The Double Bob: A Glorious Failure


This is a blog about my Double Bob Graham Round.

Many people will have heard of Nicky Spinks’ amazing double round in 2016, and perhaps of Roger Baumeister’s previous round.

Roger (l) and Nicky (r) with Jasmin Paris (Photo: WeRunFar)

There are a few other lesser-known completions too, by Boyd Millen in 1977, and more recently Tom Hollins. There are some amazing stories in these - I am writing an article for the Fellrunner magazine looking at the people, their approach to the double, and how each one was different, but for now this is blog is about my experience.

As we know, the BG is a round of 42 Lakeland peaks, to be completed in 24 hours. A double is therefore a round of 84 peaks, to be completed in 48 hours. That’s what I’d hoped for, but spoiler alert - I finished the peaks but missed out on the time. I am told that the BG club does not specify a time limit for a double round, so mine apparently still “counts”, but either way Nicky and Roger remain the only people to have completed a double BG in less than 48 hours. Anyway…


THE PLAN

Roger and Nicky both ran the double as four half rounds, from Keswick to the top of Yewbarrow and back, then the other way round from Keswick to Yewbarrow again, and back to Keswick. This had been partly out of kindness to their supporters and in the interests of making the logistics simpler. What I wanted to do was slightly different. I wanted to run two consecutive clockwise rounds, apparently I didn’t feel like being kind to my supporters, so I made them go to Wasdale twice!


I had an amazing little support crew for my attempt. I had been pondering a double for a long time, but without Jamie Rutherford’s persuasion I would never have actually attempted it. Jamie was on holiday on the day, but without him it would not have happened.

On road support I had Lorna and Charlie, each ably supported by canine helpers, and Lucy for the first night. On the fells I had just enough support. I wasn’t sure until two days before the attempt whether I’d quite have enough, but Tim Rutter heroically stepped in at the last minute to do legs 3 and 4. I also had Tom Partington and Rachel Findlay-Robinson, Wil and Lucy Spain, Tom Saville, Dave Taylor, Steve Franklin, Sabrina Vergee and Helen Elmore.

Charlie in particular had travelled a long way to help out, and I am very grateful to everyone for giving up so much of their time to help me.

TO KESWICK

As with long scary things, a few days beforehand I started wondering if there was an excuse to call it off… Unfortunately by Thursday morning the weather looked good, everyone was ready to help, and once Tim agreed to step in I had no more excuses.
It being bank holiday, we left Sheffield and sat in traffic most of the way to Keswick. We eventually arrived, paid about £400 to pitch a couple of tents and ate a picnic. I had an hours sleep, then it was time to head to Keswick.

LAP ONE

I was chuffed to have made it this far. I’d done all the planning I was going to do, now all I had to do was run. It would either work or it wouldn’t.
I set off with Tom Partington, who skilfully guided me around leg 1. It was a nice warm night as we climbed Skiddaw and it was good to catch up with Tom who I hadn’t seen since the failed Winter BG attempt. I hoped we’d get a bit further than Helvellyn this time!

Tom (S) and I before the failed Winter BG. Photo by Tom (P)
Skiddaw and Calva went well. We were slowed a bit by the forest of bracken on the way down to the river crossing before Blencathra, but got to the summit in about 3:30 to meet Rachel, our expert guide for the Hall’s Fell descent. Rachel’s route was perfect and we dropped into Threlkeld bang on four hours. I swapped Tom and Rachel for Wil and we jogged out towards Clough head. Here we noticed the first of many wild campers in weird places. This time someone had pitched their tent in the bog at the bottom of the climb, barely out of shouting distance from the farm. Maybe they had a reason… Anyway, it’s not a nice climb, but after an hour or so we were on the top and looking forward to daylight, which wasn’t far away now.

Wil on leg 2
The rest of the leg passed pretty easily, having people to do the nav for you is great! I was eating well and enjoying catching up with my mates. I remember feeling good as I headed up Fairfield on my own (Wil was having problems with a rare combined knee and stomach injury so I was lucky to have him at all!), but imagined I might not feel so good next time!

We arrived into Dunmail at 8:20am and were baffled by the amount of traffic. Bloody bank holiday weekenders… Lucy was there in her and Wil’s lovely new van, with a box of kit and my hill support for the next two legs - Tim Rippon. I think I might’ve had a cup of coffee, and I would assume I ate some Pizza. My complex support crew equipment allocation system consisted of three cardboard boxes – one each for Lorna, Charlie, and Lucy. Each contained a mixture of sweets, food like Pizza, Siropwaffles, Vimto bars and Malt loaf, a couple of cans of coke, and some spares like Vaseline and socks. The system worked well, though the team did very kindly supplement the boxes with some really nice stuff they knew I would want.

Example of support crew being awesome. Location unknown!
Leaving Dunmail I felt good. Tim and I said thanks to Wil and Lucy and set off up Steel Fell. On a single BG this is the crux leg, once you’re at Wasdale you can start to believe. The bonus of being on a double is that you don’t think of it like that, so somehow there’s less pressure and you can just enjoy the experience. Leg 3 is a stunner, particularly on a day like we had. This time round we climbed High Raise first (next time we did Sargeant Man first – supporter’s preference!). Tim said he knew leg 3 reasonably well and leg 4 very well, but as far as I could tell he knew both incredibly well. It was only a month or so after his own BG so I was really grateful to him for stepping in.

Posing somewhere. Possibly on the legs with Tim..?
We made good progress towards Wasdale, getting to Bowfell just before 12 hours, and Scafell Pike in just under 14. We took the Lords Rake / West Wall route and were in Wasdale at about 14:40. My schedule, foolishly, allowed only 5 minutes stop at each road crossing. I knew we’d need more than this, but I knew I had to run the first round based on how I felt, rather than try to stick to the schedule, so I hadn’t bothered to correct it. According to the schedule (which was for a 22:30 first lap), I was about 20 minutes down as we left Wasdale, but we’d had a great refuel with Lorna, who had battled a car parking nightmare to be in position. I think I changed my socks, and I definitely had some great food, coffee, and generally a bit of a picnic. Perhaps I was trying to avoid Yewbarrow!

Wasdale is at less than 100m altitude, and Yewbarrow is at 650m or so, making it probably the biggest gain of the whole round apart from Skiddaw. But where Skiddaw is a nice gradual climb, Yewbarrow is a horrible relentless steep bugger of a thing.


However, I was refreshed, enjoying my new socks (though they were wet immediately as I put them straight into wet shoes), and pleased to be not far off schedule after three legs. With Tim’s expert nav we pulled a few minutes back on each summit, and by Brandreth were back on schedule. Dropping into Honister I felt good - we had got through the crux of the first lap without any disasters, and it felt like without expending too much energy. It had been hot and I’d been quite thirsty, but I had eaten well and felt like I had some energy left. I was really grateful to Tim for his help. He had done over 10 hours of solid running and navigating without a single mistake, all while carrying a decent amount of kit – an amazing effort!


Rachel leading the way on leg 5

Jogging into Honister I saw an unexpected sight – it was a Saville! Tom had said he might come and help out on the second lap but I hadn’t expected to see him here. After a refuel with Charlie and Cocoa (dog not drink) I set off up Dale Head with Tom and Rachel. Leg 5 was lovely. The sun was setting as we reached Robinson and everything felt nice and under control. With two supporters I didn’t even have to carry a little bag, and I had deployed the walking sticks to take some of the load off my legs on the climbs. They were also useful on the long descent from Robinson, where Rachel led us on a great traversing line down towards Little Town. After the first bit of road we met Charlie at a car park and I changed to road shoes. Wil and Lucy arrived on bikes to take over support duties. I was a bit confused as to who was doing what, but someone took my kit and told me it was time to get going, so I did!

Dropping off Robinson at the end of leg 5

The run into Keswick with Wil and Lucy was great. They took the piss a bit, encouraged me to keep eating and drinking (I remember the rice pudding particularly fondly), and it felt like things were going well. This was probably the section I had worried about most, knowing that it could be the most damaging for the legs, so I tried to stay relaxed and not risk pushing too hard. I was feeling tired by now, but also excited to get through Keswick and keep going… I was ready to get lap 1 out of the way and head out into the unknown!

LAP TWO

We arrived in Keswick bang on 22:30, I touched the Moot Hall without stopping and set off again down the other side of the High Street. Tom P was back for leg 6, and was joined by another unexpected guest – Sabs!

 

The video makes me chuckle every time. As you can see, Sabs had only just arrived and was not quite ready! Once we got onto the slopes of Skiddaw she was sorted and it was nice to catch up about her awesome outright win at the summer Spine Race.

It felt great to be onto lap two. The first one had felt a bit like disaster avoidance, just surviving to get back to Keswick so I could start what I really came to do. Very early in the planning I decided I wouldn’t stop in Keswick, but I did need to stop soon after to change the road shoes (Palani I think?) back to the proper shoes (Supertrac RC Ultra – I honestly do love these shoes!). We’d planned to meet Charlie at the car park under Skiddaw and this worked perfectly. I changed shoes, topped up some food and water, and the three of us headed up Skiddaw. Near to top Sabs realised she would have to turn back in order to get home from Keswick rather than being stuck in Threlkeld!

At the summit she waved us off and turned around. Tom was quiet for most of the rest, and later said he really had to concentrate to navigate, smash through the bracken (we never did quite find our path from the night before!), monitor the pace and check I was eating and drinking. Thanks to Tom’s great efforts we were on schedule at the top of Blencathra, where we again met Rachel. This time she’d been singing along to ABBA while waiting for us on the summit, causing serious bafflement to some nearby wild campers! Agnetha again expertly led us down Halls Fell and we arrived into Threlkeld on schedule. I had my first sleep here. 10 minutes in the car did me a world of good and I left feeling great.

Wide awake and ready for action!
This time round I had Steve Franklin and Tom Saville on leg 2. Steve had generously taken time out of preparing for his wedding to come out, and both did a cracking job of leading me round leg 2. I didn’t carry any kit at all on this leg, and I remember eating pretty much constantly. It was a luxurious experience, particularly on the climbs where I was going OK, but I was starting to struggle on the descents with a tightness behind my knee. This lost me more and more time over the leg and by the last summit I was behind schedule. The descent to Dunmail was slow and painful, and here came my first thought of quitting. Plan A (stands for Ambitious!) had always been to beat Nicky’s time, plan B was to complete the double clockwise rounds in under 48 hours, and plan C was to just complete the double. I knew plan A would always be a stretch and would require a perfect run and a lot of luck, but I had really clung on to plan B as my main goal. At Dunmail I knew this had gone. I lay on the floor and Steve and Dave Taylor did stuff to my left hamstring. It hurt but it did feel better afterwards. Like the top notch road supporters they are, Lorna and Charlie refused to acknowledge that the 48 hour target was now unachievable, but Charlie looked concerned.


Me looking static as Charlie looks concerned
Dave had come a long way to support the next two legs, so I decided I should at least set off and see what happened. Tom decided to stay on for another leg (despite the fact he was still recovering from becoming the youngest person to complete all three big rounds in one season!). Going up Steel Fell I felt great, I would dare say I almost enjoyed it. Just like last time, it felt like the start of the crux – if I could survive to Wasdale I could get round! Inevitably, at the top of the climb, the hamstring made itself known again and I hobbled on. Steve’s magic hands had worked wonders and I was ten times better than before Dunmail, but I was still dropping time on every section with a downhill element. Uphill I would pull some back, but I was fighting a losing battle with 48 hours.

Leg 3 was again absolutely stunning. We were treated to views of the Lakes better than I’ve ever seen, and I was amazed at how much I was enjoying this. Our joy was occasionally interrupted by summits overwhelmed by flying ants! This felt like something I was imagining, but I’m sure it really happened. By now though I was starting to lose my mental faculties a little and feel very sleepy. I had slept for only ten minutes so far and by the Stickles I was totally confused. At one point I remember thinking I didn’t know who Dave and Tom were, but that I was supporting one of them on a BG… At Rossett Pike I told the guys I didn’t know who they were so would be having a ten minute sleep. It was fantastic, the best sleep I have ever had!

Dave giving me a verbal kick up the arse. I'm wondering who he is.

Ten minutes later they woke me up, I remembered who they were and we plodded on. We again did Lord’s Rake / West Wall Traverse, and eventually dropped into Wasdale. The leg had taken 7 hours 32 minutes.

In Wasdale for the second time I felt mixed emotions – the 48 hour target was clearly (to me) gone, but given where I was and what was behind me I felt good. Tom retired here after three super strong support legs. Charlie was again brilliant, I ate some pasta but I was now starting to feel the effects of 40-odd hours of continuous eating. My mouth and throat were swollen and sore, so we took a good portion of gels and squishy things with us up Yewbarrow.

Getting to the top for the second time felt great. The climb had gone well, in fact under 23 hour schedule, but the run round to Red Pike was less successful and again I dropped time. But, if anything, leg 4 was even more stunning than leg 3! Dave and I were joined again by Wil and Steve at various points in this leg, but I am not entirely sure where! I remember we saw Steve in the distance, I think he was on top of Steeple or Pillar. I’m sure he was doing yoga when I first saw him…

Steve took my pack and ran with us for a long while. Together we witnessed the cloud rising up the Wasdale valley as we approached. As we crossed Black Sail pass Wasdale was full of cloud but Ennerdale was empty, with just the pass holding it back. Looking back just a few metres later we saw the cloud cascading over the top and falling down into Ennerdale like a waterfall. An incredible sight!

Steve and I on (maybe) Kirkfell

I think Wil joined us at around Great Gable, and I think by this point Steve had turned back. Wil had set up a lovely spread – a big bottle of fizzy Vimto and loads of food (including a burger). The Vimto was my favourite and I drank all of it pretty quickly. It had been hot up high since the start and drinking enough had been hard work. Boosted by Wil’s supplies and presence I enjoyed the remainder of leg 4 and dropped down to Honister in 6:24. Too slow again, but now there was only one leg to go!

Wil was confused by my slowness here!

It was great to arrive in Honister. I knew this would be the last stop (apart from the shoe change at Little Town), but I was so shattered I needed another ten minute sleep. I slept while the team sorted everything out, then off we went with only three tops left to tick off. This time I had Wil and Tom Partington with me, and the first few minutes of leg 10 felt like a party! I think there was Pizza? As we climbed I felt rubbish again for a while, probably due to eating so much at Honister and on the lower slopes. By the time we were over Hindscarth I felt a bit better. The hamstring was making descending painful but I was still moving, and now there was only one summit remaining! Helen Elmore appeared from nowhere (she was racing the next day and had just set up her camp then come to find us) and joined us for the last climb to the top of Robinson. I apparently decided the hill was a ship and declared myself the Admiral Robinson. It made perfect sense at the time.

See! Quite clearly a ship.
The descent to Little Town was my least favourite section of the whole round. It was exactly what the hamstring didn’t need, and seemed to take forever. Wil and Tom guided my down expertly but I was so slow I was frustrated and angry with myself. Eventually though, we reached the path through the trees, then the track, then a small road which joined the slightly larger road to Little Town.

The final checkpoint was a very happy place. I recall someone brave taking my shoes off for me (I suspect Charlie) and I think I had a coffee, then we set off for the final road leg. Tom and Wil were very kind and kept telling me we were doing “normal” BG pace, but I just wanted it to be over with now. I was ready to stop running. The time was irrelevant but we picked a target finish time of 3:30 am.

The run in to Keswick seemed to take forever, with endless twists and turns of road, track and trail before we finally joined the main road into the town. Just before the town we disturbed five locals rolling around in some sort of mass brawl. Wil told them to “pack it in” in his best authoritative voice, which seemed to help.

Finally, we were running up the high street, then eventually to the door of the Moot Hall. The arbitrary target set months ago had been achieved (plan C anyway!). I was absolutely delighted to have done so, supported by a great gang of my friends. It was a proper team effort. To say I couldn’t have done it without them is so obvious I won’t say it.



Charlie gave me a can of Speckled Hen. I managed a couple of mouthfuls then donated it to Tom! Lorna arrived with a jacket, and after some sitting around, then a few attempts at standing without feinting, we walked slowly through the ginnel to the car.



It was done! Two consecutive clockwise rounds in 51:30 (22:30 and 29:00). It was pretty much the best weekend of my life, and I am indebted to my mates for giving up their time and energy to get me round.

I wish I had remembered to take a team photo... Next time! If there IS a next time (and there may well be) I can only hope it is as much fun, but a bit quicker.

For this time all that remains is thank you. To the team as mentioned above, to Jamie, Accelerate for support whilst letting me get on with it, and Scott for the kit that got me round :)

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