Cape Wrath Trail

6 days running across the North-West Highlands

Just back from 6 days running across the North-West Highlands. Running relay legs with Mark Roberts, Lou Roberts & Steph on a variation of the Cape Wrath Trail. Unfortunately I had to bail at Inchnadamph due to work commitments (and as it turned out an injury) but am pleased to say that Mark & Lou made it to Cape Wrath.

Day One: Glen Cona to Glenfinnan / Glenfinnan to Strathan (Loch Arkaig)

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The direct line from Glenfinnan – steep but effective

 

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High-level ridge running towards Streap (909m)

 

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Me (with Mark behind) on the summit of Streap

 

Day Two: Strathan to Kinloch Hourn / Kinloch Hourn to Glen Shiel

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The high-level route through Knoydart

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Mark approaching Ben Aden. Loch Quoich behind.

 

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Mark negotiating one of the few river crossings

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Barrisdale Bay

 

Day Three: Glenshiel to Killilan / Killilan to Strathcarron

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Easier terrain in Glen Ling

 Day Four: Strathcarron to  Torridon (Ling Hut) / Torridon to Kinlochewe

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Mark near the summit of Spidean Coire Nan Clach on Beinn Eighe

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Proper ankle breaker terrain. Hard boulder running descending to Kinlochewe

Day Five: Kinlochewe to Corrie Hallie / Corrie Hallie to Ullapool

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Mark & Seren enjoying the path on the run into Lochan Fada

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Boggy, pathless terrain resumes. Looking south towards Slioch.

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Mark besides Loch An Nid. An Teallach in the distance.

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An Teallach

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The long track to Corrie Hallie after nearly 20 miles of running.

 

Day Six: Ullapool to Oykal Bridge / Oykal Bridge to Inchnadamph

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Beyond Benmore Lodge. Mountainous terrain resumes.

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Mark in a remote corner of Assynt, beneath Conival

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Saunders Mountain Marathon 2015: Something missing

Leg power, brain-power and check-points. All seemed to be missing at some-point this weekend on the 2015 Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon!

Day One

It was an ominous start to the day. Dark, thunderous clouds and torrential downpours shrouded the Lake District early on Saturday morning. Luckily by the time I had driven across to Torver, the thunderous downpours had abated but the cloud continued to lay low and thick on the fells.

I hung around the event centre, as the start queue grew ever longer, the call-out for teams could be heard every few minutes. I was running solo again in KLETS, just myself and my thoughts for company. It was just before 0930 by the time I made my way to the start-line and readied myself for the off. Ahead, lay the relatively bleak and complex terrain of Torver Common. The cloud base was little higher than 425m or so and visibility was very limited. After dispatching my first control I running on instruments, weaving through contours in the thick mist.

I headed up towards the Walna Scar track. I found the boulder I had marked as my second checkpoint but there was no control. Maybe this wasn’t the right boulder. Strange, it should be. I ran east, there was the stream, why wasn’t that the boulder. I ran back to the track. Nothing made sense. I re-checked the checkpoint sheet. A series of expletives then thundered through my head. I’d marked the wrong boulder, I was about 400 metres further north than I should be. That was my first mistake and with it I had lost some 15 to 20 minutes.

As I headed up the track skirting south of Brown Pike my legs felt tired. I’d been running for less than an hour and I felt drained. Was I just half asleep or was this the deep-seated tiredness post Bob Graham that I thought I might have avoided. Whatever it was my aching quads and calves and pressed on and locked onto the 600m contour height as I began the traverse onto the Seathwaite Fells towards my third control.

This leg should have been straightforward. Maintain height, hit a spur, then a stream and drop straight onto the control. But it wasn’t. I got disorientated in the thick clag, convinced my compass was spinning all over the place and found myself in what felt like very rocky ground. I searched the map and could see nothing. But things felt wrong. I’d not yet come across an obvious stream, but there were gullies and the ground was falling away but to the West. In hindsight it was plainly obvious, at the time it wasn’t. I had dropped too low and been sucked into some stream lines that ran West. Again I lost time as I re-established where I was. I reached 3 controls and screwed up 2 of them. This wasn’t turning out to be a good day.

Coming over Brim Fell I steadied my thoughts. I was back on track, despite a tough call on which check-point to head to next. I’d made my call and was getting on with it. Control Four in the bag.

Sometime later I found myself on the South side of Wetherlam. I left the path as planned and headed up directly towards the obvious knoll. No check-point. I was surrounded by confused people. Some a few hundred metres higher, some further east. I ran around the knoll, checking for some cunningly hidden control. Nothing. My brain didn’t compute that the checkpoint couldn’t be there. Perhaps the grid reference was just a bit vague, perhaps the 1:25,000 scale didn’t support the description. Surely I couldn’t have mis-marked another checkpoint? But there was no other feature within a 400 metre radius that would show up. I’ve no idea how much time passed, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, maybe more. I eventually gave up. Resigned to either being disqualified or having an interesting conversation with the race planners.

Running down to Red Dell Beck I lost my footing, slipping on the greasy grass and ice-like slate and slid towards an array of upturned and jagged rocks. My shin connected with the rock as I felt the pain sear through my lower leg. As I picked myself up and limped down, the blood slowly oozed from the wound. This was turning out to be a really shit day. I forced my way up the ridge running off Black Sails. I felt tired and dejected.

By the time I had picked off another control, lurking behind another random and insignificant boulder in the thick mist I was feeling, mentally at least, better again. I had resigned myself to a ‘poor’ day, boxed the remaining controls and headed to the event centre. Almost. I had failed to mark control 130 on my map. In my line to 145 I had practically tripped over it, but not seen it, not dibbed.

I reached the event centre to find confusion over the missing 116 control and the reality of being disqualified for not dibbing the 130 control. I had easily lost more than hour and that was without factoring in my tired legs. My only consolation was that I avoided being caught up in the numerical farce that was decided upon in ‘compensation’ for the missing 116 checkpoint. Everyone on the KLETS course had the checkpoint re-instated and then everyone was allocated a time deduction to make up for the time they had spent looking for it. I didn’t agree with the methodology and thought it was both unfair and inaccurate. Others however thought it was unfair to void the entire day. This is the problem when the courses are not linear. If they were, you could simply remove the time taken between 3 controls, thereby eliminating the one in the middle. But KLETS isn’t linear and people had arrived at the missing control from different starting points and then spent vastly differing amounts of time, in differing levels of visibility searching for it.

Day Two

I had spent Saturday evening in quiet contemplation. Chatting briefing to some club-mates who were camped nearby but otherwise deep in my own thoughts about the day. I put it down to experience and decided that I would race day two and not simply retire. I wanted to see how tired I really was and re-establish some sense of personal pride that I could actually navigate!

I headed up to towards the start-line at 740. For those outside of the chasing start, the gates wouldn’t open for another 25 minutes but I was keen to get going.

Compared with Day 1, the route choice between controls looked to be more straightforward, only a couple of legs where there looked to be any meaningful decisions to be made.

Running out of Tilberthwaite I was conscious of heavy breathing only 25 metres or so behind. It was off-putting. I was tired but at least my lungs were working. I kept pushing knowing whoever it was would be hurting also. My route choice seemed to work over to Levers Water and by the time I had sweated up to Levers Hawse I had pulled out some more distance and set off on the traverse towards Grey Friars.

By the time I had began the boulder hopping traverse and descent down towards Seathwaite Tarn I was alone, save for passing the odd team on other classes.  I knew there couldn’t be much left in the way of meaningful ascent or distance. The control sheet had marked the day as just 17km – a pathetically small amount of distance for an elite-level course, but I wasn’t going to complain, it just meant I could relax a bit more and push a bit harder, knowing there wasn’t far to go.

The warm slog towards control 5 passed without incident. The control was sneakily hidden down to the side of what was already a fairly indistinct spur (in my humble opinion!) but once I had dibbed I could see the lone figure of another KLETS competitor ahead.  By check-point 6 I had caught Andrew Higgins and that pretty much was the end of my running. We swung leads over the last few check-points as his cramping legs made way for my occasional navigation indecision. I ran down to the event centre, my racing for the weekend over. Just over 3 hours since leaving the overnight camp – 3rd place on day two and some pride restored. Definitely the shortest day I have ever had on a mountain marathon!

Day 1: MP / DNF

Checkpoints in order of attack

START – 119 – 137 – 142 – 113 – 116  – 114 – 146 – 133 – 105 – 120 – 145 – 126 – 143 – 101

Day 2: 3rd – 3 hrs 05 minutes

Checkpoints in order of attack:

START – 129 – 138 – 134 – 125 – 141 – 127 – 115 – 111 – 131 – 136 – FINISH

Overall Result: MP / DNF

Notes

I’ll make it quite clear that the co-ordinators, planners and everyone else involved in these events do an awesome and difficult job, without their hard-work these events would not happen. But that doesn’t mean I always agree with everything that is done, and these events only get better by constructive feedback. This years event I think had a number of things which could be improved.

Firstly the KLETS routes were way too short. Secondly the control descriptions were not descriptive enough to allow for the 1:25000 map scale. I enjoy the extra dimension that comes from having to mark your own controls but this only works when the control descriptions work in tandem with the grid references given and the detail actually shown on the map. Thirdly some of the controls were positioned in locations more akin to trying to catch people out than challenge accurate navigation. Fourthly – the time compensation given because of a missing / stolen check-point was a farce (what would I have done? I would have voided the entire day). Lastly – rules are rules, you miss a checkpoint, however stupid, you get disqualified. You don’t carry the specified kit, you get disqualified. And of course, the decision of the planners is final! However difficult, those are the rules we all play by and we should all accept. See you again next year.

Clothing and Equipment

  • Terra Nova Laser Photon Tent
  • Mountain Equipment Xero 150 Sleeping Bag & length of Bubble Wrap (Mat)
  • Jetboil Sol Titanium with foil lid and 100g gas cylinder, pre-ignited to reduce gas weight
  • Light My Fire Spork
  • Inov-8 Race Ultra Pant & Mountain Equipment Micron Jacket
  • Tencel LS Base Layer & Mountain Equipment Crux SS Tee
  • Ronhill Twin Shorts & 2XU Compression full length tights
  • Hilly Off-Road Running Socks
  • Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 with Inov-8 Debris 32 Gaiter
  • Black Diamond Ion Head-torch
  • Polartec Powerdry Beanie & Gloves & Sun Cap
  • Red & Black Marker Pens
  • Silva Nor 6 Spectra Thumb Compass & Suunto Core Altimeter / Watch
  • All carried in Inov-8 Race Elite 20 Rucksack with two Exped Ultralight stuff-sacks (Med & Small), Food carried in zip-lock plastic bag

Food

I carried slightly less overnight food this year and also moved away from a diet of chocolate, gels and Jelly babies for my ‘on-the-move’ food –  moving across to more ‘normal’ food. Keeping sugar-levels more stable, I found this mix of food much better.

  • Expedition Foods (1 x Chicken Tikka & Rice / 800 kcal range)
  • Cup a Soup (Potato & Leek)
  • Chorizo Sausage (1/3 individually wrapped)
  • Peanuts (50g)
  • Cadbury’s Hot Chocolate Sachets (3)
  • Nescafe Coffee Sachet (1)
  • Quaker Oats Porridge (1 pot – just needs hot water)
  • Cheese Wholemeal Rolls (2) cut into quarters
  • Rowntree’s Randoms
  • Morrison’s Swiss-Roll (3 small pieces, individually wrapped)
  • Banana (1)
  • Small Pork Pie (2)
  • Snickers Bar (2)
  • SIS Isotonic Gel’s (2)
  • High 5 Tabs for water
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Scottish Highland Running

Ring of Steall - Ramsay Round Recce

Dropping down through the mist and drizzle towards Steall Falls / Glen Nevis

Ramsay Round Recce

Steph nearing the summit of Chno Dearg – a remote Munro to the East of Loch Treig

Ramsay Round Recce

Looking across Loch Treig towards Stob a Coire Mheadhoin

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The Charlie Ramsay Round

#RR20 – And the next challenge is………

A diary of the up’s and down’s of training to run the Charlie Ramsay Round

Charlie Ramsay Round Training

On Stob Coire Sgriodain looking West

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The Bob Graham Round #BG20

#BG20 – My challenge to run the Bob Graham Round in under 20 hours

A diary of the up’s and down’s of training to run the Bob Graham Round

Date of Completion: 13th June 2015

See my actual route*, as tracked live on the day at: http://maps.opentracking.co.uk/bg2015.cfm?n=11

To those that know, the Bob Graham Round needs little introduction. To those that don’t, it involves running / walking a total distance of around 66 miles, over 42 peaks and some 27,000ft all within 24 hours. Its not a race, there are no prizes.

At some point last Summer, having toyed with the idea in my mind for years I decided it was time to finally give it a crack. I also decided that if I was going to do it, then I wanted to complete my round in under 20 hours. Why? Well why not. Fewer than 100 people have achieved this to date. This is my story.

 


June

13th – Bob Graham Round

Job  Done. 18 hours and 28 minutes.

Well that’s it. Job Done. In the bag. Smashed.

My good friend and vital on-the-day supporter, Mike Vogler said to me that the Bob Graham was a spiritual journey as much as it was a physical and mental one. Maybe he was right, but whatever it was, it was certainly a day I will never forget. I cannot easily convey the physical effort in words, since it was unlike anything I have ever experienced. And not because it was the most tiring or physically demanding thing I have ever done but because it was a different kind of physical effort, the sense of tiredness was a different kind of tiredness. The joy at finishing in under 20 hours? Well I am not sure that’s really sunk in yet.

Leg 1: 03:00 – 06:07 (3 hours 7 minutes)

We arrived into Keswick shortly after 2:30am. A new Saturday morning was attempting to tear itself apart from the remnants of another Friday night as Police eased drunken tensions and late night revellers were coaxed to their beds. My world couldn’t have been further from theirs. I sat down on the small bench next to Moot Hall and waited.

Where was Hodge? He was nowhere to be seen. My watch told me there was less than ten minutes to go before my 3am start-time. He was my only support runner on leg one and I couldn’t start without him. Steph ran back to the van to try and find his phone number so we could double-check he was nearby. I was getting nervous. A minute or so later she re-appeared with a slightly flustered looking Hodge. He’d just driven back from Aberdeen where he had been working and had had no more than an hour’s sleep in the back of his van. Fair enough I thought.

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Deep in thought outside Moot Hall at 2:55am – with Hodge Grayson

Bob Graham Round

Readying my kit in the darkness

I was as wide-awake as I think it’s possible for me to be at 3am. My head was full of thoughts, mostly centred around the painful blister I had managed to generate on the bottom of my heel only 24 hours earlier. A stupid mistake that could so easily have wrecked my attempt on the Bob Graham. I could only think as far as Threlkeld. Get to the end of Leg 1 intact and on-time.

As we ran through through the pre-dawn hue, first through narrow alleyways and streets and then onto Fitz Park and out of Keswick I could see the outline of Skiddaw. That was a good sign. The forecast had been mixed, it had changed constantly all week, it could have gone either way as an unstable airmass made its way up from the South. But it was dry and despite the prospect of low cloud and persistent rain, the hills were clear. Blisters aside, I felt good.

By the time we reached the summit Skiddaw, sunrise was little more than 25 minutes away and the previously bright beam of my head-torch had been overwhelmed by the encroaching daylight. It was deathly quiet. Even the usual underfoot squelching seemed to have been sucked dry as we made our way down towards Hare Crag.

Climbing up towards Great Calva we could afford to take it easy, we had minutes to spare and in my head there was only one plan, get to Blencathra on-time. By this point I had cumulatively eaten a bowl of Porridge, two banana’s and a small Pain Au Chocolat. By the time my feet had dried out having waded through the Caldew I was attempting to both eat a cheese sandwich and follow the faint trod. Eating I succeeded with, following the trod I did not. Every time I looked down the hill, there was the trod, clear as anything, every time I looked up, nothing, just lumpy, grassy tussocks.

In spite of that we trundled onto the summit of Blencathra at 5:43am. Ahead I could see the whole of the day that still lay before me. It was beautiful. I paused for a few seconds, erased it from my memory and focussed on descending to Threlkeld.

Leg 2: 06:14 – 09:48 (3 hours 34 minutes)

Steph was a welcome sight at Threlkeld. So too were Chris & Gill, who despite having driven up from Northampton the night before and having had only a few hours more sleep than I, had come to wish me well, before heading over to Wasdale and Broad Stand .

Charlie Sproson was to be my wing-man on leg 2 and was keen to get going. He knows this section of hills like the back of his hand, and so he should, as they are now practically his back-garden. A bowl of rice pudding, some Orange Juice and a cup of tea were all consumed, I by-passed on the option of another banana, had a quick toilet stop and said my farewells.

I wasn’t sure how quickly we got up Clough Head, Charlie wasn’t giving much away, other than to say we were on schedule and still ahead overall.

Bob Graham Round

Climbing up towards Clough Head – Photograph by Charlie Sproson

Once on the main ridge, all I wanted to do was maintain our schedule but rising up Clough Head it was clear it wasn’t my legs that were the problem it was my stomach. Initially I thought I had just eaten too much too soon but before long it had all the tell-tale signs of the stomach upsets I have been battling for months and which I am now convinced are in someway connected to Wheat / Gluten. I felt rough, my stomach was churning and I needed to go to the toilet, again.

Bob Graham Round

Somewhere on the Dodds – Photograph by Charlie Sproson

On Charlie’s advice, I stopped eating any more, focussed on staying hydrated in the intense humidity and popped the occasional sugary sweet. It seemed to work. Only 1 more toilet stop! The lack of food and the addition of some sugar and the right fluids seemed to be settling my stomach down. All the time, Charlie kept talking, talking about diet, about climbing trips, about his guided running business, about organising and planning races and just told me to keep thinking about that door on Moot Hall. He was everything a pacer should be. By your side, never too far ahead, never too far behind, making suggestions, providing reassurance. Solid. Every stage we were either on schedule or a minute or so up, only occasionally a minute down which considering I’d been forced to stop 2 times was encouraging. Overall we were gradually pulling out more time.

Bob Graham Round

Descending Fairfield – Photograph by Charlie Sproson

Bob Graham Round

Scree running on Fairfield – Photograph by Charlie Sproson

Dropping down towards Grizedale Tarn I finally began to feel a little more human again and realised that the last big climb of leg 2 was before me. I wasn’t sure whether I was looking forward to Fairfield or not. I wasn’t phased by it, my super-direct line weighed in my thoughts a little but I tried to convince myself that my legs were stronger than my lungs. Steep ascents were my friend.  Yet I was also determined to get to the end of the leg and not feel destroyed. I could remember the time I ran legs 1&2 together in training and how knackered I felt, both climbing upto Fairfield and once I was at Dunmail. But today, with sugars kicking in and my stomach woes hopefully behind me it felt good. Charlie thought the pace felt keen so that was good enough for me.

Bob Graham Round

13 minutes to Dunmail – Steady Away. Photograph by Charlie Sproson

Bob Graham Round

Descending towards Dunmail Raise – with Charlie Sproson and his dog Peppa

By the time we had reached the col between Fairfield and Seat Sandal we had overtaken the first of several other Bob Graham Round contenders we would see that day. Its not a race but it was nice to have on-the-ground proof that, despite everything, I was moving a lot quicker. We wished them well and kept going, hoping they took my passing for what it was, just a hopefully quicker round, and not something that should weigh on their own attempts  – such are the games that play on your mind during the Bob Graham Round.

Bob Graham Round

14 minutes ahead of schedule at Dunmail Raise – with Charlie Sproson and Stu Pitches

Bob Graham Round

Captain Logistics. My partner Steph at Dunmail – Photograph by Charlie Sproson.

Leg 3: 10:01 – 15:08 (5 hours 7 minutes)

Leg 3 instantly felt pressured. Mikes not coming, He’s sick. I looked at Steph almost disbelieving what she had just said. Please tell me your joking I thought. Mike Vogler was due to meet us at Bowfell and then continue on to Honister, it wasn’t essential to have him join in terms of numbers, I had enough pacers I thought, but in my head Mike was another rock, another vital part of my arsenal for when things would start to get really hard. At the same time Stu Pitches who had now arrived on scene helpfully pointed out the number of people who blow their rounds on this leg having been up on the previous two. These were all the things I didn’t need to hear.

Coming off Seat Sandal I had felt, for the first time, the searing pain that could only come from the large blister that had been sitting under my heel since Thursday. I needed to sort it out. Thankfully on closer inspection, it wasn’t too bad, the Compeed had just about done its job, so I carefully trimmed the loose sections of plaster away and stuck another layer of Compeed over the top. With a liberal douse of Talcum Powder and a fresh pair of socks, I was as close to being good as new as I was going to get.

Thanking Charlie for his support I set off up the hill with Stu and my other support runner, Tom Simpson. It felt steady, but perhaps it was the weight of the small amount of scrambled egg and bacon I had consumed, but it was the first time I started to worry about splits. Maybe it was just that things as far as I was concerned seemed to have gone a bit quiet. We got to the top of Steel Fell in what felt like barely the time required to maintain my 19:30 schedule. I was also beginning to feel a bit fuzzy, not low on energy as such, the legs felt fine, but I was conscious of my breathing. It was a strange sensation. I wasn’t exhausted, I’m not sure I was even that physically tired, but I felt tiredness in a whole new way, like being on a conveyor belt but struggling to keep up. I also knew that once I reached Sergeant Man, I would have gone as far as I had ever run in a single outing and beyond that was known terrain but an unknown physical journey.

Luckily High Raise, Sergeant Man, Thunacar Knott, Harrison Stickle all came and went. I was still calling out directions to Stu who was out in front, anxious to keep him on the trods that I knew. And then we got to Pike O Stickle.

It was the first time that Stu was no longer in front. He opted to not climb to the summit with me. It was just Tom and I. Then as I was descending I tripped, I don’t know how, but it was head-first and hard, on the steep rocky descent. I instantly felt my knee. It hurt. A lot. I didn’t look at it, I picked myself up, felt the adrenaline course through my veins and kept going. I could hear Stu and Tom chatting behind me, something wasn’t right. I switched my mind off. Then Stu chirped up that he wasn’t feeling at all well, was really struggling and might not get past Bowfell. Tom also admitted to struggling with a leg injury and wasn’t sure if he could keep going either. I didn’t know what to say. I did my best to encourage them on and largely chose to ignore it. Stu skirted around Rossett Pike (with the tracker) as Tom and I made our way to the summit. By the time we reached the rakes on Bowfell, I had caught and passed Stu again. No problems I thought, I would see him as we cut back from the summit of Bowfell towards Ore Gap.

There was a thick dense mist shrouding Bowfell as we climbed higher. Visibility was no further than 25 or 30 metres at best. I switched onto auto-pilot as I made my way towards the summit. Then through the mist I heard my name being called out. It was Mike! I was over-joyed. He had just eaten some dodgy fish for dinner he thought and was fine.

There wasn’t another soul to be seen on Bowfell’s often busy summit. I re-traced my steps back towards Mike. There was no sign of Stu. We stopped. The clock ticking. Tom ran back towards the top of the rakes. No sign. We pondered and deliberated. Maybe he had taken another short-cut. Maybe he had bailed. But he’d got all my kit, he wouldn’t. Minutes went by. Tom lent me his waterproof jacket as I rapidly started to chill in the damp fog. I ate a little. We could wait no longer, we had just wasted over ten minutes going nowhere. Either he was at Ore Gap waiting for us, or he was on his own. If he wasn’t there, I would just have to cope until I got to Wasdale where I had spare sets of everything – apart from the GPS tracker.

Then just half a kilometre from where we had stood waiting, we saw Stu, waiting patiently at Ore Gap. He looked visibly distressed when he realised we’d been waiting for him. At this point Stu called it a day. He was really suffering. We swapped out the kit, handed everything over to Mike and Tom and continued on our way. Stu headed off towards Styhead Tarn and Wasdale.

From this moment onwards, Mike was a star. Straight to the summit of Great End, he let me take my favoured line around to Ill Crag but after that it was service resumed, straight to Broad Crag. I was fired up again and feeling good.

Bob Graham Round

Me at the base of Broad Stand, Tom Simpson behind – Photograph by Gillian Jakeman

Bob Graham Round

Chris Jakeman readying the rope at Broad Stand – Photograph by Gillian Jakeman

Bob Graham Round

Over Broad Stand – Photograph by Gillian Jakeman

We passed another Bob Graham Round support team at Mickledore. Broad Stand calling Danny Boy, Broad Stand calling Danny Boy. It could only be Chris. His wife Gill was also there cheering me on. A 450 mile round-trip to walk up Scafell Pike in the mist, set a rope up on Broad Stand and see me fly past in two pulls. That sums up what you need for the Bob Graham, other than a good set of legs and lungs, great mates.

Descending from Scafell I was on my own again. Mike and Tom behind as I ran down Rakehead Gully. Despite everything, all the lost time, I was at Wasdale Head and still 2 minutes ahead of my overall schedule.

Bob Graham Round

My mobile catering at Wasdale and another support crew behind.

Bob Graham Round

It wasn’t rain, but a continuously bleeding knee I could feel! Soaking it up at Wasdale Head.

Leg 4: 15:25 – 19:05 (3 hours 45 minutes)

Wasdale Head was an opportunity for a proper rest. Lucy and Sabrina who would be joining me on the following leg along with Mike, swung into action like the experienced adventure racers they are, tending to my feet, whilst Steph and Mike sorted out kit and food. I tried not to think about what we had ‘lost’ on the last leg, tried not to think about how much time we could now be up on schedule. That didn’t matter. We were on schedule and todays objective was to get to the door of Moot Hall in under twenty hours. I wasn’t knackered, I was still working. There was everything to play for.

Climbing Yewbarrow was a joy. It felt like I was out for a social run with friends, not trying to launch an assault on the Bob Graham Round. The banter was great and kept me relaxed. The soup and small amount of Gluten-free Pasta & Bacon I had eaten was whirring away, in a positive way, for the first time I really started to believe, for the first time I really started to enjoy myself.

Coming off Yewbarrow I felt my stride start to open up, I had Mike telling me to keep it steady, but I’d stopped listening, I was on my line, traversing Stirrup Crag and I didn’t really care. They would catch me up. They had to. Mentally I felt more alert than at anytime since Threlkeld. I knew I still had at least another 5 1/2 hours running but I knew now, knew how I felt, knew that short of a disaster, surely I couldn’t blow it now.

Sabrina sounded more excited than I. Your five minutes up on that split alone. And they kept coming. From being on schedule when we left Wasdale Head we were over fifteen minutes ahead by the time we reached Pillar. Mike as chief navigator was doing a sterling job in the mist. Every racing line we hit bang on. Talking through his route markers as he went. I was eating, I was drinking, Sabrina and Lucy kept me fuelled and running. The encouragement to keep the pace going was now coming thick and fast. By the time we reached Kirk Fell we were nearly twenty minutes up. Great Gable was the last ‘major’ climb of the round. Another 2 minutes up. After that it would just be Dale Head really.

I knew I was going fast when I hit the descent to Windy Gap. I knew exactly what I was running for now, and it started with the number 18. By Brandreth I had taken another 7 minutes out of my schedule, I was now officially 2 minutes inside of 19 hour pace.

All aboard the Talbot Express cried Mike continuously as we descended off Grey Knotts and it was a good job he did. We were over 30 minutes ahead of schedule now and my support crew were very nearly not ready! Luckily my merry team and I had been spotted by another support crew who had raised the alarm, despite initially Steph not thinking it could possibly be me!

Bob Graham Round

Mike Vogler, Sabrina Verjee and Sally Ozanne at Honister Pass.

Leg 5: 19:15 – 21:28 (2 hours 13 minutes)

Somewhere in the mist we had past another Bob Graham round contender and their support crew. I sat down at Honister determined to get myself fixed, fuelled and ready to go again. My right knee was now really beginning to suffer. The effects of over-weighting to relieve the strain from my blistered foot since the off coupled with the heavy fall and impact it had subsequently taken were beginning to take their toll. Sally who had driven over to drop off my next lead in the form of Helen Jackson fed me painkillers and anti-inflamatories whilst Steph provided me with sustenance. All I could now think of was the number 18. In my head I had now decided that 18:45 was my target time. On schedule over the tops and then somehow take out a little more time on the road.

Bob Graham Round

Helen Jackson leading the train to Dale Head.

A hearty cheer from all the BG support crews could be heard as I left Honister with my all-female support crew! Mike had done a sterling job as had Sabrina but for the home straight I was in good company. Lucy was continuing with Helen and Lou Beetlestone in support.

The final few fells past easily, only the descents feeling slightly uncomfortable. By the time Robinson came into view, quite literally, I knew it was job done. Even the sun had come out. It was meant to be! I paused on the summit of Robinson to have a moment of reflection and then we were off again. It was now just me against the clock.

Bob Graham Round

Running towards the summit of Robinson – Photograph by Helen Jackson

Bob Graham Round

Pausing to check the time on Robinson. Peak 42. Photograph by Helen Jackson

Bob Graham Round

With Lucy Spain & Lou Beetlestone on Robinson – Photograph by Helen Jackson

Bob Graham Round

The descent to Newlands – Photograph by Helen Jackson

Waiting for me just beyond Newlands Church were Chris & Gill again, who had hot-footed it down from Scafell to join me for the last section of road-running. I stopped to change into some dry socks and road-running shoes before the tarmac hell began. I don’t enjoy running on roads, its monotonous, uncomfortable, even in the beautiful Newlands valley, even nearing the end of my Bob Graham Round I wasn’t enjoying it particularly. It was only the company that was keeping me sane. Watches beeped all around, counting down the miles as I tried to up the pace a little bit more. I made some light hearted scoff about the accounts of pain disappearing as people finish, my right knee was still killing me. I held steady, waiting, waiting. Portinscale couldn’t be far.

Once we hit Portinscale I decided to make a break for it. And then the pain really did disappear. I looked at my watch I had some ten minutes or thereabout (I cant quite remember) to get to Moot Hall in under 18 hours 30 minutes. It was surely less than a mile and a half from here. As Chris did a sterling effort to keep up, he directed me home. You’ve still got over a mile to go I heard him cry as I upped the pace again. He was worried I had gone too early but I didn’t care now. I was going to bury myself if I had to. I stared down the long straight path and focussed on nothing else. I was getting to Moot Hall in under 18 1/2 hours.

I turned onto the main road, I could see the bottom end of the High Street. I was crying – get that out of the way before anyone see’s me, and I ran as fast as I could past the evening throng of tourists. Ahead I could hear cheering from support crew and friends. My final pace-team now all behind me. Just remember keep thinking about that door on Moot Hall. Charlie Sproson’s words ringing in my head as I touched the walls and finally the door of Moot Hall, 18 hours and 28 minutes after leaving.

Bob Graham Round

Slightly Shell-Shocked. At the finish with Steph – Photograph by Helen Jackson.

Bob Graham Round

L-R Top Row: Lou, Gill, Lucy, Steph, Me, Mike, Hodge, Sabrina L-R Bottom Row: Sally, Helen, Chris

A final word

A massive thank-you to everyone who supported me. Steph who did all my road-support, fed me, ferried pacers around, took photographs and who has put up with all my selfish training for 9 months and who didn’t get to run on any of the fells that day. My pacers, Hodge, Charlie, Stu, Tom, Mike, Lucy, Sabrina, Helen and Lou. My Broad Stand and general logistics team in the form of Chris and Gill who also did a sterling job ferrying support runners back to cars and who ran those last mad few miles along the road with me and everyone else who either cheered me on or who were there at the end to greet me (Mark Roberts, Lou Roberts, Hazel Robinson, Kieran Hodgson, Sally Ozanne).

And for those who were not there, but stared at an online tracker all-day. The thought did keep me going. Thanks to Open Tracking who provide these GPS trackers FREE OF CHARGE to those attempting the Bob Graham Round.

Also, Graham, Roxy, Di, Sue & Anna at the Body Rehab in Staveley. You got me back running after knee surgery, I may need you again!

Food

Pre-Run ‘Breakfast’:

Bowl of Ready Brek (Porridge), 1 x Banana & cup of tea

Leg 1:

2 x small Pain Au Chocolat, 2 x Banana, Piece of Fruit Cake Slice with butter, Piece of Swiss Roll, Cheese Roll, Rowntree’s Randoms, 1tlr water, 500ml Electrolyte Drink

Threlkeld Stop:

Rice Pudding, Orange Juice, Cup of Tea

Leg 2:

Snickers Bar, Rowntree’s Randoms, Fruit Cake Slice with butter, Piece of Swiss Roll, 1 & 1/2 ltr water, 500ml Electrolyte Drink

Dunmail Stop:

Small bowl of Scrambled Egg & Bacon, Cup of Tea, Rhubarb Yoghurt

Leg 3:

1 x Banana, Rowntree Randoms, 2 x Cheese Sandwich, Walnuts, 1 x SIS Double Espresso Gel & 1 x Berry Isotonic Energy Gel, 1 & 1/2 ltr water, 500ml electrolyte Drink

Wasdale Stop:

Small amount of Gluten Free Pasta with Bacon, Spring Onions / Peppers plus Tomato Soup, Cup of Tea

Leg 4:

1 or 2 Banana’s, Rowntree Randoms, Jelly Beans, Cheese Sandwich, Fruit Cake Slice with butter, 1 x SIS Double Espresso Gel & 1 x Berry Isotonic Gel, Snickers Bar, 1 & 1/2 ltr water, 500ml Electrolyte Drink

Honister Stop:

Potato & Leak Soup, Flat Coca-Cola, Cup of Tea, Rhubarb Yoghurt

Leg 5:

2 x Banana, 1 x Berry Isotonic Gel, Jelly Babies, Maybe some cake (I can’t remember!), 1 ltr water – maybe more

Gear:

Silva Trail Speed Elite Head Torch

Ronhill Twin Shorts

Hilly Off Road Running Socks x 4 (changed 3 times en route)

Inov-8 Mudclaw 300 (Asics road shoes from Newlands Church)

Inov-8 Elite 20 Race Pack (carried by support crew)

Rock & Run Bum Bag (carried by me on legs 1 & 2)

Mountain Equipment SS Crux Zip Tee x 2

Mountain Equipment Spectrum LS Zip Tee

Mountain Equipment Firefly Smock & Pants (never wore)

Mountain Equipment Ultratherm Jacket (never wore)

Satmap Active 12 GPS unit (never used, carried as back-up)



 

8th ~12th: Weekly Stats (5 days) 24km / 3517ft

T-20 Hours

Friday. It’s 630am and I don’t feel much like sleeping. Better to be up and eating! My left heel is feeling a little tender after yesterday’s excursion. So I’m icing it to settle it down.

The weather forecast has sort of made its mind up but sort of hasn’t. It’s probably going to rain a bit at some point but how much and whether it then clears or remains claggy and a bit non-descript is anyone’s guess. The good news is that winds are forecast to be light, it’s not going to be too warm nor too cold.

And so in a little more than 20 hours I will be off. That seems ages away but the slightly scary thing is that a little more than 20 hours is only slightly more than the total time I plan to be running. The Bob Graham Round feels a long way now.

Nervous, excited, yes all of those things. Confident, no but yes. I’ve done more training in the last 9 months than I ever have done in my life, it still doesn’t feel enough, maybe it isn’t but you can only do what you’re motivated to do. Since October, some 388,000 feet of vertical ascent and countless miles in all weathers.

My biggest fear currently is making a route error, followed by simply falling apart once that clock goes beyond 11 or 12 hours. After that I simply have no experience on which to fall back on – long days in the Alps climbing perhaps but certainly not fell running. All I will have is me and my support team.

Thursday. One final recce! I’m not a big believer in doing absolutely nothing when tapering, and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t go and search out the ‘Parachute’ descent off Blencathra just one more time. So I had a steady walk to the summit via Halls Fell this evening in the sunshine. Was nice to turn the legs over without killing myself. Dropped in steadily off the summit, following some very useful beta I’d been given by another runner I had the fortune to bump into (who also had struggled to find the complete line) and the I am glad to report, I found the line. 14 minutes to the fell gate, 18 minutes to the A66 – it is absolutely miles faster!

Wednesday.Another steady run out towards Staveley and back. Slower pace today and the head and legs are beginning feeling a little more normal. It was warm today. Shocked the hell out of a guy not wearing very much (!) for his dip in the Kent – top tip, don’t do that next to a public footpath unless you’re not bashful. Almost felt tired but I think that is mostly due to my stomach not knowing when it is supposed to be eating still.

The forecast is looking decidedly uncertain for Saturday. But the Met-Office synoptic charts are changing every 12 hours, currently for the better. Maybe the front coming up from the South wont make it to Cumbria. Either way I don’t think it is looking bad enough to postpone!

Tuesday.  Repeat. 6km circuit to Staveley and back.

Monday. Tempo run out towards Staveley and back along the banks of the River Kent. Feeling very sluggish and still got a fuzzy head from re-adjusting back into UK time after my week in the states, but ran at a brisk tempo to try and get the legs back working. Still it is a pleasant 5 or 6km circuit with just a few rises.


1st ~ 7th June: Weekly Stats: 20km / 2625ft

My first week of full tapering. I’ve been in the North-West United States all of this week and have had an enforced few days off thanks to long-haul flights and a 48 hour delay in my baggage turning up, which meant I had little more than a toothbrush, let alone any running gear! The upside is that work has brought me to the Cascades, Washington again, so plenty of terrain on which to potentially run on, through and relax amongst.

Thursday. Another few hours spare and with a lift from my friend Woody upto one of the higher Trailheads, I headed out for a run along Nason Ridge. A delightful undulating ridgeline, heavily forested throughout most of its length but with occasional glimpses through the trees across some of the higher peaks of the central Cascades. Only Moquito’s for company which was the perfect encouragement to not hang about.

Wednesday. My baggage finally turned up today and keen to run-off some of the jet lag / 8 hour time difference I forced myself out for a run. Drove up the Icicle Creek road for a few miles, and went for an hours jaunt from Bridge Creek, running along upto the Stuart / Colchuck Trailhead. 400 metres of steady climbing up and along a fairly uninspiring track.

Monday. Today I have spent some 12 to 13 hours flying to Seattle on the Western seaboard of the United States and have then driven some 2 1/2 hours across the Cascades to Leavenworth. I’ve now been on the go for 26 hours and am knackered. 12 hours of economy-class flying is hardly ideal preparation less than two weeks before my Bob Graham Attempt. To make matters worse, our baggage it still in Amsterdam – including all of my running kit!

Bob Graham Round Training

The view south from Nason Ridge, Central Cascades, USA

Bob Graham Round Training

Nason Ridge Trail, Central Cascades, USA

Bob Graham Round Training

Warm and Mozzy-filled. On Nason Ridge, Central Cascades, USA


May

25th ~ 31st May: Weekly Stats: 75km /15,029ft

Last week of ‘normal’ training before I start tapering. That said, I won’t be doing as much this week and will ease it down a bit.

Saturday. Duddon Long Fell Race. 18 miles. This was my first proper fell race of the year and last hard run before my Bob Graham. I’d agreed to do it as it was an English Championship race but it was also going to be a gauge of whether my Bob Graham Round training was having any effect  either positively or negatively on my race speed. It was also a chance to rectify some past demons, at this same race in 2013 I lost the plot entirely and managed to miss out the last checkpoint on Caw Fell and got disqualified. Not my finest hour.

And so there was a degree of nervousness and trepidation as I made my way to the start line. It was a nice morning in Seathwaite, sunny with fluffy clouds floating about but still on the cool side. The starting field was busier than normal, the championship status drawing a bigger field of 300 or so. At 1105 we were off.

The start is a relatively fast run-out along the track past Wallabarrow Farm and on towards Harter Fell. I hate these starts, running hard to get near the front to avoid getting stuck in gate or stile squeezes means pace goes out of the window. Trying not to trip up on rocks and boulders whilst you can’t see in front of you and all around the sound of heavy breathing distracts you from breathing yourself. It could not be any different to 95% of the training I had done over the past 8 months. By the time we began the climb to Harter Fell proper, things had calmed down a bit. On the ups my legs felt strong and it was a steady walk / run to the summit. First checkpoint in 40 minutes, a minute or so up on my previous best.

I pulled away from one group of runners and joined another on the descent to Hardknott, again the ascent to checkpoint two was a welcome relief and I locked onto the chase group in front. Checkpoint two on Hardknott fell summit was reached in an hour and two minutes, still up on my previous best.

Descending to Mosedale I deliberately went a slightly different way, amazingly I could hear people following me from behind, always amusing, but the important thing was I could still the front runners ascending Little Stand in front. I knew I wasn’t completely out of the top tier. Little Stand is neither little nor easy. Over 400 metres of steep fell side rearing up out of Mosedale. It’s a leg killer. But today I was enjoying the up hills more than the flat running, they felt less pressured and I just drove my way up, a consistent speed all the way. Caught another chase group and settled in to the top. One hour 30 at checkpoint 3.

By the time I arrived at the Three Shires Stone and checkpoint 4 I knew I was going well, I was 5 minutes up on my previous best time in 1 hour 46. I ran through and hit the ascent to Swirl How hard. Catching another 2 or 3 other runners. By now I didn’t want to look behind, the pressure of other chasing groups behind too much to contemplate, the thought of throwing it all away utmost in my mind. I tried to stuff a Snickers bar down my throat as I climbed. The upper reaches traversing around Great Carrs we hard, one runners whom I had just past caught me and pulled ahead. I dug in and ran onto Swirl How reaching checkpoint 5 in 2 hours and 12 minutes, 7 minutes up on my previous best.

Running around to Dow was my only slightly low point on the whole race. I began to finally feel tired. That said, no-one past me, and so as I beg and the short climb upto Dow, I took the opportunity to stuff more food inside me. Checkpoint 6 in 2 hours 32 and on the long home straight now. With my club mate, Todd now alongside it was a hard and fast descent towards White Pike, passing the Walna Scar road we ran past others like they were standing still, it felt fast and it took just 12 minutes to reach White Pike. It was painful, I just wasn’t used to this pace. Across to Caw and another chase group were caught, another few places snatched and it was with relief and slight bewilderment that I pulled up onto the summit of Caw, knowing this was the last checkpoint and that all that was left was the fast descent down to Seathwaite.

I crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 11 minutes. 36th. I could live with that for a Championship race. Clearly all that Bob Graham Round training hasn’t made me too slow!

Friday. Headed upto Blencathra for a short afternoon run and take another look at the Parachute descent. I am rapidly beginning to think this route is jinxed. As I pulled into Threlkeld the heavens opened, I stayed in my car as the rain thundered down. It was 8c -hardly what the end of Spring should feel like. Eventually it eased off and I headed off up the road towards the open fell. I’d got maybe 100 metres above the fell gate when it started to hail, light at first but as I headed higher, the hail got heavier, more squally and more painful. A few more minutes later and I had been reduced to a snail, crouched on the open fell, cowering from the relentless hail. It was truly miserable.

Eventually it passed. I continued upward, the path running with cold water and melting hail. By the time I reached Halls Fell Ridge, the sun had come out and other than the fact my hands were numb, it felt relatively pleasant. Albeit more like early March than late May. As I pulled onto the summit it started to snow.

I paused for a few moments, pulled on my over-trousers and turned south-west to descend the steep grassy face, the start of the Parachute descent. Within a hundred or so metres I was off-line, on broken ground that by anyone’s standards was neither fast nor particularly safe. As I descended further through tussocky heather, I strayed too far left and found myself on steep and awkward ground near the base of middle tongue.   Moments later, I lost concentration, slipped and found myself staring head first down a ravine. By any standards this was pretty stupid and very nearly was very painful.

It apparently took Billy Bland 14 minutes to descend all the way to Threlkeld via this route, it had taken me 14 to reach the beck and I’d nearly broken myself. Reached the A66 in 25 steady minutes with some more food for thought.

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Tuesday. Headed over to Dunmail Raise this afternoon again. I wanted to run directly to Sergeant Man to finally decide whether I am going to head to Sergeant man first, or go to High Raise first. There isn’t a lot of time in it. However, having ‘walked’ both options now I think heading via Birks Gill to High Raise is the better option.Why? We’ll firstly the path upto Sergeant Man just isn’t as good as everyone makes out. Yes it has a few runnable sections, but you will be 8 hours in (10 hours on a 24hr schedule) and you won’t be running much. Apart from that it is rough and boggy in sections and surprisingly intermittent. There are a few more direct lines but these are on rough tussocky ground and not on the path. Finally in low visibility, it is easy to stray off route especially in the final few hundred metres to Sergeant Man itself.  Going directly via Birks Gill is steep, but directly adjacent to the Gill is pretty firm underfoot, you gain height quickly and this will suit my body at this stage. It is also direct and easy to nav in poor weather. The upper section when it begins to flatten out is rough and a bit miserable but at least your in sight of High Raise. Once there you have the advantage of running downhill to Sergeant Man. Decision made.

After that 2 hour outing I headed to Loughrigg Fell for an evening’s orienteering with Ambleside AC. Totally different, gunned it for an hour in attempt to win, but my high risk strategy didn’t quite pay off. Missed a couple of easy checkpoints and accrued 3 minutes worth of penalty points for being over the hour cut-off time. Finished 3rd but at least had a good work-out!

Monday. After a fairly full-on weekend of running in the Scottish Highlands I’ve had an easy day today. A short 6km ‘trail’ run around Kentmere which gave the opportunity to up the tempo a little bit and run the legs a little more.


18th ~ 24th: Weekly Stats: 100km+ / 26, 246 ft / 8000m

Just back from 2 days running in the Scottish Highlands. I was up there helping Mike Vogler to recce the Ramsay Round (the Scottish equivalent of the Bob) as well as getting in some more big mountain training – he will be supporting me on my Bob Graham, and is himself preparing to complete the Big 3, having already ran both the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley (the welsh equivalent) rounds. So we spent two days running mountain marathon style over two thirds of the Ramsay Round.

It’s big, rough, remote and serious running terrain – to be honest it’s nothing like the Bob Graham, apart from the stats, it feels light years apart. I quite like it. Even now at the end of May, there was full snow-cover on the summit of Ben Nevis and some gargantuan snow-fields and choked gullies which resembled more of the Alps and the Himalaya than Scotland.

So Saturday saw us running over Ben Nevis, Carn Mor Dearg, Aonach Mor / Beag and the Grey Corries before dropping down to overnight at Meanach Bothy. Some 20 miles or so running over the roof of Britain, across scree and boulder fields, narrow ridges and deep Bealachs, and racking up some 3000 metres of vertical ascent. The weather was good, clear and sunny to begin before a sheet of threatening cloud encroached from the Atlantic. But it stayed dry until early evening, by which point we were long since down.

After a night spent sleeping on the floor of the bothy (the bank holiday meant we weren’t alone) we headed out for our return leg over the Mamores.  The overnight rain had cleared to leave a colder and brooding atmosphere above Glen Nevis. Cloud obscured much of where we had ran on Saturday and was glancing the tops of the Mamores. It felt very different to the last time I had ran on the Mamores under a blue sky and searing sun. By the time we reached the summit of Sgurr Eilde Mor it was snowing.

And that set the tone for the next 3 or 4 hours, a cold wind and frequent snow showers accompanied us across the Mamores, passing only a handful of other folk out hill-walking before we finally dropped down to the Youth Hostel in Glen Nevis some 6hrs and 20 minutes after we had started.

All that was left was to grab a bite to eat, jump in the car and head south back the Lakes.

#BG20 Bob Graham Round Training

In Glen Nevis after a 2-day recce of parts of the Ramsay Round

Thursday. Another day-off work, another training run. But crucially, the best I’ve felt in weeks.  I was keen to re-look at the direct line up onto Fairfield, as well as treble-check that my times coming off Seat Sandal are as consistent as I think they are.

So I parked up at Dunmail Raise again, and ran down to the car park at Wythburn before beginning the long climb up the Western slopes of Helvellyn. My intention was to run all the way to the summit of Helvellyn, after which I would drop down to BG pace for my route over Dollywagon, Fairfield and Seat Sandal before returning back to Dunmail Raise.

It was brighter and consequently warmer than forecast, a steady breeze blowing above 600 metres, with the sound of Skylarks all around. The head felt good, the legs felt ok, the lungs were ticking over. I reached the summit in an hour.  There was a cold wind blowing on the tops and after a brief stop for some food and to chuck on an extra layer I turned back south and headed over Nethermost Pike before sticking to the left hand skyline as I picked my way onto the summit of Dollywagon.

From Dollywagon there are two accepted descents, the most popular is to take a line down to the western side of Grizedale Tarn following a line of old fence posts. The other is to pick your way (or follow the path) down to the Eastern side of Grizedale. I favour the latter, its more direct, with the right line, more runnable and the only issue is you’re then left with a steep climb up on Fairfield.

The trick with this line is to not head too far left and end up on Cofa Pike, I don’t think going this way is very quick. Where you choose to strike upwards is therefore critical. I was wanting to check a slight variation on the line I’ve taken before. It seemed fairly quick, although there was some loose scree sections which were not very good. Despite that I reached the top of Fairfield in 29 minutes (from Dollywagon).

#BG20 Bob Graham Round Training

Seren at a much needed watering hole

#BG20 Bob Graham Round Training

Bright but chilly on Helvellyn

#BG20 Bob Graham Round Training

A quiet day on Helvellyn. Striding Edge beyond.

Wednesday. With a day-off work today, I headed around to Dunmail Raise this afternoon. Want to hard-wire the trods into my memory that skirt around all the lumps and bumps around Steel Fell and was also keen to try the ‘High Raise first’ option instead of automatically heading for Sergeant Man.

With a fresh out of the box pair of Mudclaw 300’s on my feet, I began the never gets any easier slog up Steel Fell. 14 minutes to the end of the Steep Ground, 18 minutes to the summit. A bit fast but its training so no worries. From here it was a pleasant if slightly breezy run across Calf Crag and onto towards Brownrigg Moss.

From here I headed straight for Birks Gill. The ground is lumpy, a bit boggy in places but once your adjacent to the stream, its up, on ok ground. You cant or wouldn’t want to really run, but that doesn’t really matter. The easier ground above Birks Gill is a bit of a damp slog in places but I was consciously trying not to try to hard, and still made it High Raise in 26 minutes (from Calf Crag). From here it was a slightly faster 6 minutes to Sergeant Man and the run around to Thunacar Knott is little different to that of coming directly off High Raise. So I’m not sure now, may need one more foray back to the ‘Sergeant Man First’ option before I finally make up my mind.

After Thunacar Knott, I made a beeline for High Raise, before heading north and retracing my steps after a slight detour via Greenup Edge.

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

One slightly muddy border collie. On Steel Fell.

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

Near Thunacar Knott, on the way back.

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Looking north towards Skiddaw. The line coming off High Raise can easily be seen.

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

Looking across to Seat Sandal and Dollywagon Pike from Steel Fell

Monday. Feeling some of my energy and motivation trickle back so in an effort to do something without over-doing it, I headed around to Hartsop, back to my winter training grounds for the ‘short’ run upto Hayeswater and around High Street and Thornthwaite. It was bloody cold on the tops again, with fleeting hail and sleet showers. Glad to have opted for my hooded Squall Jacket today.

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Evening light strikes through the shower clouds. Looking across Hayeswater towards Fairfield etc.

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

I wish photos could convey a strong, freezing cold head-wind. I started swearing quite a lot after this. On High Street.


11th ~ 17th: Weekly Stats: 70km / 12,132ft

This has been a tough week. My body has felt so drained and ‘not right’ that I’ve struggled to run whilst the pain in my lower leg has been reluctant to leave, despite my attempts to ‘stretch it away’. Needless to say my head has been full of self-doubt this week. Apart from the Old Counties Tops, it’s been a quiet week.

Saturday. Old Counties Tops Fell Race / 37 miles (59km) / 10,000ft (3,200m)

So it was with a degree of nervousness that I drove to Langdale this morning for the start of this years Old Counties Tops. I was still feeling far from 100% and if it wasn’t for not wanting to disappoint my running partner Wil, I am not convinced I would have got out of bed. At 37 miles it’s as long as Lakeland fell races get, visiting the summits of Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and Coniston Old Man – the highest points of the old counties of Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire which are now consumed by the county of Cumbria.

Racing with Will Spain we started steadily, but after a few hours it was clear that Will was faring worse than I. At the pace we were going I was feeling ok, Helvellyn was easily reached in 2 hours, Angle Tarn 4 hrs or so but from Wythburn it was clear that Wil was struggling to eat and struggling to go uphill. It suited me, the pace meant I could try and just get my body back into running and being out on my feet, I stayed ahead, tried to conserve energy and treated it as a training run.

We finished in 8hrs 48 minutes, 28th place I think. No dramas, no low points, no where near feeling 100% but happy to have got out running again.

Tuesday. Exhausted and feeling under the weather. Managed a short run up Wansfell from the Low Wood Hotel, but even that felt like hard work.


4th ~ 10th: Weekly Stats: 78km / 16,496ft

Sunday. Legs better today but still with some lower leg pain, but unfortunately work has got in the way so I went for a short run before heading home to do some more stretching and crunch some presentations I need to prepare.

Saturday. Broken Record. Struggling a bit these past few days, partly with a lower leg strain / pain which I think is my peroneal muscle having taken a bit of a beating. I’ve been trying to stretch the pain away but its not quite working. Either way it seems to be directly connected to my head, and is causing that to develop an acute form of cant-be-bothered-itus. So it took me until 1430 today to summon up the will to don my running shoes again. Should I run, should I not run, if I do run – how far should I go? Can I afford to not run far or climb lots? Having given a thought for the guy running the Bob Graham Round last night in horrendous weather, I decided I needed to get on with it. So I headed over to the Howgills for a change of scenery and ran the 14 miles of the Sedbergh Hills race route, bagging an extra 1800 metres or so of ascent over a steady if somewhat laboured 3 hours.

Bob Graham Round Training: In the Howgills

Classic Howgill scenery looking towards Tebay and the M6

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

Hmmmm……..bit warm, bit tired, bit slow

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Seren enjoying another day out

Tuesday. Tonight was grim. A run around Kentmere after work. There were few Skylarks singing this evening, I saw one, struggling to stay in level flight in the gusting cross wind. Hood down with plenty of time for thoughts since apart from hide from the torrential rain and gale force wind there was little else to do.

#BG20 Training for the Bob Graham Round

It’s not always nice! On Ill Bell.

The 'view' from Ill Bell just before things took a turn for the worse!

The ‘view’ from Ill Bell just before things took a turn for the worse!

I’ve doubted my commitment to this cause lately, perhaps I’m just tired and my mind cannot help wonder about the level of commitment it takes to complete a challenge like the Bob Graham and whether I’ve got it in a similar vein to those who may wonder what it takes to excel as a runner or indeed any other sport or activity as opposed to merely take advantage of a natural ability, stay within a known comfort zone knowing they will never do badly but never reach their theoretical potential. My frequent questioning as to how great my motivation is nothing new, despite others views and the proof (if that’s what it is) of nights like tonight when no other soul was to be seen running around the Kentmere Horseshoe in pretty foul weather.

And so as I ran around this evening, my thoughts unable to escape the hood wrapped tightly around my head I also wandered onto question the statement of being ‘lucky to live in the lakes’. A strange question you may think, of course you’re lucky. You live in a National Park, you have mountains on your doorstep, you can train and head into the mountains at will. And in that sense I couldn’t disagree – being able to access mountainous terrain living where I do is a massive plus.

I can be home in minutes not hours after a day on the fells, I can head out at the drop of a hat and not to have to plan my outings in advance. I can run in the morning or late in the evening. My decision to move to the Lakes is one I’ve never ever regretted. Despite that I know of people who’ve tried it and moved away again, who’ve decided that there is a price worth paying or a price worth being paid and been tempted away. I know those who will never make it here, but say they would like to, because they have too much to give up.

Which brings me back to my question of commitment. Is it running a hundred kilometres or more a week? Climbing 20,000ft or more a week? Or is it simply having the motivation to try, to get by with the bare minimum, to dream simply about getting round, to live hundreds of miles away from the Lakes, have no choice but to train on roads or canal tow paths, doing lap after lap on the biggest bump you can find? Or is it the person who gets up at 5 or 6am to train because that is the only time they can fit their training in before they have to get their kids ready for school and have no choice but to fit training around the demands of having a family? The latter I have no experience of, have no need to understand, but those I know who do that meet my definition of being committed and in that sense do something I don’t think I could.

Living and always training on the Lakeland fells comes with its own unique challenges of course, challenges which get few votes of sympathy.  Training in all weathers. This is hardly news but it really does rain a lot, the wind really can blow a lot and especially during the depths of winter, conditions can often be pretty grim and at times arduous – ground saturated with icy water, chilling winds which gradually erode every vestige of strength from your body. Live here and you don’t have much choice. Equally the temptation to bale, when things don’t go to plan is that much greater – the realisation that I won’t have squandered a rare chance to be in the lakes, I won’t be wasting a long journey that going home is quick and easy.

So commitment I guess is as much about wanting it as anything else. Even when you live here, you’ve got to want it. Unless you are very lucky things are never handed to you on a plate. Take today. I left home at 730 and drove 1 and half hours to Manchester, where I often spend my mid-week time working. I then drove home again, getting home at 630 having left the office a little early, gulped down a cup of tea and then jumped back in the car and drove around to Kentmere. 2 and half hours later I was back at home, soaked to the skin and freezing cold. Having eaten dinner, cooked by my suffering other half (Bob Graham Rounds rarely affect just yourself) it’s now 11pm and I’m drying out in front of the fire. I’m tired.

Monday. Today I ran the 28km / 17-18 miles around the ‘Skyline’ of the Ian Hodgson Mountain Relay. Someone should organise this as a race in itself. A great route taking in quite a few Lakeland tops and bagging around 2000 metres of climbing. Luckily the bank holiday traffic never seems to result in the car park at the top of Kirkstone Pass being full and being only a 20 minute drive from my front door ticked the box for a hassle-free day. A steady pace saw us round in around 5 hours.

#BG20 Bob Graham Round Training

On St. Sunday Crag. Last week’s snow melted back to a trace on Helvellyn.

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On the climb out of Patterdale. Steph & Seren heading for Angle Tarn

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Looking North from the Knott en route to High Street


April

27th ~ 3rd (May): Weekly Stats: 74km / 15,695ft

I’m knackered and my left leg won’t stop aching so I am going to take a few days off. The past 3 weeks have been fairly relentless, not running every day but it’s been 20,000+ ft a week and the battering both up and down is getting to me. My head also feels a little drained. Plus the weather is shite. Its freezing, there’s snow on the fells again and it generally feels blustery and damp. I’m making excuses but at the moment they’re convenient. So 3 days of complete rest, some self-diagnosis to conclude my Piriformis was causing the pain in my leg before a light run over Potter Fell on Thursday and plenty of stretching to get my legs working again. Friday would be a new month and a long run.

Fear & Doubt. So after a quiet mid-week I today (Friday) ran legs 1, 2 and part of 3 (as far as Sergeant Man before dropping down to Langdale). A total distance of some 30+ miles.

My pace was just under 19 hour schedule. Exactly as planned. But rapidly into leg 2, the wheels started to come off. It was really hard and my head is now full of self-doubt. I arrived into Langdale a broken man. Nicky Spinks, who recently beat her own record to become the fastest woman to have completed the Bob Graham has been quoted as saying that in order to complete a challenge you need to be scared of it. Well I’m not sure whether I’m fearful of the challenge I’ve set myself, have a rapidly deepening respect for it or am simply shitting myself. Failing that I was having a bad day, was dehydrated for 2/3 of the route, am tired, unprepared, my pack was really heavy or I’m simply not good enough to go that fast. Take your pick.

I left Moot Hall in Keswick shortly after 7am. It was cold, but clear and sunny. The trog upto Skiddaw doesn’t get any easier or any more enjoyable. I hate it. But at least the views were at their best and a covering of snow greeted me as I pulled past Jenkins Hill. I’d seen no-one.

Bob Graham Round Training: Leg 1 recce

On Jenkins Hills en route to Skiddaw

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On Skiddaw looking across to the Dodds & Helvellyn

I punched through the 2-3 inches of frozen snow as I descended off Skiddaw to Hare Crag, before it was back to business as usual, traipsing through the boggy ground across to Great Calva. Taking the direct line off Great Calva I made quick progress down towards the beck, stopping to take on-board water and eyeing the line onto Mungrisdale Common. After numerous recce’s I’d finally found ‘the line’ – and its worth searching for. I  reached Blencathra 6 minutes ahead of my schedule.

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‘The Line’ across Mungrisdale Common is there…..somewhere!

I opted to not search out the Parachute descent, the rock was dry and Halls Fell wouldn’t be too slow and instead enjoyed the technical rock hopping down to Threlkeld. I arrived at the A66 in 2 hours and 58 minutes, 9 minutes ahead of my schedule. I felt good.

It had been a while since I’d last been up Clough Head and this time opted to run to the right of the fence that leads beyond Newsham House onto the open Fell above. Pointless, despite the obvious trod, the left-hand side is more direct and faster. My lack of time on this part of the route showed and I fired up Clough Head, my pacing shot to pieces, 6 minutes ahead of schedule and 17 overall. Probably a mistake although it didn’t feel it at the time.

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On Clough Head looking towards Great Dodd

From Clough Head it was a hard mixture of running and walking, sometimes on firm ground, sometimes on an annoying crust of partially frozen snow, some legs I was quicker, some I was slightly slower as I made my way towards Helvellyn. But by the time I reached the summit my reserve had slipped back, only some 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

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Plenty of snow by the time I reached Stybarrow Dodd

From Dollywagon I currently favour the direct line, down to the Tarn outflow before hitting the steep trod besides a small stream before following another stream straight to the top. Its real hands on knees / hands on ground stuff. But even today, wobbling, tired, dehydrated and snow masking the firmer grassy lines it got me to the summit of Fairfield in 31 minutes, 12 minutes ahead of schedule.

By the time I arrived at Dunmail, the benefit of descent had seen me take more time out of the schedule. I finished Leg 2, 19 minutes ahead of my schedule in 3 hours 32 minutes, 6 hours 39 minutes since leaving Keswick. But I’d had enough. I was dreaming about coke and bowls of pasta and bacon. I munched through my remaining sandwich, swallowed some cake and stared at Steel Fell. I could ring home. I could call it quits here. I didn’t need to do this. I sat at Dunmail for 18 minutes, got the phone out twice before deciding to get on with it.

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On Steel Fell looking north across Thirlmere

I pulled my pack on, and stumbled upwards. Ok, Steel Fell in 2o minutes, bang on schedule. Calf Crag in 18 minutes, slightly behind my schedule but I’m never quick on this section even when fresh so no problem. 5 minutes to talk some ‘knowledgable’ Americans who’d read ‘That Book’ (Feet in the Clouds of course!) and a quick photo since I was ‘de-ranged’ and ‘one of those people mentioned in that book’  on Calf Crag before on towards Sergeant Man. I reached Sergeant Man, 8 hours and 9 minutes since leaving Keswick and I’d had enough. The call had gone in, and I was heading down.


20th ~ 26th: Weekly Stats: 100+ km / 21,391 ft

This week has been a mixture of fast-ish laps of the Kentmere Horseshoe, a partially successful fine-line recce of leg 1, a successful fine-line recce of the ‘direct’ line up Fairfield plus a moderately long 20 mile run around some other Lakeland Fells, looking at the Old Counties Tops route for a change of scene. The pounding around Kentmere seems to be taking its toll a little, or maybe it’s just the cumulative effect of mileage and ascent, but either way the legs are feeling a little tired. The one saving grace is that the weather has mostly been amazing……….until winter decided to return.

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A moment of rest and recuperation above Grasmere

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Winter returns….Will head down into snow on Greenup Edge

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Looking as bad as I felt! Near Fairfield

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Take the two highest patches of snow, and go straight up between them!


13th-19th April: Weekly Stats: 20,367 ft ascent / 95km

This week has been split in two by a brief foray north of the border for some late season ice climbing on Ben Nevis. The two days on the Ben were in themselves pretty long days with plenty of uphill training but either side it’s been business as usual. Monday evening saw me out on another lap of the Kentmere Horseshoe, Friday night I was back to my winter stomping ground of Red Screes and Scandale Beck whilst Saturday was a 4 hour sortie around the Duddon Fell race route.

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A warm evening above Kentmere

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Clear skies on Harter Fell during a round of Duddon

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Two Grade V ice routes on the Ben were a welcome diversion


6th ~ 12th: Weekly Stats: 21,863ft / 100 km approx.

Ran 5 out of 7 days this week, the longest outing of which was a recce of legs 3 and 4 combined. Early in the week the weather was fine and warm and Monday and Wednesday found me running around the Kentmere Horseshoe, of the which the 2nd round resulted in my fastest non-race time ever, excluding the summit of High Street itself, in 1 hr 48 minutes. Proof that I don’t buy into the one-size fits all argument for not neglecting speed work when training for long distances. Speed will come to those who are strong.

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Skirting High Street looking north

But by Saturday the weather had changed. At 630am I left Dunmail Raise in horizontal sleet, which soon became horizontal snow, my plan to run legs 3 and 4 didn’t seem such a good idea. Running across to High Raise, I was only just under a 20 hour schedule, the driving wind and snow was taking a massive toll on my energy and speed. I was cold.

But the weather was forecast to improve somewhat and by the time I reached Rossett Pike the cloud base had risen, just the wind remained. A slow line to Rossett Pike (following one of the recommended lines over the ridge itself – last time I do that, it’s definitely faster to follow the trods further around to the west after reaching the col at Black Crags and not follow the ridge itself) meant I was only ‘on 20hr schedule but re-gained time heading onto Bowfell via the ramps and across to Esk Pike, despite the snow and slippy conditions.

Given the snow, wet rock and ice, Broad Stand probably wasn’t the hottest decision that day but I needed to remind myself that it was straightforward. Having nearly had a moment, once fully committed I reminded myself that it was, just not in those conditions. I ran down to Wasdale a humbled being and told myself that ‘going’ on Broad Stand would be a crap way to bow out.

Despite deliberately taking it easy up Yewbarrow, I flew up it and reached the summit in 38 minutes, Red Pike, Steeple all came and went. I was now well up on my 20 hour schedule and eating into a sub 19 hour pace. Climbing up Great Gable I was blown off my feet, I was battling but physically not knackered, just mentally drained from fighting the wind and the cold.

I arrived at Honister 9 hours and 2 minutes since leaving Dunmail. I was cold but physically in reasonable shape. I felt pretty good.

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Looking back towards Scafell Pike from Scafell

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Looking down a snowy Broad Stand. My footprints can be seen bottom left.

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Keeping fuelled and trying to stay warm on Steeple.


March

30th ~ 5th (April): Weekly Stats: 40km / 9,711ft

This week was a rest week. So I opted to do practically nothing during the working week. But on Saturday I found myself heading out with Mike Vogler, who is currently training to complete his Big-3 (having already done the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley Rounds), on a modified version of the route that the Great Lakes Race follows. Sunday and it was back out around the Kentmere Horseshoe.


23rd ~ 29th: Weekly Stats: 60km approx / 13,733ft

Gone backwards. I’ve rarely felt so bad as I did on Sunday. Having reached the top of Garburn Pass I stumbled back, barely able to walk I was so low on energy. That was the very definite low point of a week that saw me run the Sedbergh Hills race route in under 3 hours and venture back to Kentmere to run the first of no doubt many laps of the Kentmere Horseshoe over the coming months.

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Beautiful evening light on Froswick

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Seren watching the sun go down over the Kentmere fells


16th ~ 22nd:Weekly Stats: 80km approx / 17,260ft

This week the shorts have finally had an airing. Although the week started mirky and damp, mid-week briefly felt like Spring. A run around the northern side of Langdale allowed me some fine-line recce’ing of the route around Rossett Pike and up onto Bowfell whilst I also ran most of Leg 3 on Saturday.

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On Martcrag Moor during a recce of leg 3

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Pike O Stickle and the central fells from Harrison Stickle



9th ~ 15th: Weekly Stats: 35km approx / 6,693ft (excluding cycling!)

I’ve been in Majorca this week, reminding myself that I’ve not ridden my road bike since August and also reminding myself that you cannot therefore hope to cycle hundreds of kilometres on mountainous roads and not feel considerable pain. I temporarily hate cycling. On top of that a run around the Kentmere Horseshoe, up and down the Old Man of Coniston and Loughrigg Fell have kept the legs ticking over.

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After 3 days of Majorcan warmth this was a shock to the system

 

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Winter not letting go on High Street


1st ~ 8th: Weekly Stats: 15,528ft

March started as you would expect. It felt exactly like the start of the Meteorological Spring – dumping with wet snow as I ran over the Langdale Pikes. Mid-week found me working in the Cairngorms on some winter training courses for our staff. Yet by the end of the week, the weather was finally warming up and with it the running needed to move up a gear and so  I ran around the ‘Skyline’ of the Ian Hodgson Memorial fell race route, four hours of great running.


February

February started as January had ended very cold and snowy. Snow lay to low quite low levels and initially lay, in lee areas, in very deep drifts. But high winds quickly began stripping much of this snow and with low temperatures remaining, the fells became runnable again with hard-packed snow and ice. Training runs at the weekends consisted of slightly longer runs (between 3 and 4 hours) around Troutbeck and Kentmere as well as the Langdale fells whilst mid-week laps continued on Red Screes and High Street.

Finally the running started becoming more consistent and as the light levels began to increase so did the average weekly ascent, creeping back up to the levels I’d been aiming for. Quieter weeks hit the 9,000 ft mark with busier weeks just shy of 13,00oft.

Monthly Ascent: 41, 475ft / Average Weekly Ascent: 10,368ft

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Seren and me above Hayeswater

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Weak winter sunshine on Thornthwaite Crag

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Seren enjoying some winter sunshine on Red Screes

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Early February on Crinkle Crags & Bowfell

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January

Early January lived up to its reputation as a stormy time of year and Atlantic gales rolled in to batter the Lake District. Running was hard, picking routes to avoid the worst of 70 mph winds,fighting the onset of blizzards and coping with the trudge of wet and endlessly boggy ground which sought to suck every last bit of strength out of your legs. Helvellyn from Swirls Car Park became a popular choice for its chunky height gain, solid underfoot terrain and ability to hide from the very worst weather until above Brown Cove Crag.  In little more than an hour, the best part of 800m of vertical height gain could be absorbed and you could be back in the valley.

Luckily or unluckily work took me away for 10 days mid-month giving me some enforced rest.

At the very end of the month winter would make its presence felt again as deep snow and persistently low temperatures brought the most sustained winter conditions of the season. One planned run around the Kentmere horseshoe was abandoned near to Thornthwaite Crag, after deep snow had totally wiped me out. It had taken me 2 hours to get just beyond Froswick, a distance that would normally take around 50 minutes.

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A cold end to a short day on Red Screes

 

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Deep drifts on the Kentmere fells

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Looking towards Helvellyn from Red Screes early in the month

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Cold, damp and a little weary in the Howgill Fells


Christmas

For once, a lack of snowfall in the Alps was not the end of the world. A light, high and stable snow-pack allowed for a running-packed few weeks in the Ecrins, interspersed with a small amount of skiing and ice-climbing. Laps around the forests high above Vallouise coupled with a lung-busting ascent of the Tete D’Amont provided some valuable altitude training.

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Training on Christmas Day. After a morning’s skiing, a run with 700m of vertical ascent to earn that Turkey.

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Training on Boxing Day. Running to the summit of Tete D’Amont.

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Making the most of the sunshine and high snow-level in the Ecrins Massif


December

Weekly Average Ascent: 7,700ft of climbing.

As November went and December came, winter finally began to arrive on the Lakeland Fells. Temperatures finally started falling below freezing and with daylight in short supply my mid-week training concentrated on rounds of Red Screes as well as the occasional run around High Street from Hartsop. Both of which could be squeezed into extended lunch-breaks twice a week. My plan was to focus solely on climbing hills and running as much if not all of every route I went out on. Distance could come much later.

Mid-month saw the first proper snow-falls of winter and some seriously tough but fun running ensued but no sooner had winter proper arrived than it went again in the run up to Christmas as gales and milder / stormy weather returned.

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Very snowy and slow conditions on Pike O Blisco mid-month

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The week before Christmas and it was VERY WET. On Silver Howe.

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Definitely winter. Looking North across to Pike O Stickle

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Thornthwaite Crag can be a lonely place at night. Just Seren for company.

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The fells start to become a cold and bleak place

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The summit of Red Screes…..my most visited fell-top of the whole winter.


November

Weekly Average Ascent: 7,037ft per week

The late Autumn training period was characterised by a distinct lack of anything particularly cold. There had been few crisp and clear days but nor had it been particularly unpleasant ensuring that I was out on the fells in shorts all month. With the days rapidly shortening, running at night on the fells became an increasingly common occurrence as I chased the setting sun on numerous outings. At the same time illness seemed to coincide with planned rest weeks to wipe out any meaningful training for days and weeks at a time which both physically and psychologically was a real blow. Now of all times, was the time to be laying foundations and getting stronger for the long winter ahead.

Despite this, my motivation to get out remained. I’d already decided that the winter was going to largely consist of relatively short runs with as much vertical height gain as I could throw in. Minimising my exposure to the cold, trying not to wear myself down whilst building core strength in my legs.

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Running above Threshthwaite Cove as Autumn draws to a close

 

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Less than an hour later…descending through the darkness towards Hayeswater


August to October

Average Weekly Ascent: August – 8,831ft / September – 9,486ft / October – 8,228ft

It was mid-Summer. I recently supported Rick Stuart on a leg of the Joss Naylor Challenge, I’d had a few good run-outs with little in the way of training including a 5th place in the Elite Class of the Lowe Alpine Mountain Marathon and niggling away at me was my stomping ground. The Lakeland Fells. The most obvious challenge of which was the Bob Graham Round. The effort, commitment and dogged determination immortalised to the masses within Richard Askwith’s Feet in the Clouds.

And so in true-to-myself, very non-committal way I began training. First Step, develop the motivation to get out running every week. Secondly get out running every week. Thirdly prepare for the long months ahead by finding routes I would run in all weathers, day and night. Fourthly, DON’T GET INJURED.

That final step was nearly in the bin before I’d barely got going. Competing in the Rab Mountain Marathon at the end of September I made some stupid navigation and route choice errors and attempted to out-run my mistakes and in the process buried myself. I could barely walk afterwards. But I didn’t stop. I focussed on stretches and conditioning and within 10 days was back up and running.


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Late season ice on The Ben

‘I’ve got a couple of days holiday left, you still keen for winter climbing?’

The daffodils were blooming, Southern England was basking in sunshine and temperatures in the mid-20’s and we were back on the M74 heading north late in the evening. It was shortly before 9pm and only the fading twilight signalled that the depths of winter had long past. Yet winter on The Ben was far from over. As in most years, April can be a magical month to climb snow & ice routes on Britain’s highest mountain and this year has been no exception.

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Ben Nevis in April. Seen from the CIC hut.

 

Hadrians Wall Direct (V,5)

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Chris outside the CIC hut.

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Working my way up the first pitch of Hadrians Wall Direct

 

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Me high on Hadrians Wall Direct, Point 5 on the far right.

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Looking down pitch one to Chris

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Chris overcoming the bulging ice on pitch two

 

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Chris enjoying perfect placements on pitch one

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Me with burning calves on the upper snowfields nearing the summit

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At the summit shelter on Ben Nevis

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Chris coiling the ropes after dispatching Hadrians.

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Spring returns on the descent

 

Smith’s Route (V,5)

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After Twenty plus years since watching ‘On the Edge’ – finally on Smiths Route

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Staring down pitch one of Smiths

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Chris followed by one of the few other teams out that day

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Chris in the ice cave at the top of pitch one of Smiths Route

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Is it steeper than it looks? Try cutting Steps! Chris on pitch two

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The difficulties over, heading for the summit

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Me tackling the final summit headwall….perfect neve

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Me on the summit, peering over the corniced edge

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Chris nearing the top of Smith’s Route. Tower Ridge behind.

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Mission accomplished. Me and Chris after climbing Smith’s Route.

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Sunshine and snow on Ben Nevis

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Just about packed up and ready to go home

 

 

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Late Summer in the Alps

Early September and we’ve been back in the Chamonix valley. The inescapable mix of a small tent, pasta meals and some cheap plonk signalling an end of summer season hit of alpine climbing.

Other than the buzz of helicopters whizzing overhead everything had the quiet feel of late summer winding down into Autumn when we arrived – the sun taking that little bit longer to grace the campsite, the cooler mornings and the dusting of snow from last weeks storms, unmelted on the higher faces. In short conditions felt just about perfect.

We had toyed with the idea of heading straight up to do the Kuffner route on Mont Maudit but thought better of it. Instead we headed to the easier and slightly lower objective of the Forbes arete on the Aiguille du Chardonnet.

Aiguille du Chardonnet – East Ridge (Forbes Arete)

Tuesday saw early Autumn give way to Summer. It was easily in the high 20’s as we left Le Tour for the short chairlift journey upto the Col de Balme, a steady hour’s walk later and we’d reach the Albert Premier. Tranquil it was not, it is currently a cramped and noisy building site.

Aiguille du Chardonnet and the Glacier du Tour

We left the hut at 340am, heading out across the glacier in pursuit of a number of ENSA teams. By the time we had reached the upper Cwm it was gone 5am and we were out in front, weaving our way through the darkness across some rather sporting crevasses before breaking onto the icy slope that led upto the Bosses. Our unacclimatised lungs were gasping slightly as we broke onto East ridge (forbes arete) just after dawn.

Approaching the 'Bosses' at dawn

Approaching the ‘Bosses’ at dawn

The AC guide gives the impression that there is only one technical section (III) with the rest being straightforward. At no time is it difficult, but in the conditions we encountered it offered sustained mixed climbing, a mix of short cracks and walls, exposed ridge lines on rock and firm snow plus one short abseil mid-way from an in-situ sling and maillon (which may be possible to avoid on the left) – all of which went on for a great deal longer than we’d expected.

Rich Bailey on the Forbes Arete at dawn

Exposed climbing on the Forbes Arete

Despite that we stayed ahead of time and pulled round the last gendarme and onto the summit at 859, 5hrs and 19 minutes since leaving the hut.

Dropping off the summit we followed one of the ENSA teams who’d caught us up again and headed for the descent. Not straightforward at the best of times (having climbed the Chardonnet before via the Migot route) we were greeted with a 45 degree bullet hard icy couloir. As the ENSA boys carefully abseiled and lowered their clients down, we turned in, down-climbing ten metres apart with some hastily buried ice screws for security, a small slip here and we could kiss goodbye to a cold beer.

Rich Talbot and Rich Bailey on the summit of Aiguille du Chardonnet

Rich Bailey abseiling

Eventually we broke onto more amenable mixed ground, sticking left (not right as the guidebook suggests) we abseiled down a short wall and found ourselves at a snowy shoulder. Sucking up the slightly thicker air, we dropped down northwards, once again sticking to the far left of the steep convex slope that hid the vast rimaye until Rich was almost in it. A few careful steps and we were on safer ground, tracking back across the glacier, arriving back at the hut some 3 hrs and 15 minutes since summiting.

Contamines – Grisolle Route (Left Edge Route) Pyramid du Tacul

The weather forecast for the end of week was uncertain. Foehn Winds, high 0c isotherms and a potential breakdown were all mentioned as we scanned the Chamonix meteo forecast. Apart from one day of guaranteed good weather all there was, was uncertainty. Our time on the Forbes the day earlier had shown that despite moving relatively quickly, above 3800m we were not moving super-fast. The guides office spoke of longer than expected climbing times on the Kuffner; that coupled with an imminent breakdown of weather at some point on what would be our main climbing day and two less than acclimatised climbers, we regretfully decided to leave the Kuffner route on Maudit for another time. Instead we decided to head to the Pyramid du Tacul, the vast accessible playground that looms over the vallee blanche.

The Contamines  – Grisolle route is one of the ‘easier’ routes on the Pyramid, less steep than the Chere, which we’d both climbed before but longer and more committing. But it was short enough that it should be possible to do in a day push from the first cable-car. The guy in the Guides Office seemed to think it would be possible, preferable to stay at the Cosmiques Hut and get an early start, but doable nonetheless for a fast team in a day from the valley.

We missed the first cable-car by 3 places. And that was already an hour later than normal since the Aiguille du Midi had switched to its Winter time-table. It was 9am by the time we reached the top-station. Heading straight out the tunnel we tracked across the Vallee Blanche as quickly as our lungs could reasonably muster.

Geared up, we crossed the rimaye, and began daggering up the 55 degree snow-slope. It was scorchingly hot, and we were in the middle of a 200 metre snow-slope that was soaking up every last ray. Soft snow gave way to bullet hard ice and back again. Not a great place to be. Keen to get to the relative safety of the mixed ground above, we ran it out, Rich Bailey taking over the lead on the second half of the slope.

Rich Bailey in a hurry on the Contamines - Grisolle

Squeezing back into the shade, I took over once again as I pulled through a small choke that saw us off the steep snow for the time-being. From here the route weaved its way through intricate mixed ground, bullet-hard plate ice every-where, interspersed by spikes and chimneys of bleached granite.

Mid-way on the Contamines - Grisolle Route

Conscious of time ticking-away, we pushed on upwards, a mixture of simul-climbing and direct belays affording us some security. Reaching the upper snow-field, I was running low on gear, out of extenders, prussiks were looped to the few wires I had left, ice-screws clipped directly, but didn’t want to stop to re-group so in the end I just ran it out.  We pushed on until we had reached the final spur that led up towards the summit of the Tacul Triangle. Here we could re-group, re-sort the rack and climb the last few metres over easier mixed ground.

Crossing the upper snow-field on the Contamines - Grisolle route

Originally we had planned to join to the normal route and continue onto the summit of Mont Blanc du Tacul but with it already 1245 and cumulus cloud bubbling up all around us we took the option to descend. A short climb along the snowy ridge brought us to a potential traverse line, from where an exposed traverse brought us down to the Voie Normale.

Hours later, sat in the campsite we read through numerous UKC posts about epics on the route we had just completed, benightments, route choice errors and simply sustained climbing among the list of comments about a route which perhaps isn’t always that straightforward. In that context our 3 1/2 route time from bottom to top didn’t seem so bad.

 

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