A very Spartan Bob…
For anyone reading this who hasn’t heard of it, (where have you been?!) the Bob Graham Round is 66 miles around 44 of the highest peaks in the Lake District. Ascending and descending around 28,000ft, much of it on rough or technical trails, with the occasional scramble. To make it into the official ‘Bob Graham Club’, you have to do it in under 24hrs, though for us mere mortals that’s a huge ask – don’t get drawn in to people telling you that someone once hiked it in 24hrs – that person was clearly an absolute machine 😂
It had never really occurred to me as something to try. Not until some 20-something miles into this year’s UTS165, when I realised I just didn’t have the enthusiasm to finish this race. Having two previous completions, I felt I had nothing to prove, but still…I needed it to count for something. And so, after 32 miles and 11,000ft, I thought it'd make a great training run for one of the classic Rounds. I needed a change of scenery from Snowdonia, so a Paddy Buckley was out, the Scottish Ramsey Round was too far away, and so a Bob Graham it was.
I had the Lakeland 100 scheduled in for the end of July, and work shifts wouldn’t allow me to do it during June (which would’ve been optimal for weather and daylight hours) so I tentatively pencilled it in for the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of August. At this point I barely told a soul. Mostly because I just wasn’t sure that A) I could get enough people together to support me, and B) that I’d be recovered enough from Lakeland. .
I was also having some annoying injury issues that I wasn’t convinced were going to hold up. And so, it wasn’t until after Lakeland that I committed fully, and tentatively asked on the Spartan Facebook page if anyone might be free to help me? I was actually a little overwhelmed at the response. So many people offered their time, their knowledge, their kit, their vehicles, and their well wishes. A WhatsApp group was set up, and suddenly it all got very real!
The morning dawned, grey and mizzley, but not cold. Standing at Moot Hall waiting for the clock to strike 8am, I was really anxious to just get going. June and Ellie were my Leg 1 crew, and Tim, JK and Chrispy had come out to see us off.
I didn’t really want the stress of trying to keep up with a time schedule, but when you’ve got people giving up their weekend to help, they need to know roughly when to expect you at various locations! So I had a 24hr schedule, and a 26+ hr. I was also wearing a tracker so people could see if I was way ahead or way behind.
Leg 1 – Keswick to Honister – 13 miles/3200ft
Runners – June & Ellie
Road support - JK
The countdown began, and finally we were on our way! Running out of the town centre I had to rein it in a bit – I didn’t want to be going any faster than 10 minute miles on this first, very runnable section. Keep it easy, save my legs and my lungs for the big climbs. It was about five miles of tarmac before finally hitting the trails and beginning the first big climb up to Robinson. It was pretty damp and claggy, but I was having a blast! My legs felt great and I had so much energy. I briefly pulled ahead of the ladies and soon lost them in the clag, but I could hear their laughter carrying across the fell, so I knew they weren’t far behind, and that they were having as much fun as I was!
There were only three tops to be had on this leg of around 13 miles, and we were soon descending down into Honister, where JK was waiting with water, snacks, and a dry top. A very quick turnaround here, and I was off again.
Leg 2 – Honister to Wasdale – 11 miles/6000ft
Runners – Tim & Chrispy
Road Support – Gareth P
It was raining steadily by this point, but we made great progress up the long, steep climb out of the car park, and I was still feeling fresh. In fact, I think this was my favorite Leg of the whole thing. We passed another group of runners coming the other way, they’d started their Bob the previous evening, going in the opposite direction to me, and so were just approaching their final Leg. I remember thinking, yep, I’m going to look that tired this time tomorrow!
This is quite a technical section, with a scramble up Green Gable, a steep, scree type descent off Great Gable, then the red gully that is the Kirk Fell descent (great photo opportunity here, it’s stunning!) All great fun, but none very quick. A short out and back to another fun top, Steeple, then a lovely long grassy descent to the start of the next climb. The final descent off Yewbarrow into Wasdale is definitely not fun though. Steep, loose, and tricky. I may have sworn loudly a few times as I lost my legs and had a few unplanned sit-downs 🙈
Arriving in Wasdale I was still feeling surprisingly good, and, even more surprisingly, ahead of the 24hr schedule! Another change of top here, a light lunch of rice pudding and custard, and off we went again.
Leg 3 – Wasdale to Dunmail – 16 miles/7000ft
Runners – Chris, Sarah and Luke (the only non-Spartan leg!)
Road Support – June
This section is make or break on anyone’s Bob. Whether you decide to go Clockwise or Anticlockwise, this is always the middle leg and it’s always a beast.
The long slog from Wasdale to the summit of Sca Fell, the second highest peak in England (not to be confused with Scafell Pike, that’s next) is just that. An immensely long, quite dull, slog. There’s no scenery to take your mind off it, you’ve got to just keep ploughing on. And this was where I felt the first signs of fatigue in my legs. It’s 3000ft of climbing in just 2.3 miles – by comparison, the Llanberis path up Snowdon is 4.5 miles and 3200ft….
1 hour and 21 minutes later, we finally summited. The wind had gotten up a bit by now, and it was cold, (although the rain had thankfully stopped) so we didn’t hang around up there. The descent down to Foxes Tarn was steep and greasy, with a stream flowing down it, but from there it was just a short climb up to Scafell Pike. I even managed to shake my legs back into a jog for a while. The next few tops were very slow. The terrain up here is very bouldery, and quite often there’s no real path to be found. Just pick your own line and go.
I was still enjoying myself but was acutely aware that my legs were really feeling it. There was still a long way to go! I was eating and drinking well, but now starting to get fussy about what I wanted to eat. The light began to fade just as we hit the really wet, boggy section from Rossett Pike, and with it my mood began to drop. My feet were cold and wet, the wind had really gotten up, and I suddenly couldn’t remember why I ever thought this was a good idea! My quads struggled with the steep, slippery descent down to Dunmail and it was such a relief to sit down in Junes warm van. Amy was here too, and she mentioned that I was still *just* on the 24hr schedule, but I knew I’d not keep up the required pace now.
I’d always planned to have something hot to eat here, and June duly had a Pot Noodle ready and waiting. Yet another change of top, and socks, a tactical can of Red Bull, and on to Leg 4.
Leg 4 – Dunmail to Threlkeld – 13 miles/5500ft
Runners – Chris (again) and Spartan Nigel
Road Support – Rachel and Andy
It was around 11.30pm when we set out on this Leg. Down in the valley at the support point it had felt quite mild, with no wind or rain, but as we climbed higher and higher, that began to change. As we were climbing it wasn’t too bad, but once we hit the ridgeline after Dollywaggon Pike, the wind really got up, and the rain began to come in sideways. I felt cold, and couldn’t move quickly enough to generate body heat. All my layers went on, and I was willing my legs to shuffle as fast as they could (my Ron Hill shakedry gortex jacket really came into it’s own this night)
Chris was chief navigator, and he went on ahead a little, as visibility was now poor and finding the correct peaks became a bit more of a challenge – up here they’re not big, obvious mountains – sometimes no more than a pile of stones next to a fairly level path. At one point I noticed that the rain was suddenly coming in from my left hand side, where previously it had been from my right. Somehow, in the rain and clag, we’d managed to do a complete U-turn and were now heading back towards Dunmail! Mistake soon rectified and we only lost a minute or two.
It was all I could do for the next few hours to keep shuffling behind Chris and Nigel, occasionally being prompted to eat or drink. I was struggling with both by now. Nige gave me a mint at some point, or was it Kendal Mint Cake? Or did I dream that? The sharp, fresh taste was delicious though, and just briefly lifted me out of my trance.
Finally, finally! We hit the Old Coach Road and from there just a short trek to Threlkeld Cricket Club and the final support point.
There were a lot of people here, but I couldn’t talk. June, absolute superstar that she is, could see I was struggling and just put me in the back of her van and shut the door. I put my head back and allowed myself a bit of a cry – fun fact – emotional crying is proven to release endorphins and relieve stress. And I really needed some feel-good help at this point!
I spent a little longer than planned here, but I needed it. Once I’d gathered myself together and was ready to go again, the day was beginning to dawn.
Leg 5 – Threlkeld to Keswick – 13miles/5000ft
Runners – June, Ellie, Clare, Rachel, Sarah
The party leg!
I was absolutely spent, but the joy and happiness and general entertainment from the ladies was just what I needed. I’d been worried that everyone would be a bit fed up with how slow I was going, but they all reassured me that they were just delighted to be there, and be involved! The weather Gods relented a little and gave us a beautiful sunrise as we headed up Blencathra, and there were some comedy moments as we made the river crossing. And at last, the final summit, Skiddaw. It’s about four miles of descent from there, but my quads couldn’t handle running on the first, steeper, half. But as we approached the Hawell Monument, the gradient began to ease and I managed to start shuffling again. Then run. The last couple of miles I thought I was flying, although it turns out I wasn’t quite that fast (or graceful) but nevertheless, I waddled up the ginnel and up the iconic steps and, after 27hrs 58 minutes, I put my hand on the door of Moot Hall.
I can confirm, it was the most amazing feeling 😁
Thank you so much Spartans;
June for being the best, most supportive friend and running partner, and always, always being up for an adventure!
Iain for all your help and advice, and loan of the maps and book.
Chrispy for the card that made me cry, again. It’s still in pride of place on my mantelpiece.
JK, Tim, Gareth, Nigel, Rachel, Ellie, Clare for all being fantastically enthusiastic support crew/runners.
And to everyone in the club for making up a club where the sky is the limit.
So, who’s next to do a Spartan Bob?