“You look a bit eccentric,” says Billy as I walk up to meet him for a training session together. I’m clad in fairly tight fitting soft-shell ski kit, while Billy’s kitted out in lycra! There’s always some good banter and laughs during a training session with Billy.
Billy Burns is a world class mountain marathon runner, holding many of the records for epic mountain races in the Alps. He has won the Zermatt, Jungfrau and Kitzbuhel marathons, which are all extremely hilly (well, mountainous really!) In the last 8 years he’s turned his hand to snowshoe running and ski mountaineering, and boy does he ever go uphill fast?! He’s so much quicker than the local competition in snowshoe running that he’s now turned more to ski mountaineering events where the competition is quite a bit hotter.
So on the first outing with Billy we warmed up nicely, got to the main forest path and then suddenly he was gone! I’ve never seen anyone go uphill so fast. I kept up a high tempo knowing that there was no way I’d ever stay with him, just aiming to minimize my losses… At the halfway point I spotted him up ahead, with about 5 mins lead on me, which is quite something given we’d only been going for around 30 minutes. I slogged on up and met up with Billy who was coming back down the mountain as I neared the top. He stopped and congratulated me on my speed – he said he was impressed – which was very encouraging of him given that he must have been 6-7 mins ahead of me at the top!
Billy and I have since done several training sessions together, always at night, and even the ‘slow’ ones end up being a tough training session for me. It’s been a great privilege training with him, and what’s amazing about Billy (apart from his speed uphill) is his infectious enthusiasm for what he does, his encouragement of others, and his total lack of self pity. He’s a guy who has chosen to love life, to be responsible for what he makes of it, and this makes him a great guy to be around.
So when it’s training with Billy time, I always know it’s going to be an amazing workout, and refreshing mental stimulation too. What speed I have going uphill on skis at the moment is largely thanks to the fact that I’ve been chasing him uphill rather a lot this season!