Bob Graham Round
Steph Wood, 16-17th June 2023
Where to start?
Probably back in 2015 when Rob Gittins did his BG and I supported on leg 4. I will never forget arriving in Wasdale. Surely there is no other place more beautiful. I was blown away. I had already acquired a great love of the Lake District from my parents, but from the moment I watched Rob and his team descend the scree, I knew it was something I wanted to do.
So why did I wait this long?
It wasn’t the running or the dedication or the training of my mind that was the issue. It was the planning and the schedule, the logistics and the spreadsheets that overwhelmed me. And then along came Tom …..
Tom has spent so much time meticulously planning every detail of the BG attempt that I can’t not mention him and the effort he has put in to make it happen for me. Thank you Tom. You were a massive ‘faffer’ in the French Alps last summer when we raced together, pulling everything out of your kit bag at every food station and taking way too many photographs, but you are pretty good at organising things and making them happen. So, I forgive you.
Leg 1: Keswick to Threlkeld (Kirsty Hewitson plus Tryf, and Jake Dickinson) 3 hours 26 minutes
I went for the tried and tested formula of the 6pm evening start which shifted to 5.45pm to avoid BG traffic. The infamous Lake District weather was kind and the forecast looked good for the next 24 hours. I wasn’t carrying much, and Kirsty had looked through my kit bag at Moot Hall and thrown a load of stuff out. She knows best, and she was right. I didn’t need waterproof trousers, or 2 waterproof jackets. We chatted the whole way up Skiddaw with Tryf leading the way. Allan and Julian had come up Skiddaw with us and Kirsty and Jake did an amazing job reminding me to drink and eat. My plan was to eat as much real food as possible on my first 2 legs after which I knew it would be small handfuls of force-fed food. It didn’t seem long before Julian and Allen had dropped back down and we were met by Flora (Kirsty’s wife) who would be joining us to run down my favourite descent of Blencathra, Halls Fell. I love the thrill of this descent from Lakes in a Day race, and soon I was arriving at Threlkeld where a huge Macclesfield Harriers reception committee were waiting for me. Fran sat me down in a stylish festoon lit camping chair and Jo handed me a cup of tea. This amazing bunch of Harriers made sure I was ready for my next leg.
Leg 2: Threlkeld to Dunamail (Julian Brown, Bill Johnson and Rachael Lawrence) 4 hours 10 minutes
Julian is one of my running hero’s. For all I know, he may have cycled to Keswick from Cheshire and was using leg 2 as a warmup for a race he had the next day. I’d met Bill at the Fellsman in April and he had promised to look after me after we had helped him on a bad day! Rach and I have run together in Club for years and I knew I was in good hands.
We set off up Clough Head at a decent pace and although I had obviously read my schedule and know the names of most of the summits, I find it difficult to retain this information …. apart from Dollywagon Pike, which I like the sound of. If anyone is hoping to read about direct lines and trods in my report, they are reading the wrong one.
I do however remember Fairfield which felt like a relentless slog and was my least favourite part of the round. In my haste to get down I took a tumble and have a nice rip in my shin. Despite this, Bill did an admirable job of getting me up and down it in the darkness.
I made a fast descent from Seat Sandal into Dunmail but had managed to lose my support crew, and my poles, and had to set off without them.
Leg 3: Dunmail to Wasdale (Rob Gittins and my running wife, Sophie Kirk) 6 hours 37 minutes
Time for the longest Leg and my new pacer Rob (who I borrow off Ange from time to time for running adventures) and my beloved Soph. I always knew that Leg 3 would be my ‘make or break’ Leg and they were my perfect partners. It was touch and go whether Soph would run with me as she felt rough in the week, but I knew that no matter how crap she felt she would pretend to feel fine, for me. It was important to have Soph with me as I knew in many ways that Leg 3 can be the one that makes the Bob. If I could get to Wasdale on time, I knew I was going to be okay. The good news was that although it is the longest Leg it is also my favourite as it includes a scramble up Lords Rake, a steep rocky gulley and some fantastic little scree runs.
I felt fine climbing up Steel Fell, especially as Nathanel had chased up the hill after us to reunite me with my poles. During this leg I wasn’t worrying about time as we appeared to be simply going at a pace that felt right. Rob and I chatted about his BG when I had supported him, and force fed him fruit cake that he then sneakily dropped when he thought I wasn’t looking. At this stage, I just didn’t feel like eating much but thankfully Soph kept an eye on me and made me eat and drink a selection of interesting snacks.
It was soon time to switch off our head torches and capture the most amazing sunrise on top of High Raise. The rising sun cast a pink hue across the morning sky, and I was delighted that I had chosen the right colour shorts to match it. This is the shallow level of detail you are here to read about.
Coming off Scafell is a 900m drop down into the valley and the scree run which is part running and part sliding, gets you down a long slope quickly. Unfortunately, scree running displaces lots of little rocks and stones which end up in your shoes, so I spent 10 beautiful minutes in Wasdale and I can’t remember whether I ate or drank as I was simply happy to be back in camp with Dan on road support fussing over me, changing my socks and emptying the stones from my shoes. I was delighted to be spending the next leg catching up with Andrea and chatting all things menopause and men. Tom was in for a treat.
Leg 4 Wasdale to Honister (Tom Whittington and Andrea Frost) 5 hours 12 minutes
It must have been the immense pleasure in my fresh new socks that made me happy as we climbed Yewbarrow. Andrea was in charge of looking after me and fed me delicious home made breakfast bars that I didn’t need to chew. We spent quite a lot of this leg being told off by Tom for chatting too much, so Red Pike, Steeple and Pillar passed without me noticing. It was only due to Tom telling me I had lost some time that I decided I needed to start taking this leg more seriously so Kirk Fell and Great Gable didn’t feel great at all. But thank you Tom for keeping me on track and motivating me to press on! Soon we were crashing down into Honister, apparently Martin who had run up to Grey Knots to guide us in could hear me before he could see me!
The changeover at Honister consisted of an amazing Macclesfield Harrier support crew who changed my socks, cleaned my feet and attempted to put blister plasters on them. By this stage I really didn’t feel like anything to eat or drink but was handed a Coke and a packet of crisps which tasted amazing. My legs felt good, and I was ready to finish this final leg.
Leg 5 Honister to Keswick (Allen Bunyan, Mandy Calvert, Rachel Munday, Sophie Kirk, Craig Marchington, Julian Brown, Jake Dickinson, Andrea Frost, Tom Whittington) 3 hours
All good things come to an end and at the top of Robinson I could see Keswick in the distance. At this stage I wanted to get back as ‘quickly’ as I could, but most importantly I wasn’t feeling bad, it was just the soles of my feet that were hurting. Allen was trying to motivate me to finish under 23 hours and he and Jake started running up the road, the enthusiasm of youth spurred me on. Only 8 kilometres left, and I think I was still chatting and smiling with other Macclesfield Harriers who had joined for the last few miles. It felt like a sprint back into Keswick and when we turned the corner into the Main Street, I was slightly overwhelmed with all the cheering and clapping.
23 hours and 3 minutes, not quite under 23 hours but I was delighted!
I don’t imagine that the photographs that were taken can do justice to my Bob Graham round. It’s virtually impossible to capture the scale of the hills and explain the joy I find from in running in the Lakes. I doubt that my BG write up would convince people to take up Fell running, but I am obsessed with both the suffering and the joy I find in running up big hills in the Lakes with other Macclesfield Harriers. Huge thanks to all the Macclesfield Harriers who helped. Sincere thanks to my support Team, both on and off the fell. Thank you to all those people who willingly touched my ugly troll feet and tended so lovingly to them. Special thanks to Julian Brown and Mandy Calvert who continually inspire, encourage and believe in me. And, finally, I’ve written way too much, and I was going to keep it brief. But if you know me then you also know that that isn’t possible.