On 5th June 2009 I attempted the Bob Graham Round after 4 months of preparation. Training had gone smoothly, until I damaged my ankle on 1st May during the Great Lakes 3 Day Mountain Marathon. It had recovered enough to do the Fellsman a week, later but by 16th May I took the decision to rest completely after abandoning a recce of Leg 2 in foul weather. By 1st June my ankle seemed strong and the MWIS forecast was for light winds, some cloud, rain and perhaps light snow. I rang round and confirmed my support crew and it was game on.
I set off at 18:38 on Friday with Louise Wilkinson, just after two large groups of runners from Tattenhall Runners and Dark Peak. The weather was perfect with cloud lifting off Skiddaw and Blencathra. We made good time round the first leg, with no major issues apart from my shoes causing some hot spots where they had dried hard in the sun. The sunset was beautiful as we looked back over Great Calva. We overtook the dark peak team on Hall's Ridge and had a slick transition to start Leg 2 in the last of the light.
Jeff PD joined me for Leg 2 and had been up earlier in the week to recce after our aborted one in May. We started well, with broken cloud and a full moon. Unfortunately my stomach was uncomfortable and eating was hard work. We nailed the Dodds efficiently and picked up time over Raise, but the weather had closed in with visibility down to about 2.5m in the cloud. Going from Raise to Helvelyn Lower Man we were blown to a standstill a couple of times as the path skirted the ridge which slowed us dramatically. Coming off Dollywagon we overshot the path in sleet and spent a bit of time getting back on track. We continued to lose time until Dunmail which was a combination of lost focus, sore ankle and probably imperfect route choice.
At transition there was a surprise when Bill said Phil Scarf wasn't with him so Jeff was dispatched to find him. A couple of minutes later he arrived and we set off up Steel Fell in heavy rain. It was getting light as we negotiated Calf Crag and set off to the Langdales. The weather lifted and we picked up time over the Langdales to Bow Fell. As we went up the traverse the wind picked up substantially and it started snowing hard making going slow. After a night of staring at cloud reflecting back in my headtorch beam and then swirling snow, I had a 'kaleidoscope' effect on my vision. As it was affecting my balance, I had a three minute power nap on the summit of Bow Fell (my only rest) to try and alleviate it while Phil found the camera. It was very slippery underfoot over Esk Hause and we were heads down towards Great End, unfortunately too heads down and ended up on Allen Crags! (with hindsight I was obviously in a bad way as I knew I didn't recognise the path, had a map and GPS in my pocket which would have shown we were going up the wrong peak and still didn't think to mention it to Phil, who was now suffering with the cold). We back tracked and used the waypoint in my GPS unit to summit on Great End before heading South. We hit treacherous ground in whiteout conditions and skirted too far East almost dropping back to the Esk Hause junction. We got back on track and went up Ill Crag, but conditions were still bad and the broken terrain was slow going in very high winds. We picked our way over Broad Crag and up to the Scafell Pike path before dropping onto the cairned path down. We pushed on to get out of the foul weather and unfortunately we stayed on the Mickledore path too long and dropped out of the cloud before realising our mistake. We managed to cut across the top of the crags and picked up the climbers trod to Foxes Tarn. By this stage we were both soaked and cold and probably started climbing too soon, so nearly found ourselves crag bound in driving rain. After a couple of attempts we found a way out summitted and descended out of the cloud towards Wasdale. The descent was slow as I didn't want to risk my ankles and we radioed in an order for hot food, fresh clothes and Ibuprofen as we struggled in. By the time we arrived, the realisation I was now down at least 40 minutes on the 24 hour time had sunk in and we'd warmed up slightly so that put paid to any niceties and it was a quick bowl of porridge and out again.
Si was full of beans as we pushed on up Yewbarrow trying to make up time while out of the wind. My stomach was still not right, so I didn't feel strong but managed to make up 5 minutes by the top. We stayed ahead until the traverse to Pillar where the head wind and I suspect non optimal route choice cost 9 minutes. At this point I was considering my options; I was going to finish the round, whatever time it took, as anyone who's discussed 'Feet in the Clouds' with me will know, however doing it in 24 hours was looking like a tall order, which was going to hurt. I could have throttled back and tried again in August, but having so many people sponsoring me for The Alzheimer's Society was the added incentive to keep me pushing. We met the Ennerdale fell race coming the other way between Pillar and Windy Gap with a number of runners I knew (and some I didn't) shouting encouragement which gave me a further lift and over Kirk Fell I made up 7 minutes. I kept trying to wind it up, but I wasn't sure I had done enough. Honistor was a running transition with Ibuprofen, warm Nuun and a cup a soup.
Jeff rejoined Si and I, but I wasn't really aware of it. Heading up Dale Head I was struggling and mentally preparing to hurt myself from Dale Head to Robinson. I knew if I could run most of the section I would be in with a chance. Towards the top I still wasn't feeling strong enough so more Ibuprofen and a caffeine gel was do or die (I don't drink caffeine and the last thing my stomach wanted was a gel). At the top I threw my poles to Si and legged it off the top. I managed to run to Hindsgarth, making up 3 minutes, but couldn't maintain the pace up Robinson. I now had 90 minutes to finish, which I knew was possible if I maintained the pace. Almost immediately the wheels came off though, and I couldn't descend fast enough, so it was back on the poles. I was still too slow to the saddle and knew it would be a long painful descent on my feet so I threw caution to the wind and went for a bum slide down to the reservoir. It hurt as I had to use my feet to avoid rocks but got me back on schedule. Running down to High Snab we met Bill, who'd laid out my running shoes, new socks and some food, but time was still tight so I just changed shoes and ran out. I had another caffeine gel which added nicely to the pounding headache of the first one, but seemed to be giving me some strength. Running hard down the road was agony and when the gradient turned back up I had slowed to a hobble. Timings were still tight but doable so I ran as much as I could. By Portinscale I had 12 minutes left and started to look after my legs a bit so I'd be able to walk away from the finish. I jogged up Keswick High Street to arrive 23 hours 58 minutes after I started.
We camped at Thirlspot with the team from Dark Peak, sadly they'd had to retire after Scafell Pike as they'd lost too much time in the bad weather. After a fine breakfast in the Dark Peak mansion, Bill and I went for a spin round the North loop of Whinlatter. It loosened up my quads but didn't do much for my shins! So another challenge over and another car full of wet, smelly kit to drive home. For me there are always mixed feelings at the end of an event like this. I, like many racers, have a massive feeling of anticlimax at the end of big races, months of preparation and single mindedness are suddenly over and on Monday there is nothing to plan for anymore.
On this event I never got comfortable due to my stomach problems and didn't get a second wind and the euphoric high that comes with it. Then again, I never had any serious moments of distress and coming back from all the problems on Leg3 to pull off the Challenge with a such fine margin was very rewarding. The generosity of so many helped me dig deep and with Unilever fund matching I will have raised around £1300 for The Alzheimer's Society (see http://www.justgiving.com/andym0000 for the latest total and to donate). So job done, I'm around the 1600 person to complete the challenge and apparently the 21st Ironman! Thanks to all the people who helped me put together my attempt, in particular Bill for driving plus Louise, Jeff, Phil and Si for pacing me. Next challenge the Open 12 in 3 weeks, oh and walking normally again!
More detailed information for anyone planning their own attempt:
My 'race review' notes including the pre race planning document is at http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dcprns3h_34c6fbh8hm . I've left them off my blog as they aren't in prose and I'll be updating it over the next week or so. Keep checking back if you're looking for insights on what went well and what I think we could have improved.
Below are a couple of charts from http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=rfc2dbTaMmh68qTlPs-V1fQ the spreadsheet contains the full splits for each leg.