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.