“Lots of questions, but to be honest I needed no time to think in answering them.”David Andrewartha, Race Director at Bys Vyken Events and Cornish Trails
In the next of my articles looking at the characters which make up our fabulous trail running scene here in the South West, we head across The Tamar into Cornwall.
Bys Vyken, a truly Cornish phrase, used as slang to mean anything positive but is from Kernow Bys Vyken meaning Cornwall forever.
Bys Vyken is in its 5th year of existence now. It feels like a gift to us trail runners. Founder, owner and race director, David Andrewartha created the company as a result of a rhetorical challenge from the organiser of a local race.
David had been running for about a year. Actually, he knows exactly how long:
“April 7th to be exact. I remember it better than my first kiss! My then partner (now wife) was nagging at me to join her for a run for almost 6 months. Eventually I gave in and ran for about 3 or 4 miles.”
During the next year he trained harder and harder in an attempt to beat a running friend, eventually managing this at a local race. I won’t repeat the phrase David used to describe how hard he had pushed himself, but it did result in him ducking under the finishing funnel tape to relieve himself of his breakfast.
“Lucky Charms…… yes, the cornerstone of any nutritional start to a day.”
Sadly, this led to confusion when the results were published. David found himself placed behind his friend and nemesis, prompting him to message the organisers to see if this could be rectified. The reply he received simply said “I’d like to come to the next race YOU organise”. As you will read, David likes a challenge….
The opportunity arose the following March with Bys Vyken’s inaugural event, The Cousin Jack Classic. Hosted on St Piran’s day, David used the event to raise funds for a local Christmas light fund. He had 100 runners through word of mouth and social media, and the most Cornish of events was born.
The Cousin Jack has now grown to become a legendary trail running event. It is a celebration of everything Cornish, particularly the incredible Tin Coast and its mining heritage. Little Jack is as tough a 10km race as you could find, the Classic itself at 18 miles, now starts at the iconic Miners’ Chapel in St Just. The Cousin Jack Ultra meanwhile tackles the whole route in both directions.
I dragged myself through the 35 mile Cousin Jack Ultra in 2019, read about that here. This year (2020) I volunteered at the event and my beautiful wife, Nicky, ran the Classic and we made a little video.
From that first event David has tried to immerse his runners in the magical atmosphere and history of his home county.
“I have maintained my passion and enthusiasm for Cornwall through every single event, giving runners something that nobody else sees or does in the county.”
At the time of writing, Bys Vyken are about to host their first live event (Dec 12th) since The Cousin Jack back at the end of February. Fordh Sen Mighal is 11.5 miles of road and trails following the St Michael’s Way from Lelant to Marazion. The route follows the UK’s only Designated Route Of Culture and, like The Cousin Jack, it is quite wonderfully Cornish. And if The Cousin Jack takes your fancy, entries for 2021 are now open.
Staying motivated has been challenging for David. He has so far had to cancel or postpone 5 events and it has been a brutally tough year financially. As he explains, the way he runs Bys Vyken is more about what it gives to us runners than what it gives back (financially).
“Being an RD doesn’t get you steak and a Tesla when you run your business with your heart and not your head. Again, nobody gives more than me in this county and race after race it becomes even more of a proven fact. This is because giving people a couple of hours to forget about their shit means more to me than taking them for every penny and milking them for all they have. I never organise a race I’d not want to do myself.”
As lockdown arrived in March, David admits to a few days of dropping his head and fearing the future, “sulking” as he puts it. But then he started thinking about how offering virtual events might help keep his loyal customers motivated. He created events such as Laps In Lockdown, Dark Clyde Of The Moon and The Goat (I waxed lyrical about this here). This served to cushion some of the financial blow and supported local charities too.
Bys Vyken’s mascots have become stuff of legend amongst the South West’s trail runners, and using them as the face of events has helped raise £4000 for The Eve Appeal (in memory of David’s Mum). Being a man who likes a psychological challenge to accompany the physical effort, he also ran a marathon in his garden!
If you’re quick, there may still be places in Smiling’s My Favourite, Bys Vyken’s Christmas Day virtual challenge.
Let’s go back to April 7th 2014. David was, by his own admittance, not in the best of shape:
“I was almost 15 stone and had many habits which were not correlative with being an athlete! My first achievement in running was simply getting off my fat ass and taking the first step to becoming a better person.”
Quitting smoking, drinking and mixing with the ‘wrong crowd’, along with other habits which maybe aren’t compatible with a healthy lifestyle have all played their part in contributing to becoming that better person he talks about. There have been many lows along the way and he has suffered existential crises and at his worst moments has found himself questioning everything.
David is very keen to credit those who have given him hope and reason at these low times. Most recently, Colin and Laura from Run Venture Running Hub.
“They pulled me up from circling the drain during this time and gave me a job, which doesn’t just help with the bills, but helps with my head too.”
He describes Colin as the Brian Cox of independent running stores and is thoroughly enjoying working there. Colin and Laura are definitely the sort of characters I’d like to feature in this series.
Before we move on to David’s own running achievements and ambitions, I should let him answer, in his own words, the question, “What is your proudest moment as a race director?”
“My proudest RD moment is every moment I’m an RD because I get to do it with my best friend. My wife. Sally is the heartbeat of Bys Vyken because she’s my motivation to wake up in the morning. Without her I would never have been a runner and without her I’d probably not be passionate about anything.”
Not a dry eye in the house.
As for running, where do we start. How about the quirky? David has completed the Southend Pier Marathon (that’s 11 times up and down the pier), the Shepton Mallet Prison Marathon (just the 78 laps of 2 wings and an exercise yard) and, naturally, The Multi-Story Car Park Marathon (I dread to think!).
“The organisation and the love and passion from the marathons helped me to discover myself and combat my own mental health.”
The Endurance Life Classic Quarter and White Rose 100 are amongst the other highlights of a rather full and varied palmares.
His proudest running achievement so far came this year, during Storm Alex. Having trained harder than ever, he became only the 5th person (and first Cornishman) to run the entire Chesil Beach from West Bay to Portland. (He beat the time of the previous runner to complete it, which is the source of much satisfaction!)
Is he finished with that then? Nope:
“My next ambitions in running are to spend 24 hours on Loe Bar and to be the first person to run Chesil both ways.”
David’s ambitions for Bys Vyken are uncertain. The accumulating debt and increasing number of people jumping on the bandwagon are making the future look less sustainable. We runners can only support Bys Vyken’s events and hope that there is a bright and long future ahead for the most Cornish of Cornish running experiences
For me, the fact that Bys Vyken offer that depth of local passion and history (as well as the most stunning places to run) will hopefully mean that David and Sally will be the first choice when runners are choosing their Cornish Trail adventures.
Let’s have the last word from David. Those of us luckily to know him will have noticed that he wears his heart on his sleeve, speaks his mind (like it or lump it!), can be industrial with his language and lives life like he means every second of it. I was never expecting political correctness when interviewing David (and there has been some editing!) but it has been a joy to get a feel for the passion he puts into creating a special Cornish day for any of us that take on one of Bys Vyken’s events.
“So what, David, has being a race director brought to YOU?”
“Being an RD has brought me people I’ll always love and people I’ll probably never like. But both kinds of people spur me on to remain a better human that will never spiral back to those pre running days where falling asleep in a Tesco bag I’d just thrown up in was the highlight of my weekend.”
See mine and Nicky’s video from another brilliant Bys Vyken event, The Smuggler’s Scuttler.