Johnnys Bob Graham Round

By Johnny Parsons>

Although it’s maybe not the most daring, or the most recent of Daring Deeds, one thing that pushed me to my absolute limit (and a bit more) was my Bob Graham Round last July, so I thought I’d pen a wee article…

“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…!” That’s what I was told.

In a nutshell, the Boib Graham Round is a circuit of 42 Lakeland fells, starting and finishing at the Moot Hall, Keswick, split into 5 legs/sections;
Keswick-Threlkeld: Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra.
Threlkeld-Dunmail: Clough head, The Dodds, Helvellyn range and Fairfield.
Dunmail-Wasdale: Steel Fell, Langdale Pikes, Bowfell, Great End and Scafell Range.
Wasdale-Honister: Yewbarrow to Grey Knotts, via everything!
Honister-Keswick: Dale Head, Hindscarth and finally, Robinson.

The rules are few; All 42 listed summits must be visited on foot (clockwise, or anti-clockwise), and each summit visited must be witnessed by somebody else. It’s not an organized event, in that all support/logistics must be arranged independently.
Usually pacers, navigators and other fellrunning folk support on the fells.
(Indeed, once one has done the BG, one is obliged to support whenever asked).
The road crossings are where one gets to stuff one’s face with food and drink, whilst trying to change shoes and socks, all in the quickest time possible.

It’s distance is between 66-72 miles, depending on if one gets all the right “lines”.
The time taken from the Moot Hall, to the Moot Hall, must not exceed 24 hours and if completed in less than 24 hours, you get to join the Bob Graham Club, with a certificate a handshake and a slap-up meal/ceilidh at the Shap Wells Hotel in autumn.

I’d first heard of the BGR, when I was a youngster; tales of mythical, super fit, bearded blokes who didn’t know the meaning of tiredness, suffering or hardship, who bounded up and down the fells, sustained by malt loaf and glucose tablets. After a few seasons of long Lakeland fell races, I thought about it myself, but friends told me that it was a quickfire road to injury, insanity, or both. I half-heartedly did some recces, but soon dismissed the idea.
Richard Askwith wrote an outstanding book entitled “Feet in the clouds”, this has been the inspiration of many a BG’er. The seed was replanted…

Then one day in July 2007, a friend of mine called Glen, asked me if I’d help pace him on leg 3 of his BG attempt. Cutting a long story short, a night of horrendous weather on the Helvellyn range pretty much put paid to his attempt, 2 hours down at Dunmail, even Superman on speed as support wouldn’t have made up the deficit, we tried, but at Scafell Pike after a tough 17 hour stint, he called it a day. Glen was going to have another crack at it in July 2009, so I asked if I could jump in on his attempt and the date was set. I talked to every long distance nutter that I knew, and they all gave the same 3 pieces of advice;

1) Spending time on one’s feet.
2) Recce every inch of the route.
3) Eat, eat, eat and then eat some more.

The first tip was easy I thought, I worked 12 hour shifts, stood up, no problem.
The second part was interesting, it became quite clear that logistically, if each leg was going to be explored, two cars would be needed, or otherwise, a long run, would become a doubly long run. (It’s a long way back to Threlkeld on the road, after leg 2!)

The third part, eating was the tough one, it didn’t come naturally to me, to eat and run, but after a lot of trial and error, I discovered what worked for me. With no fuel in the tank, the wheels would soon fall off. Thousands and thousands of calories to consume along the way.
The pieces of the jigsaw started to fall into place; the length of my long run stretched and grew, to the point where I felt quite happy linking 2 legs together and the hours just flew by, by May I was heading across to the Lakes every week.
It was starting to reach obsession status, I’d been warned that it would do.
We decided to have a go at the full round, over 2 days, carrying all our gear, fast(ish) and light. We split the round up by camping at Angle Tarn, roughly half way round.
Day 2 was tough, but we got round. My right leg was not good afterwards, I’d got something very similar to shin splints. Crocked, I thought it was game over.
Gutted didn’t come close, after so much hard graft.

Had to miss the LAMM through injury. Then after a while I was able to cycle and after a few weeks of fixed wheel madness, it was back on.
All the support was in place, so decided that I’d start the round and just see how I got on.

On my final recce 2 weeks before, I took a crashing fall coming off Whiteside, managing to fall heavily on my shoulder, hip, knee and watch. I’ve still got the scars.
I was determined to get to the start and at 6:30pm on a clear and warm Friday evening on July 3rd, it suddenly became real!

Leg 1 was like a dream, I felt so relaxed and not thinking too much about the task ahead. A beautiful sunset over the Solway Firth, behind us as we climbed up the back of Blencathra and then down Hallsfell Ridge, into darkness, soup, a cuppa and a change of socks. Martin and Jamie (father and son) having done a grand job.
Jez and Cush led us up Clough Head into the impending clag.

The forecast full new moon didn’t shed much light on the Dodds, but my trusty Gamma headtorch lit the way nicely! Still felt quite fresh and compos mentis, all the way to Fairfield, always a tasty descent in the dark, a quick hop over Seat Sandal, down to Dunmail for bacon butties, a cuppa and a up Steel Fell into a grey, misty, wishy-washy dawn. Bob, Kev, together with Harvey and Zena (four legged support).

The stretch from Calf Crag to the Langdales was always my personal nemesis, it was tricky route finding, I’d spent a lot of time lost there and with this at the back of my mind, it all suddenly became a whole lot more difficult. I started sinking into a depression as gloomy as the weather, thinking a lot of negative thoughts and generally not really enjoying myself. Glen and the others realized that I must have been suffering (I generally stop talking nonsense and withdraw into myself, when I’m having a rough time). By the time we got to the Langdale Pikes I’d mentally listed all of my running gear on e-bay and was ready to stop running altogether. The drag up Rossett Pike went on forever, and it was there that I gave myself a strong talking-to. Started to get my positive head back on and by the top of Bowfell, I was back on track. An unusually quiet Scafell range (it was still quiet early) and perhaps the first canine ascent of Lord’s Rake of the day, by Harvey the sheepdog, took us freefalling down into Wasdale, 18mins down on schedule, but along with my socks, that was about to change.

The “Honister Express” consisted of Mike, Hazel, Bruce and Will. It had turned into a gorgeous summer morning and the ascent of Yewbarrow passed quickly and painlessly.

Leg 4 is a classic, my favourite section. A high level traverse of Yewbarrow, Red Pike, Steeple, Scoat Fell, Pillar, Kirk Fell, both the Gables and then down to Honister, 35 mins up on schedule and a daring thought that it may be in the bag. Dale Head from Honister isn’t much of a climb at all (although I did nearly kill myself there in the 2002 Borrowdale race, but that’s another story). However, my legs were a long way from fresh and we were still a long way from Keswick. I was starting to find it hard to get food down, sweet stuff like flapjack just stuck to the roof of my mouth, and I chomped my way up to the top. Our merry band of followers had grown; Mike, Mark, Jamie, Sue and Mike (II). On to Hindscarth, I got my size 13’s tangled up on the way up the final peak, to Robinson. All the climbing was done, downhill to the Moot Hall… Barring accidents/mishaps/disaster, we’d cracked it.

Changing into road shoes at Little Town felt luxurious, especially as both my big toenails had almost come off, the transition to the road felt strange, as did I.
Food was out of the question now, but I was desperately close to “bonking”, (i.e. running out of steam/gas/batteries). Energy drinks were churning my stomach, but I had to get them down. I thought I was going to pass out when we got to Portinscale, but plugged on. Keswick was on the horizon, the end was in sight, but it didn’t appear to be getting any closer. It was getting a bit fuzzy in my head by now, it almost felt like I was in a dream, a very vivid one at that. A sudden downpour snapped me back into the real world, as Keswick High Street and a busy Market Place came into view. 22hrs and 37 mins after leaving here the night before, I banged the door of the Moot Hall as hard as I could. Champagne, handshakes and many photos followed.

We’d done it!

Later that evening, we all celebrated with a barbecue and drinks, a very nice feeling indeed. I managed about 6 pints, before my head, mouth, eyes and brain all shut down simultaneously, time for some well-earned shuteye.
It took a fair while for it all to sink in, and to catch up on my sleep, but 3 months later, it all became real at the Bob Graham Dinner. Presented with my certificate by Anne Stentiford (ladies record holder).
BGR No. 1508, that’s me!

Too many people to thank, you all know who you are. Thank you. A big thank you to Glen, for letting me gatecrash your round and to Lina, my wife, for putting up with me, and with my obsession!

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