RICKY Lightfoot is a young West Cumbrian who has the world of fell running at his feet. Literally.

This 23-year-old represents England in mountain running.

Last year he also won the prestigious Lakeland Classics Trophy after winning three massive races.

These included the Wasdale and the Ennerdale horseshoes, said by fell racers to be absolute killers.

Lightfoot by name and Lightfoot by nature might seem to be the case with Ricky.

Here would seem to be a fell runner born and bred - even to having the right sort of name for it.

But this likeable lad from Maryport will tell you this is anything but the case.

There have been occasions when he has found himself dragging his feet as if wearing lead-soled deep sea diver's boots.

A case in point was at last year's Grasmere Sports.

In the senior guides race up Butter Crag, he admits to “blowing up”.

“I was running in second place just behind Rob Jebb,” he says. “He's a Yorkshire runner who has won the event five times. He's a strong climber and I was right behind him.

“But then I hit the wall. It was horrendous, I couldn't breathe, I was fighting for oxygen. My lungs were wheezing. My eyeballs were popping out of my head. My leg muscles were screaming in protest.

“I've never known such pain.”

To his credit Ricky grimly hung on. He still finished in fifth place out of 90 runners.

He says it is all part of the learning curve in a fiercely competitive sport.

He only began fell running at the age of 13 when he was encouraged by Brian Taylor, sports coach at Netherhall School Specialist Sports College - a coach who is highly regarded in the Lightfoot family.

Running certainly doesn't run in his family though he says his parents - father Robert, a senior charge hand at James Walkers in Cockermouth, and mother Kathleen - give him tremendous encouragement.

He lives in the family home on Gavel Street in Grasslot, a strongly supportive base for both his running and his employment.

He works as a fireman on Red Watch at Workington Fire Station.

“Being in the fire service is a great job”, he says. “They are very supportive and if you represent England they give you the time off and plenty of support.”

He finds living in Grasslot helps and he is very appreciative of the backing he gets in West Cumbria.

Grasslot Welfare Club, for example, has an international fund for anyone who represents England - like for travel or to help buy a new pair of racing shoes.

He went to school at Grasslot Infants, then to Ewanrigg Junior School and finally to Netherhall School in 1996.

It was when he started running at the age of 13 that he found his focus.

He joined Ellenborough AC, another source of encouragement, which includes other fell runners.

“Maryport is ideal for my training,” he says. “To go on the fells I head for Whinlatter or Latrigg, above Keswick.”

Locally too he runs on the seaside promenade from Maryport Golf Club to Maryport Aquariam.

He also runs through Flimby woods to Broughton Moor, then to Dearham and back home.

In addition he has local running partners in training like Laura Park who is another rising star in the world of fell running - and road and track running too.

So serious is Ricky about his chosen sport that he even funds himself on trips abroad to run in elite races other than those where he represents England.

In June he ran in such an event, a Sky Race which went to 8,000ft in the Alps. He is delighted he did not get altitude sickness,

He finished sixth among the top athletes, boding well for the future.

His first venture fell running outside Cumbria was up Rivington Pike near Bolton.

His friend - Chris Hindmoor a carpet fitter for Eddie Shimmings the carpet retailers - had just passed his test and had never driven on the M6 before.

“We went in his little black car," he says. “What an adventure.

“When we arrived we'd never seen so many bronzed athletes warming up.

“They were in track suits and fancy running shoes doing elaborate stretching exercises. ‘I'm going to get thrashed here’ I told Hiney who didn't run.

“But I notched fourth place. It was the last counter for the English fell running team.

“Two days later I had a call to say I have made the national team.”

It was in the Wasdale Horseshoe last year that Ricky had his biggest battle in a race.

“Conditions were wet and really misty, and visibility was low," he says, remembering the pain. “Two of us got away at the start and after nearly four hours were still there in the lead.

“Peter Vale from Mercia Fell Runners was the other runner. He's famous for his navigating ability.

“Just before we got to Great Gable someone was meant to meet me with a banana and a drink, but they never made it.

“I was absolutely gutted,

“All I had was a Mars Bar in my bag and without water it was like eating toffee. It was awful.

“We got down to Sty Head Tarn and I was struggling with my blood sugar level low.

“Pete started to run away at that point, and I thought ‘That's it. You're finished’.

“But I hung on and managed to get near him Scafell.

“Down to Wasdale Head it was nip and tuck all the way, first him, then me, then him.

“On the run-in there we were, still neck and neck, neither of us giving an inch.

“I managed to pip him to the post by three seconds and collapsed on the grass, absolutely exhausted."

He reflects on his ordeal, clearly looking forward to more such encounters with his rivals.

“No pain no gain,” he says in a serious tone of voice.

A true champion in the making.