Joss Naylor Obituary – Yahoo Sport

<span>Joss Naylor runs in Wasdale, Cumbria, in 2004. He was born in the hamlet of Wasdale Head, where he lived most of his life.</span><span>Photo: John Angerson/Alamy</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″ data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″/><button class=

Joss Naylor running in Wasdale, Cumbria, in 2004. He was born in the hamlet of Wasdale Head, where he lived most of his life.Photo: John Angerson/Alamy

Joss Naylor was a giant in the world of mountaineering. In the last third of the 20th century he not only dominated his sport but put it on the map through his charisma.

His greatest feats of endurance, in the 1970s and 80s, were accomplished far from the public eye in the cloudy hills of Cumbria. But the sheer extremity of his feats, and the hardness that made them possible, captured the imagination of mountain lovers everywhere.

Naylor, a Lakeland sheep farmer who lived most of his life in the hamlet of Wasdale Head, has died aged 88. He ran his first fell event in September 1960, on the Lake District Mountain Trail, despite medical advice to avoid strenuous exercise because of an injury he sustained in his teens.

In the years that followed, he began racing regularly, honing his technique and refocusing his ambitions. He wasn’t the fastest, and after taking over the lease of his father’s farm in 1962, he had little time for systematic training. But he was comfortable moving quickly even over the roughest terrain – he said his experience with dry stone walls helped him “read” the rocks – and his resilience seemed superhuman.

The late 1960s saw him enter a period of success that was to last almost 20 years, winning the Mountain Trial ten times and the Ennerdale Horseshoe nine times in succession (1968–76), in addition to repeated victories in gruelling events such as the Wasdale, the Duddon Valley, the Welsh 1,000m Peaks, the Manx Mountain Marathon and the Karrimor Mountain Marathon (now the Original Mountain Marathon).

Where he really excelled, however, was in individual ultra-distance challenges. In 1971 he became only the sixth person to complete the Bob Graham Round, a notorious 66-mile loop of 42 peaks in the Lake District, which had to be completed in 24 hours, once considered as unachievable as the four-minute mile. Then he decided to extend the round.

In 1972, he completed 63 summits within the 24-hour time limit, in the middle of a terrible storm. Chris Brasher, who accompanied him for part of the route, described it as “a memory equal to one of the greatest Olympic races I have ever seen”. Three years later, Naylor increased his total to 72 summits: the equivalent of climbing Everest, Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Kinder Scout in a single day, all in a scorching heatwave.

No challenge was too extreme. He walked the 268-mile Pennine Way in just over three days (1974), the 190-mile Coast-to-Coast path from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay in 41 hours (1976), Hadrian’s Wall in just under 11 hours (1980) and a route linking all 26 “lakes, lochs and waters” of the Lake District in 19 hours and 15 minutes (1983). When he took off his shoes at the end of the Coast-to-Coast, the skin on the bottoms of his feet came off, along with all his toenails.

Naylor was born at Wasdale Head, the youngest child of Joe, a shepherd who had moved there in 1927, and his wife Ella (née Wilson). It was not a comfortable upbringing: the valley did not even have electricity until 1977. But Joss, who helped with farm work from the age of seven, grew accustomed to long, hard days outdoors and developed a tolerance for physical discomfort which – combined with his love of the outdoors – was to fuel his later achievements.

At 15, he left school (in nearby Gosforth) to work full-time on the farm. But his teenage years were marked by the aftermath of two seemingly minor accidents that left him with chronic back pain. By his early 20s, the medical profession had all but given up on him. His right knee had lost all its cartilage; two discs had been removed from his spine; he wore a special corset to prevent further damage. He was declared unfit for national service and was urged to avoid strenuous exercise.

He listened, but not for long. Other young men his age were taking up long-distance running, and Naylor, whose house overlooked Scafell Pike, Yewbarrow and Great Gable, had a ringside seat. When the Mountain Trail event began at Wasdale in 1960, Naylor couldn’t resist. He threw off his corset, cut off his work trousers to the knee and ran with the official competitors in his heavy work boots. Towards the end he started to cramp, but he did well enough to know he had found his calling.

In 1977, after many years of running and record-breaking, he was warned that if he didn’t stop farming he risked being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. So he took a job working indoors, supervising apprentices, at the nearby Windscale nuclear power station (now Sellafield). Still, he stuck with his herd of 1,000 Herdwick sheep, which he then took care of “as a hobby”. And his fell running became, if anything, more extreme.

In June 1986, at the age of 50, he attempted a continuous trek of all 214 peaks in Alfred Wainwright’s seven-volume Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells, in the midst of another heatwave. It took him seven days, one hour and 25 minutes – a record that stood until 2014 – and required him to “dig deeper inside … than I have ever had to reach”. By the end, the flesh on both ankles had been worn down to the nerve, and his throat and tongue were so swollen that he could barely speak, let alone eat or drink.

For admirers, such ugly details capture the essence of “Iron Joss.” Naylor’s achievements were due less to genetic good fortune than to his indomitable spirit. He suffered no less than other runners. His greatness came from his refusal to surrender.

In an age when elite sport is increasingly seen as a science or a business, he ran with his heart, not his head. His fuels of choice were rock cakes and apple pie, washed down with Guinness or salted blackcurrant juice or, occasionally, cod liver oil (straight from the bottle, “like whiskey”). And he would not hesitate to abandon a record attempt to save a lamb in distress.

He was appointed MBE in 1976, but remained remarkably modest about his achievements. Less experienced fell runners were amazed and inspired by the interest he showed in their endeavours, and he offered advice or encouragement to anyone who shared his love of the fells. The Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge, a 48-mile route for runners over 50 that he set up in 1990, reflects this generous outlook.

He also used his fame to raise money for charity, which he did with great enthusiasm for many years – not least by achieving 60 peaks at the age of 60 (in 36 hours) and 70 smaller peaks at the age of 70 (in 21 hours).

Naylor was still active on the hills in his 80s until a stroke in 2021 heralded his final decline.

He is survived by his wife Mary (née Downie), whom he married in 1963, and three children: Paul, Susan and Gillian.

• Joss (Joseph) Naylor, runner and farmer, born 10 February 1936; died 28 June 2024

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