The Bob Graham round is a beast of a challenge; but it is not insurmountable. You just need to be able to travel efficiently and consistently over its 70mile length and Everest proportioned ascent, whether over grassy summits, boggy moors, technical scrambles, or scree descents. Easy eh? For those that have done it is easy to forget the intimidation felt before setting off from Keswick’s Moot Hall.
And then there is the 24hr deadline if you want to enter ‘the club’, but it is usually knowledge and experience of the terrain and maintaining the required pace that makes the difference rather than the ticking clock – at least for those factors that we can control.
There have been some impressive and high profile attempts in the last few years, with long standing records falling and the Round gaining international appeal. At our own club, the last few years have seen several rounds flirt the 20hr rather than 24hr mark. Macclesfield Harriers has had 68 completes as a club as well as holding the 24hr record for over 30yrs. This all serves to further mythologise the challenge and may make some people think it is out of reach. It isn’t.
If we’re not careful we focus too much on the fast Rounds and less so on the just in time rounds, or the didn’t quite make it rounds. There are tales there too and as a challenge of endurance it is at the back end of those 1,440 precious minutes that the most pain and suffering and possibly disappointment are felt.
We need to remember that it is the journey and not the destination that is important. A willingness to actually have a go is after all key if you want to at least have a chance of completing it. And only 1 in 3 attempts do finish with success.
Of our three contenders on the 16th June, we had just one completer in the time available. Then we had one failing to finish on time and one failing to finish at all. Cruel words easily spoken. But was it ‘failure’? I’m not so sure. Three different personalities and all had fantastic attitudes and smiles all day. When they arrived at the restaurant in the evening after looking remarkably fresh, you could be forgiven for thinking that none had had a more cumbersome day than a round at Keswick’s pitch and putt course – each grinning having achieved a hole-in-one.
All three were winners in their own way. But as a club we also took home something precious. The team spirit was off the charts and I’ve never experienced a greater bond between members of our club. Something for us to be proud to be part of.
As such, It isn’t usual for a non-contender to write a BG report and I don’t want to steal their thunder (their own reports linked below), but there are elements here of the combined attempt that none of the guys would say themselves, so I feel I should. I can speak for all of us when I say we are immensely proud of all of them.
Steff finished in just over 23hrs. Everyone said she’d get through it no problem. They may be right, but I think this gives her a disservice. To assume success makes a mockery of the challenge. Sure there was a relaxed attitude on the surface and yes had she wanted to race it she could have knocked off an hour or two, but she wanted to savour the day and enjoy the company of friends in glorious conditions. Why waste the opportunity? Underneath the veneer was undeniably nerves for those that know her well, but a steely determination too. She didn’t get around without an amazing effort. Though she did make it look easy.
Barrie arrived late into Honister and carried on regardless, despite it becoming apparent that BG club membership would not be his this time. When Richard Askwith describes his second attempt (it took three) in Feet In The Clouds, he talks of how the moment he knew he couldn’t do it in a day his body crumbled and he couldn’t even take another step. To be so close and yet so far and still carry on to complete it takes impressive grit. To come up Keswick Main Street with smiles and energy half an hour later than the allocated time is something else. It gained Baz the free pint at the end from the pub by the steps – a pint usually reserved for a winner, but none of us thought for a second that he didn’t deserve it. On a different day he would have finished in time, so hopefully he will be back sooner rather than later to bag the prize. Baz may have another attempt this summer and is holding off on his report until he’s worked that out.
They’re all legends here, but Kathleen is my hero of the day. And she didn’t finish. But that’s just a footnote. In fact no, it isn’t, it’s crucial to her story. She can definitely get around and should have another go sometime. The difference for her was the need to familiarise herself with the more difficult sections of the course, where a little experience makes a huge difference. It only takes few reccies to build the extra confidence and speed.
When she arrived into Wasdale over 2hrs late, most people would have already decided to bail. It was always going to be difficult to gain back enough time to finish in 24, but she was having too much fun. Or at least, she wasn’t ready to stop. And so she carried on even though ‘failure’ was the most likely scenario. Full credit to her support team who were more than happy to lead her through what would be a very long day in the fells.
But it doesn’t stop there. It quickly became apparent that the time gap would grow by the time she reached the final road crossing at Honister and when I arrived there at the end of Steff’s leg 4 I was blown away by the number of our club that wanted to wait as long as it took for Kathleen to arrive and take her on to Keswick even if it took all night. That was an incredibly humbling moment. It was beautiful. All was not lost, after all.
When she did roll in, as usual Kathleen was all smiles and as usual she was herself humbled by the support of those around her while completing oblivious of her own awesomeness and the positive impact she had on those around her. I heard several reports from others on the fells that day that had met stranger that talked about the lovely Irish lady they’d met on her BG- she genuinely left a trail of loveliness in her wake. When I heard these tales, I must admit that I may have briefly had something in my eye.
You can read her account here: Kathleen O’Donnell BGR Report
(Here is a link to other inspiring stories from the club)
There was something else won that day. A bigger thing at play that touched all of us even though strictly speaking it wasn’t ‘our’ day – it was theirs. It was a reminder of the wonderful club we belong to. The camaraderie. The willingness. The support. The love.
Some kind words have been said about the organisation of the day, but this wouldn’t have been anything without the massive support given by everyone else. This was a team event like no other. We had 50 volunteers on fell and road support that day. Doing a BG is the best day you can have in the fells with your mates, but there is nothing quite like BG support, which is why time is so often enthusiastically given. And we’ll do it all again. I hope the bond club members reignited serves as a reminder of why we should be proud to call ourselves Macc Harriers.
Well done Steffers. First Lady since 2009 and an inspiration to us all. Your name deservedly gets inscribed on the Clubhouse wall. I hope it isn’t too long before it is joined by others, willing at least to have a go, if not complete.
Fell Section Lead