Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Bob Graham Round, 66 miles, 27,000ft, 42 peaks

An amazing day which I'll never forget.  This was a big deal for me, so I'll split this write up into 4 sections ;

  1. Background - What it's all about and why it's been a big deal to me
  2. Prep / Training - Anything but Orthodox
  3. My Round - How the Belper Harriers got me round including 2 near death experiences!
  4. Detailed leg split times

I took up fell running back in around 1998, shortly after trying local orienteering. I loved it. My first race was Black Combe in the Lakes and I was hooked. Finishing in the top third with no particular training, that race told me that fell running was what I needed to do. Over the next few years, most weekends were spent in the hills and most of those were in the Lakes, indeed I knew every corner within a year or so and I've gone on to expand that with many social trips, backpacks, Mountain Marathons, Trailquests and family weeks ever since.

Predominantly, I run when in the Lakes - it's just so good for it. Terrain is hard but not too hard and the geography just lends itself to long days on the hills with sweeping ridge lines giving option upon hard option.

The lakes also lends itself to what I and several friends consider to be the best Mountain Biking in the UK - again with many, many Trailquests and MTBO events over the years since 1998 I've come to know every single Bridleway. There's many and most just put a massive smile on my face.

I remember way back when I was first going to the Lakes around 1998 picking up a leaflet in George Fisher in Keswick (after a race, I think Causey Pike) on something called "The Bob Graham Round". I remember to this day thinking how utterly unachievable it seemed. It consisted of 5 long legs any one of which would be a big day out as a walker and hard for a fell runner. After leaving the shop though, I couldn't stop thinking about it. How the hell do people do that ? I wonder if I'll ever meet anyone who has done it ? Yes, the seed was planted and it just wouldn't go away.

I quickly managed to up the fell running mileage and by about 2003 I'd competed in 2 Saunders Klets classes in the Lakes - routes which are very very demanding both in terms of length and the terrain they take you over. A couple of years later, I was lucky enough to be partnered with Simon Richardson (a great Orienteer) and won the KIMM A Class in 2005. I think that was the turning point, where I had confidence that perhaps one day the Bob Graham Round would be within my reach.

A few weeks later Lewis came along and subsequently I had a patchy 6 year period dogged with ever increasing tummy problems which became so bad that by 2011 I'd completely ditched running in favour of Mountain Biking (less irritating on the tummy). All through this 6 year period I often thought how the Bob Graham now seemed like something I could have achieved before, but not anymore - the time had probably passed. So instead I set my goals last year on an interim stop gap - The Pennine Bridleway Double in 24 hours. 

I actually did this simply to see what going hard for 24 hours felt like and to see how my body would cope with no sleep in the hope that perhaps if my tummy problems cleared up that I could train for the Bob Graham next. I was pleased with the result and knew off the back that the Bob Graham was now achievable but only if I sorted my tummy out.  A change in diet including hospital "probings" gave me a transformation in my running around November 2011. Finally, I was able to run without having to look for bushes to duck into !!!

My first proper runs were in Feb of this year on the annual family trip to Coniston. I did 3*3-5 hour runs and generally felt good after. After this, I knew the BGR was back on the cards and felt relieved instantly. The next long run was a reccie in March of the Long Tour of Bradwell, then an Easter reccie of BGR legs 1&2, followed by the Calderdale Hike 2 weeks later. Then came the event I knew I had to complete comfortably if I was ever going to do the Bob Graham - The Fellsman which thankfully went well. After that it was just a matter of when, so renewed with vigour I banged out legs 3-5 2 weeks later following Duncan Steen round on his phenomenal 19h30 completion.

I seemed to be knocking out the Ultra runs with very little actual running training though. In fact, very little training full stop - a good thing as it meant more time for family stuff too, gotta keep Teresa on side !! Training really just consisted throughout 2012 of 1-2 hard road bike sessions for 2hours plus 1-2 hard offroad sessions for 2 hours never totalling more than 3 sessions per week. It seemed to be working well, so I thought why change it ? In fact it was working better than it had ever done as the road biking has done wonders for my quads and it's now rare for my legs to ache after an Ultra / fell race - weird I know !

The Belper Harriers Support Crew 1am: Graham, Alistair, Andy B, Me, Andy R, Krish
(plus Saul taking photo and Ian who arrived later on)
After a very bad sprained ankle early July, plans were rescheduled for Saturday 8th September. I really wanted to get it out of my system this year ! The support team was predominantly made up of Belper Harriers plus Alistair Robertson who would assist in legs 1&2 plus Broad Stand rope duties with Krish!

September meant 4 hours less daylight than mid summer, but I was confident that I could do it and so less daylight would hopefully just slow me up a little. A 1am start meant that if things went to plan, I'd be finishing about 9pm - just when it's getting dark. If things didn't go to plan, I'd be doing the last leg in the dark - not the end of the world.

We'd just had a week of wall to wall sunshine in the UK, so looking at the forecast I was in two minds whether to even pack a waterproof ! Suffice to say, I could barely believe it when we turned off the M6 at Penrith to be greeted with rain at Threlkeld !!! We got to Braithwaite Bridges campsite and grabbed an hours kip before setting off at 1am under dry but windy conditions.

Details of each leg are below, but really everything felt really good the whole round. I deliberately did not look at individual split times from peak to peak but had a general knowledge of my pace due to arrival times at road crossings. By Wasdale I knew I was close to 23 hour pace and was happy with that losing so much time on Bowfell and Broad Stand, but I felt good still despite my feet feeling battered.  I think I took some paracetomol for the first time there for my feet as I knew I'd need to be strong over leg 4 to not fall further behind.

Leg 4: Cloud Inversion forming out to see from around Red Pike
(courtesy of Bill Williamson)
Leg 4 really was the highlight of the round for me. From 4pm - 9pm Graham and me had non stop sun with some really fantastic running. Picking up the trods round unnecessary peaks meant that after Steeple I think we ran most stuff apart from the big climbs. It was a sheer pleasure - running doesn't get any better than that section - pity that Saul was behind us and we couldn't enjoy it with him.

Looking back on the pace expectations, 20hours was a little bit optimistic I think with the training I'd done. I ran 19h30 pace for 3-5 back in May but that was off the back of The Fellsman 2 weeks prior (perfect prep really). The Long Tour of Bradwell was all I'd done over 30 miles since May and I'd just got back from two weeks in the Alps with nothing over 2 hours in the bank.

Also, I think I underestimated how much the 8hours+ of running the first two legs would slow me for 3-5. Legs felt fine, but feet were definitely showing the signs of many hours over very slippery rocks and boulders.

Sharing the navigation with the pacers worked well. I knew most of the route and some of them had reccied some sections, so we just corrected on the hoof really with whoever was most confident. When things got a bit more patchy (leg 5) I was thankful that Graham took the lead as I wouldn't have wanted to have navigated after Honister really. Thanks Graham.

Also - thanks to the pacers. I don't know how these guys find time to fit my weekend into their already busy lives ? Especially a rescheduled weekend at that. I'm so glad that the weather was good for them - arriving in Wasdale to see the car and the campervan in dappled sunshine I was more than a little envious of the position they were in. I'm just so glad they didn't tell me they had plans of going to the pub otherwise that might have just tipped me over the edge !  I really cannot wait to return the compliment and support 1, 2 or 3 of them next year - I'm looking forward to it already ! Who knows, I might just start leg 1 and see if I can beat 23 hours !!


Detailed Excel splits are here

Leg 1 : Skiddaw / Blencathra 3h55
* Lost 25 mins due to clag and missed trod to Hare Crag plus Threlkeld 5 mins
* Skiddaw had basically zero visibility and hence we missed the trod to Hare Crag, knee high heather
* The line from Gt Calva was better than reccied, taking the path through the wooden gate at bottom of wire fence
* Went over on ankle after very slippy rocky descent from Doddick.
* Detour round the back of Threlkeld

Leg 2 : The Dodds Helvellyn & Fairfield 4h20
* Lost 5 mins or so on Dollywaggon, misty through whole section
* Generally ok, but didn't want to risk the Cofa climb in the thick clag so went round left of Tarn.
* Missed the trod down to the road from Seat Sandal. Apparently I need to head to west summit, then it's on the right.

Leg3 : Martcrag Moor, just after Pike o Stickle around 1030am Trod Hunting!
Leg 3 : The Langdales & Scafell 6h40
lost 5mins at Thurnacar and lost 20mins on Broad Stand, very slippery round Bowfell
* Went well up to Thurnacar, then again up to Rossett
* Billy Blands Rake started well but ended in a chossy scramble emerging too far right
* Our return route from Bowfell we veered too far right instead of heading left to Ore Gap
* Rocks were very very slippery
* Visibility poor again
* Broad Stand was so so slippery. I used both knees, got a push up and a pull from above ! Saul went unroped and slipped. I think that another of his nine lives gone! Thanks to Krish / Alistair here.
* Crags above Broad Stand were no better but did not last long
* Scree descent was amazing !
Leg 3 : Scafell Screes Descent, 345pm
Leg 4 : Wasdale to Honister 5h
lost 15 mins regrouping with pacers at base of Red Pike, last 2 peaks in darkness
* Had to regroup with Saul / Graham after Yewbarrow, Saul struggling so lost 15 mins.
* Cloud inversions out to sea ending in a stunning sunset.
* Pace good, visibility good, ending in darkness
* Left Saul after Scoat fell who headed out to Buttermere but ended up running down Ennerdale!
* Gable felt hard, being so steep at the top

Leg 5 : Honister to Keswick 3h
starting to feel tired and all done in darkness
* Feeling tired for the first time, Dale Head felt hard but shouldn't have
* Good to have Ian's company
* Ian took a rather direct descent from Robinson, one which I don't think he'd wish to repeat !
* Road felt very hard then had more food and upped the pace for the last 3 miles.

Post Bob Thoughts...
Well, it's now 3 days later and I'm really pleased with my legs again ! My left ankle just keeps on getting bigger though so physio this afternoon. It really hasn't sunk in yet that I'm in the Bob Graham Club - something I've looked up to for so, so long.

I'm really not worried now that I've got nothing in the diary for the rest of the year apart from the 3 Peaks Cyclo Cross in 3 weeks. I really enjoy training for something big, then just doing whatever I fancy doing  whether it will be road biking, cyclo cross racing, Mountain Bike racing, Mountain Bike Orienteering or Fell Racing which fills my diary for the rest of the year.


Tom B said...

Well done Al

Stu Stod said...

superb stuff alan.