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.