The weather for the week before the planned date for my attempt at the Bob Graham Round was fantastic. The sun had been splitting the stones and the river beds were showing their rocky bottoms. Unfortunately, the forecast looked like it wasn’t going to last. It seemed like thunderstorms were going to hit at some point in the mid-afternoon of the round, just when we were due to be somewhere between Pillar and Robinson. With 48 hours to go, a few frantic phone calls were made and we decided to postpone by 24 hours. Unfortunately, the delay meant that some folks were no longer able to make it. To ensure that there were enough support runners on each leg, Scott Gibson kindly agreed to move from leg 4 to leg 2 and Dave Sykes moved from leg 4 to leg 3 (but carried on for most of leg 4 as well!). With these last-minute arrangements made, I tried to get some sleep in the bank.
With a well-laden car, we arrived at Derwentwater House Hostel at 2 o’clock on Saturday 27th May, to find that most of the support runners from North Shields Poly were already there, alongside my parents. Final arrangements were made, phone numbers exchanged, and food & spare clothes were divided between the two campervans which we used for the road crossings. My wife Helen was going to co-ordinate things from the Hostel with the help of our sons Sam and Ben manning the tracker web-site. I got a couple of hours of shut-eye before a cup of tea, bowl of porridge and iced finger set me up for the start. Scott Watson joined us at Moot Hall and, at 7pm, we were off.
Leg 1. Moot Hall, Keswick to Threlkeld.
Support runners: Katherine Davis (NSP), Richard Hanley (NSP), Graham Lewis-Dale (NSP) and Scott Watson (Elvit Striders).
Shoes: Mudclaw 300.
Food: 3 mini-sausage rolls, 1 mini-cheese roll, 1 scotch egg.
In good spirits we set off, with Scott getting to know the NSP runners as we started up to Latrigg car park. The weather was good, and the views over Keswick to the central fells were great. A runner from Keighley and Craven AC had set off 15 minutes earlier, and we caught glimpses of him and his team as we made our way up Skiddaw. About 10 minutes from the Summit we entered dense cloud and lost sight of them. My legs felt a little heavy on the descent down past Hare Crag, which was a little concerning. I just tried to remember that I hadn’t been able to do much running in the fortnight leading up to the BG, and that they were just warming up. The thunderstorm had left the ground a little damper than it had been in April, but it was still very firm underfoot. During the climbs up the three peaks of leg one the going was pretty straightforward, so I ate whist I could. Just beyond Mungrisedale fell we were back in the cloud again, which became gradually denser as we approached the summit of Blencathra. After several recces, I had decided on a route along Halls Fell ridge, but the cloud became denser and I just kept to the main path. The pace slowed in the poor conditions. The rocks were a little slippery, but Graham and I were continuing to press on. Half way down the ridge we waited for the others, to find out that Scott had cut his hand. At that point, I wasn’t aware that he had hit the ground with enough force to leave some nasty grazes on his back. I’ll certainly approach places like that with more caution in the future, and am very glad to say that Scott made a rapid recovery, and was able to run the Welsh 1000m race the next weekend.
My parents had their campervan at Threlkeld Cricket Club car park. They had some very welcome vegetable soup and tea ready. Scott Gibson and Mark Smith helped me to get my shoes changed. I was over-eager to get on my way and ate the soup far too fast, which I was to pay for later on.
Leg 2. Threlkeld to Dunmail raise.
Support runners: Scott Gibson (Northumberland Fell Runners), William Powis (NSP) and Barry Young (NSP).
Shoes: Scott Kinabalu Supertrac.
Food: 2 cereal bars and 2 isotonic gels.
We made good time up Clough Head in better visibility. I was feeling good on the climb, but realised that I was in trouble as we started the run up to Great Dodd. I had nasty stomach cramp and found it very uncomfortable to run. I tried to chew a few mouthfuls of cereal bar very slowly to see if I could stimulate my stomach into action again but it felt like a solid rock in my belly. The cloud became very thick again as the gradient steepened up to the summit of Great Dodd, but Will’s expert navigation kept us on track. Given the poor visibility, we made Watson’s Dodd without too much incident, and as we ran on to Stybarrow Dodd my stomach cramp was easing, but I was still very nauseous, and could only manage a gel. We took a good line to cut a corner to Sticks Pass, then ground out the climb to Raise. We had a short walkabout in the cloud, before finding the path again. The Helvellyn range passed without too much event. My stomach felt much better, and I got the rest of the cereal bar down. The visibility was so poor by Dollywagon Pike, that we left Barry at the metal fencepost, and ran out and back to the summit. Retracing our steps, we were glad to hear Barry and see his light shining in the murk. We missed the first half of the trod to Grisedale Tarn, but the running was nice and easy enough on the grass in any case. Barry waited in the col between Fairfield and Seat Sandal while the rest of us went up Fairfield. Scott waited at the last cairn on the Path while Will and I tagged the summit. We used the same tactic to follow his light back to the path. Scott and I left Will and Barry to make their own way off Seat Sandal, and dashed down to Dunmail raise. We missed the path and descended into the bottom end of Raise Beck, but made good time nevertheless. Overall, we dropped 30min off a 22-hour schedule on the leg. I wasn’t too worried, as the visibility had meant that we were searching around for most of the summits, and by Dunmail my stomach had recovered.
My parents had brought their campervan up to the layby and had some baked beans and tea with shortbread on the go. I was soaked through to the bone, so did a full change, greeting Dave Sykes with my bare behind. While we were running over Helvellyn, the mudclaws had been dried out on the engine block of the van, which was a nice touch. I tried to remain a bit calmer at this stop, to ensure that I didn’t get stomach cramp again, and ate a bit more slowly. I briefly wondered why we hadn’t seen Barry and Will’s torches, but it turned out that they had made a wrong turn off the summit and had headed down towards the Grasmere end of Dunmail Raise.
Leg 3. Dunmail Raise to Wasdale Head.
Support runners: Scott Ellis (NSP), Danny Richardson (NSP), Chris Rowe (NSP) and Dave Sykes (Lonsdale Fell Runners).
Shoes: Mudclaw 300.
Food: Half an egg & mayonnaise sandwich, bag of cold buttery potatoes, half a slab of genoa cake, toffee crisp, small bar of Kendal mint cake.
The grind up Steel Fell wasn’t too bad and there was good chat from the others who were fresher than me, but my spirits dropped a little when we climbed into the cloud again at the summit. I had hoped that that daylight might have brought a change in visibility, and although we could see a few more feet than in the dark, I think that the return of the cloud dampened my spirits more than I admitted at the time. The running though Calf Crag and up to Mere Beck was good, and the climb up to Sergeant Man allowed me to refuel again. An egg sandwich went down surprisingly well given how much trouble that I’d had on the previous leg. The section through the Langdales from Sergeant Man though to Bowfell went well and we were able to run a fair amount of it. We enjoyed a game of ’20 questions’ on the traverse towards Rossett Pike, but I forgot to eat anything on the climb. The visibility really closed in on Bowfell, and stayed poor through to Scafell. The rocks on the that section were very slippery and the combination of those conditions slowed us down. I ran out of energy going up Great End. My legs were like jelly, and I wasn’t thinking properly. I had read Meghan Hicks’ account of her round and following her recommendation had decided at the last minute to throw some buttery potatoes into the food bag. I was pleased to find how well they went down, and was soon feeling well again very soon. It was on the climb up a wet gully to Foxes Tarn that I began to work out how much time that I had lost on the leg. It then dawned on me that I was drifting outside a 24-hour schedule. I felt physically fit, I was eating well again, my feet were ok, but mentally it was a bit of a struggle. It had just been too hard to keep up a decent pace over the boulders in the conditions. On the early part of the Scafell descent I decided that I was going to press on whether I was outside a 24-hour schedule or not. Too many people had given up their time and put in a lot of effort for me to abandon the attempt. Decision made, I enjoyed the grassy run off Scafell and the scree run through Rakehead Crags. It was mid-morning by the time that we joined the tourist path, which was quite busy with some confused looking walkers as we raced past them. I was very pleased to see the camp-seat ready outside Mark Smith’s campervan in the car park.
I was soaked through again, but modesty meant that I kept my underwear on in the increasingly busy car park. I was back in shorts again, and a change of shirt, jacket and socks warmed me up. I was focusing on a bowl of porridge when some runners stopped to give a word of encouragement. They were already on their way again by the time that I registered that it was Rob Jebb, Tom Addison and Josh Jardine. It just goes to show what a great community fell running is, that such great runners can stop to encourage mid-packers like me.
Although I’d already decided to press on, it was Mark Smith’s calm words that raised my spirits. On arrival at Wasdale, I think my first words were “Is it still on?”. His calm reply of “Off course, if we leave here any time before 11, we’re good. After 11, and you don’t stop at Honister”. With that sorted in my mind, we were off again.
Leg 4: Wasdale to Honister.
Support runners: Mark Smith (NSP), Dave Sykes (Lonsdale) – until Pillar, Lisa Henderson (NSP) – from Kirk Fell, Graham Lewis-Dale (NSP) – from Kirk Fell.
Shoes: Mudclaw 300.
Food: 1 cereal bar, 3 isotonic gels, hunk of genoa cake
The talk on the way up Yewbarrow was of how Mark had been watching the weather clear throughout the morning. He must have been convincing, because I believed him, even when the visibility closed in on the summit. I realised in the Wasdale car park that I had to be ahead of the split times from here on, so asked for the split at Yewbarrow summit. We were 9 minutes up. I knew that I could keep up that pace. If I could avoid any falls or cramps, and keep eating, I felt that I might make it. Mark took a great line off Yewbarrow, and the clouds parted on the way up Red Pike. The views were amazing, but after the hard time that I had just had up there, I didn’t feel like looking across to the Scafell range.
My quads started to spasm as the ground up to Red Pike steepened, but by that stage, it just felt like another problem to sort out. I lay on the ground and took turns in stretching them out, then had a salty drink. They didn’t give me any trouble after that. Dave was slowing on the climbs, so Mark and I ran on to Steeple, and re-joined Dave on the path up to Pillar. From there we agreed to separate, with Dave heading back directly to Honister. On the Summit of Pillar, we were joined by a runner who was looking for Tom Hollins’ team. She ran with us to Kirk Fell, and skipped up the gully ahead of us. Lisa and Graham waved us up to the summit, and as the sun was strengthening, I was glad of the extra water that they had brought. The run off Kirk Fell was good, and the climb up Great Gable was a steady grind, but over soon enough. The next few peaks to Honister passed without too much incident, apart from hearing the horns of the Trevelyan Hunt.
There wasn’t much time spent at Honister. Helen had joined my parents and a fair number of the team were also there. A quick change of shirt, cup of tea and a banana, and we were on our way again.
Jonathan Jamison had done a fantastic job of road support through the night, picking up runners at Threlkeld to take them back to Keswick, and then picking up the guys at Dunmail Raise. He had even been at Honister since 10am, waiting for the leg 3 guys to bring Mark’s van around for him. Hats off Jonathan, I owe you big-time.
Leg 5. Honister to Keswick.
Support runners: Katherine Davis (NSP), Richard Hanley (NSP), Lisa Henderson (NSP), David Johnson (NSP), Jenny Simpson (NSP), Chris Waite (NSP).
Shoes: Mudclaw 300 – Honister to Little Town. New Balance 860 – Little Town to Keswick.
Food: 2 bananas, jelly babies, 2 isotonic gels.
The sun was getting stronger as we started up Dale Head, but a gentle breeze made it quite pleasant. Katherine kept me ticking over with small portions of banana, and the summit came along in due course. The view up towards Keswick was fantastic, but the fatigue was beginning to set in. I was able to keep moving, but was finding it more difficult to keep involved in conversation. On Hindscarth I was sure that I was going to get back inside 24 hours, and enjoyed the views a little more. Robinson tagged with a good deal of relief, and we set off for Keswick. By this stage, I just wanted to be finished, so kept as fast a pace as I could sustain. On the run into Little Town we overtook the Keighley and Craven runner and his team. Rachel Carr met us at the Little Town car park, and a quick change of shoes made the road section much more comfortable. I had thought that the little climb from the car park to Little Town itself would be tough after running downhill for so long, but it wasn’t too bad, and at the top we started a steady trot into Keswick. Barring a few cars that tried their best to run us off the road, the run in to Keswick went well.
Moot Hall. 18:06. 23:06 total time.
It was a weird sensation to run up towards Moot Hall with not just friends and family clapping, but strangers also joining in. I felt that I was still moving well when I touched Moot Hall, and the thought of how much longer I could keep going briefly flashed through my mind. Helen and the boys were there, as were my parents, friends from Manchester and most of the support runners from the whole round. There were hugs all round and a can of coke was quickly drained. Thereafter, we disappeared into the Golden Lion for something to eat. My dad had brought a photo of me on Helm Crag when I was 14, and made a nice comment about how impressed he was with everyone, and thanked them for their amazing support. A couple of sips of beer however brought on nasty heartburn and I suddenly wanted to sleep. We made our excuses and left the rest of the team to enjoy the evening while Helen and I went to find some Gaviscon and a bed.
Surprise Viewpoint. 29th May 2017.
The following day we had breakfast together at Derwentwater House Hostel. We fancied a walk to stretch the legs and went up the road towards Watendlath. We found the Bob Graham memorial cairn and took some photos at Ashness Bridge, before heading on to Surprise viewpoint. It was a really nice way to end the weekend, listening to some of the team considering doing the Bob Graham Round themselves.
Keswick Mountain Festival. 9th June 2017.
The legs were pretty well recovered, so the thought of a pleasant run from Keswick, over High Seat, Bleaberry Fell and Walla Crag with Danny and Katherine seemed a great idea, especially as we had tickets for the Jasmin Paris and Nicky Spinks Q&A talk at Keswick Mountain Festival later that day. They were inspirational, especially as like most of us, they hold down full-time jobs as well as running. It made me start thinking of what would be next. September has the Ben Nevis Race and a road half-marathon in store for me, but what else afterward? Maybe another long run.
As well as all the people mentioned above who helped on the day and on the training runs, there were several others that deserve a mention. Tim and Nicola at the Derwentwater House Hostel were great. They set us up with rooms that were just the right size for our group, and access to a side door to ensure that we didn’t keep the rest of the Hostel awake with our activities. Phil Green was going to help on leg 2, but unfortunately the change of date meant that it was no longer possible. Sean Maley deserves a mention for keeping my body together with advice, and sports massages. Ron Stewart, my coach at North Shields Poly, sat down with me 6 months before the run and gave me a succinct set of advice, that made a lot of sense as the training went on, especially the stuff about food and getting bigger shoes. Dave Waugh spent a day with me climbing Broad Stand, and was going to help rope it, before I decided to go by Foxes Tarn instead. Friends at the Poly kept my spirits up with interest in my increasingly long runs, even though I was having to miss events like the spring relays. Finally, my family have been very supportive. They’ve been able to put up with me going missing all day for long runs in the Lakes, Yorkshire and Northumberland. I now need to return that support as Helen gets ready for the Great North Run in September.
Thanks for reading this through to the end. I have been at races in remote areas where runners have needed evacuation, and to help support the Great North Air Ambulance, I have set up a Just Giving page. Many thanks for any donations.
Photo with kind permission of Stephen Wilson, Grand Day Out Photography.