Some Stuff About Me ......

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I live in Harrogate, North Yorkshire with my wonderful wife and soul-mate Helen. I have two incredible sons - Evan and Matthew - who are occasionally show up at home, usually when they're hungry or need money. The three of them are the best thing that ever happened to me and I love them all. I spent over 24 years in the Royal Navy, but since I packed it all in and got a proper job my life has gone from strength to strength and I've never looked back. I am a die-hard soul music fan and this remains a serious passion, but in recent years my life has been dedicated to running on the fells and trails of Northern England, it's what I was made for. Please read about my adventures and experiences ...

Monday, 3 September 2012

Bob Graham Round Success - The Final Chapter

Leg 5 Support Runners:
Andrew Kitts (navigation)
Stef French
Mark David
Emma David
Elise Milnes

I've made a pretty glaring omission in my narrative so far insomuch as I've made no mention at all about one of the most important facets of trying to get round a BGR and that's your fuelling strategy. Obviously you have to do your best to stay hydrated and on a coolish day this should be achievable, particularly as it's easier to drink than it is to eat when your bodily systems are all shutting down.  Of course a major issue here is that on the big day your supporters have to carry your water as well as their own and it can be a little taxing when you're faced with a major climb.  My plan was to ask each supporter to carry 500ml and if necessary refuel at one of the many little springs that are on the route. I've never taken water from Wiley Gill or the Caldew on leg 1 (it's probably OK), but leg 2 has a good spring as you go round Grisedale Tarn, there's a very good one climbing Bowfell on leg 3 and there's a usable one on the slope as you approach the Scoat Fell wall line on leg 4.  Although I'd got both water and electrolyte in equal measure, it probably wasn't going to be enough to keep my big enemy at bay: Cramp.  Every marathon I've done has been blighted by this and I've never been able to really get to the root cause of it all, however I was supporting a mate on leg 3 of his BG last year and I saw him using something he described as "anti-cramp tablets" and I investigated. They're actually called Endurolytes and made by Hammer Nutrition, pretty expensive for what they are but they work. Really work. I had a bag of these in the back of my shorts and started using them from leg 2 onwards. Total recommend from me, I have no doubts as to their effectiveness.

What you eat is a much more complex matter and the subject of massive discussion among people interested in doing the BGR, it was also one of the major factors in my demise in June. It IS possible to get round on energy gels - I know a bloke who consumed over 20 torq gels as he went round a few months back, I've also heard of a guy who did it entirely on Kendal Mint Cake. I wouldn't recommend either approach, but of course what works for one may not for another. The general consensus is that you should eat "proper" food as much as possible, preferably low GI with a bit of protein mixed in. There's also a good rule of thumb that you should attempt to take in most of your food early on in the round (within the first 12 hours) as it may not be physically possible to eat much later on - that's when stuff like gels come in. Well, my food bags all had stuff like cereal bars, malt loaf, hobnobs, fig rolls, pork pies (really) and cheese butties made with wholegrain bread. I knew I would have to eat as much as possible on the early legs and that's just what I did, I really went for it on leg 1 and felt like i couldn't eat another thing. Did pretty much the same on leg 2 and believe that this is what gave me the energy source for the rest of the round, because my desire to eat pretty much disappeared halfway through leg 3. At pitstops I decided on granola breakfast cereal with skimmed milk, my idea being that it would be easy to eat and give me that low GI energy source, however in practice I only managed this at Threlkeld and at Dunmail and in retrospect it was a bad idea - the problem here was it sat really heavily and for a good part of the round I felt very bloated by all the stuff I'd jammed in. It would have been better to have something like soup at the stops and save the bulk of the eating for when actually out on the individual legs. When the point came on leg 3 where I just couldn't face normal food, Rick gave me some mint cake and I found it really easy to eat and obviously was a good energy source that would have given my (low) blood sugar a boost, so much so that he gave me all his supply and as you'll have read earlier, ran ahead to Wasdale to order more! It was just another thing that went right on the day and ensured that I will always have some mint cake on hand for future BG supports, an essential item.  Thanks Rick, in retrospect you might have saved the day.

So back onto the matter in hand. My supporters for leg 5 were our friends Andrew (navigating) along with his good lady Stef, Emma (who did leg 1 also) and hubby Mark, Elise also elected to carry on from leg 4 and finish the whole thing. Helen desperately wanted to run a leg with me, however she was very busy with managing the support arrangements and feeding everyone, so we agreed that she would run in with me from Newlands, i.e. the final 5 miles or so back to Keswick that you do on the road - by that time her duties were over. I should also add that our club chairman Tony Essex had made the trip up from Harrogate, he's not a fell runner but has been marvellously supportive of me and had decided to come up and give me a cheer for which I was (and am) very grateful - he was going to run in from Newlands also.

Emma, Stef and DT - Leg 5 Support Team
Andrew led the way up Dale Head and I steeled myself for the last major climb of the round. On training days I've skipped up here in around 30 minutes, but today my legs felt like lead and I had to really concentrate on keeping they moving onwards and upwards. Andrew and Mark were up ahead, Stef (who is a terrific BG supporter btw) stuck by my side and she, Emma and Elise coaxed me up Dale Head with a steady flow of encouraging words and tiny pieces of mint cake, determined that whatever happened, I wouldn't be running out of fuel. Nothing was too much trouble, if I wanted a drink it was there in a second, if I was cold my jacket magically appeared and was put on me without breaking stride - thanks girls, you were absolutely fantastic.  Dale Head summit came in 37 minutes (on schedule) and as we turned towards Hindscarth I think I dared to believe that this really was going to happen and that I, fool that I am, was going to conquer one of the biggest and toughest challenges out there.  The one that Chris Brasher tried and failed to get round, calling it "desperately difficult".  The one that said No to Sir Ranulph Fiennes and so many others.  The one that said No to me just a few months previously.  I didn't dare to be smug or assume anything, there would be time for that later.

In case anyone's wondering, BG schedules are designed to account for attrition, by that I mean they account for the fact that you get progressively slower and more tired as the round goes on - it's for this reason that you hear a lot of people being down on time at Wasdale and then making up 30mins + on legs 4 and 5, i.e. the flex is there in the later legs. None of that for me though, I was 100% focussed on sticking to my schedule and arriving off the fells in something like a condition to tackle the road section. It was claggy and wet, though not really cold. Poor Stef had to cope with me putting on/taking my jacket off every five minutes, as well as doing her best to keep me moving at the necessary pace, I must have been a proper pain in the proverbial.  Hindscarth came and went in 19 minutes (slowish) and Andrew called over his shoulder to me that the roast beef is pretty good at the Bob Graham Club dinner and I do believe a pang of elation swept through me but I suppressed it just as quickly - I wasn't out of the woods yet. We set off down the long, rocky path to the foot of Robinson and one climb seperated me from the 42nd and last peak. When we reached the bottom, I had a momentary start as I saw Andrew head up the fence line rather than the rising traverse to the right that takes you to the summit, however quickly realised that because conditions were poor and the top shrouded by cloud, he was taking no chances and had opted for the safe route.  And a good decision it was too, it would have been terrible to be messing around in the clag trying to find the very last top.

Emma was waiting as Stef and I climbed the final few feet to the summit plateau and before long we had come to the Robinson shelter and that was it, all 42 done. I expected to feel some sort of sense of achievement or elation, but to be honest I was so brain-dead by now that all I could think about was the descent down to the valley floor. There are numerous ways to descend Robinson and I have fairly mixed feelings on the subject.  I do like the Snab Bank route for instance, but the most direct is simply by dropping more or less due East off the summit plateau and getting down to the valley floor as soon as possible. The drawback is that it's steep, tricky to get the right line and at this point, most contenders are totally fooked (if you'll excuse my use of the vernacular).  Dave Harrison knows this line well and very kindly agreed to meet us on top of Robinson to guide us down.  Sure enough, there he was in the mist and led us down a fantastic line down the side of the fell, yes, my quads were giving me grief and every muscle in my body was begging to stop, but the reality of the situation was beginning to sink in and as we reached the valley floor and ran up the path to the fell gate, I'm sorry to say that I had a severe attack of melodrama a la "Feet In The Clouds" and my mind was filled with the memories of the months of training and weekend recces that had brought me here, of the miles and miles over cold, damp fells with no view to speak of and nothing but a biting headwind for company ..... all a bit pathetic really and just sentimental nonsense.  There is nothing sentimental about the Bob Graham Round.

Before I knew it I'd reached the fell gate and from this point onwards it was just road.  Helen and Tony were there along with Dave Almond who had also come round to make absolutely certain I got in. I was really glad to see them.  A quick change into road shoes and we were off down the lane, I had a little over 90 minutes to get to Keswick and every expectation of success. As we went up the lane to Little Town I looked behind me and had a fabulous view of the Newlands Valley with Robinson and Hindscarth shrouded in mist and I gave a whoop of delight, I'd just done the Lake District Grand Tour and felt it was only right to say goodbye.  Or should that have been au revoir?
The Newlands Valley - it was magical!
I've ran this section on multiple occassions and *usually* enjoy it a great deal, there is something special about being part of a successful BGR and that run up to the Moot Hall that is life-affirming and brings a big smile to everyone's face.  Done a couple of fast ones too, on Dave Almond's BGR last year we charged to Keswick in some ridiculous time and only the weekend before had ran in with Carol in 46m (the fact that she'd done her BGR the weekend was why she wasn't out on the fells with me this time). I'd hoped to be somewhere around the 50m mark myself, but I ran into a painful problem - my feet. Don't know why I didn't really notice this before, but my feet had taken a tremendous battering and were very bruised underneath as well as very swollen from being permanently wet.  I did the whole thing in Inov8 Mudclaw 272s and this worked - the grip is unbelievable from these shoes - the downside is nearly zero cushioning and although I'd changed into a nice cushioned pair of Asics at the top of the lane, the impact of running properly on the road was causing me severe grief. Jesus it hurt, it was like spikes being shoved into the balls of my feet and I confess that I was in agony. I tried running on my heels but that was just ridiculous, the best I could manage was a short run up to the excruciating point then a fast walk.  I think by this point I knew that nothing was going to stop me, the Bob Graham Round had been mine on that day and very shortly I would come into Keswick having had that Grand Day Out On The Fells that people talk about. Andrew, Stef and Dave were never far away, Helen and Elise were running at my shoulders and Mark and Emma strode on ahead as if they were clearing any potential obstacles out of my way, what a fantastic crew, what a brilliant day, what had I done in all those years of undiscovered badness to deserve such rewards? I was totally humbled and didn't dare speak in case I said something more stupid than normal.

We crossed the footbridge en masse and I could see the rooftops of Keswick before me: This was it, I was going to do it!   We turned into the High Street and the pace upped, the pain in my battered feet forgotten. Across the mini roundabout and the last vestiges of adrenalin in my system ignited and I sprinted as hard as my exhausted body would let me.

Running up Through Keswick Town Square
I could see everyone at the Moot Hall cheering and thought my heart would burst and then - The Door. The famous Green Door. I hit the door and my knees sank beneath me, this was it, the end of the road.

I'd done the Bob Graham Round.

I hate to quote from well-known books, but as I stood I could really feel the weight lifting from my shoulders and nothing but joy and gratitude to all the fantastic people who had helped me get here, not only my wonderful wife who has had to put up with so much and supported me through thick and thin, but those who came out with me to run over dark and cold mountains in all weathers and the dead of night, just so I could achieve my grand ambition. Of course, I had to go up the steps to the top door for the traditional celebration and I now know why people look so wobbly when they do it, it felt like going up Yewbarrow again.

You'll also see what I mean from the You Tube clip here, I must admit that I like seeing this - I might have been tired, but it brings home the joy every time I see it.

As we milled around in front of the Moot Hall, I tried to drink in every moment (and some champagne), knowing that this was one of my Best Ever Moments.  I'd been here with others and felt nothing but admiration for a supreme effort and now it was my turn, I couldn't quite believe it if I'm totally truthful.  We all retired to the pub for a celebratory pint and I let reality sink in.
I suppose that's the end of my Bob Graham story for now, thanks very much for sticking with me this far.  I'll leave it a few months and then come back and speak of the aftermath, there will be a story worth telling I'm sure.

I'm really glad that the Bob Graham Round happened to me.

1 comment:

JT said...

Brilliant account. You're writing skills are almost as good as the running ones :)
I'm making an attempt this August - did you manage to get a gpx track of your route as I'm still at the planning stage!