“The Bob Graham Round; the 66-mile circuit of 42 of the highest peaks in the English Lake District within 24 hours.”
For me the Bob Graham Round (BGR) was simple: I love to run and I love being in the mountains. As I started supporting BGRs, in my mind it became less, “If I attempt a BGR” but more of “When will I attempt?” Around November 2018 and within a week of each other these friends independently said to me of the BGR…
“You’ve got to do it,” Stuart Scott
“You’ve got the right mind for it, you can do it,” Kim Loney
“You’ve just got to give up 6 months of your life to it,” James Garland
“You were made for it, just get on with it,” Chris Everett.
About a month later a conversation with my job share partner made me realise I maybe working more in September and I realised that there was a 6 month window in front of me.
I had to attempt.
Elaine Bisson, who has supported me through the whole process, wrote a training plan for me and I stuck to it. From January to April I spent at least one day a week, sometimes more running in the Lakes. For me, this was a real luxury. It became the norm and highlight of my week that I ran in the mountains. Overall my training went well but I started to struggle in April. My children were ill, I inevitably caught their bugs, I was exhausted. My last key training run was a disappointment, so I prioritised getting fully well and resting before the big day.
Leg 1 Keswick to Honister
Standing outside Moot Hall, I felt numb, overwhelmed and not sure what to do! My supporting runners were Mark Davinson who I had trained a lot with in the Lakes, John Donneky and Susan Scott. I was thrilled Susan was there, we have spent countless mornings meeting at 5.30am to run around Houghall Woods with head torches and there was something very reassuring about her presence. It hit 7am and we were off. My sister, Siobhan, and her family were ready and waiting at Newlands Church for a change of shoes. It was a gorgeous run; the sun was shining, we all knew the route well and soon enough we had been up and down Robinson, Hindscarth and Dalehead.
Leg 2 Honister to Wasdale
There was a chair waiting for me at Honister and I ate my porridge quickly, too quickly I was later to find out! Then Elaine Bisson, James Garland and myself set off. Overall, I think this is the leg that I fully enjoyed the most. I had trained on this route a lot with Elaine and it was good to catch up with James. I started to relax, not actually aware of how much tension had been building up. Then I vomited, I had eaten too much too quickly at Honister but I think there was also a release of tension. I had not realised how much stress had built up in planning and organising the BGR, and my anxiety about being the centre of attention. Now, I was on a leg I knew well with the sun shining and in good company my whole body relaxed and I enjoyed the running and the views. Grey Knots, Brandreth, Green Gable and Great Gable soon passed. The route around Kirk Fell, Pillar, Steeple and Red Pike swoops around the Mosedale Valley; it is a gorgeous run that has it all, you can stretch your legs whilst contouring, dodge and balance on rocks whilst descending, get into a rythmn ascending and enjoy the view of the Scafells as a backdrop. Elaine and James were great at keeping me eating and drinking, particularly as I was quickly going off solid food, apart from James’ ginger biscuits! From Yewbarrow we ran into Wasdale over one hour ahead of schedule.
Leg 3 Wasdale to Dunmail
The changeover in Wasdale felt relaxed. Tim Gilkinson, Jake Gilkinson, Chris Everett and Sarah Whitley were doing a brilliant job and I felt well cared for. Tall Paul, Rob Eaton and Penny Browell were ready to go. We had a steady rhythm going up to Scafell, thankfully Penny took photos whilst the sun was shining! As we neared the top I first felt some rain and realised that the visibility was low, it was about 2.30pm on Saturday. From Scafell, we clambered down and across to Lords Rake to reach Mickledore and then Scafell Pike, which was a lot emptier than usual. I’m not sure exactly when, but conditions had become pretty brutal with low visibility, high rainfall and wind as we were attempting to travel at speed across the rockiest section of the Bob. At one point I attempted to eat and move but instead I fell, or was blown, on the slippy rocks, this was a good wakeup call that more than anything we wanted to stay safe and well.
The harsh weather continued and I knew that it slowed everything down… it made navigation harder, you had to be so much more careful on all the rock and it drained your energy. Tall Paul and Rob Eaton were great at navigating and seemed to keep in high spirits. It was hard conditions but there was still something I loved about being out there. As we went over Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End and Esk Pike it was wet, windy and hard to keep together as we manoeuvred over the rocks in clag. We reached Bowfell, explored Bowfell a bit more and then went on to Rossett Pike. It was a relief to get to Rossett Pike as I knew the ground ahead of us was easier to run on, I also knew that the first section of Leg 3 had cost us a lot of time. At Pike O Stickle, Penny went down into the Langdale Valley. The rain and clag continued, and I was only impressed as Tall and Rob navigated swiftly through Harrison Stickle, Thunacor Knott, High Raise, Sergeant Man, Calf Crag and then Steel Fell. We were a touch behind schedule, but it felt such a triumph to get to Dunmail and I was longing for Heather’s soup!
Leg 4 Dunmail to Threlkeld
Heather’s soup was perfect and after about ten minutes Seat Sandal was calling. I love Leg 4, it has a bit of rock and some good ascents at the start which contrasts to the run across the Dodds where you can stretch your legs and enjoy the undulations. Geoff Davies led the way with Mike Hughes, Fiona Brannan, Chris Little and Kathryn Davies. I knew they all must have been waiting at Dunmail for a good few hours in the rain but they brought such positivity and smiles, it was amazing. Fiona kept me focused and as my communication decreased I knew Fiona would keep me right and she did just that. It was soon dark with the rain getting heavier, I remember Fairfield, Grisedale Tarn and marching up to Dollywagon Pike. I had been on this leg plenty of times and I knew it well but I’m afraid on this night the peaks merged into one. There was real thick darkness, wind, rain, and there were smiles and encouraging words in abundance. Geoff’s navigating was beyond amazing. He had rain pounding his face in the real thick darkness and yet he kept us on track. We came over Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Lower Man, Whiteside and Raise. After we crossed Sticks Pass and for the first time on my BGR I started to struggle mentally. It was somewhere near 2am and I had been running up and down England’s highest mountains for about 18 or 19 hours and for about 12 of these hours I had been battered by wind and rain in the mist. I actually didn’t know how much more I could take. The support team were brilliant, they carried on feeding me and smiling. I couldn’t see much at all, but I remember warm words and smiles. The combination of the dark, rain and lights reminded me of a motivational video Stuart Scott sent me the previous day with the word ‘BELIEVE’ in white letters with a black background. It lifted my spirits, and from somewhere I had a quiet whisper in my head telling me, “You can, you can, just one foot in front of the other, keep going,” and that’s what I did I kept going over Stybarrow, Watson, Great Dodd and Clough Head. Coming into Threlkeld my sister Sarah was waiting for me on the corner, she had travelled over from Paris to be there and I knew without a shadow of doubt that she believed in me. I don’t think I managed to say anything to her.
Leg 5 Threlkeld to Moot Hall
Rejuvenated with warm porridge from Heather and refocused after Kim Loney’s prep talk which reminded me that I was good at ascending and could do it. On leaving the Gilkinson’s campervan I asked Tim to pray for me to have strength and speed, I knew he would. As it neared 3am it was time to take on the scramble up Halls Fell and two big climbs with Chris Everett, Jake Gilkinson, Sam Renwick and Fiona Brannan. I knew I had a chance to get to Moot Hall for 7am but it wasn’t guaranteed, it was tight, too tight. I was going to have to work really hard and I couldn’t imagine a better team to do it with. Halls Fell was dripping and it was great to see the sunken ring on the top of Blencathra, but there was no time for pausing so we ran across Mungrisdale Common, tripping over the tufts and straight to the river crossing. It started to become light and I had two big climbs ahead of me. My team were amazing, Chris kept ahead showing the way and avoiding abuse from me(!), whilst Fiona kept checking I was warm and fuelling. Jake was helping Chris, and Sam kept giving me small focused comments that were just what I needed. It was time to climb Great Calva. I’m not sure how Sam and Jake did it but they were so encouraging and positive, yet realistic about the effort that was needed. As we neared the top of Great Calva, I knew that if it was around 5am I could touch the green door of Moot Hall by 7am. Sam told me it was 4.55am. This thrilled me, but I knew I had to be focussed and work really hard. A great descent over the peat from Calva and then up and up to the stile in the fence that marked the beginning of the end of the climb up Skiddaw. I have never been so relieved to see a stile in my life! It was so windy on Skiddaw, but Sam and Jake were there right beside me as the wind bounced me from one of them to the other. I love the run from Skiddaw, and on this day I had to run the undulating descent like I had never run before, over the rocks, through the trees, through the heavy rain and in the streams. As I came through the car park in Keswick I saw Susan and Geoff jump out of their car and my children Caitriona and Charlie with my Mum and Sarah. Caitriona ran through the alley with me to Moot Hall, up the stairs and to the green door of Moot Hall for 6.39am closely followed by Charlie. It was the quickest time I have ever completed that leg. I looked around and was amazed that there were so many friends who had waited in the heavy rain to cheer me in. It was done; the most incredible journey imaginable in 23 hours and 39 minutes.
My BGR was only possible with the support of the following people, who were all amazing and I am very thankful to all of them:
Tim Gilkinson, Jake Gilkinson, Chris Everett, Sarah Whitley, Siobhan Whitley, Heather Hughes, Susan Davies
Susan Scott, Mark Davinson, John Donneky
Elaine Bisson, James Garland
Tall Paul, Rob Eaton, Penny Browell
Geoff Davies, Mike Hughes, Fiona Brannan, Chris Little, Kathryn Davies
Chris Everett, Jake Gilkinson, Sam Renwick