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 - Part #4

Leg 4 Support Runners:
Simon Noble (navigation)
Linda Murgatroyd
Elise Milnes
Alan Lucker

It occurs to me that before I continue much further with this little opus, some explanation about BGR protocol is required: There's nothing stopping anyone from registering an attempt and just turning up on the day with a few mates and doing it, however the chances of success are pretty small.  Extensive preparation and route reconnaissance is what most normal mortals have to do and it really takes a lot to be able to say with any semblence of truth that you know your way round the BGR. There are a lot of people out there with extensive experience of it, some of whom have not (whilst very knowledgeable) actually got round and I suppose - although it sounds terribly unkind - never will. These people are always willing to pass on their knowledge and if you're passionate enough, you'll soon start to unvravel the secrets. Moreover, I think it's important to be seen to "serve your time", there's a definite community out there (bigger and more closely-knit than you might expect) and you'll be expected to put in the training and commitment in return for support.

So, and this is the point I was coming to, although you are expected to be able to navigate yourself around the BGR from start to finish, on the day itself most people have nominated navigators, these are usually people who know the route intimately and can be relied on to get a contender to the end of a given leg no matter what the conditions.  It's a job that carries a lot of weight, you'll appreciate a person's hopes and dreams can rest on making the right decision at the right time. Of course, a contender will discuss route choice (because there are options) with his navigator and that's exactly what I did. Also, you usually have one or two other supporters who will carry your kit, food and water for you and generally jam it into you at every opportunity.  Again, the more experienced your supporters are the better, as they will understand the trauma and try and mitigate it as best they can. It's true that getting someone round a BGR is a massively rewarding and very social occasion.

I had a great team for leg 4 - my navigator for leg 4 was my pal Simon, he's a retired teacher (younger than me - how did he manage to retire so early??) who, when he's not roaming the fells, fills his time with voluntary work for Keswick Mountain Rescue.  He's as strong as an ox and great company, he recently got round his BGR at the second attempt in 22.45 so we have something in common, the difference between us was that he had a twenty year gap! This man knows every blade of grass on leg 4 and is a genuine authority on the Lakeland Fells.  Also keeping me company was a very experienced leg 4 person, Linda ("Mrs Stagger" for those that might recognise that handle), her friend Elise Milnes and Alan Lucker who had seen my attempt on the FRA forums and volunteered to come along. All of them had come over Beck Head from Honister via the Moses Trod into Wasdale.

We set off to cheers from the support team and I was already focussing on the climb in front of me, one of the worst on the round - Yewbarrow.  Affectionately termed "Yewbastard" among its many admirers, it takes about 45 - 48 minutes of hard effort on a typical 23hr schedule, is incredibly steep and comes at just the wrong time, i.e. when a contender is totally knackered and has just sat down for a few minutes of precious respite. Sorry to be harking back again, but the last time I was here with my mate Dave Almond navigating and Alix, Stuart and Tom pushing me along .... well, I was in a sorry state, it took 52 minutes of grievous effort and damn nearly broke my spirit and body, I was a mess. Today, well, I wasn't exactly doing cartwheels of joy but it didn't feel so bad.  Simon and Linda's cheery demeanours had already made me feel that anything was possible and despite the sun shining at my back, I just got on with it. I can't say it was easy - that would be a total fib - but following a trick that Dave Swift had shown me on leg 3, I just concentrated on Elise's heels in front of me and matched my pace to her as she went up the fell - it worked, and before long I was at the summit, on schedule and feeling like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders - I was in with a real chance.

 Linda and Elise proved to be terrific supporters, they stuck by my side while Simon and Alan determined the best lines, always encouraging me to move faster, eat a little more and drink whenever I could. I followed Elise (who is a pretty good ultra-runner) up a lot of steep climbs on this leg and am now confident I could pick out her legs in an identity parade of 100, not that I'm suggesting she would ever be dragged into an identity parade you understand.

 Linda had even brought along a bottle of energy drink for me, her experience showed - this was was really easy stuff to stomach and was a life-saver for me, how thoughtful was that? Red Pike came and went, we reached Steeple (which I like) and although I was tired - no, bloody exhausted - there was absolutely no prospect of me backing off at this stage, it was all or nothing and in retrospect, it's good that I was thinking like that.

The next one was Pillar, the place where I baled out last time, it was a real boost to hit the summit and realise that I was still on schedule. Did I dare believe? You know, I don't think I did and I'm being serious. I wanted this to happen so much, I just wouldn't permit myself to accept that my doing the Bob Graham Round was a foregone conclusion, not until I was in position where I could crawl and still make it. Right now I had another thing on my mind - the weather. The forecast had said that it was going to close in and as we ran off Pillar I could see the wisps of cloud sweeping in across Kirk Fell, the blue skies had disappeared and it looked like my jacket was going to be required after all. Down to Wind Gap we went and across that horrible slatey bit that leads up to Red Gully, a quick scramble and we were on our way to the summit. Right in front of me I could the brooding bulk of Great Gable, big grey clouds were already obscuring the summit and I was swearing under my breath, sadly I don't think it went unnoticed by Linda.  I've got one of those old fashioned switches in my head that normally prevents me from using bad language in front of the gentler sex and that's despite my being the Royal Navy Freestyle Swearing Champion from 1992 right up until I chucked it and got a proper job.

Very soon we were over Beck Head and climbing Great Gable and this is a proper climb, there's no nice little trod to run up, it was a scramble right up to the summit plateau made worse by the greasy, wet rocks. Simon led us to the Borrowdale race descent and we traversed nicely around the side of the mountain before linking in to the path down to Windy Gap and all of a sudden I felt incredibly weary, totally bone-tired. Normally, the climb up to Green Gable takes just a few minutes, but plodding up there felt like a mammoth task. I faltered for a second and I could see Linda and Elise looking back at me and a wave of pathetic self-pity swept through me and I damn nearly cried: If I hadn't flogged it off years ago I would have sold my soul to get round the BGR, I needed to get moving and now.

I'd prepared a little argument to present to myself in just this situation and it was something like this: "Why are you letting yourself even consider slowing down or worse, stopping? It's in sight - the object of your desire for so long, the thing you have spent so long and so much effort chasing, the impossible goal that you've dreamt of. Stop fucking about, turn on the reserve tank and get moving NOW!! Or words to that effect. Looking back, I have no idea what ignited the flame, whether it was anger, adrenalin, stubborness or just the passion I have for the thing, whatever - it worked. I shook off my apathy, powered to the little shelter, touched the cairn and just pushed onwards and ran straight off on the line to Brandreth. I was going to beat this.
The rest of leg 4 is pretty uneventful if I'm honest. It's an easy climb up to Brandreth and a simple trog across some boggy ground (the place where I innocently led my pal Alix into a deep bog last year) to Grey Knotts and was all done bang on schedule. The descent off Grey Knotts down to Honister was wet and slippy and I took it as easy as I dared, as I had to save my descending legs for that last painful drop off Robinson on leg 5, God, was I really that close? I could see the support team below, they must have been feeling as relieved as I did that I was more or less on time. The van was parked close to the path and I just collapsed into my chair, I felt totalled.

At Honister Slate Mine
Phil, Dave Swift and Chris (unbeknownst to me) had also ran over from Wasdale via a much more amenable route and had got to Honister 10 minutes ahead of me, they'd had us in their sights for a good while and reported back that all seemed well and on schedule. It was raining and Dave held a brolly over me, everyone was in waterproofs but I was in T-shirt and baseball cap, I suppose my metabolism was in overdrive because I didn't feel cold at all. Helen massaged my calves as I sipped my cuppa, she could tell I was tired but I saw no concern in her eyes, she just wanted me to get up and finish it off. Mark - who was my timekeeper as well as leg 5 support runner - made the point that if I cut this rest stop to 8 minutes I would leave dead on schedule.  So, at 2.30pm exactly I heaved myself vertical and turned towards the foot of Dale Head.  I had 3.5 hours exactly to get to Keswick. Barring disasters, I was going to make it. I couldn't fail now.

To be continued - watch out for the next part!

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