Billy Bland Challenge 2014

Midnight in Keswick town centre on a Friday night in summer can be busy these days. Late June 2014 and the Heptonstall Hurriers were just one of three teams heading off on the Bob Graham round although we were the only ones doing the trip as a relay team.

Would we get close to Billy Bland’s time? Of course not. We were just hoping it might still be daylight the following day when our Leg 5 runners reached the Moot Hall.

After some handshaking and photographs and last minute kit checks, someone announced in was midnight and all three teams set off chasing each other through the ginnels of the town and across Fitz Park before settling in to their own pace.

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Joey and Pete ready for the off

Route finding in the mist and the dark when you’re trying to find paths that aren’t always there is hard and Pete and Joey wasted too much time wading through waist high heather to threaten Billy Bland’s record. But their comparative slowness did mean that their hesitant descent of Hall’s Fell was assisted by the first light of dawn.

Tim and Wide met them in a hushed Threlkeld and set off on what promised to be a more urgent Leg 2 and things went well until Fairfield loomed into view. Whereupon Wide’s lack of match fitness turned the climb into a gritty test of endurance. Were the rest of the team critical of his lack of preparation? Not a bit of it – Wide had been drafted in as a last minute replacement for the injured Jon and all were impressed at how a runner whose preference is for flatter routes had managed to keep up with Tim so well.

Leg 3 was in the capable hands of Peter and Mark who quickly made up for any time previously lost against the schedule. Indeed they went so quickly from the off that they set a record on Strava for the stretch from Steel Fell to Calf Crag. Mind you, Strava also claimed that they’d spent one of their five hours stationary. Well, it was a nice day and all that. On descending from Scafell Pike Peter and Mark were considering heading round to Foxes Tarn when a local fell runner showed them the quicker and more entertaining ascent via Lords’ Rake before vanishing into the distance with a farewell cry of “Borrowdale Fell Runners at your service”.

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Peter, Paul, Mark and Steve at the Wasdale handover

As a tribute to Billy Bland’s other famous Bob Graham round, the Leg 4 duo of Paul and Steve decided to walk their leg. It was, they claimed, a decision forced upon them by the terrain which either went upwards too steeply to run or downwards too steeply to run. It sounds like a bit of an excuse but they must have done some pretty nifty walking because they brought the baton round to Honister even further ahead of schedule. Not bad for a pair who couldn’t be arsed to carry out a recce.

A 7pm handover meant the Leg 5 quartet of Charlie, Richard, Robin and Gavin had the luxury of knowing they could comfortably get round to Keswick in the daylight without busting a gut so they decided that busting a gut was the only honourable course of action. They charged up Dale Head at such a pace that Robin who was in the process of recovering from one illness nearly started another. At this point they split into pairs and the swifter Richard and Charlie reached Moot Hall by 9:35 pm with Robin and Gavin close behind.

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Richard and Charlie (foreground) at Moot Hall

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L to R: Charlie, Gavin, Robin, Richard, Tim, Mark, Wide (with Pippa) and Peter on the steps of Moot Hall

Victory! Or something like it anyway. We were more than 7 hours behind the record and that was with fresh legs on each leg. We had expected each leg to be tough and we weren’t disappointed. Each of us finished our leg with the feeling that we couldn’t have gone much further. Hats off to anyone who can do the same sort of thing five times over, even if it takes them 24 hours rather than 14. It’s an epic run by any standard.

BBC w-e - June 2014 [1]
Richard, Robin, Gavin and Charlie – a crack team of elite runners

Highlight of the weekend? Well, the morning after the run, some of us were sunning ourselves at the campsite when a man turned up on his bike looking for the team who’d run the challenge the day before. It was Billy Bland himself just dropping by for a chat – it’s not every day you get to meet a legend.

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L to R: Tim, Richard, Pete, Billy Bland, Steve, Mark, Robin, Gavin

For the record

Leg Runners Time Total
1 Pete Fitzpatrick and Joey Daniels 4:28 4:28
2 Tim Brooks and Paul Wide Cruthers 4:38 9:06
3 Peter Bowles and Mark Wharton 5:10 14:16
4 Paul Cotton and Steve Grimley 4:45 19:01
5 Charlie Boyce and Richard Law 2:34 21:35
5 Robin Gray and Gavin Lee 2:57

BBC w-e - June 2014 [2]
Freddie came too but he prefers swimming

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