Bob Graham Report 1st July 2023 by Andrew Sutton
‘Hi Mark, what’s your thoughts on this weather. Is it a fool’s mission?’
In the Sutton household on the morning of the 1st July, things weren’t going quite to plan. My van had broken down, Nida’s car had broken down, I was still packing and the weather was looking quite frankly poor.
It was adding to my already high stress level, trying to arrange support for my round at the last minute. Ive had 10 years preparing to run the Bob Graham I couldn’t help thinking how has it come to this?
Fortunately the team rallied. Mark’s advice was to crack on. My wife, always encouraging, reminded me that I like running in bad weather the most . Graham put aside any ambitions to complete the round himself and committed to a weekend of driving lots , running a bit and not much sleep. No excuses then.
In keeping with the rest of the day, we arrived at the Moot hall with little time to spare. Drop bags were passed to Nida, my well worn shoes were hurriedly tightened and felt like I had never worn them before. A quick snap of myself and Graham, big smiles on our faces. The stress of the day is fading. I feel good, at last I’m actually going to give it a go. I shake a few randoms hands who wish me good luck. The tracker is switched on, then off, then back on again, as Jade and the kids count down the final minutes to go. 1915hrs and we are off.
Leg 1 Support Graham Cooper.
It was good to start running. The shouts of encouragement fade as we turn sharply right down the alleyway past the pub and through the car park heading towards the park. The pace is good. I’m no speed whippet, and am careful not to over do it up Skiddaw. As we get higher the wind starts to batter us, but it’s OK actually. The barrage brings focus with poles and legs drumming out a beat.
40 mins pass and fuelling begins, on the watch every 20 mins, put something in to keep the fire hot.
Its good to tick Skiddaw, the first top. I knew the wind would go the minute we drop off the summit ridge and it does. I always make time up off Skiddaw and up Calva and today is no exception. There is a lot of surface water in the usual spots but the ground beneath is still baked from the previous good weather. I was expecting the bracken to be high and hard going off of Calva but instead I’m treated to a trampoline of dense short packed bracken. I have a big grin on my face as I bound my way down to the river.
I notice the team ahead then. It does feel good that I’m making good progress and catching, who I presumed, were the 1900hrs team. This bit usual feels like a slog but not today. The wind is now my friend, pushing me in the back as we make our way across the common and up to Blencathra.
The only thought for this leg was to not go too fast up Skiddaw and get down Hall’s fell in the last of the light. Bonus points if it’s not raining. Well two out of three wasn’t bad. Fortunately the rain stopped as we approach the summit. The other team head off towards Doddick Fell and I drop straight off down Hall’s fell. Ive been too clever here before, moving away on supposed quicker lines to find myself in no man’s land, too low and well off route. Today I choose a good line. It is fortunate that I’m through the technical section when the wind reminds me who is boss, nearly blowing me off my feet. Running head first into it I make no progress at all for a while which made leg 2 a sobering proposition. Overall though it’s a great first leg.
Leg 2 Support Mathew Lynas. Road support Nida and Wendy
It’s a quick pit stop at Threkeld. Wendy made me a welcome cuppa as Nida filled the bottles and I restuffed the snack pouches and then off Matt and I go.
I find leg 2 a tough leg, so was very relieved when Matt, fresh from Lejog support duties the day before said he could make it. The aim was to arrive at the start of 3 with good legs so I had adjusted the schedule to suit, although I knew from previous reccys that I would still need to keep pushing so as not to lose time. I was hoping for a tailwind but the wind seemed to be pushing us into ground on the ascent up Clough head. There wasn’t too much chat, because of the weather, but this helped focus us on the nav which in poor vis was proving tricky. We had a bit of luck though, a couple of occasions the clag lifted when we needed it to, to find the vague cairns marking the tops. We were both thankful for our GPS watches. We did find ourselves a bit off course at a few points but caught ourselves early enough without losing much time.
The weather was at its worse on this leg, I remember Matt laughing out loud during a particular squalid moment questioning our sanity, but overall it added to the adventure. It didn’t really slow me down, and all my kit was working well, keeping me warm enough. By having to concentrate so much the leg went reasonably quickly. It was a dark night and I was less aware than usual of where we were. Even when we got to Hellvelyn, the path seemed unfamiliar in the pitch black, whereas on previous occasions with dawn breaking the views had been superb.
Shoe choice had been tricky. I was expecting to wear trail shoes at this time of year, but had opted for my Mutants for extra grip on the wet grass. Was very pleased of my choice coming down off Dollywagon, as Matt slipped and slid his way to the bottom.
The end of leg 2 was a key mental moment for me. I remember on a previous reccy, linking legs 1 and 2, having to stop a couple of times going up Seat Sandal, already done in, with a long way still to go. So in my head it was important to feel good at this point– well good enough to continue. Fortunately I was still fueling well and legs were feeling great. We did make a bit of a mess of coming back off Fairfield, ending up in the boulder field, but no harm done. Another team was starting up Fairfield as we picked up the bags at the bottom and headed up Seat Sandal. No stopping this time though. The top ticked, its steeply down the grassy shoulder to Dunmail, the Mutants proving themselves a good choice yet again.
Leg 3 Support Mark Burley. Road Support Wendy.
I like leg 3 a lot. It was nice to be back on familiar ground, a leg I would usually support and have run many times . I had eaten a bit too much at the change over so my stomach was uncomfortably full as we made our way up Steel Fell and off towards Calf Crag. Fortunately I had plenty of Tailwind to keep me going and keep the calories coming. Mark paced it very well for me, even though I could tell he was getting cold, and it was nice to switch off and play follow the leader. The runners traverse up to Bowfell is always a highlight. We started off a bit low but we got back onto the line with a bit of a scramble. I think what makes it special is it still feels like a bit of a secret, a perfect line of weakness to the top. It also marks the start of the high mountains and the rocks which is my favourite type of terrain. Mark’s knowledge of the route really came into its own on the last few peaks before Scafell Pike, picking out the easiest paths through the rocks, which was easier said than done in the wet. Given the weather, the top of Scafell Pike was nice and quiet for a change.
We summited Scafell via Lord’s Rake and West Wall traverse which was a good choice. I would really like to use Broad Stand one day, but not today. The Scafell scree run is a fine way to end such a great leg and I really enjoyed it today as we skied our way to the bottom. We crossed the stream, in full flood, and headed to the car park. I was happy that I had been able to keep to my faster schedule for the leg. Mark had pointed out earlier that 3 is a key leg because the schedule then gets quite generous for 4 and 5. Something I hadn’t considered until then.
Leg 4 Support Rob Gittins, Road Support Graham Cooper
Running into the NT car-park was a great feeling. It had been a long drive over for the kids to see daddy for exactly 10 mins but it was a real boost. Mark had decided that he had had enough of being cold, and was happy to pass support duties to Rob, who with Ange had incredibly finished the Spine race only a week before. I quickly changed shoes as my mutants make my left knee sore and was also pleased with a bit of extra cushioning for the last couple of legs.
To top it all off the weather had started to improve so things were looking good as we headed on the steep climb out of Wasdale. My last reccy up Yewbarrow had been in the midday sun, on a hot day and I felt totally drained. Today was totally different, my legs felt like mini pistons powering me to the top. It was a great feeling.
I wanted to hear all about the Spine , and I hadn’t had a chance to talk with Rob about the Dragon so the usual slog up Red Pike passed quickly. Visibility was now excellent, so nav wasn’t a problem, but it was still a comfort to know Rob knew the leg so well.
As we headed down off Pillar we passed another team, the runner clearing suffering with his knee and with still a long way to go. We wished him luck but not sure us flying past boosted his moral much. It was a stark reminder how quickly things can change but it was also on the descent off Pillar that I really started to believe that I might actually do this thing.
Kirk fell and Gable went well. I was pleased to find ‘Mark’s traverse line’ which I had managed to miss on the previous reccy, which misses out the steep rocky decent off Great Gable to bring you into the saddle. From here we continued to make good time on the more runnable grass lines down into Honister. I could see the girls from a long way out and as I got closer there was a lot of waving and whooping. A great end to a fantastic leg. Cups of tea all round.
Leg 5 Support Allen Bunyan, Graham Cooper, Dan and Nida Road Support Jade and the girls.
I knew I was moving well, but hadn’t realized how much time we had picked up on Leg 4 and were ahead of the schedule. Allen had been delayed in traffic so Nida and Graham had started up Dale head and were waiting for me there. I said good bye to Rob, had a group hug with the family and headed on up. It was great to see them as I neared the top, then looking back there’s Allen, legging it up the hill like he is on a fell race. With perfect timing we all rendezvous at the cairn and off we go on the final stretch. The steep climb up Robinson seemed to keep on going and I was more aware of my tired legs than ever before, but then there was the last top, peak 42. Job almost done. The run off Robinson went well, the last steep sections negotiated without any drama before the hard packed run to the car park. Dan ran in and joined us as we headed out along the Newlands valley. The girls were waiting at Little Town which I wasn’t expecting, and they accompanied us, as a slow drive in the van, for a while which was great fun.
My only real time goal for the round was to not be under pressure on this road section, and with plenty of time in hand it was a focused, but relaxed run in to the finish. The girls joined me for the last 30m to Moot Hall. I ran up the steps and placed my forehead on the door. 21h28mins. Time for a pizza.
Obviously I am very pleased. It was a real adventure, and I want to thank again all those who helped make it happen. Matt, Mark, Rob and Allen for the companionship. Wendy for the brews. Dan and Nida for a bit of everything and a big cheers to Graham who selflessly gave up his own ambitions in pursuit of mine, and without whom there wouldn’t have been a round that day full stop. To my girls for enduring hours in the van to see Daddy for a just a few minutes but providing an all important boost when I needed it most, and finally to my wife Jade for her wholehearted support over the many years, and many, many miles, it has taken to get me to this point.