The Bob Graham Round: supporting the Big Leg

May 30, 2023 4 min read

The Bob Graham Round: supporting the Big Leg

Earlier this month, Jon Barton supported a friend on Leg Three of this Lake District challenge. More than 200 people attempt the run each year with approximately half of those finishing inside twenty-four hours – but with nearly seventy miles of running, forty-two peaks and an altitude gain of 28,000 foot, it is widely regarded as the pinnacle of achievement for a mountain runner.

The boys looked in good humour at Threlkeld; they’d lost a pacer somewhere between Great Calva and Blencathra but the main event all arrived smiling. I hung around and ten minutes later they were on their way off into the Helvellyn massif. I retired to Threlkeld Café for some serious breakfasting. With a good amount of baked goods on board I made my way up to Dunmail and readied myself for Leg Three support. Leg Three is the big one –  about six hours, fifteen tops, twenty-six kilometres and 2,000-plus metres of ascent.

I packed a soft flask of isotonic drink (the sun was out) and nine gels – all the same yucky, sick flavour. The road crew showed up, forgetting to thank me for keeping the prime parking spot for them. They handed me the stuff for Jeremy (our runner) in a box. Slightly alarmingly, it consisted of …

  • Six gels
  • Half a packet of chocolate biscuits
  • A bag of wine gums
  • A packet of crisps
  • Some stuff in a bag best described as ‘savoury’
  • A KitKat
  • … and a pizza.

The pizza looked good. There was also a requirement for three and a half litres of isotonic fluids. I drew the line about carrying all that and gave a litre to the nav. The boys all showed up on schedule; they’d lost another pacer on Leg Two – this was starting to look like carelessness on Jeremy’s part. I made a note not lose sight of at least the nav if things got tricky.

We set off. All seemed good and I persuaded Jeremy to start eating and drinking by Steel Fell summit. I wasn’t massively bothered about him, but my pack felt heavy.

We were aiming for an ‘anything less than twenty-four-hours’ schedule. The thing that struck me on Leg Three was that we did not stop. Not once. Jeremy kept moving, walking at pace and running every runnable bit. The Bob Graham Round is not easy. I’d usefully written all the summits and all the pace notes on my arm. The nav had similar on a bit of paper, but for reasons never really clear we didn’t know which order we were going to do High Raise/Sergeant Man in and, if I’m honest, I’m not really clear on which is which anyway. Furthermore, I got really confused whether Thurnacar Knott was on my notes or not (Knott – ha ha), as one seemed to drift over the summit did it really count. In a nutshell we ticked off three tops. Maybe we were ahead of schedule; maybe we were behind. After a quick consultation with the nav, we concluded we had no idea; plus it was a warm day and sweat was causing some blurring of the pace notes inked onto my arm. We told Jeremy we were ‘on pace’ and I persuaded him to drink and eat lots.

The day was perfect for a run, the rain, so keenly forecast, hadn’t found us. The Langdales came and went, I started on my gels, which I’d wrapped up in Jeremy’s pizza. Jeremy seemed to be having a lot of fun, he smiled, seemed confident and just kept moving. He also seemed delighted when I told him we were passed half way, which we probably were depending if the blur on my arm was a four or an eight.

I started to think (dread) what was about to come.

No one enjoys the Bowfell ascent. Jeremy got his head down, I had some more gels and we just got on with it. Then all of a sudden we were in high county. I love this section; it’s okay on fresh legs – but a real tester of basic strength for BGR hopefuls, as there is a lot of rock hopping and very little easy terrain between Rossett and Wasdale. We cleared Scafell Pike as the sun began its descent. It was remarkable just how many people were still heading to the summit despite the hour. We dropped down to Lord’s Rake.

If I had a favourite place in the world it would be the summit of Scafell. This May evening, as the sun set, all was beautiful. We knew we’d get Jeremy down to Wasdale on pace, we knew the weather would hold, and so, after I’d pointed him to the descent, I just lingered alone on the top, cradling that diminutive summit cairn, watching the last rays of the day light up the western fells. I took a photo and sent it over to a friend, dropped off the summit and caught up the boys. We slipped and slided our way down to Wasdale, handing Jeremy over to team Leg Four. They went on their way.

I ate the remains of the pizza; the day was done. I was home in Sheffield by one in the morning. Exhausted, I fell into a deep sleep, legs twitching as I passed out. I awoke with a start at 5.30 a.m. I checked the WhatsApp group. Jeremy had just that second touched Moot Hall. 23 hours 34 minutes. I went back to sleep.