The Bob Graham Round

Saul Taylor and Graham Collins successfully traversed the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours (22:50), read Saul’s account, well done chaps. Photo’s in Flickr.

Between racing the 100km distance and 11,000 feet of ascent at the Fellsman on April the 27th and running the 65 or so miles and 27,000 feet of ascent across the Bob Graham Round on May the 26th I did nothing more than ignore everything I had ever learned about running. I didn’t taper I just carried on racing and training as normal. I didn’t eat anything unusual, I just crammed food into my mouth at the usual rate of knots. I didn’t even relax, if anything I got more wound up about equipment and people and times and places. None of this made any difference to the events of the day because in the end I drove up to the Lake District with a team of supporters and ran across the mountains for precisely as long as my legs would carry me.

Saturday morning saw the car full of me, Graham Collins, Andy Rose, the family tent, deck chairs and labelled bags full of stuff that I would later ignore. By Saturday night we were joined by Andy Shorney and Alan Billington and before the lights of the day went out we were asleep. I was up at 2am, eating cornflakes soon after and by the time we had piled into Andy’s car and driven to Keswick it was 3am and time to get going. As we reached Skiddaw summit the headtorches were switched off and by the time we were in the scree descent off Blencathra it was sunny and getting warm. At the top of Clough Head at about 7am I was unable to eat and was starting to show the signs of too much sun. It didn’t matter because as leg 2 led us into a false sense of security, Fairfield reared up and kicked us in the chest. It has the first major navigational choice of the round, one of the largest ascents and probably the loosest ground all the way up. We chose the ‘easier’ scree slope to get to the top, but when I go and do it again I’m going the other way, even if it rains because I’m not a runner who has been blessed with the largest of legs and so I’ll do as much as I can to minimise the amount of ascent I have to do in terms of both time and effort. With hindsight, perhaps we made a poor choice, nevertheless we were at Dunmail Raise only 7 hours after starting and off again up Steel Fell. The following charge to Calf Crag and up to Sargeant Man was slow and heavy going, but the Langdale section was glorious with several key summits flying past like rocky stealth missiles. The walkers were confused and upset by our presence, far too fast was the consensus and how would we survive in only t-shirts and shorts? To be perfectly honest we couldn’t have answered ourselves and as Rossett Pike was put behind us and the hidden path to Bowfell made clear I felt the bad patch of running drift away and we were once again off and moving well, feeling all the better for seeing the additional support team at the cairn complete with Coke, cheesecakes and crisps.

The Scafell plateau was rammed with tourists. We took our place on the paths and in the queues, skipped past the wind shelter at the Pike and trotted down to Mickledore. Previous trips had put the Scafell ascent into perspective and we knew that while Broad Stand is by far the quickest, it is also the most dangerous and this time we went rightwards instead. The turn down the rubble chute and back up Lord’s Rake which was still full of frozen snow was a pleasure. The hidden turn at the chockstone was a delight and the West Wall Traverse turned out to be a gem of a ‘path’ that gave some respite from the running by making it necessary to use hands, knees and elbows in a drunken bear crawl up through the centre of the earth.

At Wasdale we saw Trev Wilson and Andy Rose, ate well, drank deeply, restocked and then forgot to take enough water for the hardest section through the Wasdale horseshoe. It didn’t matter, we didn’t care, Alan was already whispering thoughts about it being a done deal and I secretly chose to ignore him until I could see Keswick from Great Gable. This was a useless plan because when that idea gets stuck in your head it brings others with it such as ‘why run faster?’, ‘why don’t you enjoy the day?’ and the even more vicious thought worm ‘you could have a rest and still make it back in time’. I tried to carry on, me and Graham posed for photos at Steeple and Great Gable, I glanced at Keswick and then the Dodds, spied Skiddaw in the evening blur and couldn’t hold back the tide of exhaustion as I let myself realise that it could be done, I could make it round if only I could get down this hill and back up the next one.

Darkness fell at around 10pm and with it the wind picked up. Dressed in only shorts, wet socks, assorted sweaty tops and what amounts to a plastic bag with a zip and hood I was losing heat fast. As I reflect on this part of the day it becomes even more clear that the moment I slipped and then fell briefly asleep on the mountainside was a sure indication that hypothermia was on it’s way. Fortunately my good friends know me well and bundled me up in cleaner clothes with a hot chocolate and into the back of the car for a power nap. Minutes later I sprang out of my sleep, convinced that the day was slipping away and ran up the last big hill to Dale Head and so leg 5 came and went with no-one falling over too much or coming even close to a somersault. We slid down the lower slopes on our backsides to save energy and reduce the pain in our legs and then finally we hit the path and then the track and then the road that would take us back to Keswick. It only took a few minutes for me to recognise the damage that had been done during the day. Springing up and down hills on your toes shows little in the way of general injury and the pace we sustained would hardly be called shuffling in flatter arenas but nonetheless the lightning jabs of pain that were exploding from my feet were telling me that bones were breaking and the most sensible thing to do would be to stop, have a little cry and then go to sleep. Obviously I ignored my own good reason and we carried on into the night, passed Portinscale and then the pencil museum, made the same joke about there not really being a point to it all and I touched the Moot Hall in Keswick town centre with Graham Collins exactly 22 hours and 50 minutes after leaving there with him and Andy the previous morning.

As the day recedes and the congratulations fade it’s necessary to question aspects of the endeavour. Was the equipment right? Was the pace right? Why didn’t I eat more or eat differently or drink more or think to take more with me? Why did we take these lines and how could they be better next time? Did I do enough? Had I fooled myself as we crossed to Pillar that I didn’t need to push any harder? What was the reason? Could I go faster? The simple answer is that yes, we could have gone faster. I should have eaten and drank more and there are faster lines to be found out there that take less and give more, but I struggle to find the need to take my own advice. The challenge is not to complete it, because all reasonably fit people can get round in a day if they so desire, the challenge is to let it change you rather than beat it into submission. I didn’t plant a flag at the end, I won’t mention it unless I’m asked and I hope I’ll do it again and enjoy it just as much as the first time. It was a great day and a great adventure.

on the way to Pillar 1945

2 thoughts on “The Bob Graham Round

  1. Great read Saul. Twas a pleasure to be a small part of such a big day for you. You did well…but you did have your moments!!!

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