My Bob Graham Round
Updated: Oct 18, 2022
It's the day after the night before, and I feel like I've been hit by a train. There's not a lot that doesn't ache and moving around the house is a bit of a chore. But oh man, it sure beats that feeling of regret, frustration and missed opportunity of 2019.
It was back in December when I decided to pull my ass into gear and re-focus on this dusty dream of mine. James had just completed his Winter Wainwright round and I was inspired. I wanted in on the action. It was time to run, it was time to lose some mass and swap the bicep curls for miles and metres - but even I was unsure if the moment had come and gone. As explained in a previous blog, my total ascent for the last 3 years has been on a steady decline thanks to worldwide pandemics and a shift in my job. I also hadn't been on the cardio as much as I was back in 2019 when I had my first attempt. I knew it was going to be a big pull to get anywhere near BG ready, but I knew I had one secret weapon - the thirst.
I don't like failure, who does I guess, but my failure to get the job done in 2019 has left me with 3 years of regret and bitterness towards myself. I messed it up when I had this golden opportunity. I also let my mind break and I've been living with his feeling of mental weakness ever since. However, the more I trained for this BG, the more I morphed back into a runner, and the more realistic it looked, the stronger that thirst became.
I chose the end of April for my BG as it shouldn't interfere with work too much, plus I'd get some cheeky altitude gains after having been in Morocco at 4000m the week before. And then Covid struck. Granted, I was tapering anyway, but tapering doesn't mean you stop completely! Morocco was out the window (my marginal gain gone!) and I was left wondering if covid was having a party in my lungs that would mean my BG couldn't, or shouldn't happen. Despite testing posi for 9 days I was virtually symptom free. I teased my body with a couple of light runs after this and all seemed in order, but my soaring confidence after having run James' final 50km with a chunky pack on was waning. However, I still had the thirst.
The day came and I woke at 7am with the kids, my plan was to get some snooze time in during the day as I was starting at 6pm. I've never liked the concept of starting something like this so late in the day (or later for most!) which is why last time I started at 7am, but I certainly realise why it's done this way now. Anyway, the plan somewhat failed. I went for a snooze and the Prime man turned up, the phone rang, someone came to pick something up and then the post lady arrived. Sleep was futile so I just accepted it and hoped for the best.
5:30pm soon arrived and I met my AMAZING support car driver Sara in Keswick to give her the kit. It was all getting a bit real. Then, it was around to Moot Hall, the traditional start location of the BGR where friendly faces came to see me off, plus Jan the cameraman (who is making a video for his portfolio) and my support runners. Now it was getting very real.
Getting Ready to Go - 6pm
5, 4, 3, 2, 1... Go - 6pm - Here I was running away from Moot Hall for the second time. More invested than ever, thirstier than ever.
Leg 1 - Keswick to Threlkeld - 12.2 miles - 1500m ascent
The first KM to something like this is always interesting. You're hyper focused on the body, hoping there are no weird twinges or twangs that could derail the run down the line. All felt good as I jogged and talked with my support team Bernie, Mingma and Paul. Between these guys they'd run millions of miles, supported countless people and knew exactly how to play the game.
As soon as the gradient of Spooney Green Lane kicked in it was down to a speed walk and I pushed on my Leki poles. The steep slopes of Jenkin Hill came next and we kept the pace calm, but progress was easy. It was a beyond spectacular night, and I arrived to the summit of Skiddaw a few minutes ahead of my 23:30hr schedule. The bogs on the back of Skiddaw were pretty dry so we danced over to Great Calva and then under Bernie's instructions took it super calm up the back of Blencathra (Mingma's back yard). We were treated to a lovely sunset and then Bernie unleashed his knowledge of Halls Fell Ridge and nailed an amazing line that avoided the worst of the scrambling but also wasn't what is known as the 'Parachute drop'.
I arrived down in Threlkeld for my 10 minute stop just ahead of schedule which was perfect. If I was dramatically up here I'd have been anxious.
Leg 2 - Threlkeld to Dunmail - 12.8m - 1800m ascent
After nailing a pot noodle (classy, eh!) it was time to move. My leg 1 support team had done a perfect job and now I had Matt Stapley looking after me. Matt is a seasoned runner, 3 x BGR completer and more to the point, running with me until Honister (66km)!
Clough Head is often met with fear and trepidation. You've just slammed it down from Blencathra to the valley, and now you have to climb back out of it, steeply, the other side. But there's no point getting caught up on these things as the way I look at it is that once I'm up Clough Head, it's another few hundred metres of my 8,2000m ascent total done!
We plodded up and then got the legs spinning towards Great Dodd. Once up onto Great Dodd, it's a bagging mission and the peaks fall quickly. It was a stunning night with barely any wind. Before I knew it I was dropping off Dollywagon Pike with just two peaks to go until the end of the leg. The next peak....Fairfield. What was Bob Graham thinking!?
For those not too familiar with the Bob Graham Round, the vast amount of Leg 2 is a nice straight line down the Helvellyn range. You drop off this and heading direct to Dunmail Raise or doing Seat Sandal would make sense, but no! Let's chuck on a 400m out and back climb up Fairfield (bitter, much?)
Anyway, I engaged the brain in the same manner as I had done on Clough Head and just kept turning the legs. It was probably one of the easiest ascents I've ever done so I was glad I didn't waste energy worrying about it.
We cruised off Seat Sandal where we met Sara once again. We were pretty warm and having fun, she was stood freezing in a down jacket on the side of an A-road in the middle of the night. Road support, I salute you! I was still bang on schedule and Matt afforded me something that was near 10 minutes, but not quite. It was time to move again...
Somewhere Dark - Leg 2 - or Leg 3.
Leg 3 - Dumail to Wasdale - 15 miles - 2000m ascent
This leg is often regarded as the main part of the BG. If you can get to Wasdale, you're turning the corner and it's homeward bound. I was often fascinating about 'being on Great Gable' but then I had to remind myself I still had a lot to do before then. The exit from Dunmail Raise is steep. You have to ascend a steep grassy slope, but I've always found this goes on just a little longer than you want it to, so it could be worse. After Steel Fell is bagged I followed Matt as he expertly weaved around on trods to Calf Crag, and then it was upward. It was on this grassy trudge up to Sergeant Man that I had my first lull. The never ending tussocks were sapping me. I was a bit surprised I was having a moment so soon. In truth there was probably a brief 'Uh Oh' moment as I wondered whether I had it in me to get round if this was happening now, but I gave my head a wobble and just kept moving. Sergeant Man, High Raise and the Langdale Pikes all fell quickly. As the peak count shoots up,
so does your morale. Harrisons Stickle was as far as I got (anti-clockwise) in 2019, and it was nice to find my 'Tarn of Reflection' again on Martcrag Moor, a place where I'd stood in 2019 and realised I was doomed.
We climbed up onto Rossett Pike and then I crashed. My leg speed was miserable. Matt was being as encouraging as ever and talking to me constantly to focus my mind. Suddenly, the sun broke over the cloud and the warm rays hit my face. It was like an injection of Lucozade and my body was revitalised. I think this lull had occurred as my body crested towards the '24 hours of being awake' moment, and when it realised sleep wasn't coming anytime soon it got on with it. Fortunately, that was the last of the real mental tiredness and yawning (and it would turn out to be 38 hours of being awake in the end).
Nearing the top of Bowfell just before life became real good.
Paul Wilson had run in to meet us so it was ace to have someone else there with me and Matt keeping the BG train moving. There was some frost on the boulders which slowed us a tad and I soon ditched my poles which seemed to free up my head to be able to move my legs faster. I found another gear, I was heading for home turf (Scafell Pike) and it was a stunning morning. I was living the BGR dream.
The traverse between Scafell PIke and Scafell was delightful, and actually my best ever experience. Again, it just flowed. We eyed up Broad Stand as I knew Matt was a shit hot climber who could probably do it with both me and Paul hanging of his back like monkeys, but we opted for the ever awesome Lord's Rake and West Wall Traverse. It was time to smash up the knees and drop 800m+ into Wasdale, but I didn't care. I'd completed Leg 3 and I started to believe.
Leg 4 - Wasdale to Honiser - 10.2 miles - 1500m ascent
I was of the belief that if I could get around Leg 4, it was job jobbed. I could crawl from Honister to Keswick. I had stopped for just 10 minutes and picked up a new support runner in the form of George. George had kindly also brought Bindi down which was a real boost, and we had his Lab Eddie to keep us company.
There is 'no easy way out of Wasdale' as they say, and to exit onto Leg 4 you have to ascend the side of Yewbarrow. It's a steep grassy slope, but having done it just a few weeks ago it was fresh in my my mind that it doesn't last forever. We actually reached the summit of Yewbarrow just 5 minutes slower than my PB time. Matt and Paul had been telling me that once I was on Red Pike it became easier, so I geared myself up for the grind. We hit Dore Head and as the uphill kicked in my energy was seeping out the soles of my shoes with every step. I felt rough. The lads plied me with food and supplements which slowly made its way into my system. The summit Red Pike eventually came and I was established on Leg 4. There is a point on every event where you realise that whatever happens you could get to the finish. For me, Red Pike was that point. I tried to tether my thoughts as I still had loads of peaks, miles and metres to do, but it was a great feeling.
Steeple and Pillar came quickly and even the slog onto Kirk Fell wasn't all that bad. George left here to head back to Wasdale (thanks man!) and myself and Matt zig zagged our way up Great Gable. Again, having done this a few weeks ago I knew that this climb lasts 20 minutes or so and then you're cruising to Honister. As we climbed up Green Gable we were met by Ali and Paul which was lovely and she treated us to some Cherry Cake. This was like rocket fuel and before I knew it we were down at Honister. Despite being 17 minutes down when I started Leg 3, I was now bang on schedule.
Leg 5 - Honister to Keswick - 10.5 miles - 800m ascent
Matt's shift was finally up, but not before he'd legged it ahead to Honister to sort the support kit which enabled me to practically not stop at all at Honister. Matt had been with me for 66km and if it had not been for him I feel this attempt would have been very different. He was constantly plugging me with food and drink, and more importantly keeping my spirits up. I feel very lucky to have had Matt there for so much of the route - Thank you!
My new support runners (Geoff, Sarah, Kerrie and John) were primed and off up Dale Head we ventured. I was homeward bound, and apart from quite sore knees on the downhill, doing OK!
Once up on Dale Head we cruised over to Hindscarth and then got stuck into the slog up Robinson. I toyed with the idea of trying to do Sub-23 hours but as soon as the downhill kicked in again my pace was restricted. It was lovely to see Lin Atrill out on the route and she really pepped me up with kind words and support. As we hit the valley I knew I had to just keep turning my legs. The more running and less walking I did, the quicker it would be over! I knew by this point I was definitely going Sub-24, but I had to keep the hammer down.
As we hit the road (I hate road running!) my feet felt like they were on fire and every step was uncomfortable. It was nice of Craig to come out and see us and his pre-flattened full fat coke was another great injection of energy. We chewed up the KM's and in Portinscale Naomi was stood waiting to run in with us. She'd have liked to have run more, but for me this was special enough.
Adrenaline takes over for the final kilometre or so and the last 24 hours or so all becomes a bit of a blur. I was living in the moment, I was finally back in Keswick and after 23 hours and 23 minutes on the go I had finished. I had run 106km, 8200m ascent and 42 peaks - I was now a Bob Graham completer.
I had a fantastic reception at Moot Hall which made the moment all the more amazing. I couldn't help but sit down as I risked falling over, and the beer from The Round was also much appreciated. Thanks to everyone that came to see me!
The experience was relentless. I stopped for no more than 10 seconds on any of the summits, and stopped for no more than a total of 30 minutes at the road crossings. I am so over the moon with my time, as despite wanting to just complete the route, I know that if I had been 24 hour+ I probably wouldn't have been totally satisfied. The best thing is knowing that this has been put to bed and I don't ever have to do it again if I don't want to.
I'm sure as time goes on and I reflect on this experience further I'll have more to say but for now it's just one final thanks to everyone that supported me on this journey. This includes, but is not limited to:
Sara - for being my road support super star!!
James Gibson - For encouraging me and believing in me. (James was working away for those wondering why he wasn't there)
and last but not least
My wife, Naomi. Me wanting to run a BGR is such a selfish act, especially when we have 2 young kids to raise. But your support, tolerance and understanding of why I needed to do this, and what I needed to do to get to the start line helped me make this dream come true. This round is for you.
Standard Le Voi way to celebrate - CAKE!
Check out my other blogs regarding my training plans, and training for the BGR here
Watch a short film about my round, created by Jan Bella