Saturday 15 July 2017

A Bob Graham Round

Spot the difference!
Moot Hall, Sunday 28th May 2017, 5am. This ain't no desert!
After MdS in April, there was no doubt that it was time for something different! The challenge and the experience of a week in the Moroccan sands was interesting, but I quite quickly concluded that it wasn’t really my sort of thing!
Having spent the following month mainly eating (ref : MdS), we headed up to the UK to visit family – the perfect opportunity therefore to shoe-up for a run round the Bob Graham Round. Not far from where I spent my first 18 years on this planet, and where my parents are still based today (when they’re not living out of their panniers), the BGR is a 66 mile circuit of 42 hills in the Lake District, founded by an energetic chap whose name the loop goes by. The challenge is to get round and over the 27000 feet of climbing in under 24 hours – over two thousand people have now done so and thus been granted membership of the Bob Graham Club. The speed records belong to Billy Bland: 13 hours 53 minutes, set when I was one year old (1982) and more recently (2016) Jasmin Paris: 15 hour 24 minutes. These times are both quite incredible! I expect Jasmin’s women’s record will probably stand for some time, and Billy’s has already stood for 35 years. That said, I don't believe Billy’s time to be completely unbeatable, it will just require a very very fit runner, with very very good route knowledge (or perfect guides) and very very good weather conditions. It was never on the cards for my May 2017 attempt. I'm nowhere near fit enough and have virtually no route knowledge, those being the first two obvious stumbling blocks.
As we already know, fell runners are a very friendly and helpful lot, and any excuse for a day on the hill is usually a good one. As such I found myself with a solid support crew for my day in the Lakes. Kim (Collinson) ran leg one with me, - on the basis that he’d be back home before breakfast and have time for a shower before work, Phil (Winskill) led me over the following twelve fells to Dunmail, Andy (Berry) guided me through the longest leg covering the fifteen summits into Wasdale, Bill (Williamson) aka the ultimate leg 4 guide made sure I didn’t loose an inch of indirect footing between Wasdale and Honister, where I met Steve (Birkinshaw) to sprint out the final three fells and the flat section into Keswick. Once again - a massive thanks to all five of you!
At each of the checkpoints I had the joy of being met by the ever lively and most motivating family support crew any BGRer can hope for!
The start of my Sunday round was wet and pretty horrible. Luckily Kim knew where he was going, so the map could stay tucked away and I just had to follow him up Skiddaw and through the heather to Blencathra. About mid-way through leg 3 the sky cleared up and the day turned into a good one. Energy-wise I was not mega fresh from the start, so rather than race it, I was mainly out to enjoy the Cumbrian scenery and the atmosphere of a BGR attempt. When Steve and I realised that no one had ever run a 16-hour BGR (either under 16 or over 17 hour completions only, apparently) we put the burners on, so as to not be the first to enter the 16-hour BGR club! Paced back into Keswick by my mum, son and then daughter for the final kilometers, I touched the wall of Moot hall 15 hours 58 minutes 49 seconds after leaving that  same building at 5am in the morning. It had been a good day out!
But now Fish and Chips were on my mind, as was a pint. Now you don’t get that at the end of a stage race in the desert do you!
I've since ditched the idea, but immediately after my BGR run I had been throwing the idea around of having another run round, later in the summer, and trying to go a lot faster. There’s definitely a fair margin for improvement there, at least 45 minutes of navigational optimisation and probably an hour of better fitness. Hence I don’t think the record’s totally unbeatable. If Kilian gets the route right and is lucky with the conditions he’ll probably surprise a few people with his time. But then there are the questions of “trail technology”. A few people say that if a "European" (and this column isn't for Brexshit chit chat) rocks up and runs round with poles then that’s not on and it's just not fair – Billy wouldn’t have had poles! I’m no grand fan of running with walking sticks (check this out if you don’t believe me : top tips for running with poles), but as a sport running is evolving and there’s little doubt that poles make you go faster up steep hills and over long distances. I don’t think it’s cheating, it's just annoying for anyone around you! And on that note the BGR is different to a race - you're not surrounded by loads of other runners whose eyes are subject to a poking if they're too close on the heels of a pole-ish runner. When it comes to fell running, in my mind there’s even more of a debate over watch technology. It’s now very easy to upload a gps line and follow that on your watch and/or phone. And if you don’t know where you’re going in the first place, having an arrow to follow will certainly make you go faster. Supporting a digital directional pointer on your wrist is not really in the ethics of fell running, where map and compass have historically been key fell tools, along with shorts and studs. Or a shed load of recces, if you really don't like the map. But what can you do about watch technology and satellites? You can’t make gps watches illegal on a fastest-known-time route can you? Well you can’t uphold such a rule in any case. Personally I didn’t use either poles or a gps line on my run, but I was out for a laugh and not a record. I have to say that if I was going out-and-out for the fastest time I’m capable of, I’d consider using both. Along with some springs in my shoes and a van driving 3 feet in front of me to take the wind off my face ;-)
Maybe next year for another run round then?

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