"Alison pull my finger"....old habits die hard.
No Bob could ever replace grandad Bob...not even Robert ‘Bob’ Calvert came close when I was going through my obsessive Hawkwind phase. The charismatic lead singer was constantly on my turntable to my parents dismay...."turn that rubbish down....I get some same treatment now living with Alison but it’s usually, “turn that shit off”.
When I’d discovered fell running another Bob entered my life...Bob Graham.
I’ve been meaning to have a go at the BG for a few years but my addiction towards fell races has always got the better of me. I don’t use the word addiction lightly as I generally feel I’m addicted to racing.
Addicted: physically and mentally dependent...enthusiastically devoted to a particular thing or activity.
When I’m not actively fell racing, I’m thinking about fell racing...I absolutely love it. Every year I say to myself I’m not racing as much this year, it’s getting ridiculous. And before the years out I’ve done over 100 races again. I needed to focus on something other than racing and the Bob Graham was to be my goal.
Billy Bland says that whoever attempts a Bob Graham becomes king for the day. The great man is undoubtedly right and for that reason I’d always thought that if ever I get around to attempting a BG it would be a solo affair as I don’t like a fuss...I’ll remain a pleb, a commoner. I’d told Alison about my intentions of doing a solo round and my reasoning behind going solo. And in typical Alison fashion she called me “a miserable sod”.
I pointed out to Alison all the organisation that’s involved on a supported round would be a nightmare for a Luddite like myself. Getting a BG team together sounds too much like hard work involving emails, schedules and other such malarkey...she disagreed. Right...I’ll show my beloved who’s a miserable sod, I’m going for it the regal way and start to drop hints that I’m thinking of doing a BG. I’m overwhelmed with the response from fellow runners and quickly realised that getting the supporters wasn’t going to be a problem.
At the start of 2018 I’m in Bob Graham mode...mentally but not physically. Straight away I’m slipping into old habits and I’ve raced every weekend in January. The BG training isn’t going to plan but I’d managed a recce of Leg 1 in early February. There’s snow on the ground and Halls Fell ridge was treacherous. I pretty much shuffled down it on my arse but did find the recce worthwhile...onwards and upwards.
No more BG trips in February, instead I’d raced 8 times....not really sticking to the plan of this being my Bob Graham year. Then the penny dropped...Edale Skyline was like a kick in the balls. It made me realise I had to start taking this BG thingy seriously...and that’s what I did.
My plan was to have 14 weeks of hard training followed by 2 weeks of tapering then I’d be all set for July 21st. I chose this date for its convenience around my shift pattern at work. My race addiction became a good part of my training with Howgills, Eskdale Elevation, Teenager, Pendle Cloughs, Old County Tops, Helvellyn and the Dodds, Duddon Long, Ennerdale Horseshoe, Great Lakes and Daz H Buttermere Horseshoe all being done and usually followed with a BG recce. All told I went around every leg at least twice with the longest day being Legs 3&4 when I supported Ken Taylor on his incredible record breaking round. To see my friend achieve this at 71 years old is one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had on the fells...totally inspirational.
Supporting Ken three weeks ago was my last long day out and apart from a couple of short races I’d not done much but count down the days until my attempt. The waiting is painful, I was constantly looking at the long range weather forecast and keeping well clear of anybody with a cold. I’d called off at my parents and turned back when I’d heard my dad sneeze before I’d entered their house. My mum was on the phone minutes later asking why I’ve just driven away from their home. I explained my predicament around people with a cold at the moment.....apparently my dads sneeze was the actions of too much curry powder in one his homemade concoctions.
When the day arrives Alison informs me it’s ‘Frantic Friday’ and travel chaos is expected on all major roads throughout the country. Not wanting to chance it we leave for the Lake District in plenty time and typically don’t hit one single traffic jam...I’ve got four hours to kill. The time is slowly ticking down and I start to get ready in the van at about 10pm...I’m going at midnight. In Alison’s words, “I’m doing plenty of faffing about”...she’s not wrong. Between us we get everything ready and go over last minute details regarding food etc. Alison is a brilliant help but draws the line when I ask her if she’ll apply Vaseline to my arse, “Vaseline your own arse....and don’t forget to wash your hands”.
Top Tip: If you apply the Vaseline you don’t need to worry about toilet paper if a ‘number two’ comes a knocking. Be careful applying the Vaseline, it’s easy to slip a digit up...you’ve been warned.
Brilliant support from Nick Ray, Ste Angus and Scamp the dog. These guys know their stuff and even though it’s obviously dark and the cloud is down they guide me around with ease. Off Blencathra we headed down the scree then cut across to Halls Fell ridge. It was a pleasure to be in their company...Scamp seemed to enjoy himself also.
Finished leg in 3hrs 25mins.
Alison does me proud providing porridge with banana and honey....4 minutes after arriving I’m off again.
Blimey I had this leg covered. Craig Smith has supported more people on this leg than anyone I know. I’m almost certain he said I was the 42nd person he’d helped. My other supporter was Leigh Warburton...need I say more. This leg flew by and once we’d left the Dodds our head torches were packed away. Craig is fantastic company and even some of his jokes are good, notice I didn’t say all of his jokes. And with Leigh being one of my best mates from the fells I was really enjoying my BG experience. Craig told me I was the most relaxed person he’d ever taken around the leg...that’s all down to him and Leigh.
Finished leg in 3hrs 48mins
Beans and cheese are quickly dispatched and I’m off 7 minutes after arriving.
The longest and roughest leg and I’m privileged to have the Helm Hill lads Adam Perry, Craig Burrows and Paul Aitken (rope on Broad Stand). Once again the support is amazing and I’m not finding this hard work I’m simply enjoying the day out with mates. It’s a pleasure to see a runner of Adam’s quality making everything look so effortless. Craig is great company and keeps the food and drinks coming at regular intervals. The weather has not been bad, there’s hardly any wind but I’ve been in cloud all day and now on the rough stuff the rocks are treacherous due to the damp atmosphere. I slip coming off Bowfell and Craig’s face says it all as I land with a right ‘thud’...he looks worried. My knee starts to throd but I’m able to carry on running, albeit gingerly but I’m running...phew. More slips and bangs and finally we arrive at Broad Stand to be greeted by Paul.
Broad Stand will forever be part of my nightmares. I’d been up a few weeks earlier on Ken’s BG and it had been fine...the rocks were bone dry and it was a doddle. On my BG it’s wet and slippery and anything but a doddle. I put the rope around my waist and manoeuvre the easier first section, I’m finding it hard on the wet rock. After watching me struggling on the ‘easy’ bit Adam asked Craig if he fancied turning back and going up Lords Rake instead. Adam didn’t get an answer as Craig was already on retreat...actions speak louder than words...Craig didn’t fancy Broad Stand. The next move requires me to jump up to get the handhold. Paul’s got me roped up but I need to get the hold and position my feet to push myself up...my shoes will not grip the wet rock. I find myself dangling like a ‘limp-dick’ whilst looking into the abyss over to my left. All the while Paul is cool personified whilst giving me instructions from above. I’ve so much confidence in Paul’s ability with the rope that whilst I’m dangling there looking up at Paul I’m surprised with my initial thoughts...”hasn’t Paul got lovely eyes”.
Yeah I was scared and well out of my climbing comfort zone...but I was in safe hands. I get my shit together and finally get over the exposed rock face. For the next few minutes we watch my quads go into spasms of cramp brought on by built up tension and tiredness. We meet up with Adam and Craig on Scafell and I tell them they made the right choice in turning back...I don’t mention Paul’s lovely eyes.
Finished leg in 5hrs 59mins
The wet rocks and my fall on Bowfell cost me time on this leg. No worries, still well up on my 22hr schedule.
Tomato soup and a slice of bread...6 minutes later I’m off again.
I fly up Yewbarrow in 41 minutes and start feeling like it’s in the bag. For company I’ve got my new hero Paul Aitken, Mark Irving and James Harris. I’m feeling strong on this leg and even with a tricky descent off Kirk fell where we had a slight wander we still make up loads of time. It’s great to be back on the fells with Mark, I did legs 4&5 on Mark’s successful round last year and it means a lot to me having Mark on mine. James is great to have onboard, he’s such a character, he actually brought a pair of ear defenders in case I needed a break from his ‘enthusiasm’...fantastic company.
Finished leg in 4hrs 32mins
Mega quick changeover of 3 minutes....really pleased to see my mate Mark Ellithorn offering encouragement.
The dreaded Dale Head climb is anything but dreadful...I feel better than I’ve ever felt whilst doing this climb near the end of Borrowdale fell race. Mark and James have carried on from leg 4 and we’re joined by my Chorley teammate Bill Beckett, I’m so pleased Bill could be part of my day.
On reaching Robinson, the final peak, it’s fitting that the sun finally comes out. I’ve been in the clouds pretty much all day...it’s not been a round for the views.
Finished leg in 2hrs 44mins.
Bob Graham, done and dusted in 20hrs 49mins
Whilst standing around at the end did I really see a bloke in a gimp mask being led around by a dog chain...or is this the sleep deprivation kicking in?
Massive thanks to my amazing wife Alison, she did road support from start to finish.
Many thanks to Pauline Warburton who helped Alison for most of the day.
Thanks to my mate Mark Birbeck who followed my progress throughout my round from behind the lense of his camera.
Thanks again to all my supporters who gave up their time to help out a fellow runner...it’s massively appreciated.
So there you have it...I was reluctant to be ‘king for a day’ but I’m so glad my wife’s ‘miserable sod’ comment hit a nerve and got my arse in gear. It was pleasing to hear many of my supporters say they’d enjoyed their day out and liked my relaxed approach to doing the Bob Graham...and I’ve still managed to squeeze in 58 races so far this year...beltin.
Fellrunning- embrace the sport, respect the people.
This account was originally posted on the Fell Runners UK Facebook page by Darren. I'm trying to contact Darren to ask his permission to re-post it on here, so if anyone knows Darren please ask him to take a look and let me know.