Thursday, 9 April 2020

Bob Graham round 2019

The Bob Graham round has fascinated me for several years now, I'd read about it and it seemed a million miles from my capabilities. I knew bits of the Lake district and had done lots of mountain running but this always seemed like an impossible task. It was something hardened fell runners from the local area did, not soft southern trail runners. I mean 65 miles, 42 mountain peaks, 27000ft of elevation gain in 24hrs all self navigated that's just nuts!
Ultra running is my life and I love it but it can get a bit samey sometimes. I found myself getting bored of stuff so I decided a few years back to mix it up and try as many different running related things as possible. One of my favourite things is to do is create mini adventures and just go off exploring for a few days. In 2016 I bought the Harveys Bob Graham map and started studying it. It wasn't long before me and my buddy Dave Bowen arranged a 3 day round stopping in b and bs. It was a cracking weekend although Dave was recovering from surgery and I was coming back from injury. We mainly hiked, took terrible lines and got lost quite a bit. It was great fun but took us about 34 hours moving time and a 24hr round just seemed impossible.
Not long now
Over the next 18 months I took about learning the route, weekends away running legs, part legs, Out and backs. I loved every minute of it all be it slow learning. I was still unsure whether I could actually do a round but I loved my weekends away.
Coming into 2019 I had Western states to run but this was going to be my other "A" event. I was okay on the route and now was the time to put it all together. I got some coaching from Kim Collison who has done a winter and summer round and all my efforts were going to lead to this. So to make it official I set a date, August 17th Anti Clockwise. I ramped up the weekends up there and worked out I could leave home at 3am on a Friday arriving in the lakes at 10 am. I'd rest for an hour then run for 6 hours. Saturday I'd run all day and Sunday I'd run for 5 hours from 6am before travelling home. Then back to work Monday. My mountain legs were certainly coming on but even in May I was wondering how the hell I could make this even ringing Kim after one weekend in total despair questioning my capabilities. He put my mind at rest and told me to man up. It helped.
I had enlisted an ace team for my attempt, some of the best runners I know. It had to be a good idea to surround myself with runners that were equal or preferably a better runner than myself. Leg 1 was going to be Richard Leahy, Annabellle Stearns, Ian Brazier and his daughter Katie. Things had happened though and it ended up just me and Richard doing the leg with Kim Collison pacing for the first few miles. Leg 2 was Paul Nelson, a fantastic mountain runner. He had a fast BGR and multiple race wins under his belt. He would be navigator for the leg. Joining us muling was one of my best running buddies Scott Ulatowski. Scott and I are on a very even footing and often train together. He can get the urge to shoot off too fast but he was recovering from the Lakeland 100 so that would hold him back nicely. For leg 3 Scott was hoping to stay on for but would see how he felt. James Elson would be nav for this leg. He is a top class mountain man having done a Bob and helping on lots more. He has also been a team GB 24 hour runner, definitely a very good runner to have on board. Juhanna Kirk was the third helper on this leg. A good friend of Scotts and a Hardmoors winner. Leg 4 Kim would nav, Kim has coached me, is a world class runner and winter BG record holder. Plus he could probably run Leg 4 blindfolded. Muling was John Melbourne another buddy who had made the trip up. John is the Centurion Grand slam record holder and sub 15 hour 100 miler. He is also a massive piss taker and wouldn't be letting me slack off. Kim and John would stay on for leg 5 plus anyone else in the team who fancied it. Lastly was my road crew, my wife Jacque. No body knows how to crew me like she does. What I eat, drink, have on my feet, when to bollock me and when to listen. Above all I know when I arrive at any given point she will be there ready to go. The A team for sure!
Countdown with Richard
There was heavy rain all week and a plan A, B and C was in place. This was happening I just wasn't sure of the exact time or day! As it got closer and the weather forecast was more certain I decided on plan A. 7am Saturday 17th August. Some heavy rainfall was coming through on Friday but looked set to clear for 6am. It was on.
We all met at Moot hall for photos and I was buzzing, this was a dream moment. I was fit, well, good weather and I had a great team ready to go. My parents even rocked up with a few minutes to go to wish me luck. They had travelled up from Kent with us and it was great to have them there.
On the dot of 7am we were off. I bounced down the High street with Richard and Kim. We chatted and tried to reign the pace in as we followed the undulating roads towards Little town. At the Swinside Inn Kim left us and Richard continued with me. I had elected to use La Sportiva Mutants for the day and they are not too bad on the road so there was no need to change. We left the road and headed up the track towards the foot of Hindscarth before turning right up the steep bank toward Robinson. I was chomping at the bit and working a bit too hard pushing Richard all the way up. To be fair he was carrying all the kit and water for two of us. We reached the summit in 88 minutes a massive 22 minutes up on my schedule. Although I had a plan on paper the plan was different in my head. I figured I could pick up time early and then cruise it in later on. We soon reached Hindscarth in the allotted 17 minutes. The storm was now well and truly passed and the wispy clouds were just rising above the summits. It was like they were lifting for us and guiding our way through. We made Dale head in 13 minutes and gained another 4 minutes. We had an absolute ball descending into Honister. I tried to hold back but couldn't I was having too much fun. We could see everyone was there as we approached, it was a big turn out of family and supporters. We were a massive 31 minutes up and had caught Paul off guard who had arrived with minutes to spare. He'd seen my tracker and had to toe it to Honister to be on time. I used my allotted 5 minutes to change socks as my feet were soaked already. As I sat on my chair trying to sort my socks I couldn't reach down I'd had a massive fall on the North Downs Way a few weeks earlier pacing a friend and smashed my ribs. I was pretty sure one was broken. Only Jacque knew about it as I hadn't wanted anyone telling me the attempt was a bad idea. I'd kept quiet but I was in agony now I couldn't even lean forward to untie my shoes. I decided to take a pain killer and try and forget about it.
Honister slate mine
Come on Scott!
Paul led me up a different line I was used to as we left Honister I was happy to follow although I did question it. Within 200 metres I realised I'd left my gloves behind. Scott was reluctantly sent back for them as Paul and I powered forward up the slope. It was the first time I'd met Paul, we had chatted on the phone and he seemed like a decent bloke. As we climbed the first hill together he felt like an old friend as we put the running world to rights. His line upto Grey Knotts was pretty good too. We had made another 3 minutes although I was probably blowing a bit too hard. It was an easy dash across to Brandreth and we moved across it quickly. We pressed forward but there were still some clouds floating in and out and Scott was yet to catch up. I told Paul we would have to wait as Scott could end up anywhere. Paul pressed on and I waited for Scott. Scott then helped me reign it in a bit because Pauls pace was starting to show and it was too quick for my round. We got to Green Gable bang on the 14 minutes allocated. We were moving well and ascended Great Gable in good time. Paul was pulling ahead then waiting for us, it was fine though as he was just far enough ahead not to get lost in the cloud. Of the few recces I'd done I'd never come off Gable too well and always lost time but Paul got me on a much better line and we missed the worst of the rocky stuff coming down more to the right on the path rather than straight down. On recces I'd found 45 minutes to descend that and climb Kirk Fell a little optimistic, with Pauls knowledge we did it in 29!
Running into Wasdale with Scott
My energy levels were still good, my rib was ok although I think I was so high on adrenaline I could have been missing a limb and wouldn't have noticed. My mental plan was still in place (if a little fast). At this rate we were on a 20 to 21 hour pace. I usually just follow the fence down off of Kirk Fell but again Paul pulled rank and took us down the gulley. This was good fun, Scott and I were in hysterics trying to motor down as Paul disappeared again. I really enjoy leg 2 but the Pillar is a real slog especially as you have to run all the way up to hit the summit on schedule. I had a massive wobble here and had to tuck in behind Paul. Food was still on point so just fatigue but still a bit early in the day for that. We made 7 minutes but it was hard fought for. Steeple came and went without incident. I still say Red Pike from Steeple is impossible for me in 13 minutes and it was on the day we were 3 minutes short. Red Pike to Yewbarrow is a nice section a steady descent and good climb up the other side. I was intending to try a new line up Yewbarrow which keeps you quite low before a sharp climb up. It keeps you on grass, is pretty quick and easy going but Paul shot off across the rocks at a higher level. I followed, I didn't want us to split up and I'd asked him to nav and he hadn't failed me so I went with it. It went well and we topped out without incident. As long as you get in the trod the descent to Wasdale is fairly straight forward if a little steep. We were straight on it and Paul decided to shoot off ahead where as Scott and I went down steadily. Scott had done a great job keeping my speed down, we were in great spirits. I believe we were even singing most of the way down, this was fun. We arrived in Wasdale car park at 12.56 a massive 1hr 27minutes up on my 23hr schedule.
Wasdale stop
Wasdale was amazing. First a hug from my son and his girlfriend at the entrance to the car park then seeing everyone at the car was a real special moment. Wasdale is miles from anywhere and just to have everyone drive out there was super cool. There was a real buzz with everyone chatting about how it was going, Pacer and nav change over then me and Jacque doing admin. Shoe and sock change, new supplies for the mules and eat lots. James and Juhanna were ready and Scott decided to do another leg. I was up and ready to go within 7 minutes opting to hike while I ate a massive pie.
Sock change
James had seemed apprehensive in the build up about naving my leg 3 and it is a big responsibility . We had spoke on the phone and he'd suggested we naved together and of course I'd agreed but I hadn't factored in tiredness so me naving probably wasn't going to work. There were a few lines I was dead set on but 90% of it was entirely his decision. I had however recced the route out of Wasdale a few times and had found a route up Scafell that I believed to be quicker than any other. Its very steep and about 300 mtrs to the right of the scree shoot that everyone comes down. So we crossed the gill out the carpark and across the boggy field to pick up the fence line which you follow straight up and onto the path at Green How. I was blowing hard as we reached the path but broke into a jog to just get moving again. We soon joined the rocky path up and we hiked to the summit. 68 minutes to the top which I was very pleased with. The next bit across to Scafell pike I had thought about a lot and again this would be my decision. I'd tried Foxes but it just takes too long and Broad stand had not even been considered so we were to go lords rake but not down the West wall. I wanted to find the end and do the entire length of the Lords rake. We actually missed the end in the mist but I knew if you climbed down at any accessible point you would hit the rake, which we did. It was a real highlight of the round through the rake and we were having a great time. We reached Scafell Pike 10 minutes up. This was a massive boost as I'd worried about this bit for ages knowing how easy it would be to lose time here. My target from Wasdale to Scafell Pike had been 2 hours we did it in 1 hour 43!
Gulley into Lords rake
and out the other side
Bringing up the rear
Now the real work began, the tough rocky section from here to beyond Harrison Stickle. This section was one reason I had gone anti clock. Get this out the way before I get too tired. I have a habit of falling easily on rocky ground on tired legs. Thing was now that the Scafells had taken there toll and I was feeling tired. I was eating well and just hoped it was a phase and I'd get over it. As we trotted across the rocks James had full control of the nav and I just followed. It took all my concentration not to fall. We made good time on Broad crag and Ill crag but lost on Great end. Esk Pike passed without incident and we were really getting away with the weather. The whole section had been clear apart from Scafell. As we climbed Bowfell I was dead certain on the line back down as I'd specifically reccied this very bit a few weeks previous. James had suggested going round the long way via Ore gap but I was sure. I'd remembered a couple of features to get us on the right trod and I explained them to James. He quickly recced what I said as me and Juhanna summited Bowfell. Rosset Pike is a fair push from Bowfell and as we came back down James was ready to lead us. We were perfect through here and arrived at Rosset 1 minute up and 2 hours up overall.
Chin up man
I had a massive crash right here. I was dog tired and mentally we had passed some of the real tough stuff but my brain was fuzzy. As the others chatted happily and moved well I was in a whole world of trouble. It became a real battle as I shuffled along. We lost 5 minutes to Pike o Stickle our biggest loss so far. I pushed hard through Harrison Stickle and Thunacar and we were evens timewise. I had elected to do High Raise next but you really have to run up the long grassy slope then run across to Sergeant man. I was a little slow but nothing too drastic. The run across to Calf crag is fairly good going but I was really struggling. I'd been horribly lost here in the past but today was perfectly clear and nav wasn't a problem my legs however were. I perked up a bit as we ran across to Steel Fell probably because I knew this section was almost over. We descended steadily to Dunmail Raise and arrived at 7.26pm. 1hr 54 up on my 23.05 target.
Descent to Dunmail
Seat Sandal
I had a sit down and ate what I could all while busily changing into my night gear. The adverse weather was drawing back in and the tops were shrouded in cloud. I changed my shoes and socks again while Kim and John were getting a debrief from the others. I gazed upwards at the cloud wondering how I was going to pull this off. I just wanted to get leg 4 done but I was feeling pretty tired and generally shitty. Jacque had fed me porridge, mountain fuel breakfast and a meat pie. I was fed and now warm. We set off 12 minutes after my arrival. We hiked up Seat Sandal which is a good 40 minute slog. John and Kim were chomping at the bit to get going. John even said to me "come on get running you c***. I was knackered and this was going to be a hard leg but I tried to hide it by just not speaking and there was certainly no way I was running any of this first ascent. Near the summit the head torches went on and the first splats of rain hit me. We lost a minute on Seat Sandal and a further 4 up Fairfield. I had only recced the out and back option on Fairfield and Kim had decided this is what we would be doing. As we turned to head back down I knew I had to dig in now. This wasn't going to be easy at all. I mustered a jog back down and to be honest it was no more. We tracked round to the base of Dollywagon and up the steep slope as we approached the summit I decided to get a waterproof on, it was cloudy, windy and the rain was really pushing in. Within minutes the weather had really taken a turn for the worst and we were experiencing heavy horizontal  rain. Visibility was non existent and we were completely reliant on Kim's knowledge. Even he struggled slightly to find Nethermost Pike and funnily enough on my previous recce I had missed it all together. We lost 7 minutes here which was more down to me faffing with my coat and me running very slowly. I had a little push on through to Helvellyn and Lower man but all in all this was not great. White side, Raise and the Dodds were tough going. This bit would usually be my bread and butter but I was tired, disorientated and a little cold. everything just seemed so much further than I remembered. We had actually lost another ten minutes! We reached Great Dodd and I couldn't even remember how to get to Clough head I just got my head down and followed the guys. It ended up taking 33 minutes a massive 10 minutes over. We were haemorrhaging time and there was nothing I could do. I also knew from previous recces that from Clough head to the carpark at Threlkeld in 27 minutes was near impossible for me. My quads were good but I was now completely running on empty. The boys were feeding me loads of gels but they were now having no effect. This was just deep fatigue. The descent took me 43 minutes and was my biggest loss so far. It also made me feel pretty shit and moral had dropped off. It was now 12.40 in the morning and I'd lost an hour over leg 4. This wasn't a done deal as I'd dropped off the pace so much. Leg 5 was going to be a challenge for sure.
I sat on my chair in the carpark and could have stayed all night but Kim was keen not to mess around and I needed to push on. I didn't change any clothes I just shoved as much food in as I could and we left after only using 5 minutes of the allocated 10. Juhanna and Scott had turned up to keep Jacque company. Juhanna decided to join us for the final push. I had actually had enough now and sense of humour was at zero. With John there this isn't good because he would just rip into me some more. We reached the gate at the base of Halls Fell and I knew I was capable of making the summit in around 30 minutes on fresh legs well this wasn't going to be the case tonight! Kim obviously knows the route better than me but we took the ridge all the way up whereas I would've gone further left from halfway up and picked my way up the grass. I'd tried it a few times and its a cracking way up but who was I to argue. Near the top is a massive rock on the ridge that you have to climb up but I had no strength and couldn't pull myself up. I had to get a boost up from John. Had I been alone I wouldn't have had the power to pull myself up. We summited 62 minutes after leaving Threlkeld. 2 to go!
It was now 2am and I just wanted to go to bed but no time for dithering. We took a direct line off the summit and straight down through the tussocks. I was very slow through here and kept falling over where I had no power in my legs or ankles to hold me up. Juhanna and Kim went ahead and John stuck with me. We jogged all the way to Caldew and I was helped across. We soon joined the fence line that would take us to Great Calva. I can honestly say I have never been as tired in all my life as I was at this point. I dropped to the back as we climbed constantly stopping but Kim was having none of this and made me go to the front. He wouldn't let me stop and I literally could have cried. We reached the summit at 3.17 and lost nearly 20 minutes but to be frank I couldn't give a crap anymore this was a war of attrition and I was giving it all.
Now for the big descent and ascent to Skiddaw. Skiddaw is very special to me as it was the very first mountain I climbed in the lakes and fittingly it would be the last climb of my Bob. I pushed and pushed as hard as I could and eventually at 4.30 we reached the top. The last summit!! There was a lot of praise and back slapping at the top. I was so happy and the time meant I could walk down and still make it. We jogged across the top but my body started to seize up and shut down as it has done on more than a handful of occasions as soon as I know its in the bag. I ran as best as I could but it was little more than a trot. John asked on the way if I was going to start running. Fuck off John I am running was my reply. Yep he got me I bit. On the descent I was crying on the inside and choking up. It didn't show but this meant so much. So much work, so much effort and so much help from my friends. We entered Keswick High st and all my buddies were there I ran up to the hall, up the steps and touched the door. 22 hrs 51 minutes had passed since I was here last. I held my face in my hands trying to take it in. This really was a moment I'd never forget.
I really will never get over the generosity of my friends and family during that 24 hour period. Not 10 years previous my alliances lay with whoever bought me my next drink but these were my true friends and I'll be forever grateful. I have never been anywhere as special as the Lake District and never completed anything quite like this challenge.
Half the team
I am now a member of the Bob Graham 24 hour Club and my number is 2366.

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