Stuart’s Bob Graham Round

Leg 1 Support May 5th 2018

I’m standing outside the Moot Hall in Keswick on a Saturday morning in early May. Just before 3am while the rest of the country sleeps we have our photograph taken. Despite having less than two hours sleep I am full of energy and looking forward to an early morning half marathon of severe climbing and descending. The town centre is deserted apart from a few inebriated locals waiting for their taxi home and four fell runners eager to help one of their number join the legendary Bob Graham Club. We are ready to set off on Stuart’s Bob Graham Round.

Waiting at the start

The Bob Graham Round

In 1932 Bob Graham, a Keswick hotellier climbed 42 lakeland peaks in 23 hours 39 minutes to celebrate his 42nd year. For the last 85 years fell runners have tried to emulate the feat of approximately 66 miles and 42 peaks in under 24 hours. Between 1960 and the end of 2017 there had been 2,170 successful attempts. The ultimate test of Lake District endurance attracts runners from all over the world.

The Bob Graham Club produce statistics for each year. The 2017 figures are as follows:

There were 233 registrations (27 ladies) with 115 successful rounds (13 ladies).

There were 111 successful clockwise rounds (13 ladies) and 4 successful anticlockwise rounds (0 ladies).

Fastest times were 14:59 for the men and 17:57 for the ladies.

The average age of successful contenders was 39yrs 0months.

The age of successful contenders ranged from 20 to 56.

Duties of a Bob Graham round pacer

  • Carry the safety equipment and food of the person attempting the round so they are lighter and use less energy
  • Nag them to eat regularly (usually at half hour intervals) and stick food in their hand when they ignore you as constant feeding is important to keep the body moving
  • Keep them up when they are down and grounded when carried away by excitement as both can cost time and energy
  • Provide encouragement or advice where needed
  • Help navigate on the route so the attempt isn’t derailed by getting lost
  • Witness the runner reaching each peak as required by the rules (the person attempting must have at least one other with them at each peak to verify the completion of the round)
Leg 1 map

Stuart’s plan

Stuart had decided a 3am clockwise attempt on a 21 hour schedule was his best option. He picked an early start to make the most of the daylight throughout the day. I had volunteered to help a few months earlier. I was allocated leg one which would be partially in the dark but we would also see the dawn rise. Leg one is like August and September in the football season. The runner is fresh and optimistic. Legs three and four compare to the hard winter months when injuries and suspensions hamper the team’s performance. You would never give a team which is top of the league in September the championship. Similarly a BG runner who successfully completes leg one on time still has up to 20 hours hard work left to complete the round.

Leg one starts at the Moot Hall in Keswick. It takes in three of the 42 peaks Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra, before finishing in Threlkeld near the cricket club. Our group contained a mix of youth and experience with Fiona trying Halls Fell for the first time. Stuart hired a tracking device which gave his location on the company’s website.

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Dawn breaking On Skiddaw

On the run

We encountered very few problems and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise. There was a fabulous orange glow in the dark as we climbed Skiddaw and turned into a bright clear morning by the top of Blencathra. As always descending was harder on the body than ascending. After scrambling down Hall’s Fell the final gentle jog into Threlkeld gave the legs some relief.

Stuart had been very chatty and excitable wanting multiple action shots of his big smile and running poles. He was determined to enjoy his day and confident of success. Getting him to eat regularly had been difficult but forcing food into his hand seemed to work. Job done for the day and only a couple of minutes behind schedule. After a brief stop for new socks and more food Stuart was soon climbing Clough Head at the start of leg two of his adventure. I was soon getting a lift back to Keswick for my journey home.


A nail biting finish

Two hours later I was back home watching Stuart’s tracker on the internet and followed the dot for most of the day and night. After a strong first half ahead of his 21 hour finishing schedule he got noticeably slower compared to the predicted times. It was one of the most frustrating nights of my life watching a little dot move extremely slowly around the Lake District. Knowing a year of preparation would come down to a few minutes and a 50/50 chance of success or failure. There was a feeling of helplessness and nothing I could do to give him a push over the line. When all seemed lost he rallied and finished in 23 hours 46 minutes.

We hope you enjoyed this article about Stuart’s Bob Graham round. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Read more posts on our Dreaming of the fells blog page.

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