Supporting a Bob Graham Round

Supporting a Bob Graham Round

Our MD Jon recounts his experiences of supporting runners attempting the Bob Graham Round earlier this year.

Part of me hoped they wouldn’t make it to Wasdale, or if they did, then it would be the end of the adventure and it wouldn’t be on me to navigate and pace them through leg four of the Bob Graham Round and get them to Honister on schedule. As the time ticked by, binoculars firmly pointed at Scafell, it started looking like my wish would come true.

The thing with these big running challenges is you really do need support, and traditionally the Bob Graham Round – 42 peaks across 66-ish miles of the Lake District in under 24 hours – needs a lot of support. Indeed, I had nine supporters and I only got as far as Honister. Traditionally, the way you get support is by supporting others, either as the navigator – the boss of each leg – or the pacer, who is reserved for the less cranially developed of the team, is usually called the mule, with their only job being to not to fall behind, and to hand snacks and drinks out to the increasingly reluctant runners. I always considered myself too bright to be a pacer, but the truth of the matter is I’m just too slow and can’t be trusted with food. Navigation seemed an option but I’m no stranger to the scenic detour. A dilemma you might say. 

We waited. We were looking for three runners and their nav. Two runners did appear in more or less the right place, something I was secretly pleased with as ‘more or less’ was the best I had on offer. Even more pleasing was that we were now well past the scheduled time for completing leg three, and at best two people were missing. It was starting to look like a pub lunch and my nav skills weren’t going to be tested. After the drama of the approach that morning, I even thought a swift pint was justified.

I’d parked at Honister and walked in earlier that day. This had a number of advantages; my car was waiting for me at the end of my leg, I’d stashed water and gels under a boulder between Kirkfell and Great Gable should they be needed, and I’d reaffirmed my navigation short fallings by losing the trod, deviating widely off course. At one point I’d mistaken Ennerdale Water for Wast Water and very nearly jogged down to it. When I did arrive to meet the support vehicles, I bigged-up the fuel stash I’d left under Gable and glossed over why I was a bit late. Eventually, a now lone runner finally appeared; it was their nav. He’d left them at Mickledore – a long story which, as it unfolded, didn’t suggest was going to have a happy ending. However, as he got to the part about being stuck on Broad Stand, three runners appeared in what you’d have to say was ‘good humour’.

Wasdale is the classic point where BG attempts fail. Arguably the hardest leg is to come; the big climb out towers over the changeover point and if the game clock is ticking past the fifteen hour point, then the futility gene we all have is dominantly reminding your legs that it is pretty pointless to go on. I like what Wasdale does to the runner; you drop off one fell and in three strides you’re at the start of the next, with just enough flat ground to lie down and give up.

Photo below © Steve Ashworth

Turns out my three boys were young, daft and tough. We went on; two of my team really had no idea what they had let themselves in for and epitomised the one-hill-at-a-time approach. We told them about one hill, they climbed it, then we told them there was another. My watched beeped, the GPS track of the route lit up, the sun beat down, we crossed the stile, and headed up through the bracken to Yewbarrow. Now I’m sure in another life I could get to know Yewbarrow and a perfectly decent fellow it would turn out to be. But it isn’t, is it? That climb from the valley to the summit is filthy and deserves no place in anyone’s nice thoughts.

The boys split up; Boy One powered up into the climb like Joss chasing a ewe, Boy Two handed me all his food, sighed and set off in pursuit, Boy Three started to lag behind from the get-go. I started to do some mental calculations and worked out that I’d need to make up thirty minutes on their schedule in order to get them to Honister with a safe margin to finish. I wondered about turning Boy Three around straight away before the road support left. I took up position far enough behind Boy Two to stay in touch but as close enough to Boy Three as that allowed. We all cleared the summit about ten minutes apart and off we went to Red Pike. At this point, I hoped to start picking up a few minutes. I also got them all eating and drinking.

Photo below © Mick Kenyon

One of the BG rules is recording times for each summit. I opted to take the time I got to the top and made sure each of my team tagged the top, then I would push out to the front again and try to control the pace – up or down as I felt it needed, but mainly up. Many people liken these big running challenges to an eating contest; a long-distance picnic, so to speak. Often the hardest thing to do is to keep getting the fuel onboard, so I kept chiding them every thirty minutes to swallow something, whether it be half a tangerine, a Jaffa cake, a gel, or some weird foil-wrapped stuff they had. It was all going quite well. While Boy One was very sharp uphill, Boy Three often caught up downhill. My job was really to control the pace on the ascents for Boy Three to allow him to kick again on the runnable bits. We were all getting quite dehydrated by the time we came to my water stash; a litre of water and a gel for each of them really helped. Refreshed, they went at Great Gable all poles, power and pain. I may have told them that was the last proper mountain. I found myself rather embarrassingly dropping back a bit – I’d become Boy Four! I looked at the GPS track, which didn’t seem to tell me what the problem was, then as I moved some empty gel packets away from the unused food, it struck me why I was struggling. I was so busy with feeding the kids that I’d neglected to feed myself. I double-barrelled on two gels, which magically kicked in immediately, and I was back in the game. 

And that was that. We raced down to Honister; they changed their socks, filled their bottles and off they went. I watched them powering up the fence line to Dalehead, a team together. Their road support gave me some orange juice. It was 6pm. We’d made it from Wasdale in five hours and they had an easy four hours to get to Keswick, which I think they did in less than three.