“Running is nothing more than a series of arguments between the part of your brain that wants to stop and the part the want to keep going” – unknown

Fell running – “what’s that?”

Having joined North Shields Poly some years ago and having ran for over 15 years I’d never actually heard of this “running up hills stuff”. It was intriguing and was different, I had reached a relatively good time for road running – reaching 17:40 for a 5k and 37:20 for a 10k. Could I transfer my speed into some hills? High Cup Nick in 2016, my first Fell race and looking at some of the starters I say to myself “this will be easy”. How wrong I was, climbing and descending was something else. People of all shapes, sizes, genders and ages were flying past me with ease. It was hard but I was instantly hooked.  Where else could you run an 8-mile race for £6 with marshals scattered on mountain tops covered in snow and 50mph gusts?

The Bob Graham what? – I didn’t have any idea who Bob was and what he had achieved. On a May bank holiday in 2016, some key members of North Shields Poly had organised a relay for each of the 5 Legs. This was my first introduction to the BGR. Looking back, I remember thinking that no one could possible complete this, it’s impossible. A year later I was involved with a close friend attempt, a massive success and I felt proud to have been part of such a significant journey. I still, never imagined that I was ever to complete a round.

Planning the round

Months go into planning a BG, I’m relatively new to the Fell running scene having only been involved in the past 4 years. I’ve been in a good position to have found some very good friends who have led me to where I am. I spent 2018 and 2019 supporting Danny in his training towards his planned attempt. I was one of a team of supporters tasked with helping at road stops, feeding, navigation, water and maintain motivation and positivity against the challenges. The support team were key to a successful round. It was fully planned.

4 days to plan a Bob Graham Round!

Monday 10th June 2019

Danny has just announced that he is unlikely to be able to run in 4 days’ time. I cannot comprehend how difficult that decision was. A thought pops into my head “you do it” “na, you’re never ready”. I argue away with myself and then another Fell runner also suggests it too. I delicately send Danny a message asking his thoughts and by the following day we confirm its off for him and on for me. I start to question my ability and seek guidance off some close Fell running friends. They think I can, I’m not sure. Everyone is already going over and everyone is happy to support, what’s the worst-case scenario? I run as much as I can and if I fail, I will continue as planned for an October round.

I now have from Tuesday to Friday to plan my nutrition and tactics. A trip to the local pub with Fell friends is a must. We discuss strategy, I come away slightly more positive but very anxious and worried of failure. The following days leading up the round I was filled with a mix of anxiety, doubt, guilt and excitement.  I had hijacked a Bog Graham round!

Friday 14th June – BGR day.

Gels packed, bags packed, and van is packed. Myself, Jon and Danny head to Keswick. The nerves have vanished for the trip over until we head along the A69 and I see Blencathra, suddenly it dawns on me of what’s about to happen. It’s too late to pull out now.

Leg 1

The round starts and finishes at Moot Hall in Keswick, my team (Danny’s team) is ready to go. I’m joined by John Butters (a recent successor to the BGR) and Rob Brooks (I’m told a veteran to the round as well as many other ultras). As this was a last-minute decision, I wanted to be sensible so decided a 23:30 schedule. I’ve met John Butters before and raced with him (notable I didn’t say against him), he’s good and fast and was aware that my pace will be significantly slower than what he is used to. We started 17:50 rather than 18:00 (this saved hanging round Moot Hall for no reason).

Skiddaw was my first of 42 summits and had anticipated reaching it in 86 minutes, we arrived at 69 minutes (17 minutes up). Great Calva next, I was feeling good and just running comfortably and got to the top 9 minutes early and finally to finish leg 1 on to Blencathra 9 minutes up before descending Halls Fell to Threlkheld another 5 minutes up (40 minutes ahead of my planned schedule). Through this leg I could hear the those following the tracker telling me to slow down. I ran at a pace I felt good with and it worked. I quizzed John about his round a couple of weeks back and he told me how much he had enjoyed the entire round, I doubted this but now looking back I feel the exact same.

Leg 2

After a 10-minute rest with some valuable food and manicure from Danny my next team (Danny’s team) await. We head off towards Clough Head still with plenty of light to get us up top. Some top-class runners with me, Chris Rowe (a long time Fell runner), Georgina Hinton-Lewis (an ultra-runner) and Brad Clough (a newly converted fast Fell runner). Navigation was easy to start, and we continued to reach most summits up on my anticipated schedule. I secretly liked being ahead of time as I wanted some time in the bag in case of delays later. It didn’t take long before our torches were needed and by the time, we reached Raise they were in full use.

We climbed up to Helvelyn where the weather started to change, thick fog and rain slowed us ever so slightly but with excellent navigation by Georgina it made little difference. I was still climbing well at this stage and could see lights ahead of another team and wanted to catch up; we did, coming down Fairfield and then the group over took us another 3 more times between legs 2 and 3. Running past Grisedale Tarn I nearly had a low moment, I felt a little lacking in energy and I was trying not to think of what was still left. Some crisps and an oat bar put me right on track. Chris and I ran ahead and descended into Dunmail where my next crew (Danny’s crew) and Danny were ready to assist. I sat for 10 minutes, refreshed my feet and changed top.

I was encouraged to eat so I started some rice pudding. On the second spoon I had an urge to vomit but didn’t. This was to be the start of an issue.

Leg 3

After a perfectly timed 10 minutes rest by Jon, we continued our way up Steel Fell. Thankful again this was in the dark, but I knew how tough it was having been up and down it 3 weeks before when I had lost my phone helping another runner on their round. Having come off Fairfield in low cloud I was expecting the same, I was not disappointed.

I was confident about this leg as I was with 2 very capable and experienced Fell runners – Jon Heaney and Katherine Davis. As we ascended to the top it was apparent that visibility was going to be an issue. Jon lead the way with his sublime navigation skills with me declaring Steel fell a little too early. Fortunately, Jon doing what he does best, ignores me and declares that it isn’t, and we push forward another 100m to find it. We continue and the weather doesn’t improve, its slow and the ground is marshy. We are finding it very difficult to stick to the trod. A highlight moment was when we crossed some marsh land and Jon fell in up to his waist, at first and amusing sight but slightly scary that he could have went further or even Katherine (a bit smaller) could have easily went chest deep.

We headed to Sergeant Man and across to High Raise where rays of light in the fog started coming through. Just after Pike O Stickle, I started feeling low on energy so decided to chew on one of Jon’s world-famous boiled potatoes in butter. As this went into my mouth, my stomach decided against this and forced me to vomit several times. This made my stomach feel good, as it had felt bloated since the start of leg 2. We pushed to the bottom of Bowfell and I felt the need to eat again, I tried a boiled potato and suddenly felt an urge and vomited again and did. We continued to the top and I could see how pleased Jon was about his route up – “I’m really pleased of this route, it’s probably the best route I’ve taken up Bowfell”.

My appreciation of this probably wasn’t evident at the time as I was struggling badly, the rain was lashing my face and 50mph gusts were annoying. I started to doubt the whole event at this point. I was low, mentally, physically and had sore legs. I had decided there and then, when we get to Wasdale I was finished. As we continued along, I tried again to eat, this time some ginger cake. I ate this in small bits but unfortunately up it came again.

Jon and Katherine played a huge part here and it cannot be underestimated. Their encouragement was key. Jon supplied me with some gels which made me worried about vomiting again, but I needed energy and quick. With some encouragement to trot and the release of gels, it made the world of difference. Within 10 minutes I was back and chatting away as though nothing was wrong. I knew at this point I was to complete the round and within time.

The cloud didn’t lift, and we headed towards the Scafells. I’ve done these 2 before, quite a few times now. Scafell Pike, Mickledore, Lords Rake, West Wall Traverse – turn right at the top and there is Scafell. Not the case, we turned right and found a top and touched it, but Jon wasn’t convinced. He doubted this and as soon as we started to descend to Wasdale, his instincts were correct, he stopped and said, “this is the descent to Foxes Tarn”. For those that don’t know, this would have us heading back the way we came and having not been to Scafell. We had been to Symonds Knot.

This is a key demonstration why a Fell runner should always have a fall back of a map and compass and to trust your instinct of doubt. We had mostly been using a GPS watch, but this failed us. As we headed into Wasdale my next crew (Danny’s) were waiting. The scree run down was fun and my energy levels were getting low again. Jon ran ahead and asked them to prepare 1 coke and a cup of tea, this is all I wanted, I still couldn’t eat.

Leg 4

Arriving to my seat with my next crew (Danny’s) ready Michael Henderson hands me a tea, of which I’m grateful to receive at 110 degrees Celsius and instantly burn my tongue. This distracts me for a second from the next task of Yewbarrow and Red Pike. Again, no food goes down with exception to some Pepsi, hot tea and a couple of gels. Mark Smith (the most respectable Fell runner I know), Lisa Henderson (a diesel engine of a Fell runner) and myself head off to start leg 4. Coming down Scafell you should try not to look ahead at Yewbarrow, it’s hard and I know how tough it is, I did it in my recce some months back and was exhausted by it.

We ascend at a good pace but maybe too good. Lisa telling me a little later that she nearly decided to turn back halfway up because we were going too fast for her and she was worried of being left behind. We reach the top 8 minutes up on my schedule and then continue to Red Pike, again up on schedule. This gives me quite a bit confidence. I know at this point I will finish the round; it was all about getting through.

Mark explained at Wasdale I had more then enough time to complete the round, throughout the leg Mark was calm and collected which was an enormous asset at this stage. Mark and Lisa helped me through this leg of which I ended up being in so much pain. My knees were hurting badly, I could feel every small stone and rock through my shoes and my feet were in agony. Lisa tried to help feed and water me with small amounts and I nearly vomited again. Over this leg I had nearly nothing to fuel me, I don’t know how I did it. Looking back, I was in a zone of just continuing and aiming for Honister. Lisa amused me by shooting GoPro footage with commentary and when things got a little quiet and hard, I asked Mark to explain the geology of the Lakes; this helped.

At the bottom of Great Gable, I heard Mark ask Lisa what I had consumed, I knew it was little, but I also knew I was continuing to be strong. I suspect he may have had doubts as I slowed a little going up, but this was mostly the way I was climbing in a crouch position as it relieved the pain in my knees and lower back. As we passed over Green gable towards Brandreth I felt like taking my shoes off and running bare feet as they felt so bad. I had given instructions to Lisa to have some Paracetamol on the ready and she descended quickly to have the team prepared. The decent into Honister was slow and I was clapped in, I knew I had one more final push.

Leg 5

15 Minutes at Honister. The tablets took instant affect and the gels were in. I felt like a new person. I had some brand new comfy fell shoes and up we went to Dale Head. I was joined by Mike Harvey, Jon Heaney, Jenny Simpson, Lisa Henderson, Barry Young and Georgina Hinton-Lewis. It was as though I had just woken up and ready to go run 10 miles, fresh as a daisy. As we ascended, I asked Jon to speed up, as we got to the top it felt like I could sprint, so I did down to the bottom and then again after the climb to Hindscarth. The final climb was nearly there, one final push which seemed easy (considering). The sun was out and was a pleasant afternoon. That last touch of Robinson was a great feeling. 42 Peaks (well 43 if I include Symonds Knot), I stopped for a couple of minutes to take it in. I had more than enough time to get to Keswick, I felt good.

I always dreaded the last road part; therefore, I nearly went anti-clockwise. I met Will Powis at Little Town who had brought my road trainers and club vest and stole Jenny’s bottle of Pepsi from car. I had craved fizzy drinks the entire way. I had my team helping me along the road with a minute running and a minute walking. It felt like a training session the way it played out. Keswick was less than a mile away, I could feel the adrenalin running, I wanted one last push and as we turned onto the main street, I pushed the pace and ran towards Moot Hall. I was surprised my speed considering what I had just been through, but despite the market I was able to skirt round the vans and reach Moot Hall and complete the BGR in 22:49.

Summary

I had 4 days of preparation and 4 days of doubt. Had Danny not pulled out and had access to his months of planning and brilliant supporters, I’m not sure if or when I could have run this. I fancied it in May 2020 but also fancied and attempt in October 2019. I wasn’t sure I was ready; I have run many long runs with Jon and Danny and some other friends on other runs. My Fell running friends gave me confidence to attempt this, they are a small number of people that know me and my ability like no one else, had anyone of them showed doubt in me then I’m sure they would have made it known. Despite lots of training and long races and being physically ready I didn’t think I was mentally ready. A significant portion of the success of the BGR is down to the people around you, not just in carrying food, water, navigating, roadside assistance but the moral support they add throughout. This is a teamwork event. I can guarantee 2 things that you’ll need to complete The Bob Graham Round, the physical ability and a supportive team, without one of these the chances are you won’t even start never mind finish.