The Carnethy Interview - Angela Mudge

The Interview was handed over to me with the philosophy “ to give the unknown and obscure their 15 minutes of glory” This has led to the crazy situation where our very own World Champion, and many other outstanding Club members, have not appeared in this feature of the Newsletter. When I approached Angela at the Dinner, she may have suspected something but didn’t show it. “I know you don’t like interviews with the press but will you make an exception for me?”. She gave me that characteristic Angela grin and agreed straight away. This Club is blessed with so many athletes with awesome talent and achievements but who are so modest and almost dismissive of their successes. One must assume that there is some sort of symbiotic relationship where they receive something in return from the Club, from the scrubbers like me hacking out their runs for the sheer enjoyment.

Is that last remark true, Angela?
Probably; the most I get in return is abuse. “I’ve been ‘Mudged’” is a common remark, but not just from the people in Carnethy!! For me, the Club is all about maximising the enjoyment of running in the hills, be it at speed or at a slightly more sedate pace. I like Carnethys’ attitude and get a lot of enjoyment out of Club activities. Its nice to have a few people around who understand why you want to run up hill in a howling gale and horizontal rain!

Tell me what’s right and what’s wrong with Carnethy.
I think the Club is brilliant for the social side of running, having lots of club weekends and holidays away to new and interesting places. But too many members dismiss racing. They claim to be non-competitive but, when it comes down to it, we all want to beat our nearest rivals. It would be nice to have club runs where we break up into different paced groups and then do the socialising afterwards. I think people have to understand that if you have limited time for training and want to train hard, a Wednesday night run will be of little benefit until a speedy group is formed.

You once said to me that the whole point of hill running is the wonderful sensation of being in the mountains. Will you elaborate on that?
Whilst running on the roads or along public footpaths there are obvious problems (i.e. the pavement!) or hidden boundaries dictating where you can run. I prefer to be out in open spaces where you have the freedom to go wherever you like and are not restricted by the urban environment. The hills provide an opportunity for great views, a huge diversity of terrain in your average run, and a chance to walk! Two runs are never the same.

Your running has taken you to some magnificent parts of the World. Do you have a favourite place? Where do you want to go in the future?
If you haven’t been to the Pyrenees, that is my recommendation. The Pyrenees is on the hit list for 2002. I don’t really have a favourite place; there are too many interesting places! I think the Swiss Alps are my favourite for training, as I love the variety. Eastern Switzerland is great for its lakes and woodland trails, whereas the western part has more spectacular scenery. You can run below 4000m peaks and beside glaciers. Austria is a bit tame in comparison! In 2001 I spent time in the Julian Alps, Solvenia and the Dolomites, the scenery was amazing and a definite must, but not the ideal training venues! New Zealand has got to be one of my favourites, due to the huge variety in such a small area and so few people. They are not consumer orientated (yet) and it suited me fine. In 2003 I’d love to spend the Summer in the US. The World Trophy is in Alaska and, as yet, I’ve never visited any of their National Parks.

Have you had any life-threatening experiences in the mountains?
Whilst walking in the Mamores with Brad, as an inexperienced person in Winter conditions, I managed to navigate my then flatmate over the side of a cornice in a complete white-out. In retrospect, it was my first experience of white-out conditions and we were too inexperienced to be climbing those hills in those conditions. But you live and learn.

All Club members know the level of dedication, application and commitment it takes to be at the front at any level of competition. You have made hill running your life for long periods. How do you keep doing it? Do you ever get fed up and say ‘I’m never going to run again!’? Where does your motivation come from?
I have no idea where my motivation comes from, but I think it’s because I simply love running and being out and about. I find doing quality work daunting. It’s too painful! Each year I target races I want to peak for and use these as my motivation to do the hard stuff. The only time I really get fed up is when I’ve over trained/raced (which happens every year!) and my body seems to be screaming for a rest. I think I need a mental break more than a physical one. To date, I’ve never said ‘never again’, but there is always a first time.

Your Personal History, in the Archives, tells of having taken part in all sorts of sports since school days, representing School, County and University. Track, cross country, orienteering. One sentence you wrote is “I was training seriously at 16”.
I don’t know if doing 30 miles a week at 16 is serious but it felt like it at the time and was very short lived as I got a stress fracture. I was training for a top 10 finish at the English Schools cross country champs, which didn’t happen!

You were brought up in Devon, have an elder sister and a twin sister. Was your family life and early education an enjoyable experience?
My parents introduced us to the great outdoors from the start, with regular (short) hikes on Dartmoor. While others (Martin Stone & Spenco) were running the Abbots Way (a 20 odd mile trail across the moor), I was having my first taste of a long distance walk. Janice is keen on sport too, so we always ran/biked/walked/swam together, whereas my big sister just moaned all the way – and still does! My parents have never shown any aptitude for athletics. Dad would sit in the car and listen to the footie whilst I was racing. But I think they would be disappointed if I had given up and didn’t try to achieve what I was capable of.

Do you manage to get back to Devon and visit your folks a lot? They must be very proud of you. Your twin sister is a talented runner, too. How do you get on together?
I normally travel home for Christmas and see Mum and Dad, but haven’t been home for over 2 years now. I see them when they travel to Scotland for their holidays. We’re not close; a phone call every few weeks suffices. I think before I won the World Trophy they were disappointed that I haven’t used my qualifications in a career. Now they can see I’ve been successful in another area, so I’ve been let off the hook (or given a few years grace?!). Janice and I get along fine, we’re close and she supports me. When I’m unsure of what to do in racing or training I normally sound her out, as she has the voice of sense. She is a very talented runner, but unfortunately cannot train because of various injuries.

Is this amazing story, of you being born with both feet pointing the wrong way, true?
I wouldn’t say the wrong way, but yes they were twisted at birth because Janice was taking more than her fair share of the room in Mum’s womb!

You went walking but not running on Dartmoor. I don’t know of a fell race in the calendar down there. Do you think there should be?
There are a few races down there, now. When I was a kid, there were no trail or fell races on the moors, only organised hikes. Since I’ve moved away a few races have been introduced. I ran in a 4-miler there and met the Rodgers (from Lochaber) on the start line.

How’s the progress on Munro bashing? Have you got it out of your system yet?
January 3rd , 2002 saw me reaching the summit of Slioch to complete my first round of the Munros. A group of us stayed near Gairloch for the New Year with my last Munro the goal for the week. Luckily for us the snow melted enough to enable us to climb it and have gorgeous views from the summit. Now, dare I say it, I’m doing my Corbetts and all the best Munros again.

Your first degree, in Chemistry, was at Leicester University and you moved to Stirling in 1991. How do you come to take a PhD in Edinburgh?
I left my job in 1995 to do the Tasmanian Boat Race, running with Joyce Salvona. Being unemployed when I returned to Edinburgh, I saw an advert in New Scientist and thought it looked vaguely interesting, so had a shot. (Little did I know what I had let myself in for). A PhD was definitely not on the cards when I graduated from Leicester. I was fed up with lab work and chemistry practicals.

And how do you combine high pressure study with high pressure running? Are they complementary, perhaps?
I would never say my studies were high pressure. I’m not a perfectionist, so never fell into that trap. But running is definitely complementary to hard work, as it gives the mind a break and helps me to relax. When I’m not running I definitely become more stressed – the worry that Spenco may beat me!

The year 2000 – World Championship and a PhD in one year – was always going to be hard to top! What are your current ambitions?
Sadly, to try and win the World Trophy again, to prove it wasn’t just a fluke! Sierre – Zinal was my target for 2001, so its Innsbruck for 2002 and maybe the 10,000m on the track at the Commonwealths!!

Watching someone who has reached the very top in some activity, I always feel they are under the most dreadful pressure from then on. Results, which for most of us are beyond our wildest dreams, can be construed as “failure” for you. Say a few words on how you view this aspect of your success.
Luckily, there is not a lot of pressure associated with hill running, since it is such a low profile sport. I must admit though it was a lot easier when I finished mid-field because nobody criticised your performance. Now some people (Robin Morris is a prime example) comment on how badly you finished without taking into account other contributing factors. It was difficult after the World Trophy ’01. Because I won in 2000, many people assumed I would win a medal in 2001, not taking into account the course profile. It was uphill only, not up and down – a completely different race (and I had over raced by mid September!)

It must have been in about 1992 that Keith Burns said to me “A girl called Angela Mudge has joined the Club, who is going to do great things”. Did you have any suspicion, or even ambition, that one day you would be Scottish, British and World Champion?
Martin Hyman told me back in 1997 or so that I would win a medal at a championship event “in the next few years”. I must admit I thought he was joking and when I finally got my medal it took a long time to sink in. After all, in my first World Trophy I was 46th!

You once told me you didn’t take a tape of “Flower of Scotland” to the final WT race because you didn’t expect to win. (And the version they played was horrible!!).
No, but I did have a copy of the English National anthem in my pocket!!

The Ladies, bless them, generally speaking, hate downhill running. Will you agree to write a treatise on the subject and conduct a series of training sessions on downhill? What is the secret?
I’m afraid I am the wrong person to ask about downhill running because I always get overtaken on descents. A few Lakeland runners have offered to coach me, whilst flying past. I like to think it’s because women have more brains than men, we’re a bit more cautious on the descent! It’s just a case of relaxing and letting yourself go.

To follow up on that, you once said (and I can quote the reference!) “In most races I don’t use my brain”. That must have been a remark to a reporter for effect. Any activity at your level needs a lot of intelligence, surely?
I am very bad at planning race tactics; I tend to react as the situation warrants. Unfortunately, I’m one-paced, so I know a sprint finish is rarely on the cards. I think it has more to do with mental toughness in our sport rather than intelligence. I mean who, with an IQ greater than 10, would want to run uphill – it’s just hard work.

You like the long, hard runs. List a few of your favourites.
After reccying the race several times, Sierre-Zinal has to be a favourite. I must admit I like the long races I’ve done well in! But one of my favourite all time long runs is on Westdown in Devon, you can go miles on rolling hills and along the river, I love the variety and it’s always my Xmas treat. In Scotland I love going to the Borders for a long run in the Winter. Glen Sax is one of my favourites.

What are you reading? What about the theatre and films? Did you see Billy Elliot and did you cry?
Adam likes to call me “Phyllis the Philistine”. I had a pretty uncultured up-bringing and it has rubbed off on me in a big way! I go to the theatre occasionally to see modern dance. I frequently go to the movies but try to avoid the blockbuster films. I saw Billy Elliot but definitely didn’t cry. You didn’t cry in Billy Elliot? You really are an iron lady. I don’t watch TV, so read quite a lot. At the moment I’m reading East of Eden, John Steinbeck and High Exposure by John Breashers.

Would you agree that there is a difference between the ethos of hill running and most other athletics?
I suspect it has something to do with the difference in the environment experienced – one entirely man made and the other as minimally as possibly so. What do you think? I think that hill runners as individuals have a lot more in common than in other branches of athletics, as we are not just runners, we also appreciate our environment and want to gain the best experiences from it. I also think that, just because someone is a road runner, you shouldn’t write them off. They may have something different to offer or maybe haven’t been fortunate enough to experience a good day in the hills.

Do the European hill runners you meet have the same sort of ethos about the mountains as you have expressed? Or is there a lot of cut-throat competition?
I think most of the European runners are into mountain running because it is a main stream branch of athletics; they receive lots more sponsorship and recognition. The major races are even televised! Very few of the Europeans will climb to the summit after a race (often the race finishes miles below the summit). I’ve managed to drag Bobby Quinn up a few but not many foreigners. When the competition becomes cut-throat it is time to find a new sport.

Recount a few memorable or humorous adventures while you have been touring and racing in Europe, New Zealand etc.
Whilst cycling across to Slovenia for the Europeans 2001, two of the English lads and I managed to cycle down their equivalent of a motorway. We couldn’t understand why all the truckers kept beeping their horns at us! We were sent off across some fields by a friendly policeman. After Sierre Zinal my sister and brother-in-law took me up the Bishorn (4153m) - I think I enjoyed that more than all the season’s racing! It was brilliant to see a different perspective of the mountains – the first 4000m peak I had climbed and I loved seeing the sunrise as we were slogging our way up the mountain.

I wonder if your answer to the question “How long are you going on like this?” is the same as mine?
As long as my mind and body are willing and I can afford the physio bills!



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