The Frog Graham Round FGR) is a swim and run challenge that crosses 18 fell tops and four lakes in the Lake District. The route begins and ends in Keswick and covers a distance of approximately 40 miles with more than 15,000ft of ascent.
My FGR was a rather spontaneous event. As the pools were closed during lockdown we had taken to swimming in our local lake so I had an unexpected summer of open water practice behind me (and a bit of swim run practice when the police turned up and we had to scarper into the woods). Then the easing of the restrictions had taken me up to the Lakes for a couple of reccies. “I definitely want to try this next year,” I thought. However, when the nights started coming earlier I had a yearning for one adventure to get me through the winter. “Why don’t you just have a go?” said Linda. “What’s the worst that could happen?” I had a quick message round of the usual suspects who could help out and I could get someone with me on every leg and a swimmer for Thursday 13th of August. (“The 13th?” said Allison ominously. “Well, it might be lucky for some people.”) However Thursday 13th looked unlikely as the longterm forecast the week before had predicted thunder, lightning and torrential rain for the end of the week and all weekend.
The forecast took a dramatic change as late as Wednesday. It looked it was going to be a bit hot and humid, but clear and no storms. One of the team couldn’t make it for leg 3, but it looked like an FGR would still be possible if I did a leg on my own. The preparation wasn’t as much as I would have liked as I hadn’t spent the summer in the lakes climbing and descending and was short on training runs over 20 miles. Also I hadn’t reccied the whole route, none of my supporters had reccied. But what the hell… let’s have a go! I managed to get Wednesday afternoon off work to do the prep, and it turns out that one afternoon isn’t long to prep for a round…who knew? I decided an 18-hour schedule should mean I did all the swims in daylight, but I had no idea if it was achievable. At 7.30pm Wednesday evening, after an organising and baking frenzy, I left my house in chaos and I jumped into the van with Eleanor and we headed up to the Lakes.
We met up with Linda and Andy and found a spot to sleep for a couple of hours, but an irate local moved us on. People who had been there recently hadn’t been very well behaved. We found another spot over Whinlatter Pass and tried to get some sleep. After an hour and a half of sleep the 2 am alarm went off and we headed for Keswick. I got dressed and ready to set off but then…where were my fell shoes? We emptied out the van with a feeling of dread rising in me. “Are you sure you brought them?” asked Eleanor. “Absolutely sure,” I said, but my inner voice asked, “are you?” We headed back to Whinlatter Pass by which point I had decided they were sitting in my hall in Leeds. Suddenly we saw a carrier bag in the middle of the road. My shoes! What a relief. How did that happen?
After a few more minor disasters involving headbands and headtorches our 3am start turned out to be a 3.28am start, but I told myself that the route to the Frog Graham never ran smoothly and that at least we had started! Keswick was deserted as we jogged towards Skiddaw. The night was oppressively hot. “How will I get through the day if the night is like this?” I thought, but tried to stay positive and reminded myself that I had cycled across France through the heatwave the summer before. As we climbed higher we got a lovely breeze and it got light earlier than we expected. I had a great leg with Eleanor and arrived at Church Bay a few minutes up on my schedule. Bassenthwaite Lake looked really inviting and Mike was there to meet me for the swim. I had opted for a shortie wetsuit so that it would be lighter to carry and I had borrowed a friend’s for this swim to avoid any contamination later on. The swim was lovely and I arrived at the other side to Linda looking fit and ready and a lovely cup of tea made by Andy.
I set off with Linda on leg 2. This is such a beautiful leg and my memory of this is having a great time, chatting away. There was cloud cover keeping the temperature a bit lower and we were making good progress. I met a fell runner on Lord’s Seat who I bumped into later in Keswick, which felt about two weeks later for me. At this point I didn’t have anyone to accompany me on leg 3. “Maybe I’ll do it with you,” said Linda. “It’s only a short leg.” But I had done a reccie of leg 3, and I remembered it being tough. “The distance isn’t the only factor,” I said. “The terrain is difficult, the first climb is really steep, the nav is difficult through the bracken and last descent.” None of this put Linda off and I phoned Allison on the way up Hopegill Head to tell of the change of plan. She later told me that I sounded so relaxed and happy on the phone that she knew then that I had it in the bag. After Whiteless Pike, Linda trotted off into Buttermere to get around the lake while I turned right towards Rannerdale Knotts.
Again the swim was so inviting because of the heat, and I crossed Crummock Water with Mike and set off up Mellbreck with Linda. Reccieing hadn’t really helped me. I didn’t get a good line (is there one?). Even Linda, who is well known for her ability to do any distance or amount of climbing with no obvious sign of discomfort, was finding it hard as we dragged ourselves up over heather and bracken. “I did warn you,” I said. “I thought you were exaggerating!” she replied. It was so good to have her with me though. Massive kudos to the people who do this as a solo unsupported event. I carried my own gear, food and water, but the people who were with me on the route were undoubtably a huge help to me and I picked food up in between the legs. We struggled through the bracken towards Scale Beck and I started to have a low moment on the climb up to Red Pike. I managed to bounce back a bit though, and by the time I reached Buttermere I was in good spirits. Buttermere was the perfect temperature, it was a really lovely swim and I got out the other side thinking the worst was behind me. Could I start to believe?
Allison was waiting for me at the other side for the home leg. She had spent most of the day getting Mike, pasta and water (in that order) into the right places. I hadn’t been up Robinson this way before and I had been warned that it was a tough climb. “After what I’ve been through on leg 3?” I said chirpily. “Don’t worry, nothing can be as bad as that!” Hmmm. It started off OK and I was feeling good but the sun was out and it was uncomfortably warm and as it steepened it started to take its toll on me. Allison led the way and kept shouting at me to eat and drink. It was soft stuff only now. I had a lot of trouble trying to eat a flapjack. I knew there was a danger that I might not be able to eat soon so kept trying to eat while I could.
I was slightly over my predicted time at the top and felt a bit crestfallen. Were the wheels coming off? Dale Head looked so far away. However, I reached Dale Head a couple of minutes ahead of time, and my spirits were raised again. Neither me or Allison had reccied the route but we had done Teenager with Altitude a few years previously. So although I was struggling to navigate in my depleted and dehydrated state, Allison didn’t have any trouble. I was now having trouble jogging and feeling very tired. The bottom of my feet felt like I was walking on broken glass but I kept pushing on with Allison’s encouragement, I was so close now!
When I reached Derwentwater Mike was waiting for me again and there was Andy in a kayak. The water was very choppy and there was a headwind so I really glad to have Andy there. It made me feel safe. When we reached the third island I asked Andy “Can I believe now?” He certainly thought so and I swam the last bit where I met up with Allison again and we all started running back to Keswick. All my aches and pains were going, even my feet didn’t hurt anymore. We had a slight navigational discussion at the roundabout and a guardian angel turned up from nowhere and shouted “Frog Graham – this way!” It is a great feeling running to the Moot Hall and I felt a little bit emotional. We celebrated by eating chips and mushy peas on the steps, and telling interested passers-by about the route.
I have so many people to be grateful to: Peter Hayes who invented the fantastic route, the people who do the admin for the event, Lisa and Vernon for introducing me to the delights of the local swim spots and training me up and, of course, the people who supported me on the round. I’m not sure who sorted the weather out, but thanks for that too! This was my first experience of a challenge that you do with support, and I am so grateful for their company. I had such a fantastic day out, and it was made better because it was a fairly impulsive decision, but maybe that’s the better way to do it.
So what next? Well I have a few debts to pay on the supporting front and I am told that I have inspired a couple of people to have a go. And as for me; I have a few ideas…So I’ll wait till I’ve stopped walking down stairs sideways and I can wear something other than slippers and then I will start planning.