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 ...!"

http://www.bobgrahamclub.org.uk

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.

Leg 1

At 23:00 on the dot, we said our goodbyes and left the Moot Hall in Keswick. The plan was to be back there within 24 hours - it was going to be a long day! Matt was supporting me on this leg, fresh from his own successful BGR attempt a few weeks previously. I'd supported him on 3 legs, including Leg 1, so the route was fresh in both our minds. It had been overcast yet quite mild all day, and although the forecast for the Saturday looked very promising (albeit very warm), I knew the clag would be down on the first few peaks. I hadn't anticipated it to be as bad as it was though! The sun had just set so the head torches were on from the start, and we made our way steadily out of Keswick towards Skiddaw.

It was really relaxed, and great catching up with Matt about his round, and his house move that day. We soon slowed to a walk on the lower slopes and before long we entered the clag. The combination of darkness and low cloud made it really hard to see as our headtorches were reflecting off the moisture in the air. The wind also picked up and soon we were being buffeted whilst doing our utmost to stay on the path - visibility was down to a matter of feet! With the help of GPS we summited, finding the trig point (on Matt's round I missed the trig due to the cloud!) and made a hasty descent off as quickly as we could. I was 3 mins up on schedule which I was really pleased with, knowing I was moving at the required pace.

We easily picked up the trod leading down to Hare Crag and made good progress over the very boggy ground - I stayed close behind Matt doing everything possible to avoid any bog dips, and quicker than I expected we reached the main path under Great Calva. By now we'd descended out of the cloud, and the sky was starting to clear. It was very mild, a balmy 15 degrees, so we were both running in just shorts and tee. After climbing the not-too-strenuous Great Calva, we made our way down the fence line to the River Caldew. Next up, an hour-long slog up Blencathra, a climb I have always found boring! Despite being 01:30am, looking East we could see the sky brightening as the new day was coming through. Stars were also now visible, and we could see the summit ridge silhouetted ahead, so it looked like it was going to be a good day as promised!

Even though we took it steady, the climb passed quickly. Due to it being dark, we weren't quite sure on the trod to take across the screes so we stuck to the path and worked our way along the ridge. Randomly we saw some walkers up at the summit! I'd decided in advance that if the weather was bad, or the rocks were wet I would take the Doddick Fell descent rather than Halls Fell which we took on Matt's round in very dodgy conditions! Even though the weather had improved, I decided to take Doddick, and we had a very pleasant run down into Threlkeld where Lily and my Leg 2 support were waiting. Matt's job was done and he was heading home for work!

I arrived in Threlkeld after 3 hours 39 minutes, 2 minutes up on schedule, which I was delighted with. Everything was going to plan so far. Lily could see our headtorches whilst we were descending so was able to make my porridge (which was amazing!) and coffee ready for my arrival. Lily was also going to wash, dry and apply talc to my feet, change socks and alternate shoes (between my Inov-8 X-Talon 212’s and Salomon S-LAB Sense 3 Ultra SG’s) at each road crossing (yes I was a diva!), fill my next supply of drinks bottles, whilst also preparing my next support with my pre-bagged food I had prepared - she was going to be very busy and invaluable if my attempt was going to be a success.

Leg 2

I was looking forward to Leg 2 as it was on this leg that I would start to properly tick off the summits (12 in total). The sun would also properly rise so this would be a great moral boost after running through the night. Graham and Karl joined me on this leg. Graham has previously done the BGR and supported on other rounds, and Karl has aspirations of his own. I felt refreshed and think I was rather too excited as I flew up Clough Head, in hindsight too fast as I took 8 minutes off the schedule on that climb.

Graham and Karl managed to slow me down and from then on we ran at a very leisurely pace, which was great and it was really enjoyable running. We took our headtorches off after Clough Head at about 3:45am as the light from the sunrise was enough to see and it was beautiful looking east as we ran. After Great Dodd you start ticking the summits off fairly quickly. Watsons Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, White Side, Lower Man and Helvellyn all came and went uneventfully. Helvellyn was the highest point on this leg so that was a good milestone to tick off.

As it was still only 5:00am, it was lovely and cool and the morning air was clear. It was perfect running conditions, despite a slight headwind. Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike followed before a very steep descent down to Grisedale Tarn. I was being very cautious on all the descents, trying to conserve my quads which take a hammering, but I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be in a lot of pain. I told Graham to drop down to Dunmail Raise and miss the last 2 summits so he could get ready for Leg 3 which he was also supporting on.

Myself and Karl plodded on towards Fairfield, a peak I was not looking forward to. It was an out and back climb, rising 900 ft, and one I have found hard the last 2 times I have done it. However, both times I was solo, and chatting with Karl really took my mind off the matter in hand and we reached the top without any issues. After retracing our steps, we summited Seat Sandal, and it was at this point I started to feel a little queezy. The temperature was starting to rise, and I think I needed a quick sit down, so we ploughed on taking in the painful and very steep descent down to Dunmail Raise.

I arrived at 06:47, 7 hours 47 minutes gone, 28 minutes up on schedule. Lily, my parents and James (who had travelled up from South Wales) were waiting for me, along with Graham, pasta broth, pizza and coffee at the ready, as well as rice pudding. After eating, changing socks and shoes, applying sun cream, changing tops, grabbing my sunglasses and cap, we were ready to push on.

Leg 3

This was the longest leg of the day, and I was expecting to take around 5 hours 45 mins. Since it was longer I made sure my support had more water (6 x 500ml bottles rather than 5, of Mountain Fuel, electrolyte and water) and more food (bars such as Mars and Snickers, Cereal bars, flapjacks and bags of nuts) than the other legs. I was eating a bar every 30mins and making sure I drank a bottle every hour. Once again the support were amazing, with Graham mainly navigating and James feeding me and prompting me to eat! Karl also decided to continue on this leg, but with no support responsibilities.

The climb from Dunmail is never nice, straight up Steel Fell, but feeling rejuvenated this was steady and fairly enjoyable. I had mentally split Leg 3 into 2 as it was so long. From Dunmail to Pike of Stickle, Rossett Pike was in the middle on its own, then from Bowfell to the end in Wasdale. I love the first section, great grassy running, with some amazing views over Langdale and towards the Scafell range, where I was heading. This first half ticked off Steel Fell, Calf Crag, Sargeant Man, High Raise, Thunacar Knott, Harrison Stickle and Pike of Stickle. I felt I covered the ground fairly well and arrived at Pike of Stickle bang on schedule for this leg (still 28 mins up overall). This also marked roughly the halfway point of the round, so it was great psychologically to know this. I certainly wasn't getting ahead of myself though, as the toughest sections of the round lay ahead ready to pounce on any wounded runner.

Since we were running fairly slowly (an “old man plod” as James called it), my legs felt good, however my queeziness from earlier was still lingering and I was getting sporadic stomach cramps. We took a less direct line up Rossett Pike then normal, but I was happy with this as it meant we missed the man-eating bogs, and the climb was less severe, if a bit longer. As we approached Bowfell , taking the direct line through the crags, we summited into mist which was lingering around the ridge line. Whilst not ideal for nav purposes, it was a welcome break from the direct sun which was now nearing full force. Graham did a great job leading us to Bowfell and then back along the ridge to Esk Pike.

From here on in, this leg becomes very slow going, with the majority of the ridge being a boulder field. My stomach cramps were getting worse so I took the opportunity to have a bathroom break which immediately eased some of the pain. It was also around this point that I started to struggle taking on food. A combination of the heat (apparently it was 28 degrees?!), the fact that I’d been running for around 12 hours and eating the same old bars, meant that I was struggling to swallow them, especially the flapjacks. I knew that the next road crossing at Wasdale was still about 2 hours away, so tried my utmost to carry on eating - failure to take on enough food normally means the beginning of the end on a round!

Great End (where we saw an incredible cloud inversion), Ill Crag and Broad Crag were ticked off, before we made our way to Scafell Pike, and the crowds of tourists! The smell of tobacco wafted through the air so I was keen to get off as soon as possible. After dodging the crowds, we headed down steeply towards Mickledore where we had a decision to make: Broad Stand, Lords Rake or Foxes Tarn. These are the 3 ways to ascend Scafell. I’d chosen Lord's Rake as it didn't require any rock climbing or ropes, yet it is a cracking scramble and great fun! Graham led us down and then up the steep, rocky shoot, before we branched left and went up the West Wall Traverse. This popped us out just short of the summit so a short run took us to the final peak on the leg.

The descent off Scafell, which whilst being one of the best descents I have ever run, was one of the parts of the round that I was most dreading. It’s 2.5 miles of pure downhill, with the top section steep and rocky, followed by a steep, grassy and rocky section, then a fantastic scree shoot, and finishing with a very steep grass section down into Wasdale. On any other day I would have been in my element, but this far into the BGR, my feet were hurting on the downhills, so I gingerly began to descend, telling Graham and James to speed off ahead and enjoy themselves. I was feeling exhausted and desperately needed shade and a sit down. I dropped down into Wasdale feeling quite low, knowing that first up on Leg 4 lay Yewbarrow, a horrible climb.


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.

Leg 4

It was now Ed and Alan’s turn to support, and they were waiting, ready to get going. We set off out of the car park, pizza in hand, however within 30 seconds I was bent over retching. It felt as though as I was going to be sick but nothing was coming out. I carried on and caught back up with Ed and Alan, really not sure how I was going to cope with this leg. I was expecting low points during the day, and with this being the first major low, I knew I had to keep mentally strong to be able to get through it.

There's no easy way out of Wasdale and Yewbarrow is no exception. It goes up 1,750 ft in 1 mile, averaging 42%. From experience I knew it was tough and had heard from other people how much it hurt at this point in the round. We slowly pushed on, starting the steep ascent, and strangely, I really enjoyed it. I think the food was kicking in, and it was great chatting with Ed and Alan. A little bit of cloud had temporarily shrouded the sun, which gave some much needed shade. 42 minutes later we reached the summit, remarkably 6 minutes up on schedule. How? I have no idea, but that was a boost I needed.


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.

Leg 5

Graham was back for this leg and he joined Ed who was carrying on. I was looking forward to the final 3 summits, but not the long descent off Robinson, and the the 4.5 miles on the road! I knew I was up on schedule enough to enjoy the leg, and not worry about the 24 hour cut-off. However, as we summited Dale Head, Graham turned to me and said that I was now 54 minutes up on schedule, did I want to push on and make it an hour? I said of course, but I wouldn't be upset if I didn't make it.

From that point on, Ed and Graham seemed to speed up, I got another second wind, and we powered through over Hindgarth and then to the summit of Robinson, peak number 42 and the last one. I was now 63 minutes up. It was literally all downhill from here, but before I could relax, I had to negotiate a long, steep, and at times technical descent down into Newlands. After a lot of pain, I reached Newlands Chapel where Lily was waiting with road shoes and my Harriers vest. My trainers felt like slippers when I put them on!


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 lightLeg timeEstimated timeActual leg timeActual timeActual vs Schedule
Moot Hall Dusk023:00023:000
Skiddaw Dark8100:217800:183
Great Calva Dark4301:044000:583
Blencathra Dark6702:116702:050
Threlkeld - Arrive Dark3002:413402:39-4
+2
Threlkeld - Depart Dark1402:551002:494
Clough Head Dawn5603:514803:378
Great Dodd Dawn2904:202904:060
Watson Dodd Dawn904:29904:150
Stybarrow Dodd Dawn904:38904:240
Raise Dawn1704:551604:401
White Side Dawn805:03804:480
Helvellyn Lower Man Dawn1705:201405:023
Helvellyn Dawn605:26605:080
Nethermost Pike Dawn1005:36805:162
Dollywaggon Pike Dawn1105:471205:28-1
Fairfield Daylight4006:273906:071
Seat Sandal Daylight2406:512306:301
Dunmail Raise - Arrive Daylight2407:151706:477
+28
Dunmail Raise - Depart Daylight 14 07:29 19 07:06 -5
Steel Fell Daylight 24 07:53 23 07:29 1
Calf Crag Daylight 19 08:12 21 07:50 -2
Sergeant Man Daylight 34 08:46 34 08:24 0
High Raise Daylight 9 08:55 9 08:33 0
Thunacar Knott Daylight 14 09:09 13 08:46 1
Harrison Stickle Daylight 10 09:19 10 08:56 0
Pike o Stickle Daylight 11 09:30 12 09:08 -1
Rossett Pike Daylight 43 10:13 47 09:55 -4
Bowfell Daylight 34 10:47 30 10:25 4
Esk Pike Daylight 24 11:11 22 10:47 2
Great End Daylight 24 11:35 27 11:14 -3
Ill Crag Daylight 14 11:49 14 11:28 0
Broad Crag Daylight 10 11:59 10 11:38 0
Scafell Pike Daylight 11 12:10 12 11:50 -1
Scafell Daylight 31 12:41 34 12:24 -3
Wasdale - Arrive Daylight 34 13:15 31 12:55 3
+20
Wasdale - Depart Daylight 19 13:34 18 13:13 1
Yewbarrow Daylight 48 14:22 42 13:55 6
Red Pike Daylight 48 15:10 44 14:39 4
Steeple Daylight 23 15:33 19 14:58 4
Pillar Daylight 33 16:06 27 15:25 6
KirkFell Daylight 48 16:54 47 16:12 1
Great Gable Daylight 41 17:35 35 16:47 6
Green Gable Daylight 14 17:49 11 16:58 3
Brandreth Daylight 17 18:06 13 17:11 4
Grey Knotts Daylight 8 18:14 9 17:20 -1
Honister - Arrive Daylight 12 18:26 13 17:33 -1
+53
Honister - Depart Daylight 13 18:39 13 17:46 0
Dalehead Daylight 32 19:11 31 18:17 1
Hindscarth Daylight 20 19:31 16 18:33 4
Robinson Daylight 25 19:56 20 18:53 5
Keswick Moot Hall Dusk 96 21:32 84 20:17 12
+75

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!

Photo: Grand Day Out Photography

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.

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Having done the Llanbedr to Blaenavon fell race last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I was keen to do it again in 2017. Also, being in the midst of my Bob Graham training, I thought that it would be a great way to see how I'm getting on. Last year I came 6th with a time of 2:33, so I was hoping to better this, and go under 2:30.

Llanbedr to Blaenavon is a 15 mile point to point fell race in the Brecon Beacons, starting in Llanbedr and finishing in Blaenavon, going over 3 peaks along the way - Crug Mawr (550m), Sugar Loaf (596m), Blorenge (559m), with a total of 4,500ft of elevation gain. Having done the race last year, I knew what to expect, with the Blorenge being a brutal final ascent, and therefore legs like jelly for the final 2 miles down into the finish.

We stayed with our friends James & Lowri who live just outside Abvergavenny, and James was also planning on doing the race for the second time. The race was a 12 o'clock start so at 10am we started making our way over to the finish to register. As it was point to point, we then all trooped over to the start in Llanbedr, with 5 of us piling into my car. After a warm-up, and race briefing, we were ready to go.

I planned to run quite hard from the off, as I thought that with the experience from last year, and the fact I had been focussing on mountain training (whereas last year I was training for the London Marathon), I would be better placed to handle the race, and knew where to attack or run conservatively. However, not long after the start within a few miles when we were climbing the first peak, Crug Mawr, my legs were burning and I felt tired. Not a good start to the race! I'm not sure why, but I can only put it down to the amount of hard training I have been doing recently. I struggled on, hands on knees walking on the steep sections, and running where it eased off. The approach to the summit seemed to go on forever - it was a lot further than I remember from last year! As we approached the summit I was in a group of about 6 guys, in a line all running at a similar pace. After going round the trig on the top, the fun really began. I knew that as much as I had struggled on the climb, I would do well on the descent. It's a cracking descent, all off path, descending steeply down through bracken, tussocks and occasional bogs - and this year, I knew where I was going! I loved it. Runners were everywhere, however I took a slightly different line to those ahead, and that coupled with how I was running, I leap-frogged about 4 guys. It was a very fast descent, finishing with a mile or so on a gravel drive, and then a short section on the road, before we started the climb up onto the Sugar Loaf.

As soon as we left the road and started climbing again, I started to struggle again. Chris, a runner I know from Mynnyd Du caught me and asked if I was alright as he expected me to be climbing better than I was. From that point on, something seemed to click, and I used that as motivation. I dug deep and started to pull away. I don't know what changed but suddenly everthing started coming together again.

As we summited Sugar Loaf, Lily, Lowri and baby Cerys were there cheering me on. I said to Lily on the way passed how I couldn't climb to save my life today, but at the same time the marshall on the summit confirmed I was currently in 7th place (even though Lowri told me I was in 4th!). All in all, not too bad all things considering, and being able to see a few of the guys ahead, I hadn't given up on a top 5 place.

Thankfully, this year as I knew the route, I knew the line off the summit, and similarly to the Crug Mawr descent, I felt I ran really well, catching the 2 guys ahead of me. However, as soon as we entered the woods, I caught a rock and it sent me flying. I seemed to roll and bounce back up, cutting both knees and both hands, but thankfully, despite a fair bit of blood, it was just superficial. I continued through Abergavenny, occasionally glimpsing the runner ahead of me, desperately trying to close him down before the final climb up the Blorenge.

 

Like last year, the Blorenge was a killer, however, this year, I was expecting it. From bottom to top it's 1 mile, rising 1,448ft, with an average gradient of 28%. The final third has an average gradient of 40%! Despite running hard, I had been saving something in the tank for this. After a brief stop at the drink station, I started making my way up. I knew I had a 30 second or so gap on the guy behind, but the guy ahead was out of sight in the woods ahead. I started climbing, and pretty quickly slowed to a walk. I soon realised I was closing in on the runner ahead and soon caught and passed him, with him complaining how hot it was. I continued up and soon broke out of the trees and then the hardest part of the climb began. Ahead of me I saw the next guy and before I knew it I had caught him. He was really struggling, complaining of dehydration so I gave him some of my water as I passed him. Once summiting, my legs were like jelly, but I knew that it was now pretty much all downhill. I tried to run off from the summit, but cramp was setting in, with sporadic spasms in my calves. I was conscious of the guys behind, but knew I had pulled away a bit on the climb. Thankfully, I was able to run the cramp off and descend the final few miles down to the finish quite comfortably.

 

I crossed the line in 3rd place, in a time of 2:25:14 - 8 minutes faster than last year - a result I was very happy with.

All in all, whilst I seemed to struggle on the first one and half climbs, I was really pleased with how I descended, and how I climbed on the final, and hardest peak. I can't complain with a top 3 position, and more importantly going under 2:30. It was another really enjoyable, well-organised race, and one I will definitely be back to do next year - sub 2:20 perhaps?!

Up next, the Lakes Mountain 42 Ultra next week - 42 miles with 10,000ft elevation gain. Can't wait!

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