Newcastle AC – Bob Graham Round Report

You just sneaked in, you jammy sods!

They did it…. some people would say “just!”, with a combination of perfect weather and a fantastic support crew, they had it nearly as easy as Stevie, Mark and Dominic 2 years previously!

One could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was, about this Bob Graham Round carry on!?!

Leg 1

11 weeks ago, the 3 day recce of the route had taught one key point – PACING, i.e. – keep leg one easy.

Declan and Phil got a little carried away with the pacing, as walking up Skiddaw in the glorious evening sun over Keswick, they went 12 mins over schedule.

Thankfully with clear navigation and directions from Mark King and Steve Wathall, this was easily rectified, gaining the time back over the next few climbs. A fast descent off the tricky Blencathra, saw them back to only 1 min behind schedule.

Cow bells awaited at the road side, with enthusiastic supporters braving the midges to change shoes and supply food for the next leg.

With head torches on, this efficient stop gained another 2 minutes, with Declan and Phil, now accompanied by Kathleen Monterverde (fresh of her successful Rankin Round); Justin Bramell, who had completed the “Bob” 2 years previously with the 2018 NIMRA Ultra Runners!; Dominic McInerney – whose first support role, was to run back for the forgotten pen at the roadside! (if it is not witnessed, it doesn’t count!)

Kathleen and Justin had both taken their nav support role very seriously, with recces of the leg in the preceding weeks. Kathleen had even managed to record bearings over the route for the dreaded low cloud that might come in. Thankfully that never materialised, and all that prep just made the leg extremely efficient, to get 19 mins ahead of schedule by Dunmail. Phil got a little carried away, with quiet comments by Dominic and Justin to “reign it back” needed. Both runners began to struggle with sleepiness in the darkness and would have happily curled up on rocky ground. Declan also began to feel nauseous and found it difficult to eat.

Rob Jones was chief roadside support at this point with fresh coffee and potatoes supplied. He was joined by the entire Brennan clan at 2am, amused to be dropping Colin off, on this night-time adventure! Billy Reed made up the final member of the band heading off into the night, as he and Colin took up nav duties, on what most agree is the most difficult leg of the round.

With Declan still not able to eat and pace slowing, Paul Tierney joined the gang. Paul, fresh from his 6 day Wainwrights record, and with sore knees (though his efficient movement over the boulders did not convey this), guided us up Bowfell. This was a peak we had been dreading, as our only experience of it was in cloud, with Dale Mather’s practised hand guiding us up, in the gloom, back at Easter.

We all enjoyed the interlude of Paul’s company, with stories and lessons from the Wainwrights, having the impact of changing the character of Bowfell all together!

Once content he knew we were on the right track, Paul parted company, back down the valley, to catch up on partner Sarah via a live feed of the Euro Mountain Running Championship. Big congrats to Sarah and Zak on 2 more top 20 performances, along with the rest of the Senior and Junior Irish Squads!

After this, time started to slip badly through our fingers, with Billy having to implement a ‘no stop’ policy, at summits, to do some damage limitation on our pace.

The way Colin and Billy handled the lows on this leg, meant much, and made sure the round was still a possibility, as it began to feel as if the wheels were coming off!

Arriving at Wasdale is a huge mental victory, where it is all too tempting to sit a little long and eat too much! With Sarah and the kids back on support duties fuelling us with freshly cooked scrambled egg, porridge and coffee, the support runners changed. Colin headed off to lie on a beach, with Billy opting for more ‘fun’, we were joined by Stevie and Rob, for what must be the slowest and most painful climb up Yewbarrow…..all is forgiven Clough Head, you are nothing compared to this tortuous monster!

So tortuous, it sucked another 5 mins from our schedule, leaving us now 18 mins behind and dangerously close to dropping off pace altogether – see point 37 on graph below!

A regroup at the top and a slow but steady climb up Red Pike we believed we had clawed a minute or two back……..but no, we had lost another minute! Thus, began my lowest ebb, watching time slip through our fingers despite our hardest efforts.

The tiny peak of Steeple is an out and back summit, which we tackled like a hill and dale race. With Stevie leading the way we hit the summit, turned and raced back to the waiting supporters shouting to see if any time had been made up – “same, no more time lost!”, came the reply. “What have we got to do to get this time back?” was our only thought. Any mistakes and this attempt is over, as we were only 10 mins inside 24 hour schedule at this point.

Thankfully the longer climb up Pillar allowed us to gain 3 mins, something we had been desperately seeking over the last couple of hours!

There is always the risk of using someone else’s schedule. Despite Stevie, Mark and Dominic being present, they could never have been expected to remember on which of the 42 peaks they felt

strong or weak. For all we knew, we could be playing catch at their speediest points, thus making our pursuit even more futile.

Thankfully, our efforts were rewarded over the next climbs, gaining a minute here and there until we arrived at Honister. Although still 13 mins off schedule we felt much better than we had after the dreaded Yewbarrow having made progress in the right direction. Rob’s constant toing and froing ahead to seek out the best route, was a great reassurance, knowing time wasn’t going to be wasted going the wrong way.

From the recce back at Easter, I was always dreading the last 6 miles – bridleway turning into my least favourite surface for feet…..tarmac, and worse hot tarmac!

If only we could keep gaining minutes, some pressure would be off for this, my Achilles heel!

The sound of a cowbell greeted us as we arrived for speedy 7min stop at Honister, ably provided by team Hodge.

Charging up Dalehead, well charging might be stretching it, but by the effort being put in, it could have been the Donard race as we gained another 3 mins. Hindscarth next and 3 more minutes gained, the race was on to get back on schedule. I knew my feet were not going to take mudclaws on tarmac, for 5 miles, so time was desperately needed for a shoe change.

Robinson summitted and now we were only 1 min behind…..finally the finish was in reach!

Down the steep grass, quads and knees begging for it to cease, bridleway leading to tarmac and Sarah with new shoes, water and getting rid of our rucksacks, awaited!

Funnily this tarmac was never as bad as the anticipation, amazing the perspective that a finish line brings!

Keswick in sight and suddenly it was over, on schedule at last!

23 hours 26 mins!

As we reflected over the next few days, we were blown away by the level of support. From the Irish crew travelling over, reccing ahead, Rob dragging the family north with dog to stay in a caravan, Charmain and Steve fresh from the English championships, the Brennans all coming out at 2am in the morning from their holiday, Justin to help after doing his Round 2 years before, and Paul Tierney who despite 300+ miles in his legs and 200+ peaks from 2 weeks ago, kept a promise made many months previously. Having Sarah and the kids driving, cooking and ferrying runners, meant we could relax, knowing that things would get sorted and grumpy runners demands met (just Phil).

And not forgetting Dale Mathers, who though not able to be present, had guided Declan and myself with the support of Mark round the route over 3 days at Easter. Without that reccing, I seriously doubt it would have happened.