If you are not familiar with fell running or an avid hiker then you may not be aware of the classic round in the Lake District. I will not recite here what many other documentaries, books, articles and blogs have explained. In simple terms it is a route encompassing 42 Wainwrights (summits) in the Lake District to be completed in under 24 hours. The approximate distance is 66 miles with some 27,000ft of vertical gain over tough, rocky terrain. Although now a well-established route the round also has a navigational element.
The Bob Graham Round is something I had heard in about years ago. Catching conversations in the changing rooms about these hardened fell runners completing an epic challenge. At the time I had no idea what was required, like most people I ended up reading a book called Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith. It is a fantastic read and highly recommended. It covers some history of fell running and Richard’s own long battle with the round.
The Bob Graham round was something I always thought of as way out of my range of ability. Not even something I would have considered. Then I had thought the same about marathons, the 3 peaks race, running 100 miles and so on! Like the other silly endurance events I have done, it gets to a point where you think “I could have a good crack at that”. I relish a challenge, it keeps me focussed and grounded and if a challenge is not hard or does not get you a little worried, then is it a challenge at all?
I have always enjoyed fell running; it’s hard, it takes you to beautiful places, you explore and brings out your inner child running through bogs and jumping obstables. After a couple of mishaps in 2018 ending up with some trips to A&E I took a break from fell running and concentrated on the road. It took a long time to build up the confidence for fell running again.
The plan for this summer was to go up to the Lakes to support a round for a friend. Going up on reccy runs would also familiarise myself with the route. One lovely day we went out for a leg 1 & 2 reccy. The plan was to run around 24-hour pace and it felt very comfortable. After this run, the seed was planted! When this attempt was postponed until next year, I took the (relatively) last minute decision to have a bash myself.
When I say last minute, it was 7 weeks before the attempt when I registered. Most people would take longer to reccy and prepare. My thoughts were many people become obsessed, overcome, and engrossed in the preparation for a BG (Richard Askwith for example). The main difference between an ultra-race and something like the BG is in a race all your course is marked and marshalled plus there are regular aid stations with food and water, for the BG you had to organise all this yourself. So, a logistical challenge as well as a physical one! Your support is very important, and I knew with the right support on my limited preparation we would be able to do it. With no races on it was the perfect time to get people together. Although, with the attempt being on a bank holiday I was worried about struggling to get willing volunteers, it turned out the opposite was true, inundated with offers to help and for each one I am grateful.
Training wise, this year I have done most of my running off road and before lockdown the last race I did was the Ian Roberts fell race in March and felt strong. Throughout lockdown, with no races, I spent a lot more time running the local woods and footpaths inadvertently getting in (the BG advised) 10,000ft climbing a week. The thing I was to discover is although plenty of climb is great, it is the terrain you need to train for.
In a perfect world I would have liked to spend more time reccying the course, so I knew exactly where to go, however, with a young family it is simply not feasible. For one I want to spend time with my family, two it is not fair leaving all the childcare to a single parent for weekend, and three trying to all go up would be more hassle than it is worth! Most reccy days were an early start to drive up to the Lakes and then back on the same day. A long day with 4+ hours driving each side of a 6-8 hour run but it kept everyone happy!
As the planned start was 8pm on Saturday 29th August I decided to drive up to the Lakes at lunchtime on the Saturday. I wanted to get settled in and have a sleep before the start. I was simply too excited and raring to go and only managed 1.5 hours of broken sleep. This meant when I got prepared and set off to the Moot Hall, I had already been up for a near full day with 20+ hours of running ahead of me. In an ideal world I could have taken a couple days off work, gone up earlier and tried to modify my sleep pattern.
After a very wet last couple of weeks it was an absolutely perfect weather window. Clear on the tops, sun, not hot, no rain scheduled and down low there wasn’t even a breeze. It was expected to be a bit wet underfoot but the rockier sections would be dry. No excuses!
My support on leg 1 was Paul on navigation and Phil on carry duties. We left the Moot Hall at 8pm on the dot, leaving the main street, through Fitz park and started towards Skiddaw. As with most races you have trained, worked hard, and tapered so those first miles you feel like you are floating along, feeling strong and ready to take anything on. It was also a bizarre experience to be running out onto the fells not carrying anything! We ran into traffic straight down a snicket leaving the main street from the Moot Hall, with COVID restrictions it was all one way and we were going the wrong way… A few seconds here was not going to make much of a difference over the course of the round and there is an amusing video of us setting off only to stop a few seconds later to wait for pedestrian traffic to pass!
This is one of the biggest climbs on the round straight off the bat, five miles with over 2,000ft climbing. There was no time for heroes in the first miles, it was a case of controlling the effort, walking the steeper sections, and saving strength for later. About halfway up it started to get a bit breezy and it only got stronger the further we went. It was not until we were over the fence at the Skiddaw Little Man junction when we needed to get the headtorches out and got the jackets on. It was a beautiful evening and seeing the sunset looking out across Bassenthwaite was something special. On the other side peeking through the cloud was a large moon to keep us company through the night. Before we knew it, we were up.
Skiddaw – 21:08
We were 12 minutes under schedule. Although it felt easy, we made good time up. I was conscious we needed to stick to pace and not get carried away, however, I also thought a few minutes in the bag early on could save us if anything went wrong later in the round. I had not done this section in the dark before, but the navigation is straight forward. We headed down the other side of Skiddaw until you come across a nice trod to the right leading to a stile over a fence, then you pretty much keep on this path all the way towards Great Cava. In daylight this is a distinct line to follow but in the dark and with the ground very boggy it was easy to lose the path. we took our time making sure we were constantly heading in the right direction. At this time, you could just about see a silhouette of Great Cava in the distance. Once you go past the tree at the bridge it was easy enough to keep on the line towards the top. We took it nice and steady up there, conserving energy for later in the day. Great Cava has a bit of a false summit and the actual summit is a short out and back (I remembered this from our reccy day).
Great Cava – 21:48
We reached the summit of Great Cava 15 minutes under schedule. Even with a few deviations coming off Skiddaw we had made good time and were not working too hard. You hop the fence and follow a well worn trod down the other side of Great Cava. This is a steep descent and easy to get carried away with. All the climbing in the Lakes fatigues you, running too hard on the descents will wreck your quads and make life hard. We trotted down the descent towards the river. We missed a path to cross over the fence and cut the corner to the bridge but we managed to go around crossing Grainsgill Beck and get back on route without much trouble (a quick compass check to make sure we were going the correct way in the dark).
Before starting on the Blencathra climb you must cross the River Caldew. With all the recent rainfall we expected the water to be high, but it turned out manageable and we found a suitable place to cross without getting too wet. I knew this leg was wet and boggy so I had my Sealskin socks on, they worked great for the first hour or so but with the river and deep boggy sections my feet were wet and starting to get cold in the night. The next section was across Mulgrisedale and is basically one big marshland. There is a pretty good trod to follow up towards a quad track and we managed to stick to this line well. Again, with all the rain we expected this section to be a lot worse than it was. This section is runnable on a normal day but trying to run through boggy, marshy terrain is energy sapping and not efficient on a long day. We got stomping. The higher up we got the less boggy the ground was. We kept to the same line as when we reccied and headed up towards the screes then took the contouring path across the towards Blencathra. I was feeling good on this climb and wanted to run but we had time in the bank and conserved the energy instead.
Blencathra – 22:57
14 minutes under schedule and making good time. One of my main concerns for the round was coming down Halls Fell in the dark. It’s enough of a challenge in the light. The steep rocky ridge descent is tricky to even stick on the path. Luckily, it was a clear, dry evening. The rock was not slipperey and the headtorch I had provided enough light to navigate the terrain successfully. Once we got down the hairy section at the top I was really enjoying coming down. I didn’t push it but went with the flow and soon found I was well ahead of my support. Instead of waiting I decided to crack on and get to Threkeld and we could re-group there. There were a couple of other crews waiting at the cricket club, prime time for BG rounds.
Threlkeld – 23:29
9 minutes under schedule and feeling good. Apart from losing the path a couple of times the leg went well. My plan for nutrition throughout the run was to keep having topping up having at least a couple hundred calories an hour, this works out to having a gel or a bar every hour and I kept on top of this for leg 1. I also had 500ml water and 500ml SIS on the leg.
My original plan was not to stop at the end of leg 1, just pick up supplies and get going. With talking to a few more experienced fell runners at the club I decided to put a 10-minute stop in here to get a coffee and change my socks. John’s wife Lesley had also baked some cakes and went down nicely with a coffee. I also got a breakfast drink into me; I had not considered these before, with 350 calories and a hit of protein it was spot on. On other long races I think I have neglected protein intake but something to consider.
Paul carried on for support on leg 2 but swapped to carry duties, Phil stopped here and we picked up Andy to be our nav man. We stopped a bit longer than planned to get ready for leg 2 and were off at 23:46, still a couple minutes under schedule, and we set off on the short road section before getting back on the squishy grass towards Clough Head. The climb up to Clough Head is a drag, each leg of the round basically starts with getting up to the hills. I knew once we had got Clough Head out of the way there were no big slogs on this leg until near the end.
We lost the path a little, very easily done when it is boggy in the dark it seems and came out too far up where you cross the lane. We followed the lane back down to the gate and got onto the main trod up to the top. I was still feeling good and this hiking up gave time to get the cake and drink digested a bit. My plan was to carry on eating and drinking little bits constantly, but I needed a bit of time to get all the cake down!
Clough Head – 00:44
Bang on schedule. We had taken our time up here and once we had this climb out of the way it is relatively runnable along the ridge towards Helvelyn. It was a beautiful night with a large moon and (for now) was clear with little wind. A pleasure to be out there with the silhouettes of the tops visible in the moonlight.
In the daylight this section is simple to navigate as you can see the paths running over towards the Dodds and beyond. In the dark we followed the path as best we could and had Andy checking the navigation regularly to make sure we were on the right line. You drop down off Clough Head before making your way up to Great Dodd. Up here it was the first time we hit a bit of weather, nothing to write home about but it was drizzly, windy, dropped the visibility and made you cold if you were stood around.
Great Dodd – 01:13
A minute off schedule but another one ticked off. We got moving quickly to drop down a little and get out of the weather. We could not see anything now so relied on Andy to get us off in the right direction towards Watson Dodd. It is so easy to get turned around in the dark and needed to be careful. It is mainly downhill to Watson Dodd out on the edge of the ridgeline.
Watson Dodd – 01:27
A few minutes lost on schedule time but again happy to tick another top off in the dark. It was altogether eerie to be on what I knew was a steep drop in front of me and all we could see was darkness. There is a good path we managed to follow towards Stybarrow Dodd. Funny enough there was a chap out running the other way on his own. We thought we were strange! Maybe he was running back to Threlkeld after supporting a leg, we will never know. With a little diversion off the path to get the cairn it was another top down.
Stybarrow Dodd – 01:37
We were still moving well and I was managing to get some food in me without any issues. Staying on top of the hydration led to a couple of wee stops but rather that than be dehydrated.
Once we got on the path the route is well established over to Raise. Dropping down to Sticks Pass and then back up on the path. We walked out the climbs trying to be as efficient as possible. Once we got near the top the weather came in again, same as before windy and drizzly, nothing heavy but reducing the visibility drastically. Our jackets were on and mine stayed on for a good few hours to come.
Raise – 01:57
At this point we were 10 minutes off schedule. During the run I did not concentrate on time. I did not want that to be rattling around in my head causing stress. We had plenty of time and as long as I was still moving well it wasn’t a concern. We cracked on, with Andy keeping us in the right direction we followed the route down and up again to White Side.
White Side – 02:07
From White Side we were then on the tourist path towards Helvellyn. When we started this leg my headtorch was flashing every minute or so, although a bit irritating, I did not think much of it but on our way up towards Helvellyn Lower Man it ran out of batteries! Luckily, Andy had a spare and we were back going again quickly. I had packed spare, fully charged headtorches so should have swapped at Threlkeld. Lesson learned! The higher up we went the worse the weather was so once we plodded up to the top we did not want to hang about. There is a nice big cairn to let us know we hit the next top.
Helvellyn Lower Man – 02:22
Still keeping a steady pace we continued on the large path towards Helvellyn. It was a bit wild up there but no navigation issues with the path you could nearly drive a bus on! Andy by his own account was having a tough time running on this leg and we slowed down and stuck to his pace (as he was in charge of nav too!) It was only a couple minutes here and there and saving the energy early on could only help in the latter legs.
Helvellyn – 02:31
At 950m/3,117ft the third highest point in the Lake District. There was not much of a view at 2am in the clag but it signalled over halfway in this leg. In long endurance challenges it is important to break it down into manageable chunks mentally. For the Bob Graham round you can break it down into the legs but even better by each top. When you get to a top you tick it off forget about what is behind you and set your sights on the next top. The time and distance between each vary but a great way to break down a run that will last a whole day.
We didn’t want to hang about on Helvellyn so set off on a path. It turns out this was not the correct path. We had lost our sense of direction in the clag and were heading towards Striding Edge. We noticed the error when the slopes around us turned into sheer drops into the darkness! Andy had a quick nav check and got us back on course without any major time lost. We got back to the main path and got up to Nethermost Pike without any further mishaps.
Nethermost Pike – 02:40
We were still going well, in good spirits and now out of the worst of the weather across Helvellyn. At this point we were down by 13 minutes which over the course of a 22-hour run is not much deviation. It was from here on we had a few more route mishaps which started to cost us some time. Coming off Nethermost Pike we started going East towards Eagle Crag instead of South (the path must of looked inviting… not Andy’s fault I think it was me wanting to get moving and thinking I knew the way). We dropped nearly 100m until again we realised both sides of the path were turning into sheer drops, not what the route is supposed to be like! Once we stopped Andy did a great job working out where we were and how to get back on track. His navigation experience really paid off there. If we had gone any further, it could of been a very long drag back up.
Once back on track we stuck to the path and had some confusion as to where Dollywaggon Pike was. Looking back at my GPS it seems we hit High Crag and thought this was Dollywaggon. The subsequently missed a turning up to the Dollywaggon Pike summit so had to cut across direct to the cairn from the lower path. We got there.
Dollywaggon Pike – 03:08
20 minutes behind schedule was not ideal but I knew the time could be made up in the later legs if I stayed strong, however, getting to Fairfield turned out a bit of a mission too. Looking back at the route now I can see exactly where we went wrong. We overshot the path which drops down to the East side of Grisedale Tarn and ran nearly adjacent to the zig zag path most people avoid. We then did nearly a lap of the Tarn through the long boggy grass to get back on route. It was slow going but we got onto the path around the Tarn and could get moving again. We had decided me and Paul would go up Fairfield and Andy would wait with the kit. Fairfield is an out and back so there is no point coming up unless you need to! Once we got to the bottom of the Fairfield path it was a steady hike up to the top.
Fairfield – 03:51
33 minutes down at this point and it got worse before it got better. It was claggy and windy up the top of Fairfield. To describe the top, there is a big summit cairn and a shelter nearby, plus numerous paths leading up the mountain all cairned but leading in different directions. Although, this part of the route is an out and back we got turned around and started heading down towards Cofta Pike. It did not feel right so we stopped and were flummoxed for a few minutes. We left all the kit with Andy! Map, compass, etc. It was a bit of a low moment. Fortunately, with some quick thinking from Paul, he used the breadcrumb setting on his Sunnto watch to see where we had come up from. We got back on this line and started down the path! I was keen to get down so maybe went a bit too quick here, but I was still feeling good and my legs were handling the descent well. On the way down we passed a BG group coming up. They must of set off an hour behind us so were doing well (or we were not!)
Under normal conditions I quite enjoy the up and down on Fairfield. I quite like the loose rocky paths and find them fun to run down. At the bottom there was one more climb before the end of the leg. The climb up the back of Seat Sandal is relatively short, steep, and rocky. I was keen to get this leg done so I led the way up only to get near the top and see that Andy and Paul were not behind me. It was blowing a gale, so I waited for a few minutes behind a big rock until Andy reached me. Paul was not far behind and he knew where we were going so, we pushed on.
Seat Sandal – 04:26
We had lost more time with the faffing trying to get off Fairfield, but I was in good spirits and my legs were feeling good. My main concern was I told the guys on support and runners for leg 3 to be at Dunmail from about 3:15am so they had been waiting around for over an hour. We descended Seat Sandal on the path nice and steady. I rolled on down the descent and got into Dunmail, over the stile and to the van.
Dunmail Raise – 04:47
Paul was seemingly finding a new path down from Seat Sandal. We later found out his headtorch was running out of batteries, so he literally took a bee line straight through all the heather towards the car lights at Dunmail. He did get back safely.
At Dunmail was my first planned proper stop and feed. I had a pot of porridge with some syrup in and a cup of coffee. A slice of homemade cake also went down well. Richard A (carry duties) and Richard K (nav duties) were there geared up and ready to go. John and Lesley had been keeping them fuelled up on coffee and cake, so they were buzzing to go. “The Richards” both live near the Lakes so are good fell runners and I know Richard A has some pedigree, he used to run for Holmfirth Harriers and live not far from where I am now, coincidentally.
The porridge went down nicely. I changed my socks again and swapped shoes from the VJ XTRM to the VJ iRock 3. The iRock’s had done around 20/30 miles and have some of the best grip I have ever had on a shoe, great on rocks too and with plenty of that coming up on leg 3 I decided these were the best option. I said my thank yous to Paul and Andy and got going at 04:59. 49 minutes behind schedule but I was confident my support for this leg could get the job done and eat back at the time. I do not know if it was all the coffee and cake or all the waiting around but Richard K set off on a fast pace (or what felt like fast at the time) straight up Steel Fell. We were stomping hard all the way up. This got the blood flowing after a few steady miles, breathing hard but controlled and before I knew it we hit the top and got running.
Steel Fell – 05:18
We got up here in 19 minutes my schedule had 25, a good start. It was still not quite light and headtorches were still required. Over towards Calf Cragg there is not much climbing but it is wet, marshy, boggy underfoot. After a little bit of deliberation and nav checks we got on the right direction. The challenge here was trying to find the most efficient line through the terrain. You do not want to be climbing for no reason and you do not want to be wasting energy slogging through bogs. Heavy shoes and pulling your legs out of the mud is energy sapping.
Calf Crag – 05:38
It took a couple minutes longer than scheduled to get to Calf Crag but nothing major. It was around here it was now light enough to turn off the headtorches. Once we did, I looked up from the ground for the first time in the light and what an amazing morning. The sun was poking out, there was hardly a cloud in the sky and not a whisper of wind.
To either go to Sergeant Man or High Raise first is a debateable route choice on a clockwise round. When looking on a map going to High Raise first seems the logical option. It is a straight line and a little higher than High Raise so gives an easier, downhill run between the two. I had not reccied up this section from Calf Crag so after a chat with Richard K he suggested Sergeant Man is a more runnable option. The route over to High Raise looked steep and boggy and Richard K new the Sergeant Man route better. We decided to go up Sergeant Man first against what was originally planned. I do not think there is really much difference in it, although, Killian Jornet went up High Raise first so maybe that would settle the debate!
The path is pretty good up towards Sergeant Man and on a normal day (as in not already run 31 miles and 10,000ft+ climb) it would be runnable. Today it was a hike up then a scramble over a few rocks to reach the summit cairn.
Sergeant Man – 06:09
We were still around 45 minutes behind schedule, but I was not counting at the time. I knew we were behind, no point dwelling on it there was plenty of miles ahead. I had initially thought if we got a good day like this we could keep well ahead of schedule. The terrain and climb had taken more out of me than I thought. My hips and glutes were feeling the fatigue from climbing plus I was starting to feel mentally drained.
From Sergeant Man you could see the line clearly over to High Raise. It is still quite boggy and marshy up here but fairly flat, so I was running all the way over and it felt great to actually stretch the legs out. On this section one leg ended up nearly waist deep and I took a tumble. Luckily it was soft, damp grass.
High Raise – 06:18
I couldn’t believe how lucky we were with the weather, you could see for miles in the dawn sun. It was genuinely a euphoric experience (or maybe it was the lack of sleep and all the running over the last 10 hours making me feel funny…)
The route over towards Thunacar Knott is a pretty well established trod and we could run the majority of it. It is slightly downhill then kicks up for the sumit cairn.
Thunacar Knott – 06:30
This top is really just a bump on the way towards Harrison Stickle. I was still trying to get some food in every hour. Maybe I delayed too long to get food in. Suddenly, I bonked out and had to slow right down. A peanut butter and vegemite bap perked me up within a few minutes. I had made these baps on Wednesday and it was now Sunday, so they were a bit hard but potentially made them a bit easier to eat. I got diverted off the path somehow so had to climb steeply to get back on track. Then there is another rocky scramble to the top.
Harrison Stickle – 06:41
You need to come back the way you came up for the most efficient route towards the next top. Once we got on the path it was pretty good going. Still a bit wet lower down between tops. Then another short scramble up to the top.
Pike O’ Stickle – 06:52
We were ticking them off and moving well. It was around here I was literally yawning. Apart from my nap in Keswick yesterday afternoon I had already been up for 24 hours. Mentally tired. I found when I was leading, even simple decisions like having to think about which way was best around some rocks was proving difficult so I would let one of the other guys lead and follow them pretty much step for step. I knew I had a Red Bull waiting for me in Wasdale and would be required to perk me up.
Back down the same way we came from the top and we could follow the path all the way until there is a cut over some marshy terrain. There was a clear trod worn in and easy to pick out on the clear morning. We crossed Stake Gill and followed a line up the steep climb and onto the next summit.
Rossett Pike – 07:47
From here the view down the Langdale valley was spectacular. The next climb I knew was a tough one up towards Bowfell. I had got some fuel and plenty of water down me in preparation. The sun had come out now and it was warming up nicely. I was still in my long sleeve base layer from Keswick, I didn’t want to stop to take it off and the weather could change quickly so did my best to get some air by rolling up my sleeves and undoing the neck zip. There is a cairned path up the side of Bowfell heading diagonally towards the summit and we tried to stick to this but somehow ended up a little below the path and had to clamber slowly over lots of rock to get up.
Bowfell – 08:19
A big section done. We saw our first hiker of the day here. A lot of the hikers on this route must realise that people running in groups of three to the tops are out doing a Bob Graham round. Maybe the locals get sick of it!
You head back the way you came from the top of Bowfell and follow the path down into the gill. We came off this path going for the wrong top and headed towards a rocky out cropping we thought was Esk Pike but were incorrect. It was a scramble to get back onto the path. At least it was clear, and we could pick the paths out well. Once back on the correct route it was a stomp up the path to the top.
Esk Pike – 08:45
The next couple of tops zig-zag over towards Scafell Pike and is the rockiest section of the route. I remembered this area from the Borrowdale race and how slow I was going over the boulder fields then. If I was not on such a long run and so tired I may of thrown caution to the wind a bit more on these sections, today I was taking my time, one wrong footing and you could trap a foot or cause some serious injury.
You drop down a nice path from Esk Pike towards Great End then bear right after a cairn to head towards the summit. There is often some confusion around which is the actual summit cairn here, but it is the closest one that is the highest point. It is pretty much a pile of rocks so another scramble to the summit.
Great End – 09:04
After dropping down from Great End there is only a short runnable section before you are crossing boulders again. Trying to find the most efficient but safest path. There is a climb which I tantalisingly thought was the summit but the route climbs again up to the top.
Ill Crag – 09:16
Although a good 50 minutes behind schedule we were moving about the scheduled pace for the leg. From Ill Crag to Broad Crag is more boulder fields. This terrain forces you to slow right down. It is demoralising to being going so slow when against the clock, but it is what most people do here and the sensible option. Without plenty of experience on this terrain you will not be sure footed enough to move quickly over the ground. It was a bit of a scramble again up to the next summit.
Broad Crag – 09:27
Coming off Broad Crag I could remember on a reccy a better path further right, so I tried this following Richard A. It was still a downward scramble and my foot slipped and I caught my ankle in some rocks. It was a shock to the system at the time, especially as it made a crunch, and this was an ankle I had rolled on plenty of training runs recently. I managed to get away with nothing serious and ran/walked it off.
All the paths around Scafell Pike are heavily used tourist paths so the climb was easy until the summit plateau where it turns into a carpet of large rocks. We had reached the top of England.
Scafell Pike – 09:44
There was not a cloud in the sky or any wind up here, it was extraordinary. I have never seen such a clear day in the Lake District. No time to stop and chat to the early bird hikers at the top we had one more mountain to climb to finish off the leg. From Scafell Pike you head down the path towards Mickledore. The next stage is one of the main decisions of the round; go up the Broad Stand climb or take one of the other less direct routes. My original plan was to go up Lords Rake and went this way on a reccy, Foxes Tarn sounded too long, but after a chat in the pub about it, we got Mike in the Lakes to set up a rope and went for the Broad Stand climb. It is not difficult climb, especially on a day like today where most of the rock is dry, but I was 40+ miles into the run and did not have the rock-climbing energy in me. We got it done but it was harder than I expected. Long legs certainly helped! From the top of Broad Stand it was a jog over the plateau and up to the summit.
Scafell – 10:13
Scafell is a great mountain. The second highest point and much less tourist traffic than the nearby Scafell Pike. The views were great from up here although we did not want to hang about too long. We set off on the long descent towards Wasdale. With fresh legs this would have been great fun, I was feeling trashed at this point and rolled on down. Wasdale is near enough sea level so you drop down the full 3,162ft of the mountain in roughly 2 miles to end this leg. You follow a path then taking a diversion down some screes then across a stream onto the main tourist footpath down to the carpark. The screes were lovely, they can be a little tricky to navigate but they take all the impact out of each footstep and it was a welcome relief.
Wasdale – 10:44
It was a lovely warm day down on the ground and the Wasdale car park was brimming with activity. Lots of people making the most of the good weather on the bank holiday weekend to go hiking in the area. My support team here was Julian and his wife Cheryl. Everyone was kitted up ready to go. Fresh water bottles filled, Richard handed over the carrying bits to Richard P to carry on this leg (yes, another Richard!) I changed my socks and into a t-shirt (still with my Holmfirth vest on top) while I ate a pasta pot and drank most of a Red Bull. The food was good, and the Red Bull was more for a mental boost than a physical one. It was not long before we were ready to go again.
We all left at 10:51, 50 minutes down, with plenty of opportunity to make time up. Richard P was on carry duties, Julian on navigation and Tim joined us for a run out on this perfect day. There is some running on the flat road until you are onto the fell and straight back into it. As the saying goes “There is no easy way out of Wasdale”, well, there certainly is not. The first climb on this leg is up to Yewbarrow. It works out at around 2,000ft climb in 1 mile. A gruelling climb with seemingly no end. The sun was beating down now, and my stomach was starting to churn. When you eat on a hot day you can often get a sickness in the stomach, this especially comes on when climbing as all the blood goes to your legs rather than your digestive system. It would be a while before I could eat properly again. I kept topped up on water all the way up and the guys were great at keeping me going. Whenever we had some water I was told “This isn’t a stop, drink and keep moving!”. I hated it at the time, but this motivation was key, if I was on my own or with some less experienced runners I might of just sat down and had a cry.
The guys understood it was going to be a steady effort up here. Walking more than hiking now. Every step forwards a step towards the top. A couple of times I looked up towards the summit and would then look a few minutes later and it would look the same distance away! I was relieved to get this one done.
Yewbarrow – 11:32
Although I felt like I was moving at a snail pace we made it up Yewbarrow in good time and 6 minutes under what was on the schedule. There was no time to take in the glorious view over towards the sea, the lads on this leg knew what they were doing and as soon as I touched the summit cairn we were moving again. Even moving slowly is faster than standing still! You can get a bit of running in after Yewbarrow where the route drops for another steep, but shorter, climb up to Red Pike. We saw a group from Dark Peak with Nicky Spinks on support with her dog so that was nice to see.
Red Pike – 12:14
We had gained another 7 minutes on schedule getting over to Red Pike. Tim was filling in the time sheet to keep track and mentioned we were gaining time back which was a real boost in low point. From Red Pike it is good running over towards Steeple. A little bit of a nav mishap sent us heading towards Haycock but a quick check and we were back on course. Steeple is a great little Wainwright sticking out on its own. On the BG route it is an out and back, so the guys waited with the kit while me and Julian went over to tag this one.
Steeple – 12:38
Back the way we came and over towards the next one. Julian was doing a cracking job leading us on the easiest lines to run. Avoiding the rocky sections were possible. We skirted around Black Crag, across Wind Gap and stomped up to Pillar.
Pillar – 13:07
What a fantastic ridge and the first time I had been up here (yes, I did not reccy leg 4… or 5 in fact). Although we are higher up here than Kirkfell, looking over towards the daunting mountain I knew there was a tough section ahead. We dropped steadily down to Black Sail Pass and started the Kirkfell climb. There are two ways up this climb and we took the path up the gulley to the left. There was some scrambling involved but seemed this was a bit quicker as we overtook another BG group before the summit.
Kirkfell – 13:55
I was tired now. Still trying to eat but not getting in enough calories. I forced down a few bits of bars and another peanut butter and vegemite bap. Drinking water was fine, although feeling a bit dehydrated, I was staying on top of this.
From Kirkfell we head over to Great Gable, or as Tim affectionately calls the “Big Pudding”, and you can see why. It is a round top which rises steeply from all sides. There is no easy way up there, but I knew this was the last big climb of the leg and near enough the whole day. If I could get up to Great Gable, then the hard work was done and we were getting towards the home stretch.
From Dockhead Tarn it is a slog up to Great Gable, not the very steepest climb but rocky and any big step up felt like I was lifting weights in the gym. We saw Steve Birkinshaw coming down a different route and said hello. It was a lovely day and apparently all the fell running celebrities were out!
Great Gable – 14:31
With the great nav and steady forward momentum on this leg we were eating away at the schedule and now less than half an hour down. It was around here my feet were in real pain; the VJ iRock 3 are great for grip but are a narrow fit on my already big, but larger for running all day, feet. Going on the flat and climb was manageable but coming down the descents my toes were crushed in the front of the shoe and causing real pain. It was even starting to hurt the tops of my feet. I would of loved to be flowing down these descents but it was all about management here to get to the end of the leg and change into my big, fat Altra trail shoes.
The path down towards Windy Gap from Great Gable is horrible, rocky and very slow going. Julian led us on a wide angle around all this onto a grassy section and dropped down into the gap. Much nicer on the feet and legs. A short climb up and we were there.
Green Gable – 14:46
From here it was all downhill to Honister (relatively). You could clearly see where we needed to go. My feet were in agony at this stage and hard to keep moving. I knew there was not much further so tried to soldier on as best as possible. It is a fairly direct line over towards the next top and we flittered on and off the path to stay on the grass as much as possible.
Blandreth – 15:01
I was having real trouble on the downhills but once it levelled off after the summit it was nice flat running across some softer terrain. Grey Knotts is a bit of crag before you drop into Honister and before I knew it we were there.
Grey Knotts – 15:10
The descent into Honister is roughly 1,000ft in a mile and usually great fun. In the Borrowdale fell race you follow a similar line on the nice grassy descent into Honister and is thoroughly enjoyable during the race. At this time every step down was agony for my toes and tops of the feet. It was steady and I eventually got down. Hitting the road at Honister felt hard and unforgiving under my battered feet and legs. Running on the road hurt although allowed me to shut my mind off an not having to think about where to put my feet constantly.
Leg 4 is a majestic but cruel leg. I can see why it is many people claim it is their favourite section of the round. You go up some mighty hills run some great sections of the Lakes.
Honister – 15:23
I could not believe we were here, it seemed so far away at the start of the round. I knew all the hardest parts of the round were now behind me. Cheryl and Lesley were all set up in the car park ready for us to come in. There was also a few more support crews set up and the car park was getting busy. The first thing I did was get my shoes and socks off. What a relief. I dried my feet, put on fresh socks, and got my trail shoes on. I was craving a fizzy drink but the only one available was a tonic water, as I did not pack anything, but this unconventional but went down well. I had another pot of pasta then set off moving again.
Julian and Richard decided to carry on into Keswick and we picked up John for navigation and Michael for carrying duties. We left at 15:35 only 36 minutes behind schedule now. Upon leaving Honister I was quite grateful to get off the hard road and back onto the fell. The change into my trail shoes was bliss and the pain from my feet being crushed had subsided. I was familiar with the Dale Head climb from the Borrowdale fell race (I had not a chance to reccy this leg either…). I knew it was a good 1,200ft climb in a mile up a good path. It was slow going up here; tired and trying to give myself an opportunity to get my food down from the stop. We had plenty of time to get to Keswick and I was happy to keep at this pace. It was getting a bit cooler now but still a fantastically clear day.
Dale Head – 16:10
From Dale Head you could see the whole route. It was amazing to think how far and long we had gone to get to this point. As with the last leg, the old guard on support would not let me stop at the top. We noted the time and got moving again. It would be lovely to take in the view, but you have to think, if you stop, even for a minute at each top, then it will add on 42 minutes to your total time. It was gruelling at the time but the right thing to do and what a good support crew should do, keep you moving!
From Dale Head you could clearly see where we were heading. It was all runnable towards Hindsgarth, then a stomp up the gradual climb to the top. My trail shoes were better for running in but they have no protection on the front for rocks, so I had to be careful not to stub a toe on anything protruding.
Hindsgarth – 16:26
At this point we were still 36 minutes behind schedule so even though we had lost some time earlier we were sticking to what I had planned for these tops.
From Hindscarth you drop a couple hundred metres and go back up again towards Robinson. We were running quite well on the descent. I would not say quickly. Even on these paths the guys in front were directing me towards the softer, less rocky bits of path to run on. Saving me brainpower and energy. It does not sound like much but engaging your brain at this point when fatigued and sleep deprived takes plenty of effort.
Again, it was a stomp up to the top of Robinson. The climb looked intimidating from the other side of the valley but once we got there it was the usual case of stomping up and if you simply keep moving then you always get to the top!
Robinson – 16:49
It felt great to get to Robinson. Not to be premature, and nothing certain, but all the hard work was done. All that was left was a drop off the hillside and then roll on into Keswick. I started doing maths in my head; it is 6 or so miles to the finish from here if we run x mins per mile then we could finish at this time, maybe still sub 22… It was thinking I decided to file and forget about. There was no need to put pressure on to run a certain time. I would run the best I could and when we get there we get there. Relax and keep moving.
From Robinson there is a bit of a rocky path then a perfect, soft, grassy descent down into the valley of Scope Beck. From here it was flat (ish) all the way. Once you start heading towards Keswick there are two options, stick on the road all the way in or head on the trail route through the woods. We opted for the trail route; for one it was nicer underfoot on battered legs, it is a bit shorter and timewise there is not much difference, maybe you can open up a bit more on the road but we weren’t going for records today so the scenic route it was.
There are a couple of rises along the way (I would not class as hills compared with where we had just been!) and even on these inclines we stomped up instead of running. All the rest we ran. As we approached Keswick it was strange to be running past people just going about their day or out walking the dog, I had spent so long out on the hills my brain was not working and I probably looked a state. The guys did a great job holding open gates for me and John was up front clearing the path of walkers, so we did not need to stop at any point. We did not seem to get any disgruntled looks and we thanked the people who moved to the side.
I was checking my watch and I knew we were close. My GPS was approaching 65 miles so it could not be much further. This was part of the route I had not run so I was unsure how far was left. I dare not ask. I just sucked it up and got on with it, the relief of the finish would come. We went along a long path across a field and it was perfect to run on. I felt like we were tanking along. Turns out we were running about 8 minutes miles, which is not going to win the Olympics but after 27,000ft of climbing it is not half bad. At the end of this path Paul was there waiting with Teddy on his shoulders (he was a bit unprepared as he thought we were still a while off!) He joined the rest of us running towards the town centre. From here is was a trott along the main road, across the roundabout (John managed to act as lollypop man to stop traffic briefly) and up the main street to the Moot Hall. The guys dropped off and let me run up the hall and it felt like a sprint (looking back at a video it certainly was not!) I jumped up the steps to the hall and knocked on the door.
Keswick – 18:05
We had done it! What a fantastic feeling of relief and accomplishment. 22 hours and 5 minutes. I was really happy with how well we finished the round and consistently gained back time. There were a few people at Moot Hall from my support crew and from a couple of other attempts, so I got a little round of applause as we came in. Fell running is a low-key sport and this is about all the fanfare you get!
Unfortunately, The Round pub was closed on Sunday’s as they normally pop out with a free beer for anyone completing a round. I saw this happen when waiting to start on Saturday evening. Paul was there to the rescue and came over with a little can of a fruity IPA that went down a treat. After this beer I went to bend down to pick up my bum bag and my legs went all wobbly, lightweight!
We had a bit of a chat at the Moot Hall then back for a shower at the hotel before going out in Keswick for a few beers and a curry with the majority of the support team.
I had managed to get the whole round done without any major falls so escaped relatively unscathed, no injuries or pains following the round but complete physical and mental exhaustion. Even completing simple tasks was difficult. Luckily, I had a couple of days to rest before getting back to work on night shifts. It took a whole week before the exhaustion and constant tiredness dissipated. My plan now is to take a few weeks off to give my body a chance to recover properly and to restore mentally too. Jumping back into training too soon can be a big demotivator.
I said to more than one person on and after the round that I would never do it again, but, just as with any other run or race the mind starts thinking of ways to improve. I am not in any rush to plan another attempt but with a bit more experience on the Lakeland fells and a bit more preperation I am confident I can knock a good chunk of time off. Or, maybe I will get my certificate, tick it off the list and be done with it! TBC!
Clark’s Final Thoughts
In summary, the first 2 legs I felt strong but then about halfway through leg 3 I bonked and although got going again never felt like I recovered properly. A couple of navigation mishaps put up behind schedule early on, but we finished well. My stomach had times where it was churning, and I could not get much in me. Hydration was not too bad but the key with these long endurance challenges is getting calories in and something I struggled with. Eating is key to these events, it is impossible to stave off bonking forever but with constant calorie consumption you, in theory, should be able to ride close to the wall continually.
I only got back into fell running this year after a few mishaps so with a bit more experience and proper focussed training I will be back! After totting it all up the total running time for this attempt was 21:17 and the total rest time was 48 minutes, although it is good to take the rest, getting those stops as efficient as possible is a must. I would also consider a different start time to get more light on Leg 2. A midnight start seems a good option.
My top tip is no matter how awful you feel it is always good to keep smiling and stay positive. It is always possible to pull yourself out of a low patch.
If you have read this and fancy your own round then I am more than happy to help!
Special thanks to Charlotte for looking after Finlay all weekend while I was out gallivanting around the Lake District.
It is usually good to finish on a quote as many other people are more eloquent in their words than I am so here is one of my favourites:
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain” – Jack Kerouac
Go find your adventure.
Run on Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/3987934972