Author interview: Ally Beaven, Broken
- Monday 14 December 2020
In Broken, Ally Beaven explores the impact that the virus-stricken summer of 2020 had on long-distance running and FKTs (Fastest Known Times). We caught up with Ally to find out more about what inspired him to write the book, participating in races abroad, rollerblading versus running and the joys of creating model buses.
2020 has been a phenomenal year for FKTs. What inspired you to write a book about these records and the athletes who broke them?
I already had a few ideas for things I wanted to write about – articles or blog posts or whatever – but then Kirsty (VP’s commissioning editor) asked if I'd be interested in writing a book on it all and I started thinking about how I could tie all these ideas together into something vaguely coherent. I suppose it's not so much the runs themselves that are interesting, more the circumstances that led to so many of them happening at once.
When did you first become interested in long-distance running and FKTs?
You can't really be into hill running without being aware of these things. I've always been drawn to the long stuff, even before I had a clue what it was about. I did my first hill race in 2010 and all my early races were these long classics (way too long, in hindsight). I probably spent more time reading about things I'd like to do than training for them, which didn't help.
The volume of records this year has been staggering but most of this stuff has been around for decades, whether that's the really long stuff like the big rounds and the twenty-four-hour records or classic shorter routes like the Welsh 3000s, Cairngorm 4000s or Cuillin Ridge.
You’ve participated in races not just in England, but in other countries too – from the Alps to the Appalachians. What was it like taking part in races abroad?
It's ace. It takes you to new places, allows you to cross paths with people you wouldn't meet otherwise. There are plenty of places that have a tremendous culture of mountain running but which are often overlooked in favour of the Alps. Going to the Basque Country for Ehunmilak and to Norway for Skåla Opp were two of my best trips. I was the only person from the UK at Ehunmilak that year. If you learn a couple of words of Basque people fucking love you.
Last year, you achieved a marathon PB of 2.12 at the Berlin Marathon – on rollerblades! What was this like compared to running?
It's so much better than running! It’s more fun, doesn't beat you up nearly as much, the skate marathon starts at three in the afternoon so it's way less stressful than the running marathon and you can really impress people with your marathon PB without technically lying about it. All these chumps paying £250 for vaporflys when what they really need is a £7.50 pair of skates off eBay. It's probably best to do a bit of practice before you go though. The cut-offs aren't overly generous, and I saw several people skate into lamp posts.
When you were researching FKTs for the book, were there any that you found particularly impressive?
They are all pretty impressive, and you could write a whole series of books on other stuff that happened this summer, but which didn't end up going in. That being said, only one run gets two chapters in the book and that was Donnie Campbell's Munro round. He ran, cycled and kayaked round all the Munros in thirty-two days – over a week faster than the previous record. I still don't really understand it.
You set a new FKT for the Big 6 this summer – congrats! Are there any FKTs that you would like to achieve next year?
After this year, do you think people’s attitudes towards outdoor sports has changed?
It's hard to say how much of our changed behaviour will stick. Some people's eyes might have been opened to what's possible close to home, but I think everyone's desperate to get racing again. There's a kind of excitement that goes along with racing that rounds and trails just can't replicate. Covid aside, runners are getting more and more conscious of the environmental damage they do by travelling all over the world to race, so maybe that kind of destination racing will become less popular.
What do you like to do when you aren’t running?
I like to paint, or I make things. I have a thing where I make models of buses. I get old wooden crates and I paint them. It’s a box that’s been used to contain two wine bottles, and it will have a dividing thing, and I turn it into a bus. I then put passengers (which I paint) enjoying themselves on a wonderful low-carbon bus – the kind that we brought to the streets of London and reduces CO2, nitrous oxide, pollution, etc.
On your Twitter account, you state that you have ‘arm-sized legs’. Is this an advantage or a disadvantage when it comes to long-distance running?
Now this is the important stuff. I'm really not sure. On one hand (leg?) it's less weight to carry uphill, on the other I've often thought I'd be a more durable athlete if I was packin' a pair of James Stewart quads. I might try and bulk up on one side only and see if that provides any answers.