I don't suppose my preoccupation with The Bob Graham Round is much of a secret to those who know me, however I've tried to keep it low-key and deliberately not blogged much about it, or indeed, said much about it outside my immediate circle of friends or to family. Of course, this has been nothing more than a protection mechanism against the realities of the enormous challenge that is the BGR; those who know about it - and if you don't, please Google it now - will be aware of the difficulties and dangers, the physical effort required and the inevitable blood, sweat and tears that are part of the package. Since my interest was first kindled I have not wanted to publicly commit to any kind of firm involvement, just in case it turns out I don't have the desire, nerve and commitment needed to embark on a regime that would ultimately see me attempting to cover the best part of 66 miles over 42 Lakeland summits with a culmulative ascent/descent of around 28,000ft, all within a 24-hour window. Sounds hard doesn't it? It is, pardon me, unbelievably f***ing hard.
With all that said, the truth of the matter is that I don't think I can keep stumm much longer and it's time to come clean. Several weeks back I was I was fortunate enough to be part of Dave Almond's (Calder Valley) support team for his successful BGR attempt, this weekend just gone I did the same for Neil Woods (Dallam A.C.) and this, coupled with a signicant amount of time spent up in the Lakes lately has turned a wavering desire into a firm objective, a life-goal that I desperately want to achive. Believe me when I tell you that not a single day goes by without my dreaming, scheming or thinking about the Bob Graham Round in some way or another and it's all wonderful.
I first heard of the BGR a few years ago, when I heard that one of our club members - a good runner - was taking a season off from competing in local races because he was training for something odd called a "Bob Graham Round". I was curious and eventually (like so many others) read Richard Askwith's "Feet in The Clouds" where everything was explained in very graphic detail. The seed was planted and it came at a time when I was getting thoroughly bored with road running and moving to more off-road stuff, even dabbling with the odd fell-race. You see, I've reached the point where the road has totally lost its appeal, I'm tired of constantly chasing rainbows and the repetitive impact has caused me all sorts of injuries, because biomechanically I am not that good. Off-road I seem to cope much better. Also, it's just like the Inov-8 advert says - once it gets in your blood, off-road running is a very powerful narcotic. If that's true, then fell-running in The Lakes is the most addictive of them all ....
I'm the sort of bloke who has to have a goal to aim for and as a result tend to jump feet-first into things that interest me. I've indulged in various obsessions over the years, but I've stayed passionate about a couple of things since I was very young. One is [soul] music, the other is The Outdoors and by that I mean camping, mountains, orienteering, backpacking. It's always fascinated me, but as a young lad I could never really afford all the bits and pieces I needed. School holidays would come round and we'd pack all our stuff up into some tatty old rucksacks and my dad would dump us somewhere up in the Peak District, we'd walk for miles, camp without permission, wonder if we'd ever dare to do the Pennine Way and wonder who the hell this Wainwright bloke was. So, fell-running and the BGR fits that particular passion very well, the difference this time is that nowadays I am a) considerably older and much more breakable and b) Have more common sense. Alright, b) is debatable.
So I have committed to the cause and am truly loving the time I spend up in The Lakes, but must confess that until the last few years I hardly knew the area at all, most of my outdoor experience was gained in Snowdonia and The Peak District or wherever the military establishment chose to send me. I've spent a lot of time up there this year, almost to the point where Keswick seems to be a second home and I'm on nodding terms with the lady who runs the Kingfisher fish and chip shop :-) It has been fantastic, I look forward to every dash up to the Lakes and feel a thrill of excitement when I see those mountains. My life has a new focus and I consider myself fortunate to have met some truly wonderful people into the process. This is not just me, of course. My infinitely better half [Helen] loves the outdoors as much as me, so a lot of the BGR recce stuff we've done has been a joint effort and she has began to accumulate a lot of the BGR lore that is vital to a true understanding of the Round's mystique. It also makes it much easier if your wife is quite willing to spend all weekend in a rain-soaked tent and get up at 2.00am to convey her insane husband and his mates to a pre-arranged rendezvous point.
We were very fortunate to be up there during that spell of nice weather in May and it was probably the most enjoyable time I've spent with my clothes on in recent years, armed with a handful of OS maps and a dubious sense of direction, we got some serious miles under our belt, covering hefty chunks of the BGR at a time. It was glorious ..... I remember we were on a leg 3 recce (Dunmail to Wasdale) and we'd done and out-and-back thing, parking at Dunmail for the day. It was getting towards evening and we were on our way back to Steel Fell and the steep drop back down the fell, so we stopped for a breather and watched the distant horizon bathed in the early evening sunlight. It was incredibly peaceful, I felt like we were the only souls around, the summits of Bow Fell and Esk Pike soared high above the rugged scenery and I knew I was in the right place. It seemed a quintessentially British place, somewhere unique and worth fighting for. I knew I was in a privileged position to even be there and all of a sudden it seemed very important to quantify that, to earn my right to walk these fells and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men and women with whom I would be proud to be mentioned in the same breath. The BGR would be my rite of passage.
Of course, it's not all glorious weather and inspiring scenery, but I never expected it to be. A couple of weeks back Helen and I went up to Wasdale for what was meant to be a week of relaxed camping and multiple BGR recces, however it typical fashion we got monsoon conditions. We endured, however, and still managed to cram about 70 miles and 20,000ft of climbing into the week, including that bloody awful climb from the back of the Wasdale Head Inn up to the summit of Kirk Fell. The point I'm making is that I know it's going to be hard and I'm prepared for that. 2012 will see me attempt the Bob Graham Round and it will be in the wake of a lot of training and planning. If I fail - and a lot off attempts do - then I will try again, but in the end it won't matter because the BGR has already given me more back than I've put in and for that I will be eternally grateful.