The Big 3 pt. I – The Bob Graham Round

The Bob Graham round is a pretty big undertaking, 64 miles and 42 Lakeland summits originally run by Bob Graham in 1932 in under 24 hours. At the time he claimed the Lakeland 24 record for the most summits completed in that time, starting and finishing at the Moot Hall in the centre of Keswick. 

The Bob Graham Round Route

Every summer Dark Peak Fell Runners endeavour on a round supporting club members and back in 2011 I completed the round as part of the Dark Peak train. I try to support the club attempt each year when I can as a thank you for helping me on my round, but also as its a very social weekend and great to be part of. This year was a bit different.

I was planning to run round supporting this years club members but about a week before I bumped into Oli Johnson in the local Co-op. Oli is an international level orienteer and also a member of Dark Peak, and mentioned he was potentially up for running a round that same weekend. He was wanting to run it at a decent pace, with just road support, and hinted about an 18 hour schedule. I was interested and if he wanted any company would be happy to tag along. That weekend we were both up racing the Great Lakes fell race and after finishing the race relatively unscathed we committed to the round the week after, on the 22nd June. It was Oli’s round and so I was happy with whichever way he wanted to do it. His Ideal round was a pretty low key plan, support at roads only and carrying all our own kit on the hills, and to a fast schedule. 17 and a half hours sounded about right, maybe? Maybe a bit ambitious with minimal support? We’ll see I suppose. 

We travelled up on the Friday and camped up on a site near Keswick, ate as much pasta as we could, prepared our kit, and tried to get some sleep. The only problem with going to bed at 7pm on the day of the summer solstice is that it is a bit light, but eventually I drifted off. Our planned start time was 2am, which gave us a planned finishing time of about half past 7. This gave us a lot of daylight and a very social finishing time if we fancied going to the pub after.

The start

After a little bit of sleep we were up at 1:30. I forced down some surplus pasta and we were driven down into Keswick by our road support crew, Oli’s parents. Walking to the start was a game of spotting runners or revellers, of which the latter provided slurred words of encouragement. Another group of runners where already waiting for a 2am start and suggested we go first and that they would see us later. So, after the obligatory Moot Hall start photo we were ready for the off. Instead of waiting around we decided to just start on the next whole minute. 1:56. Go! 

After a 4:40 pace first kilometre the initial adrenaline wore off and we settled down to a nice (ish) pace. This leg ticked away quite nicely, straight up Skiddaw in about 65 minutes and down towards Great Calva. Upon summiting Great Calva, we were both surprised to be greeted with a group setting off fireworks. Why is still a mystery. Not long after this and we were climbing up the third fell of the round, Blencathra, lit by a bright orange sunrise. An exciting descent down Hall’s Fell ridge and that was leg 1 done. Due to a cloud inversion anything above about 300m was swelteringly warm and anything below about 1’c. I was struggling with the heat having dressed for a cold night and quickly changed into shorts in Threlkeld. We topped up with water and food, and departed on to leg 2.

Stopping in the cold of the valley meant we both set off again at a fair pace to warm up but once up the steep of Clough Head we were back to a more comfortable pace. I remember this leg being very runnable and once up on the ridge we were shifting well and making great progress, passing a few other Bob Graham groups. Still no sign of the ones who set of just behind us. Both of us were eating well and my pizza and savoury croissants were going down a treat. Helvellyn soon came and went. We decided to drop our bags at Hause Gap for a lightweight out and back up Fairfeild, which was nice. Turns out there are a lot of cairns on Fairfield and so we decided to run round the biggest few just to be sure it counted. Up and over Seat Sandal and down to the next road crossing at Dunmail Raise. We both were now starting to feel our legs a bit on the descents but we were now a hefty way into the round and as it turned out nearly half an hour up on our 17:30 schedule. Wow!

A short stop to re-stock on food and tape up a sore big toe, then straight up Steel Fell. I’ve never seen Dunmail Raise so busy and we were still passing groups of runners. The solstice weekend is getting ever popular due to the amount of daylight. Oli seemed pretty pleased with our decision to take in High Raise first followed by Sergeant Man, even if this did confuse other groups on the round. Still moving well, still visiting every cairn posible on some summits. As we approached Bow Fell I seemed to sink in to a bit of bad patch. I tried to eat more and not slow up too much, just about keeping up with Oli who was picking a good line up through Bow Fell’s rocky flanks. We were now on the Great Lakes route from the week before and so on very familiar terrain. I’d recovered from my bad patch and we were moving at a decent pace again. Scafell Pike was heaving and both of us were relieved to get it out of the way and get down to Mickledore. On our way down we passed a couple of friends who were on there way to rope Broad Stand. This is the fastest way between the two Scafells but without a rope is risky! We took the safer route up Scafell via Lords Rake and West Wall Traverse. This was still very quick and we were soon on our way down to Wasdale. Oli was feeling a niggle in his ITB but this didn’t seem to slow him down. Some proper running and a short scree run later and we were met by Oli’s parents in the car park. 

Running in to Wasdale

More food and water. Still about 15 minutes up on schedule despite a bit of a rough leg, and both in good spirits. Up Yewbarrow was my type of climb, steep! We gained a few minutes here and where now on our way into leg 4. I seemed to suffer a lot along this leg, struggling with my breathing. I think it was probably hay-fever as I was still eating and drinking well. I was just following Oli, looking at the floor quite a bit and maybe complaining a little. After about an hour and a half of this I had a sit down and tried to relax my chest to help my lungs out a bit. We then descended into Black Sail Pass and I started to feel better again. It was about time. This was when Nick Barber surprisingly showed up with some supportive words of “You’re about bang on schedule”, which given my poor running was a relief. We’d both been struggling for water for a while as the heat of the day had taken its toll, but Nick treated us to some water and offered to refill our bottles while we ran over Kirk Fell. He ran with us down into Honister chatting away keeping our minds off of our legs. We were again met by Oli’s parents and a car full of various bits of food and drink. 

The Road to Chapel Bridge with our celebrity guest

As we were faffing fell running celebrity Rhys Findlay-Robinson appeared from across the car park, looking as stylish as ever, to offer some company on the final leg. Another nice surprise. I was sorted pretty quick and set off at a walk, maybe rushing Oli to faff less. The climb up Dale Head passed quite quick due to Nick and Rhys keeping our minds occupied by just talking rubbish the whole time. As we ticked off the last two summits Oli sounded like he was feeling it a bit and complained how far away Keswick looked. However, that was it for hills now and we descended into the valley and the final road support point.

Shoe Change at Chapel Bridge

This was it now, ditch the kit, get our road shoes on, grab a gel and a club vest, then gun it. We were on for 17:30 but we were still going to have to run. Rhys made sure we weren’t slacking by a) leading us along the racing line of the road, and b) lying to us about how far it was. This whole road section was like a team time trial,  running in a line one behind the other. Once at the bridge into Keswick we knew it was in the bag and eased off to get our breath back a bit before the final run up the main street to the Moot Hall. We ran in to an amazing reception. The Dark Peak gang had finished about half an hour earlier and were still celebrating two club members successful sub 24 hour completions. The crowd parted and we tagged the Moot Hall, simultaneously stopping our watches. 17 hours 25 minutes. What a great day out!

We grabbed a pint and chatted away to people about our run. We had not communicated to anyone the whole time. I’d just told a few people, including my parents, that we were starting at 2am and that’s all they knew. My mum had tracked my phone for the final part of the day but as I left my kit in the car for the final section they were just waiting expecting us to appear at any moment.

One of the best, most memorable days out I’ve had on the fells and a very nice way to run the Bob Graham. Minimal support, low key, and pretty fast.
A big thank you to Oli’s parents for road support and also to Oli for the opportunity.

That evening was a time to relax and celebrate the successful rounds of Dark Peak, but for some it was a time to remind me how young I was when I first did the round back in 2011. Some photos were also dug out from the club archives…

Some links:
– The Bob Graham Club – for more info on the round.
– Norman Walsh Footwear – for some proper good fell shoes.
– Strava – for my GPS trace.

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