Craig Salmon talks to Lancashire’s international fell and mountain runner Chris Holdsworth, who represents England today at the Snowdon International Mountain Race
When Chris Holdsworth tentatively took part in his first competitive race in 2013, little was he to know that it would lead to national honours just a short time later.
The Burnley runner clocked an unremarkable 40.30 minutes to finish well down the field in the Pennine 10k five years ago.
But just three years later, Holdsworth had progressed so much that he was able to ‘shave’ a staggering seven-and-a-half minutes off his time to win the event outright.
While his first foray into the sport may have been unspectacular to say the least, it was a light bulb moment for the Ribble Valley Harrier and he is now widely regarded as one of the country’s best fell runners.
He was called up by the Great Britain selectors last year and will wear the England jersey today for the Snowdon International Mountain Race.
It was an event he participated in last year, helping his country to a team gold medal and he is hoping for something similar this time.
Now aged 27, why did it take Holdsworth – who lives in Worsthorne – until he was 22-years-old before realising that he might be quite good – and quick – at putting one foot in front of the other?
“I’m a bit different to a lot of runners around here who maybe competed when they were younger,” said Holdsworth, who used to run for Clayton Harriers.
“I went to university in Leeds and five years ago finished a Fine Arts degree.
“When I came back home, I needed a new thing to do.
“I had always had a bit of an interest in running, but once I finished university I got right into it.
I started off pretty average.
“But I managed to get quite good pretty quickly I suppose.
“My first race was the Pennine 10k and I did it in40 minutes 30 seconds.
“I ran the event three years later and won it in a time of just under 33 minutes. To take so much off my time in such a short space of time is quite something.
“I suppose I just got obsessed with it. Five years after that first Pennine 10k, I have progressed to international level in fell and mountain running.”
While Holdsworth enjoys road running, his real interest is pounding up and down the tough terrain of some of the most scenic venues this country and Europe has to offer.
“My interest has always been fell and mountain running really,” said Holdsworth.
“I do a lot of my running on Gorple, Hurstwood and Widdop areas and managed to develop my interest in the sport that way.
“I love just running in the countryside, up and down fells, along trails.
“I think on the competing side of things, there is always that thought of, ‘How quickly can I get up and down a hill’.
“It’s different to road running. You have to use a different system of muscles.
“On the road you have to pace yourself, there’s not the same views.
“But I think if you want to be a good runner, you have to be able to do both.
“You can’t just run up and down hills. It’s important to push yourself on the flat and build up speed.
“I started competing in the English Championships for fell running and started moving quite quickly through the results of that – getting top five places.
“Then I managed to qualify for Great Britain and England a couple of times last year.”
Holdsworth admits it came as a shock when he learned of his first international call up.
“It was a bit of surprise for me,” he said.
“The first time I qualified was at the Three Peaks in 2016 when I finished third.
“I wasn’t even aware that it was a qualification race and I was told at the end.
“That year was just one of those years where everything seemed to go right.
“I was competing in races and qualifying for England every time...Sedbergh, Snowdon.”
Holdsworth’s international debut came when he competed for GB in the International Mountain Running Championships, in Premana, Italy, last year.
He finished in a respectable 32nd place, clocking a time of three hours and 47 minutes.
“When I wore the GB vest for the first time, I suppose I didn’t quite realise what a big achievement it was,” he said.
“But once I got there and saw all the different teams like Argentina, Mexico, US; I remember going up the first climb and a helicopter flew over with a video camera filming us – you then kind of realise this is a massive deal.”
In the future, Holdsworth would love to continue to compete at the highest level and his dream is to win his favourite race – the Yorkshire Three Peaks.
He would also like finish inside the top-three in the British Fell Championships, which is a series of six races held throughout the year.
For now though, he is fully focused on today’s challenge in Snowdonia when he represents England and hopefully bettering his fourth-place finish last year.
“I think there will be a strong Scottish team,” he said. “But there’s some good runners in our team and hopefully we can bring the gold home again.”