My Bob Graham Round

Having drifted out of long distance triathlon and into the Ilkley Harriers and fell running a few years ago, it wasn’t long before I came across Richard Askwith’s ‘Feet in the Clouds‘ book and the Bob Graham Round (BGR). I had done a couple of mountain marathons 10 years ago and the prospect of more time in the lakes, brushing up my mountain skills and a good long slog seemed too good to pass up. Not long after that came Eddie Winslow’s winter round. I supported Eddie on Leg 2 in some pretty tough conditions, (where I almost got vomitted on before a quick assessment of wind direction) and actually came away quite positive. ‘If he can do THAT in 24 hours I must have a chance in summer’.

Moot Hall Start

I gave myself 18 months to get ready. One of the first steps was the ‘Old County Tops‘ with Brian Melia. At 37 miles it’s sort of half a bob graham, which we completed very satisfactorily as 9th pair, plus Brian had done his round the year before and we seemed very evenly matched. The rest of that summer I tried to get to the long Lakeland classics but somehow it just didn’t work out, another problem was that the increased running load was making my knees pretty sore. By the end of the summer I couldn’t ignore the knee pain any longer and went to various physios, masseurs and a podiatrist. Thankfully there was no underlying problem with my knees just classic runners knee made worse by lack of specific stretching and a history of ankle damage. However if you put up with something for 4 months it takes a lot longer to get better and although I was now stretching and had some orthotics I was also running more and more and in more difficult terrain so all improvements were matched by increased workload.

Day Break on the Dodds
Dawn on the Dodds

The bulk of my winter distance training consisted of a monthly double leg recce (10 hours ish) to build endurance and learn the route and a monthly 5 hour adventure race (Open 5) with the rest of my training being pretty standard. As we entered the coldest and iciest winter since time began (or so it seemed) this plan became pretty ambitious. November and December were fine but Jan’s run was cancelled and Feb’s run became an offroad run from Ilkley to Pately Bridge and back. The upside was cycling was completely out of the question so I began running to work. I was away for all of March, training hard on skis and running, but it wasn’t time on the route and although ski training means you don’t have to run downhill, it does stress your knees in other ways.

The Joys of Leg 3

I’m not sure when I decided on May 1st. I didn’t want the BG to dominate the whole summer, or for it to be too hot. The weather is normally pretty stable in May and there was a full moon at either end so I plumped for the start. I was only back from the alps 3 weeks but hoped I would carry some altitude adaptation over for the 3 weeks. The good news was that after skiing my knees really started to improve, they were still my greatest physical worry about the round but even under training they were getting stronger again.

The last 3 weeks of April flew by. I still had to recce Leg 4 and 5 which I was no longer prepared to do as a double this close to the day plus go back and do Leg 1 in the dark. Nicky Jacqueri and I did leg 4 combined with the run in and out of Seathwaite on a summer’s day in April, The pair of us plus Brian Melia did Leg 1 at night at the end of the same week and finally with only 8 days to go I did leg 5 solo in the dark after work one night.

So the day dawned. The forecast had been changing all week but never looked like forcing a postponement. I moved the start from 0200 to 0000 because I thought Halls Fell Ridge by torch was quite OK and as I was hopeful of 22 hours that would only leave the back of Robinson in the dark. I had a mellow build up during the day but got no sleep so I had been up for 18 hours at the start! The weather was perfect, still and cool, great running conditions. The phrase I have used most since the round is ‘It all went according to plan’. I took it easy on Leg 1 and 22 hour pace was very comfortable. Nearly lost a few minutes on Halls Fell but didn’t, that’s what pacers are for! Leg 2 was more of the same. Beautiful sunrise and cloud inversion combined with perfect running conditions. I had promised myself I would not go under schedule before Bowfell no matter how I felt but somehow had gained 40 mins or so by Dunmail. Leg 3 was a bit tougher as I was really bloated for a while and my food consumption had dropped off a bit but gradually it passed and I felt better. My personal nemesis of Bowfell came and went and the boulders were only a bit greasy so conditions were still great. Through Broad Stand with no problems, as it was fully roped, although Neil emerged a bit bloody. Had the best cheese and onion pasty of my life in Wasdale and then off up Yewbarrow. I had 5 pacers for Leg 4 and as it turned out I really needed them.

4 seasons in one day

The fairytale had to end somewhere and it ended on Steeple. The temperature dropped, the hail came and the wind blew. This either caused or coincided with my lowest physical state of the day. The Steeple to Great Gable section was a case of just putting one in front of the other. I stopped looking at my splits because I knew this was my max speed, so it was irrelevant what the schedule said. Again my pacers saved me, gloves, over trousers, food and water. My lightweight waterproof was even swapped for something warmer and thicker. Luckily I had the advantage of being the right side of Wasdale when this happened and I knew I had some time to play with, both of which made this mental hole easier to climb out of. In the end I had to check the split at the summit of Great Gable and was amazed to find I was still on 22 hour pace, cold and knackered but still on pace. If you study the schedule you will see that the times get much more generous on Leg 4 and 5 as fatigue sets in, so what this meant was that I was tiring at the same rate that the schedule allowed for. By the time I hobbled down into Honister I knew it was in the bag, just hold my concentration.

Honister Road Crossing

A complete set of dry clothes and some soup and rice pudding transformed me at Honister and we were off. I could still climb pretty well on Leg 5 but the uphill gains were matched by the pathetic downhill hobble I was reduced to, still we stuck to 22 pace. In the end I had to walk down from Robinson to Newlands Church because I could no longer run downhill and dropped maybe 15mins, but as the road flattened out I managed a jog and a march back to Keswick.

Run in for 21 hours

Because of the slow descent of Robinson I had given up the thought of making it back in 21 hours but Alison lied to me about how far it was and I gave it a go. Several times on the way back I gave up the attempt and my pacers encouraged and urged me to keep it up. I finally quit just after the suspension bridge. Then it happened. I realised how close it actually was and I still had 3 minutes. The pain and fatigue melted away and we were off. Even now I think that I must have been hamming up the shuffle beforehand because suddenly I could run like it was a 10K and it didn’t hurt. Up the road, through the traffic and dead on the stroke of 21 hours I reached the Moot Hall Door.

A massive thank you must go out to all the people who gave up their time to help me achieve my goal, it would not be possible or preferable to have done it without you. For some of you I am too late to return the favour but hopefully not for all.

Nice cup of tea

4 comments

  1. Grind out a few long winter days in the hills to build your strength and then when you dump all that warm clothing and pack it will seem easier. (at least for a while)

  2. Agreed inspirational reading, attempting an attempt in july, recent decission just reading up as much a spossible. looks very tough but must be such a feeling upon completion. cant wait

  3. Don’t worry about the weather, you can’t affect it. If you are confident that you are ready then you will cope with whatever comes your way.
    Really pace yourself on Leg 1 and 2. It’s very easy to go too fast and not eat enough. Good Luck! Keep us posted.

  4. Inspiring stuff! I’m up for my round on June 26th. Worried that it might be too hot. Excited that after 9 months of pretty full on training, its just around the corner.

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