Steve Birkinshaw supports Kilian Jornet on Record-Breaking Bob Graham Round
July 13, 20184 min read
If it wasn’t exciting enough to have one record-breaking runner to blog about, try having two. That’s right, Wainwright round record-holder Steve Birkinshaw tells us about his experience of running as support on a leg of Kilian Jornet’s record-breaking Bob Graham Round.
Beware: this news and it’s associated stats will make your mind boggle. I’ll let Steve pick up from here.
I received the email from Martin Stone on the Thursday.
Kilian Jornet, the world’s greatest mountain runner, was in Keswick and was going to attempt to break Billy Bland’s thirty-six-year-old Bob Graham Round record that Sunday.
This record for the 106 kilometre/sixty-three-mile round, with 8,200 metres/28,000 feet of ascent of forty-two Lake District peaks, had been thought by many to be unbreakable. Martin was organising the logistics, and wondered if I could run with Kilian on a leg.
I was delighted to be asked, but very worried about whether or not I could keep up: although I have recovered from my Wainwrights round – which is now four years ago – I am still five to ten per cent slower than I was then.
I looked at the schedule and reckoned I could just about keep on legs four or five, so I offered to help on one of these. Martin put me down on leg four with Paul Tierney and Scoffer. With the ground the driest it has been for years, and warm, but not unbearably hot weather, conditions were nearly perfect for a record-breaking round.
Kilian’s plan was to keep the record attempt low key, so we were asked to keep the details private. However, by the Saturday night details were leaking out on social media. After two legs Kilian was thirty minutes up on his record-breaking schedule, and the excitement was building up on social media.
We took the long drive to Wasdale and waited for Kilian to arrive after leg three. He had picked up more time and his pacers on that leg came in looking very tired. I was even more worried about keeping up so I set off straight away while Kilian had some food and drink. We were scheduled to do thirty-three minutes to the top of Yewbarrow; working hard I managed to do it in twenty-nine minutes but was caught by Kilian, Paul and Scoffer who did it in twenty-seven minutes. I was getting dropped going up Red Pike, so I missed the summit of this and the summit of Steeple.
Kilian was loving running down the rocks, it was his recovery time, while I needed to concentrate really hard to keep with him. On the flatter sections I was finally at a relaxed enough pace to have a chat with Kilian. He was really enjoying running in the fells and the commented on the beautiful views. He was very grateful for the support team coming out and helping him. He was great to run with and checked I was OK when I fell over while running behind him.
A very small bit of rubbish blew out of his bum bag when he was getting some food out while climbing Kirk Fell. As a support runner I should be running after it and picking it up while he continues, but he immediately ran after it and picked it up before I could grab it. With my experience from doing the Wainwrights I warned him that excitement was building on social media and there would be a lot of people waiting in Keswick to see him finish.
His speed up and down Great Gable was so quick than I had to contour round to keep up but then he suddenly seemed to slow down. Instead of having to work hard to keep up, it was easy. Dropping off Grey Knotts down into Honister at the end of the leg he was struggling badly. Neil Talbott was there with his food and he stopped for a minute and ate some before continuing his descent into Honister. He had completed the leg in two hours and fifty minutes: fourteen minutes faster than his schedule. Interestingly this was the same place where Billy had a really bad patch thirty-six years earlier, and Billy had to sit down at this point to recover.
Kilian had about five minutes’ refuelling at Honister before setting off on the final leg. There were about fifty people there watching. It would have been great to see Kilian finish but I could not face the crowds. So I went home and watched a live feed as Kilian ran in to set a new record of twelve hours and fifty-two minutes; amazingly just over a whole hour faster than Billy’s previous, standing record.
It was really nice to be involved in the record and great that it has gone to someone with a genuine love and respect for the mountains. •
Huge congratulations to Kilian, and to Steve for supporting yet more runners out on the fells. Thanks for sharing your experience, Steve, and thanks to Digby Harris for sharing your beautiful photos.