The Bob Graham Round. Where do we start.
The BGR is a 66 mile, 27,000 ft circuit of 42 of the highest peaks in the English Lake District within 24 hours.
"First done way back in 1932 by Bob Graham, hotelier of Keswick, Cumberland, at the age of 42, the 42 Peak Round has become a testing ground for the supremely fit. Each summer around 100 of the most highly tuned ultra-distance fell runners will attempt the 27,000 ft of ascent within the allotted 24 hours. Only one in three will return to the Keswick Moot Hall before the clock runs down. Most of the rest will be back again ...!"
I first came across the BGR a number of years ago and was immediately drawn to the challenge, but looked on at it in awe and admiration. 66 miles with 27,000 ft over 42 of the highest fells in the Lake District? You've got to be kidding. There was no way I was capable of completing that! However, over the years, it became a more and more realistic ambition, and eventually I knew that one day I would be able to attempt it.
Over the last 2 years, I began training with the aim of a 2017 attempt. With long, hilly runs forming the basis of my training, and plenty of fell races, I soon grew in confidence. Taking part in a number of mountain ultra races, and spending long days out in the Lakes reccying the various legs, I could feel my body becoming more and more conditioned, and was able to practice my nutrition strategies. I was fortunate to know guys like Alan and Graham who have both completed the round, and drew experience from them.
Fast forward to Friday 16th June at 23:00pm, and there I was, stood in front of the Moot Hall in Keswick, about to set off on my attempt.
The BGR is split into 5 legs as follows:
Leg 1: Keswick to Threlkeld - 3 summits
Leg 2: Threlkeld to Dunmail Raise - 12 summits
Leg 3: Dunmail Raise to Wasdale - 15 summits
Leg 4: Wasdale to Honister - 9 summits
Leg 5: Honister to Keswick - 3 summits
I'd planned to run on a 22:30 schedule, giving me some cushion in case I struggled and slowed, allowing me to still come in under 24 hours, yet not pushing it too hard in the first part of the round meant that if I had anything left I could push on in the latter sections. I'd arranged a number of friends to support me on the various legs, and Lily to manage the road crossings, with my parents available to help if required.
I ended up losing 8 minutes against the schedule on the whole of Leg 3 (partly due to the choice of route up to Scafell), but I was more than happy with that as I approached this leg with damage limitation in mind, rather than a place to push on and extend my time ahead. I arrived at 12:55pm, nearly 14 hours after I’d left Keswick, and now 20 minutes up on my schedule. In Wasdale, once again Lily was amazing, sorting my feet which were very sore (from the constant pounding on the downhills - thankfully I didn’t get any blisters all day), feeding me, and making sure I was taking on enough food and liquids. I was feeling really rough, but not once did I consider stopping. I would have to be dragged off the mountain if I was going to stop! After changing footwear again, and putting on a dry top, I was ready (?!?) to continue.
Alan kept shooting ahead to take photographs, which are fantastic. After a brief descent, there is another long climb, this time up Red Pike. Whilst never too hard, it is a bit of a drag, and 44 minutes later we reached the cairn on top, this time another 4 minutes up on schedule! I had planned to be conservative on Legs 1, 2 and 3, running to schedule and then push on if possible on 4 and 5. I didn't expect I would be able to after my state in Wasdale though!
After Steeple, you turn 90 degrees and start heading East, which is the general direction of Keswick. This was nice as it felt as though we were heading home. I picked up a slight tail wind, and really enjoyed the next section, feeling as though as I was running strong, towards Pillar. I was really happy with my climbing and didn't once struggle, it was the descents that were ruining me and I was dreading. Since the weather was so good, the views again were fantastic. Although looking towards the ever prominent Great Gable was certainly daunting, as I would be climbing that shortly.
I took the long descent off Pillar nice and steady, before the climb up Kirk Fell. It was at this point that suddenly I realised I only had 8 peaks to go! I had planned to take the line up the old fence posts, which I was familiar with, but somehow we ended up taking the gully. This turned out to be a better line. Whilst I was running and climbing well, I was really struggling to take on any food. The bars were just not going down, causing me to gag and it was taking me an age to eat a flapjack or Mars bar. I couldn't stand chocolate or sweet food in general. I hadn't had a single gel all day, and knew now wasn't the time to try, I would have certainly been sick! I tried to eat the nuts but these were very dry. I was drinking plenty though, with the electrolyte and Mountain Fuel keeping me topped up.
Next up Great Gable, which some say is the last big climb on the round. This turned out to be better than expected, with Ed leading us on a good line through the boulders near the top. At the top, paranoia temporarily set in, with me asking Ed to double check my times to make sure I was on schedule and that I could make it back to Keswick in time! It turns out I had been pulling away from my schedule all through the leg so I had nothing to worry about. Green Gable, Brandreth and Grey Knotts, the final 3 summits on Leg 4 are all easy and quickly ticked off, although we weren't sure of the Grey Knotts official top so I visited both potential tops to make sure the right one had been tagged.
Like all legs, there is a long, steep descent down to the road crossing, this time down to Honister. I told Ed to go ahead as he was supporting on Leg 5 as well, and after a very painful plod down, I arrived. It was now 17:33, I'd been going for 18 and a half hours, and I was now 53 minutes up on schedule - thanks to Ed and Alan I'd gained 33 minutes. Lily and the team were waiting, but they were shocked to see us so soon. I was a different person from Wasdale, still tired, but in good spirits, knowing the end was in site. After more pasta, pizza and a change of socks and shoes, we were ready to get going.
All that lay between me and the finish was 4.5 miles of road. Graham and Ed were faster than me on here, and after a bright start, I was soon plodding along again, lagging behind, feeling very sick. I was making all sorts of noises, and thought that at any moment I would throw up. The road went on forever, but finally after reaching Portinscale, Keswick came into sight. Thankfully adrenaline kicked in for the last mile, and as we entered Keswick, we met Lily to run the final few hundred meters up to the Moot Hall. I had dreamed of this moment for a long time, and it certainly didn't disappoint. It was mid evening, so the main street was still fairly busy, and random people were clapping and cheering as we ran past, trying to muster up a sprint for the last hundred meters.
I'd made it! I touched the Moot Hall after 21 hours and 17 minutes, 1 hour 13 minutes up on my schedule. As soon as I stopped on the steps and lay down, cap over my eyes, everything caught up with me. I didn't quite pass out, but I think I was close! I lay there for a few minutes, with Lily and everyone waiting for me to come down, but I was spent. Fish and chips for everyone followed, although I couldn't stomach anything other than the fish, a flat Coke and some sparkling water, and apparently I was slurring my words and spaced out half the time. I didn't care, I was in the Bob Graham Club!
Looking back at my splits, it turns out that somehow I ran the last 2 legs at 19 hour pace! Over the course of the day I stopped for 60 minutes at the road crossings in total, averaging 15 minutes at each.
I couldn't have done this without Lily and all the support. Each and every one of them helped make this possible. They were all fantastic and priceless, feeding me, dragging me round and keeping me in good spirits. It was certainly a team effort. It was an incredible day, and one that I'll remember for the rest of my life.
I love stats! Here's my splits:
|Location||State of light||Leg time||Estimated time||Actual leg time||Actual time||Actual vs Schedule|
|Threlkeld - Arrive||Dark||30||02:41||34||02:39||-4|
|Threlkeld - Depart||Dark||14||02:55||10||02:49||4|
|Helvellyn Lower Man||Dawn||17||05:20||14||05:02||3|
|Dunmail Raise - Arrive||Daylight||24||07:15||17||06:47||7|
|Dunmail Raise - Depart||Daylight||14||07:29||19||07:06||-5|
|Pike o Stickle||Daylight||11||09:30||12||09:08||-1|
|Wasdale - Arrive||Daylight||34||13:15||31||12:55||3|
|Wasdale - Depart||Daylight||19||13:34||18||13:13||1|
|Honister - Arrive||Daylight||12||18:26||13||17:33||-1|
|Honister - Depart||Daylight||13||18:39||13||17:46||0|
|Keswick Moot Hall||Dusk||96||21:32||84||20:17||12|
The Teenager With Altitude is a fell race in the Lake District that caught my eye a couple of years ago as the route takes in the Newlands Horseshoe. Lily and I love running around that valley, and so I mentioned to Alan how I fancied racing it sometime. When entries opened in January, Alan contacted me and said "so, are we doing it then?". I didn't hesitate and since it said entries were limited to justn 75, we both quickly entered. It was advertsied as a 15.4 mile fell race, with 7600ft of climbing - that's more climbing than the Borrowdale fell race, and in a slightly shorter distance, so I knew it was going to be a tough one!
I header up after work on the Friday night, arranging to meet Graham, also from Belper Harriers, but now living in Newcastle, at the campsite in Grange. Graham had got a late entry into the TWA little brother race, the Anniversary Waltz. Alan was already up there staying elsewhere. It was a very cold night, but the weather forecast was good for the Saturday.
We made our way over to Stair Village Hall at 9:30, to sign in, and collect our numbers ready for a 10:30 start. I was really looking forward to the race, albeit a little apprehensive as 7,500ft of climbing in 16 miles meant it would hurt. Having said that, I was looking forward to spending some time in the mountains, on what turned out to be a glorious day, and knew that if nothing else, it would be a good training session for my upcoming BG attempt.
There were a number of checkpoint we had to visit: Causey Pike, Outerside, Grasmoor, Whiteless Pike, Newlands Hause, High Snock Rigg, Robinson, Hindscarth, Dale Head, High Spy and Catbells. The start of the race was at the foot of Causey Pike, and after a kit check, we all lined up in a bunch, looking up towards the summit, some 1,500ft above us. It was an imposing start, as the line we were going to take went straight up. Before we knew it we were off, and within a matter of meters the majority of the field was walking. The leaders shot off, and other than seeing them in the distance occasionally, they were gone - very impressive!
It was a tough climb to start with, and although I had made the effort to do some small hill reps to warm up, you can't prepare your legs for the length and intensity of this climb. My calves soon began to scream at me, but I knew that as soon as I summitted and started descending, my legs would be ok again. After 25 minutes of steep climbing, and some scrambling towards the summit, Alan and I reached the checkpoint at the top at the same time. Following a short ridge run, we made out way off path down towards the foot of Outside. It was here that I had my customary fall, catching a foot on a tussock - thankfully, it was all grass and no rocks, and after a bounce and roll I was straight back up - a guy behind even commented how impressive and well practiced it was! I saw the leaders descending off Outerside before I had even started the climb. This wasn't too bad a climb, and I soon reached checkpoint number 2 at the summit.
The next section of the race was the one part I wasn't sure about nav-wise. Thankfully, I needn't have worried, as the weather and visibility were so good, I could see all the lines I needed to take as there was a line of runners stretching out ahead. It was tricky underfoot, tussocky, rocky, and in places quite boggy which made it quite tough running. After traversing underneath Eel Crag, we dropped down crossing a river and joined the main path that zig-zagged up towards Grasmoor. I have no idea of what position I was in, but I felt comfortable by this point, with the pain from the intial climb subsiding.
Next came the climb to Grasmoor, and the highest point in the race (~2,650ft). I was expecting this to be quite tough, and it was a slow drag as first we climbed up the path, and then moved off path taking a direct line for the top. There were 2 different lines up here, and I took the line that looked more obvious, and popular - but it was still a hard, hands on knees climb. Around half a mile from the top, the gradient eased off a bit, and I was able to break out into a run again towards the summit cairn and checkpoint number 3.
The next section was my favourite of the race. From the summit of Grasmoor, we descended down, and round along a narrow ridge to Whiteless Pike (checkpoint 4), before plummitting steeply off Whiteless Pike, off-path down towards Newlands Hause. The descent from Whiteless Pike was an exhilirating, totally out of control, freefall. It was fantastic. It was tussocky, but ridiculously steep at the top, with my GPS saying 48% at one point, and I ended up switch-backing trying to control my speed as much as I could - unsuccessfully!
After checkpoinnt number 5 at Newlands Hause, once again we climbed (suprise suprise), this time up towards High Snock Rigg (and the start of the climb up towards Robinson), parallel to Moss Force waterfall, and the next checkpoint. Again this was a very steep climb, but once we got out onto Buttermere Moss, it was runnable again. By this point, despite having only gone 8 miles, I was starting to feel my legs each time I wanted to break out into a run.
Soon we were on the climb up towards Robinson, and this was a plod. I was starting to pull away from the guys around me, but I wasn't closing in on the guys ahead! The summit of Robinson (and checkpoint 7) marked the point where the Anniversary Walz runners joined us. They had started an hour after us, so there was a steady stream of runners coming up from Newlands Valley. From here to the finish, both races shared the same route. I found this both good and bad - bad in the sense that since I was quicker than these runners I had to make sure I didn't fall into their pace, and slow down, but good in the sense that I was able to see the runners ahead and gradually pick them off. Other than the race number saying which race we were in, I had no idea who I was racing against. From this point onwards, I have no idea if I overtook anyone else in my race!
From Robinson, we descended before climbing up towards Hinscarth, before descending again and climbing up to Dale Head. I love running around this section of Newlands Valley, and Lily and I have run it numerous times, so I knew what to expect and the lines to take. From Dale Head we dropped steeply down again - I decided to take the line I took last year in the Borrowdale fell race, going straight down to the tarn, but the runners around me all went right taking the (slower) path. This is another cracking descent, steep and very rocky - you just have to be careful not to run straight off a waiting crag!
From here on in, it's very straight forward - one final climb up to High Spy, before running back along the ridge, predominantly downhill towards Catbells. By this point I was starting to feel a little weary, partly due to the heat, but I was also just tired! It was on this ridge I had one small shot of cramp in a calf, but thankfully nothing significant came of it, and it didn't slow me down. After going through the final checkpoint (11) on top of Catbells, and dodging the crowds, we made a switchback descent down a grass path - this was the only flagged section of the route, as the National Trust had apparently asked us to stay off the main path. The final run in to the finish followed, down a few winding lanes leading back to Stair.
I loved this race, and was pleased with how I ran. I finished in 48th place out of 138 in 3:39, yet the winner, Carl Bell, was over an hour ahead of me setting a new course record of 2:37. How he was able to run that fast, over that terrain, I have no idea!! During the race, I took on 1.5 litres of water (and electrolyte), refilling one of my 500ml bottles up at Newlands Hause, 3 gels, 2 Mars bars and a handful of sweets. I will certainly be back next year to try and beat my time!
I think due to my training for the BGR, I have lost some of my speed, but I have certainly gained endurance. The following day after the race, I felt comfortable going for another 11 mile run, with ~4,000ft elevation, taking in BG Leg 5. This certainly shows my training is paying off which I'm really pleased with.
View run on Strava
I signed up for the Lakes Mountain 42 back in January as prep for my upcoming Bob Graham attempt. The race, held in the Lake District, was advertised as 42 miles of Lakeland summits, fells and dales, with 10,000ft of elevation gain. With the BG being 68 miles (and 28,000ft), I thought this race would act as a good benchmark, to see where I currently am, and how my training has been going.
The race started and finished in Askham, at the east end of Ullswater, and with it being a 6am start on the Saturday, I made my way up after work on the Friday. The race organisers (NAV 4 Adventure) had laid on accommodation at race HQ, which made it very easy on the race morning - wake-up, breakfast, go. I knew it was going to be a long day, so made sure I had a decent breakfast before setting off - porridge, 2 x toast, banana and 2 x coffees.
It was a very surreal start. Starting from the centre of Askham, a lovely little village, the starter didn’t want to make any noise in order to avoid waking the locals. Instead, she started mouthing the word ‘go’ and started waving her arms. The sun had just risen, but even though it was nearly pitch black, there was no need for a headtorch. It was very cold, and there had been a thick frost overnight. We soon left the village and made our way onto the open fells, immediately climbing.
It was a near continuous climb for 10 miles, to the summit of High Street (828m), via Loadpot Hill, Wether Hill and High Raise. I set off with the intention of running slow and steady, and soon settled into a rhythm (my ‘long day in a the mountains’ pace) and into a group of 3 with Ally and James. The route was not waymarked, but the climb to High Street was very straight forward, made easier by the bogs being frozen. This was also the same area where the Saunders Mountain Marathon had been last year so I was vaguely familiar with it. As the sun rose, the views all around were stunning, with a cloud inversion over Ullswater, and endless views towards Helvellyn - where we would be in a few hours time. I soon realised it was going to be a warm day, and from that moment onward, made sure I was drinking consistently.
After High Street, we made our way down towards Angle Tarn, and then down into Patterdale and a feed station. This was just under 16 miles in, and I was feeling good. After topping up my drink and having a mouthful of food, I was on my way again. I was still in the group of 3, and we now made our way up towards Grisedale Tarn, before descending down steeply towards Dunmail Raise, and then to Wythburn, and the next feed station at 22 miles. There were now 2 of us, as James had dropped back, and the marshall confirmed we were in 10th and 11th. I stopped here to take on some more substantial food, and to refill my drinks again with electrolyte. Ally didn’t hang around and shot straight off onto the climb. It wasn’t even 10:30 yet, and it was hot, and I knew it was only going to get hotter on the next climb, up Helvellyn.
I like the climb up Helvellyn from Wythburn, having done it twice before, including in the 3x3000’s last year. It’s a long, but the views down to Thirlmere, and across to the Scafell range are incredible, especially on a day like this, when there was not a cloud in the sky. I felt strong on the climb, but took it steady as I knew we still had another 20 miles or so to go.
After summiting Helvellyn, we made our way along the ridge, going over Lower Man, and then to White Side. From here, it was then a long 5 mile descent down to Glenridding and then Patterdale. I was not looking forward to this, as it was steep, dropping around 2,500ft, and after already running over a 26 miles, I knew it might hurt! I caught another runner on top of White Side and another on the descent, and I ran it well, taking direct lines where I could, cutting the switchbacks, and trying to stay off the rocky path as much as possible. The rocky path started to take it’s toll on my feet, and from this point onwards, my feet hurt. This was the same issue I had last year in the 3x3000’s, and need to work out how to handle this for my BG attempt.
Upon reaching the Patterdale checkpoint, I again filled up my water bottles, and tried to take on some food - easier said than done in the heat and after running for 6 and half hours. I soon set off again for the final 10 miles, and started climbing Place Fell. We’d run past this earlier so had seen the line I needed to take. I was following another runner up here, and it was a drag. It seemed to go on forever. I caught the other runner at the top, and after exchanging pleasantries, ran off along the ridge before descending down to Martindale. It was at this point the other runner asked where I was from, and after explaining he started laughing. It turns out, this was Graham, who used to run for Belper, and is a friend of Alan and Saul, and who Alan had previously asked to help support me on my BG attempt. Small world.
Me and Graham ended up running the rest of the race together, returning to Askham after 9 hours and 4 minutes, in 8th place. All in all, I was pleased with how I’d run. My legs felt great all the way to the finish, and I felt as though I’d paced it well throughout. I had planned to use this as a training run, for a long day out in the mountains, and as a bonus, can’t complain with a top 10 position.
I was happy with my liquid consumption over the day, taking in just over 4 litres of water/electrolyte. I ate well for the first half of the race, snacking on Kendal Mint Cake, Mars bars, cheese and pickle rolls, pizza and a pork pie, as well as sweets and a couple of gels. It was harder to take on food in the second half due to the heat, but I managed to eat enough, and I was happy with how I fuelled throughout the day.
It was a fantastic day out in the high mountains, and with the weather as good as it was, it was a privilege to have been able to be out for the day in the Lake District.
Next up, the Teenager With Altitude fell race (15 miles with 7,500ft elevation) in 2 weeks time.
View run on Strava
View 3D flyby on Relive