As some of you may know, our distance specialist Andy Robinson has been building up to a Bob Graham Round this year. For anyone that doesn’t know (can there be any left?) the BGR is the pinnacle of many fell runner’s ambitions, covering almost all the major tops of the Lakes, over a distance of some 65 miles and an almost Everest-like 26,000′ of climbing. It’s a long way. All to be done in 24 hours. Read on…
Andy Robinson’s Bob Graham Round, 3 June 2012
Or… Oops there goes a billion kilowatt dam
If someone had told me when I turned 50 that I’d be doing the Bob Graham Round in eight years time I’d have laughed in their face. Now look what’s happened.
Last summer Chris Baynham-Hughes and I started talking about doing the Bob Graham this year. That’s 42 Lake District Peaks in under 24 hours, including all the big ones: 65 miles and 26000 feet of climbing. Both of us were up for it, so we started planning recces, and talking to people who might help. I thought I was in with a chance given good conditions and the right training beforehand, and I was sure Chris could do it, provided his ankles didn’t give way. And then in April Chris got the chance at the last minute to join Caz Phillips on his round, and Chris put in a brilliant performance. So, no pressure on me then! Last Saturday night saw me in bed early in a tent in Borrowdale, with my alarm set for 11:30.
By ten to one in the morning Chris Vardy had delivered me and Chris Baynham-Hughes to the Moot Hall in Keswick to meet up with assorted drunks and my other pacer for Leg 1, Lee Wilkinson, of Stockport Harriers. Peter McNulty and his wife Sheila also turned up to see us off – they paced for me on the Joss Naylor Lakeland Challenge last year. Lee was someone I’d never met before, a member of the same club as a work colleague of my wife, Nicola. He was preparing for his own BG attempt, and had offered to help out – the BG is pretty much a big family. 1am and we set off, along with another runner (Jonny) and his pacer for Leg 1.
Well we kept Jonny in sight as far as the top of Skiddaw, but they disappeared off into the mist. It was dark, cold and windy, and we were in the cloud. Balmy June. I had a thermal top on, a t-shirt, a hat, gloves and a waterproof jacket on, and that’s the way it stayed all the way round. Crossing the River Caldew, Chris went across the stones to keep his feet drier. Not something I’d done on recces: I’d waded across as a safer option. So, what did I do? Yes, I tried to follow Chris, and of course I fell off the stones and into the Caldew. Wet up to my waist, and gloves soaked as well. I got a bit cold on Blencathra, with all my fingers going numb, but it’s not supposed to be easy is it? And my headtorch packed up on the way. Anyway, we got down to Threlkeld ahead of schedule, and Peter McNulty joined us there for Leg 2.
There’s not much to say about Leg 2. We were in the cloud and wind the whole time, and it was a bit monotonous as a result. I finished my round of the Wainwrights on Clough Head, and we plugged our way south. The descents at the end of the leg were good fun, as they always are, but then I like descending. Navigation was a doddle, with two GPS units and pacers with recent experience of both legs. I was going pretty well on Leg 2.
I ran straight through Dunmail Raise without stopping, and headed off up Steel Fell 30 minutes up on schedule. By this time the clouds were starting to lift, and we could actually see the tops ahead although these aren’t really very high. New pacers now: Bryan Carr of Congleton Harriers (and his collie Holly), and Simon Martland. Simon had been all ready at Dunmail last year to pace me on my abortive first attempt at the JNLC, and Bryan paced me for the second half on my second (successful) attempt, on much of the same ground we were about to cover. They both know the ground really well, so it’s a bit of a pity that the wheels started to come off at this point. Nothing dramatic, but my legs had tired, and I couldn’t keep up the schedule I’d set myself. From here on it would be the old “ultra shuffle”. I didn’t do much more talking, just plodded along, jogging the downhill sections (there aren’t any flat bits). The views were good now, no sun (probably just as well), cold and windy, but dry. And conditions underfoot were really good all day: the dry weather in the past couple of weeks had made a big difference to the soggy bits. So the Langdale Pikes came and went, then Bowfell, Great End and the Scafells, now clear of cloud, and the long run down to Wasdale.
I ran straight through Wasdale without stopping, now 6 minutes down on my 22:19 schedule, pretty sure I was going to be losing time all the way from here to the finish. Robin Mitton joined us here with his two dogs: another runner I’d not met before, he’d joined in through the Fell Runners Association forum, having his own attempt planned for the end of June. He’d already been a pacer for another runner in the early hours, so helping me as well was definitely above and beyond the call of duty. Once you’re into Leg 4 the end is at least something you can start thinking about: you really can’t on Leg 3. Only 12 of the 42 summits left by Wasdale though – you can do it! But Leg 4 starts cruelly, with two long steep ascents of Yewbarrow and Red Pike, and stoicism has to be the name of the game here. I just kept plodding on. Red Pike gone, and Bryan was telling me “only two more big climbs to go”. And the climb up Pillar isn’t really too bad. A long but easy descent on trods led to Black Sail Pass, then we scrambled up the rocks to Kirk Fell. More easy trods took us down to Beck Head for the last big slog up Great Gable. It looked absolutely huge: Himalayan in size and absolutely vertical. But then, it always looks like that, and I’ve climbed it plenty of times before. Plod up the scree and rocks, and the top’s right there. In the bag now…providing I can keep going fast enough to meet the 24 hour deadline. It never crossed my mind I’d not be able to finish, but I was moving slower all the time. Down to Green Gable, and on along the ridge down to Honister, Bryan, Simon and Robin gently guided me. “Was I talking much?” Nicola asked Simon. “No – he’s in the zone” replied Simon. I was – the Twilight Zone.
I had a great Formula One style tyre change at Honister: out of my Mudclaws and into Roclites. All I had to do was sit there like Lewis Hamilton. My pacers for Leg 5 were two good friends: Chris Vardy, who was an old work colleague and is my mountain marathon partner, and Karen Nash, who I knew from many races and our joint JNLC attempt last year. Route-finding isn’t much of an issue on Leg 5 as long as you know the way off Robinson, and Chris and I had recced this the previous weekend. What I needed on Leg 5 were nursemaids, and I couldn’t have ended up with better nursemaids. It was easy now. Simon had lent me his trekking poles part way through Leg 4, and I hung onto them for Leg 5. They made it so much easier. I could use my arms to help push me uphill – really useful as my legs weren’t doing much by this stage. It’s easy going from the top of Dale Head to Hindscarth, then you contour round for the last climb up to Robinson. Under two and a half hours to get to Keswick, so no time to lose. The way off Robinson is along the ridge then down a series of rock steps, and it must have been pitiful watching me struggling down those rocks. My balance had gone, I was really unsteady on my feet, and my brain wasn’t really functioning well: the drops looked much longer and steeper than they really were. Chris and Karen got me down them, but I’m glad there was nobody there with a video camera. A last steep grassy descent off the ridge took us down to the valley track, then the road to Portinscale. Road signs on the way: the first one told me we were so close to Portinscale that I knew it was in the bag. And I’d be able to stop soon. Into Portinscale, hang a right down to the suspension bridge, right through the little gate, and across the fields to Keswick. Onto the road, up the road, cross by the roundabout, only a few yards to go. The Moot Hall in sight. Big cheers from my pacers, assorted late night drinkers, and a reception party including my daughters Flossie and Esther, 11 and 14, and the puppy, despite it being after midnight. At last I could stop. Job done, 23 hours 37 minutes, now take me to my tent and put me to bed.
This Bob Graham run was powered entirely by Kendal Mint Cake and water. No artificial additives were used. No animals or runners were harmed in this production. May contain nuts.