Warning, may contain nuts

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

Andy Robinson's Bob Graham Round

Andy Robinson’s Bob Graham Round

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.

Setting off

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.

Andy outside Moot Hall looking fresh!

Andy outside Moot Hall looking fresh!

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.

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.

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.

Leg 3

Powering through the leg 2/3 changeover

Powering through the leg 2/3 changeover

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.

Leg 4

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.

Leg 5

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.


Sandstone trail: end to end

People — with no apologies for length — we have reports of not one but two remarkable achievements. Andy Robinson, our tame distance expert this weekend completed the length of the Sandstone to post a benchmark best time. Showing no regard for vanity, Andy then set himself the task of researching other completion times. Read on to find out if he still holds the record…
Andy writes:

A couple of weeks ago someone posted a question on the FRA forum:

“What’s the record for running the full Sandstone Trail?” Nobody seemed to know. There are plenty of records for the Deeside Orienteering Club Sandstone Trail A & B races (11 and 17 miles), but when I tried to find out how fast people have run the full 33-mile Trail, I pretty much drew a blank. I know there used to be an event organised by someone from the fire service, and some of you will have run in that, but I would think that will have been before the Trail was extended into Whitchurch.

“Surely Helsby RC should have a name or two in the frame” I thought.

Anyway, my mountain marathon partner Chris was coming up for the weekend, and we needed a challenge, so Saturday morning saw us driving the short distance to Acton Bridge station, then taking the train to Whitchurch (changing at Crewe). We walked across town to the sandstone arch that marks that end of the Trail, stripped down to our running things & set off across the road and down the alleyway opposite just after 10am. We picked a good day for it actually: cool, with almost no rain. We were carrying about 2 litres of water each, plus a supply of Thornton’s Fruit Jellies (to be eaten at the rate of 4 each per 45 mins).

It’s a good run. Five minutes in and you’re running on the canal towpath in pleasant surroundings, giving an easy warm-up. There were plenty of boaters to wish good morning, and some of them even replied.

You follow the canal past the original end of the Trail at Grindley Brook and on to leave it at Willeymoor Lock. Here starts my least favourite part of the Trail, across farmland for a few miles to Larkton Hill. It’s not bad though, quiet paths in the main. At Larkton Hill you reach the start of the A Race route and the glorious switchbacks over the hills to Beeston – great running, and it didn’t seem nearly as intimidating as it does in the race. This year I’m going to walk up that first hill in the race and see what difference that makes…

Psychologically, the hardest bit of the run for me was keeping going past the end of the race route, knowing there were still miles to go.

My head was saying “but this is where you stop – what are you doing?”

We were both getting pretty tired by this time, and running up Manley Road felt hard. By the time we joined the Wednesday night route at Commonside we had both about had it, and I then had to break the news to Chris that we still had to climb that hill in front of us. He wasn’t impressed. We staggered on, Chris had a cramp attack climbing the Baker’s Dozen steps, then we hobbled down to the Bear’s Paw to lie down on the cobbles. It was about 10 minutes before we could sit up again, but eventually we made it to the bar for a pint, and I phoned Nicola to pick us up.

A great day out, and I’ll do it again some time. Did we set a record?

No. Chris Baynham-Hughes may have done though. He ran it last month in a much faster time, and I’ve not yet found anyone who’s done it faster.

Here are the completion times I know about:

John Rowlands – 7:00 approx – S Cheshire Harriers (06/06/2010)

Chris Baynham-Hughes – 5:29 – Helsby RC (24/07/2010)

Andy Robinson – 6:12 – Helsby RC (14/08/2010)

Chris Vardy – 6:12 – Norfolk OC (14/08/2010)

I’ll try to maintain a log of completions, so if anyone else has done it, please let me have your time and the date you ran it. Incidentally I’ve also asked Tattenhall whether any of their members have run it, but no-one’s owned up to it yet.

Andy Robinson

The thread on the FRA forum Andy mentions is at http://forum.fellrunner.org.uk/showthread.php?12341-Sandstone-Trail-Record (you don’t need to be a member or register to look).

I know the club has a long history of involvement with the Sandstone in it’s different guises. There are stories I know of from Mario, Joe, Vanessa and Mike S, at the very least. It would be great if we could get the details down here on the blog, before we all get too confused to remember!


PS Chris Baynham-Hughes adds:

Whilst we wait for Tattenhall to post times, I am basking in what I am sure will be short lived glory on the FRA forum. My experience was very similar to Andy’s and I’d recommend it for anybody looking for a really long training run or challenge. I had been talking about doing it for a long time and following a chat with Andy about his long distance shenanigans and the training he did for these runs I figured I just needed to go and try it. My theory was that I should at least get to Delamere and given that I know the way home from there I thought I’d be stubborn enough not to give up (but if I had to then my wife wouldn’t be too cross as she wouldn’t have to drive for hours to pick me up). As a result, when I reached the end of the superb Sandstone trail race I felt good as I knew I could make it from there; naturally I immediately took a wrong turn and ended up having to go off piste to get back onto the correct path, but hey, these things happen after 25 miles.

I had a glorious day to run, but made a few rookie mistakes. Firstly I wore a new pair of shoes (I’d run 1x10k in them a couple of days before). Running through Andy’s favourite fields my feet got soaked with dew and I soon felt a hot spot appear, so I stopped to tape my foot up. 5 minutes later I was back on the trail, slightly disappointed to leave the magnificent view I had whilst stopped. The run itself really is quite spectacular in places and for those that think running the whole thing end to end is nuts then I really recommend running it in stages. I also took a few wrong turns and didn’t take enough fluids with me – leaving me to beg a terrifically miserable café owner for some water (she showed me a level of distain I have never experienced before).

As the longest run I had ever attempted by a good 8 miles I learned a lot about the psychology of running such a distance. Being determined to finish meant that I went into survival mode very early on and shuffled my way around and beat myself up mentally for doing so. Now I know I can complete the distance I think it would be easier to break the race down into sections and run rather than shuffle. I’d certainly be able to enjoy it more if I ran it again as I know I can do it; I’d certainly do more prep and I’ve no doubt that I will do it again at some point. Of course at the end of the run you are also conveniently placed to load up on carbs; my preference is for the Guinness flavoured ones.


Andy Robinson – somewhere a Very Long Way away

Tan Hill to Kirkstone

Andy Robinson, our resident distance specialist still hasn’t realised there’s plenty on the telly at the weekends. Last week he took himself off to the Lakes to run the 44 miles between Tan Hill and Kirkstone. Andy takes up the story…

Bank Holiday Sunday saw my Mountain Marathon partner, Chris, and I getting out of our sleeping bags at 4:30am at Brotherswater in the Lakes, and driving for an hour or so to the Tan Hill Inn in North Yorkshire. We parked up in the middle of a music festival, got one of the all-night drunken revellers to take a photo of us, and set off running across the moor at 6:20. It was cold, and I’d forgotten my gloves, but who cared? This was the start of a run we had had in our diaries for the best part of a year, a challenge route from the highest pub in England to the third highest: the Kirkstone Pass Inn above Brotherswater.

Initially we were following a small path, but we soon had to head off west across pathless rough moorland on a compass bearing, heading for Whitsundale to pick up the path to the first summit, Nine Standards (662m), a huge expanse of desolate peat. As we climbed the last bit the cloud came in and it started snowing…

Ten minutes later we were out of the clouds, and for the rest of the day the weather was reasonably good to us. No more snow, or even rain, although it never did warm up. I had to keep my thermal top and fleece on all day, and even to add a windproof for the last section. We ran off the summit to join another path down to the road, then followed a 4WD track up to the next two summits, High Pike and High Seat (709m). We were going well. We took a pathless compass bearing off High Seat down to the B6259, and on the descent Chris started to have a bit of trouble with his ankle, twisted earlier on the Highlander Mountain Marathon. The next section was a long hard climb up to Wild Boar Fell (708m). On the last steep section Chris’s ankle started to give him some real trouble, and I started to worry we might not make it. We nursed it down the long slopes west to the road, and along the A683 to the Cross Keys Temperance Inn, where my family were in attendance. Chris was in so much pain by this time he had no alternative but to give up, so once we were sure he was OK I set off up the Howgills on my own.

For the first time there were other people around as I headed up the Calf (676m) via the Cautley Spout waterfalls. I still felt fine as I ran up the initial valley approach then plodded up the steep steps alongside the falls. Once I was up on the Howgill ridges I was starting to feel the miles though, and the wind was cold and blowing in the wrong direction. My head started to wander and I had to concentrate to make sure I followed to right ridge along to Wind Scarth and Docker Knott. A steep descent and re-ascent to Uldale Head followed by a long steep drop to the road used up the last of my reserves. From here on it was a fight all the way.

The next six miles were along a valley (Borrowdale, although not the famous one). You’d think this would feel easier, but I found it really hard to keep going, as I often do on level stretches. Under the M6 and on to cross the A6, then I met up with the family again at the bridge where the old A6 crosses Borrow Beck. A quick water stop then on into the Lakes.

It’s a long approach to the true Lakeland fells from the east. The first hills, Robin Hood and Lord’s Seat, are low and rounded, but the climbs all felt hard by now, and the was no question of running any of the “up”. On to Harrop Pike (637m) and it started to feel like I was in the Lakes. Tarn Crag next (664m), the first classic Wainwright, then a pathless traverse to Gatescarth Pass and up Harter Fell (778m). A steep descent to Nan Bield Pass, where I saw the only other runner of the day, then a hard climb to Mardale Ill Bell (760m). Almost there. From here to High Street (828m, the highest point of the day) and Thornthwaite Beacon is easy. Then came the last hard bit, steeply down to Threshthwaite Mouth and a steep scramble back up to the last fell of the day, Stony Cove Pike (763m). By this time I was so close to the end I could have climbed anything though. A long ridge descent, picking off the pimple of Pike How on the way down, and I was running across the final field to the Kirkstone Pass Inn, my two daughters racing to keep up with me.

And that was it. 44 miles and 11000 feet of climbing in 12 hours 45 minutes. An absolutely brilliant day out, marred only by Chris’s injury. How I’m going to get myself back in fully working order in time for Saturday’s Bala trail event I’ve no idea.

Andy Robinson