Thoughts on a Bob Graham Round
Its 20:59 9th June 2017, in one minute I’m about to start the Bob Graham Round (BGR), for just short of 18 months all my training has been focused on getting me ready to successfully complete it. The only questions that remain are have I done enough and can I beat the fabled 24 hour time limit.
The BGR is a 66 mile circuit of 42 of the highest peaks in the English Lake District, it has 27,000ft ascent and descent. To become a member of the BGR club all you must do is complete it within 24 hours, just as Bob Graham, hotelier of Keswick, did in 1932. At the time, this became the Lakeland Fells 24 hour record.
To get myself ready for the challenge, I'd managed to cover just short of 1,000 miles in the 6 months prior to the round, including 230,000ft of elevation gain. This had included long days up to around 7 hours on a regular basis and back to back days of 4-5 hours on each day and a couple of events between 12-15 hours.
The largest block of training was dedicated to maximizing vertical gain, in the last 8 week block I covered just over 125,000ft. Much of this was done via hill repeats on hills no longer than 400m with vertical gain of 120-200ft per rep. 3 hours on a hill that gains 120ft in 180m (approximately 1:4, not quite a steep as some climbs on the round, but a good approximation), with each repeat taking around 3 minutes it was both good mental training and physical training, but was this the same as an hour of constant uphill like I would face on the longer climbs of the round?
I was using a slightly modified 23:00 hour clockwise schedule from Bob Wightmans site and had added a few minutes here and there on the longer climbs and descents, along with 10 minute stop at each road crossing. So, the final schedule was 23 hours 22 minutes.
The preceding 10 weeks have been some of the driest in living memory in the Lakes which culminated in a number of speedy times the previous weekend. Unfortunately, the weather had shifted to a more traditional unsettled period over the last 5-7 days and the forecast for the coming 24 hours is for rain and wind. I hope the forecasters are a little out (it wouldn't be the first time), if not the wind will build through the night from 20mph to 50mph and the rain will come in around 03:00 and won't stop till around 17:00.
None the less this is the date I picked, my support is all sorted (and what a team I have) and I aren't letting the weather stop me (hopefully).
Leg 1 (13 miles, 5,500ft)
With little fanfare at 21:00, me (Dave Teggart), Paul Wilson, Justin Trancel and Andy Williams set off. With the bridge across River Greta into Fitz Park still a few weeks away from being rebuilt (it was washed away in the floods of December 2015), we head back on ourselves and towards the leisure centre. As we come around the corner, Steve Rhodes is waiting to provide some early encouragement, I'll see him again in about 8 hours for leg 3. Soon enough we turn off the road and start the ascent through the trees to Latrigg carpark.
Once heading up Skiddaw we can see the big tent/stage at the Keswick Mountain Festival and hear the music playing on the wind, we try to decide if it was Cast or one of the earlier acts playing. As we ascended the clag (hill fog) descended to around 80-100 feet in many places, for the next 18 hours it never got much better and at times was down to as little as 5 feet through the night (the only exceptions were when dropping down to the road crossings). We realised we’d set off at a determined effort around an hour in and it looked like I was heading on for being 5 minutes up on schedule, so we backed off a little on the gentler slopes towards the top and hit the trig bang on schedule.
Chris Wilson (Paul’s brother) was waiting for us and joined in for the run down to the base of Great Calva. The last time I was down here, we had the driest conditions, I’d ever seen. With the recent rain, we had more normal conditions of soggy bog, by sticking to the edges of the heather we missed the worst parts and no one found anything too deep. We said our goodbyes at the bridge as we started the ascent towards Great Calva, which seemed to fly by, whilst having my first chocolate bar of the night.
Following the short out and back to the peak, its down the fence line on the slippery grass and mud, again the heather comes in handy as the grip is better. We cut through the gate and shorten the route by a few metres around to the circular sheep fold. With the rain over the days before the round, I’d began to wonder what level the River Caldew would be at. Having done some research I was informed that the level drops quickly once the rain stops, as it happens it was 6-8 inches deep, barely any deeper than most of the times I’ve crossed it.
Heading up from there we squelch through the soggy ground at the bottom of Mungrisdale Common. I recall the tale of my first leg 1 recce where I couldn't believe anyone would want to do 5 legs of this! But soon enough were traversing across towards the final pull up to the stone that marks the peak of Blencathra.
Then it’s the descent in to Threlkeld, we're taking the Parachute Drop. I’d only once nailed the line, but was confident in Paul’s navigation to hit the lines and points we needed. It drops directly off the summit down the grass and through a little scree and a few rocks towards Middle Tongue. From there your looking to traverse across through the heather and the odd scree and rocky section till you pick up the small gill that drops down to Gate Gill that leads down to the dog kennels at Gategill.
It had been about a month since I'd last done it, I was surprised to find what was previously barely perceptible as a trod (when I’d actually found it), had become more worn in such a short amount of time, and noted an extra marker or two (an over turned stone and small cairn) in a couple of places on the descent that weren't previously there.
We made it to Threlkeld about 4 minutes up on schedule, I was happy with the time, as it had ticked along nicely and I didn't feel I used too much energy. Time for leg 3:48, actual time arriving at Threlkeld 00:48
My road support (Andy and Greg) were just where I wanted them, with my food and drink ready as requested. I’d asked for a coffee at each road stop and was duly presented with one (good job lads). What I didn't know at the time was that they'd forgotten a pan to heat the water, but managed to blag a kettle of boiling water from a local house holder to ensure I had it, that’s what road support is about, thinking on your feet! As BGers, we are lucky that many of the locals are very supportive of the round, even though I’m sure we tend to frustrate them at times by parking and running through the villages and hamlets at unsociable times.
A quick sock change (I knew I needed to look after my feet from the off), and had planned in detail what shoe and sock combinations I’d use for each leg. It was going to cost me an extra minute or two at the road crossings, but I didn’t want to have my attempt fail, because of blister or similar that I could have prevented.
We’d said goodbye to Andy Williams on our way up to Blencathra and could see his head torch making his way down Doddick as we headed out on to leg 2 with Rick Bolton joining myself, Paul and Justin (running through from leg 1). We were good to go in 7 minutes, a little slower than I’d hoped, but no drama, we left Threlkeld 3 minutes under schedule at 00:55
Leg 2 (14 miles, 6,000ft)
A short run on the road around to Newsham leads to the fell and the climb of Clough Head. Each road crossing is preceded by a long descent and followed by a tough climb. Clough Head is always a tough one, it starts off nice and gentle before kicking up hard, but it’s still early in the round, so it’s about keeping going without putting out too much energy. I’d told my support that if I was going uphill, I wanted my poles, these were duly handed to me and off I strode. Since starting to use poles I've found that they just take a little of the heat out of my legs on the bigger climbs and this was no exception. The purists may not like them, but once you’re out of the country, they are more often than not, the norm, so I’m sticking with them. By the time were we at the top Paul and Justin had started to drift off the pace a little, I was up 6 minutes on the ascent, so knew I'd gone well (maybe too well), but felt they’d catch up over the back as we headed towards the Dodds.
As Great Dodd came and went, then Watson it became clear that we were pulling out a little more time on them. As we headed towards Stybarrow a head torch appeared in front, which turned out to be Paul, having cut the corner, his legs were cooked as it was just over 3 weeks since his own BG. He knew he wasn't going to be able to keep pace, so he waited to pick up Justin a little further behind us and continue on through the leg. We picked up 500ml of energy drink from Paul as we were conscious that we had spread the food and drinks between all the support runners. It meant I had 1 litre of energy drink for the leg instead of the planned 1500 ml, but I didn’t really expect to drink that much and it proved to be enough.
Rick and I pushed on, with the peaks coming thick and fast, we found we’d pick up a minute on one and lose a minute on another but were keeping pace, even when the clag was down to only a few feet. The rain started around Raise and as we headed towards Helvellyn Lower Man it became heavier and the wind started to pick up.
Rather than stopping to put wet gear on, we decided to push on towards Dollywaggon and the ascents of Fairfield and Seat Sandal. In my training, I've found that the descents are what trash my legs, so had added minutes on here and there on the longer/steeper descents to try and stave off some of the effects. So, the steep descent from Dollywaggon (by the wall, rather than the zig zag path and steps) was taken easy before heading around the side of Grisedale Tarn. We knew it was there, but couldn't see it, even though there was a slight brightening in the haze as the sunrise started beyond the cloud.
Fairfield has never been a favourite climb and with the rain and wind it once again it reminded me why. The descent is only a little less brutal with the scree, sharp rocks and twists and turns slowing the pace every other stride. As we descended it became apparent that dawn was upon on, it was more of a surprise than I'd expected, as the general visibility was still so poor in the clag. As we neared the bottom we spotted a person coming towards us. What sort of lunatic would be up here in these conditions I wondered, maybe it was the runner who set off an hour behind me (a depressing thought, if he had taken an hour out of me in his 6 hours of running!). it turned out to be Justin, heading up with some of my food, as he realised that I had run much of the leg with limited food and drink. In his hand was a decent slab of flapjack, which went down well.
Just as we hit Seat Sandal, Paul also caught up, putting the band back together for a short while. One of them mentioned liking this climb as it gained elevation quickly and had a bit of everything (I think it was Rick), I guess he was right as the climb came and went quickly, but by now I was starting to feel 8 hours of running and just wanted to get down the long descent into Dunmail Raise.
As we descended and the pass came into sight for the first time, I could see the red van of the support crew and plenty of other cars. A coffee and a short rest beckoned, but I still needed to be careful on some of the slippery corners and lose stones to be sure. Time for leg 4:20, cumulative time 8:08, actual time arriving at Dunmail 05:08
We were up on schedule by about 25 minutes, much of this had been made up since Helvellyn and nearly 10 minutes gained on the final descent to Dunmail, as the clag had started to lift and sunlight appeared.
At the van it was time for a full change of clothes as I was soaked to the skin. I’d allowed 10 minutes here for a stop. In what seemed like no time, the alarm was going off, as it happens it was set to go at 6 minutes to give me a heads up. I could see 2 of my 3 support ready and waiting (Steve Rhodes and Josh Jardine) had anyone seen Simon (Bayliss), I asked, errmm no was the reply. Someone was dispatched to locate him and he was found in his car ready to go.
Getting dried, changed and trying to take on food in a limited amount of space and time isn't as easy as it sounds, so when the 10 minutes was up, I wasn't quite ready. By the time I was out of the van 12 minutes had passed, I said my goodbyes to Paul, Justin and Rick and turned towards the big leg.
Leg 3 (17 miles, 6,500ft)
As we headed over the style, I was still trying to get a sandwich down me. The pull up Steel Fell went well, but with each step the weather got a little worse. By the time we’re heading up the long grind to Calf Crags and Sergeant Man, we were once again in poor conditions with rain lashing down and the wind giving us some serious buffeting.
I've always found that it’s a long drag first to Calf Crags and the then Sergeant Man, but on this occasion, both were over and done in what seemed like a flash. After Calf Crags we’d stayed out wide on the path for longer than I had during my recce’s so instead of trudging through the sodden ground, we had moved well for much of it.
Having said that at some point heading towards Sergeant Man I had started to think about how long I'd been running and noticed 9:26 on my watch, just over 12 hours and feeling great. A few minutes later I realised it was actually 9:26 running time and only 06:30am, I was a little gutted at the realisation! It just goes to show how easy it is to go from feeling great to being down beat. I put it to the back of my mind and started to concentrate on getting to the summit.
With the full change of clothes at Dunmail, I’d not eaten a great deal and Steve was doing his best to get some food in me, but by now I wasn’t really feeling like it. Having quickly calculated I realised that I'd taken on approx 500kcals at Dunmail and heading up Steel Fell, so didn't want to continue eating too much, but kept taking small bits and pieces on here and there. I was still drinking a mixture of different energy drinks, so was getting approx 100kcals per hour from that alone.
High Raise, Thunacar Knott, Harrison Stickle and finally Pike o Stickle all came and went with little drama. I'd decided to stick out wide and maintain as much elevation as possible rather than take the more direct racing line to Rossett Pike. It gave me a good section of decent running before hiking up the long but gentle drag and the final clamber up to Rossett Pike itself.
We had lost a little time on each of the climbs but were still approx 10 minutes up on schedule at this point. It was around this point that I realised I was starting to become cold, by now my over mitts were totally soaked and were filling with water as it permeated through the membrane and my inner clothes were also soaking wet under my waterproofs. I borrowed an additional jacket from Josh as it allowed me to put it on and keep moving.
Whilst I was still positive about completing the round, I kept running the numbers through my head and each time, it came back the same. I was around halfway in half the time, so I still had around 11-12 hours of running to do, oh boy! I knew the next section was key to the round and hinged on whether I could stick to pace on the wet rocks.
So, we headed to Bowfell and I just did what I’d been doing. My plan on each climb was now fully in place, get behind one of the others, watch their feet and take the same line and never look up, just concentrate on moving forwards. By the time we hit the top I'd picked up a few minutes, the first time on any climb on this leg. All in all I was feeling pretty good mentally at this point, but the weather was really starting to punish us and the temperature had dropped just enough for us to once again begin to get cold and contemplate stopping and adding additional layers as we would be exposed and moving slower over the next section. In the lea of some rocks we stopped and added additional layers.
I was now wearing every bit of kit, I had, plus the borrowed jacket, this consisted of long sleeve base layer, short sleeve base layer, long sleeve fleece mid layer and 2 waterproof jackets, plus hat, buff, gloves and over mitts, long leggings and waterproof over trousers. At best I was just warm enough, and didn't want to stop any longer. To keep warm I took any opportunity I had to use my poles, so as I was using a few more muscles and it allowed me keep whatever heat I had. I thought this was meant to be a summer round!!!
It seemed to take an age to get to Esk Pike and Great End didn't feel any quicker, I’d only done this section a couple of weeks before in glorious sunshine and flew between them. By now I was beginning to tie up, as on the occasions where we could run my quads and hamstrings were just so tight. I was surprised it wasn't my calves, but they just seem to keep on ticking. On the plus side, I felt I was still climbing well and wasn't feeling negative, just wished time would speed up a little, and the reality was that I was just about sticking to schedule, as I’d been up by 20 minutes at the start of the leg, even though I was losing time I was still on target overall.
So, I settled on a different strategy, just switch off and keep moving and trust my support, they were nailing the lines and allowing to concentrate on moving as economically as possible. I found the poles were helping with the balance on the wets rocks, but every now and then the tip got stuck between the rocks. Ill Crag and Broad Crag came and went and then the fun started...
As we were taking a hammering from the wind, we decided to take a different route up to the peak of Scafell Pike, we got to the summit and there wasn't a sole in sight. I guess that says it all that at nearly dinner time on a Saturday that there wasn't a single other person up there and it had been the National 3 Peaks Challenge this weekend! It was 10:44, I was 1 minute up on schedule, with the final peak of the leg to come, things were looking good (at least against schedule).
As we descended we did pass a couple of people, I’m pretty sure they were thinking the same as me, idiots! A few minutes later we came to a stop, with the comment from Steve, “I don't recall seeing those shelters before”. I've got to be honest I was neither use nor ornament, I just stood there waiting for them to tell me where to go. We moved off and shortly came back to the point we had passed approx. 15 minutes before, with a climb back up to the Pike summit in front of us. Gutted as I was, it wasn't the time, nor the place to tantrum, and it was my round and my responsibility, so it was time to press on.
On reaching the summit for the 2nd time, I ensured I touched the cairn, surely that counts as 43 (if I finish)!? This time we took the correct line, down past 3 cairns and up to Mickledore. By now my fingers were getting cold due to being so wet, so I kept removing the over mitts to get rid of the water within them and wring them out, as I would need my hands working for the next 30 minutes.
We quickly debated which shoot to take down to Lords Rake, I'd always taken the last one right up against the rocks, as you don't drop as far down as the previous one. Without any hesitation, I was over the edge and sliding down the scree (great fun on a nice dry day, with less of a drop below you). This time there was a lot of water running down it and I knew Lords Rake and the rest, would be a challenge.
For Simon, it was his first time on this section, not ideal introduction, but he was going to learn the hard way… I thought back to the first time I’d done it, in 6-12 inches of snow and a pair of mini spikes and ice axe between me and Steve. That day was a steep learning curve, and one I had since reflected on and wouldn’t do again, with minimal kit. So with it only being wet, it was going to be slower than in the dry, but doable.
At the base of the rake, the water was trickling down between the scree, I’m no climber, but always found sticking to the right and using the rocks to pull yourself up an easier way than trying to push up from your legs on the scree and having it slip under you. Today was no different, just wetter, and maybe the scree was moving more under foot and the rocks a little slippery to hold. The good news was that we were out of the wind!
Josh went first, I followed with Steve and then Simon at the rear. I’m relatively little and skinny and was carrying nothing other than the clothes on my back, but Simon is a little larger and he was carrying a decent size pack, so every step he took, meant he was slipping back down further in the scree. So as I was finding it hard, it was harder for him.
As I ascended the scree, Steve was virtually above me on what I can only presume was a small ridge on the rocks, having spent many years climbing he was in his element, the rest of us less so. Lords Rake is just the start, with the West Wall Traverse (WWT) in the middle and Deep Gully to finish. Approx. halfway up the Rake, you climb up to the left in to the WWT, Josh was up above to give me a hand if I needed it. For the first few metres you should keep close the rocks on your right and if you don’t like heights, don’t look down. But once across the first few metres it becomes a little more enclosed and you can't go wrong as it bears around to the right and widens out in to a rocky/scree scramble/climb all you have to do is keep moving upwards.
The last time I was here myself and James Desmond had come across a 2 pairs of sheep and lambs, the first pair had moved down past us near the bottom where it was widest, the second pair kept moving up ahead of us. As you ascend it narrows down to being only 3-4ft wide, the sheep and lamb kept climbing until they had nowhere to go. So like us, they turned left into Deep Gulley, as I got to the gulley entrance I could see the lamb had managed to get up to the top, but the sheep had got his front legs stuck under its body. So I gave it a helping push and eventually it gain traction with its rear feet and his front feet came free from under its body. What I didn’t expect was it to head quickly left and then back on itself, it dropped back into the WWT and missed James by a matter of feet as it did so. Like a cat it landed on its feet and took off down the scree, it left me and James to climb up onto the top and the lamb on his own. As were climbed out of the gulley, the lamb headed out onto the rocky cliffs away from us we turned towards the summit.
Today we had no such problems, just rain and wet scree, but slowly we made our way up to the gulley entrance. Once we turned left into Deep Gully the water was really coming down through the scree and every step just slipped beneath your feet. Slowly but surely, we made our way up and finally popped out of the top and once again back into the wind.
It's only a short hop to Scafell summit and then the run down to Wasdale. When I asked how the time was looking, I was told not to worry and to just focus on getting down to Wasdale. I knew it wasn't good, and did my best to put it to one side and concentrated on getting off the mountain. I’d forgotten (or had my mind blocked it out?), how long the rocky/scree descent is from the peak and I struggled to get my legs to move at any kind of pace as the previous 4 hours of slow going in the wet rocks and wind, had stiffened them to a point that each step was painful to take. But the thought of the gentle run on the grass and the final scree descent and a change of clothes along with a warm drink in Wasdale kept pushing me on.
I told Steve to ensure he picked up his feet, as the last time we’d come down into Wasdale, he’d shown me his best Superman impression, whilst it looked good whilst in the air, the landing didn’t go well and he ended up with a few knocks to his wrist, knee and ankle. That was nearly 4 months ago, and his ankle still hadn’t fully healed.
As we got off the scree and into the final steep descent on the grass we could hear the stream, as we got close it was clear that the stepping stones were well covered and the water was crashing down in a strong current. There was no way we were crossing at the normal spot. So, decided to traverse down the side and see if we could find a spot with a slightly shallower point. As it happens a further 50 metres or so down the water was a little slower moving and slightly shallower, so myself, Steve and Simon managed to link up the three of us and got across without incident. By the time I arrived at Wasdale I was 28 minutes down on schedule, meaning we’d taken 7 hours and 18 minutes for the leg, the time was 12:26.
Joss had pushed on ahead to let them know, we were coming and that I had started to get cold (thanks Josh), so when I arrived the heater had been cranked up to help me warm up. I’d had plenty of time to chew over what I was going to do to dry out and warm up at Wasdale as well as what kit I was to wear on the next leg, but the first order of business was getting to the toilet. However, there was no toilet roll in any of the stalls, so it was back to the van to find a roll. It added maybe 30-40 seconds onto the stop, but it didn't help calm my nerves. So, in the 2-3 minutes of quiet and alone time whilst at the toilet I tried to calm down and take stock. I was wet (clearly), a little cold and behind schedule, but all in all feeling pretty good and positive. I wasn't sure by how much I was down, but guessed it was around 30 mins behind (which meant I was still under 24 hour schedule and up to now I was travelling close to my 23:22 schedule). I could sort the wet and cold once in the van, so all in all I'd got Wasdale in pretty good shape, just a bit down on time.
Once in the van it was the usual whirlwind of pulling clothes off, finding new clothes (no not that black top the other black top), and trying to get some food and drink in. About now I realised that I'd not eaten well over the last probably 3 or 4 hours. I'd nibbled little bits and drunk a little, but was well down on what I had planned on. Two pots of rice pudding and coffee hit the spot.
I'd packed my clothes in to bags and labelled them by type, trousers/shorts, t-shirts/tops, waterproofs etc. I'd also pre-planned what shoes I'd change into at various stops. So I knew what kit I wanted and which bag I'd find it in, I just needed to find the bags. Trying to do all this at once when tired, wet and cold, isn't the easiest. Luckily my support crew had a good handle on what was where and I soon had the lot together and was warming up nicely. My wife (Lynsey) and her best friend Sharon, had made it to Wasdale (I never doubted them!). She was looking a little concerned when I first saw her as she knows I'm not at my best when cold, but I reassured her I was fine.
There was plenty going on outside and after maybe 10 minutes (in my head), likely nearer 15 minutes in reality, Dave Dixon stuck his head in the door, “it’s time we were moving” he said. I had started to warm up, had dried off and eaten, all I had to do was get dressed. Up to now I'd managed to not do any damage to my feet or suffer any chafing. I still had 8 hours or so of running if everything went to plan, but that's still a long time. So, before the clothes and socks go on its Bodyglide time. On the run up to the day I’d told Andy and Greg that they'd get to see me looking rougher and rougher as the day went on, so they said they'd bring the camera to make sure they could capture these moments! So there I am naked in the van rubbing Bodyglide on any piece of skin that could come into contact with another and Greg decides this is the perfect photo opportunity. I won't describe the photo in any detail, but let's just say I was ensuring my private parts weren't going to chafe when he took the picture, that’s what mates are for, and I’m sure I will see that picture again in the future...
Leg 4 (11 miles, 6,500ft)
In all it took 24 minutes from getting to Wasdale to heading out the car park with a sandwich and apple pie to take with me up the formidable Yewbarrow. My first question to the support was to confirm exactly what the time was, it was 12:50, I’d started 15 hours and 50 minutes before and was now 42 minutes down on schedule. I was heading out 4 minutes over a 24 hour schedule, but I knew I was moving a little faster than this (at least I had up to now), so I was feeling pretty confident, but knew there were still some big climbs and 8 hours of running to do.
On this leg was Dave Dixon, Matt Neal, Mark McClinchy, Paul Calderbank and Zack the dog. Along with them was Simon who was doing legs 3 & 4 back to back (a real quality day, top job!), and I checked he was still up to it, as being BG support, is in itself a tough job, he said he was. Each of the newcomers (except Zack) had completed the BGR at least once and other longer challenges to boot, so I was with good company that knew the ropes!
We set off knowing the weather was going to be poor, with a full set of dry clothes I was now feeling warm, positive and motivated. That lasted to the gate as we climbed into the field to ascend Yewbarrow. My legs were still very tight, even considering the extended rest and I felt I was moving slowly up the hill. With plenty of encouragement we made progress, we also headed to the right earlier than I had done in the past, as we crossed the stream shortly after the stile barely 100 metres up the hill. As the Harvey BGR map says, “there’s NO easy way out of Wasdale”, they were right. I hadn't been looking forward to this hill, but it was easier than I'd anticipated, even though it still felt slow.
By now I had removed my watch, that’s not truly accurate. Whilst ensuring I wasn’t going to get cold I’d added additional layers for this leg, so when it came to putting my watch on, I couldn't get it fastened on the outside of it all, at least not when trying to not lose any more time and being tired. So, I put my watch in my jacket pocket as I still wanted to have the gpx track. This decision will cost me later! So I had no concept of time other than when I asked at each peak, “how are we doing” and I'd get “we're on schedule, just keep it up” type of answer.
By the top of Yewbarrow we were back in the wind and rain, oh the joy! The run off the back of Yewbarrow was still a struggle as my legs just didn't want to move and just felt stiff and generally painful each time I tried to shift from a walk to a run. The others were still telling me I was doing fine and that I was still on target, so there were no dramas and I just kept on plugging away.
In my preparation, I had somehow forgotten about Red Pike, either that or it had grown significantly since I was last there. I genuinely wasn't ready mentally for the long drag up from Dore Head. It just seemed to go on and on. Dave and Simon had stuck with me from the off and were doing there best to get food and drink in me. As we neared the top of Red Pike, Paul dropped back towards us. He brought news, it went something like “your dropping a little time on each climb, there's some good running sections coming up, we're going to push on. All you have to is maintain our pace”. “Ok mate, you set the pace, I'll get on it” was my reply.
I guess this was the moment I'd been training for. That set the scene for the next 3 or so hours. The train was formed with Matt, Mark and Zack out front by 80-100 yards, Paul and Simon yo-yoing in-between (they tended to be the shapes in the clag that I was aiming for, never quite in touching distance, but near enough to see and follow). Then me and Dave, he’d be either just in front or just behind, ready to take my poles or pass over food and drink.
Much of this leg was a blur. for most of it, I was sure we were taking different routes than I'd recced, not that I could see much in the clag, nor did I have the time to look around. But sure enough we’d hit each peak and I'd ask, “which ones this” and “how are we doing for time”? I'd get the “on time” or “we gained a minute” and we’d move straight off. It was about as efficient as we could have made it. Matt and Mark would wait till we came into view and then head off. Paul and Simon would usually be a little closer and as I approached the cairn, they’d move off allowing me to touch it and follow them. Dave would record the time and follow on a few metres behind.
For much of this leg I was on the rivet, as we headed towards one of the peaks, Mark dropped back to me and Dave. Dave was chatting away and had previously mentioned that Mark was straight talking, when telling me about him and Matt and so he proved “stop talking and get moving”, and then he pushed back on up the hill. I don't recall doing a great deal of talking other answering questions. Do you want a drink? Yes. Do you want some food? No. Do you want your poles? Yes.
Up to now, the longest run I'd done was 15 hours, so I was about an hour or so past that. I wasn't feeling the love for food, but managed a pack of Frazzles (bacon flavoured crisps) and then wine gums and finally shot blocks. So whilst I wasn't eating a great deal with these and the energy drink I was getting around 100-150kcals per hour throughout the leg.
As we did the short out and back to Steeple, I could start to feel my legs freeing up and over the next 30 minutes or so they started to feel better and better. The pain was subsiding and I could run relatively freely. My legs were clearly tired and I'd lost some of the finer motor control when on the more technical ground, but on open fell and normal tracks things were looking good. It was lucky really as the pace they were setting was pushing me hard on a good number of occasions, I really did keep looking forward to having a walk break, even if it was an uphill slog.
As we headed up to Pillar, a single runner came down out of the clag, he stopped and spoke to Paul, then turned round and headed off at a real quality rate. The run down to Kirk Fell had a real side wind and we struggled to stick to the path. I think it was about this time we were passing runners coming the other way doing the Ennerdale fell race, I have to say there were some under dressed racers.
As we headed towards Kirk Fell, I was asked what route we were taking up it, I said I'd prefer to go straight up the rocks on the walker’s path as I hated he red scree gulley to the side. We had a quick chat and it was felt that the gulley would offer us some protection from the wind, so opted for that. It turns out that they were right, we did get out of the wind and that I wasn't aware of the trod to the left up above the scree (the first and last time I'd gone up this way, I'd gone straight up the scree, a slog!), it felt easier than I'd expected, so was all together happy when we hit the top.
Every now and then, I was starting to think of the end of the run, only 4 or so hours in the future. But before that we had to get over Great Gable, the last of the big climbs. My legs were still feeling pretty good, but clearly fatigued as the pace over the last few hours had been punishing. Sometime around here the rain started to slow. I don't recall it actually stopping, just that I eventually realised it had, it was around 17:00 (14 hours after it started).
Sometime around here I was informed that we had been picking up time consistently over the last couple of hours and that if needs be, there was enough time to have a stop at Honister, something that I’d scrapped as we’d left Wasdale.
As we climbed Great Gable a few on my support (I think Dave and Matt, but can't be sure), recalled the annual Remembrance Day service that takes place each year at the summit to commemorate the fallen from the first world war (up to 200 people attend). At the time, I was just thinking about keeping going and not falling over (which I had done on a good number of occasions throughout the round, particularly on the wet rocks!). When your legs start to tire, the taller steps really take it out of you, so there were a few points where it took 2 attempts to get my leg high enough and propel myself upwards with enough force to complete the move from one rock to the next. The poles helped to a point in these situations, but not always. On reaching the peak (as big a moment as it was), we did what we had done at every other one. I touched the cairn, and headed off after the others.
Green Gable and Brandreth came and went, it’s always nice to be able to look down onto the next peak and every now and then the clag broke up and all of a sudden we were no longer running in a bubble. Grey Knotts is just a lump of rocks sat atop a hill, when coming from the height of Great Gable, but on a BGR, it represents so much more. If, as I had managed to do, you have paced it well, it signifies the end of the big stuff and the beginning of end. As I climbed on to the rocks to touch the cairn, Mark, Matt and Zack continued down directly to Honister. It was finally time to think of the finish, 33 minutes to Dale Head, 21 minutes to Hindscarth, 26 minutes to Robinson, then it’s just 95 minutes back to Moot Hall. I'd struggled to remember the splits for the last 15 hours, but these, I knew. I also knew there was some slack in the last three and if push came to shove, it was where I was banking on picking up lost time, if I needed to.
As we descended towards Honister there was a lone runner, asking each person in turn, “are you Dave”? Before I got to her Dave Dixon recognised her and shouted over. It was Angela, (we hadn't met up to now, she had been due to start the round with me, but events transpired against her on this occasion). So instead she’d hiked up to catch us as we dropped down. After a quick hug and a congrats we headed down the last few hundred metres of the climb.
For the first time in the round, I took a different route to my navigator, I was thinking about what I was going to do at Honister, so stripped off my outer jacket and before I knew it I was on the left-hand path and Paul was 80 metres to my right on a different one. It didn’t really matter, as there was little difference between the routes and a minute or two later I was heading in to the Slate Mine car park.
As we had made up much of the time lost earlier in the day, I took a couple of minutes rest rather than running straight through. I’d decided to shed the outer layer of waterproofs (I’d been wearing 2 layers of waterproofs since leaving Wasdale) and the sun was now shining away merrily (where was that for the last 10 hours!). However, I kept my lightweight waterproof over trousers and a thin Goretex jacket on, as I was conscious of the wind still making me cold over the next hour or two. Time for leg 4, 5 hours 5 minutes, cumulative time 20:31, actual time 17:31. I was still 14 minutes down on schedule, but closing in.
Leg 5 (11 miles, 2,500ft)
Before we headed out I thanked the support from leg 4, they'd pushed me hard for a lot of it and there had been a few times when I felt I was nearing my limit, but I hadn't quite reached it. Paul was the only one continuing on and we picked up Emma as well as Steve and Rick returning from earlier in the day/night. The contrast in our clothing was marked, there was me still dressed head to toe in waterproofs, Paul half and half and the others in shorts and t-shirts.
As I wasn’t needing to get re-dressed or swap shoes, I had time to sit down and drink a cup of coffee and another pot of rice pudding. In 2 minutes we were heading out the car park.
I was looking forward to Dale Head, as unlike many of the other climbs it was all grass/track and only the first few hundred metres are particularly steep, it just happens to go on and on and on. Each time you think you'll be able to see the top just over the next rise, you don't, it’s just more hill. As we climbed I was asked if Paul had sung to me yet, I initially answered no, but on reflection realised that he had done, at every peak we’d hit. It wasn't the greatest vocal display I'd ever heard (maybe that’s why I hadn’t remembered), but as he put it “another one down, another one down, another one bites the dust”. How I'd missed it for 5 hours is beyond me, but once pointed out it was obvious.
At 33 minutes we hit the summit cairn to a new song 40 green bottles, thanks to both Steve and Paul. I was now only 6 minutes down on schedule. As we’d climbed, Emma had commented that with the weather improving we’d be able to see much of the round from the summit. So once reaching the cairn we took a brief moment to have a look around and get a few pictures. It was a nice feeling to know I'd run over a lot of what we could see and the views really did do the lakes the justice they deserve. But we couldn't stand around for too long as there was a little more to cover.
The run around to Hindscarth is laid out in front of you and is a lovely runnable section and with minutes to be gained it was time to get a few more in the bank. As we ran down from the summit, 2 of Helm Hill’s runners came past us at a cracking pace, they were on the final leg of a Billy Bland Challenge and putting together what turned to be a very fast time for the leg and the round as a whole (hats off to them all).
The wind was still blowing hard and as we hit the bottom of the drag up Hindscarth we had the wind directly behind us and at times were blown up the hill faster that our legs were going. I needed that hours ago, not on the 2nd to last climb! I hit the cairn with a not so glorious rendition of 41 green bottles and then pushed straight on for the final peak. Leg 5 had been one of my last recces on a glorious day (not too dissimilar from the sunny conditions we had now, but a lot less windy). I'd run the section from Dale Head to Robinson at a good pace (without going daft), so I knew what could be done, if it needed to be. Retracing the steps now, I wasn’t going quite as fast (but I knew I didn't need to) and I had a different perspective on things. All those nagging questions and what ifs had been answered. Had I done enough training, how would I be feeling, would cramp get me at some stage, what about my feet and blisters, what if the weathers awful etc., they were all now answered.
Whilst I was feeling tired, I still seemed to be in half decent shape, I couldn't quite get my legs moving fast enough to be nimble on anything that was remotely technical, but barring a few minor exceptions the rest was runnable terrain. The trod up Robinson was coming into view and my final peak was only a few minutes away. The climb went well, poles in hand up I went step by step, as the climb slackens and the peak gets close, you really do get a big smile on your face. My watch (Garmin Fenix 2) had been in my jacket pocket since Wasdale and had long since stopped vibrating to tell me I'd climbed another 250ft, so it had clearly died. But on the off chance I reached for it anyway, to my dismay, it wasn't there.
After 22 hours of running and on the final peak, I was gutted. The thought of doing all this and not getting to show it off on Strava, was my first thought. I’d used this thought on a number of occasions to get me through my training and some of the tough parts of the last 22 hours. Oh yes and it cost a fortune (but I get a new shiny toy)! Then the reality, I've got to tell the wife (Lynsey) I've lost my Garmin again!!! Recently I’ve managed to leave my Garmin watch and hand held gps on a number of occasions, each time (with a lot of luck), I’ve managed to be reunited with then. Unlike the other times where I was able to say where I had left them, this time, all I knew was I had it as we left Wasdale and I didn’t have it when I reached the top of Robinson. D’oh! Oh well, what was done was done and it wouldn't change anything, so I got back to heading for the final peak. Another belting tune from Paul and a quick photo, and that was it. It was 18:44, 4 minutes under schedule and was finally time to get off the fells and hit the road.
The run down has a couple of rocky points on shiny white stone, get these wrong and it will hurt, so we took a detour around the first, but missed the trod around the second so ended up with three of us clambering down the slippery surface. Once off there we had the choice of staying up on High Snab Bank or dropping down the sharp grassy banking to the tarn below High Crags. After a quick debate 4 of us took the high route, one the low route. We would see which was quickest, it turned out the low route seemed to be quickest (but I can't be sure I could run at Steve’s pace down to where we met). From there it was down to Newlands Church and the final hoorah on the tarmac.
As we headed down towards the Church, Andy and Greg appeared on the bikes, having hot tailed it back to Threlkeld, picked them up and driven them into Keswick and then rode out to meet us. It was great to see them for more than a few fleeting minutes at a time and they provided the moral support I knew they would along with plenty of banter over the next 50 minutes or so.
I’d originally intended to run straight through in my Mutants, but Steve had carried my road shoes from Honister, so it was only fair I put them on. As we rounded the corner to the car park shortly after Newlands, Lynsey and Sharon were there and I sat down in Sharon's car and swapped over my shoes. It's worth saying at this point that Sharon had been chauffeuring Lady Lynsey around the lakes all day, and having spoken to her after the run, it’s fair to say she’d been on roads and in places that she really didn't enjoy, so thank you for that, it really is appreciated.
As I hadn't anticipated swapping my shoes I hadn't brought any socks for my road shoes, so I ended up with thick water proof socks and trying to shove my feet into slim line road shoes. It wasn't the most comfortable combination I’d worn all day, but only 4.5 miles to go. As I left the car, I mentioned that I had lost my watch to Lynsey, I got that look (you know what I mean...), along with something like AGAIN? “Yes again”. With that it was time to go. Rick had recently completed this section in 40 minutes, and in doing so managed a 23:59:10 BGR (yes, he had a full 50 seconds to spare!). So I knew if I had to, I may be able to get close to that, as it turned out, I didn't need to, so we walked the uphill’s (I’d been doing this for the last 22 hours and I wasn't going to change it now!).
By now I was becoming very tired as I knew I was nearing the end and physically I was really feeling the effects of the whole thing. So, each time I had the opportunity to walk I did. Anyone who has done anything long, know that the mental aspect is as important as the physical one, but very few of us do any mental training in a similar way to physical training (me included).
During the tough times 4 things kept me going:
- I'd put so much into the training and preparation, I didn't want it all to be for nothing.
- How could I ask Lynsey and the kids to again give me the freedom I’ve had over the last 6 months to train as and when I needed.I wasn't going to let the navigation error cost me.
- We had lost around 25 minutes, there was no way I was going to finish between 24 hours and 24:30 (as I would have blamed the error).
- Once I start, I ain't quitting till it’s done. Rain, hail, wind or shine I'm finishing.
So it was time to suck it up and keep putting one foot in front of the other, its only 4 and a bit miles.
Soon enough the miles started to tick by, Little Town was soon behind us. Stair came and went, then Swinside. You start seeing signs of life as you near Derwent Water. Running past the cafes overlooking the water, I really wouldn't have minded a coffee. Turning right in Portinscale and down the street and the foot bridge soon comes in to sight. Over there and past the motorhomes and it’s a quick right on to the footpath, now I can start to smell the finish.
It's time to get this over and done with, I started to pick up the pace, it’s not fast, but its solid enough to feel like proper running. Not far, maybe half a mile or so, through the old metal gate and the path starts to widen. It bears left and the road is in front of me, a quick right by the bike shop and its straight up the road to glory. Paul and Rick push on as the roundabout nears, people are told BGer coming through. I can’t recall if there was traffic at the roundabout, but either way Paul's doing his best Police impression and I’m straight across. The bottom of the precinct is in sight with Moot Hall behind. I can see Lynsey trying to take photos, and two drunk idiots doing their best to photo bomb. They get the message and turn around to walk off as I’m getting close, I get a high 5. The steps are all I have to do, 2 steps at a time and the famous door is there. SLAM, I hit it with my palm, time stops, no more running, what's the time?
I walk down the steps, gingerly this time, and sink to the floor, the leg took 2 hours 44 minutes, 23 hours and 15 minutes after I left, 7 minutes up on schedule, It's time for back slaps, hugs, cuddles and kisses (depending on who it was). I thank everyone that's there, without them, there's no way I would have completed it. I'm forever indebted to each. There was still one question to be answered, how many beers, can I now drink. It's off to the pub to find out, I order a pint. Having gotten changed I address the pint and do my best, but even when nursing it and a burger, I can only manage a half before I swap to Coke.
Here I am, a few weeks later, the legs are no longer tired, and I’m pondering, what would I have done differently? For starters, I’d have picked a dryer and less windy day, but that's not really in my gift. Second, I wouldn't have gotten lost on Scafell Pike (again, a lot to do with the weather, or was it Steve trying slow me down?) and lastly, I'd have packed my kit slightly differently. I used in the main white bags with sticky labels, but in a cramped van, there all the same and it meant me or someone else digging through them. If I’d have used different colours, it may have made things easier.
Other than that, I'm not sure. In 24 hours so many things can go wrong, but in the main, not a lot did and I’m happy with that. I've been asked if it was harder or easier than I expected, my answer is, if you do the training and respect the course, you know what to expect. It was very, very hard, but I always knew it would be and was prepared for it to be so.
Once again a big thank you to my supporters during the round, you were truly awesome and to those that spent their time, watching the tracker dot on the screen and commenting, whilst I wasn't able to see them, I was told about them and it kept me going.