Supporting Juhana’s Bob Graham Round

A week before the first nationwide Covid-19 lockdown was announced in March 2020 I got a message from Juhana Kirk. He couldn’t travel to Madeira for his planned ultra trail race. His coach had suggested completing the Bob Graham Round as an alternative and would I help. JK had been a fantastic pacer on my BG the previous year. He even ran back up Green Gable in the rain and clag to find John Donneky who had stopped to put on his waterproof without telling anyone. I agreed to help in any way I could on Juhana’s Bob Graham round and awaited more information. On 20th March 2020 the Bob Graham Club announced they would not accept any successful attempts until further notice. This lasted until the Summer by which time Juhana was already training for a different challenge.

Meet the contender

Fast forward a pandemic blighted year and a new message on April Fool’s Day says the attempt is on. An early start on Saturday 5th June. He’s still working on a twenty hour schedule which I think is a bit unambitious for a man of his ability. In 2020 Juhana won the North Downs Way 100 mile race in less than twenty hours. I’m confident he can go under the same time for the Bob Graham. He has also completed several other ultra marathons winning the Hardwolds 80 and has an Iron Man Triathlon pb of 9.27. I’m excited to help, flattered to have been asked, hope to keep up and help out the best I can.

Juhana with the North Downs 100 trophy
photograph Stuart March Photography

The Pacing Crew

As June 5th approaches I’ve had a couple of decent days on the fells and I’m feeling a bit more confident. The pacing team is a bit sparse but isn’t lacking in star quality. Lakeland 24 hour record and winter Bob Graham record holder Kim Collison on legs one and two. Paul Nelson Cockbain’s Runderdome 2021 winner and Hardmoors 160 2020 winner navigating leg 3. Tremayne “Dill” Cowdry winner of several ultra marathons including setting the course record in Cockbain’s 140 miles Coast to Coast Ultra in 2018. I’m on leg 4 with my friend Elaine Bisson who finished third overall, and first woman in last January’s Spine Challenger race along the Pennine Way. Since then Elaine has been regularly pacing attempts on the Pennine Way record. Elaine and I are staying on leg 5 and we are going to be joined by Kim.

Scott Ulatowski is the road support for the day. He needs to get the pacers into position and ensure Juhana has enough food and fluids for each leg. Scott can’t run for a few months because of a foot injury but he has won a fifty mile ultra race in the past. On arrival in Keswick Scott is the first person we see. Driving straight past us as if we are invisible even though we are waving at him. A quick phone call later he turns round and we head towards Wasdale. The winding roads near Wasdale Head are even worse than usual due to the time of day. We are traveling against the prevailing direction of the traffic. Most people have enjoyed their day out and are heading back to their accommodation. Our adventure on Juhana’s Bob Graham round is yet to begin.


I don’t usually cope well with standing around but I’ve got a job I enjoy. Scanning the slopes of Scafell for runners. I saw some coming down off the scree and run down to tell Scott he needs to turn up the heat on JK’s boil in the bag meal. I then return to the gate at the top of the car park to direct them to the car. I’m a bit confused as there is an extra runner coming down. After a few minutes Paul Nelson bursts out of the bushes with Tremayne, Juhana and a complete stranger close behind. I send them down to the car and start to get ready.

Tremayne, Juhana and Paul at Wasdale

“There is NO easy way out of Wasdale”

Of all the hints and tips on the Harvey/Pete Bland Sports Bob Graham Round Map “there is NO easy way out of Wasdale” is the most iconic. Juhana is currently on about 19 hours 26 minutes pace for his round and from the timetable we have seen the climb to Yewbarrow should take 42 minutes. It is a time we have done before and should be manageable.

I stop to take my first photograph of Juhana’s Bob Graham Round and have a quick toilet break behind a rock. When I look up they are 200 metres ahead and I need to rush to catch up. I’ve also had another gel explode in my side pocket and the sticky goo has already welded my t-shirt to my ribs. Catching up proves to be more difficult than I expect and I’m just behind them at the summit. Looking at my watch it is easy to see why. Elaine has taken ten minutes out of the target time reaching the top in 32 minutes while climbing from 75 metres to 628 metres in that time. This could get interesting.

Climbing Yewbarrow

Red Pike

After Yewbarow things should get a little easier. Descending down the scree and rocks to Dore Head isn’t pleasant in the wet but in today’s dry conditions it is no problem. Red Pike is 200 metres higher than Yewbarrow but a far easier climb in comparison to its lower neighbour. He’s still moving strongly and able to hold long conversations although his favourite line is frequently about Elaine’s “insufferable pace”. Things are looking good. The piece of blue tape Juhana has round his knee injury is starting to feel restrictive so he carefully rips it off and sticks it in his rubbish bag. I’ve got the spare roll in the pocket of my bag in case he needs it.

JK on the summit of Red Pike

Old Man Of Pillar

We both knew what was coming next. Elaine allowed the two of us to visit Steeple while she had a rest on Scoat Fell. Exactly the same as she had done two years ago my my round. Three down six to go on this leg and still making god time. On the way up to Pillar we met one of the few walkers we saw on the day. An older gentleman with a huge bag. His Covid lockdown beard had mutated and taken over his face. In his right hand was a folded piece of paper which looked a bit squashed.

Juhana made a mistake asking him where he was going and we spent the next few minutes trying to explain where Scoat Fell, Steeple, Red Pike and Haycock were situated and what would be the best order to visit and descend into Ennerdale. Elaine waited impatiently in front knowing we were wasting time unnecessarily. Eventually the old man of Pillar rumbled on and we began the ascent again reaching the top soon after.

At the Pillar on Pillar

Looking Strong Despite the “Infernal Pace”

We continued down into Black Sail Pass and up to Kirk Fell. Juhana said this was his favourite climb on the leg. He’s still eating and drinking well. A mixture of fruit and gels. A date bar is a bit dry and doesn’t get finished. The two litres of water we brought look like they will be enough. At Kirk Fell we are about 20 minutes up on the schedule and showing no signs of slowing down.

Juhana climbing Kirk Fell

Great Gable

The final nasty climb of the day is Great Gable which has a stony, pathless section up to the summit. Since Pillar we have been able to see Great Gable to shrouded in mist. At 899 metres it is the highest on this leg. On Great Gable visibility isn’t bad but it cools us down. According to BG folklore Great Gable is the last difficult climb on the round but as always it depends on the contender’s legs.

Misty on Great Gable

Juhana hasn’t been looking forward to the descent from Great Gable but he has no problems. While I’m looking for the gel he wants the roll of blue tape slips out of my bag and rolls 50m down the hill in the opposite direction to the path. For the only time I’m not as quick with the nutrition as I would like as I chase down the tape.

After Green Gable on the climb to Brandreth Elaine is waiting near the pointless gate in the middle of the fell. As expected she forces a bemused JK through the gate. There are probably only three people who have used the gate on their rounds and we are all standing next to the gate.

Elaine forces JK to go through the gate

Descent to Honister

Green Gable is the last of the 800m peaks and we are slowly descending into Honister where Scott and Kim will be waiting. Brandreth is a pile of stones with a metal fence post sticking through the centre and Grey Knotts is a knott of grey rocks. Since Wasdale Juhana has been worried about the descent from Grey Knotts into Honister and the effect it might have on his legs. He breezes down into the slate mine with no problems and Scott even has a choice of rice pudding for him. We have run half an hour faster than the schedule. We set off on the last leg of Juhana’s Bob Graham Round.

Grey Knotts last summit on leg 4

Leg 5 Honister to Keswick

One thing I was looking forward to was meeting Kim Collison. Not in a fan/hero sort of way or as a learning experience. I just wanted to know if he actually smiled all the time or just in every photograph I had ever seen of him. By the time we reached the top of Dale Head I already knew the answer. He’s probably the happiest person I’ve ever met and just keeps grinning all the time. Dale Head is the last decent climb and it is loads of fun, mostly grassy with a stony path leading to the top. There are a couple of tents pitched at the summit and the inhabitants are surprised to see us.

First peak on the last leg Dale Head

Hindscarth is an easy climb from Dale Head and is dealt with quickly. It is only on the descent I realise JK is getting slower. Over the last twelve miles he has been just in front or just behind on the downhills but I’ve left him for dead this time. We regroup for the last climb of the day and force another gel into his hand. Robinson isn’t high or hard but the BG path is quite steep and we are all relieved as the summit comes into view. The climbing on Juhana’s Bob Graham Round is done. Everyone is smiling and we only have to reach Keswick for a fantastic round.

Juhana at the summit of Robinson

Take Me Home Country Roads

I’m not looking forward to the next part and neither is Elaine. Scott spent half an hour explaining in detail why JK would still be able to run 6.30 minute miles on the road for the last 4 miles. Our fears are unfounded as Juhana and Kim jog along the road at our pace happy with the sub 19 hour time which is guaranteed. It is starting to get dark but we only need one headtorch and don’t see any traffic.

There are plenty of people on the dirt track between Portinscale and Keswick in the gathering gloom but we successfully navigate them and run into the town. Two cars are turning left and blocking the road but we squeeze between them. Moving onto the market square a little man is making a big noise as Scott cheers his friend home and up the steps to the mythical green door. 18.44 that’s a great round. Several of the Saturday night drinkers come over and shake JK’s hand and some even seem to know what a great achievement the time is. His splits on Yewbarrow, Red Pike, Grey Knots, descent into Honister on leg 4 and all three climbs on leg 5 are all faster than the legendary Billy Bland’s 1982 record which stood for 35 years.

Juana Kirk savours his moment at the top of the Moot Hall steps

Scott tries to get some drinks from the pubs but despite it being 10.45 they have all called last orders. A publican brings out a complimentary pint in a heavy glass for Juhana but the rest of us rely on the supplies we have left. JK goes back to the youth hostel to rest up for the half ironman he’s got in three weeks time and Elaine and I go back to the car. I get changed, grab some food and jump in, Elaine is already eating. Her first words are “amazing, amazing, amazing” and she is 100% right what a day.

We hope you enjoyed reading about my role “Supporting Juhana’s Bob Graham Round“. Have you supported anyone on their round? Is there an easy way out of Wasdale? Let us know below in the comments.

Read some of of other blog posts for more hilly adventures on

Recce of the Old Crown Round

Wasdale and Ennerdale Day Out

45 at 45 Challenge

Supporting Stuart’s Bob Graham Round

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