Updated: Dec 15, 2021
When I first started hillwalking, I thought fell running was crazy. Before long I was out with friends in some trail shoes and I loved the challenge. At this point, I laughed at anyone who suggested I had a Bob Graham Round in me.
Fast forward to the summer of 2019. I'm in good fitness thanks to helping a client train for a run around the Lakeland 3000's (45 miles, 3000m ascent), I'm about to turn 30, and the arrival of my second child is imminent. I had hoped to go mountaineering in the Alps but I got cold feet so close to the due date and suddenly the idea of doing a BGR was floated.
On Great Gable on my BG Attempt
The day soon came around and at 7am I set off on my anti-clockwise attempt. It was a mega weather day...almost too good. My friend Adam joined me for my first leg to Honister which I completed on pace feeling great. Going into the challenge I had tried to convince myself I was just going to get round, and as such didn't organise much in terms of on the hill support. My competitive streak got the better of me and I left Honister after a standard BG stop of 10 minutes, under nourished and under-hydrated. What's more, it was getting very warm and my 1.5l bladder wasn't going to last long. Atop Great Gable I had a distinctive twinge of cramp in my hamstring. As I climbed Kirk Fell the sensation became more regular, and then on my way up Pillar I had to stop and evaluate. Just 13 miles in or so and I was derailing, dehydrated and miles from water. I was luck in that Ush who was acting as road support is an absolute legend and he hiked up Yewbarrow and met me with food and fluids.
We dropped into Wasdale and I was still on pace for my newfound 24 hour ambition. Again, I should have listened to my body and spent some time refuelling, and even more notably, waited for the heat of the day to pass before I tried to drag myself up Scafell. As the BGR map says 'There is no easy way out of Wasdale' and I can confirm this is true. I lost a tonne of time on this section, and had it not been for Ush coming up with me I would have thrown in the towel then - another reason to have some support! I was well behind schedule by the time I got to the top of Scafell, but I did make it.
We dropped down the West Wall Traverse from the summit which offered some relent from the sun and it seemed to kick me into a gear I hadn't been able to find since the start. Ush left me on top Scafell Pike and I cruised over to Great End. I felt great, it was back on time wise and I was believing.
Coming down Lords Rake with Ush
This belief however was fragile and after taking a diabolical line off Bowfell my head started to drop. After Rossett Pike I dropped onto Martcrag Moor where I saw a couple emptying a bottle of red wine into their camping cups, all nicely set up for the evening. We briefly exchanged niceties and they asked what I was doing. Their response of 'rather you than me' was the final blow to my already crumbling mindset.
As I hiked up Martcrag Moor I phoned my wife and told her I feel like shit, I also messaged some friends who tried to spur me on. I stood and enjoyed a scene of Pike 'O Stickle reflected in a tarn for a small while, and then summoned my energy to go and stand on her summit.
From here I was convinced via messages to keep going and I did that to the top of Harrison's Stickle, but I was done. The cramping twinges never really left me alone and as such I had no real power. It felt like my hamstring could just go 'ping' at any given moment, which does make one rather tentative to push through the leg too much.
I dropped into Langdale where friends, a pint and a lift was waiting for me, and before long I was driving up the A591 looking at the light of a full moon glistening off the Helvellyn range.
In total I ran about 30 miles of 66, 22 summits of 42 and around 3,500m ascent of 8,000m.
Throwing in the towel. When I phoned my wife on Martcrag Moor she didn't know what to say. After she saw this video the next day she said 'If I'd see you looked like that I would have told you to drop out, you look dead!'
Evaluating from such an experience can take, hours, days, weeks, months or years. I drew some conclusions straight away, and as time has gone on I've realised more.
First off, I'd failed. This was obvious for all to see, and for me an anomaly. Up to this point in life, I had rarely failed much. Obviously I may not have been pushing myself as hard as I should have been, but whether it was a job interview, university degree, a business venture, a Himalayan peak, or a big run, I always seemed to be the achiever. Failing like this was a fairly new sensation and it stung. It was however oddly welcomed, failure drives hunger, hunger drives motivation, and true motivation is a mental game and as we all know, if you're mentally onboard then so much is achievable.
This leads on to either an overestimation of my abilities or the lack of respect for the BGR. I think it was more the latter, as at the time I was pretty fell-fit. My lack of support runners to carry fluids, or my lack of awareness to carry more was a huge downfall. If I had someone next to me pumping more water into me, feeding me, or even distracting me from my demons I would have done better I'm sure.
This leads nicely onto my biggest take-home point from this endeavour. I'm mentally weak. Granted I continued for 17 miles with cramping sensations, but had I not taken the easy 'out' of dropping into Langdale and just got myself to Dunmail Raise I may have been able to get up onto the Helvellyn range after a break. I even had a support runner coming with me for my final two legs.
Mental resilience is an interesting thing, maybe it's been built in throughout their childhood, for some it's earned due to a string of experiences, and for others it is quite possibly even a natural gift. I proved to myself that mine scored pretty low, but the positive from the whole failure is that I had this identified.
My son was born in early August and I knew my chance of being a BG completer was gone for the time-being. I did try and keep some miles going into my legs thanks to the understanding of my wife, and I even managed to post a semi-respectable time on the Abraham's Tea Round. Winter kicked in and not too long after that so did Covid. At this point I lived at Allonby, miles from the fells and unable to get up any hills unless I was to risk breaking lockdown rules (and reputational damage). I took to riding my road bike a lot, but I became pretty good at falling off that.
We got back to work in July 2020 and it all went a bit mental with the guiding and before we all knew it we were locked down again...and then again. 2020 probably saw the least amount of metres ascended for me in a long time which didn't do well for the huge level of base fitness I had built up since 2011 when I first started guiding.
Throughout 2020 I undertook my Level 3 PT diploma and completed this in early 2021. My mojo for running long distances was long gone and I was more intent on trying to improve my 32 year old physique by shifting some weights around. Of course, I'd still been going on some odd runs and joining good friend James Gibson as he recce'd sections of the Wainwrights helped me keep my hand in.
Just last week as I type this, James completed his epic Wainwright round in Winter - the first ever! I was involved in the round from both an on and off the hill support point of view. The time off the hill let me see how mentally strong he is, and the time on the hill let me see how damn fit he'd become (thanks to determination and commitment to training). I really enjoyed the running legs I did with him, especially the 'glory' leg as we polished off the Newlands Horseshoe and soaked up the praise into Keswick.
James after 8 Days, 6 Hours and 44 Minutes of effort - the first ever Winter Wainwright Round
Something inside me was starting to ignite. My running mojo was creeping back, and I was feeling inspired. Hell, inspired doesn't come close, I was blown away by this achievement. Seeing James succeed flicked the BG switch and it's all I've been able to think about. I've known since my failure I need to try again as I'll always live with the regret of not doing so, and I have decided that now is the time to get it done
This time it will be harder. I have two young kids instead on the one. My hill-time is much lower thanks to increased admin time, and I don't have a client getting me out on long runs as part of work. However, I do now have the thirst, and the knowledge thanks to my diploma to train effectively and efficiently.
I'm under no illusions, I need to train hard and dedicate the next 6 months to this goal, but it is quite exciting too. I want to be a BG completer, I want to taste the success of tagging Moot Hall after an awesome adventure out on the hills. Ultimately I want to battle my way to this success deep down I know I am more than capable of.
I will aim to blog my training experience from both a personal and a fitness point of view and I certainly hope a few of you enjoy the journey.
The tarn of reflection. Pretty much where my mind broke.