Many, unless a fell runner, won't necessarily know about the Bob Graham Round, or the Bob Graham Club. Let me explain... Back in 1932 a Keswick Hotelier, with support from two friends, broke the Lakeland Fell record by traversing 42 fells in The Lake District in 24 hours. He was called Bob Graham, hence the name of the Round. It is classed as the pinnacle of fell running in the UK. Since then over 2,000 people have completed the Round, with many attempts failing. The route is a 66 mile circuit from the Keswick Moot Hall and back again, normally completed clockwise, climbing the 42 names fells, with 27,000 feet of cumulative climb - it is hard, in fact it is a super human feat.
Over the years the route has been refined and developed, with people able to run with support teams, GPS, known routes and so forth. But it is still a severe challenge. The route is broken into five distinct legs (Chris and Des's running support in brackets.)
It is highly planned with support crews meeting the runners at the change of legs. Food is taken on board, shoes changed, with minimum amount of time expended. Cars and people need to be shipped all over the place. Normally a runner on each leg as an absolute minimum will have one person navigating, and another carrying water, food, and kit - the "donkey".
Leg 1: Keswick to Threlkeld. (Richard Mackey, Nick Haynes, Sean Willis, Ed Steele)
Leg 2: Threlkeld to Dunmail. (Richard Mackey, Simon Jump, Ryan Townrow)
Leg 3: Dunamail to Wasdale. (Paul Taylor, Peter Cobley, and Gaynor Keane)
Leg 4: Wasdale to Honister. (Ozzy Kershaw, Scott Newburn, Ed Steele)
Leg 5: Honister to Keswick. (Martyn Hodgson, Monica Boland, Sandrine Fraisse, Jill Davies)
(I've not mentioned all the people who supported in between legs, drove, and provided moral support. It was and is a huge effort. Just look at the Flickr photos.)
The fastest run to date (until the weekend) had been by a famous fell runner called Billy Bland at 13 hours 53 minutes and stood from 1982; yes, that time over that distance and climb, and that's fell runners for you. Unassuming, never heard of, amateur, get on with it. The women's record is currently that set by Jasmin Paris in 2016 at 15 hours 24 minutes.
Over the weekend, Chris Smith and Des Thorpe attempted the Bob Graham Round, setting off from Keswick Moot Hall at 7pm on Friday 7th July. They are members of the Saddleworth Runners, the fell running club I run for. They had 24 hours in which to complete the leg. I myself was running Leg 3 in support. At 6am on Saturday 8th July a person called Kilian Jornet set off with support - he's a famous mountain runner in our circles. More on him to come.
Myself and Leg 3
I was over the moon and nervous after my wife said I'd run as a Donkey on Leg 3. This particular leg is viewed as the hardest due to length and climb, approximately 17 miles and 7,000 feet of cumulative climb, taking in Steel Fell, Bow Fell, Scafell Pike, and Sca Fell.
We arrived at the handover point of Legs 2 and 3 at Dunmail Raise at 2.45am Saturday morning, and saw support crews gathered and headtorches coming off Seat Sandal as others were also attempting the Round.
We picked up the lads and were then off, straight up Steel Fell. It was already hot by 7.15am and this made the running hard, oh so hard. I'll let the pictures tell the story, but it was magical, with a clear day giving unbridled views of The Lakes at their best.
It was an honour to run with Des and Chris as support on Leg 3. Paul Taylor's navigation was "bob on", with Gaynor and I as "Donkey's". The packs were heavy: I myself carried gloves, hat, waterproof top and bottoms, bivvy bag, head torch, emergency food (plus the runner's food) and 4 litres of water, 3 with electrolyte. The heat meant the water was near enough consumed when we hit Wasdale.
My Strava for Leg 3: https://www.strava.com/activities/1687428523
After tough running in extreme heat with temperatures in excess of 25 degrees C, they did it! Both Chris and Des coming in to the Moot Hall at 22 hours and 55 minutes!
It was an experience to chill out around Keswick on Sunday and to monitor what had been kept a top secret event - less fuss that way. He was supported by some of the UK's top fell and mountain runners. Both Claire and I were lucky to make it to the square outside the Moot Hall to see a 36 year old record broken as he came in at an amazing 12 hours 52 minutes. To greet him was Billy Bland, the legend. Was Jornet tired? Yes. Is he super human? Yes. Is he modest? Yes. Look him up!
But let's not take away from Des and Chris. They spent a year planning and building up to this. That is what it genuinely takes. Well done lads. You deserve it!