Tag Archives: Bob Graham Round

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!

(Visited 61 times, 1 visits today)

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.

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Mike’s Bob Graham Round, Friday, June 17, 2016

72M / 27,000'

Mike Hughes

The “Bob Graham Round”, or simply “the BGR” or even just “BG” – there is plenty written about it so no point going into details here, suffice to say is not a race, you are the only entrant, you go when you like, you start and finish at Moot hall in Keswick. To be successful you have returned there after visiting the 42 named peaks of the BGR in under 24 hours.

My report ended up being quite long, the short version; I trained lots, tried hard, had loads of people to help and did it with just minutes to spare.

My full BG story….

Continue reading Mike’s Bob Graham Round
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Tom’s Bob Graham Round, The Lake District, Saturday, June 5, 2010

72M / 27,000'

Tom Reeves

For those of you who don’t know about The Bob Graham Round (BGR) it is a fell running challenge in the Lake District. The idea is to complete the round of 42 tops (including all the highest in the lakes) in less than 24 hours. The round must start and finish at the Moot Hall in Keswick and can be completed clockwise or anti-clockwise. The distance was originally measured at 72 miles, although it is probably a bit shorter than this. The total height gain over the round is 27,000 feet and remember – what goes up must come down. Just ask my knees! The BGR is not a race and anyone wishing to have a go can choose any date they wish in order to complete it. Most people do it late spring/ early summer when the days are long and the bracken is still low. Of course some hard cases like to try it in winter and some also like to do it unsupported.

The night before at the campsite.

For the purpose of logistics the BGR is split into 5 legs and for supported attempts such as mine each leg has a set of runners who act as pacers, navigators and packhorses carrying all the Bob Grahamers’ food, drink and kit. For more info check out the links below …

My Bob Graham Plan:

I decided to run an anti-clockwise round (the usual way of doing it is clockwise as originally completed by Bob). My rational was Geoff Davis (the striders Bob Graham Guru) did it that way. I like to be a bit different, and for me it made sense to be able to start at a reasonable time of the day i.e. 7am, and treat it as a long day out (a very long day out). The start time is important as this then influences which parts of the round you are going to do in the dark unless you are superhuman and expect to complete it all in day light! Ha!

Ready for the off.

I set off on a beautiful warm sunny morning with Geoff, Jamie Wilkinson, Phil Owen and Phil Middleton. I had the cheers of my road crew Joan, Mandy and Janet as well as pacers for later legs Graham and David (Gibbo) ringing in my ears – I couldn’t fail with such support.

The Real Start:

On the 17th of May 2008 I joined Geoff Davis and Will Horsley on leg two of Peter Moralee’s BG attempt (Threlkeld to Dunmail Raise). Geoff somehow persuaded me to join them although I can’t remember how. Anyway I had heard of the BG and there I was early in the morning, very early in the morning awaiting the arrival of Peter and Will via Halls Fell Ridge off Blencathra (one of my favourite mountains). Geoff had briefed me about the importance as a pacer of having food and drink ready as and when for Peter so as to not cause any delay. In due course Peter appeared with Will, sat down, gorged his face on god knows what and in what appeared very few minutes we were off. I introduced myself and then ran out of breath as we absolutely romped up Clough Head. I had done a recce with Geoff of the leg in the preceding weeks but the pace of this was another thing. I was struggling to hang on to Peter, I later found out so was Geoff, but I must admit I really had doubts as to whether I would be able to get round the leg. We reached the top and I noted the time on the sheet I had been given by Michelle, Peter’s wife and off we set running along to the next top. Thankfully Peter was not as quick going down hill as he was up so I managed to get my breath back, offer him some jelly babies and that was it for the rest of the leg. Struggle up the hills and jaunt down the other side.

We eventually reached Dunmail Raise, I had a butty then headed off home to Durham. Later that day while wandering around Durham city centre I looked at my watch and thought “he’ll (Peter) still be plodding round” then at teatime I looked again and thought “he’ll still be plodding round”, then when the news at 10 was on you guessed it …

I turned to Joan and suggested people who did BG’s were a bit nutty. I feel I am able to say this given my profession?

Anyway Joan turned back to me and suggested it wouldn’t be long till I would want to have a go. Needless to say I said that was a silly idea and I would never ever do a BGR.

Back to my BG attempt …

Leg 1: 10.6 miles (5 miles on the road) and 3 peaks
[Robinson, Hindscarth and Dale Head]

Oooh that hurts and I haven't started yet. I’d been watching the weather closely all week as, other than accidents, this is the only part of the BG you cannot control. I was pretty confident that I had trained enough (more of which I shall describe) but you just never know what the weather is going to do. I was concerned during my training that I’d get a terrible weekend with low cloud rain and wind. Now I was concerned that I was going to suffer from the high temperatures which were forecast and indeed occurring.

The run along the roads toward Newlands church was very leisurely and provided a nice gentle warming of the legs. Geoff and I changed our road shoes to fell shoes just prior to Newlands church courtesy of Graham, and I managed a full bottle of water and a Mars bar.

My first training runs:

At February half term 2010 we hired a cottage in Borrowdale and I had two firsts; my first BG recce and my first run on a leg other than leg four (leg two clockwise). I decided to start at the beginning and did leg 1. It was so exciting to be heading out onto the fells on my own – just me and my map and a description of the leg. It was cloudy all the way round and I was so chuffed to hit all three peaks spot on. The run along Hindscarth Edge was particularly exciting in shin-deep fresh snow. I ran it again 4 days later on a bright sunny day and did it only 5 minutes faster.

Back to my BGR …

Coming down to Honister.

It was great to get off road and feel like I was starting properly. The pull up Robinson although steep was a real pleasure, as I now felt in full BG mode as I stomped off with Geoff taking up the lead! We reached the top of Robinson 3 minutes down on my schedule (maybe the run along the road was too leisurely) then gave it some welly on the decent to the col before the traverse up to Hindscarth. Jamie and his mate Phil missed out Hindscarth and met up with me on the final climb to Dale Head – the views were fantastic and we could make out virtually the whole route of leg 2. The run down to Honister got me back on time and Geoff kindly slowed down to let me run in to the applause from everyone waiting, and there were a lot of folks.

I sat down in the national trust car park behind the Youth Hostel and stuffed a bacon and egg butty down followed by a cup of tea and a sports drink. It was a hive of activity all well co-ordinated by Joan my wife who I suspect was in her element marshalling the runners. I said hi to everyone and in particular Kevin who was navigating the next leg. I’d only had a brief meeting with Kevin at the top of the difficult step on Broad Stand previously when I was supporting Peter Moralees’ mega impressive attempt at 60 peaks three weeks prior to my attempt. Louise frying up! There was me, Peter (of course) Dave Atkinson and Alan Welsh we got to the bottom of Broad Stand which for those who don’t know is the shortest way of getting from Scafell pike to Scafell or vice versa. It may be the shortest way but it ain’t a walk. It involves a few metres of moderate rock climbing which if it was on a small crag would be straight forward but in the exposed position it’s in is pretty daunting. One slip and you would go a mighty long way indeed. Because of the risk people who are going up or down Broad stand often have someone put up a rope for them to use. Well there it was, a rope with a harness attached. Peter attempted to put it on but none of us knew how to fasten the damn thing! I should have known from my years of climbing but my temporarily befuddled brain just wasn’t having any of it. In the end Dave and Alan heaved Peter up while he pulled hand over hand on the rope. Dave then had ago with Alan pushing from below with little upward movement. I did a quick calculation and figured I was going to be left behind on a sloping block with a dirty great big drop to my left, so picked up the harness unfuddled my brain and figured out how to tie it. I showed Dave and Alan and buggered off up the corner saying a quick hello to Kevin who was on the other end of the rope and catching up Peter who was already nearing the top of Broad Stand.

Leg 2: 10 miles and 9 peaks
[Grey Knotts, Brandreth, Green Gable, Great Gable, Kirkfell, Pillar, Steeple, Red Pike & Yewbarrow]

This is my favourite leg.

Heading up towards Grey Knotts. So off we set up Grey Knotts with Kevin, Nigel Heppell, David (Gibbo) Gibson, Mike Bennett (and Benjie), Dave Hall and Nick Spencer. This was to be the largest team of the day. Geoff told Kevin to keep me from striding off too fast which was something I said I didn’t want to do prior to the start. Unfortunately or fortunately Kevin couldn’t stop me stomping off and the team was soon spread out and I got to the top of Grey Knotts 5 minutes up, the first time I had been up on my schedule so far.

I recall Kevin shouting the advice to take it easy as I ran off toward Green Gable. Did I listen to such good advice? Like hell did I!!! I had the bit between my teeth, I felt strong and I got my head down and started ticking off hills. Nigel and Dave Gibbo were duly sent along Moses Trod to meet up with us at Black Sail Pass while the rest of the team paced me up Great Gable. As usual it would seem there was cloud on top of Great Gable, but it was warm and with a light breeze unlike the day of my first recce of this leg.

A Leg 2 Recce

My first training run on this leg was a mid week affair with Nigel and Peter Moralee. Nigel and I drove across together and met up with Peter at Honister Youth Hostel in less than perfect weather. Once we reached the top of Grey Knotts we realised it was going to be a wet and windy day. I was soaked by the top of Brandreth and went from sweating buckets to shivering cold for most of the day. The going was pretty much ok till Kirkfell where we struggled to find the summit. I certainly got rather cold wandering round on the top there. Eventually we retraced our steps and found the summit and more importantly the ridge down to Black Sail pass, we struggled on as far as Pillar in low cloud and driving rain and called it a day at wind gap running back down the valley to Wasdale. We then trudged all the way back up Styhead Pass and down into Seathwaite back up to Honister. Nigel not being used to the long ascents and descents over that ground suffered with cramp at various points and I just hoped that the day of my attempt would be nothing like this as it would be a non starter.

Afterwards I knew I would need to have another run round in better weather partly so I could finish the leg and find the route off Yewbarrow which incidentally is a real knee wrecker but also to get a better idea of the route finding in general.

A quick note on training:

Unless you are a super fell athlete then the training for a BGR is not so much about speed as endurance and familiarisation with the route and the terrain. A good road runner or indeed cross country runner will not necessarily be any good on the Lakeland fells! The terrain is steep loose and unrelenting. The weather can be superb one minute and absolutely dire the next.

I decided that I would try and train at least 4 times per week. I did a run on a Wednesday with the Striders, a tempo run on a Thursday and two long runs on a weekend Saturday and Sunday. My long runs started at about 10 miles and gradually increased to 26 miles before I then concentrated more on time running rather than distance. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to get over the Lakes for a lot of runs on the actual route and there is simply no substitution for this in terms of navigation, pacing and familiarisation with the terrain. 26 miles around Durham’s hills is absolutely no competition for 10 miles over the Gables and Pillar, and as for the slog up Scafell? Well more of that later.

Another leg 2 recce:

I was able to get back over to the Lakes not too long after my run out with Peter and Nigel. I was on my own and planned to do leg 2 from Honister then come back up over Styhead. The weather was lovely, a beautiful clear day I could see the whole of the leg once I was up on the tops and it makes such a difference to be able to see where you are. Coming down the North West ridge off Great Gable down to Beck Head I overtook a bloke on his own veering off to the left. I didn’t think any more about him till he caught me up on Kirkfell I looked him up and down – “Bob Grahamer” I thought. Sure enough he was. We struck up a conversation and completed the rest of the leg together. He was called Mark and was planning an anti-clockwise attempt about a month after mine. This is one of the really pleasant added bonuses of doing a BG – you get to meet some smashing people from such a wide diversity but with one thing in common (no not madness) – a love of the fells.

NB: Mark had to cancel his BG this year and is planning an attempt for next year (2011) which I hope to help him out on.

My BG again …

We picked up the North West ridge of Great Gable with ease and followed a new route for me which was down a big scree shoot. I don’t think Bengie was too keen on it but we got down in good time. I caught up with Nigel and Gibbo on the path up to Kirkfell. Coming off Kirkfell down the ridge to Black Sail Pass a message was passed to me from Kevin (who took his instructions to slow me down seriously) warning me I was even further up on my schedule. Again I still felt fresh so I kept on going at the same pace. The path up to Pillar which is the next top isn’t particularly steep but goes on for a helluva long way. Every time I’ve done it I still expect the top to arrive before it actually does. Again I got away from some of the team on the ascent; I was going strong uphill. They cut out Steeple and I met up with them on the descent from Red Pike. The last time I’d been along this part of the leg with Geoff we’d missed the start of the traverse from Dore Head across the screes to the summit of Yewbarrow – this time I was spot on and we got up in great time and great shape. The descent off Yewbarrow is a bugger on the legs and knees but importantly I knew a good path down. Kevin asked me if I knew which way I wanted to go I said “Yes” and he said, “Get on with it”. He also noted when we hit the path like a true Bob Grahamer of old, “There wasn’t a nice path like this when I did my round”. Times were tough in those days!

I think I caught Joan and the next team, namely Dave Atkinson and Lewis Grundy, by surprise getting to the car park 34 minutes up on schedule. They hadn’t even got a brew on yet …

I spent a very pleasant 15 minutes sat under the trees in the shade with my feet in a bowl of cold water eating pasta. We were now in probably the hottest part of the day, just what I needed for what was going to be the hardest climb and hardest leg of the round. I’d heard several tales of pain and cramp from people who had completed the BGR. Indeed either way up or down Scafell it’s tough.

A midweek recce with Geoff:

One of my midweek trips across with Geoff started at Seathwaite – we planned to do leg 2 from Green Gable onwards and leg 3 up to and including Great End. That would mean I could have another look at the best route between Scafell and Scafell Pike and have a good long run out. We made good progress all the way round leg 2 – the weather wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad i.e. cloud but no rain. Coming off Yewbarrow, or maybe going up Yewbarrow, Geoff decided he couldn’t face the drag up Scafell so I gave him me car keys and he planned to go up over Styhead Pass, possibly meeting me coming off Great End. I didn’t see him till I got back to the car. Turned out he decided to pop into the pub at Wasdale for a pint which stretched to two. Charming. I think he had a nice nap on the way home!!

Leg 3: 15.2 miles and 15 peaks
[Scafell, Scafell Pike, Broad Crag, Ill Crag, Great End, Esk Pike, Bowfell, Rosset Pike, Pike o Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Thunacar Knott, High Raise, Sergeant Man, Calf Crag & Steel Fell]

I wasn’t looking forward to this first part of leg 3 – actually I was a bit nervous about all of leg 3. I’d run it twice before: once in an anti-clockwise direction with Geoff on one of our midweek excursions and once three weeks prior on Peter M’s 60 peak attempt when I completed 3 legs. The day was getting hotter and the drag up Scafell was long and arduous. One of the great things about helping or indeed completing a BGR is (cliche alert) all the people you meet.

Wasdale, before the start of Leg 3.

I’d only ever corresponded with Lewis via email and he seemed a pleasant chap in our exchanges (it turned out he’d just flown back in from America the previous evening), but you just never know … A hot day potentially tired and grumpy, could be a bad combination. Well I need not have worried – both he and Dave in between nattering about various ultra marathons kept my spirits up with words of encouragement and we made it to the top of Scafell in 70 minutes – 15 minutes faster than my schedule! Superb. Now for the hop across to Scafell Pike – not as easy as it might look on a pleasant early summer day.

Two weeks before:

I met up with Dave and we headed over to Wasdale from Seathwaite up over Styhead Pass. Dave was going to navigate leg 3 (the toughest leg) which goes from Wasdale to Dunmail Raise over Scafell, Scafell Pike, and then through the Langdale Pikes on my attempt. There are some tricky navigation decisions and we wanted to make sure we both agreed on the route. It was warm going up Scafell (as it turns out very similar to the temperatures on the day). The route from Scafell to Scafell Pike as the crow flies looks very straightforward but for those without wings it is pretty tricky either involving some mild rock climbing down or up Broad Stand (on an anti-clockwise it would be down), a descent down to Foxes Tarn then a climb up the other side to Mickledor, the col between the two mountains or (my choice) a rocky scree-filled gully then along the west wall traverse under some seriously impressive rock outcrops. We had to scramble down the very steep, loose gully then climb under a load of snow which had still not melted in the depths of the gully. We got to Scafell Pike to meet the usual crowds and then ran across via several tops to Bowfell and the fairly intricate decent down to Angle Tarn.

The plan after that was to head back to the car in Seathwaite which required another pull almost up to Esk Hause then a long decent down Ruddy Gill. On the way back to Seathwaite Farm the path goes over a small stone bridge and a very enticing stream with deep pools. Dave suggested we cool off in the stream. I assumed the shoes would come off and we’d have a plodge, but oh no, Dave was stripped down to his shorts and fully immersed in seconds. We managed to frighten off a young woman and her boyfriend who were sat by the stream but boy was it pleasant to sit in the middle of the stream and dip your head right under!!

I was dry by the time we’d covered the last mile or so to the car …

The traverse was of course very loose but finally free of snow. It was nice and cool out of the sun in the depths of the gully and would have been quite pleasant if it wasn’t for the huge boulder at the top of the second gully leading to the traverse which looks ready to go any minute and kill all in its path. We got a move on and were soon back in the sun and the heat – Scafell Pike was packed, standing room only, so we got a wriggle on and ticked off the next few hills in good order.

We were there where were you Tom? I was hoping to meet up with Mandy Dawson, Janet Raine and John Metson at Esk Hause, hopefully for a brew and something to eat, oh and some witty banter to keep the spirits up. John was then planning to complete the second half of the leg with us. Oh dear! I was going a bit faster than expected and unfortunately they didn’t arrive till I was long gone. I did however meet up with my brother in law, Tom, and his girlfriend Liz. How about this – he’d only just landed in the country the day before from his job in Abu Dhabi, mind you he wasn’t over just to say hello to me on a Lakeland fell. We had a brief chat and off we went.

Bowfell was to be the next potential banana skin as we would need to find the way off down through the face that is Hanging Knots. I need not have worried – the trip down with Dave two weeks before paid off, we found the route down in good time and were soon on Rossett Pike, peak number 20 on the round. The run across to Pike O Stickle feels like quite a long way after the pretty rapid ticking off of peaks since Scafell Pikes. This can be very boggy but it wasn’t too bad at all after all the dry weather. Lewis dropped behind while he tried to get a signal to ring his wife Jane. I’m not entirely sure where he got to but he suddenly appeared up in front of us, he’d taken a sneaky route which he and Dave knew about.

It was somewhere along the Langdale section that I started to feel a bit sickly and my food intake began to dwindle. I kept the fluids up but as for eating anything substantial – nope, it wasn’t going to stay down. A hot mid-afternoon turned into a beautiful summer evening and we met up with Jane, Lewis’s wife, just before Calf Crag – she was lovely giving me loads of encouragement and to top it off I was now 1 hour 40 minutes up on my schedule.

Happiness is your wife and a banana!

The run down off Steel Fell to Dunmail Raise and the next changeover is steep and I really felt it in my knees. I had been on the painkillers but couldn’t have anything for at least another hour – ouch! Dave ran off ahead at this point and I did think “eh up he’s keen to get to the car”. Actually it turned out he’d been taking note of my fantasising about another cold foot bath, a cuppa soup and a cup of tea. What a guy! He ran ahead to shout out the order to Joan and sure enough it was there when I arrived. This was a lovely stop – I was way up on schedule and all my chums were there to chat and give me a great boost of morale. I think I had an extra couple of minutes luxury of soaking my hot sore feet and enjoyed my cup of tea and soup.

Leg 4: 13.2 miles and 13 peaks
[Seat Sandal, Fairfield, Dollywaggon Pike, Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn, Helvellyn Lower Man, Whiteside, Raise, Stybarrow Dodd, Watson Dodd, Great Dodd & Clough Head]

This leg is the one I’ve covered the most times – I think even I could almost manage this one in the dark, but I wasn’t going to take any risks on my round.

More training:

In my training I did this leg 3 times in an anti-clockwise direction – once on my own in full winter conditions, which was brilliant. The sun was shining and I was running across and at times through knee-deep snow. I also did this leg as part of my first attempt at running two legs. This was a midweek jaunt out with Geoff and David (Gibbo). We made good progress to Threlkeld and stopped for lunch – I was testing out fell food and was thus eating a Melton Mowbray pork pie. I’d been waxing lyrical about it all the way along the Dodds Ridge – unfortunately in reality the pie proved just a little too much to eat given I still had all of the final leg to run. I surreptitiously threw the crust away and thought no more of it till I was roundly admonished by Geoff who’d noticed my littering while he was stretching in preparation for the treck up Blencathra. Geoff was very disappointed in my towny attitude and would not accept my suggestion that a passing dog would love my pie crust as a treat. Needless to say I picked it up and carried it with me only to get caught by Geoff again catching me trying to ditch it a little further up the lane. Have I heard the last of this behaviour? Have I heck as like! Running on Lakeland fells is tough and David felt the pace as we headed up Halls Fell, so much so that at the summit of Blencathra he and Geoff decided to miss out the final two tops and head back to Keswick. I pushed on, and on Skiddaw the final top had the wonderful experience of total silence and solitude in the thick low cloud. It felt like I was in another world completely on my own and in a way I was.

Back at the car the guys were there with Susan who had purchased fruit smoothies and cooked chicken legs – bloody lovely! After 15 peaks and 25 miles they really hit the spot.

All too soon we were off again with the new team. Geoff was back on the fells with me so there would be no worries about navigation. I also had Graham Daglish with me. It had been touch and go for Graham as he’d been under the weather during the week but here he was and he kept up the pace and banter all the way. Finally I had Dave Gunning, another new person to me. I asked Geoff to take the lead up Seat Sandal as I was feeling the pace and wanted to try and take it easier for the rest of the round. As Geoff noted later, he pushed on at a quick pace and kept looking round to see if it was too quick but there I was right behind him all the way. The next top is Fairfield and it’s a real bugger! All scree and it’s a straight up and back down, so from a psychological point of view it can be pretty tough to not really be going anywhere. Geoff and a Cranstons sausage roll. I must admit it was the toughest climb of the round so far and I was glad to be jogging back down to meet up with Graham who’d taken a direct route from the road to the bottom of the climb up Dollywaggon. Dave was laden down with malt loaf, chocolate-covered raisins and high-energy cola-flavoured jelly sweets. Try as he might, and Dave did try to persuade me I’m afraid, I just wasn’t up to the malt loaf (my stomach was not in good shape). The raisins and jelly sweets however went down a treat and I was fed them on a regular basis. I asked the time at the top of Dollywaggon hoping I hadn’t lost too much time only to be informed by Geoff that we’d made up another 20 minutes. I of course told him off as I was hoping to take it a bit easier over this leg – indeed he was the one at the changeover who’d emphasised that this leg would be completed in the time as scheduled, as it would be difficult to make up much time on it. We witnessed a wonderful sunset while jogging between Watson Dodd and Great Dodd. Geoff hinted that this just wasn’t a proper night section as the torches didn’t come out till we were heading off Clough Head – you can’t please some people. He also suggested my climbing style i.e. hands on hips was interesting, and I quote “You look like a demented queen”. Charming! Mind you I noticed he chirped up somewhat when he polished off one of my Cranstons sausage rolls at Threlkeld.

Leg 5: 12.5 miles and 3 peaks
[Blencathra, Great Calva and Skiddaw]

I was now starting to contemplate actually making it round. I knew that I had plenty of time and probably could have more or less walked it and still got to the end in under 24 hours. Of course, in the dark it can be easy to trip twist an ankle and really screw things up! This was clearly my most attractive support team – sorry lads. I had Susan Davis, Louise Wilkinson, Louise Billcliffe, Dave Gunning and Joe Faulkner (navigating). I was informed later that by Joan, that Joe had previously won a prize in an event as the organisers thought he was a female!

All too soon I had to get out of my chair and start the long pull up Halls Fell Ridge off Blencathra – my legs had stiffened while I was sat, so the first 10 minutes were a bit uncomfortable.

My first bimble up Halls Fell:

This was in February on a fantastic winter day sunny clear and a fresh dump of snow the day before. I must admit I was a little nervous as I left Joan and the boys in Threlkeld and started the long slog up the fell. I wondered what condition the ridge would be in and how challenging it might be in full winter conditions. I’ve never kicked steps along a frozen ridge in fell shoes on my tod. I needn’t have worried the snow was perfect for kicking steps and it was pristine condition not a footstep in it. The exposure in places was pretty exhilarating actually, especially when I got myself right on the crest of the ridge. I met a fellow BG recce-er on the way down from the summit and never saw anyone else for the rest of the leg till I got up onto Skiddaw. There was so much snow that I was able top leap over the gates on the way down much to the delight of walkers on the way up. Great fun, this is what it’s all about.

We got into a good rhythm and got to the summit in a magnificent time of 54 minutes – it was now Sunday! Louise W was in fine spirits and promised that should I start to flag she had a couple of jokes to perk me up – she also had jelly babies. Heading over to Mungrisdale was hard work – I needed to walk for a few minutes and I haven’t a clue how Joe did it, but he got us to the river spot on. Amazing! On the way over Louise W suddenly said, “Hold on” and disappeared into the dark, only to reappear a few minutes later informing us that she had just rescued a lamb from a peat bog!

Great Calva is the next hill and the penultimate peak on an anti-clockwise BGR. I can’t imagine many people go up other than on a BGR, as it’s not the most exciting of hills and is a bit out of the way. Going up it was terrible – I really ground to a halt. The girls all kept on encouraging me and Louise W told me her joke which I must admit I can’t remember at all. What I do recall is that it was so awful that the pain of hearing it did take my mind off my tiredness for a short while. I attempted to eat a caffeine gel and nearly brought it back up. Louise B produced some beef crisps and I had a couple and they hit the spot. We all managed to stick together pretty well up Skiddaw and it was great to see Louise B and Susan make it up in good order. This was their first time pacing and I know they were hoping not to struggle and hold me up – well they needn’t have worried. Susan chatted away to me all the way up and down Skiddaw. On the way down I commented that my running style had become a bit weird at which Susan suggested I was “mincing”, another motivational quote from the Davis charm school? As I saw the lights of Keswick drawing ever closer I was able to speed up a wee bit and mince down with aplomb.

20 hours and 53 minutes!

Here’s one … the Friday night before my round I was chatting with some of the gang at the campsite at Bassenthwaite when Geoff came back over. He told me with a wicked grin on his face that the chap he’d been chatting to commented that I was too fat to do a BGR. Needless to say if I needed more incentive to make it round this was it!!!!! So I was doing my BGR not only for myself but also for all the fat fell runners.

Joan came up and met me on the path down from Skiddaw, just above the car park at Latrigg. The dawn was just about arriving and we were listening to larks on the way down. The run down through the woods was a bit of a blur and I felt rather emotional as I ran across Fitz Park in the early dawn, and there they were: Joan, Graham, Geoff, Mandy, and Janet, still all cheery and chirpy outside the Moot Hall at 3.55am. I managed to stay standing for the photos and Mandy produced a bottle of Cava – not that I could even contemplate drinking it. I’d almost forgot about the time and was so pleased to find out my finishing time to be 20 hours and 53 minutes – this was way better than I’d ever dared to imagine. I had set a time which I felt would be doable and give me a bit of space for errors, tiredness and the usual hassles, so to have beaten that time by over two hours was just the icing on the cake.

Now for the thanks …

It's over ...

To all the guys and gals who ran and supported me on the day.
To all my fellow striders who wished me well.
To my boys for trying to remain interested when I waxed lyrical about the BGR.
To Geoff Davis for superb support throughout, with great advice, encouragement and some grand days out on the fells.
To Susan for letting me borrow Geoff for our midweek jaunts.
Finally to Joan for putting up with my obsession for the best part of 6 months and doing a brilliant job on the day – I wanted for nothing.

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