9.5 miles 5,500 ft
The Joss Naylor Challenge is an age based long distance Fell challenge. The age category for Leigh 50-60, meant he had 12 hours to complete the run. It is a linear route going roughly from the North East lakes, starting at Pooley Bridge, to the South East Lakes finishing in Wasdale at Greendale Bridge. The route traverses all the significant mountain tops on this line giving statistics of 32 miles and 14,000 ft. I had some time earlier agreed to assist Leigh on his atempt and agreed to meet him on his final leg, starting at Sty Head.
I parked in Wasdale and walked up to Sty Head. It is a walk of about an hour. On the way up I felt ill and had to take an impromptu toilet break on the side of Great Gable. This is something I always try and avoid but the desperate need to go was overwhelming and would be a pre-cursor to how I would feel later on in the day. I arrived at Stye head after my "comfort break" to meet Richard Mellon, he was the other helper on this section. Then to my surprise Joss Naylor arrived, we exchanged a few brief words and he carefully made off for Esk Hause to finish his walk, and probably spot Leigh coming off Great End.
Before long Leigh arrived, I was expecting him to take a break, but he took 1 swig of water then carried on. So Richard and I bounded off and tried to catch him as he made a rapid ascent of Great Gable. On the way up he was talking about beating Nick Hewitt's record (a fellow Bowland runner). It looked like he had every chance. However Im glad he slowed down a touch by the top; a chance for me to get my breath back.
We traversed Kirk Fell, Pillar and Steeple at a good pace. But by the time we got to Haycock I was feeling it. I knew now that I may have trouble keeping up. I struggled to keep up, up Seatallan and descending to the col I was losing ground and feeling rough. They disappeared inexorably into the distance on the way up Middle Fell. I struggled up feeling that I was going backwards. I think I left all my energy at home, or on the side of Great Gable. Leigh had increased the pace but normally I would keep up. Even meeting Ian Roberts on the descent, and him relieving me of my rucksack didn't make a difference I still couldn't catch them. So unfortunately I could not witness Leigh breaking the record.
I struggled down and eventually reached the gathering crowd of support to congratulate Leigh on a fine effort. I also noted that for the second time of the day I was in the presence of a hero of mine. Iron Joss was their to congratulate Leigh on completing his round.
On the way home I felt rough and had to pull over in the car to make another "comfort break". This wasn't my day, I think I had a stomach bug which stripped me of my energy. Never mind it was good to help for at least part of the record anyway.
Leg 3 the short one about 4.5 miles and 1,450 ft
82% Covered approx 55 miles 23,000 ft
After completing the Bob Graham Round, I spent a while trying to figure out what was next. I eventually decided on doing the “big 3”. The Bob Graham, Paddy Buckley and the Charlie Ramsay's round.
I was asked to help out with Alan Duncan’s attempt which was scheduled for August 11th. I decided to do the first 3 legs and have my first look at the Paddy Buckley round for the following year.(starting at Pont cae'r-gors and finishing at Capel Curig). In the intervening weeks I decided to have a go at it myself. Without the pressure of it being my round, and the only problem being to keep up, I felt relaxed about the idea. I set off for Wales on a sunny Friday evening, with one of the helpers, Chris Reade, as a passenger.
We had a nap at Pont cae'r-gors, then at around 22:00hrs we introduced ourselves to the other helpers. At this point we noticed some head torches on Craig Wen, we would later discover that this was Bill Williamson, on his 2nd leg with Iain Ridgeway, on what was to be his successful round. After a couple of group photos, at 23:30hrs we headed off for the first peak, Craig Wen.
I was literally guided around the first section to Llanberis, as I was the rest of the route. I had no idea where I was going and totally trusted Alan Duncan and his helpers. Around about Moel Ellio I noticed that at times Alan was going so fast I was struggling to keep my effort within the comfort zone, and at other times I was waiting for him. This was down to the cold that he had already mentioned before the start.
A quick stop at Llanberis and a strange early morning chat with Bill. He told me that he had, had a hard time keeping up with Iain as he had been with him since his start point of Aberglaslyn, and alone with him since Pont cae'r-gors. I would find later that he was also going at a rapid pace, 21 30mins for his round. We headed off up to the Elidirs and and Alan struggled up the inclines. This was the first time that Alan complained of his cold sweats and his need to dig in at times. We carried on with Alan going fast then slow until half way along the Boundary ridge. By now the time was 13:30 pm and we were with Rob Woodall, Ray Baines and Neil Shepard. We were a good way into the round, and Rob mentioned splitting up. This had been mentioned much earlier in the day, but I was reluctant as this was Alan Duncans round. I knew that splitting up would take some of the support away from him. But Rob said that at we were loosing time and that to have any chance of getting in under 24 hours we would have to start moving faster. He asked me the question, just as we were pulling away from Alan, "do you think you can go any faster?" I knew what the question meant and after a while I replied yes. He then shouted to Alan Duncan, Ray Baines and Neil Shepard. Alan Duncan Replied, "carry on". So we did. We went at a fairly good pace and, instead of continuously loosing time, we started to gain bits here and there on the 23 hour schedule. At the quarry Yiannis met us and told Huw and Moo to join us on the Moelwyns. This lifted spirits, as it was like a mobile karaoke session, they were singing all the way. We ran well and I felt good until coming off cnicht I felt pains in my left knee. I would later learn that this was an ITB strain (3 weeks off running afterwards). As we approached Aberglaslyn, on the long run off Cnicht the clouds seamed to close in from nowhere (see the 2 photos taken 10 mins apart). By the time we reached Aberglaslyn it had started to rain.
I ate a tin of Rice pudding whilst being instructed by Wynn to dig in. Wynn patched my feet up, and I was off. A quick calculation told me I had 4 hours 19 mins to complete the route inside 24 hours. I knew it would be tight. With darkness coming early due to the thick clouds, visibility worsening and the wind picking up, it was looking unlikely. We headed up through the shelter of Aberglaslyn woods. Then on reaching the open ground, and the full force of the elements, we ground to a halt. The map came out as Duncan and Lawrie puzzled over the route. We thought that we had made a catastrophic mistake, we had actually made an error that, had we known, would only have cost about 10 mins. After a while of feeling cold in the wind and rain I called off my attempt. We returned down through the woods. They both felt guilty about the error, and were still puzzled as to what they had done wrong. (we had turned up through the woods too early) I told them that the attempt failed because of me. I did not put the ground work in that is needed, like I did for the BG and took a chance on being guided around. I was the one to blame for not knowing the route.
When we got back to Wynn at the car (only 10 mins away) we explained, and waited in worsening weather for Alan Duncan to arrive. After a while (about 10 mins I think) he arrived and although he felt rough and the weather was turning nasty he vowed to continue. He did and that night the weather was awful. Back at the bunkhouses I counted my blessings at having, decided to leave the round as unfinished business. The rain and wind was serious in the valley. God knows how bad it was on the tops. Alan braved all this to finish in about 27 ish hours. Reports the next day confirmed that it was every bit as bad as I imagined. It was a truly heroic effort by him, and a fantastic effort by those guys that helped him on that last leg.
Travelling back home the next day I reminiscing about the "if onlys". But I vowed to do the ground work and visit Wales frequently in the intervening months prior to my next attempt next summer.
66 miles 27,000 ft
The next challenge had been in my thoughts for two and a half years, since about early 2006, this was also about 6 months before I completed the Tour of Mont Blanc. The challenge I had set myself was to become a member of the “Bob Graham 24 Hour Club”. Entry to this club is free and everyone is welcome to join, the only condition is that you have to complete the Bob Graham Round on foot in less than 24 hours.
In June 1932 Bob Graham set a new record for a 24 hour Lake District fell round. He traversed 42 of the highest peaks in England (1 for each year of his life) in a large clockwise circuit starting and finishing at the Moot Hall in Keswick. The round included 65 miles of travel and 26,000 feet of climbing on England’s roughest peaks. It took him 23 hours and 39 minutes to complete. Many tried to repeat the round but all failed until in 1960 Alan Heaton managed it. Since then a trickle has become a steady stream of successful completions. There are now (June 2007) about 1350 members. The club was formed in 1971 to help with attempts, and to acknowledge the achievements of each successful round. The membership certificates for any successful round are handed out at a Biennial dinner held in the Shap Wells Hotel in Cumbria.
The Bob Graham Round Map Wasdale on the day
My attempt on the round was set for the 23rd of June 2007 starting at Midnight. I was to attempt the round in the same way that Bob Graham did, minus the boiled eggs and Pyjama jacket. In that I was going to have 2 or 3 pacers on each of the five legs, and support at each of the 4 road crossings. The road crossings carve the route into the 5 legs. The pacers would navigate for me and carry any clothes food and water that I needed. So I had the luxury of running free. This was to prove a greater feeling than I ever anticipated, as all my training was done with a fairly weighty rucksack on. They would also ratify my attempt by noting all the summit times. My road support Mark and Ken were briefed and all 11 of my running helpers would be good to go at the start of their relevant sections, Alistair was ready to go up over Sca Fell and drop a rope off the top of an exposed rock face called Broad Stand. Everything, including myself, was ready.
I touched the door of the Moot Hall just before midnight. There are three other contenders doing the same, this is unusual but tonight was to be a busy night for attempt, 12 in all. It turned midnight, and we are off down a small alleyway nudging past the Keswick drinkers and off into the night to head up the longest ascent of the round, 2800 feet up Skiddaw. After all the anticipation and worry we were off and it felt good to be moving at last. The first 3 peaks were in the dead of night and this is probably a good thing as they take a long time (4 hours) and are very arduous. Boggy ditches and heather make up a lot of it and it is tough to move at any speed. At least the weather was good, cloudy but gladly not windy. Good conversation with my 3 helpers took my mind off it though. I remember Steve Cliff saying that he had a 95% success rate of attempts he had supported. This thought resonated in my head all the way around. I did not want to ruin that statistic. Soon we descended a very slippery Halls Fell ridge. Yiannis slipped almost straight away and I noted this as a danger sign (he has after all done 60 peaks at 60 years of age!!!). It was extreme caution from here until Threlkeld. Soon enough I was sat in the camping chair, with a bowl of porridge and banana, for my first rest. I was simply told “eat” by Wynn Cliff. She along with Steve has supported over 50 attempts. My good friends Ken and Mark (father and son) were my official road support and were shocked by the abruptness, but went with it.
Five minutes of scoffing food and I was off with 2 fresh runners. Fresh conversations amused me until a few slight navigational errors in thick mist, whilst traversing the Dodds and Helvelyn ridge, interrupted proceedings, a quick correction and we were back on course. But it didn’t matter we made time up on the section and were going well. On our decent of Fairfield we passed group after group as they started their ascent to this14th peak. It felt good to be ahead of them. Soon enough we were at the next rest point. I had a full change of kit then a bacon bun whilst watching the other groups descend a bad line down Seat sandal. After what seamed like 1 minute, 15 minutes had elapsed and with 2 fresh pacers; one of them the reigning Bowland Club champion; we were off up Steel Fell. The peaks were traversed without incident and it felt like a nice day out in the hills until we went wrong on the approach to Sca Fell Pike, after a slight worry we were back on track and not too much time was lost. However we did lose a bit of time on the queue up Broad Stand. I wasn’t too bothered; I simply had a rest and a Chat with Alistair. We lost more time on the ensuing slippery scramble up to Sca Fell summit, but made this up on an excellent scree shoot whilst descending into Wasdale.
Back in the chair and a good foot soak and some stew courtesy of Mark and Ken. Then 3 fresh pacers joined me up Yewbarrow. By now I was 42 minutes up on a 23 hour 32 mins schedule. The next leg, leg 4 gave me a slight mental block. As it was here on my last leg 4 reconnoitre, I suffered badly from heat stroke. I did a few things wrong and was caught out by an unusually hot April day. This created a slight crack in my mental foundations. But I felt fresh, and on the long steep hard slog up Yewbarrow I brushed this slight doubt to one side. Even when we got slightly lost on the decent of Kirk Fell, I never considered that I would not finish the round. I should mention the trick that was played on me on this leg. All the way around I was told how much I was up on the schedule, on this entire leg this information was withheld. It worked I got to Honnister pass and sat in the chair to be told I was 1 hour 11 minutes up on a 23 h 32 schedule. Apparently it was at this point that I said “It is in the bag”. In all honesty I had thought this about 2 hours earlier.
After gulping some Rice Pudding down I took an Ibuprofen for my slight niggling foot injury. Then it was off to do the easy section. Just 3 simple peaks and a 6 mile road run between me and my membership. So Mike, Bill (who had also done the previous leg with me) and Bracken the dog set off to complete the job. No problems completing the last 3 peaks and we met Mark and Ken at the road to switch to road running shoes. It felt like I had springs on my feet, and made for a comfy jog towards Keswick. As dusk settled in and I closed in on the town centre I reminisced about all the reconnoitre sessions I had done and how I had enjoyed them. I switched my brain back to reality just in time to focus on a short run up the main street. We were clapped and cheered by other support crews and drinkers for the final 50 metres. The Moot Hall was touched again 22 hours and 7 minutes after leaving it. I had done it! The joy is hard to put into words. But to say that the day was magical is not to overstate how I felt about it.
Some photos were taken. Then we spent a short while chatting to the mainly bemused general public. We then moved to one side to let another finisher enjoy their moment. Despite other team’s attempts to be the first finishers of the day, we in our ignorance of this fact were anyway! After a quick drink with Ken, Mark, Mike and Bill I decided that was enough for me for 1 day and went to bed. Luckily in the kings Head Hotel about 20 yards away. Thanks to everyone that made it such a special day.