A leg of the Bob Graham Round

I’ve been interested in attempting a solo Bob Graham Round almost from the minute I first heard about it. A good place to get a taste of it is the Billy Bland Challenge Relay.

My running club Meltham AC have a good tradition of trail and fell running and several months back the idea of getting a team together to take on the challenge over 5 legs.

One of the things people tell you about the Bob Graham Round is that preparation and support are vital to a chance of success to almost every round and that you need to recce and plan your attempt.

It can take many months to dial in your schedule and what your crew and pacers will do so having left the recce work to my Leg 3 partner Sam, I was a little in the dark about how long our 15 mile leg might take and – due to my navigational incompetence – where we’d be going.

All the legs however had been recced at various times by the people running them so we weren’t out there blind.

Leg 3 – Dunmail to Wasdale

Our leg is the longest on the BGR/Relay and takes in 15 peaks in around 15 miles and somewhere in the region of 6,000ft of ascent. Our target was 6 hours for this leg and we were confident we’d be able to come in a bit under that.

Setting off after picking up the tracker from Susi and David we went straight up Dunmail Rise full of adrenaline and hit the top a lot quicker than we thought we would but comfortably within ourselves.

Quite an intimidating start to your day! 

The first harsh lesson was learnt less than an hour in though and losing track of your nav can lead you off course pretty quick and before we knew it we were on a ridgeline climbing down a steep slope to try and regain the path we needed before hitting a point where it was just too dangerous to keep going down.

Turning around to climb back up revealed just how steep the incline (or if you refer to the map – “cliff”) was and we had quite a scramble back up which included a fairly narrow ledge with an overhang which to someone used to that sort of thing was nothing but as someone not keen on heights was a pretty hairy start to a long day!

My legs were a little shaky by the time we’d got to the top – the fear factor compounded somewhat by the realisation that I’d picked the wrong shoes for the day (Adidas XT4) which simply didn’t have the grip for that sort of incline and I’d slip a couple of other times throughout the day.

Generally they were OK but I think bigger lugs and a little more padding would have made the day a little more comfortable but clinging onto a steep hillside at the top of a cliff when you’re not sure your shoes will commit to the surface isn’t ideal.

I made sure to take a gel when I got back on track and it helped ease the shaky legs and we got back on with the day and dug out the GPS which was pre-loaded with waypoints which we then kept handy for the rest of the run.

Schedule blown apart

The second lesson learnt about the BGR is that while it’s very easy to lose time, it’s very difficult to make back up. The terrain is so unforgiving in many places.

We lost somewhere in the region of 45 minutes on our diversion and while we then stayed roughly on pace for the remainder of the leg it’s a shame because as a part of an 11 person team of runners all doing their bit for the challenge it can be tough when you eventually finish your part down on schedule.

You need to be aware of your goal arrival times at each peak and work to pace yourself well to stay within them. Too slow, you compound the misery with every subsequent peak, too fast and you’ll risk blowing up. This is of course what the recce days are for and the research into the route and rounds.

With all that said, I know Sam felt very responsible as the sole navigator and kept apologising for the error so as I know you’ll read this when I post it to the Meltham group – stop worrying about it!!! Your day was a lot harder than mine as I was just following and not contributing. :)

Steady away

I felt we ran pretty comfortably within ourselves and once we’d done a couple of early peak photos we got down to it and never really stopped or hung around and we finished the climb up Scafell as strongly as any other peak which was immensely satisfying.

It’s quite funny running in the lakes when you have easily accessible peaks like Bowfell which on a nice day like ours is full of people hiking in jeans and trainers and then as you traverse more of the route you invariably bump into other runners either doing their round or preparing for one recceing a leg.

We bumped into a couple of guys a few times as our chosen routes criss crossed and it’s great sharing little bits of knowledge. The BGR challenge it seems is quite popular these days.

Route highlights

As we summited the mighty Scafell for our descent having taken in Steel Fell, Calf Crag, High Raise, Sergeant Man, Thunacar Knott, Harrison Stickle, Pike O’Stickle, Rossett Pike, Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End, Ill Crag, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike and Scafell we’d been on the move for about 6 1/2 hours and the final scree descent to Wasdale was an absolute blast and gliding down that was a highlight of the day. I’d love to do just that descent on fresh legs one day!

Sam approaching Broadstand. We went around!

One of the many incredible vistas – This one from the scree field ascending Bowfell

Sam & me halfway up Bowfell

The Meltham AC team

A run like this does not happen without a great deal of preparation. I’d like to share my thanks to everyone from Meltham AC who took part and ran legs (and of course Josh, Alice & Caz + Kids who came to support) and extra special thanks to Jeff for managing the overall challenge as well as running leg 4.

Without his drive and efficiency this wouldn’t have happened in any way.

As I said earlier, a key factor in the success of a round is without doubt logistics. The overall distance at 66 miles isn’t the scariest thing but when you start and finish in Keswick places like Wasdale are actually pretty far away and inaccessible without support drivers.

We had an amazing team who in every possible way all ran great legs in a variety of conditions – generally I think we had some great weather but there was high wind and clag at varying points on some of the other legs so navigating through that was inspiring to someone like me who would probably struggle to get out of their own garden in mist.

As a team we just missed the 24 hour cutoff with a final time of 24:59 but more importantly we all had a brilliant experience and came back safely so perhaps some unfinished business for another time …

Meltham AC – 1am in Keswick after a 24:59 Billy Bland Relay

I sense there may be a few at the club who enjoyed the experience, I’m certainly one of them. It’s given me a new perspective on what’s required to take on this challenge and I suspect the term “unfinished business” has been muttered more than a few times this week following our adventure..

Having had a solo round on my bucket list for a long time, this experience was as eye opening as it was exciting. After this weekend, it remains firmly on the bucket list.