Updated: Oct 18, 2022
Back in 2019 I had a crack at the Bob Graham Round and got my a** kicked. Granted, it was a hot day, but a series of errors, a lack of respect for the route and probably a lack of focused training meant it wasn’t going to happen. In my world, something is only a failure if you don’t learn from it, and I learnt spades from that experience.
Three years, another addition to our family, a global pandemic, a Personal Training qualification and many miles later I finally achieved my dream of completing the Bob Graham Round. On 28th April I shuffled back into Keswick in a time of 23 hours and 23 minutes.
Starting Leg 5, surrounded by yet more great people.
Now I’ve had time to reflect upon my experience of both the training and the actual round I can pass on my top 10 tips that helped me gain BG success.
Training & Preparation
1. Run Consistently – Before December 2021 my personal running had been sporadic at best. As soon as I started getting out 3-4 times a week on run, of any duration, I saw the biggest improvements in my running ability and form. The Bob Graham Round is 106km long, but most of my training runs were in the 20-35km zone (with lots of ascent). It’s believed that most physiological adaptions to the body will happen in the first 5 hours, and any runs longer than this will have little extra training effect, but you will be prolonging your recovery.
2. Hike – Top ultra runners such as Jasmin Paris have been quoted saying the best way to train for something like the Bob Graham Round is to go out for long days with a pack on your back, and this is so very true. For all but the fittest, you’ll be walking up most of the hills on the round, and if you can log up the miles doing this with a heavy pack on in your training, you’ll develop great strength in your legs for when you’re cracking on up them all lightweight on your attempt. Don’t neglect the power of this training, and give it the recovery it deserves just as you would a run.
3. Strength Training – Where I haven’t been running much for the last 2-3 years, I have been doing strength training at home. During my round I was impressed with how my legs felt in terms of both power and being niggle free. As I ran, I was bleating on to my support runners how I felt that consistent strength training was the reason for this. I’d recommend trying to slot in two workouts a week that will target your entire body. Legs and glutes are an obvious place to target for a runner, but you’ll want to build a solid core and not neglect the upper body either (A strong upper body improves posture and this translates into better running efficiency). My favourite exercises would be squats, suitcase carry, planks and the pallof press.
4. Win the Mental Game – The BG is no tea party, it’s relentless. I stopped for no more than 10 seconds at any summit, and accrued just 30 minutes of ‘break’ time at all of the road stops. The rest of the time I was moving. Your head will drop as the climb doesn’t seem to end, or you’re bonking for the third time in an hour even though you’ve eaten, but this is all part of the game. In your training make sure you experience these things so that when it happens on the round you know how to ride it out. The more times we visit these ‘dark places’ the less apprehension we have about revisiting them. This is exactly the reason why runners such as John Kelly are so fierce – they’ve got the mental game dialled.
5. Rest – ‘You only get fitter when you rest’ is one of my training mantras, and it’s vital. I definitely didn’t get this perfect and paid the price a few times in my training cycle as my body had clearly been overwhelmed by the training volume the week before. Be sure to allow time for your body to recover and have at least one complete rest day a week.
On the Day
6. Surround yourself with a great support team – I couldn’t have been luckier with my support team. My road support was experienced in the role and this helped make for super swift transitions. My on the hill support nailed the pacing, kept me focused, fed and hydrated for the entire time. In 2019 I neglected the benefit of support runners, and in April I really felt the benefit.
7. ‘Just Keep Moving’ – This was mantra no.1 from the big day, passed onto me by good friend James Gibson (the first person to complete a continuous round of the Wainwrights in Winter). If you can keep your feet moving, you’re always making progress towards the end. Sitting down or stopping when the going gets tough will only damage your mental drive.
8. ‘Be Bothered’ – this was passed onto me by Matt Stapley, experienced ultra runner and a support runner that came with me on legs 2, 3 and 4 of my BG! He said ‘Be bothered to do all those things you can’t be bothered to do. Whether it’s to have a drink, eat or tighten your shoes – be bothered!’ The amount of times on my round I wasn’t even hungry and he’d ask me what I wanted to eat, and I’d just have to tell myself to ‘Be bothered’. He was bang on, as even though I was seemingly on a 23 hour picnic, I still had times where I bonked and needed a rapid influx of calories.
9. Know the Route – Obviously being navigationally sound will help get around successfully, but being familiar with the route will help fend off any run day apprehension about particular climbs or sections. Training on the BG route is a big part of the tradition, and it does pay dividends once you’re out there. For example, not long before my round I had run leg 4, which starts with the dreaded climb up the side of Yewbarrow and also includes the rollercoaster climbs of Kirk Fell and Great Gable. Having done this so recently put my mind at ease that I knew these climbs were not quite as bad as they looked and they don’t go on forever. Even with tired legs, 40 something miles in, I got up Yewbarrow just 5 minutes slower than my PB and enjoyed it.
10. Want it - The mind is an incredible tool, and having that desire and thirst to complete a Bob Graham Round will keep you moving forward. My unsuccessful attempt in 2019 hung over me for a long time and I was determined to get it right this time. I wanted to make sure that all the hours training were converted into a success and only an immobilising injury was going to be what stopped me this time. Again, only the fittest will be able to just ‘pop out and do a BG’ for giggles, so make sure you’re out there because you want to be, not because you feel you should be.
I hope these tips can help you focus your training or make your attempt more successful. For any further advice, training or otherwise, feel free to get in touch!
My epic road support set up
Watch a short film about my round, created by Jan Bella