I’m not much of a blogger, a writer or a planner, come to think of it I’m probably the worst person to plan for anything, never mind a Bob Graham Round, which I’ve found out is one of the most important parts of running a “round”.
I’ve regularly turned up to races forgetting kit, turned up late or turned up, started and went “off route” even on the best of marked routes (I do take a lot of stick for this I might add).
So why might I decide to run a BGR? Well why not?
I’m a runner, I love the Lake District fells, I live in Cumbria, it’s a challenge - one that’s seen as one of the toughest endurance challenges in the UK, the BGR is a legacy, a heritage and surely every “fell runner” aspires to be part of the BG Club?
But can I actually do it?
So my BGR…
It’s something I didn’t keep a secret, I didn’t put a time on it, I wasn’t out to break any records, I just wanted to make a round and enjoy it while doing so.
I had first attempted a BGR on the 19th December 2011, the shortest day in mid-winter in full on winter conditions, but it was brought to a halt at Dunmail Raise as the weather was too bad - hopefully this time round it would be different.
So Saturday 23rd January, after finishing night shift that morning I managed to get out for a short run to loosen the legs up as I had a long wait with having a 23:59 start.
I had a full day to prepare, chill out and spend time with the family; the first big challenge was trying not to eat all the food I’d prepared! (Mainly cake). The day seemed to fly by, I thought about having a quick sleep but I was just too excited, there was no way I was going to be able to sleep!
What more could I have asked for on the drive over to Keswick at 2300, the moon was big and bright peeking out from behind the cloud, it felt mild and the wind didn’t seem so bad after the recent weather we’d had, it seemed like the perfect night. The 5 layers I had on quickly became 3 on the walk up to Moot Hall.
A small group of friends had gathered outside of Moot Hall along with my pacers for the first leg, Steve Angus, Andrew Slattery and Lee Newton.
There was a bit of milling around and we got away prompt 2359 on Saturday 23rd January, we made a small loop around town past Wetherspoons and back up along past the traffic lights as the footbridge is down with the recent floods.
We moved up Latrigg and Jenkin Hill at a decent pace, probably due to a little nerves and excitement? Never the less it felt comfortable and sustainable. On the way up Jenkin I saw the lights of Keswick for the last time; hopefully I’d be seeing them again less than 24 hours later!
From there on to the summit there wasn’t much to see as we chatted away, visibility was down to a few yards, the ground was wet, snow slushy and deep in the drifts and the wind began to pick up - we hit the Skiddaw summit on 18 hour pace.
Much of the route was still covered in snow and if it wasn’t snow it was muddy and wet (probably the wettest I’ve seen it Back “O” Skiddaw), we moved over Great Calva quite quickly given the clag and thick mud which tried to suck your shoes off at every opportunity.
On crossing the Caldew I caught glimpse of the moon, I didn’t know it at the time but that would be the last I saw of it until the following night.
It wasn’t long until we were back in the thick clag, as we approached Blen summit the weather began to deteriorate so Steve suggested we descended via Doddick as it wouldn’t cost much time. Heading down Doddick was difficult in the clag as I could barely see where I was placing my feet, so I was relieved when we broke through the clag at about 250 meters and saw the lights of Threlkeld and change over for Leg 1.
For pacing reasons and conditions I’d set a loose schedule of 22 hours so pacers and support had a rough idea of what time they needed to be where, so with being a little quicker than anticipated I reached changeover up on 18 hour pace where I found out our main navigation guy for Leg 2 wasn’t there.
I had time so decided to wait a little, Nick (Nick Ray-my road support) told Steve, Slats and Toast that they’d have to continue along with John Millen to support on Leg 2?! There was a silence, Steve and Slats won’t mind me saying so but they weren’t best pleased at the thought of having to continue!
I didn’t eat much, whether it was because of the time of day, it didn’t feel natural to eat but I ate a little banana cake some Red Bull and half of a High 5 Energy Bar.
Just as I decided to continue I saw headlights coming up the road-to the relief of Steve, Slats and Toast, it was my nav man Rhys Finlay Robinson who admittedly was on time given a 22 hour schedule.
Along with new pacer John, Steve and Slats ran up the road with me to the flanks of Clough Head as it gave Rhys a little time to get his shoes and bag on - he caught us just after the first field where I said bye to my Leg 1 support.
The climb up to Clough Head is a steep slog, the higher we climbed the worse the weather got until we reached the summit cairn and we were hit with the full force of the wind, we’d made good time to this point and was surprised to see I was up on 17 hour pace as it felt comfortable.
(I’ll note at this point it was the last summit time I wrote down as my hands were so cold and I didn’t want to stand still for any period of time).
Just after the summit John’s head torch snapped so he had to carry it.
Moving on, the wind only got stronger, the clag thicker and the further along the Dodds we had rain, sleet and hail, which blasted my face until it began to hurt.
We were literally on top of the summit cairn before we found them, at one point I was running alongside John and Rhys and because of the driving wind and clag I drifted off from them, when I looked round I couldn’t see them - they soon realised and found me. We made a few navigation errors but given the weather I was amazed at Rhys’s navigating.
I’d resorted to remembering each time at the summits which I think took my mind off how cold I was, approaching Helvellyn the snow was a little deeper and covered with patches of ice which you couldn’t see until you were on it.
Just after the Helvellyn summit, John’s torch stopped working… the battery had died! This made the situation a little more difficult, not only did I have to light my way but also John’s but at the same time keeping my face sheltered from the wind and hail, it also slowed us a little and it felt like the cold was running right through me.
(This was the first point I doubted myself, I was cold, really cold, I couldn’t feel my hands, it made me think about a book I’d just read on Everest and how they must’ve felt when they lost a glove or started with frost bite, my mind was numb and full of numbers from the summits, could I really continue?!)
I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, we trailed Rhys by a few yards over the next few summits and down to Grisedale Tarn, we could just make out the glow of his head torch.
We were finally given a little respite on reaching the tarn where it was the first time we’d really spoken since Helvellyn as we didn’t want to be exposed to the elements. Rhys asked ‘why didn’t John have his headlamp on?” “Batteries dead” I was relieved to hear Rhys say he had a spare!
This allowed us to move a little faster and on the ascent of Fairfield I could feel the warm blood pumping through my body, we didn’t get shelter from the wind for long though before we received the full brunt of it while searching for the summit cairn on Fairfield amidst the ice covered rocks.
The summit seemed to pop out of nowhere to my relief, we made a hasty retreat; I don’t know which was worse? The wind and hail on the summit or the snow and ice covered rocks on the descent where every now and again my foot would slip through just enough to bash my shin. We descended to the col between Fairfield and Seat Sandle where on a summer’s day it would take a few minutes but today it seemed to go on forever, I was relieved to be climbing again to try and keep some warmth.
After tagging Seat Sandle we made the descent to Dunmail, the sleet had given way to rain, it was steep, rocky and the path was muddy and difficult to stay upright, we eventually dipped under the clag around 100 meters from the top of Dunmail Raise just as first light was breaking, I was pleased to see the lights of the support crew and the end of Leg 2.
Nick had hot drinks and food waiting, I didn’t plan on changing clothes but I was cold and Nick said I would feel better if I had a fresh set of clothes on. Before I set off I quickly wrote down the last 11 Summit times which I’d remembered.
I had a crack team of Amblesiders for Leg 3, Ben Abdelnoor, Jim Mann (current winter round record holder in 18.18), Chris Waters, Chris Robinson, Neil Talbot and Pete Brittleton.
We started off up Steel Fell, as every leg of the BGR starts it was steep and I could feel my calf’s screaming, not that I was complaining as I started to warm through again. I felt strong and relatively good for the next couple of hours; maybe it was the ham sandwich I’d been chewing on since Dunmail. As the weather began to deteriorate again so did my energy and with the cold my mind began to wander.
Over Harrison Stickle, Pike O’Stickle and Rossett Pike, somewhere in there I put some waterproof pants on and Ben took my bag, to be honest covering these summits was a bit of a blur, at one point Chris W asked which was the last summit, I couldn’t answer him as I didn’t know - I was so cold I just couldn’t think straight.
Ben asked if I was ok heading up towards Esk Pike, I wasn’t, I was cold, the couple of navigation errors meant we were being hit with the full brunt of the wind which was whipping up spin drift tornados, the layers that were fresh at Dunmail were completely soaked through and I felt as though my body was shutting down, I felt slow and everything seemed to be moving so fast around me.
We stopped and Jim gave me another layer and fresh dry gloves along with some jelly beans, they tasted so good the sugar hit was instant like a shot of adrenaline.
I slowly started to come round as we climbed toward Great End, Ill Crag and Broad Crag, all that was left was Scafell Pike and Scafell.
Strangely the weather over the summit felt a little milder and the wind had settled a bit and gave way to sleet, we descended down to Foxes Tarn and back up via the gulley which was like a waterfall, I’ve never seen so much water coming down there. The climb was slow but I felt a lot better than I did an hour ago, reaching the last summit on Leg 3 Scafell I took some food on board as I knew there was a long slog to come up Yewbarrow.
Twenty minutes or so later after making use of the wet grass and “bumsliding” our way down we were running into the National Trust car park where we met Nick and the rest of the guys. It was good to see some familiar faces, Ian and Emily from High Terrain Events had also come along. In all, Leg 3 took over 6 hours which is over 24 hour pace; testament to what the conditions were like, thanks to the Ambleside guys for getting me through it.
It was good to get some hot chocolate and porridge oats which had been soaked overnight with honey which really hit the spot, I had another full change of clothes and we were off.
Pacers on Leg 4 were Bill Williamson who knows Leg 4 like the back of his hand, Dr Rich “Rocks” McGrath and Gary “TT” Thwaites - both lads from my local club Ellenborough AC (Can be found on FB and Twitter).
It didn’t take long before we broke into the clag, the visibility was poor but nothing compared to the last couple of legs. Bill was strong and led the way with me TT and Rich following; we hit Yewbarrow Summit in 38 minutes dead.
On the way to Red Pike I turned an ankle, I guess it was my legs way of telling me they were tired and wanted to stop, I felt as though my feet were hardly lifting off the ground as I shuffled along, even the smallest incline felt tough,
I think the last couple of legs took more out of me than I thought, for me this was unknown territory, I’d been running for 14 hours or so and was a long way off the finish, the longest I’d ever ran was around 10 or 11 hours.
Running through the clag it was difficult to think exactly where I was as we ran over featureless boggy ground. The rain subsided and gave way to strong gusting winds on approaching Steeple, a little craggy out crop - which is an out and back.
Running along the ruined wall towards Black Crag and Pillar, what little light we had, began to disappear and finally on the ascent to Kirk Fell the head torch came out, TT offered me a Mars Bar and although I’m not a fan of them I managed to eat the full thing within minutes! Getting off Kirk Fell was hard work and slow, my knees began to hurt and with every step I was getting a sharp pain in my groin, this worsened the higher I lifted my leg.
Even with the head torch on it became difficult to see where you were placing your feet, the clag was so thick the light was just bouncing back off it.
Great Gable was slow as the rocks were wet and greasy, Rich and TT kept me talking and feeding me Tangfastics, the climb felt long, longer than usual, the summit came out of nowhere to my relief.
We descended down to Windy Gap, it was frustrating as every step I took was difficult and I couldn’t seem to move any faster. Green Gable, Brandreth, Greg Knotts and we were into the descent down to Honister, I was soaked through but before I arrived I’d already decided to continue without changing as I just wanted to keep moving.
My support was there with the rest of the guys who were supporting on Leg 5 along with Billy Bland who’d come out to give me a shout and a few encouraging words “You’ve done it now lad - just don’t think about the time too much” we shook hands a few helpings of mams cake and some electrolyte and along with the Leg 5 support guys we were on our way.
Support on Leg 5 was Nick Ray (who’d just done all my road support from Threlkeld earlier that morning) Chris Lister, Shaun Atkinson, Andy Ried and Callum Tinnion.
I didn’t feel too bad on the ascent of Dalehead considering I was wet and cold, on reaching the summit we were hit with strong gusting winds, which on the traverse to Hindscarth, almost knocked us to the ground.
Hindscarth came and went and the last summit was just up ahead; 41 down, 1 to go. The ascent of Robinson seemed to go pretty quick, finally we saw the summit cairn punching out of the mist like a beacon, I’ve never been so happy to see that summit cairn, that’s it, 42 summits, all I had to do was get back to Keswick.
On the descent of Robinson we came under the clag to see the lights of Keswick and a full moon, Skiddaw was clear and so were the Dodds, it was definitely the better night of the two. Running off Robinson my knees were hurting and I found it difficult to descend at any speed over the grassy rocky terrain, once we reached the bottom of Robinson we hit the track, from here it was a mixture of roads, trails and muddy fields.
It was nice to be moving a bit quicker on the road, it was the first time for the last 20 odd hours I began to feel warm and slowly I picked the pace up with the possibility of been able to get under 21 hours but once we reached Portinscale I realised that I was going to be just over and slowed again to gather my breath.
The last small stretch of trail leads up to the beginning of Keswick Main Street and then a further 400 meters to Moot Hall, my Dad was standing on the road side as we entered the last stretch, I could see a group up ahead, I could see my Family, Sophie, Isobelle and Mum and some of the supporters at the foot of Moot Hall cheering, I got to the Moot Hall door and I was overwhelmed, with joy? A sense of achievement? The relief of finishing? I’m not quite 100% sure, but if I could box that feeling up and keep it I would.
I finished in 21 hours 11 minutes; I’ve a new found respect for anyone who completes a Bob Graham Round, to say I enjoyed it would be a lie, I endured it.
This wasn’t my first attempt at a round and it won’t be the last, the next one will definitely be in summer!
Thanks to Sophie, Isobelle, Mam and Dad for supporting and putting up with me.
Thanks to Nick Ray for being road support, he’d probably had as tough a day as I had then he ran the last leg too, thanks to all of the guys mentioned above who helped support on the various legs, thanks to the African Attachment for the push, thanks to Kelvin, Christian and Sabrina, thanks to Emily and Ian of High Terrain Events and sponsors Salomon, High 5 Sports Nutrition, Petzl and Rock Tape UK.
Pictures credit Ian & Emily of High Terrain Events and Chris Lister
24 February 2016 by Salomon
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Podiatrist Andrew Stanley will be in the George Fisher store offering 1:1 help and advice for your feet.
Podiatrist Andrew Stanley will be in the George Fisher store offering 1:1 help and advice for your feet.