Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Feet in the Clouds

The Bob Graham Round - we went anti clockwise

In 1932 a chap by the name of Bob Graham ran a route over 42 Lake District peaks covering a distance of 72 miles and climbing approximately the height of Mount Everest, a feat which many of the country’s top hill runners have attempted to emulate over the years including Billy Bland whose record breaking round has given him legend status amongst hill runners. The list of runners who have completed the Bob graham round reads like a “who’s who” of British hill running and now the fame of the Bob Graham round seems to have spread over seas with 7 times western states 100 mile and Ultra tour de Mont Blanc winner Scott Jurek becoming the latest “big name” to complete the round. Scott finished with a mere 16 minutes to spare which only goes to show just how technically challenging the route is. Billy’s record is an eye wateringly fast 13 hours and 53 minutes and the ladies record is held by Nicky Spinks and stands at 18hr and 12min. The number of people who have completed the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours remains at less than 2000 which goes to show just how tricky an undertaking it is.
 The history of the round and its characters is fully documented on both the website and in Richard Askwith’s book “Feet in the clouds” if this is sparking anybody’s interest….
Now Billy Bland has opened up the challenge to teams of runners which enables runners to tackle the route in bite size chunks although the team has to finish within 24 hours same as the individual runners. This is an ideal excursion for those of us who lack either the ability or the inclination (or both) to go for a full solo round.
Team dinner
Race HQ
 Lou had first planted the seeds of this in my mind back in January and I quickly signed up for the team challenge with the only problems from my perspective being the 12 hour round trip from Aberdeen which meant that numerous recce weekends just were not feasible and also fitting this in around coursework for my degree as the challenge was planned to coincide with the longest day to maximise the hours of daylight but this also coincided with the last day week of term. Very inconvenient, still I was determined that I was going to be a part of it.
My lack of route recces meant that I was put on the first leg (usually this would have been the last leg but we had decided to run the round anti clockwise in contrast to the traditional clockwise direction). This was the leg where minimum navigation issues were predicted and where basically myself and Julia, who I was paired with and who was a last minute recruit to the team, could do the least damage. Bob Graham round completer Bill had been appointed as our support runner and so we were able to breathe a sigh of relief - it would have been very embarrassing to mess things up within an hour or two of starting!. 

And so I found myself on the start line – the steps of the Moot Hall in Keswick - with Julia at 7am on the Saturday morning ready to run. It was a glorious morning and already warm as people bustled around us setting up the market stalls in the high street. I suspect Keswick is the only place in the country where what we were doing is considered to be perfectly normal behaviour. In fact only the previous evening Steve Birkenshaw had run into Keswick to rapturous applause to complete his incredible round of the 214 Wainright Hills and over 500km (clearly the BG round is not enough of a challenge for some folk!)

Just after 7am Julia and I ran out of Keswick guided by Caroline and made our way on to the little lanes taking us towards the fells. Caroline jogged back to get ready for her leg and we were left to tackle the very undulating country lanes. Running comfortably we made reasonable time. We met Bill at Newlands Church and from there headed into the hills, first of all climbing up the steep flank of the ridge taking us on to Robinson (2418ft) and then along the ridge and it seemed like no time at all before we were on the summit taking our summit photo and recording our time. Next it was a gentle descent and then another climb on to Hindscarth (2385ft) all of it on nice tracks and grassy slopes. It was such a beautiful morning and I marvelled at why the hills weren’t full of people until Bill pointed out that it wasn’t yet 9am in the morning. I should have kept my mouth shut though because as soon as we reached the summit of Dalehead (2470ft) there were people EVERYWHERE, all taking part in a “ten peaks in ten hours” challenge.  From the summit of Dalehead the entire lake district opened up before us under beautiful blue skies but there was little time to admire the view as we turned to the long descent to Honister. Looking down from Dalehead there was a light swirling mist below us in the valley and just lightly touching the ridge that we had run along moments before - it really was a case of running with your feet in the clouds!

We had set ourselves the time of 2 ½ hours although we did have 3 hours in which to get round so I was pleased that our quad burning descent took us to the change over point in 2 hours and 35 mins and we sent Louise and Caroline on their way.
It’s at this point my story stops – I had to hot foot it back to Aberdeen leaving the team to run on through the rest of the afternoon and into the night. I’ve attached a link here to Julia’s fantastic blog which describes the rest of the event and whether or not we completed the Bob Graham round…

I was very disappointed to have to leave but I had a great time running the section of the round with Bill and Julia -what can be better than running in the footsteps of Bob and Billy? It was a magical experience and thanks to the amazing team, Lou, Julia, Cathy, Caroline, Moira, Liz, Ally, Charlotte and Anita and thanks to our helpers, Bill, Graham and Adrian for making it such a great event and great experience. It was wonderful to be a part of it. The smiles on everyone's faces in the photo below say it all!

Leg 1 course profile

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