Andrew Cottiers Bob Graham Round, 15th July 2006, 1AM Start, Clockwise
25th Oct 2006
At the Moot Hall
The Bob Graham Round or BGR. A 72 mile tour of the lake district taking in 42 of the highest peaks with 28000 feet of climb. To be completed in under 24 hours, this is probably the classic endurance challenge.
Click here for details of the physical and technical challenges invloved.
Click here to see my schedule.
I had a crack at the BGR on the 17th June. It was a warm, humid day with mist on the tops in the morning and early evening. I suffered with a persistent muscular side stitch from early in leg 2 which worsened throughout, stopping running descents, then any running, then hampering my fast walking attempts. At Wasdale I was miles off schedule and threw in the towel. I was disappointed, but felt I had learnt a lot from the experience. I was a little embarrassed about letting down my support. This played on my mind a little on the build up to the 15th July attempt.
My last run prior to the attempt was not a confidence warmer. The 8 mile, gentle off road run didnt feel so easy, I got discomfort around my ribcage on a descent and after my Achilles and right knee were as sore as ever. Even my groin gave some twinges after. The previous week I had been presented with an opportunity to back out, when withdrawals from a couple of supporters meant I was short in several areas, I realised I was not feeling as fit as I thought I might. But I was greedy, I didnt want to wait a further two weeks, when the light would be worse and I may be even more de-trained. It was now or perhaps never, would I ever be in such fell running shape again ?
The whole of Friday was set aside to getting to Keswick, pitching camp and preparing kit, provisions. It should have been loads of time, but inevitably it all seemed a bit of a rush. This time I would have the support of four Dewsbury Road Runners. I had managed to assemble additional support from around the country at the last minute, this involved a lot of phone calls, but turned out to be a stunning success - viva le Interweb! So Russel turns up, followed by Ed somewhat before 10pm and my Leg 1 support is in place. Ed we have never met before, he is an ultra runner from Coventry, he has driven 250 miles to be here tonight ready to run in the dark up three mountains with some strange Dewsbury types - what a star! I settle down for an hour or so listening to Julian snore - an essential ritual. I shouldnt complain, the mystical maestro has given up his tent for Ed and is sleeping on the grass. I do complain though, I cant stand anyones snoring apart from my own! Soon it is midnight, and Im kitted out and worrying about stuff. I watch a spectacular moon rise over the hills to the east behind out tent with Russell, the stars are out too. Down to the Moot Hall, and we are getting the normal drunken hassle, even when going for a last minute pee. The night looks very clear, I am feeling tense - this time its just me.
Click Here to see some of the stages if you have Google Earth.
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Russel and Eds Stage 1 Route
Leg 1 : Make hay while the sun dont shine
Skiddaw, Great Calva, Blencathra
My thoughts were a bit jumbled before the off, but as my watch turned to 1AM and I hit the door, it soon become obvious that I was running very strongly. I stayed ahead all the way through to the bridle path, and felt like I was hardly pushing at all in the cool dry air. This really was my perfect running conditions, and the Skiddaw climb was also a good one for me, just like a steep road, not technical, not calf jangling. Soon I was worryingly up on Russ and Ed And Russ shouted for me to slow. I checked for a moment, but decided I really was comfortable with the pace and maintained it. Further up Jenkin Hill I thought they were closing on me. But on the long traverse around Little Man they were knowhere. And a tactical pee stop brought no signs, I could only see my breath in the perfectly still air. I started to get my head around the idea I was going to have to run the whole stage navigating myself and with no water. The good news is, on crossing the Skiddaw ridge, and vaulting the fence, I can see Hare Crag in the bright moonlight. This makes orientation easy, and this time its straight onto the path I found the first time I recced this in the day. A grassy quad bike track, leads to a peaty and boggy thin black path thought the heather - its much wetter underfoot than I would have imagined. The path is sometimes not 100% clear, but I stick to its little meanderings around grassy buffs, and soon Im at rock corner, so I know where I am. A short traverse brings me to the bridge, and behind I see a pair of lights a long way off. Up Calva, I stray a couple of times on the lower path, and the heather seems very high but soon the path is zeroing in on the summit, and the rocky ridge is a doddle in my new shoes.
My confidence is up a bit as I take a bearing for Foule Crag, but I can see it pretty well in the up and coming dawn. The river crossing is a little hairy though, with some uneven grass causing a slip, and nasty bog on the other side. The slog up the brow doesnt seem so bad, and behind I see the others contouring around Calva, but they must be half an hour behind, I guess they are snarled up in horrid heather. Up onto the common, and his time I can see the path, and hit it bang on. Its not long till Im up on the ridge and the torch is in my pocket, this time Halls Fell is dry and well lit, but I still dont like it, and go careful for the first section. Lower down, I notice my shoes struggling with the grass and have to ease off to be careful. I stick to the rocky path, the shoes feel nice and comfy. And as I bound down through Threlkeld, I feel pleased to have got myself though that, I had visions of having to drop out for one reason or another. But Im just in need of liquid.
Schedule leg time : 3h51m, Actual leg time 3h34m
Schedule ETA : 04:51. Actual TA 04:34
Leg 2 : Sickness shows us what we are
Clough Head, Great Dodd, Watsons Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, White Side, Helvellyn Low Man, Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike, Dollywagon Pike, Fairfield, Seat Sandal
I cruised into the Threlkeld checkpoint thirsty, and growling a bit. My support quietly and rapidly did there job, and I necked as much liquid as I could. Craig and his Keswick colleagues were all there, I was to run with 4 on this stage. Craig seemed concerned over my pace, which was around a 21 hour schedule at present. I am introduced to the team - Julia, Sarah and Guy - And they are all friendly and helpful, Keswick AC must be a great club to run for. But I just felt sick all the way up Clough head, and with the sun coming through, the heat started to pick up. The mist was still patchy on the valley floor, and our line up was good and more direct. I was wary of the downhills, and of getting the cursed stitch - but although they didnt feel entirely comfortable, I was aware my body was bearing up better. We cruised through the Dodds, as I drank as much as I could there was not a soul around on this stunning morning. I didnt think a great deal, and made some basic chit chat, the sickness was fairly persistent and I was reluctant to eat any solids. We were soon at Helvellyn, and then down Dollywagons grassy side I remembered how shocking I felt on that descent last time around. Not today as I picked my way down the nasty steep bit. Fairfield and Sandal quickly passed, and soon I was coming down the nasty scrappy descent off the front of Sandal all excited about meeting up with another mystery bunch of pacers and my support team, with the sunny day really powering up.
Schedule leg time : 3h58m, Actual leg time 3h49m
Schedule ETA : 08:54. Actual TA 08:29
A pic from my solo Recce trip
Leg 3 : Histrionics in Dunmail
Steel Fell, Calf Crag, Sergeant Man, High Raise, Thunacar Knott, Harrison Stickle, Pike OStickle, Rossett Crag, Bowfell, Esk Pike, Great End, Ill Crag, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike, Scafell
I got introduced to everyone David, Paula, Jake they were a great bunch these Helm Hill people. Dai is doing his usual job of trying to coerce me to eat beans, and Im doing my normal job giving him dirty looks. I drink a lot, but dont eat much. This time I drink rehydration sachets as well, and my safari hat goes into position. Im in the shade behind Dais car, Dai makes a friendly comment and I almost burst into tears, then it happens with Julian and Paula! I hold it back, and worry a bit - am I in a state ? I cant face blubbing for two minutes and confusing my pacers, so I get up ready for the off.
Steel Fell goes steady in strengthening sun, but my sickness diminishes, and I start to feel OK - I chat to the others a bit as we dont know each other, and even up to Sergeant Man things seem OK. But I start to dry up a little, and on the accent to Harrison, I suddenly get that kitten weakness feeling. All my natural reserves are gone, and Im down to what my gut can extract in the way of carbs and fat burn. All my endurance training has given me 10 hours of run, now it felt like I had shifted into an unpleasant discomfort zone. Not eating enough means it is mainly all fat burn, which only supplies limited power. I find myself wanting to run faster, my legs willing, but waves of feeble exhaustion stopping me. I have been in this state before though, and although it feels horrible, and your body is signalling that you really ought not to be doing this, being there a few times before helps you cope with it.
The sun now is also requiring more of my resources to keep me from burning up. It becomes a real battle, I get a little tetchy with my support, barking instructions at them but they seem fine with this. Its a grind over to Pike'O where I pass another BG attempt, then a big slog to Rossett - my most unfavoured stretch being the horrid ridge. Then we pick a dodgy line to Bowfell, which I was amazed to hit the schedule on.
Now we run this rocky arid moonscape of central lakeland. The valleys plunge off to the left and right, tricky boulder fields follow tricky bouldery scrambles, the sun seems relentless - I push, and we are hitting the schedule.
My support are behaving intelligently, David is shepherding me to the peaks, whilst the others re-stock water and scout out ahead - its a superb effort, and knowone seems to mind my increasingly tetchy temperament. They go ahead at Esk Hause to Broad Stand to ask if another contenders rope party can hang around for us. And its a yes! Me and David knock off the Pikes, and saunter down to Fat Mans Agony, I have to pee, and it had to be there Im afraid - sorry campers, there aint no bushes. I get through the narrow crack with relative ease to be confronted by Broad Stand, a thick pink knotted rope, and a friendly young lady. Now its time for that little scary rock climb. With helpful instructions I could just pull myself up both parts, bodging myself up onto the final platform mainly on just arm pull. Then Paula, and Jake lead me up a gully to the Scafell summit ridge - what a result! But I dont feel elated, just still in the discomfort zone and very keen to get to Wasdale.
I had joked to Paula earlier that I was visualising Wasdale as the end, with stage 4 as a recovery run, and 5 a jog back to Keswick. I was still clinging to this a bit. Wasdale was the end, sort of. We begin our decent to Wasdale, and this time the paths just dont seem so clear as before.
I hear Paula call my name behind me, I instantly speed up sensing she is trying to feed a bar to me - the insanity of running away from my support to avoid necessary nutrition is comical. Now with every 100 ft of drop the heat increases, and the stitch does to, it becomes a pretty feeble saunter down the grassy tongue to the path, and my distress levels are peaking. But Im just pleased to be finished.
All the support crew are in good spirits, smiling and laughing, and they get to work on me, cool towel on the head, shoe change, massage of shoulders and legs to everyones amusement courtesy of Jules. Dai is still the Beans man, and he breaks me, I have a go, and quite like them. Marmite down, Rehydration down, coffee, smoothie, ibuprofen, I try and thank everyone, before staggering up, for what I have a pretty good idea is going to be hell.
Schedule leg time : 6h05m, Actual leg time 6h22m
Schedule ETA : 15:14. Actual TA 15:10
A GPS plot for leg 5
Leg 4 : I dont do hot!
Yewbarrow, Red Pike, Steeple, Pillar, Kirk Fell, Great Gable, Green Gable, Brandreth, Grey Knotts
As I have often remarked to club mates, Im no fan of warm conditions - In fact, I could not be happier running around in a thin vest into a December wind. Now, if you would excuse my language, where the **** is that December wind ?
This time I was not looking forward to Yewbarrow, and I walked up to the base nervously in the fierce sun. I had to stop 3 times, and it just seemed never ending but I kept telling myself this is the last big climb. On and on I trudged, with Pete and Paul lying about how the gradient was about to slacken off several times but at least it helped keep my mind occupied.
I had forgotten my safari hat, so I felt like the sun was sitting on my back. By this point an autopilot had sort of set in for this stage, my brain was telling me I didnt need food or water now, and I was just ignoring it, drinking loads but still only just eating. The lads relentlessly prompted me to eat/drink, and by now I knew the discomfort of my body wasnt going away.
Traversing back from Steeple I had one of those curious moments of reprise, which seem laced with mystique. Ive always thought the Lakes to be particularly beautiful when bathed in evening sunshine. And on a daywalk in June 1996, a bog basic trawl up to Scafell Pike and back down to Seathwaite, I and my then girlfriend got a little lost on the corridor route, and out late start saw us seemingly alone in the evening sun looking west to the inviting Wasdale.
Waswater shimmered in the evening sun, with all the tributaries lit up like glowing veins against the deep emerald bowl of the valley. The greens accentuated by the shining water and the angle of the sun, the sky a perfect blue - a vision from heaven. It all looked so inviting, but it was wrong. We were new to fell walking and out of shape, thus very tired by now. Sarah had twisted her ankle near Piers Gill, we had a crap novelty tourist map and no knowledge of the area - it was a slightly serious predicament. And as we trudged on looking for the path, I kept looking at Wasdale, so alluring that it was sinister, it had to be ignored. I yearned inside to trot down towards its patchwork of emerald pastures and lose myself.
This time it was Ennerdale, the mere shimmering in the far distance, the feeling that the sun is starting to run out and you are somewhere you shouldnt be, the feeling things arent quite real. The bowl shape of the valley floor just looking too perfect, the shimmering colours too strong and contrasting, the curious feelings of solitude. At the time I did not dwell on this at all, I knew the biggest test was coming.
Around to Pillar, I just prepared for Kirk Fell and Gable, I just kept thinking Focus - must Focus, must do it. I also imagined a grid of 42 numbers with the completed peak numbers boxed, and the next peak flashing as a work in progress. I knew things were ropey, and I had to stop the rot, climb those two heaps of crap and run the Gable ridge - I just had to do it.
It is an old Dewsbury custom to visit Bolloc Crag after Steeple, which I did with the obligatory curse. At Black Sail I felt it was in the balance, and Im sure the lads were getting concerned. But the Kirk Fell climb was mainly in shade, and split into three parts it seemed fine. Now we were on Gable, and it was just slog again, thinking this is the last hard climb, but the last three peaks didnt seem that easy either - Ok, Grey Knotts was. The stitch barked on the Honister descent, but this time I almost willed it away, and managed an ok-ish pace. What an ordeal that leg was, I hadnt really thought or said much on that leg the memory of it is just a blur of sun, distress and worry.
Schedule leg time : 4h51m, Actual leg time 5h35m
Schedule ETA : 20:25. Actual TA 21:03
Leg 5 - 'Lets Blow this thing and go home!'
Dale Head, Hindscarth, Robinson
All I could think of now was my need to nail Dale Head and to press on. I felt totally focused on just banging this in. I knew we had under four hours left, and I was sure Russell said he did it in over four. I ask Jules how long he took for the leg, 'To be honest I cant remember' he lies in reply. Git! - I think, I drink and eat what I can and set off with Jules and Ed. I wasnt sure if Ed was going to be here, or if Jules was recovered enough to run this. My doubts were groundless, the whole leg was relentless, error free, perfect. Ed fed me, and covered for Jules when he stopped to beat up his rucksack. Jules forged ahead and maintained a strong pace along the whole route. And as the long climb progressed, I suddenly felt much better - of course! No sun! It is down, and now what do we have? A cool breeze! It was like having energy blown into me, at one point it was cold enough to make me shiver, but that felt wonderful - the cloud of intense distress had eased. The three peaks were easily knocked off, running all the way, and by now it was dark, and the torches were on. Robinsons crags seemed easier than in the light, and no backtracking was needed, we just threw ourselves down. Then the tree appeared which meant all difficulties were over. Julian was shouting about the tree, Me and Ed were sliding on our backsides down the grassy slope to the path. Ed said it was cheating.
Now we undertook the spooky, starlit traverse of the track which seemed to be a lot longer than normal. Julian disappears, and seemed to be talking to a strange bloke in a car. I lose my rag as I wasnt sure if it was left or right at the T-junction, but no, the strange man is Dai, and resurgent superstar Julian ran ahead to change his shoes.
I have some coffee, and pick up supplies from a tired looking Dai - He has been on the go all day to, top man. Then we run the Newlands roads, I see a sign for Keswick saying 3 miles, surely an hour in hand will cover this? But something in me keeps on blocking me from being distracted, what about if stitch sets in for good? Run while you can! On the high street I put on a spurt before slamming the Moot Hall door at 12.19AM.
A muted Yes!, and I sit on the step, getting mild hassle from various boozed up people. Two ladies seem interested in my endurance abilities, but Ed kindly tells them Im not much use to them now. I dont think they noticed that I was covered in salt, blood, sweat, mud and god knows what else, and that I must smell like an orang-utans posing pouch - but thats the beauty of beer.
Schedule leg time : 2h51m, Actual leg time 3h06m
Schedule ETA : 23:30. Actual TA 00:19
Home to the campsite, via being stopped by the police in Dai's car, and I enjoy 2 sips of water before passing out in my bag. I wasnt capable of changing my clothes or anything. Any future BGR contender will do well to think about whether the logistics of campsites are suited to them when they have finished. Would you be able to cross a cold and damp campsite to the toilet at 2 am? I had raging thirsts, and toilet needs as my kidneys dealt with my horribly polluted blood, and walking was out as my legs seized up. And the cold was doubly out, as the shivers struck. All I could manage was to lever the old man out of the front porch and hoop it out next to someones Ford Focus. The sound would have been obvious, it was silent apart from the splish splash. I hope knowone really minded.
The next day is beautiful too, its a shame to pack up and leave. Driving home reminded me of being on the round again, trying to hang in without passing out! Blisteringly hot, at least the roads were quiet with everyone normal enjoying the day.
My Support Team
Many thanks are due to my superb support team, who toiled with me over the peaks, drove from checkpoint to checkpoint and/or kept me going with kit changes, food and drink. I hope they didnt mind my acerbic commands, bad language and general grizzlieness. Thanks are also due to all those who helped me train for this, giving up weekends of their valuable time I owe them a great debt of gratitude.
Leg 1 Russel Thomas & Ed Milborn
Leg 2 Craig Dring, Julia Tucker, Sarah Henderson, Guy
Leg 3 Paula Lernelius, David White, Jake Morgan
Leg 4 Paul Conway & Peter Hill
Leg 5 Julian Lusardi & Ed Milborn
Roaming Car Support : David Hill & Julian Lusardi
For assistance with training, and my previous failed attempt:
Andrew Meskimmon, David Hinchcliffe, David Binns, David Smith, Monique Hollinshead, David Cooper 2, Treena Johnson, Bernard Disken, Martin Kaye , Kevin Hill, Graham Johnson, Bryan White.
Thanks also to Dewsbury Road Runners.
Five Days On
Its hard to describe my thoughts on the Bob Graham Experience. I have read accounts of people enjoying lots of it, having bursts of emotion at certain points, and they dont fit in with my feelings for the day. Its the finest day out you will have on british hills I have heard this many times. Finest must mean something different in the fell running community.
My first ever fell race was Borrowdale, and it was a baptism of fire. I had trained for it (a bit), doing some tough off road runs with plenty of hills in and around Dewsbury, and now I lined up on a hot August day in 2004, nervous and excited. But no local trails can prepare you for the brutal assault of Bessy Boot, then the bog and rock of the tricky traverse to Esk Hause, then the boulder fields to Scafell Pike. My morale, by now blooded and on the ropes, was about to be floored as I followed a proper fell runner into a crazily steep scree shute and almost froze on the stones while what seemed like 100 runners surfed past me with boulders flying everywhere. The final straw was early on the corridor route when a stocky, even podgy man with a grey microphone haircut sailed past me - now I spat the dummy out. The whole route to Gable I was muttering under my breath 'This isnt bloody running'. 'f***ing ridiculous', 'I am NEVER doing ANYTHING like this crap again' - over and over again. After Gable though, I started to hold my position, even overtake for the first time, and things improved a bit to Honister. Then going up and down Dale Head I started overtaking lots of people, and even Grey Microphone (who now looked in a bad state) was passed. 'Well, Im not doing this again, but I might try a different fell race' I thought. After splashing through the river came the ectasy of lying on the grass near the finish line in the beautiful evening sun. 'That was great', I thought. Later in the beer tent this became 'What a day! I am doing that again!'. And now all I have is happy memories of that day, throwing myself like a starfish in the beck at Honister to drink litres of water. Trying to apply the brakes approaching a style near Dalehead Tarn and getting no response, then somersaulting over it to laughter and applause from bemused onlookers. Comments like 'Madness' as I passed walkers. The dazzling sun, silvery streams, the hordes of people camped out at Sty Head.
My BG round doesnt feel nearly as romantic as this, it still does register in my mind as a terrific ordeal. Its hard to describe the feelings of acute distress I felt most of the way from 11 AM to 9 PM, now and again there was the odd event to raise the spirits such as getting up Broad Stand, but then it was quickly back to the mental battle, firmly in the dis-comfort zone, all the time prodding myself to press, press, press. Drink after drink after drink into my sick stomach. And along stage 4 I realised, to my body's horror, that I would have to raise my game. And for three hours or so, I commanded myself to focus and press even more, in a frightful mental haze. And even when I was coming out of that horrible mindscape, with the evening cooling and my strength returning, my mindset was stuck - any fluffy thought was shot down, with a mental prompt 'Keep the pace up! Have a drink! Even though you feel sick!'. No pleasantries, just a relentless pursuit of Keswick. My memories of the support team are so positive though, smiling happy and excited faces at the checkpoints. Laughter and chit-chat, lots of jokes, especially in Wasdale where Jules gave me a comical shoulder and leg massage, while I groaned with pleasure. Paul and Peter were almost like a comedy double act on Leg 4.
All the skill, organisation, brainwork and guile was provided by the support team. Whilst I was akin to a malfunctioning engine, they had to keep running for 72 miles, now and again barking at them and requiring constant TLC. The good humour and fun for myself was pretty minimal. And even on the final sprint up to the Moot Hall didnt dislodge my grim mindset. I have been able to think of little more than the BGR for the last 5 days, however. I have a feeling the mental patterns blazed into place on that sweltering Saturday will be here for a long, long time.
How Long ? How High ?
There a lot of articles on the Bob Graham which describe it between 61 and 74 miles in length, with 25000 to 29500 ft of climb. Some quote mapping software, usually giver lower figures and I dont quite no where the longer figures are taken from, the distances on the leg profiles on the official Bob Graham site are just plain wrong, far too long, as are other sites stating with certainty that its 61 or 62 miles. Its simple science really, and using a GPS and altimeter on repeated recce missions, and verifying this with other peoples data I would say with some certainty the figures are :-
Distance 67 miles +/- 1 miles
Height Gained 27500 feet +/- 500 feet
And the error margins are generous here.
How the larger figures were computed, god only knows. As for the shorter ones, I would suggest that people have under-estimated how complex the route is at times to find the most efficient racing line, and this is not clear on a map, or mapping software where the paths shown are often only indicative.
Post Match Analysis
- Used Inov8 F-lite 250s on the whole event, changed socks every stage, with Neutrogena applied to soles of feet. Felt far more comfy than in Walshes, my feet were OK afterwards apart from two blackened nails. The Flites made a big difference I am sure.
- At every checkpoint I had marmite drink, rehydration sachets and SIS Rego. I am very prone to cramp, especially in hot weather. On my first attempt the onset of cramp started at the end of Leg 2. This time, in hotter weather, I had no cramp whatsoever, which was incredible.
- I didnt eat enough and trusted too much what my brain was telling me. If I was to do it again I would force myself to eat things from the middle of Leg 1 onwards - I would look into something I could take to reduce stomach sickness.
- I had too much sugar, and too much acid in my intake. You need quite a pH neutral intake I believe, and glucose is much easier on the stomach than sucrose.
- Starting later than 12PM has advantages for making Leg 1 more straight forward.
- Having at least three people on a leg gives advantages, you certainly need at least two.
- I did not do enough practice at descending - this is very tough on your body, and one symptom I got from it on the day was stitch. If I was to do it again then I would do downhill training sessions, where as normal I just push on the uphills in training.
- I think I needed more practice at ultra events. Running the entire Leeds Country Way (63 miles in 13 hours) was good, but apart from that my longest outing was 7 hours. A few 100k long distance walking events might have been useful.
- Support is crucial, its best to view the thing as a team event. Every extra bit of experience, brain and leg power that can be brought in to assist you will save you large wedges of time. Skimping on your support is as bad as skimping on training.
Time delays caused by none-optimal routing I estimate as
Leg 1 - 3 mins
Leg 2 - 0 mins
Leg 3 - 16 mins
Leg 4 - 12 mins
Leg 5 - 10 mins
TOTAL - 41 mins
Time lost to stitch - 20 mins
Song which played the whole day in my head - Pulp, She's A Lady (?)
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