#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
Planned Date: 13th June 2015
Follow my attempt live on-line: 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.
25th ~ 31st May: Weekly Stats: TBC
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.
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.
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.
Thursday. Another day-off, 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).
Wednesday. With a day-off 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.