It was a cloudy afternoon when Danielle Ledbury shut the boot to her car and climbed in. She had packed her camera and a spare pair of shoes in the back before driving to her following location. As she moved into the illustrious hills of the Lake District, she peered above her, willing the clouds to dissipate and reveal the beauty she needed for her shot.
You see, Danielle was on another one of her endeavours to meet a fell runner and learn why they run. While running some of the most magnificent mountains in the UK, Danielle interviewed and photographed those with incredible stories, all for her book Why We Run.
The idea came through lockdown, as the world slowed to a standstill and people sat at home; Danielle had been furloughed and suddenly had a lot of time on her hands. Being an avid fell-runner herself, she was eager to capture the magic and community found within the fell-running community, also inspiring those who may be on the fence about beginning.
“I hadn’t done anything to do with photography for a while, so I thought interviewing people about why they run might be interesting alongside photographing them. So, I first asked some friends to tell me their stories.”
As a collective, many of us realised how much the outside world was paramount to our mental health; Danielle wanted to capture that spirit while telling some influential stories of the people who had a connection to the Lakelands.
“Just the process of running in the hills and then talking about why you love it, I think the two really worked. From there, I put a post out on Instagram and said, would anybody else like to be involved in my project? That’s when George Foster messaged back, saying, yeah, I’m up for this.
“He’s an incredible runner, so it jumped quite quickly from just being a small idea with a couple of friends because once I interviewed George and then he recommended others, and it just rolled from there. Everyone I spoke to told me about someone else that they knew that had a really fascinating story.”
Danielle confessed her astonishment at how her project took off after George’s involvement. Despite feeling a slight touch of imposter syndrome, she was excited to be out hearing his story.
“I suppose after I’d done a few people, I then started to get up a bit of confidence, and I thought, I’m just going to message people that I would love to speak to about their running because I just think they’re incredible. People were really up for it, so that was great.”
Danielle especially enjoyed Joss Naylor’s company, who has lived in the Lake District his whole life and is a legend in the fell running community. She said: “He walked me up to one of the sheep pens that he had built, and he was talking to me all about the stone walls.
“I think that became really important about the project; for each runner, I would ask them to choose a location, so it was often all a bit of a surprise. But it meant that where we were was important to them for their running. So, the stories that they talked about just flowed. That was definitely a part of Joss. He was telling me all about his shepherding days.”
An exceptional aspect of the book is Danielle’s dedication to each story representing the individual, right down to their word usage. I found when reading, I was transported to the trails as if I were running with them.
This kind of storytelling adds real humanness and integrity to the book, a factor Danielle took great pride in while writing their stories. She said: “I think, from the word go. It was just really important that I essentially wanted to give a platform to people’s stories, I feel like hearing someone else’s story can be really inspirational, but I want it to be really real. And quite often, I think on social media, you’re not quite sure what’s real or not. I really wanted each of these stories to be from a real person and a real story so in their voice.”
The book features beautiful pictures of both the runners and the landscape, taken by Danielle herself. She has been an avid photographer for most of her life. However, she refound her love for it through this project. Some of her favourites came from those times she anxiously drove through the cloud to her destination; however, the pictures came from just giving it a go and hoping for the best.
“Those days were my favourites when you’re not sure what you’re going to get, and then the landscape and the light just did something incredible and you were there having put yourself in the right place and up for giving it a go.”
Among those featured in the book, Danielle highlights the diversity who take to the hills, including the Black Trail Runners and the Queer Running community.
“ I think it is really important to represent and show the whole range of people that are out there. Groups like the queer runners and the black trail runners they’re all about showing up and inspiring more people, encouraging more diversity in the sport.
“Running is just the most accessible sport, and I think that’s one of the most fantastic things about it. Anybody can give it a go and pick up a pair of trainers, and it can appeal to so many people. So I wanted to show the vast range of people that love the sport, really.”
Peppered through the book also are route maps of not only some of the Lakes’ famous routes like the Bob Graham Round, but some of his interviewee’s favourites. Danielle expressed how much joy this brought her, as there were some routes that she hadn’t known before.
Growing up in the Southwest, Danielle’s personal running journey began when she signed up for a half-marathon, raising money for charity. However, soon she found road running wasn’t fulfilling her and found more joy when she was out on trails. After moving to the Lake District, Danielle was invited by friends to a local fell race and immediately caught the bug.
“I just remember going along, and it was just crazy, but the most amazing community. I remember slogging up this hill and just thinking, oh, this is awful. I’m not fit enough. What on earth’s am I doing here? And then getting to the top, tapping the checkpoint and then turning around and just this landscape just opening up in front of me. And I thought, okay. Oh, I get it now, it was stunning and the whole experience so exciting. ”
Danielle hopes that the book is received as a symbol of inspiration both by fell-runners and ultrarunners alike. She proclaimed the stories are powerful, tackling topics that promote interesting, challenging and difficult situations, all leading them to the beautiful Lakeland hillside.
“I think particularly anybody that might be in one of those sorts of situations, to hear that someone’s travelled that type of path before, I think, yeah, I’d like it to help and inspire others.
“I think there is so much stimulation in the world. We’re so busy, everyone seems to be so busy and it’s such a fast-paced world. there’s a lot of distractions everywhere, whereas running in the fells, there’s nothing quite like it that really puts you in that moment. You can’t not be in that moment because you’ll fall over, if you’re not watching your feet, that time just in your head and processing and moving. Yeah, it’s just quite special, really.
“It’s the friendliest race I’ve ever been to. They’re amazing. But I do think a lot of people think of fell running and trail running and Ultra running as this really unachievable type of running that’s really far out, but it’s actually not. It’s so friendly, and it’s not as hard or scary as you think it is going to be. Once you start getting out there, you realise that it’s a lot more accessible, I think, than it can seem quite intimidating, I think, to start with, before you start giving it a go, but you never know just what you might be capable of until you try. ”
Why We Run is published by Inspired by Lakeland and will be available in shops throughout the Lake District, including selected Waterstones. Danielle will be at Kendal Mountain Festival doing book signings in the Adidas TERREX running session on Saturday evening.
Visit @whywe_run on Instagram or inspiredbylakeland.co.uk for more information and to pre-order your copy.