Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Bob Graham Round nailed!!

Yeeee-hawrrrr! I'll be a darn tooting son of a gun. I only done did that there high falutin Bob Graham Round - easier than hitting a hog's ass with a banjo I reckon...

Yes, well, perhaps not quite that easy in the cold light of day. In fact it was a damned close run thing but, on Saturday afternoon at 5:54 pm, I sprinted home to finish the whole round with just 6 minutes to spare of the 24 hours allowed, having set off at 6 pm from the same spot on Friday evening. Just in case anyone reading this is unfamiliar with the Bob Graham Round, its a fell runners 24 hour challenge in the Lake District in Cumbria that starts and finishes at the Moot Hall in Keswick and visits 42 mountain tops over an approximate distance of 66 miles with aggregate ascent of circa 26,000 feet; thats 5 miles of up and 5 miles of down. Its not a race or anything - you just decide to do it for the fun/hell of it, recruit some friends to help you and off you jolly well go. The 42 peaks in clockwise order are:

Skiddaw, Great Calva, Blencathra, Clough Head, Great Dodd, Watson's Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, Whiteside, Lower Man, Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike, Dollywaggon, Fairfield, Seat Sandal, Steel Fell, Calf Crag, Sergeant Man, High Raise, Thunacar Knott, Harrison Stickle, Pike O'Stickle, Rossett Pike, Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End, Ill Crag, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike, Scafell, Yewbarrow, Red Pike, Steeple, Pillar, Kirk Fell, Great Gable, Green Gable, Brandreth, Grey Knotts, Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson.

The whole round, for logistical purposes, is divided into 5 legs with different support runners helping on each leg, and crucially witnessing me visit each summit, and with a mobile road support crew ready and waiting with food and drink at the road stops between legs - these road stops are at Threlkeld (after Blencathra), Dunmail (after Seat Sandal), Wasdale (after Scafell) and Honister (after Grey Knotts). My support runners were magnificent throughout with Martyn, Helen, Mark, Adam, Dave and guest appearances from Steve and his mate on leg 1, Richard, Dave and Adrian (the 3 amigos Lancastrians) on leg 2, Bill and Mike toughing it out with me with a guest appearance from Adnan on leg 3, Steve, Janson, Kev, Adnan and Peter on leg 4 and Stef, Andrew, Kev, Hes and Harry on leg 5. Brilliant road support being provided by Hes, Ian, Manhar and Kev with Manhar also lugging coffee up Great Gable (Adnan had done exactly the same earlier after Great End). All three Kev's were different Kev's by the way.

I was mapping my progress on my Ambit 2 gps watch as I went round and, from above the route looks like this. You’ll notice that the proper track comes to a halt about 5 and a bit miles short of the finish in Keswick and, yep, that’s because the battery on my ambit died (thankfully after visiting the final peak of Robinson) even though it was showing quite a bit of battery charge left goddamit! Anyhow all 42 hills are there and that last 5 miles (albeit a killer on the day) are just country lanes and the only on-road section of the whole round.

Red is high, orange not quite so high, yellow middle high, moss green higher than not high and bright green low
As is usual for me with Bob Graham attempts, the weather didn't start at all great with rain and mist coming in just as we were half way up the first peak Skiddaw and this weather then stayed with us for the whole of the 10 hours of darkness with the rain getting much worse between Steel Fell and Rossett Pike on leg 3... which led on to some real difficulties. 

Despite the rain and mist I absolutely beasted the first two legs, getting to Threlkeld marginally faster than my best ever daylight running of leg 1 and forging on really well all the way to Dunmail over leg 2. Mind you we did have a few problems finding the cairn on Fairfield in the fog and the descent to Dunmail from Seat Sandal was a real taster of things to come with me, and my then closest support runner Dave, slipping and sliding on the mud and rocks all the way down the steep incline.

Then it was the toughest leg, leg 3, with the first half turning out a complete nightmare. We'd relatively whizzed up the first climb to Steel Fell out of Dunmail but, from that point on, we became slower and slower as the path, if you can call it that, became increasingly difficult to follow, stay on and/or find again having lost it. I'd thought that with gps keeping roughly on track wouldn't be too difficult but for this stretch, in such poor visibility, fog, darkness and rain, it became supremely hard work. Making matters worse the ground conditions were tricky too, being a mixture of deep grass, bogs, rocks and swamp and I just kept on falling, tripping and slipping over. And I lost time, a lot of it. By the time we'd got to Rossett Pike me, Mike and Bill reckoned we were over 50 minutes down on my 23 hour schedule - this meant that, to get round in 24 hours, would require me to keep absolutely on schedule from that point on with no room for further slow going and/or mis-navigation. I'd been going 12 hours and 10 minutes by this point and covered 35 odd miles with a good 30 to go. Who's bright idea was it to do this bit in the dark again???

Fortunately with the dawn the weather improved massively and Saturday turned out to be a beautiful day. Also the route after Rossett Pike was easier to follow too. We bashed on up Bowfell, over Esk Pike, Great End, Ill Crag, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike and Scafell and pretty much held to schedule over these difficult (rocky with knobs on) peaks and I felt really strong running all the way down the final descent of leg 3 from Scafell to Wasdale.

All the same, when I got to Wasdale, I was still 53 minutes behind schedule and I could tell from the looks on the faces of my leg 4 support runners waiting for me there that they were far from confident that I'd make it. Hester too, providing road support here, despite trying her utmost to be positive, had obviously been through the mill while waiting for me to turn up, especially so after my first two fantastic legs (and my previous Bob Graham disasters), but she did her utmost to be perky and positive and I left for leg 4 raring to go and catch some time up. It was now 9:37 am and I had 8 hours 23 left to finish in time. My planned schedule allowed exactly 8 hours 17 minutes for this last 21 mile stretch. It was going to be tight!

I was still feeling really strong though, especially so on climbs, and I fairly hammered up Yewbarrow and Red Pike and Steeple after that. I think I did Yewbarrow 8 minutes faster than scheduled, Red Pike 2 minutes faster and Steeple 3 minutes faster. The support runners suddenly started chatting and having fun and we were away and cooking on gas. All the same things did slow down a bit nearer the end of leg 4 and, whoever said getting to Great Gable with 4 hours or more to go and 'you're home and dry' was talking complete bollocks! I was there with about 4 hrs 28 minutes to go... and suddenly I couldn't run down hill properly. It wasn't my legs or feet aching particularly just more that my legs and feet just couldn't be arsed with running down hill over broken ground any more; they were just fed up to the back teeth with it in fact and didn't want to co-operate.

Fortunately my leg 5 team of Hester, Harry, Stef, Andrew and guest runner Kev all (apart from Hazzer) gave me sheer unremitting hell all the way to Keswick (they may as well have gone the whole hog and thrashed me with sticks) with Adnan also running out from Keswick and pushing me on for the last mile or so and, after what seemed a living hell, I finally hit Moot Hall with 6 minutes in hand. 

Phewee! The Bob Graham Club awaits!

Commiserations to Roy by the way, who'd also started out with me to do his round with his own dedicated support runners. Despite powering up Skiddaw at the start and looking strong when he got to Threlkeld he got lost in the hill fog on leg 2 and bailed out having lost too much time when he got to Dunmail.

Waiting for the off

Men in tights alert! (Not me of course or Helen who's not a man and is allowed to wear tights)

Leaving Keswick behind, not to be seen again for some while

Dawn over the Scafell range

Looking towards Ill Crag from Great End (I think)

Bill trundling over the rubble to Ill Crag

Rubble rubble everywhere

Me grabbing Scafell

Adnan 'the mountain goat' Khan. His coffee and cake after Great End saved the day

Following Adnan on the descent to Wasdale

Me at the top of the Scafell scree descent

Surfing the scree dude!

Better weather on leg 4 then

Heading for Pillar

A 'small' boulder fallen onto our path with Steve pushing it out of the way

View from Green Gable

Leg 5 now and I'm somehow still smiling

Heading for Hindscarth

Kev, not to be confused with Kev or Kev, in the col between Hindscarth and Robinson

Robinson at last, peak 42, with Harry helping

Keswick in view. Hurrah!

Andy fast losing patience with my pathetic-ness

Made it, goddamit!

A pint of much needed beer... before my wheels fell off and I turned into a post BG zombie for the night

My actual split times vs my schedule - green = good and red = bad


  1. Excellent report mate, really enjoyed hearing the rest of the story. Reckon I'll see you at the dinner!

    p.s. I know what you mean about being a "post-BG zombie". A perfect description .... I didn't even manage to get all of the pint down!

  2. Well Done Stolly.

    I expected it to be hard going but boy that was tough.
    Never done a night leg 3 before, and not sure I want to again!
    Glad to have been part of it.

    The forum will be a duller place without the next Stolly round in prospect.
    If it ever gets unsyrian hacked that is.

  3. Well done and many congratulations Brian,

    Can only imagine the mind games in the middle of all that! Terrific report and super Pics

  4. Well done Brian, sorry I could only help out with road support and not run with you, we were getting a little twitchy at Moot Hall at the end, but you manned up and cracked it!

    See you at the dinner.