Over the years this blog has featured so many races and events which I’ve attended with my amazing lady wife Nicky. Pretty much all of them have been hosted by small outfits creating amazing events just for us. I’m sure we can all be guilty of taking this for granted.
I thought it would be great to delve behind the scenes and have a look at the sort of characters who make up this wonderful world of trail running in our region. We can all be guilty of scrolling through life, picking snippets from a blur of social media nonsense. We miss out on engaging with some great people. And some great stories.
First up is Winding Paths, the brainchild of local runner Brian Lewis. As with all events companies, 2020 has not been kind to Winding Paths. But, a succession of cancelled events hasn’t stopped Brian from pushing ahead with his plans for the company.
Only in its second year, Brian set the company up in June 2019, it would have been easy to let his initial enthusiasm slip during this challenging year. He hasn’t let that happen though and still strives for the very best routes, medals and finish line locations.
The loyal following Winding Paths has already acquired (social media is full of stories from those who enjoyed his events so far) is credited with keeping his motivation strong.
“what has kept me going is the very supportive comments, messages and emails from participants of my events”.
Brian’s events do have a wonderful community spirit about them. As well as the runners, he has a great army of volunteers – friends, family and other runners all donating their time to make each event possible. Brian knows that Winding Paths’ events are nothing without this crew and he looks after them well to thank them.
As the pandemic became the author of the 2020 story, Winding Paths were immediately informing participants of their options when events were cancelled or delayed. This has been another reason why so many are staying loyal. Brian is determined to take the positivity and encouragement he gets and use it to arrive in 2021 on the front foot, looking forward.
As we speak in late November, Brian’s next physical event will be The Final Countdown, which, by coincidence, was also Winding Path’s first event on New Year’s Eve last year.
The Final Countdown 10k starts and finishes in the Dartington Estate and runners get to sample some of the best countryside (and mud!) that South Devon has to offer. Sold out in its first year, the route gives Brian the chance to share some of his favourite trails with the rest of us. Numbers are restricted this year and the event will feature a series of starting waves, but it is still a great chance to end the year on a muddy high. The staggered starts, and all the other measures Brian has taken, keep the event Covid secure without taking away from the atmosphere.
Winding Paths were one of the first to host a Covid secure event when regulations permitted them back in August. On a scorching weekend, he managed to get 150 runners to complete either 5km or 10km in a series of waved starts. It was an enormous success. Those that took part waxed lyrical about the sheer volume of work which had clearly been undertaken to create the event. It is staged on the same course as his Totally Muddy races.
Brian also set up an ambitious virtual challenge – participants linked their Strava (other apps are available!) accounts and were given from May until December to complete the total distance of the South West Coast Path. The 300 places he created soon sold out, his 12 Runs Of Christmas virtual event has been similarly popular, with all the slots already taken.
Brian is very much a keen trail runner, and like so many of our local running leaders has a naturally philanthropic nature. He has been leading run groups for a few years now and when regulations and time allows he offers guided runs on his favourite trails.
When asked for his proudest moments in the world of running, his generosity of spirit again shows itself as his first thought is for the achievements of others. For five years he has coached, motivated and encouraged a couch-to-5k running group. “there is nothing that beats seeing a non-runner improve, shed the doubt and run their first 5k.”
But he can’t help but swell with pride when he sees one of his own events succeed. When pushed he’ll even allow himself to accept that his own running achievements are a source of great pride.
Brian’s initial motivation was a personal challenge. He was already involved with THHN (Torbay Holiday Helpers Network), a fabulous charity which supports families with seriously ill children, or those that have been bereaved by offering holidays, making memories to be treasured for families in their dark times.
He would attend THHN fund raising events, some of which included running, and would always dismiss invitations to don some trainers and join in.
His interest was secretly piqued though. He was already organising events such as the fun runs and schools challenge which accompanies the flagship local road race The Torbay Half Marathon. He was inspired by the 20 THHN runners who had completed the half marathon and the following day he attempted to break into a run himself.
“I was out walking along Cockington water meadow and I decided to try and run for a bit, stopping anytime anyone came in sight”
He was back the next day. And the next. He had the bug. A watch and some decent kit soon arrived and he had entered his first 10k (The Totnes 10k) a mere 2 months later. Those initial 1 mile runs soon grew as Brian himself started to get shrink! The running encouraged him to improve his diet and before long he had lost a considerable amount of weight and was running for the pure pleasure of feeling fit and well.
Brian even turns his own running success into the success of a fellow runner. He has special memories of The Totnes 10k and ran it ‘virtually’ this year. Managing to find way to share this with somebody else, he used the occasion to accompany a friend on the exact course to help them best their previous time on the route
I have no idea whether Brian has a trumpet, but he isn’t inclined to blow it very often if he has!
Those first runs were back in 2014. In September of that year Brian was Race Director of the epic City To Sea ultra marathon and marathon. He is hoping that Winding Paths will make him just as proud as he is of the 4 years in which he was at the helm of City To Sea. It is a major fundraiser for THHN and is a stand out fixture on the South Devon run scene. Selling out every year, it takes a herculean effort to host. Over 60 volunteers to organise, plus the festival at the finish line, Brian is right to celebrate its incredible success.
Brian cites Luke Tillen, the THHN founder, as being a massive motivator and mentor throughout this journey he has been on. Luke’s own ultra marathon and fund raising efforts led to the birth of The City To Sea ultra marathon and quite possibly Brian’s own adventure in running.
Brian was also Race Director for The Pennywell Challenge, another THHN fundraiser. Nicky and I enjoyed this challenging 10k back in 2018 on a very hot evening!
He feels that the first year of City To Sea as a Race Director will take some beating – everything was new, locals moved signs and tape which caused massive on course headaches and the event was even longer back in those first years. Up well into the night marking the course, then up in the early hours to chaperone the fleet of transport to the start, runners were on course until 9pm the following night.
You can feel and sense the emotion, even 6 years on, as Brian explains:
“the event was over but we had to go up on stage, in front of everyone and the compere did a speech, going backstage myself, Luke and Carolanne (who helped with the fun day and music festival) were all in tears at the fact we had done it, we had actually done it, that was a very proud moment.”
Since that first year Brian has gone on to achieve so much with his own running. He has clocked up 20 marathons and ultra marathons, the longest of these being 34 miles. He cites his first 50km event as his proudest running moment, completing the event only a year after starting his running journey. He discovered how easy it could be to lose runners in events that day –
“at one stage around ten of us took a wrong turn ran about 100 metres through waist high stingers, realized we were going the wrong way and had to turn around and run back through them, but the joy of finishing was amazing.”
I like to consider myself an ‘ultra runner’ and those that know me will know that I came within a whisker of being a 100 mile ultra runner last year (read about it here if you fancy), so I was eagerly awaiting Brian’s answer to the question “what are your next running ambitions?”
“Dare I say, I have one eye on a 100 miler, I said I would never do it, as while I enjoy shorter night runs, I am not sure about running through the entire night, but recently I have thought that now would be the time to try.”
In fact, Brian has a 50 mile event lined up already for next spring, a stepping stone to the century? I reckon he’s got it in him!
Brian’s ambitions for Winding Paths are about creating fabulous events to be enjoyed by all who enjoy the trails, whether they are chasing at the front or taking selfies and soaking up the views further back. He is trying to have options for all – the Total Coastal event (frustratingly put back a couple of times in 2020) is scheduled for April next year and features a bruising ultra marathon from Kingswear to Shaldon on the South West Coast Path as well as equally challenging but considerably shorter half marathon and 10k routes.
There are sacrifices of course, and Brian can sometimes need to be reminded to take his Winding Paths hat off during family time! He acknowledges that working from home has helped him fit everything and he is getting better at balancing his life whilst still giving his energies to planning his events.
It is telling that Brian’s positivity and relentless humour both shine through when asked what he’s most looking forward to with Winding Paths in 2021
“I am really looking forward to 2021 with positivity about the events, I am also looking forward to having a dining room that is not full of medals, t-shirts and two gazebos.”