Saturday 7th September 2019
The Bob Graham Round, as all fell runners know, is steeped in legend by the vast history of attempts from running legends like Billy Bland, Joss Naylor, Rob Jebb, Nicky Spinks, Jasmin Paris, and Kilian Jornet, and the list goes on! Like many runners I caught the Bob Graham bug after reading Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith. So, when my good running pal Dan said he was going to give it an attempt this summer, the itch to give it a go really kicked in. For those who don’t know, the BGR was devised in 1932 by Bob Graham, a hotelier of Keswick. It amounts to 66 miles over 42 Lakeland peaks with over 27,000ft of elevation, all to be completed within 24 hours. It is split into five legs as with four road crossings where you can fill up on food and water if you have a support crew.
Dan asked me to support him on the first two legs, so I began training hard as I wanted to make sure I was fit enough. As he is living in the Lakes, I knew he would be super speedy and strong on the hills. About a month before the proposed start date, we ran a rather wet and windy Abrahams Tea Round which amounted to a tasty 30 miles and 11,000ft of elevation. I felt good on that which showed my training was paying off, and Dan began to fill my head with words of encouragement that I would be fit enough to join him for the entire BGR. The combination of these two elements began to convince me that it might be possible.
Another two weeks of training passed and during a successful recce of leg 3, I told Dan that I was in, and I would do the round with him. Ooo scary! I only told a handful of people that I was attempting the whole round, I didn’t want the pressure of having to succeed. However, all I actually wanted to do was blurt it out to everyone I met.
Leg 1 Keswick to Threlkeld
The Friday was a rush with last-minute packing, finishing work, trying to snooze, and eating lots. Before I knew it, we were standing at Moot Hall awaiting our midnight start. Barry, who was covering Dan’s Saturday shift at Keswick youth hostel, came out to take a snap of us both and wish us good luck. It was nice to start the round without many spectators as it took the pressure off us, it felt like we were just going out for a night run in the fells, no biggie.
As we climbed higher up Skiddaw the clag set in and by the time we reached the top it was difficult to make out the edge of the path. However, thanks to Dan’s knowledge of the first leg we had no issue finding the trods that took us to Great Calva and then onto Blencathra. Even though it was pretty wet due to the mist we decided to go down the main scramble of Halls Fell as we had recently got lost trying to find a cleaner line during a recce. We were slightly down on schedule when we arrived in Threlkeld, but Dan’s parents, Kevin and Lucy, had some hot food and a cuppa waiting.
Leg 2 Threlkeld to Dumnail Raise
The clag was the same for most of the leg 2 and we nearly lost Watsons Dodd, but due to a bit more luck than skill it appeared out of the mist after a worried few minutes. It’s crazy how you can get turned around when the visibility is poor and you don’t pay attention to your bearing! Just as we were topping out of Helvellyn the sun began to poke its head out from beneath the horizon and we were both lost for words by the beauty of it all. This gave us beaming smiles as we bounded down to the awaiting crew at Dunmail Raise.
Leg 3 Dunmail Raise to Wasdale
We picked up Abel and Pete for leg 3 who were both brilliant with reminding us to eat and drink. Also Abel’s nav was spot on. It was nice to relax a bit and at some points I felt like a little lost puppy as I hooked onto the back of Abel’s heels and blindly followed his every step as he guided us through the rocky rough stuff. Some friends, Dave and Sheila, met us on Scafell Pike and were able to get some brilliant pics on the top. We all looked really cheery even though Dan’s foot had somehow managed to fight its way through the side of his shoe. This isn’t ideal when you have a 2800ft descent off the top of Scafell with a fair amount of scree running. But thanks to some trusty climbing tape the shoe held all the way down to Wasdale.
Leg 4 Wasdale to Honister
I can see why they call Wasdale the graveyard of the Bob Graham as the climb up Yewbarrow is not what you want after your legs have been jellified from that descent. Thankfully the gravedigger did not come calling as we set off with our two fresh new supporters Calum and Sam. As we summited Yewbarrow we bumped into a couple who were sipping on white wine in the sun as they had just completed all the Wainwrights in only three years: kudos to them! Leg 4 was tough, and I had a couple of low moments due to feeling bloated from all the food we had been eating. But after munching on a fresh banana I soon felt better and the miles ticked away. It was nice having Calum and Sam acting as our mums constantly giving us water, slices of pizza and sweeties. On the final descent from Grey Knotts, we both knew that completing the round was going to be possible. This gave us a huge rush of endorphins which pushed us down to Honister.
Leg 5 Honister to Keswick
After more tea and hot food, we picked up Abel again and the 5 of us headed up Dale Head in a jolly mood. Only three more tops! The sun was starting to set, and we basked in the golden light for the final hour on the fells. When we topped out on Robinson, Dan and I embraced in an emotional hug as neither of us could believe what we had just achieved. The steep grassy descent off the top hurt the knees, so a bit of bum sliding made an appearance. It’s a great idea until a load of prickles get stuck in your undershorts. We made a quick change into fresh socks, club vests and road shoes for the final 10km along the road and bounded off with excitement. Surprisingly we were all going at quite a pace considering, and by the time we hit Keswick high street we were doing a full-on sprint. What a feeling to climb the stairs of Moot Hall like so many running legends and have all our supporters there cheering and clapping. We clocked in at 20 hours and 3 minutes, over 40 minutes ahead of our schedule! There were more emotional hugs all round and we just couldn’t stop smiling. This certainly won’t be a moment I will ever forget. I did not really realise how much of a welcoming running community there is in Keswick until people I had never met before were congratulating me and Dan. One guy summed it up nicely by simply saying “Welcome to the club lads!” There is no better way of celebrating the best day out on the fells either of us have ever had than by going to the pub with good company for some food and beers.
I want to say thank you to Kevin and Lucy Cade for their excellent road support and for supplying some of the best cups of tea I’ve ever had. Thank you Abel, Pete, Calum and Sam for their superb leg support and for keeping us smiling when it got tough. And thanks also to Dave and Sheila for the quality photos, they captured the memories of the day perfectly.
So what’s next then?