Last year, my lovely boyfriend Andy decided that he was going to have a crack at one of his life ambitions. This particular ambition was to run The Bob Graham Round. This is a fell running challenge in the Lake District. Andy explained to me that it was about 70 miles and over 42 mountains – and the combined ascent and descent of these mountains equated to running up and down Mount Everest. Oh, and you had to complete it in 24 hours.
Sounds like a plan; and so I became Chief Bob Graham WAG and support crew member. Andy spent many weekends during winter running up and down mountains in the Lake District.
As he became more involved in the challenge, it started become clear that there was a whole community of people involved with, and obsessed with, The Bob Graham Round. As you run around the Bob Graham Round, you need other runners, called pacers, to run with you. These pacers carry the contender’s food and water, help them to navigate, make sure they are wearing appropriate clothing for the conditions and set the correct pace between the summits.
As part of his training, Andy acted as a pacer for another runner (Andy B) on his attempt. A few things became clear during this attempt; 1) The BGR is a long way and pacing is essential. 2)Banter provided by other runners is a great distraction. 3) The pacers require cakes at the end of their running section. Now we’re taking!
And so, as Andy spent months planning and training for his BGR attempt, I spent months planning and training for an endurance baking session. Not only would I need to provide enough food for Andy to run for 24 hours (and food he would eat once his stomach started to reject it), but I also needed provide cake for the wonderful pacers who would be tired and cold after safely navigating my lovely boyfriend across miles of mist shrouded mountains.
For Andy we decided on the following:
- 11 lemon curd and cheese sandwiches (please note this is Andy’s choice of food, not mine!)
- A massive box of pasta and tomatoes to be eaten at rest stops
- Hula hoops
- Millions of cereal bars
- Millions of energy gels (eating these is like eating shampoo – ick)
For the slightly more discerning pacers I decided on:
- Rocky road (for the rocky road ahead. hahahaha!)
- Cheese and herb scones (see below for recipe)
- Carrot, almond and sultana cake (see below for recipe)
- Apple flapjacks (see above for recipe)
- Ginger cookies (From Chris Evans recipe is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01glxw4)
Having practised driving around the Lake District in the Sexy Team Special Bus, written out the time I had to be at each road stop, and had several late night baking sessions – we were ready to go.
We had booked a lovely cottage in Portinscale through the brilliant Sally’s Cottages http://www.sallyscottages.co.uk/ and arrived on the Friday night with time to prepare.
The pasta was cooked:
The 11 lemon curd and cheese sandwiches were made by Andy’s wonderful Mum:
And the Sexy Team Special Bus was decorated:
As Andy was setting off at 2am on Sunday morning (I know, a ridiculous time, especially as the chip shop would not be open at either the start or the finish, but apparently this is the ‘traditional’ time to set off!) we went to bed at 8pm to try to get some sleep. No chance, far too excited.
We bundled in to the Sexy Team Special bus and drove to the Moot Hall in Keswick to set Andy off at 2am. We were met by Andy’s first two pacers – one of whom was the chap that Andy paced for earlier in the year (Andy B), and the second chap, Robin, who we had never met before, who had both turned up at 2am in the morning to help pace the first leg of the BGR. Crazy!
And they were off! I dropped the in-laws back off at the cottage I drove to Threlkeld which would be the first road crossing. More ‘lying down with my eyes closed, pretending to be asleep’. As dawn broke I set up the ‘rest stop’ ready for the runners to come down Doddick Fell. And so, the first of the five agonising waits began. At each of the rest stops, my train of thought ran like this:
“What time is it? Where are they? Are they going to be ahead of schedule? Are they behind? What time is it? Are they lost? Has Andy’s knee given out? Have they even made it up the first mountain? Are they going to be too cold to carry on? What time is it? How long before they are supposed to be here? Is that dot moving on the horizon a fell runner? What time is it? What time is it? What time is it?!”
During this time of internal panic, the three pacers for the next leg rocked up. Jim, Helen and Clive. Clive was ill and had decided not to run, but had turned up for moral support anyway! Andy had met Helen and Jim before, but again Clive had turned up to support someone he had never met.
6 minutes ahead of schedule, Andy, Andy and Robin rocked up to the rest stop! Having previously agreed with my Andy that I would quite happily be his support crew provided I didn’t have to a) rub vaseline anywhere that was chaffing or b) touch his feet, I was in awe of Clive (let’s remember, we had never met this bloke before) when he knelt down and whipped off Andy’s wet shoes and socks for him and gave him dry footwear for his next leg. This was only one of the many jaw-dropping acts of generosity I witnessed during Andy’s Bob Graham Round.
Naively, I had assumed that the pacers would only require cake at then end of their running – it turns out that I had underestimated the strength of fell runners’ stomachs! Apparently eating several pieces of flapjack prior to running for 5 hours is perfectly acceptable! Just as Andy B picked up a piece of rocky road, I tried to warn him that it contained a substantial amount of brandy. (It was only 5am at this point!) Andy B, however, just shrugged and carried on eating – ha!
5 minutes later Andy was off with his new pacers, Jim and Helen, and Andy B decided to carry on for the second leg. I drove down to Dumail Raise for some more pretend sleeping. The conditions for Leg 2 looked really poor and as such the agonising wait was even worse this time.
Luckily, I was distracted by the next set of pacers who had arrived, Jack and Dale. Oh, and Dale had brought along 2 mates “Hope that’s Ok” – um yeah, why not, the more the merrier! (Seriously, where do you find these people who all want to run up and down mountains for hours?!) I thought Andy B’s ability to eat cake before running was impressive, but he was about the be seriously outdone by Dale’s two mates, Stu and George.
As a very soggy Andy and pacers descended into Dunmail Raise, the new pacers were already making good progress on cleaning up the cakes. Andy managed to eat some more pasta and after a change of clothes he was off up Steel Fell with his new crew of Dale, Jack, Stu, George and Brad.
I now had my own Support Crew’s Support Crew of Andy’s Mum and Dad and Rach who kept me sane on the long drive to Wasdale.
The weather cleared up for leg 3 and we arrived at Wasdale in time to drink tea and put up the bunting. (It was the Queen’s Jubilee Weekend!) More mates had arrived to support Andy at this point, and it was a great atmosphere, with plenty of people to join in my agonising wait. We spent about 2 hours looking up at Scafell and trying to decide if various different coloured moving dots were Andy and his team – the binoculars did nothing to help this situation! I received a text from Gordon and Katie to say that Andy had completed the Broadstand climb (they were up there with a rope) and I felt at this point that Andy had cracked it.
They came down into Wasdale and Andy stuffed his face with pasta once more. I bossed various pacers around, getting all of Andy’s gear sorted. He was running the next leg with Brad, Dave S, Ronnie, Richard G and Tom. Dale, George and Stu were running back they way they came (!) and needed more flapjack to fuel their journey.
Note in the picture below that George has a piece of cake in each hand – good lad!
Andy was starting to shuffle a bit setting off from Wasdale as he knee was stiffening up whenever he stopped. I felt that the pressure was off slightly as we had hours before we needed to be at Honister, so we managed to get the support crew refueled with some fish and chips in Cockermouth.
We made it up to Honister Pass and after some more pretend sleeping, we were joined by Dave’s partner and 2 kids and Ronnie’s wife and 2 kids. Tom’s wife Kirsty was there and Steve and Fern turned up for moral support also. Katie and Gordon had made it down from Broad Stand and joined us too (the support crew numbers were getting ridiculous by this point!)
Agonising wait number 4 didn’t last too long as the runners were well ahead of schedule. Andy scoffed his last bit of pasta and then set off with Dave, Ronnie, Richard, Brad, Gordon and Stevo. Support crewing was almost over.
I had decided, unknown to Andy, to run the last mile back in to Keswick with him. Rach volunteered to run with me, and so we waited on a foot bridge in Portinscalefor the runners to appear (another agonising wait!). I had been awake for 40 hours at this point and was seriously losing the plot. A lot of hysterical giggling ensued, as did plenty of ‘lunging’ in preparation for our ‘One Mile Queen’s Jubilee Bob Graham Fun Run.’
We saw the head torches bouncing down the road and joined in for the last (very fast!) mile into Keswick.
The rest of the support crew, and various pacer’s WAGS were waiting at the Moot Hall. They, along with many drunk people in Keswick town centre, cheered Andy in to the finish – complete with a bunting finish line -in a time of 21:39.
All- in -all 31 people were involved in Andy’s Bob Graham Round, 18 of whom we had never met before. The whole Bob Graham experience was so fantastic, and the generosity of the other runners and their families was overwhelming. Watching Andy complete this challenge was truly inspirational, and as a result I have taken up running (eek!) and decided to enter the Saunders Mountain Marathon next year (EEK!). On the plus side though, the more running I do, the more cake I can eat. Winner!