Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Bob Graham Round: 21hours 53 Minutes

Choosing to do the BG

I knew one day I would do the Bob Graham, but there was always another race or target for the year that would make doing it outside of mid winter pretty difficult. 
Last November I hit a new high in my running/biking/general ability to keep going as long as you like as fast as you like and given I had no plans race wise for 2015 I started to think about doing it this year.

By March, all of last years training and racing fitness had been undone. A tooth infection, a job requiring more hours than there were in the day and the reemergence of the breathing difficulties of the last few years left me absolutely exhausted, especially mentally exhausted. I got to April unfit, unable to race or interval train without having to stop due to breathing difficulty (this made club training and general racing a pretty unattractive prospect) and pretty unmotivated to do very much.

Then I went part time. Within a  couple of weeks I was much less shattered, 4 weeks of part time work/part time running and it was time for the old county tops with Steph Jones. Although not moving a patch on how I had been last year, I was surprised to get round in under 9 hours, finishing second ladies team, with my legs generally unscathed and so the BG crept slowly back into my head.

How to pick a schedule?
When it came to doing the BG I wanted to see how fast I could do it. I was fairly confident, having done some fairly ridiculous races, that getting round in 24hrs would be fine. So then I had the conundrum of how far under 24hours to target.

I'd always wondered if the 18:48 womens record would be doable 'one day', I thought it was but also thought I'd wait until I was 'a bit older' to give it a go. Obviously in the last 3 years Nicky has made this more challenging and the question of whether to try for 18 hours was a hard one. My major concern was that I knew how hard it would feel at some point on the round and for the first time ever was worried that, given my mentally exhausted state, my head would be the thing to crack first. If I wasn't prepared to suffer, there was no point in starting on an 18 hour schedule!
'How to run Leg 5 fast' by Rich T.
A couple of months of supporting faster rounds, running to pace on sections and seeing how it felt and it was just too close to call. So I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it!

Picking the day

Above all else, I knew how little I wanted to run the BG, no matter what pace, in horrendous conditions. I made it clear I just wasn't starting if the forecast wasn't good. The week leading up to my attempt was not ideal, a little wet but mainly too windy. The week after was forecast for horrendous downpours. But the weather gods were smiling on me and the 25th of July could not have been better. Not too hot, not too cold, not too windy, not at all wet!

Leg 1 -Keswick to Threlkeld

At 3 am I set off with Tim Austin and Jonny Malley as support for leg 1. Heading up skiddaw we made good time and were rewarded with some spectacular views. The lakeland 100 was descending to Braithwaite and the train of headtorches snaking its way across towards Skiddaw was an amazing sight. As we hit the steeper part of the ascent we met Angus descending and looking a little dazed (I suppose he's allowed to after 10hrs of running) as he and a fellow 100 runner were undoing a slight detour from the route....we summited as the sun was coming up, greeted by an amazing cloud inversion.
Sunrise on Skiddaw

It's amazing how much the BG route gets trodded up as the lines across great calva and to Blencathra were much clearer (although also much wetter) than when I'd been out in May. Here I perhaps made my first mistake, I tried to drink a 'for goodness shakes' en route to Blencathra and this sat heavy in my stomach. However, some fantastic nav and feeding from the guys (just before Blencathra: Tim: 'do you need any food', me: 'no, I'm ok', Tim:'wrong answer, here's some chocolate raisins') and we topped out on Blencathra at 5:41, 7 minutes up on schedule. This worried me slightly but I resolved it was ok as my legs and body in general had felt well within themselves. I would just sit down in Threlkeld and change socks/eat as a reward. Heading down the parachute descent was fantastic, I do like this descent and hit it pretty much spot on to avoid the worst of the rough stuff (although Jonny took his own line and had a sprint finish down the road to catch us! Proves it makes all the difference to take the right line...). Leg 1 complete in 3:06.

Leg 2 - Threlkeld to Dunmail

Setting off ~5 mins up on schedule with Sabs and Dave, we crossed the lakeland 100 again, happening upon a couple of dragons back attendees. A quick catch up for Sabs and Dave and we headed away from the 100 course once more (with a few shouts of 'it's not that way' following us).
Wil had said that on his round, it was on clough head that he knew he would be able to make it. I thought this sounded a bit early on but as we climbed to the summit I knew what he meant. I felt great, legs still strong and climbing the fastest I've ever managed clough head (I'd built in extra time here as I particularly hated this climb previously). I took back the minutes I gained up clough head en route to great dodd to try and eat something more.

The views across the dodds were fantastic, although I made sure to avoid looking too hard at what was coming next. I thought it would be on leg 2 that I started to feel the pace in my legs, my plan being that if I did, I would assume the game was up and drop the pace to make sure I got round. Helvellyn came and went, as did fairfield and there was no sign of the distance or height covered affecting my legs. This was better than I'd hoped. Plummiting off seat sandall I arrived at Dunmail still 5 mins up on schedule, leg 2 complete in 3hrs 39. I used the minutes wisely, again eating and changing shoes, swapping my haglofs pulse long sleeve for a short sleeve as the day was heating up. We set off on leg 3 marginally up on schedule, leaving dunmail at 9:54am.
Dunmail changeover

Leg 3a - Threlkeld to Bowfell

I know there is no such thing as leg 3a in the BG, but it's as much a mental game as a physical one and in my head, there were two sections to leg 3. My favourite one was 3b as I really enjoy the rocky terrain, but first came the langdale pikes!

Rich and Neil took excellent lines and were right on it with food suggestions. Out with the apples and even a tomato, these proved to go down pretty easily. An hour or so in I was starting to notice the lack of sleep more than anything else, so Rich suggested a caffeine energy gel. In retrospect I'm not certain this was the best move (having not had one before) but even with the disgusting taste I managed to hold it down....just....

I wasn't too interested in the exact timings across this section, I assumed at some point I would start dropping time and all I was interested in was running at a pace that still felt comfortable. Legs were still strong, it certainly didn't feel like I'd run 30+ miles and I was surprised to find that by Bowfell we were still, bang on schedule.

While everything felt ok leg wise, no real soreness or heaviness yet, the climb up bowfell had felt a bit more of an effort than it should have been, so we took a couple of minutes at the top to cram more food in.

Leg 3b - Bowfell to Wasdale

Unfortunately I took one bit of food too much on board and then there was none inside me. We headed on, I was desperately trying to get anything to go in, fully aware that whilst my stomach felt a lot better, my legs soon wouldn't if I didn't replace the lost calories!

 A chunk of time lost to esk pike and unbelievably I was just about still on track for record pace assuming I could keep moving well enough to take the odd minute back. Make or break time with getting the food in! As we headed for Great End the inevitable happened, it was as if a switch had been flicked, 'legs absoltely fine' to 'quads really quite sore'. I was running on empty and really had to get some more fuel in!

Remarkably I didn't drop much time over to scafell, clearing broad stand, where my dad was stationed ready and waiting, without incident. But heading down to wasdale the effect of the lack of energy for my legs to draw on was aparent and another chunk of time was lost, landing me around 20mins down on schedule. With any thought of the record gone, my plan now was to refuel for leg 4. Hopefully a sub 20 could still be possible as we left 40 minutes behind schedule.

Leg 4 -  Wasdale to Honister

That way!
On up yewbarrow with Neil, Helen and Wil and the ease my legs had still just about had to Scafell was all but gone (or it felt that way). The only way to get food down at this point was to stop for a picnic, which we duly did a few times en route over red pike, steeple and pillar.

My moving pace was actually ok, but that ignores the many minutes of picnics I also had to have to keep me moving. At least 50% of the time lost on leg 4 was due to having picnics.

 Passing through blacksail we picked up Tom, Rhys and Benn dog for additional motivation, including a gable story from Tom (which I'm sure I was meant to remember, he might have to tell it again ;-)). There were some lovely views but I barely had chance to take them in - I did sneak a glance at the view of the whole BG, it is amazing to be able to see it all laid out! In general, it was a fine balance between pressing on and getting food in but eventually, after 5hrs and 5 minutes we reached honister. I'd lost a further 1hr 14 minutes to the schedule so was now looking at around 20hr 30 if I was lucky.

Leg 5 - Honister to Keswick

Come on, what's taking so long?

I wasn't lucky. There's not a lot to be said about leg 5 other than it is possibly the worst I've ever felt (although this might just be because I've had long enough since parts of the Itera to forget about them).  I never thought I'd consider giving up on Dale Head, but the thought did cross my mind. I actually couldn't ram food down my throat no matter how hard I tried. Therefore I couldn't run.

I had a proper entourage to keep me company and keep me going - Todd, Nic, Helen, Cat, Lou, Zanthe and Keiren all patiently waiting for me to drag myself along.

It was painfully slow, but eventually I got to the top of summit 42, Robinson, where I forced a pot of fruit down, using a compass as a spoon as there was no spoon on offer. The pictures of sunset look awesome but I wasn't really looking.
Final summit - time for a picnic

Again at the road, there was a car and the thought of getting in was almost too tempting. But it was 5 miles to go so on with the road shoes. I adopted the 'keep on shuffling' tactic that had been such an integral part of keeping up with the rest of Team Haglofs Silva's walking speed last summer. Whilst my time was no longer going to start with a 20, I sure as hell wanted it to start with a 21. This kept me going down the road and at 21:53, amongst the hen do's of keswick, I reached moot hall :-). Possibly one of the slowest leg 5 times, but I had made it!
High five from a drunk Keswickian

A massive thank you to all my great friends who gave up their time to support me, all the hill support, Sally and Neil for road support, Dickie at honister and Em, Kris and Hananh - without the vintage shot blocks who knows how long I'd have spent on that road!

It was a great day out with friends on one of the best days of summer this year. I was having an absolutely fantastic time to Wasdale and am very happy to have completed it first attempt.

Will I be back for another go? Before I started I was sure the answer would be no, but now I'm not so sure. There are a lot of positives - no destroyed feet and I only used 2 pairs of shoes (Inov8 mudclaws for leg 1-3 and Haglofs Gram Comp Q for 4 and 5 - really nice to have something more supportive by this stage). My legs are clearly stronger than I thought, no real damage aparent. There's also plenty to be learnt, it's probably not a coincidence that I was there or there abouts up until the length of the longest run I had previously completed. Food is obviously an issue, whether due to the pace or the type is yet to be determined. I certainly won't be back too soon, but never say never....

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