Tag Archives: Bob Graham Round

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.

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….

I’ve been going to the lakes regularly since I was a young lad and even now every time I visit the sheer beauty and grandeur of the place impresses me. I’ve got to know the hills fairly well over these last 30 years or so, and sometimes learnt the hard way when the weather “comes in” that it’s not always a friendly place and you need to respect the hills and be properly kitted out. I started running fairly recently, about 3-4 years ago, at first trying all sorts of different races both on and off road, in the end settling on more of the off road sort of running. I was hesitant about fell running, thinking it was quite mad. In Feb 2013 I did my tentative first fell race, Commondale Clart. Trying to run through the heather scrub and falling flat on my face in a bog (in front of the only two ramblers out on the fell) and then an exhilarating charge down a grassy hill I was hooked, and it is mad, it’s great.

So, when I heard about the BGR for the first time a few years ago I thought great, that’s interesting, I bet some of those routes will make some nice days out walking in the lakes, might even think about doing the whole route one day, you know, take a back pack and do one leg one day, stay in a youth hostel or something then do some more, might be able to do it in 3 days?

Then you start doing bits, and you start looking at how long it should take you to do that on a full BG attempt…. hmmm, it’s pretty quick going, it’s not always running, you walk the hills after all. Then someone asks you if you fancy a go at it one day, you scoff, no…, no…, it’s mad…but you are lured in, hooked, the question is there, could you do a BG?

So, you have a choice, you are approaching 50, by no means too old, Geoff did a BG then at 50 did another for good measure, adding a further 8 tops in to make it 50 at 50, and did it quicker than his first shorter attempt! . Are you going to have a go one day? Have a go? Yes, that’s it, you are not setting out to be as bold as to complete it, but you, like many others, brave an attempt, it’s bound to be a good day out and see how far you can get, you never know, you might do it?

I thought about it for at least a year, it’s not so much the attempt itself, but I knew you would need time to get the training in, get “the hills” in your legs, be “fell fit”.

After much faffing about I finally decided to have a go, so soon after Christmas I drew up a list of people who I thought might be interested in helping out, I wanted to keep it low key – the less that knew about it the less the pressure. I clicked the send button and felt sick. Email replies came back, it was on, June 17th, 7am at Moot hall.

There was never a day after that that it was not on my mind.

Right, what to do then? I went and joined a gym, I thought if I was to do justice to the commitment of all the support from everyone for this I had to give the training my 100% best. I’d also decided that I was only going to have one attempt, one chance. I started spending ages browsing over all the supplementary health pills in the supermarket too and bought a large tub boasting 28 different vitamin and minerals. I think I took about 4 pills eventually, I just never got in the habit of taking them, they are still on the windowsill in the kitchen. After a few visits to the gym soon realised it wasn’t for me, I think I went 3 times. What I did do though was run, most days, and some days twice. I never used my garmin, I’ve no idea where it is, not used if for years, partly because I can’t see it without my specs. I’d run to work no matter what the weather, roughly an hour off road, it was fantastic to see the sunrise come earlier and earlier as spring arrived and I could finally ditch my head torch. I would run when I probably should have rested, but I wanted to try and run when my legs were still tired from the previous day and “not willing”. The BG was on my mind as soon as I woke up, it was hard to think that as I’d run to work the day before I’d just be finishing now. Finishing, could I finish? – It was very difficult to think positively about finishing for sure, so I didn’t, I just convinced myself I was doing all I could to have a good go. The only time I would rest would be for an imminent race. I would also get some “cross training” in. This consisted of dismantling sheds, building fences, breaking up concrete paths, digging and other general heavy work, for most of the day. I did plenty of X/C too, that’s great training, and some great races too, “the Carnethy” and the “the Allendale challenge” both “character building”. On my run in I started adding hills towards the end of the run, some real leg burners, at first I struggled to get up some, but started to feel my legs get stronger, not quicker, but stronger. I used the occasional park run after the X/C season to see how my fitness was doing, a pb for the first time in about a year was reassuring close to my attempt, especially as I’d run 5 miles off road before it. The real training though was the trips to the lakes, and I tried to get over most weekends, as well as some mid week days off work too. I had lots of company for many of these recces, including Mandy and Nigel who unfortunately who couldn’t be there for the attempt. Geoff and Susan of course were absolutely key. I’d joined them often last year on some of Susan’s training days for her Joss, although after seeing what it took out of Susan at the end of her Joss after 15 and a half hours left doubts in my mind if I could go for longer than that, in training she was going very well and one day heading up Steel fell I just didn’t have it in me to stay with her, so on she went with those that had just joined her, she was certainly “going well”. The recces in the lakes were brilliant, at first often cold, nothing like running in wet slush or wading through snow drifts with your laces picking up great balls of snow on them as it froze. Cold numb feet and hours away from the warmth of the car ride home. Poor Mandy who discovered a buried stream in a snow gully and fell into it, sat stuck up to her waist as cold icy water washed over her. This was my fault; these shivering cold people were here because of me. This BG thing is a bit selfish in a sense; you ask a lot of people for a lot of help all for your own personal goal. But it’s not really, it’s just a shared comradery and passion for such a special place and to be part of it and help someone through the journey is what it’s all about.

Sometimes I’d go to the lakes on my own. I once went over and there had been a lot of snow, and when I finally got to the top of Seat Sandal the sky went very dark to the west and it looked like a bad storm was coming over. I quickly got on my extra kit, balaclava and thicker gloves and got ready to brace the storm. I thought if it got really bad I could dig into one of the drifts and shelter in there till it passed. My mind soon went off the looming storm though as on my decent I came to a large drop which I couldn’t get down, and when I tried to get back up the snow was too loose to get up, I’d pretty much slid down. It got serious for a moment, I was stuck. I carefully traversed the top of the crag, making sure each time each hold was good, if I went wrong here I’d be in a mess, I had my whistle but hadn’t seen a soul and with the wind I don’t think anyone would have heard it anyway. I was in a world of my own. I was soon onto safer slopes and truly relieved. I went straight up Fairfield, normally a loose zig zag rocky ascent, this time pretty much in a straight line due to all the snow. The decent was great, charging down the deep snow and occasionally falling into deep pockets, it was like being child again, almost wanted to go back up and do it again, but there was more to do. Dollywagon was tough, I just couldn’t see the top. It had brightened up by now, the wind dropped and it was silent. In fact the sky was exactly the same colour as the snow, they merged as one, and below me all I could see was my track of footprints disappearing steeply into the mist below, all around was white, it felt like I was in a cloud. It’s one of those moments that will always be with me. The top eventually came and as it flattened out there was a good view left/west over to great gable, on the attempt I would have been over that mid-morning, the bit I was on now would be done late night in darkness. I stopped and swore out loud, great gable was a hell of a long way away, this was crazy. I reached Helvellyn and met the only person I saw that day, a cheery fellow with ice axe and crampons. I sat next to him at the shelter (a wall) in my mudclaws, scoffed my pork pie while we both took in the view around us and how fortunate we were to be there. I was soon on my way again as I was starting to feel cold. I came down off Clough Head to Threlkeld where I met my brother-in-law Andy. He was in his camper van so made a mug of tea, I had 3, I didn’t realise how dehydrated I had become, a lesson learned, can’t afford to get dehydrated, don’t rely on feeling thirsty, or hungry, keep the steam engine stoked up and keep it rolling. Eating on a BG is done on the move as well as at changeovers.

The trips to the lakes continued, the routes becoming more familiar now and trying to run the legs to schedule – hitting the peaks at the denoted times, or before, for a 23.5 hour attempt. It was time for longer days too, aiming at some “double leg” days. When I did the Helvellyn leg followed by the last leg, (Blencathra, Great Calva and Skiddaw) I got into Keswick and sat on some steps in the market place drinking a litre of milk, my legs felt like they had been run over by a bus. After the drive home I had to grab my roof bars to prize myself out of the car and slowly hobbled into the house, “silly bugger, do you want your tea before your shower?”- Heather, my wife, who I would never have met if it was not for the lakes and youth hostelling, was so tolerant of all the time my BG was taking up – another big ask when often there is so much to do at home. Anyway, I was feeling comfortable with the hills, some long days, 12 hours once, half a BG but slower than pace. I met Nicky Spinks one day, she was out doing her double attempt at a BG, she was casually making her way up Yewbarrow chatting to her navigator about how the wall had been washed out after all the floods in the winter. She was in no rush, no panic, just getting on with the hill, she seemed so calm, another lesson learned there, just get on with it calmly and efficiently. She passed me later in the afternoon on her way back over to Scafell Pike, I was coming off and she was going up, I continued, expecting to be passed soon, but she never came – I glanced over and she was a long way ahead, skipping over the rocky landscape towards Broad Crag on some invisible path well away from the 100s of walkers out that day. “Good lines” are another thing you need to learn about, or hope your navigator knows them anyway !

I was learning to get the food right too, pork pies and tubes of cream cheese, chia bars, chocolate bars, peanuts, cheesy wotsits all washing down well with Lucozade Sport and plain water. The team I had lined up was excellent, I couldn’t ask for more there. I was feeling well and the long days out had got me lean, I normally weigh in around 72kg and I was now staying under 70kg – too skinny said Heather, despite the copious amounts of good food she cooked for me. I got several pairs of mudclaws well run in too, I’d decided these suited me best, not the best on rocks maybe, but better on rocks when they were worn down a bit like mine were now, but I liked the grip they gave on grassy descents.

So I was as ready as I could be, food right, kits well tested out, team right, me right – trained as best I could and could not have done more, it was time to ease off a bit and think about the organisational side of things and “Eat for England” . My test against those hills I loved so much and had so many memories of was a week or so away.

Lists and schedules became key. Firstly the schedule, that’s easy, you type in your planned time to get round on the schedule calculator on the Bob Wightman website and you are away. On advice from Geoff I’d chosen an anti-clockwise round, starting at 7am. This starts you off at a normal day and means that you then run the fairly easy going of the Helvellyn dodds in the dark, easy under foot that is but difficult to navigate as the paths and trods are not often clear. Then you have to think about who would be good to have on each leg with you, the idea is you obviously run the whole thing, but you have a team for each of the 5 legs. The team is a navigator and then a couple of more people to carry your clothing and food/drink, and one of those people also needs to write the time down that you touch each summit cairn. Then you need to think about how these people will get to the start of the leg, and how they will get back, and what kit they might want to have ready for them at the end of their leg. So the road crew is vital, and Heather did a fantastic job, quite stressed about it initially but once she had the detailed plan pulled it off in true girl guide fashion as well as turning out bacon butties, cheese macaroni and cakes. I was to run 66 miles on the attempt, she drove 175 miles !

So the day arrived, everyone had their legs allocated, the forcast was good, not too hot, not too windy, dry (wet rocks slow the job up) – it was on.

The start at Moot Hall. After a reasonably good nights sleep I made my way to Moot hall for the 7am “off”. Quite a few had come to see me off, eagerly looking at my watch and 7am prompt we set off to cheers and clapping. I was running this leg with Susan, Jules, Graeme and Elaine. Susan led us through the market traders setting up and we were soon on the quiet back roads heading down to Newlands. The start this way round does mean you have quite a bit of road so I’d run in my road trainers on for this bit, quickly changing into my fell shoes at Newlands church where Graham Daglish had driven Geoff to join us for the rest of that leg, Geoff saving himself for later in the day when he would nav leg 4 for me. After a steep grassy climb and a bit of straightforward clambering up rocks we were on the first top of the round, Robinson, 08:35, I was 7 minutes up on schedule, 7 minutes in the bag that I might need later. The next 2 tops come much quicker, and we were soon on the long run down (passing Katy who had come up the hill to see us on route) to Honister by 09:18 for the changeover and start of leg 2, still 7 minutes up. Porridge with honey and some warm tea and I was keen to get going, 09:23 we were off again, I scheduled a 10 minute break but didn’t need any longer. Tom (who did his BG in 2010), Penny and Jon joined me for this leg, it’s a steady climb form there at first, not as bad as it looks from the car park, and we chatted and joked, Jon seemed to be enjoying it !. Grey knots for 09:45, excellent, now 15 minutes up. The pace pics up from here it’s fairly runnable and the next tops come fairly quickly, Joan met us as we went onto Green Gable. The climb onto Great Gable from windy gap is lovely, you have to give it a bit of thought as to which way you want to find a way up through the rocks, but it’s straight forward and safe, it’s much easier going up these things than down. We arrived on the top at 10:36, 18 minutes up. The decent from there is difficult, it’s steep, slippy in parts, awkward and loose under foot. There are good ways down and not so good, route choice can make a big difference here, I think I’d recced this leg about 7 times, once got it totally wrong and came off in another valley! We lost Jon at this point, but had to press on. Tom sent me and Penny ahead and tried to find Jon, but we didn’t see him again until Wasdale, he was fine and had just followed the path at the bottom of the valley. I was feeling good still at this point, and the tops were soon being ticked off. Coming off Pillar I heard a thump behind me, Penny had stumbled and gone down hard, but was ok and carried on. I arrived at the lovely little peak of Steeple bang on midday, 30 minutes up. Coming off I was met by a large group of fell runners, it looked like a race, turns out it was a group of 5 folks doing a BG together, they must have left Moot hall at about 4pm on Friday I think, they were going clockwise. I had my first “starting to feel it a bit” as we cut across to Yewbarrow, the decent off there is painful and I was glad when we hit the road, guided in by “Big Scott”, a grand lad form NFR who was to be my nav on leg 3. [I’d tagged along to his BG last year but I couldn’t keep up and lost sight of him at the end of my leg, he did a cracking time of 19 hours and something. How Billy Bland did it on pretty much the same mid-June weekend in June in 1982 in 13:53 or Joss Naylor who did a BG round and added a further 30 tops back in 1975 and still had 40 minutes left, well I just don’t know how they did it. Billy’s record has yet to be broken. ] I was led through the busy carpark where Heather had set up my chair and everything I needed. Susan and Elaine had come over the pass on foot, Heather had driven round bringing my leg 3 folks and to take Tom, Penny and Jon back. A change to tops, fresh socks, some talc on my feet and some risotto and I was feeling fine. Then my legs went into spasm as I tried to lean forward in the chair to do up my laces. I sat back and it subsided, tried again and back it came, agony. It was soon time for the off again, this was a big leg and some of it I had only been over once, and one part which I was dreading was to come – the climb down a rocky slab to Broad Stand. To get there you first climb up Scafell, so off we went, Big Scott, Paul, Jack and James. It’s an awful slog up the grassy fields and fell from the car park, steep and monotonous. I had to pause now and then, but couldn’t stand on the steep slope without my legs giving way, it was easier to keep moving, I was in pain. We got to the rocky path up to Scafell and my legs eased, the ground demanded concentration now and was much more interesting. We hadn’t lost any time surprisingly and did it on scheduled time, taking us an hour to come a mere 2 miles. After a bit of careful exploring we found the top of Broad Stand. Kevin and Linda had offered to climb there and meet me, can you believe that, climb a mountain for me, carry up a rope and harness and look after me.

Linda roping me up for Broad Stand.

It was great to see them there, ropes laid out ready and harness waiting, I was down in a few minutes, the rest of my team just used the rope, I was glad I had the harness! I’d see Kevin later on, about 2am, he was my nav for the last leg. At this point I wasn’t thinking any further about what was to come, the terrain demands your full attention, its slow going and to get any pace at all you really have to concentrate on where you put your feet. We passed a rambler who had stumbled, she was laid on the rocks with blood oozing from her temples, fortunately she was with an organised group so help was at hand. It was nice to get onto some rocky climbs too, my back was starting to ache and it was good to be on all fours and stretched out a bit. I even took a couple of pain killers that James had, Heather will tell you that’s just not like me. Coming off Great End, 45 minutes up, we met up with Jack’s mam and friend, they gave us water and Kendal mint cake. All was going well, I was feeling ok and legs were going again. We descended to Rossett Pike by a lovely route which Scott took us on, his nav on this leg was spot on. We met Andy there, he’d come up from the Lansdale valley to meet us, again with offers of food and water. It was 5 o’clock by then, and the hills were getting quieter, we didn’t see many people at all after this, I was 49 minutes up and feeling good. The Langdale pikes came and went and we were soon running along the grassy top to High Raise and then on to Sergeant man. I was feeling a bit tired by then, a bit slower, but we were going ok and by the time we reached the top of steel fell and looked down the steep descent to Dunmail I was still 36 minutes up.

Dunmail Changeover.

The “pit stop” was busy, Geoff thought it might be stressing me, but I was in the zone, tried to shovel some pasta in, Gibbo and Sally sorted my feet, a fresh top and time for leggings as I knew it would be cold during the night and we were off again. The sun was casing long shadows as we headed up Seat Sandal. Geoff was nav, Gibbo and Scott my new pacers. I struggled up here, feeling sick after the food and legs feeling like jelly. By the top we were doing ok though, still 28 minutes up. It was getting colder, I put gloves on after Fairfield. I was also starting to feel a bit weird, had trouble focusing on the ground but the sickness had passed. Scott was a great pacer, he had the schedule, he has a lot of experience at helping out at BG’s and he kept me tight on time, we were losing a bit but he encouraged me on, without pressure, but he let me know I needed to keep pace. Darkness came, our head torches came on, as did a little red light on Geoff’s back pack. We followed his silhouette in the moon light as we traversed the Helvellyn range. One hill below us was draped in a thin curtain of mist, other than that visibility was good and we made good progress, losing just a few more minutes. We saw lights in the distance, another BG attempt coming the other way, one of the support was a mate of Scotts who he’d not seen for a good while, so they had a quick chat but we were all on a mission and soon back on our rounds. Midnight we were on Watsons Dodd, it’s now father’s day and Sally would be waiting for me down at Threlkeld. I wasn’t looking forward to the next climbs, they are long and boring, but the crack was good and in the dark you can’t see the “never getting any closer” top and it was fine. I love the drop down off Clough Head, it’s steep, but the ground is soft and you can get a rhythm going and we were soon down to the fence where we crossed over, though a bit of over grown marsh, past the old railway wagon and we were on the steady gradual descent to Threlkeld.

It was all action stations from there, I was expecting the car park to be fairly empty and quiet, but it seemed busy and full, it was 1:45am and I was 13 minutes up, it was possible. Scott gave me an excellent leg massage with some stuff he had, it really helped ease the cramp. Danny, Sally and Kevin were there all ready for me, and Kevin got his mate Nick to join us too, really good to have an extra person in case anyone needed help to get off the hill. Of we set, I was feeling ok and in good spirits, but as soon as I hit the steep climb up to Blencathra I knew I was getting weak. I tried not to think about what lay ahead and what was still to do. I’d come a long way in the last day and I tried to draw strength, mentally, from that, just a bit more to do, keep going, keep going. I just didn’t have the strength in me though to get the momentum to get up the next rocky steps, sometime I had managed to get up but had not got enough to give me some forward momentum to get to the next step, I’d lean back and if Sally didn’t give me a push in the back occasionally I’d stumble to the ground, I was finding it easier to be on all fours. It’s interesting doing Blencathra in the dark, in daylight you feel quite exposed, in the dark it felt more like we were exploring a rocky cave.

Early hours of Sunday morning going up Blencathra.

Danny kept me accurately informed of how many meters we had yet to go, that was really helpful Danny, really good to know I had a hell of a long way to go! We got to the top, I was a minute down, I was into my 30 buffer as I was on a 23:30 schedule. I was in a bit of a daze after that, I felt ill and needed the toilet, so my pacers chatted amongst themselves, I think I lost about 10 minutes, but there was no choice. We seemed to be going slowly, I asked Sally how we were doing and it was not good, we were losing time and final 2 tops are tough. We headed across Mungrisdale common, though a bog full of cotton grass almost glowing in the moon light and found the stream crossing to take us to the base of Great Calva. This is another bad climb, a calf splitter, and I used everything I had to get up there, even trying to pull on the rusty wire fence at times to try and pull myself up. I was slow, in fact even before going up I had doubts I was going to finish in under 24 hours, the time at the top confirmed it, we were 23 minutes down, that meant if I was going well it could be done, but the long climb to the fence just below the summit of Skiddaw was going to eat well into that 7 minutes. Oh well, I’ve had a go, I knew I could finish, not under 24 hours, but that’s not so bad, I’d have nearly done it in 24. People offered me food and drink but I wasn’t interested.

Sally knew I really wanted to do it though, “come on dad” is a big kick up the back side, so I sent all the rubbish in my head about not finishing in time way and started to think about what I needed to do to get to Moot in time. I had no idea how long the climb up to Skiddaw would take, I knew from recces that it was tough and long, so I just got on with it. If I could make Skiddaw by 5.45am I knew I might make it, on recces I could get down from there into Keswick in 1:10. I dug in deep, Danny would go ahead and look back at me, into my eyes, he was in Dr mode and looking at a victim in A+E seeing if I was ok, he insisted I drank and ate a bit, so I drank a bit to shut him up but I wasn’t tempted by his offers of food much. Kevin was nibbling on a bar, he broke a small bit off and offered it to me, I was “tricked”, I took it, but would have said no if it had simply been a question if I wanted any. We got to Skiddaw, it was daylight, time felt it was really running out now. It was a cold wind so I pulled my buff over my head and was helped on with my windproof.

Skiddaw, the last top, and an hour to get to Keswick seen below...


Sally and Mike The time, 5:45 am, it was on, there was a chance. I ran as best as I could on the tops and down the rocky slopes to Latrigg, it was hurting but I was in not going to give in now. I had to really concentrate, the ground is uneven and my legs were shot. We hit the houses on the out skirts of Keswick, Kevin went ahead and then came running back, the route he was going to use was closed, oh no, time was really tight, a quick discussion as to options and we were off and soon running through Fitz park. I had to walk, 10 steps then run again for a while, then 10 steps, come on, 6:49am, nearly there. I hit the shopping street and could see moot hall, everyone was there waiting but looking the other way, I ran down and gave a quick shout, I made it, 8 minutes left. It was all a bit much for Sally and it got quite emotional.

I sat at the seat opposite moot hall and looked at the steps there that I’d stood on 24 hours before, I just couldn’t take in what I’d done. After about 5 minutes I thought I’d pop to the loo, I could hardly stand, my legs were gone, I needed help down the kerb from Geoff. He and Heather came round to the toilets with me to make sure I was ok, I came out of the toilets and then straight back in, puked up a few times and returned to the gathering at moot hall. Time for bed. We were staying at a friend’s house in Borrowdale so didn’t have far to go. When we got to the car my voice went all weird and my lips swelled up, don’t know what was going on there and it only lasted a short time.

The Finish

I had great difficulty getting from the car the 20 feet of so to the house and couldn’t lift my feet to go upstairs, so I sat for a while on the bottom step and then tried to lift my back side up to the next step and go up backwards, I had no strength in my arms to take my body weight. I realised that if I laid on the stairs on my back I could slide up that way. I didn’t have a shower, I couldn’t lift my leg over the bath, I just slithered into bed and tried to sleep. I was feeling cold so Heather made me a cup of tea, I drank some and was promptly sick again so just went to sleep. Sally took me home later in the day. The following day I was feeling ok but weak, even my voice was sounding weak. I weighed myself, 62 kg, I’d lost at least 5kg.

Would I do it again? – No

Have I sickened myself of the hills of the lakes ? – No, couldn’t wait to get back.

What next ? Looking forward to helping out one someone else’s BG, who’s next….?

All these folks who were part of it, either on the day and/or the recces. Thank you all whole heartedly for your support, good wishes and efforts in the hills.

Heather Hughes, Sally Hughes, Geoff and Susan Davis, Jules-Juliet Percival, Graeme and Katy Walton, Elaine Bisson, Graham Daglish, Tom Reeves, Penny Browell, Jon Ayres, Joan Hanson, Big Scott-Scott Gibson, Jack Lee, James Garland, Paul Evans, Kevin and Linda Bray, Andy Wilson, Gibbo-David Gibson, Scott Watson, Danny Lim, Nick Spencer, Mandy Dawson, Nigel Hepple, Steph Scott.

A special thank you to Heather for generally putting up with me and all the trainers I possess. Kevin and Linda too, the precious time saved at Broad Stand proved vital.

Finally Geoff and Susan of course, they were the inspiration for me to do this and so supportive, I’d simply never have been able to do this without them, it would not have happened. Geoff’s company and guidance the best there is for this BG malarkey, the “Davis training plan” will get you there.

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.