Bob Graham - A close run thing!

A close run thing!           

At 1am on a June night in 1932 Bob Graham, a Lakeland hotel keeper, set out from the Town Hall in Keswick and returned in 23 hours 39 minutes having, in the meantime, covered 42 of the principal Lake District summits (one for each year of his life), 72 miles and 27,000 feet of ascent. For almost 30 years no-one repeated this round but since then getting round this route in under 24 hours has become the standard challenge for long distance fell runners. For the best part of 20 years I have cherished an ambition to have a go at it and this year, along with several others of the Holme Pierrepont Running Club, I at last had the opportunity to have a try. What follows is very much my story - the others - Fred, William, Glyn will want to tell their own versions

Felt very down after the recce of the Bob Graham Round because, having nursed the ambition to get round for so long it looked very much as if I wasn't going to be able to do it. The problem was speed over difficult terrain, especially downhill rather than lack of fitness and endurance. Decided that for me the achievement would be just to get round and not to worry about the time. To prevent me holding back the others we devised a plan that meant William would stay with me and that as soon as it got light we'd let the other three - Glyn, Fred and Roger -go. (Bob Graham Club membership requires you to complete the Round in under 24 hours and to be accompanied at all times.)

We set out on the stroke of one (1am) and as it happened, into almost perfect conditions (if a bit hot). We stuck close together and close to the 23 hour schedule all the way to Bowfell and beyond. Since we were a bit short on Lakeland experience we copied our schedule out of a novel about the Round but it seemed to work fairly well because we not only stuck to it for a long time but it kept us in contact with a much more experienced party from Ambleside. They took better lines in several places - clearly they knew the ground a lot better - but we compensated by being more disciplined at road crossings and not stopping for picnics en route. Eventually we swallowed our pride and followed them for some of the middle sections and very helpful and supportive they were too.

After Bowfell I started falling behind over the boulder fields on the Scafells and by Wasdale was 20 minutes adrift. To everyone's surprise William stopped here -he'd been behind me all the way down from Scafell but I just thought he was doing his caring sheepdog act. In actual fact his knees were on the brink of permanent damage. I pottered on round Mosedale with Paul (another club member who’d driven up specially to help) enjoying the route especially as I had never been out to Steeple before, trying not to think about how far away Great Gable looked from the summit of Pillar and still all I was concerned about was getting round.

Suddenly we were at Honister with just a shade under three hours left to
get inside the time and for a moment it seemed, to my now slightly fuddled brain, almost possible still to do it. With fresh support from Andy (another club support runner) we went straight across the road barely stopping and Dalehead seemed to come remarkably easily as did Hindscarth, with its now luminous rocks and Robinson. From this last summit it seemed distinctly possible or would have done if it hadn't been dark, because it took us some time to wind our way down through the various rock bands and for Andy to prevent me running off a cliff at one point.

At last the road and Jean waiting with a cup of tea which I churlishly ignored. Couldn't remember how far it was from here and strangely was no longer bothered. Jean drove behind us with the headlights full on and we just ran, glad to be back on a proper road at last. For some weird reason the running just got easier and easier until we were inside 712 minute mile pace. I still didn't think it was feasible to make the time but just kept running partly for the joy of it and partly because I thought I owed it to the support team who had been so - well - supportive.

Portinscale came and went and after having almost accidentally flattened a courting couple on the long straight path into Keswick suddenly we were in the High Street with people jumping up and down shouting about it still not being 1 o'clock yet. (This isn't easy for anyone to be really sure about it as the Moot Hall clock lacks a minute hand.) I still didn't think it would happen but just kept running, seemingly faster and faster and suddenly my hand was on the Moot Hall door. Lent over to catch my breath and the clock struck one - so I'd made it with about 5 seconds to spare. Looked up, saw a wheelie bin next to the door and was promptly sick into it.

I later discovered that the time - 23 hours 59 minutes 55 seconds is a record for the slowest ever successful completion. The others made it comfortably in 22 hours 50 minutes.

Bernard Jarvis