A Birthday Treat

For anyone who isn't familiar with the Bob Graham Round, it starts in Keswick and is a circuit of 42 peaks around the Lake District, covering anywhere between 65 and 72 miles, the aim being to finish back in Keswick within 24 hours. The route is split into five legs, finishing at Threlkeld, Dunmail Raise, Wasdale Head and Honister Pass. At these points most people have a support team to help feed and water them, as well as a few pacers to run each leg with them and assist with navigation.

Spot the odd one out

Pudsey is only a small town but we have two running clubs. I run for Pudsey Pacers, but we also have Pudsey and Bramley. As it is P&B's centenery this year the club wanted to have a mass Bob Graham attempt, and get as many runners around in a group as possible. So after being interested for a long time and a few disastrous half-attempts in the past, I found myself a lone Pacer outside Moot Hall with a large group of Pudsey and Bramley runners, at 7pm on my 25th birthday.

From Keswick we set off on leg 1, over the first three long climbs and down into Threlkeld. The first climb up Skiddaw is one of the longest legs of the whole round, everyone felt good and we didn't want to push it too early, especially as it was still very warm. We reached the summits of Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra and had great views down to Keswick and over to leg 5, where we hoped to be the next evening. The schedule was quite generous on this leg and we got to Threlkeld about half an hour up.

Climbing Skiddaw with Derwent Water and Keswick in the background

After the easy pace of leg 1, the climb up Clough Head at the start of leg 2 was tough. We all went a bit quiet and realised that this was not going to be easy, still with so far to go! We had managed without torches to Threlkeld, but we now all had them on as we struggled up to join the Helvellyn range. At about midnight the climb got easier and we reached the summit. From the top of Clough Head leg 2 is an undulating ridge run for a while, over the Dodds, Raise and White Side, and onto Helvellyn Little man and Helvellyn itself. Here we were met by a couple of Bingley lads who gave us some water and cake, which we repayed by tripping over their friends who were asleep next to the summit trig - sorry!

The weather was still really warm and we were still in vests and shorts as we dropped our bags at the bottom of Fairfield for the out-and-back climb. This was a short steep rocky one, but after not long we were reunited with our kit and off up Seat Sandal, the last climb before the descent to Dunmail. This leg had been hard, the schedule has no slack and we had had to push ourselves to keep to it. When we reached Dunmail we still had about 20 minutes in hand, but quite a few runners called it a day here.

The sun rising over the fells – somewhere on leg 3

At Dunmail we had pasties, pasta, sweets, rice pudding, tinned fruit, drank as much as possible and refilled water bottles. We set off again around 15 minutes up on the 23 hour schedule, but knew that leg 3 would be hard. This is probably the crux of the round, the longest leg and most climb (16 miles and 6500 ft) and expected to take over 6 hours. Again there was a hard climb to start the leg, this time up Steel Fell. On this leg we had four supporters / pacers and were again guided perfectly. Of the 15 starters there were now eight left. I was happy to be well into the round, certainly not feeling fresh, but ready to tackle the 15 peaks of this leg. Atfer a few hours it started to get light and we were treated to a fantastic sunrise on the fells. We had all found the night section difficult, the heat and the feeling that we should be asleep made it difficult to eat and I felt pretty sick over High Raise and Thunacar Knott. Unfortunately one of the support team fell onto a rusty metal fencepost and opened up his leg early on, but being a hardy Sheffield University chap he continued and by Rosset Gill where were met by more P&B supporters he had decided to carry on to Wasdale.

Now came another hard bit, after Bowfell, Esk Pike and a few others we were at the top of Scafell Pike. The weather felt really hot, as it had done since 5am, but we could see for miles and miles and felt very lucky to be where we were! Between Scafell Pike and Scafell there are three options - Broad Stand is pretty much a rock climb, generally the quickest but not with this many people, Lord's Rake is a short steep scramble but is currently full of snow and ice, so we went for the third option - Foxes Tarn. This involves a slippery scree descent then a climb up and around the side of Scafell. On the rocky climb back up I felt rubbish and dropped back a bit. This was the worst I had felt so far, and tried to eat as much sugar as I could and concentrate my way to the top. Near the top the sugar finally kicked in and my legs came back. I caught the rest of the group just before we reached the top at about 8:30 in the morning. From there we made our way down towards the campsite at Wasdale Head. We had a great time down a steep scree run followed by a long bumslide on the wet grass. Unfortunately running down the final track to the campsite with shoes full of scree I tripped myself up so had a bloody ankle coming into Wasdale, but I was very pleased to be there, and we started to think we would now do it.

Near the top of Scafell

As we left Wasdale we were still around 30 minutes up all felt positive, more than half the distance, climb and time were out of the way. No more night, bright sunshine and only one more serious leg, then three climbs and a flat run in... Easy! Then we set of up Yewbarrow and I changed my mind. I knew this would be a tough one but after filling up on carbohydrates and with a refilled rucksack (including the headtorch I accidentally carried all day) there was nothing in my legs. A few of us dropped back again, but eventually we were at the top and the pain stopped. I never thought "11 mountains to go" would sound good but it did, and we set off over Red Pike, Steeple and Pillar, then the long climb up Kirkfell and the view towards Great Gable. Gable seems to stand out on its own, so is a long climb wherever you start from. The round felt achievable now and we were ok for time, the pacers said this was the last major climb so we tried to dig in and scramble up the rocks on all fours. Not elegant and the walkers looked confused, but we made it to the top. Now even the smallish climbs of Green Gable, Brandreth and Grey Knotts were hard, but the feeling that we were going to do it was getting stronger and before too long we reached the car park at Honister.

Coming into Honister

At Honister we had great support, loads of people were there in cars, Lorna had walked up from Keswick and all the supporters and guys who had run earlier legs were there to run the last leg with us. We quickly had some food, dumped our bags, gave our water bottles to these kind people and set off up Dale Head. Honister is quite high so this climb was not too bad, although the legs felt dead we knew all we had to do now was keep going. Up Dale Head in about half an hour then on with the last two climbs in sight. Forty minutes later we reached the top of Robinson, the last climb done. We waited for everyone to reach the top then set off down the steepish grassy descent - not great on the quads but it didn't matter anymore, Keswick was in sight and we were going to do it. We reached the bottom and the path leveled out, along the road for a bit where we met the supporters for the final time.

The last climb up Robinson

I had one last gel to make sure and we set off through the woods, four miles to go. As we got towards the edge of Keswick those of us who had done the whole thing were moved to the front and a pacer even stopped the traffic for us! The triumphant sprint up the high street didn't quite work as the market was in the way, but we found Moot Hall and seven of us banged on the door. Richard, Nick, Shane, Ed, Brian, Ste and me finished in 22:19, Chi had run the last leg a little behind us with a few pacers and picked up the pace towards the end to come in about 15 minutes later.

I had a fantastic time on the Bob Graham, the weather was a little hot but overall a big help, the supporters and pacers were great and the group of runners all kept each other going when it was tough. Thanks to chief organisers and supporters Boff and Jonny, and Jim for introducing me.


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