan is to finish them sometime next year (and have another joint last weekend, if Jane has saved her last one!) (Postscript : the Corbetts were finished in June 2003 on Ben Loyal)

And you are another Englishman with a Scottish vest – or is it two? Tell me about that experience.
Continental running suited me when I was at my best as I had quite a lot of speed so actually had good results when running for Scotland, was first counter one year and second (behind Colin Donnelly) the next in World Trophy races. I even got prize money in a brown envelope that we had to keep hidden from the SAAA team manager ! I still enjoy running in Europe and recommend it to anyone. The races are generally very scenic, very well organised and they have great atmosphere (and contrary to rumour, a lot do have descents). Last year several of us went out and met up with Angela Mudge in Switzerland and did 3 races and had a great holiday (and Hilary got to stand on top of a podium ! ).

You have trained very hard in your time and in various different ways. Tell me about how your attitude to training has developed. Do you have some advice on training for the rest of us?
My training used to be quite intense. Lots of interval running, hill reps and fast running. I did about 60 miles a week (sometimes 70 or 80 in the winter) and most of it was quality sessions. Not really a good idea in retrospect but I enjoyed running fast ! In the end due to injuries over the years I've had to ease down on my training and now I don't do much intense stuff at all. Most of my runs now are steady off road runs. I get speed from doing races. That's not ideal but it suits me at the moment and seems to be keeping the injuries away. One thing I really recommend is regular sports massage. This more than anything else, I think, has kept me able to run for over 30 years.

How did you get interested in railways? Have you done the railway Munro equivalent and travelled all the track in the UK?
My school was right next to the main Euston - Glasgow line so an interest in railways was natural. It also gave me the chance to explore the country. From the age of 11 my Mum would send me off for the day (or more) with some sandwiches and a railway ticket to look for railway engines in places such as London, Cardiff, Penzance, Edinburgh, Wick, …anywhere, it was all a big adventure. Though Hilary says these days, you would get sent into care if anyone did that ! I've not quite travelled all the tracks (and don't have the ambition to ! ). These days I'm more interested in steam engines but also have a very great interest in sustainable transport in general, whether it's cycling, trams or trains, i.e. trying to get a modern transport system that isn't just more roads.

You have travelled extensively, including you and Hilary touring the World for a year. Can you pick out any special memories?
We have done a lot of travelling. Not just on our year out when we went round the world, but have since visited China, Nepal, Sri Lanka, India (3 times), Tanzania, Hong Kong, South America, New Zealand etc. I also did a lot of travelling with my last job. It's hard to pick highlights. India is a special place with many good memories; snorkeling off Fiji (and on the Great Barrier Reef) was out this world.

There was a serious incident in Ladhakh.
Ladhakh was actually a really great holiday. It was organised by Colin Pritchard and was the first Carnethy "holiday" considering of a 3 week trek in the Indian Himalayas and 6 of us went (since then there have been holidays to Norway, Iceland, France etc). The incident you refer to was when one of our horses fell into a gorge, on the second day, which then got swept away down the river. With the horse went a tent, and 3 gear bags, including sleeping bags. So for the next 3 weeks we had 3 people in each two man tent (though I came out well as shared with Hilary and Jane, leaving Colin, Keith Burns and Mike Anderson in the other ! ). We had to use the remaining sleeping bags as downies to keep warm (we were generally over 4000m and it was cold) and share out the clothes. One funny thing (in retrospect) happened to Mike Anderson, who lost all his gear apart from the T-shirt he was wearing. A week later we were camped in a remote valley where the only living thing was a yak which proceeded to eat (at night) Mike's carefully washed and hanging out to dry T-shirt - his last piece of clothing !

Did you enjoy the Pyrenees last year? I was ashamed that I hadn’t been to such wonderful mountains before.
It was the second time I'd been to the Pyrenees. 10 years ago we had a back packing trip there. But I thought last year was a great holiday. Just the right amount of running, i.e. enough distance that you had to run to complete the day and you felt you had put effort in.

What are you reading at the moment? You are a non-fiction person, like me. Has Hilary not converted you to fiction?
Actually when I was young I was a keen fiction reader, in fact I read all the time, probably because my Dad refused to have a TV in the house (something I never missed and still very rarely watch as am not in the habit). I gave up fiction when I went to university and now only read non-fiction except on holiday, oh, and except for Harry Potter! Like many people in this club I have several books on the go at once and at the moment I am reading "Corridors of Power" by C.P. Snow, which is fiction I started on holiday. I'm also reading the Lance Armstrong story by the man himself. It makes you realise how single minded, arrogant and tough you have to be to win the Tour de France. The other book I'm reading was picked up in second hand in Oxfam. It's "The Kangchenjunga Adventure" by F.S. Smythe and is about an expedition to climb Kangchenjunga in 1930, but what a terrible book ! If you've ever read the book "The Ascent of Rum Doodle", which is a take off of expedition books, then I think it is based on this one. Smythe tells how the German leader goes round pre-dawn with a gong to wake them up and how all the climbers ignore him and stay in their sleeping bags until the sun hits them (he boasts that he never once got up until the sun hit the tents !). Then he wonders why it is such hard work climbing as they wade through deep soft snow and he describes how they suffer from "glacier lassitude" (straight out of Rum Doodle). And, no, they didn't climb the mountain.

What about the theatre, films, music, dancing?
I'm very keen on theatre. We are season ticket holders at the Lyceum (though don't normally take our interval drink hidden in a flask under our jacket like the one of the past Presidents' !) and go to plays and musicals regularly at the Traverse, Kings etc (and love the festival, of course). Not so keen on film, probably something to do with my lack of interest in television, I normally only go to the cinema when Jane drags me along. As for music, I'm stuck in the 70s (when many of the best bands were around .. Pink Floyd etc). Not really into dancing (apart from ceilidhs), but love looking at art (and even try to draw a bit … nudes are my speciality ! ).

What are your views on the Land Access Bill?
Whatever happens, as a minimum there should be at least the same access and ease of access as there is at the moment, otherwise the Bill has failed. The trouble is, the way politics works, we could be in a worse state unless we keep a careful eye on the Bill.

Have you any strong views on developments in the Scottish wilderness areas – skiing, quarries, fish farming, road projects?
If you start me going on about road projects I'll end up sounding like Mark James ! The road lobby is much too powerful in this country and politicians are scared to do anything other than pay lip service to other forms of transport (although with the rail disasters, the public is now at long last demanding a good rail system). When the money for a few miles of motorway in Glasgow (I know this wasn't quite your question but I'm in politician mode so will answer what I want ! ) could build the Waverley line and open the Edinburgh suburban line and etc etc………..something is wrong with our priorities.
Other developments I am more relaxed about, fish farming has problems but we have to eat and the sea is over fished. I don't object to having ski resorts provided we are careful where we put them. They create jobs and give lots of people enjoyment (without having to kill things). They are also fairly compact and it is easy to get away from them to more peaceful areas. Quarries are a bit different as they permanently change parts of the land as well as creating a nuisance over a large area while the quarrying is taking place. However, stone is needed so like everything else we have to compromise and allow quarries but with controls on where they are, size, transport etc.

Who has influenced you the most? Do you have any heroes?
I started running and then was at university in the days when we dominated 1500m running and it was all Steve and Seb. At university we were all Ovett fans and at his best he dominated the field in the same way that Gebrselassie has done recently.

Anything I should have asked you and haven’t?
You haven't asked what my best Carnethy 5 time is (but you'll have to check that with Adam Ward !).

Predict what will be happening in 2012, to you and to hill running.
Keith Burns will be SAL chairman. Angela Mudge will be a vet and have a blue rinse (though she might need that sooner than 2012 ! ).


 


 

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