Monthly Archives: June 2018

Stuart’s Scott’s Biggest Adventure (so far…). The Bob Graham Round, Lake District, Saturday, May 5, 2018

66 miles & 27,000ft of ascent

Stuart Scott

It has taken me a while to put this report together as I’ve really been struggling to write a report that does justice to the enormity of the challenge that is The Bob Graham Round. I really wish I was a better writer to get across fully what this challenge has meant to me, but here’s my best shot at it…

I’ll start with the generic boring bit:

The Bob Graham Round is a fell running challenge that involves completing a route of approximately 66 miles and 27,000ft of ascent over 42 of the highest peaks in The Lake District. The round was first done in 1932 by Bob Graham, a hotel owner in Keswick, who at the age of 42 wanted to complete a circuit of 42 lake-land fells, within 24 hours. The round is known as the testing ground for the supremely fit and being a lover of extreme challenges, from the second I heard about it I knew I had to complete it.

After a little research into what exactly the round involved, I knew I had to become a member of a running club if I wanted to have any chance of completing the round. This is when I decided to join Elvet Striders.

I always remember my first night at the club. I was really nervous about coming down, I’d always previously run by myself, I’d never had any sort of structure or planning to my training and I was worried everything would be too serious for me, up until this point all my running had been the way you are not meant to do it, but somehow I’d always managed to get that to work for me.

The first night I listened to all the run options and was immediately drawn to this guy known to as ‘The Mudman’. I could not have been made to feel more welcome at the Club and after a short conversation, he asked me why I had joined up. I asked him if he’d ever heard of a challenge in The Lake District called the Bob Graham Round, he said he had!

I’ll always remember Geoff asking me what I’d done previously and how much fell running I’d done. When I said none, I just wanted to do The Bob Graham Round (BGR), I’m sure he thought I was insane! I felt a bit daft at this point. Saying you want to do one of the biggest fell running challenges there is, then admitting you’ve never actually taken part in a fell race, is not the usual approach.

Not at any point during this initial conversation did Geoff ever mention he had done the BGR. He was obviously a very experienced runner and I was instantly worried I’d just introduced myself as a total ‘gob-shite’, so I had no option now but to complete the round to prove I wasn’t.

I soon became a regular at Striders, every Wednesday night, and was really enjoying challenging myself, building up the miles and becoming a better runner. In January 2017, I was involved with road support on Andy Berry’s winter Bob Graham Round and although my part was only small, I drove all the way back to Durham buzzing about what I had just witnessed and dreamed about the day I might be able to complete the challenge myself.

The night of Andy’s round I’d also got talking to one of his support runners a guy named Paul Johnston. He asked me if I’d ever fancy it one day and when I said yes, he said please remember me and get in touch when you have a date. I did save his details and Paul did indeed end up supporting me.

Throughout my whole BGR experience, I have come across so many random fell runners that have been more than happy to put themselves out to help me train and achieve my goals. It really is humbling and also leads to the BGR being so much more than your average long-distance challenge.

Not long after witnessing Andy’s round I got back in touch with Geoff and was given the details of a few others at the Club who might also be interested in training for a BGR. I’d made a couple of solo trips to the Lakes but I’d found these extremely hard. The terrain is brutal, the weather is harsh and if your navigation isn’t the best, it can make things very dangerous. Unfortunately, people have died whilst recceing the BGR. You really do need to have the utmost respect for those hills.

The other problem I had with my early solo recces is I needed someone to reassure me that what I was doing was correct. I found the course so hard at times. I was convinced that what I was doing wasn’t right; my map must be wrong, surely it couldn’t be this hard, surely nobody could ever complete five legs of this course when I was struggling with one. These questions and doubts were all going through my head and this is why I needed to be with someone else.

One of the first people I met through the BGR was Scott Watson; he was training for his own BGR attempt and played a massive part in my early Lakeland adventures.

The first run I had out with Scott really was a shock to the system. I’d never met Scott before but we had agreed to meet up in Threlkeld Cricket Club and the plan was to run up Clough Head, along the Dodds to Helvellyn, see how we were doing, then take it from there.

Scott set off quite slowly and I can remember feeling that I thought he’d be going faster than this and I felt great. Then the first climb started and it was brutal. I immediately started coming out with all sorts of excuses as to why I was finding it so hard. I was telling him about all the training I’d been doing the last few days. I think Scott’s reply was something along the lines of “Whatever run you are doing there will always be someone there who has trained harder and done more so just stop talking about it and crack on”. No truer words have ever been spoken!

For the vast majority of that run-out with Scott, I was struggling. Scott was always a good bit ahead and it was really hard for me to keep him in sight. I couldn’t get my head around how fit he was and how the 20 odd miles we had done that afternoon, was one of the easier sections of the course. I wondered if I could even do it but Scott reassured me for my first 20 odd mile Lakes trip, I’d done well and he thought I did have it in me and this sounded good.

As time went by I started to feel myself getting fitter and fitter. I was running lots and I’d say was now completely addicted to exercise. I craved running and found it difficult to sit still. This isn’t a good combination when you don’t have any sort of training plan. Everything was great until about 20th March 2017. I’d felt ankle pain whilst out on a 20-mile run but instead of resting up I decided to take some painkillers and run another 14 miles the following day. This resulted in me limping back to a bus stop then hopping home before having to take 3 months out from running due to a stress fracture. I was gutted, Training had to stop. We had a holiday planned in the Lakes very soon after my injury and I had to stay-in whilst my wife went on regular runs without me.

My return to running was on 10th June. My wife Susan had a place in the Durham Coastal half marathon and we decided to run it together. Maybe coming back from injury to run a half isn’t the best idea but luckily I got away with it and I was back in the game.

Scott Watson’s BGR was on 8th July and I really wanted to still be part of it. I was sure I’d be ok but it was decided I would meet him halfway round leg 3 and it’s a good job I did as I was knackered by the end of it.

Being part of a BGR attempt really is something special and the buzz surrounding the whole day really has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Needless to say, I drove back that day even more excited about the possibility of completing it myself. All the excitement of Scott successfully completing his round had inspired a few others to have a shot and with myself, Elaine Bisson and Dave Gibson all fancying our chances at it in 2018, dates needed to be organised.

The BGR is such a massive team effort and because there are only a few Striders really into fell running I had to make sure the date I set for my round wouldn’t have any impact on the other two. Bearing this in mind I went for Saturday 5th May. It really was getting real now.

Over the course of the next few months, I made regular trips to the Lakes trying to fit them in the best I could around my work and family life. If I wasn’t self-employed and didn’t have a really supportive family and workmates, there is absolutely no way an attempt at a BGR would have been possible.

All the trips over these next few months are unfortunately a bit of a blur but I did try and get down as often as I could with Scott, I can also remember sharing a couple of my earlier adventures with Geoff. Both Geoff and Scott were both absolutely fantastic in helping, supporting and encouraging me during those early days and with them both being phenomenal athletes, they really did inspire me to improve. I certainly needed to improve too as a good few of these trips with Scott resulted in me stopping several times on the way home to be sick. I used to be happy if I could make it past Rheged services without spewing!

As time passed my fitness improved and I was smashing personal bests over every distance I raced. My body shape was also changing too. I’d started training for the BGR with a 36” waist wearing only large shirts and I was now wearing 33” jeans and a slim fit medium shirt. I felt great.

As 2018 approached I started to get nervous as to how prepared I was. Time was moving fast and I only had 5 months left. I spoke with Geoff and he agreed to write up a full BGR training plan for me. I was very grateful. I was adamant I was going to follow this to the letter but as I’d never run to a training plan, I knew it would be hard. For the first time ever, I found myself training late at night, in the cold and dark and at times when I was really tired but it needed to be done if I wanted any chance of success.

I set up a BGR Facebook group for training sessions and was constantly on the official Bob Graham 24 hour club Facebook page trying to recruit training partners and support runners. It wouldn’t be unusual for me to head down to the Lakes in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning to meet random fell runners I had only just briefly chatted with the day before.

Some nights my wife would go to bed and I would pop out for a 10,15 or 20-mile run. I even managed a marathon personal best one night running from Durham to Newcastle’s Quayside without having any intention to do so when I initially set off. I was completely obsessed, but this is how the BGR affects you. It got a hold of me like no other running event has even come near, this thing is in a league of its own.

As Elaine Bisson’s BGR was within 3 weeks of mine our paths inevitably crossed, and I’m so pleased they did. We were both completely obsessed with the BGR in a way that is not really possible to explain or understand unless you have done it yourself. It was fantastic having someone to talk everything through with, who knew exactly what it was like. We were both thinking about the challenge every day and night. We were either training or planning to train. We were worried about weekly mileage and elevation gain, food and nutrition, kit, weather conditions, injury, support runners etc. etc. The list just went on and our poor partners could only take so much Bob Graham talk.

Elaine and I ended up in a weekly elevation gain battle where we would both try and hit at least 10,000ft and I just couldn’t not do it. There was many a Sunday night when I was out doing hill repeats on Redhills Lane at 10 pm just to hit 10,000 ft. I even remember Elaine signing up to Strava as they gave slightly higher elevation gain figures than Garmin for the same run, I’m pretty sure she never managed to beat me though ha-ha!

My last few Lakeland recces were with Elaine, but I’d also run with Geoff, Fiona Brannan, Penny Browell, Jack Lee, James Garland, Aaron Gourley, Mark Davinson, Andy Berry, Daryl Tacon, Des Thorp, Chris Smith, John Parkin as well as some others briefly. Jack might be able to help me with the names of the two guys who lead us off the top of Blencathra in the thick fog one cold January afternoon when we became completely disorientated. That wasn’t a good day on the hills but definitely a good learning experience.

As my attempt day approached I was really starting to worry about having the right support in place. To make a successful attempt at the BGR you need to have a big team in place and this takes a lot of organisation. Once your team is sorted you then have the constant worry about someone getting injured or dropping out. After all your months of training, planning and preparation, it can soon go up in smoke if you get really bad weather on the day and you don’t have anyone to carry your equipment or with the necessary skills to lead you across the top of mountains in bad visibility.

About a week before my attempt I got word one of the guys, I was hoping to navigate for me, was indeed injured and another running the same section was also worried he may have to pull out. I’ve got to say I was more than a little stressed, however, after a little shuffling about regarding who was on which section, everything was soon sorted and a full team was back in place.

I’d had very little sleep on the lead up to my round as I was far too excited. I’d never before put so much into something and honestly, I think I put more into completing my BGR than I did into my degree course. I can remember saying to someone that I never remembered being as excited the night before Christmas as a small child, as I did now.

The 4th of May was spent travelling down to Keswick as well as eating and drinking as much as possible. I had one last walk around Keswick with Susan then went to bed at about 8 pm; after all, I was setting off on the biggest physical and mental challenge of my life at 3 am.

By 10 pm I was still wide awake and getting more and more frustrated by the second. The challenge was hard enough anyway but how on earth was I going to do it with no sleep?

I woke up a little before 2 am and started eating immediately. I felt as high as a kite. I was so focused and couldn’t wait to get going. Mark Davinson and Fiona Brannan were due to meet me at the house then we were all walking down to Moot Hall to meet Paul Johnston there. As we approached the marketplace there were a few drunk people sitting about and shouting. I can remember wondering that they could go home, sleep it off, then turn out again the following night and be just as drunk again, all in the time I would be gone for one run!

Just before 3 am, I climbed the steps of Moot Hall, took a deep breath, then set off on what would soon become, after 37 years, physically and mentally the toughest 24 hours of my life. My wife Susan followed the 4 of us through Fitz Park then gave me one last kiss of luck as we set off with head-torch light towards the summit of Skiddaw. You see I was doing it the ‘proper’ clockwise way round, unlike Elaine, Geoff, Mike, Tom and Scott ha-ha

On the way up Skiddaw I felt fantastic, I was moving well and all was good. After 30 mins of running, Mark shouted out “What did I want to eat?”. I was still full from my massive breakfast, so took an energy gel instead. The horrible sticky thing ended up going all over the place, but at least I’d taken something.

As we reached the top of Skiddaw, I had to ask how we were doing compared to my schedule. I’d actually forgotten to bring a copy myself and had no idea of any of my timings apart from that I should be in Threlkeld one leg down at 6.30am.

We dropped off Skiddaw and headed across the boggy Hare Cragg. My feet were soaked but that’s no issue when you know you have to cross a river a couple of miles down the line. I had a few little bits to eat as Mark shouted reminders, then was soon at the top of Great Calva. Two peaks down and only 40 to go.

The descent down to the River Calva is steep but great fun. We crossed the river and the sun was just starting to rise as we made our way to the summit of Blencathra. The head-torches came off and I was really feeling alive, clear skies, no wind, beautiful sunrise surrounded by mountains and my 3 running companions. The only people within miles, what a perfect start to the day. Paul retrieved his phone from his bag and made a short video of my ranting about how wonderful running in the Lakes was, why anyone would ever want to run on a track, and everybody should run the hills.

The photo at the start was taken shortly after this moment on the summit of Blencathra.

From the summit of Blencathra, we set off down the steep rocky scramble via Halls Fell. The rock was a little wet and slippery in places. As Paul had done it many times before he set off at a good pace with me in close pursuit. Mark and Fiona, not being as pushed for time as me, took a safer more steady approach.

Paul and I arrived at Threlkeld at 6.37am and were first met by Geoff who directed me to my seat by the support vehicle and the others eagerly awaiting leg 2: runners Penny Browell, Aaron Gourley and Mike Hughes. I felt great, I was 7 minutes behind schedule but that was nothing.

I took a seat in the waiting chair and requested my cool bag, the response I got was, “Cool bag, what cool bag?”

I was gutted, I’d been really fancying a few cold sausages and a hand full of mini pork pies and they weren’t there, but not to worry, I did have rice pudding and a couple of other things I can’t quite remember. I changed my wet socks and shoes then we set off on leg two.

The weather was perfect and it was great to be surrounded by another group of people who had made such an effort to come and help me on my big day. It really is a humbling experience to have so many people give up their day and drive such a long way simply to assist you in achieving a goal you’ve been working towards for a long time.

The climb from Threlkeld up to Clough Head is hard work and although we’d spread out a little by the top of the climb, it was no time before we were all running together again as a group of 5. Geoff was out front in charge of navigation, whilst Mike, Aaron and Penny, carried my supplies. Penny also did a fantastic job of snapping away and got a load of great photos.

We were ticking off the peaks nicely along the Helvellyn range and it was fantastic having someone with Geoff’s experience leading the way. We slightly overshot the summit of Dollywagon Pike, however, this was no problem as Geoff’s knowledge of the hills is so good he quickly realised what had happened and rerouted in no time.

All was still going well half way round leg 2 and I felt great, although I was aware I wasn’t really eating as much as I should be. As we passed Sticks Pass, Aaron took the order for the food I would like at Dunmail and he set off down to the next checkpoint to make sure everything was waiting on my arrival.

The summit of Fairfield is an out and back up the same track, so for this section, Geoff took a small break and I headed up with Mike and Penny.

The fog, or in fell running terms, ‘the clag’, really started to come in on the way up to Fairfield. The temperature fell with visibility decreasing at the same time. At this point, I realised I had forgotten to pack my jacket, hat and gloves, after taking them all off at the end of leg one, but luckily for me, Mike had a spare fleece and pair of gloves I was able to borrow, to stay warm.

Penny and I reached the summit of Fairfield slightly ahead of Mike but after tagging, we turned and were immediately disorientated as to the direction we had come in, due to ‘the clag’. We were just reaching for a compass when we heard Mike shouting and this got us back on track to head back down again and meet back up with Geoff.

As we met up with Geoff, Mike then peeled off and made his way directly down to Dunmail as myself, Geoff and Penny headed up Seat Sandel, via a route I’d not used before. After the summit had been tagged, I really enjoyed the downhill run into Dunmail. I could see a load of vehicles waiting and knew my wife, my parents, kids, parents in law and leg 3-support team were all there waiting for me. It was the most amazing feeling ever, being greeted in by such a big group of friends and family exactly on schedule, two sections down of the biggest challenge of my life.

I took my position on a chair as twenty odd people all looked over, all wanting to help and do something for me. Susan set about changing my socks and shoes as my parents tried to find all the food I was requesting. I think the first thing I asked for was a crème caramel, however, like the cool bag at leg one, unfortunately, these had been forgotten.

I had an absolute ton of food in the car, just about every food I’d ever craved on a run was there but to be honest I think the choice was too big and I just kept going from one thing to the other. By the end, I’m sure I ate sausages, rice pudding, tinned fruit and mini pork pies.

It was all very hectic at Dunmail and I remember Andy Berry, my leg 3-navigation man, saying I was starting to faff. Someone sprayed sun cream on me and we were off again. Leg 3 here we come. I can remember thinking at this point, surely completing the round from here couldn’t be that hard. I was right on schedule, nearly 8 hours in and two legs down and I had a full 16 hours left, how wrong could I be?

Leg 3 started well with my team of Andy Berry, Elaine Bisson, Jack Lee and Daryl Tacon. We seemed to be moving really well, we were having a laugh and I felt fantastic. Unfortunately, things were about to take a turn for the worst!

I hadn’t eaten for a while. I knew I had to eat, but I just couldn’t face anything we had. I was really annoyed with myself. I had every food you could imagine in the support vehicle. The one thing I can always eat is rice pudding but unfortunately, I hadn’t given any rice pudding to any of my support runners. As luck would have it Daryl happened to have one small pot in his bag. I guzzled this down and instantly felt better, however, the effects of this didn’t last too long.

From this point on I rapidly started to decline and could feel myself getting slower and slower, I knew my schedule was out the window but there was nothing I could do, I knew I had to eat but I just couldn’t.

My support team was absolutely fantastic and were constantly trying to get me to eat and offering me all of their own food supplies. Andy pulled out 3 fun-size soft drinks cans over the space of a couple of hours and each one felt like the best thing ever, but the effects were only short lived. Elaine seemed to have an endless supply of food and she was relentless in trying to get me to eat but I was really struggling. I started lying about eating, just to get her off my back. I was spitting stuff out when she wasn’t watching or storing it in my checks hamster style.

Daryl presented me with pepperoni. I knew it would do me the world of good but just sucking the juice out of it was the best I could manage. Disgusting, I know, but tasted so good at the time.

I started ranting about rice pudding and why hadn’t I brought any? I talked about the price of it, the different brands, the fact there should be a drinkable version, we should start making a drinkable version just to sell to endurance runners, surely we’d make a fortune, it could be called Rise pudding because of the energy it provided. I was obsessed and was even asking random walkers on their way up if they had any on them. Unsurprisingly nobody did. Everyone was laughing away whilst Andy managed to video me proclaiming Rice pudding was the best invention ever.

Andy ended up taking my bag meaning I had to hound Jack every-time I wanted a drink but he was fantastic and nothing was a bother. At least I was still drinking.

The last funny moment I remember was trying to take my compression shorts off and getting them stuck around my ankles I was really struggling to get them off and keep my balance whilst Andy recorded me with everyone else laughing away.

From this point on the rest of leg 3 was a blur. One of my walking poles snapped whilst ascending Scafell. I can remember asking why my fingers were starting to feel all tingly. I was aware some of the others were starting to get concerned about me but I was convinced if I could just make it to Wasdale and get some rice pudding all would be good.

I was so relieved to get to Wasdale and can now completely understand why so many rounds come to an end here. I was knackered and any fell runner will tell you there is no easy way out of Wasdale!

I slumped into my chair and was trying to get as much food into me as possible. Anything that could be easily swallowed like rice pudding was what I was after. Anything hard was out of the question. Whilst eating I was assisted in changing my shoes and can remember apologizing to James Garland, Phil Ray and Dave Gibson because of how delayed I was, it was now 5.15pm and my scheduled arrival time was 4.17pm

I was determined I was not going to make any more mistakes regarding food and drink, so I selected everything I was craving from the huge supply in the support vehicle and everyone’s bags was filled, including my own. We were just about to set off when it was decided it would be crazy for me to attempt to carry my own bag. I agreed and dumped the bag. The only problem was we forgot to take anything back out of it!

The climb out of Wasdale is long, steep and hard, I was in trouble and everyone knew it. Elaine would later refer to this climb as the death march and I would have to agree, I’d been convinced as soon as I’d eaten I would feel better but unfortunately, this just wasn’t the case. We all slowly plodded on making our way out of the valley at a very slow pace in deadly silence and it was such a relief to make it to the summit.

On arrival I requested my can of shandy, however, unfortunately, it was not there. No problem I’ll have the protein shake instead, however, nobody had it. When I asked for the apple and nobody had that either, it immediately dawned on me that we hadn’t emptied my abandoned bag, which also meant I didn’t have a head-torch!

Trying not to be too disheartened, I had a few spoonfuls of rice pudding and downed some coke. It felt great at the time, however, two minutes later I was sick and Yewbarrow was promptly renamed Spewbarrow. I could not miss the deep look of concern on everyone’s faces but James, Phil, Dave and Elaine were absolutely fantastic and just brushed it aside as they convinced me everything was still fine when I knew deep down not one of them must have really been thinking that.

We continued to plod on. I was now going very slowly. I was trying to sit down at every possible opportunity. Just a couple of minutes here and there felt like the best thing ever. I honestly think if I hadn’t been on my actual attempt and wasn’t being constantly supported and encouraged by the most fantastic support crew I could have wished for, I would have just curled up into a ball and gone to sleep.

As we approached Red Pike my one remaining walking pole snapped, the light was beginning to fade and everyone was constantly trying to get me to eat and drink. Luckily as we still had rice pudding this was possible. A Soreen loaf was broken down into the smallest possible pieces and mixed with the rice pudding. Every time we stopped, I would try and drink a little more. By now I was fully aware that if I didn’t get more food inside me it was game over. I was starting to panic.

Darkness came and luckily for me James offered me his head-torch. We formed a line and tried our best to stay really close together as four head-torches to guide 5 people over one of the hardest sections of the BGR in the pitch dark is definitely not advisable.

I remember very little of the journey between Pillar and Honister pass apart from it was bloody hard. We could hardly see. There was lots of stumbling and tripping going on and I had just about given up all hope of actually completing my round. It was a devastating feeling. Months of training, planning and preparation was on the line. Nearly 30 people had given up their day to come and help me achieve my goal and I was going to have completely wasted everyone’s time if I didn’t complete. You only have 24 hours to complete the Bob Graham Round. Even if I did make it, if I was one minute late, everything I had been through would have been for nothing.

My descent into Honister was very emotional, I kept saying I no longer thought it was possible, I think at the time I just wanted one person to agree with me so I could just call it a day and go to sleep, however, nobody did. The support and encouragement I constantly received from Elaine, James, Dave and Phil was second to none. There is no way I could have completed leg 4 without them and for that, I will always be grateful.

As we neared the checkpoint Elaine ran ahead to ensure all the food and drink was ready for my arrival. If this thing was still at all possible, I needed to be in and out of that checkpoint as quickly as I could. I flopped into an awaiting deckchair at Honister and the look on everyone’s faces told a thousand words. I knew I was in a bad way. Everyone was being really supportive and convincing me I could still do it, however, the look on just about everyone’s faces didn’t match what they were saying. If Mr William Hill had been in Honister that night, he would have probably been offering 100/1 on me finishing.

I could hardly lift my head up or keep my eyes open, there was so much hustle, bustle and words of encouragement coming at me from all angles but all I could manage was to open my mouth as my fantastic wife Susan spoon fed me rice pudding, fruit cocktail and yoghurt. I downed a bottle of protein shake and tried to focus on Geoff. I have so much respect for Geoff and everything he has seen and achieved on the fells, that I needed his opinion; I asked him what he thought I should do? After a long pause, he said to head for Dalehead and see how I got on. I was very aware of how hesitant he had been with his response but he hadn’t said to call it off, so it was still game on.

It was now about midnight and I had 3 hours to get back to Moot Hall. The pressure was really on. My good wife Susan and her friend Tricia would be joining me for the final push as well as Elaine, Dave and James all of whom wanted to stay on and see me finish. I raised a few smiles whilst insisting James needed to bring half a can of fruit cocktail with him but he didn’t really complain and we all set off.

I was running with Susan and she just kept telling me how proud she was and how she knew I could do this. Susan knows how determined I am and I could see in her eyes she really meant what she was saying. This had an astounding effect on me. I started to sing at the top of my voice and was urging others to join in. I think most people thought I’d lost it, but Susan joined in with me and I started feeling stronger with every step I took. The climb up Dalehead is the last major climb and I knew if I could make it up there I should be ok.

I made it up in what seemed like no time and felt fantastic; I could not have been further away from the person that had arrived in Honister an hour earlier. I started chatting away with everyone and my confidence was growing with every step as we made our way across to Robinson, the final peak of the round. We went slightly off track on our way off Robinson and I think I whacked Elaine over the head about 3 times with her own walking poles, as we scrambled down a rocky section on our way to the road and the home straight.

From the start of the road section, it’s about 5 miles to Moot Hall and I had about 50 minutes to get there, it was going to be tight. I was now confident I could do it but wanted the reassurance of someone running with me. I asked around to see who was ready for a sprint finish but nobody really seemed up for it. We were all tired at this point. James asked me how fast I intended to go and when I said 7-minute miles he just looked at me and said seriously “how fast?” I repeated myself “7 minute miles”; I don’t think I got a reply the second time.

When we did hit the road I was like a man possessed and immediately picked up the pace. Susan and Tricia being the freshest runners ran with me but were struggling to keep up. Tricia took Susan’s bag, I grabbed my tracker, dumped my t-shirt and then ran off semi-naked with Susan into the night. It must have been some sight for anyone passing at 2.20am

After a few more minutes it became clear Susan wouldn’t be able to keep up with me so after a short discussion I decided to leave her and go it alone. The race was on and the clock was still ticking. I had to make it. I started to stress about going the wrong way. I’d only recced the full road section once before and imagine the frustration and embarrassment of missing the 24-hour cut off because I’d got lost on a road! Over the next 10-15 minutes, I must have looked at my watch 30 times.

With about 1 mile to go the sense of euphoria was really starting to build. Surely I couldn’t possibly go wrong now? I was going to make it, I was actually going to become a member of the Bob Graham Club, The high I was feeling was immense.

With only a few hundred metres before I hit the streets of Keswick, I could see someone standing. It was Tricia’s husband Chris. He didn’t recognise me at first as he was looking out for a group of runners not one single, semi-naked man running as if his life depended on it. I’m sure he asked me if I’d seen Stuart I replied, “I am Stuart, I am going to make it!” Chris was so happy for me and started chasing after me. The next faces I saw were that of Penny and Jack I was so happy as they ran up to me to see me in.

As soon as I saw Moot Hall I knocked it up another gear and sprinted at what seemed the fastest I’d ever run. The others struggled to keep up as I ran to the top of the hall’s steps and touched the door!

After 23 hours and 47 minutes and with the best support crew I could ever have wished for I’d done it. 60 seconds later I collapsed in a heap on the floor quite possibly the happiest man alive. My parents, Geoff, Fiona, Penny, Phil, Jack and Chris all came over to congratulate me and I felt I was King of the World. Never before have I felt such a high like it.

The cold soon started to kick in and no matter how many layers I put on I couldn’t get warm. My teeth were chattering like crazy and my whole body was shivering but I needed to see the rest of my team in. After what seemed like ages Susan turned up. She had done exactly what I had been fearing earlier and had got lost on the road section, taking a little detour around the bypass, but not to worry here she was now celebrating with me and trying her best to keep me warm.

Tricia came in next shortly followed by Elaine, James and Dave, I was so happy to see them all in and struggled to keep myself composed as I greeted and thanked them for assisting me in obtaining my goal.

I will never forget the sense of achievement I felt that night. Until the day I die I will be grateful to each and every person who played a part in me becoming a member of The Bob Graham Club.

For anyone thinking of taking on this challenge be prepared for it to take over your life. After your first few recces, you will start to crave the mountains; you will fall in love with the Lake District. You will become obsessed with training plans, weekly mileage and assent figures. You will meet dozens of inspiring people, many of whom will become your friends. These people will suggest silly things like running in the mountains in the middle of the night and you’ll struggle to say no. You’ll end up training in the freezing cold, the wind, the rain, the dark and the snow but you will develop the deepest respect for Mother Nature. You will become obsessed with diet, kit, maps, GPS and weather reports. You will most likely try and convince your wife/husband/partner to move to the Lakes. You will bore them silly with your constant talk of the round. You will question your sanity and will often wonder why you are putting yourself, your family and your friends through it but The Bob Graham round will change you forever and I can’t imagine it won’t bring a smile to my face every time I think about it for the rest of my life.

Thank you once again to every single person that was part of this epic journey, without you this goal would never have been achieved!

The only problem I have now is planning what’s next and I can tell you now it’s not going to be anything small!

Club Handicap, Wednesday, June 27, 2018

results
PosNameGroupFinish TimeActual Time
1Karen ByngG53.1140.41
2David OxladeH53.4638.46
3Mike BennettH53.5538.55
4Jon TurnerH54.0239.02
5Wendy LittlewoodE54.0646.36
6Lesley HamillG54.1941.49
7Jonathan HamillH54.3239.32
8Stephen JacksonM55.0327.33
9Heather RaistrickE55.0747.37
10Debra ThompsonE55.2747.57
11Kirsty NelsonE55.3048.00
12Nelli BalaG55.3943.09
13Letitia Chapman-WardD55.3950.39
14Sue WalkerD55.4050.40
15Natalie BellI55.4338.13
16Carolyn GalulaF56.0846.08
17Terry RoberstonJ56.2736.27
18Peter HartI56.3739.07
19Craig ThorntonJ56.4436.44
20Conrad WhiteJ56.5436.54
21Becks LippeI56.5439.24
22Lisa SampleG57.0344.33
23Lee StephensonH57.0542.05
24Steve EllisH57.1642.16
25Chris ShearsmithI57.2439.54
26Matt DavidH57.2442.24
27Michael LittlewoodM57.2529.55
28Mark WarnerM57.2729.27
29Alison SmithE57.2949.59
30Sharon PattisonC57.3755.07
31Carol HolgateC57.3755.07
32Steph GreenwellC57.3755.07
33Stephen LumsdonG57.4345.13
34Lizzie WallaceI58.0240.32
35John ThompsonH58.1143.11
36Neil GarthwaiteI58.1240.42
37Georgie HebdonM58.1630.46
38Corrine WhalingI58.3041.00
39Karen ChalkleyD58.3253.32
40Alex BrownI58.3541.05
41Matthew CarrI58.4741.17
42Danielle GlasseyG58.5846.28
43Fiona JonesG58.5846.28
44Barrie KirtleyM59.0631.36
45Dan MitchellK59.0836.38
46Mick DavisK59.1436.44
47Lynne WaughF59.1748.17
48Juan C. AntonL59.4034.40
49David HolcroftL59.4034.40
50Gareth PritchardL59.4134.41
51Andrew ThurstonF60.0450.04
52Peter BellJ60.5740.57
53Andrew DaviesK61.3239.02
54Sophie DennisE61.5954.29
55James LeeM62.2134.51
56Rachel ToppingB63.2363.23
57Angela CowellB63.2463.24
58Bob GrattonK63.3941.09
59Jan YoungB64.0664.06
60Angela GreatheadD1 lap – 31.0026.00
61Emma CumpsonF1 lap – 35.0725.07
62John GreatheadH1 lap – 36.4821.48

Stamfordham 10K, Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Andrew Davies

I’ve been keeping my eye out for mid-week 10ks as an alternative to the normal Sunday morning ones. Having said that, I’ve entered a lot of Sunday morning 10ks!

Stamfordham 10k is a Run Nation race and is expensive, as a consequence (£16.50). It’s chip timed, with a nice medal but no t-shirt. I’m not sure where the money goes. They’re always well organised and friendly though.

Stamfordham is a small Northumberland village off the A69 on the way to Hexham. Very convenient for me. I had plenty of time to get there from Gosforth for the civilised 7:30 pm start.

The postcode took me to the middle of nowhere before I’d realise I’d entered the road name ‘B6309’, not a postcode. Anyway, a quick Google of Stamfordham Village Hall showed I was 4 miles away with plenty of time.

The weather was perfect. It’d been warm recently but tonight there was just enough cloud cover to keep the heat away. This was lucky, I was wearing my long sleeve Striders top, with the sleeves rolled up. This was my fourth race in ten days and the vest hadn’t made it through the washing cycle this time. Bit of a blessing as I think it’s shrinking and looks more like a training bra.

The roads weren’t closed for the race but I saw a max of five cars out there. Two of them were the organiser and photographer. There was loads of space to park in the village. Just over 100 runners gathered around the village hall, picking up their numbers and chatting. Nice building with loads of toilets. This is when I heard about the last kilometre. Apparently, it was quite a drop; a really speedy way to finish. And I could believe it because I could see the slope coming into the village to the finish outside the hall. I was then concerned about the climb we’d need to do. But I shouldn’t have worried too much.

At 7:20 pm, after a good warm-up, we all headed to the start, about 500 yards towards the other side of the village. There was a quick briefing from Angelos Epithemiou from Shooting Stars. Then we were off.

We headed out of the village on the country road and turned left. The course is one large rectangle of country roads. It’s a beautiful part of the world but you don’t get to see too much of it. The roads are long, straight and lined with large hedges and trees.

It’s officially undulating but none of the individual rises are anything to worry about. However, it does slowly rise on average all the way from the start to beyond 9k. Getting steadily worse after 6k. So my strategy was to make the most of the downs by picking up speed and carry it through the ups and generally dig in. I heard someone say they hadn’t run for a while and were taking it easy and aiming for 45 minutes. I’ve been running loads recently, was going eyeballs out and aiming for 45 minutes so I thought I’d keep her in sight.

I had a good first half and left her and her friend behind. In fact, behind them, there was a big gap opening up to the rest. I think we were a lead group of about thirty. 5k time was good but it was net downhill. I dug in and tried to keep as much speed as possible before the harder rises later. The girl and bloke went past me but I left him well behind over the last few kilometres. The field had spread out and it was getting difficult to reel anyone in. However, I passed a couple of guys I had in my sights while one or two were too fast and I think someone powered past me.

But where was this famous drop to the finish? Some say it’s a mile long, others a kilometre. Pffft my watch said 9.4k before the gradient changed. But it changed a lot. Not the steepest hill I’d ever run down but not far off. Had to hold back. Didn’t want to face plant on tarmac. But it was an exciting, high-speed finish. First and last Strider home.

I finished 28th. Happy with 45:41. Not a PB but this isn’t a PB course. I’d had a small ‘mare on Sunday at Newton Aycliffe, 47:00, which has worse rises. But was happy with 44:00 the previous Wednesday at Newburn River run which is 9.7k, exactly 6 miles.

I might be doing too many races too close together to get a PB but that won’t stop me trying at Kirkley 10k next Wednesday.

Stamfordham is a good 10k if you can afford it and can get there.

DKMS Charity Relays, Aykley Heads, Durham, Saturday, June 23, 2018

24 hours

Clear skies and fine weather made for a great weekend of running round Aykley Heads. Unsung heroes saw the sun set and sun rise over Durham as they saw the event through from set up to strike down. 24 hours, and then some.

Shaun and Ros were there to open and close the event. I missed the start (I’d forgotten how steep that hill is up from Durham on a bike) so don’t have any photos of the beginning of the event. If you have any photos you’d like to add to the gallery below please get in touch.

Jonathan writes:

“We had everything in place and were primed for the start.  I was going to lead the first lap in my DKMS shirt and we realised we needed a baton.  Thanks to the quick thinking of our President, David Shipman, a frog (fly-swatter) was produced from his camper van which we kept going every minute of the 24-hour period.  We tweeted updates every 250km run and we hoped to exceed 1500km and were delighted to hit 1725km but more importantly, to finish with Shaun leading the charge on the final lap – with an impressive sprint finish. We often say we are proud to be purple (our club colours) and this weekend was no exception.

We took a total of £1110 in cash donations. In addition Abbey’s Angels have paid £95 direct to DKMS.  Jan and Tony Young who provided endless cups of tea and coffee (and cake!) over the 24-hour period also raised £86 in sponsorship (plus Gift Aid).  The Just Giving campaign page is heading nicely towards £500 plus Gift Aid, so we should raise at least £1 for every km run! “

Some statistics (H/T Angela):

112 people ran
Total of 345 laps run (1,725 km)

Teams with most laps
1) Waldridge Warriers completed 67 laps
2) Long Slow Run Sunday completed 36 laps
3) Sisters with Blisters completed 31 laps
4) Abbey Angels completed 15 laps
5) Durham City Harriers completed 9 laps
6) Farmer Maggot and his/her Turnip completed 2 laps.

Swaledale Marathon, Saturday, June 9, 2018

Nina Mason

How it all started: flashback to 1995 – me and Mum coming into Reeth

17 and counting…

I ran (and walked) my first Swaledale in 1995. I was new to running and Mum (Jan) suggested we give it a go. It was hell. We did it together, and all I remember was her going on about the beautiful views, and me swearing at her a lot. A year later I was back – fitter, 3 months pregnant with Leigh, and up for it. I was hooked.

There are many great races/runs out there, and many reasons why we each have a preference. Swaledale is my firm favourite. I’ve been back most years (though a long break between 2011 and 2017) and completed it in a range of times. With a decent pottery collection now in use around the house, this year was number 17.

For anyone thinking about doing this, I would recommend it (though you may have realised by now that I am somewhat biased!) You need to be quick getting a number (they sell out fast in January), but for £21 you get a well-organised run/walk, water at all the manned checkpoints and cake and sandwiches at a couple, a hot meal at the end, a badge and pottery souvenir, lots of great views, and the chance to share the experience with other like-minded runners and walkers. You don’t usually need to use your map if the weather is good and you’ve recced the route (though be prepared to do so if needed).

This year – I wished Mum and a few other Striders luck at the start then didn’t see her again after the initial climb up to Fremington Edge. The weather was great – not too much sun, a bit of a breeze, and fairly dry underfoot. I was aiming for under 5 hours but a little worried about post-Yomp legs (only 6 days before).

One of the Swaledale ‘greats’ (Strider RotY in ‘93 and ‘99 – and stepdad – Tony Young) once wisely said ‘the race starts at Gunnerside’. It’s true. I often fade here – that climb out is tough with 16 or so miles in your legs – but when I got there, well within the planned time, I focussed on forcing myself to run at least the flats and downs (ok, jog). This year I managed to keep my pace going and passed quite a few people between there and the end. Pushing hard down the stony track into Reeth (my favourite bit of my favourite race) I finished well under target time.

Really hard work but thoroughly enjoyed the day. Good performances from the other Striders that turned out too.

The best bit for me, 22 years after her first ‘visit’, was seeing Leigh at the end and a big hug; and then (with Tony) cheering Nanny/Mum/Jan in.

I jokingly challenged Leigh to do this next year, but I think she declined. I’d be very happy to walk/jog at her pace, perhaps waxing lyrical about the glorious views…. after all, it never did me any harm.

PosTime NameClass
103.15.00Julian Simpson
R'mond & Ze
M
1003.28.00Amy Sarkies
Rugby/N'hampt
F40
803.27.00Michael MasonM
7604.24.00Matthew ArcherM
10304.37.00Nina MasonF40
21205.46.00Andrew ThompsonM
21305.46.00Jan YoungF60
42008.22.00Margaret ThompsonF60
42108.22.00Anita ClementsonF40

 

Blaydon Race, Saturday, June 9, 2018

5.6 miles

Kimberley Anne

When I woke Saturday morning the first thing I did was to look out of the window, a sigh of relief to see it was overcast and I felt hopeful the weather wouldn’t change!

As always the great British weather is never what you think and before it was 3 pm the sun was beaming down in a very busy Newcastle city centre!

After a few delays, we were finally off at about 3.20pm, 20 minutes later than planned. I had a strategy all planned in my head, realising if I do a steady mile at first then speed up after each mile I should easily beat my time from last year! First mile down and strategy out the window; I recorded a mile almost one minute faster than planned but the pace felt good. I thought to myself I don’t feel like I’m pushing too hard so let’s keep the pace.

Two miles down and the weather was just getting hotter; no water for at least another 2 and a 1/4 mile. My mouth was so dry and it’s all I could think of. A lot of runners had found some shade on Scotswood Road and I followed them for as long as the shade lasted. It definitely helped!

Pace still felt really good and at last the water station was in site. The marshals couldn’t get the water out quick enough, but I managed to get a cup, sip a little then use the rest to cool me down and off again I went.

Pace still feeling good but by this time the sound of sirens are going off; one ambulance passed and then another two. As I approach the end I can see that two runners were receiving medical attention. I grabbed my friend who was running as I started to panic. I thought what if I overheat, I’ve no water and I’m so close to the end. I was also worrying, hoping that these runners were okay; it was unbelievably warm with no breeze!

Once I passed, I then started having the dreaded conversation in my head. I could feel a twinge in my knee, but couldn’t decide if I was just imagining it.

I could see Morrison’s, so I knew the end was in site, this often happens with me as soon as I’m close to finishing, it’s like a little trigger starts and I just want to stop. I pushed on hard. I knew the end was near, all I could think of was a drink of water so I powered on and wound the speed up!

I was focussed to get to this finish line as quickly as I could and that’s what I did!

I crossed the line feeling amazing, but my body didn’t know what to do. The heat and everything got to me but I did it and also got a course PB!

I finished in 51:13, I couldn’t be happier!

 

Durham 3 Peaks – Strider Club night, Maiden Castle, Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Stuart Scott

The most fun I’ve ever had over 3 miles!

As soon as I heard about this event I was excited. I’d put so much into the last big challenge. I’d been at a bit of a loose end ever since. This race was my new focus and I wanted to win it.

I’d spent a lot of time over the last year looking at maps and running on hills and wanted to use this to my full advantage. I’d had a look at who was interested in running and knew I wasn’t the fastest but I also knew the massive advantage I could gain by recceing the route well.

I went into full-on stealth mode by switching my Strava account onto private so nobody could see what I was up to; daft I know, as nobody other than me was probably taking it this far, but I was enjoying it. I went out on about 3 recces of the route before I found a line that looked great. It was direct and would save me a big climb, the only problem was, I needed a step ladder.

I was originally planning on using a rope ladder so thought I’d treat my kids to a rope ladder addition to their climbing frame, which I could, then borrow. I could then tie it in place and pull down myself with a bit of string on the night. After testing this method out, it became apparent it wasn’t ideal and I was worried if I committed to this route and couldn’t get up on the rope ladder I’d lose a good few minutes rerouting. I decided I needed a proper ladder and luckily I had an old 12ft set at the side of my garage.

I went down to Whinney Hill roundabout the night before the race and stashed the ladder in a bush before taking a few photos I could then pass on to my partner in crime Elaine Bisson; I also gave her a full brief of what I needed. That was part one of my cunning plan sorted

Part two involved a swim across the river and after a quick up and down the river banks, it became apparent there weren’t many good exit points so I went for a crossing point just by Durham Rowing Club. I didn’t bother having a practice swim and thought I’d leave that one for the night.

Come race night I couldn’t help but chuckle away to myself on the way down to Maiden Castle and I was very relieved to see the ladders were still in place and Elaine was down at the club ready to go, we were both smiling away about it like naughty school kids.

The race set off and I ran as fast as I could across the field and up to the first checkpoint my plan was to get down first, I was sure nobody else would take the route down I had chosen but I didn’t want anyone to follow me and also make use of my secret weapon – the ladders. Elaine had been instructed to move the ladders straight out the way as soon as I was up but if someone was right on my tail that could have been tricky.

I’m pleased to say I made it down first and Elaine had done an excellent job in positioning the ladders, I shot straight-up them then turned to see Elaine running away with them to stash back in the bush. I had a really big smile on my face now and was again chuckling away to myself.

I hit the second checkpoint then headed straight for the Rowing Club. As I ran through the car park, about half a dozen people turned to see where on earth I was heading. I smiled and said don’t worry I’m in a race and then jumped straight into the river. All the rowers on two boats nearby stopped immediately and turned round to see what on earth this madman was doing in the river, I reassured them I wasn’t trying to end my life and made my way to the other side very pleased to see no other runners in sight.

I made a quick ascent to tag the last checkpoint then made my way back down to the river still with no sign of anyone on my tail. As I hit the riverbank I could see Elaine heading towards Maiden Castle, she had been hoping to catch my river crossing but didn’t make it in time. I soon caught Elaine up and was pleased she could confirm nobody else had been passed. It was a short run into Maiden Castle from here and was great to finish the race first, the plan had been a success!

A couple of people were laughing at the end about the fact I was soaked through and had obviously been for a swim. It was great fun to be able to reply ‘the swim was only part of it wait until you hear about the 12ft ladder.’…

This really was one of the most fun and enjoyable races I’ve ever done and the response I’ve had from so many about it has been fantastic, I really can’t wait to see what everyone pulls out the bag next time.

Massive thank you again to everyone involved in organising it and bring on the next one.

Results

PositionNameTime
1Stuart Scott25:12
2Phil Ray26:47
3James Garland27:12
4Conrad White27:34
5Michael Littlewood28:19
6Tim Skelton28:50
7Juan Corbacho29:43
8Ian Butler30:52
9Steve Winship30:52
10Terry Robertson30:52
11Mark Payne32:16
12Jonathan Hamill35:47
13David Browbank35.47
14Robert Allfree35:49
15Dave Toth35:50
16Camilla Maatta36:44
17Steve Ellis36:43
18Chantel Gimby37:30
19Esme Heppell37:50
20Nigel Heppell37:50
21Malcolm Sygrove38:00
22Marita Grimwood39:23
23Damion Cook42:54
24Tim Matthews43:53
25Peter Bell44:14
26Jane Dowsett45:18
27Wendy Littlewood45:18
28Alan Smith45:34
29Carolyn Galulu48:15
30Jill Rudkin48:19
31Nicola Dorricott48:34
32Paul O Hara48:45
33Lynne Waugh48:47
34Becks Lippe48:50
35Roz Layton48:52
36Louise Hughes48:55
37Toni Malkin48:55
38Catherine Smith48.56
39Gareth Pritchard49:00
40James Potter49:02
41Peter Hart49:03
42Sarah Fawcett49.50
43Lesley Hamill50:00
44Karen Byng50:00
45Tom Milburn51.49
46Allison Smith52:43
47Alan Scott52:46
48Matthew David53.41
50Sue Walker54:20
51Phil Todd54:28
52Kath Priest54:28
53Wendy Hughes54:38
54Louise Billcliffe54:42
55Lizzie Wallace54:46
56Danielle Glassey54:46
57Danielle Whitworth54:49
58Keith Wesson54:49
59Jon Turner54:50
60Kirsty Nelson54:55
61Sharon Pattison54:56
62Kerry Barnett58:30
63Alison Clarke58:33
64Carol Holgate58:36
65Sandie Greener58:36
66Helen Linton58:54
67Jean Bradley64:40
68Laura Jennings64:41
69Stef Barlow64:45
70Neil Garthwaite64:57
71Simon Dobson64:57
72Becca Gilmore2 peaks
73Kirsten Fenwick2 peaks
74Alison Heslop2 peaks
75Vics JacksonRetired
First 5 to the top of Houghall Steps (STEPS)

1: Stuart Scott
2: Tim Skelton
3: James Garland
4: Michael Littlewood
5: Mark Payne

First 5 to the top of Whinney Hill (STILE)

1: Chantelle Gimby
2: Nigel Heppell
3: Malcolm Sygrove
4: Esme Heppell
5: James Garland

First 5 to Pelaw Woods Pop Bottle Bridge (BRIDGE)

1: Phil Ray
2: Conrad White
3: Tom Milburn
4: Alison smith
5: Laura Jennings

Bolt’s Law Basher Fell Race, Tuesday, June 5, 2018

7.8 miles

Nigel Heppell

This is a weekday evening social run organised by local club Derwentside AC in memory of John Donneky.

The weather was brilliantly clear and warm for the run; views for absolute miles from the tops.

It was a bit of a pull to begin with, straight up the Boltslaw incline, 600ft climb in just over 1 mile, but this meant the pack naturally split into 3 pace groups with one leader each, 8-10 runners per group.

I thought I’d not been up Bolt’s Law before but part way round I recognised a tree, the only tree for miles, that I had seen one winter on a social run from Colin Blackburn’s house. It stuck in my mind because it was fully decorated with Christmas baubles, etc –

Rumour has it that Colin revisited the tree and left some anonymous mince pies for the undressing on 12th Night.

Evidently, we ran 7.8miles and came back to Rookhope Village Hall where there was a good spread of savouries and cakes, tea coffee, etc.

A brief mention of John Donneky and acknowledgement from his widow; evidently he used to enjoy taking road runners up onto the fells for ‘strengthening’ sessions; and an invitation to do it all again next year.

Bob Graham Round, Saturday, May 26, 2018

66miles, 42 Lakeland peaks, 27000ft elevation gain

Elaine Bisson

66miles, 42 Lakeland peaks, 27000ft elevation gain (like climbing Everest)
1 contender (me), 4 navigators (Geoff Davis, Mike Hughes, John Telfer, Steve Birkinshaw) 16 Pacers (Mandy, Katy, Jules, Mike, Jon, Stuart, Scott, Mark, Rob, Fiona, Gibbo, Mike, Penny, Steph, Nigel, Danny), 1 professional cook and road crew (Heather), 1 Road support and bodyguard (Susan), 1 family (husband, 3 children and a dog), stunt driver Katy Walton and sidecar Lesley Charman.

I first heard of the BGR after a run with Katy, shortly after I joined the Club (2014). She had been involved in the club’s Billy Bland challenge (the BGR run as a relay with pairs on each leg) and, having realised my love of hills, had jokingly said I would do it at some point. I’d come home and googled it, marvelling at the extreme challenge. My husband had then bought me the map as a Christmas present.

After London Marathon 2016 I’d had enough of tarmac. I’d been reading…Steve Chilton The Round, Runner by Lizzy Hawker, Feet in the Clouds, Richard Askwith. All fed into my habit and dream. I must admit now, I love the Lakes; it’s been a part of me since I was tiny. I’ve spent my childhood summers walking in sunshine or torrential rain…whatever the weather I loved it, it was like a second home. The only time I would complain was if we were going anywhere steep. I think it grew from my mother’s nervousness but I had a deep fear of heights, one that I have only just conquered.

Having done well at Swaledale Marathon in 2016, I’d offered to help on Mike’s BGR, I did leg 1. I’d taken a photo of him on top of Robinson (the first peak.) From here nearly the whole round is visible and I was in awe of the challenge he had striven to achieve. It felt superhuman. That put my training into perspective; the fells were something else.

On January 21st, 2017, a birthday treat, Geoff, Mike and I went to recce leg 5 of the BGR. It was a beautiful crisp, sunny day with excellent views. Geoff handed me the map and took me through some basic navigation skills. The pair kept looking at their watches on the summits and on top of Great Calva they gave each other a little look and said ‘well, you’ve just managed to hit the peaks within BGR time, how would you feel about training for it? Maybe do it to celebrate your 40th?!’… No need to think, the answer was a definite yes.

July 2017 I supported Scott on his BGR and had been across regularly supporting Geoff with his Joss Naylor Challenge. The love affair and obsession with the lakes was well and truly re-ignited.

Summer last year I’d sent out THE email, the one you spend ages writing, letting everyone know of your intention to attempt it. To ask for help and to set the date. I’d looked at full moon dates and had set this on the BH so there was a possibility of delaying the start if the weather was bad and to coincide with a big moon. I’d spent a while rereading it before my finger, which had spent a long time hovering over the send icon, finally sent it. My cards were on the table, I’d committed to it.

Geoff had given me advice on the build-up to long runs. He has been an authority on all things Bob, giving me advice and support on anything and everything. Between him and my many running books, I wrote myself a training plan. Putting in key runs that I’d need to tick off. I printed off a Bob Wightman BGR schedule so that I knew my times between summits and determined to meet them every time I recced by myself.

Wednesdays quickly became Lakes days. The winter meant shorter recces, limited due to daylight hours and of course the grotty weather. I went across in all sorts, adapting runs to make sure I got the elevation but remained safe. I’d never been able to cover so much ground, to reach so many summits in one go. I’d come home energised and desperate to plan my next trips. It had started monthly, then fortnightly, often Geoff would show me the route then I’d return alone to master it.

I spent hours map reading, marking out routes, practising navigation. The first long runs were Tour of Edinburgh (55km) then Tour de Helvellyn (38miles). I’d done well in both. After these it was a case of hills, miles and mastering the route myself so that I could navigate should I need it. My mileage increased, I cycled my training, building up over 3 weeks then having an easy week. 66miles was the weekly mileage happy goal (that’s what I’d need to run on the day) anything above a bonus, 10,000ft the elevation goal.

Stuart was training as well. We started competing for elevation, recceing together and his support throughout has been amazing. We’ve gone on a journey together, experienced the doubts, the excitement, it’s been quite something.

One of my favourite recces, again of leg 5 was after heavy snowfall, with Geoff, Mike, Jack and John. People were out skiing off Scales fell. The landscape was just beautiful. I’d been trying my best to ease the journey by following in Jack’s footprints. When he realised, he started making giant yeti steps! Somehow I managed to persuade the boys up Great Calva… They agreed on the condition that I lead making the first prints. This might sound easy but Calva is a steep drag anyway, made a million times harder with knee/thigh deep snow. Probably a quarter of the way up I was fading fast and Jack bravely took up the lead. Icicles jangled on the fence line. Never has that trudge been so hard or so memorable. The summit was otherworldly, the thin barbed fence was coated in foot long icicles blasted on by the wind off Skiddaw. It’s fair to say they were pleased I’d persuaded them, just to see it. Another journey home in relative silence as all three boys snored within seconds of Mike setting off.

My first recce of 2018 was a cornerstone. I’d never had such an experience that would make you believe in magic or ghosts or spirits. The snow had fallen but the forecast was good. I’d planned to do an abbreviated leg 5 recce, up Doddick Fell (as long as no ice remained) perhaps down Blease Fell then up to Skiddaw. I’d got to the top path where it zigzags, the path was like an ice rink but I forged on up the steep grass…covered in snow and ice. By the time I’d realised it probably wasn’t so safe I’d gone too far to retreat and it seemed safer to go up.

I reached the top to find myself above the clouds, solitary, it was covered in sheet ice evidence of thaw and refreeze, Blease Fell would be bad to descend. The safest option was to go down onto Mungrisdale. I took my compass out and just as I looked at my map a broken-spectre appeared just where I should be heading. If I hadn’t have read about them I might have been scared, as it was I stood motionless, transfixed by the vision. It seemed to be directing me to safety and I followed. The common was covered in thick fog but I set on a bearing and kept to it until I hit the river Caldew. Up to Great Calva and then onto Skiddaw. My first good day navigating alone in fog and well under target time.

Easter madness heralded the start of my massive ascent figures. I recced all legs, ran up to Arthur’s pike every night from the campsite and charged back down. It was heaven. I felt really strong, distance and ascent figures were huge. I’m pretty sure this is the fortnight that stood me in good stead for the round and it’s thanks to my wonderful husband for supporting and encouraging my training. In the last 10 weeks of training, I’d covered 800miles with 130,000ft of ascent!

One month before I went across with Mike to recce the Scafells, I was nervous. I hadn’t managed to recce this earlier as the gullies had only just cleared of snow. The route between Scafell and Scafell Pike is the biggest headache of the round. You either get a rope set up on Broad Stand (most direct) or you take Lords Rake or the longest is via Foxes Tarn.

Deep Gill/West Wall Traverse/Lords Rake, for me seemed the best of the three but it had been built up to be unpleasant. We’d gone in high winds (the same day Nigel had separately recced leg 5 and had hung onto the rock on Halls fell!). We’d climbed the slope up from Wasdale carpark to touch the peak of Scafell. I’d warned Mike I wouldn’t like it. With a smile and a twinkle in his eye he’d told me, ‘It’s all in your head, now let’s just do it’ and he’d skipped off to the entrance of Deep Gill.

I’d looked down and shook my head and said, I’m not going down there. Somehow Mike encouraged me and quite soon we arrived at Mickledore. I could have jumped for joy I was so pleased. The BGR loop had been sealed. I’d been over the whole route. I felt like I could navigate the whole 66 miles.

3 days later I was across supporting legs 3 + 4 of Stuart’s clockwise round. Even before the day, he’d suggested I do three legs. I’d said I’d see on the day. I’d loved it so much by the time we were at Honister, I was quite fixed on seeing him finish, nothing could stop me. I came home buzzing.

To support someone to reach their goal, particularly when you are training for it and you know just how important it is, is quite special. I’d also ticked off another of my long runs, 3 legs back to back, and felt fresh at the end. Perhaps I really could do it.

A few days later I set up my own secret FB group ‘Elaine’s BGR’. There was much excitement. I was as organised as I could be, I think it distracted me from the enormous challenge I’d set myself. Schedules were tweaked, timing cards made and strung up with pencils, boxes for each leg packed and repacked and labelled with additional fresh food to add. Pacers were assigned to each leg and given jobs (timing cards, kit bag carrier, food/drink bagger, headtorch captain.) I’d even ordered a tracker to make things more fun for my family and easier for my pacers.

I barely slept for the final fortnight, I’d wake regularly and be wide-awake at 5. The butterflies were there almost constantly. I’d tell myself they were flying in formation as Allan would have me think.

The final recce day was surreal. I was still nervous on Halls Fell, Geoff had taken me on it after Stuarts BGR. My legs were fine but I imagined myself at the end of my round, legs wobbling and not managing up the rock. Susan had offered a slow walk up again. The conditions were perfect, dry rock, low wind, and good visibility. We reached the top easily and within time. We’d come across with Geoff and Mike B(recceing leg 4) and David and Mike H (recceing leg 2) it was an amazing day. All these people doing three different recces to help me. Driving home later in the day the car was full of giggles and positive energy. Everyone seemed to will me on, they all had this amazing confidence in me and I came home believing I could actually achieve it.

On the Wednesday before, I met up with my road support Heather and Susan. They were a dream team from start to finish, having helped on previous rounds. I was incredibly lucky to have them both on board.

During the build-up, so that I had a good idea, I’d asked Geoff what weather should I postpone. His reply of ‘high winds, torrential rain’… ‘OK what constitutes high wind?’ (we’ve been out on Robinson when winds forecast 60mph). ‘Anything over 30mph consistently for the whole day’. So the whole week beforehand I was weather spotting, for the whole week it was high winds 40-45mph, increasing in the evening, no let up all day. Geoff said it’s fine, it’ll be fine! I stopped looking at the forecast.

We’d driven across on Friday night, hired a house minutes from the Moot Hall so I could stumble home when the job was done. It was an oversight on my part that it was a three-storey house and not a bungalow.

I spent 30minutes with rising panic as we couldn’t find the code to get in the house. The relief and the tears as we finally got in, I hadn’t realised how stressed I was getting. My poor family have supported me every step, have listened to my tales, looked at my many photos of hills and more hills. Tolerated the piles of sweaty running kit and the lines of laundry. The smelly shoes discarded by the door. The absence at weekends. What they don’t know about ‘The Bob’ is not worth knowing. It’s been quite a love affair and John has been beyond patient with me.

Leg 1 Moot Hall, Keswick – Honister
Robinson, Hindscarth, Dale Head

We left our cottage to arrive at 6:45, the high street already bustling with Market traders and of course my support team. I was feeling nervous, desperate just to start, to stop my stomach doing cartwheels. I climbed the 10 steps to start outside the doors (Stuart had told me it was a lightweights round who started at the base of Moot Hall!) Finally my watch turned 07:00 and we were off. I’d worried I’d miss-pace this section (I was navigating until we met Geoff for the climb onto the fells.) Without my pack I felt as light as a feather, the taper had left me like a coiled spring. I bounced down the lanes, trying my best to keep to a steady pace. My pacers were excited, Katy joined me until Newlands church, Jules, Mandy, Jon and Mike.The sky was blue, lanes full of colour and noise. Lambs now quite large in the fields. The last time I’d been here I’d driven just to remind myself of the rolls of the road. Before that it was reversed chasing down Stuart as he’d sped off on his BGR in the middle of the night, the eyes of the sheep glinting eerily on my headtorch lights.

We dropped down from Littletown to see Geoff waiting. I changed into fell shoes and grabbed my poles, then off up the road accompanied briefly by John who was busy filming snippets of the day.

Up to the house, through the gate and onto the grassy track to the first fell, Robinson. I was all too pleased to leave the road behind. On the steep ascent up to High Snabb, I led and had to wait at the top for pacers to catch me. Geoff had a quiet word, “slow down, you’re going too fast”.

Onto Robinson, my first summit, and amazing views of the legs ahead. I tried not to look around, just focusing on the present and onto the next peak. It would be too daunting to think too far ahead. The wind was pretty strong and deafening, it was hard to talk without shouting at each other. So now the grassy descent before we climb to Hindscarth. My pacers were great, handing me drinks and encouraging me to eat. I touched the cairn and quickly moved on to Dale Head. No stopping. Steph had advised me to just keep moving, keep moving forward and you’ll do it. No pauses for photos, you might need those precious minutes later in the day or tomorrow. So there were no planned breaks until the road stops.

Dale Head is one of my favourite views. Here two of Geoff ’s friends were waiting. Cheering me on. I said a quick hello as I turned and made ready to charge down to Honister. I love this descent it’s pretty grassy and a lovely gradient that you can build up speed. Soon I was running past John who’d walked up to meet us. Then my three, Graeme and Lily were waiting at the bottom. I ran into Honister with cheers and claps. Heather had a chair, tea and honey soaked porridge ready. Susan on duty to keep it quiet.

I guzzled away, feeling fresh and looking forward to leg 2, a firm favourite. Geoff had a word, “pull back, you’re 10minutes up already, just take your time, don’t panic, don’t worry if you lose time, take it steady”. I wasn’t panicking, I felt really good, something in me knew I could do it if only the wind dropped if only the damn wind dropped.

Leg 2 Honister – Wasdale
Grey Knotts, Brandreth, Green Gable, Great Gable, Kirk Fell, Pillar, Steeple, Red Pike, Yewbarrow

Mike was navving, Stuart ready with all my favourite goodies (he knew exactly what I like, having consumed all of my food on his round!) and strong pacers alongside, Scott, Mark and John. I shortened my 10minute stop, eager to move on.

Grey Knotts came quicker than expected, the lovely fresh banter of new pacers carrying me on up the steep rocky ascent. Brandreth was soon reached, the ground had never been so dry. On up to Green gable then down to windy gap (it was all windy) and up Gable. I tripped here, only one of 3 trips but it made me pause and take heed. The wind was really blasting me, Mark tagged alongside trying to shelter me from it. At last, we turned a bend and it eased. There is a bit of scrambling up to the summit, its fun and in no time I was again at the top. Ahead of schedule. I knew the direction off, although invariably I lost the easier route. So I happily followed Mike’s lead. He told me to go steady, watch my feet, no need to go fast, we were ahead. I stuck behind him and soon we were on the pass ready to climb Kirk Fell.

Here John dropped down to Wasdale, he was to navigate leg 3. Stuart and Mark were brilliant, keeping time and asking every half hour what I would like to eat/drink. We made good time over Kirk Fell onto Pillar and then one of my favourites, Steeple. It’s a beautiful little summit that sticks out alone, quick to climb compared to the others on this leg. Mike and Mark accompany me while Stuart and Scott lazed on Scoat Fell (that’s what I did on their rounds!). Onto Red Pike then a swift run down until we hit the bottom of Yewbarrow. We pass a clockwise attempt and wish each other well.

I love the ascent up to Yewbarrow, it crosses scree, huge boulders then winds up through heather and turf until it reaches the wide ridge path and on up to the summit. We made pretty quick progress as the wind had really picked up and we were buffeted and blown all the way along. It was tough going trying to keep upright, particularly crossing the boulder fields. Scott led the way down to Wasdale on a lovely scree run where my legs could rest and we could use the stones to drag us down.

I arrived in a very hot valley, feeling still remarkably fresh. Heather had laid out a beautiful picnic of leek and potato soup, egg sarnies, tomato and crisps and of course hot sweet tea. I gobbled it all while Scott shaded me under a huge umbrella from the hot sun.

Leg 3 Wasdale – Dunmail
Scafell, Scafell Pike, Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End, Esk Pike, Bowfell, Rossett Pike, Pike O’Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Thunacar Knott, High Raise, Sergeant Man, Calf Crag, Steel Fell

Having had a big team on leg 2 this was smaller. John T leading, Rob up from Bath to support, Fiona eager as always to hit the fells (she’d actually only been down to do leg 5 but had stepped up when she’d realised I was short on pacers. Thank god she did!) and Stuart. Sadly Stuart headed back down half way up Scafell, his BGR still in his legs. John T dropped behind and was feeling sick and when we got to Scafell, Fiona asked me what I wanted to do as he was struggling with my pace… Keep on moving was my response. I knew I could navigate most of it really well but was still unsure of the route off Bow Fell (these rocky sections had relatively recently been covered in snow, hampering recces.) Thankfully John got a second wind, just stopping to miss out the tops and by the Langdales he was back to full strength (its much easier just thinking of moving forward and following than the added pressure of navigating).

John led the way into Deep Gill, it was dry underfoot and the wind howled through the gullies. We made good progress until we passed a group on a clockwise round. Stopping to let them pass we then descended. A shout of rock heralded a huge fall of stones and boulders, which narrowly missed John. I looked up cursing, both Rob and Fiona were equally shocked. From then we were pleased to leave the Rake and ascend to Mickledore. It was a relatively quick rocky clamber to Scafell Pike, today heaving with BH tourists.

I was enjoying the company and the different terrain, it’s the rockiest section meaning you really have to concentrate on where to put your feet which helps to pass the time. Peaks are ticked off quickly. Rob, on timing duty, was a great encouragement, so calm and positive that I was moving well and gradually increasing my buffer should I need it. I’ve also become great friends with Fiona, who shares my love of the fells, her happy chatter carrying me along.

Off Ill Crag I start wondering if I have a stone in my shoe from the scree off Lords Rake. We stop briefly at Esk Hause where Susan has walked to meet us (from Wasdale on her way back to Seathwaite.) Low on fluids, we pinch the last of her water supplies as it’s so hot. I stop to remove the stones only to find an enormous blister on the base of my heel. I put my shoes on quickly, not ready to accept that this has happened so early in the round, I then catch Susan’s eye and tell her. She promises she’ll sort it at Dunmail. I move on up Bow Fell, I know the direct line well.

I reach the top with Rob, Fiona and John waiting at the edge where we are to drop down off the face of Bowfell to Rossett Pike. John must have recognised an awkward gait and he persuades me to stop to temporarily deal with the blister. I remove my sock and their three faces drop. I put a blister plaster on (it barely covers it) tighten my laces and am off after John. I ask him warily, this won’t stop me, will it? (I’m scared it’ll continue to shear off) he says its mind over matter, you want this enough, nothing will stop you. Happy with his answer, I follow on. There are midget gems and wine gums offered.

The wind had dropped by Rossett Pike but it’s hot and we are all getting low on fluids. On to Pike-O-Stickle, we use the balcony route used by Langdale fell race. I don’t know this as well but it’s a pretty climb down then I enjoy the climb up to Pike-O-Stickle. They fill their bottles with water from the stream as I continue on. I refuse to drink their ‘bog water’ in case it has ill effects, I’ve a long way to go yet. I start to eat lots of mint cake. I love the scramble up to the summit and I race Rob as Fiona and John wait further up the path to Harrison Stickle.

Up the slow incline to High Raise, spurred on by a sugar rush, I break into a run and am scolded jokingly by Rob. Off Sergeant Man my heel starts to complain, it has a strange sensation of peeling off. It feels like an eternity from here to Dunmail, too concerned with my heel to enjoy it, it’s quite monotonous after the rocky bits. At the top of Steel Fell, I stupidly choose the wrong route down. I stood at the top with Fiona leaning into the wind like an angel, its so strong she’s almost levitating, until sensible head returns and we find John who is waiting at the correct descent. I make slow progress down, my heel is complaining and I’m worried I’ll cause more damage descending at the steep angle. The relief of seeing Steph, sure-headed, sensible strong Steph waiting, is a surprise. I’d thought she was busy but she’s there kitted up ready to support on leg 4. She’s a comfort realising immediately my concerns and bustling me along.

The road crew are like a well-oiled formula-one pit stop. I’m in my chair, wrapped in blankets to keep warm, delicious freshly prepared pasta is waiting along with tea (thanks to Heather who has also fed the pacers.) Susan is ready to sort my foot and has all my clothes ready for the quick change under Mikes modesty towel. It’s just superb. Susan bandages my foot so speedily and efficiently I honestly couldn’t feel that blister for the next two legs (about 26 miles) which is something as it was huge (afterwards I can barely touch it for two days it’s so painful).

I’m back in fresh, dry clothes ready for the night leg, I honestly feel just as I did when I started all those hours, miles and mountains ago. I’m 35 minutes up on my schedule. Seeing my family, my dog, all of my friends who have come to support and some new happy fresh-faced pacers is really brightening my previously dampened spirits. I am still concerned about the wind. It was ferocious and even in the valley, we are buffeted. I ask Geoff again (I know if I stop now I’d still be fit to run in a few weeks) he reassures me it’ll be fine, I’ve put my trust in him, so shrug my anxiety away.

Leg 4 Dunmail – Threlkeld
Seat Sandal, Fairfield, Dollywaggon Pike, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Helvellyn Lower Man, Whiteside, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd, Watson Dodd, Great Dodd, Clough Head

I’d looked forward to leg 4, of everyone supporting me. I had run with Geoff the most. I was sure he would get me to Threlkeld as comfortably and as swiftly as he could. He’s also renowned for his navigation skills. I’d also asked David to move onto this leg, I’d recced frequently with him, he’d been superb on Stuart’s and I knew if I was fading his strong, quiet confidence would be a huge boost. I also had Mike, Penny and now Steph. A great team.

On up Seat Sandal, Geoff moved to let me lead, I was feeling a bit queasy, I’d eaten a fair amount at Dunmail and needed to make sure it stayed down. I happily tucked in behind, well used to following Geoff’s gentle steps. As we climbed the wind strengthened, I struggled to move forward and felt like I was pushed sideways. Steph, also struggling by its power, bossed the boys around to protect me from the wind. They did their best and on most of this leg, they were there, even sidestepping to help me through.

Unfortunately, it seemed to come from all angles and was incredibly strong (forecast of 40mph gusts was indeed correct). Off seat sandal my knee started to pull – it’s a fairly steep grassy descent.

Now Fairfield loomed above us. People had told me beforehand what a trudge, an unnecessary out and back on what normally was a good loop.

However, I had determined not to dread any summit and had tried to think of something I like about each and every climb so that none would feel impossible. I actually quite like Fairfield, its a mixed step and scree climb, over relatively quickly and then a nice easy run back down to the tarn. I’d often used this little loop around the tarn to gain good ascent on really bad weather days. Today, however, there was no let up from the wind from any direction.

Onto the steps of Dollwyaggon, I managed to get a swift and nice rhythm going. I hid behind David, warning that I potentially would be his shadow all the way along. Again we reached the summit easily. The wind really strengthened as we climbed and both David and Mike worked hard to shelter me. They handed me drinks and food at regular intervals so I barely needed to ask. They soon became nicknamed the Mitchell brothers.

Just before Nethermost I got a shock from a really strong gust and was nearly blown over, we stopped and in the middle of a huddle I put more layers on, Mike immediately giving me his jacket to keep me warm. We moved on huddled together to touch Helvellyn.

As the sun started to set, the sky was filled with the most amazing rich colours, I couldn’t help but smile, it’s my favourite place, its where I come to feel alive. I was now looking forward to night falling, for something different. The group tends to close in, everything shrinks. It forces you into the present, so you can’t think too far ahead.

It was dusk as we climbed up to Whiteside. We stopped briefly to get more layers on and get our head torches out. By Raise it was pretty dark, I love the rocky top and its cairn, I could just about make it out against the darkening sky. The sun soon left the sky, ready to return in a few hours, I wondered where I would be when it reappeared. The full moon behind us made it a little brighter and the stars seemed to fill the sky. Had it not been for the wind it would have been stunning.

We kept moving forward, on up Stybarrow Dodd, Geoff commented that I was still moving as fast as I had been on my first peak, Robinson, all those hours ago. After eating a handful (or two) of Mike’s jelly babies I again got a sugar rush and ran quickly over the next peaks. I am reprimanded by Geoff who normally navigates metres ahead. We were fighting to take the lead. It was a great feeling moving through the darkness. All I had to do was move forward and touch the cairns as they were lit up by torchlight.

I’d climbed and ran well on these more gradual peaks but the descent off Clough Head is steep and my knees really started to hurt, slowing my progress. In frustration, I try to pick up the pace but ended up tripping and falling onto my back. I have to say those few seconds were utter bliss, lying on the soft grass staring up at the starry sky as the wind howled around us. If I hadn’t been on a mission I might have stayed just where I was. As it was Mike, who was guiding me down with his bright torch, was worried and I felt I should really get up and move on.

By the time I got back up Geoff’s little red reverse light had almost disappeared and I shouted for him to stop. Soon we were back on a more gradual incline and I could run comfortably again. I hit the small road and started to smile. What was left didn’t feel so big anymore, especially cloaked in darkness. I was really excited by the last leg and somehow knew it was in my grasp if I just kept eating, drinking and moving forward. On the road Danny was waiting, headtorch on and ready to go.

Turning into Threlkeld carpark I was surprised to see my lovely three, all in their pyjamas and dressing gowns munching on popcorn and having the adventure of their life! I had thought they’d be tucked up in bed, but John doesn’t want to miss a second.

Again I was guided to the exceptional pit stop, handed porridge and tea. I still felt strong, excited. My main concern was still the wind. Geoff asked whether I’d be happier going up Doddick, I’d agreed. Happy and full of porridge, I head into the darkness, quickly hugging my family and Steph. Up we go.

Leg 5 Threlkeld – Moot Hall, Keswick
Blencathra, Great Calva, Skiddaw

Out of the carpark, Steve said “let’s just do Halls Fell”, that’s all the persuasion I needed, it’s the quicker route by half a mile and takes us straight to the summit….”ok then”. I’d been looking forward to this, my team were good, experienced. Steve, well he’s a legend in the fell running world, so to have him get up in the middle of the night and navigate me round was quite a treat (thanks to Geoff for organising.) Interestingly Steve ran an anticlockwise BGR route as well.

We went up the road, past the hounds (who were unusually silent). Through the gate and over the nearly dry riverbed. Then we wound our way up the bottom slopes of Halls Fell. I followed Steve’s steps. He asked me if the pace was ok. My response, “Its fine, I just want to go slow up here”, is misconstrued and he thinks its too fast…“no its perfect.” Within no time we were winding our way along the crest, to the right we were buffeted by the wind, to the left we were relatively sheltered.

I was not confident on the rocks, I was now 55 miles in, it was blowing a pretty fierce hoolie and I was worried I would slip or trip over. Fiona had promised to watch out for me and occasionally she gave me a shove or just guided me up over the rocks. Both Nigel and Fiona urged me on. We were at the top before I’d really had a chance to think. There’s a beautiful sunken ring to mark the summit.

I tried to run down the slope and over the scree but my knees were now sore granny knees. I was glad to reach Mungrisdale Common, the gradient is kinder and I could run easily. The tufts of cotton grass were magical in our torchlight. Danny kept telling me I could walk this and still make it back in time. He then said “you only need to run if you want to get under 22 hours”…why wouldn’t I want to get under 22 hours now, I thought and pushed onwards.

We wound our way down to the River Caldew. I crossed carefully, the stones are always sloppy, the cold water, as it soaked to our skin, woke us all up.

Then it’s over the bog, the squelchy, muddy, bog. On up through heather to Great Calva. The chatting and laughter carried me on up to the summit. My headtorch started to cast this beautiful surreal super coloured glow to the grass. I’ve seen it before, it’s gorgeous but made me wonder if my head was still on straight. I ate more Snickers, just in case. Off Calva I tried to run, it’s more of a downhill shuffle…as fast as Nigel can walk. I laughed at myself and asked him to at least pretend to run. I looked forward to the ascent to Skiddaw, my legs were still strong going up. I couldn’t believe there was only one peak left. This of all the legs, I knew like the back of my hand, I’d been over it so much. It was comforting in the darkness to recognise it all. I wondered if we’d get there before sunrise?

We crossed the bog on Hare Crag. For once it was really dry, lovely and soft to run on. I usually panic here by myself, worried I’ll get stuck all alone and die in the bog-like that fell-runner. The sky started to brighten, shades of blue and a hint of orange appeared. I asked Steve how much further, “300/400m” he replied. It’s a long 300m.

The noise of the wind increased as we neared the stile. Clips from the motivational video Stuart had sent, played over and over in my head… Rocky… It’s not how hard you get hit, it’s how hard you get hit and keep moving forward, just keep moving forward… Pain is temporary, it may last for a minute, or an hour….eventually it will subside, if I quit, however, it will last forever…

I was handed drinks and snacks, without asking. I started to hide food in my pocket as I now couldn’t swallow. Fiona reprimanded me for it and encouraged me to gorge on Kendal mint cake…That’s about all I ate on this last leg.

Eventually, we reached the stile and I remember holding on really tightly, the wind was so strong, I was scared I’d be blown off. On nearing the top I asked Steve to stand near me, to make sure I stayed upright. Eventually we all linked arms, the wind was so forceful. We made quite a comical group across to the summit and then dipped down the side to reach the gate. My headtorch was whipped off and Nigel kindly went back, I kept checking to see if he was OK. It was pretty scary up there.

Soon, we reached the path and the strength of the wind decreased. I could actually run here, it’s a nice gradient for most of the way down. Not long at all Keswick was in view and we could see the twinkly lights still glowing orange, a huge moon shone pink and bright above the sleeping village. Up the path came a solitary figure, it was Rob who had got up early to join us for the last few miles. That cheered me up no end. I whooped with glee, I’d touched all 42 peaks, I just needed to get down in one piece, I could even get under 22 hours if only I kept moving. Certainly, at that point, I felt like I was moving well. Its 4.5miles down, I kept checking my watch, frustrated when we hit anything steep as my knees were agony. Over the worst of it and I broke into a run. I tripped on a rock and fell face first. I quite liked the stillness, the excuse to stop, but I picked myself up and moved on.

I asked how much further (I knew myself, but I wanted someone to fib!) Rob replied “about a mile”, Steve said, “it’s a long mile!” Indeed it was.

My knees were by then battered inside and out, I walked 50m then started again. It was beautiful, the view and the gradient is partly my reasoning for going anti-clockwise. I love the run round Lattrigg, over the little bridge to Spooney Lane, through Fitz park, over the footbridge. I walked up the slow incline, desperate to make sure I could run up the final straight. Nearly there. My mind went blank in the town, I couldn’t remember the way. Bustled along, everyone eager to get me there, we quickly reached the carpark.

I saw this car, it looked familiar, swerving into the carpark. It looked like a stunt car, the driver was in an awful rush at that time in the morning. I wondered what the emergency was and then the doors and windows were flung open and I saw/heard (!!) Katy and Lesley. They’d driven across, just to see me finish. I waved at them, not stopping, I couldn’t stop. Fiona led us down the alleyway, onto the High Street, everyone was clapping.

There were a lot of people out at a silly time on Sunday morning. Fiona ran with me all the way until I hit the steps. I actually managed to run up all 10 steps and touched the doors. I stopped and bent over, not really sure what to do with myself. My grin was like a Cheshire cat and I couldn’t stop myself bouncing up and down. I was totally overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe it was the end, I didn’t want it to be the end. It had been so good. There were cuddles, smiles, bear hugs, dog licks and many congratulations.

21:44 Geoff said surprised, he showed me his watch to confirm it. I’m not sure he really believed it!

I didn’t really comprehend what had happened, all these people, out all day and all night just to get me around, to see me finish.

I did it, I really did it!

It was absolute magic, each and every step. With the best support, I could ever have hoped for.

The BGR is so much more than just that day. It’s about the friendships forged in all sorts of weather. The sense of being alive, of running miles from anyone and being the tiny solitary dot within the huge mountainous landscape. Of returning to nature, feeling insignificant against it, appreciating weather systems, how it affects the rock, the earth beneath your feet. Learning and developing a great and deep sense of respect for the mountains. Making the right decisions at the right time. Always being safe. Conquering fears, facing them full on. Being able to fill your lungs and your heart and all of your soul. Challenging yourself time and time again. Feeling tired and getting home with the deep exhaustion a day on the fells can only produce. Feeling scared when bad weather closes in, of battling through and returning to the car to flasks of hot sweet tea. Sweaty friends sharing adventures. All having that sense of achievement. The giggles, the laughs, the icy eyebrows and wind buffeted bodies. Being soaked to the skin, numb fingers and toes, wet and soggy bog shoes. Piles upon piles of bog socks and trainers. Packing bags. Maps, maps, maps. The views. Of carrying a bag that weighs a tonne, knowing the lack of it will help you on the day. The happiness and security of coming across fell shoe trod. Learning to seek out the tiny faint trod, or fence post or rock or bit of bog that leads the way. Developing a new vocabulary and using those new words all too frequently (trod, clag, best line. ) Not following paths, seeking out the shortcuts. Checking on the weather, obsessively. Of talking all too frequently of Bob, Bob, Bob……

The BGR it’s just a day on the fells with friends… Well yes, it is, but it is so much more.

Hardmoors 110, Cleveland Way National Trail, Saturday, May 26, 2018

110 miles

Aaron Gourley

“Don’t you dare sit down,” barked my support runner Gary Thwaites as we reached the final checkpoint at the White Horse in Kilburn.
It was too late; I’d seen the chair and was in it before he’d finished the sentence. I’d come so far, it was so hot and I just needed a few minutes to regroup. I was miles behind my planned race times but knew I was still on track to finish comfortably within the 36hrs cut-off. I’d passed the magical 100-mile mark (102 miles with 10 more to go).
White Horse was a moment to reflect. I knew that this was the final stretch of a plan dating back years. I’d always thought of this moment from my first foray into the world of ultras, and in particular, Hardmoors ultras.
This was the race that I wanted but couldn’t get into my head the mentality needed to enter it. I’ve so much respect for everyone who attempts it – whether they enjoy success or fail – they put themselves on the line.
After years of running the Hardmoors 55 and 60 races, it was time for me to finally take on the challenge. Last year’s West Highland Way reduced my fear of the distance but at 16 miles longer, the Hardmoors 110 would represent and much sterner challenge.
Like all best-laid plans, training went a bit astray from March onwards. I was still putting the miles in but life had dealt me a crap hand, which left me with very little spare time to focus fully on the training I’d planned.
However, after all the months of training and planning, the day finally arrived.
I’d arranged a crack support crew of Gary Thwaites from the start in Filey to Saltburn, where he would hand over to the O’Neill gang for the night shift who would then hand back over to Gary and my wife from Osmotherley the next morning.
All my kit, food and drink supplies were packed neatly into boxes in the car, route instructions and a loose timetable were drawn up so all that was left was for me to get on the start line and fulfil my destiny (or dream, or madness).
The morning was cool and fresh, almost perfect for running as we gathered on Filey Brigg awaiting the countdown from Jon Steele. At 8:03 am we were off. I found myself, as I did at the Hardmoors 55, among the front-runners, so quickly found a space on the grass verge and let the faster runners stream past. There was a long way to go, so I didn’t want to get carried away.
The miles ticked by, and I chatted to a few people including James Campbell who looked in good shape and was plodding along at a good pace.
The first few miles gently rolled by towards Scarborough before dropping onto the seafront for around 2 miles of flat running to Scalby. Here I met Gary once more to fill bottles and grab some food before heading off for the long stretch to Ravenscar, the first major checkpoint.
I was enjoying the views looking north up the coast and yo-yoed with several groups of people along the way. The temperature was starting to rise slightly but I was fine with what I was wearing. The route drops into Hayburn Wyke where a diversion was in place following landslip earlier in the year. The diverted route, while a little longer, cut out the steep climbs and was a joy to run. It reminded me of Castle Eden Dene.
At Ravenscar the route heads up the hill to the village hall where the checkpoint was buzzing with runners and support crews. I took my time here to apply a liberal coating of Vaseline to my feet, which were starting to swell and rub in my shoes. I also took a bit of food and drink here but knew Gary was just down the road with my own supplies, so didn’t stay long.
On the way back to the Cleveland Way I passed Gary and grabbed a bit more food and refilled my bottles before setting off for Robin Hoods Bay.
This is a relatively short section and takes in some of the best parts of the route for views and little gems like Boggle Hole before dropping into Robin Hoods Bay.
It was on this stretch that I caught up with Lyndsey Van Der Blyth who was running the Hardmoors 160. She was smiley and chatty and seemed to completely defy the fact that she’d been running since the previous evening having set off from Sutton Bank along with 16 others. We chatted as we made our way up the steep road to the top of the bay and I felt inspired as we parted when I met Gary once more for a quick restock of fuel and drinks.
The next section gently rolled by towards Whitby. The temperature was starting to rise still and a pop-up water stop at Saltwick Bay caravan park was a welcome relief with its ice-cold water on offer.
Onwards I pushed into Whitby, which was as busy as ever. I ran down the 199 steps with no real problems and into the narrow street where everyone came to a halt. Someone had decided to park their car in the middle of the road and so no one could get past. After a few minutes of pushing and shoving I managed to break through only to turn onto the main road and find the bridge was closed to allow boats through. Once again I was held in the crowds and had to fight my way through once the bridge had reopened.
I made my way up past the Whale Bones where I heard the cheery voice of Dave Robson who was supporting another runner and then onwards to Sandsend for the next checkpoint at 36 miles. Here I took a bit of time to refuel and use the toilets before pressing on. From here the climbs up the cliffs get steeper and longer and start to take their toll on weary bodies but I still felt comfortable and was just about on target for times.
The next section rolled by to Runswick Bay but the climb down to the beach and back up to the checkpoint at the top of the car park is cruel. I pressed on to the next point of interest – Staithes. I was starting to feel a little ropey by the time I reached this lovely little fishing village and I met Gary who ran on ahead to the car to get some food and drinks prepared, along with a warm top as it was getting cooler on the cliffs. As I made my way up the final hill out of Staithes it happened. I was sick. I have a real problem with sickness in long races and it was back.
I met Gary feeling really sorry for myself and doubts had started creeping into my mind as to whether I could do this now. But I pushed on, the next section to Saltburn being rather tough taking in some of the highest east-facing cliffs in the UK.
I was sick a few more times but managed to keep moving at a fairly steady pace. My legs and body felt generally fine, I was just struggling to keep food and drink down.
I arrived in Saltburn around an hour behind my planned time but I wasn’t too worried about that. Here was where Gary would depart and the O’Neill’s would take over. It was great to see them and I spent a bit of time getting changed into clothes for the overnight section. I had some chips and a cup of tea, which were a struggle to get down but hit the spot.
Jen had decided to run with me from here to Slapeworth so we set off up the hill. I was feeling refreshed and revived at having changed and picking up the company but that all changed in an instant when I found myself back on my hands and knees being sick once more. The next few miles to Slapeworth were a drag and I was feeling really low.
At Slapeworth the crew was waiting once more, I was feeling dispirited but knew I had to keep going. I saw my poles by the side of the car so decided to take them. I think they would become my comfort blanket for the rest of the race. Jen was stopping here so that she could run the next section from Gribdale to Clay Bank so off I went on my own into the darkness of Guisborough Woods.
I know this section relatively well but the darkness coupled with a thick fog meant you could see no further than a few meters which made this a very difficult section. I was confident I knew where I was until I spotted a sign pointing down to the Tees Link footpath.  I immediately cursed myself knowing I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere and that meant a stiff climb back up to High Cliff Nab to get back on track.
Back on the right path, I made my way towards Roseberry Topping, for the out and back. It was a tough climb up and at least 10 people were on their way back down as I made my way up. I got the top where the marshal was buried deep inside a tent, which was being battered by the cold constant wind. I shouted my number and made a hasty retreat off.
I made my way to Gribdale where my crew were waiting for me. It had taken me a lot longer than expected but I was feeling much better now. Jen was ready to run so after a bit of a rest we set off up to Captain Cooks Monument and towards Kildale which we reached at around 2:50 am, about an hour and fifty minutes behind schedule but well within the cut-offs.
Kildale is a little oasis in these races, be it on the 110 or the 55, and Sue Jennings was there to welcome us in. I made the effort to have something to eat, pizza being the food of choice here, and took time to plaster Vaseline on my feet once more. It really was helping.
After nearly 20 minutes we set off for what is a mind-numbing section towards Bloworth Crossing. We made good steady progress up what is a long arduous climb on a bleak road to, well, nowhere! Marching, chatting, one foot in front of the other was the order of the day on this long section. Eventually, the track levels out as you reach the high point.
Along this section, we caught up with two guys who were running the 160 race together. They looked strong and again gave me a lift from their spirit and determination. As we headed towards Bloworth Jen noticed a pile of orange peels shaped into an arrow, then the words ‘Help yourself’ spelt out in stone to which someone had left a pile of oranges on a big rock. It’s little things like this that really do make you smile and the efforts that people go through to give you a bit of comfort never ceases to amaze me.
Onwards and upwards, we finally reached Bloworth Crossing and in the distance, to the east the sun was starting to rise which was showing us how beautiful it can be up here. I felt privileged to be running in such on such a beautiful morning in good company but also knew I had a long way to go and had better put a bit of pace into my legs.
Eventually, I reached Clay Bank at 5:41 am, 79 miles in. This is the start of probably the toughest section of the race over the ‘Three Sisters’, which include Wainstones. These were tough climbs but the views from the low hanging cloud and inversions took my mind of some of the pain. I was beginning to feel quite tired and was feeling the effects of a lack of food caused by my nausea.
I passed through Lord Stones Country Park and headed up the final steep climb of this section to Carlton Bank before the long downhill into Scugdale. It was getting warm now as the sun began to rise further and from here it was the long, but a relatively straightforward drag to Osmotherley Square Corner.
By the time I reached Osmotherley, the sun was beating down so I sent Jen to the shop for an ice-lolly. This lifted my spirits for a bit but I struggled on the final climb to Square Corner where my wife and daughter were waiting with Gary to take over for the final section. It was such a relief to get there. I was now 3hrs down on my plan but I didn’t care at all. This was 90 miles and I knew I had only 22 miles left to finish. My legs felt good but my depleted energy levels and the rising heat were starting to get to me.
After changing into a light t-shirt and shorts I said good-bye to the O’Neill’s and to Jen and set off on the final stretch with Gary who would run the last bit with me whilst my wife took up crew duties. Gary, for all his efforts, had probably the worst job of the day trying to keep me motivated over the 9 or so miles to the White Horse. He was patient with me as I huffed and puffed and generally ignored everything he said and ask me to do over this part of the race. (Sorry Gary).
Eventually, I reached Sutton Bank where my wife was waiting with the sun cream, which I so desperately needed now as the sun beat down on my exposed skin. I had all but 10 miles to go. I knew I had it done now, I knew I was going to finish, the question was, how quickly could Gary get me to the end?
The final part of the race is a meander through farms and villages on the way to Helmsley. Very easy running normally but I was happy to just keep plodding until finally, the castle appeared on the horizon.
I’d done it!
The final mile wormed its way into the village; I took a moment to touch the Cleveland Way marker (finally I’d conquered it), before making my way to the finish at the sports club. My daughter was there at the end but she quite clearly couldn’t decide if playing on the swings with her new found friends was more important than running the final few meters with me –typical!
After 34hr02mins, I crossed the finish line. It was the moment I’d waited for. It hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped, there’d been lots of ups and downs – quite literally – but I’d finished the race and at that point, my legs gave up and I lay on the ground in a warm glow of pride and muttered ‘never again’ (maybe!).