Billy Bland Challenge 2016

Just a reminder of the point of all this. Billy Bland ran all 66+ miles of the Bob Graham Round back in 1982 in a time of 13 hours and 53 minutes. His support crew at the time couldn’t keep up with him and in the 34 years since then no-one has come close to his record. So the challenge is for a relay team, each doing a fraction of the route, to try and beat it. It was only in 2016, two weeks before our run, that a team from Ellenborough AC in West Cumbria finally broke the barrier with a time of 13:14.

It was unlikely that the Hurriers were going to match this level of athleticism but we did have a sneaky plan. Our previous attempts had taken us just over 21 hours but we felt we had been slowed down by running Leg 1 in the dark because we had set of from Keswick at midnight. If we started at 3am, or so our theory went, we should be able to complete the whole round in daylight. Cunning, hey? Let’s see how we got on…

Leg One: Richard L, Tim and Steve

Waking from the comfort of my Passat boot I slipped into my running gear, met with Tim and we headed for the Moot Hall, still unawares of Steve’s location and sobriety. After standing around for a couple of minutes preparing to leave as a lonely duo we were greeted by Grimmers who had the whole meeting thing planned. Apparently.

We hadn’t gotten more than 20 metres when looking up at the moon we saw the most spectacular meteor/asteroid/shooting star thingy. Maybe it was a sign, maybe it was just a random astronomical event, whatever it was it looked pretty damn cool.

So off we went, past Steve’s luxurious 12star B&B (which the Queen has supposedly stayed) and up the biggest climb of our journey, all 931m of Skiddaw. I’ve got to be honest, my training had consisted of the odd lunch run at work around a 3 mile circuit. The biggest climb on that was a bridge over a canal. Luckily for me I had Steve and Tim alongside me to help cajole me to the summit. The views were pretty spectacular; mist rolling over the peaks and ridges in slow motion – we could see almost the full route behind us and Keswick glowing below us.

We took the obligatory ‘running hard’ photos, said hello to some couple camping on the summit and then decided to crack on. I pushed ahead knowing full well I needed to start the climbs early as I would be blowing hard soon, but as we got to the bottom and were just about to start the ascent of Great Calva we looked around for Steve who had disappeared. We took onboard some grub and waited a few minutes, until over the horizon he appeared, looking all Paula Radcliffed – say no more.

Up Great Calve we pushed. Although not as big a climb as Skiddaw, the terrain is a little harder going, reaching the summit we were awarded with more rolling mist, superb views and the odd Brocken Spectre. Lovely. The descent off Great Calva was a tricky narrow trod though heather, but we managed to get down unscathed.

By this time I had started to cramp up a little bit, my well executed training regime paying dividends. ‘Tuckshop Tim’ was on hand to give me some much needed nourishment and the good news that we only had a 500 metre (dear god) climb to the summit and it was all plain sailing from there. I don’t recall the next 500 metres of climbing, all I seem to remember is seeing Steve sending an email halfway up the hill (yes, he still had his phone at this point) and Tim shouting out distances in the mist. It was all a bit of a surreal dream. Eventually, we arrived on the summit of Blencathra. I won’t harp on about the views, let’s just say they were pleasant.

With weary legs and now minus Steve’s phone, we picked our way down the rocky ridges which scar the face of Blencathra, and trudged down to Threlkeld handing over the baton and jumping in the Bowles-mobile. A most enjoyable run – even if it did take me until Thursday to be able to walk properly.

Leg Two: Peter and Charlie

Peter Bowles and I arrived at Threlkeld in glorious sun at 6:30ish and enjoyed breakfast and coffee watching Richard, Tim and Steve’s progress on screen courtesy of the tracker. This made it nice and easy to estimate/anticipate their arrival time. Lo and behold they appeared at 7:10 at the A66. After brief hello’s and hugs (not for Steve who was covered in sheep pooh following a tumble on Great Calva), car key and tracker exchanges we were off.

The weather was perfect; no wind, not a cloud in sight but cool. We had recced the first 10 miles of the route a month ago and I had done it a couple of years ago so route finding was straightforward in such lovely conditions. The initial ascent up Clough Head was the usual slog. We saw no one until Sticks Pass when a few early walkers appeared on the scene. There was one man enjoying breakfast on Helvellyn in a scene of heavenly tranquillity and clarity.

At Dollywagon Pike we paused briefly to assess how to pass Grisedale Tarn and decided to drop south down the wall/fence to the west side of the tarn which was steep going. Then followed the slog up Fairfield which is toughened by the thought of an immediate descent on the same path. Then came the short steep climb up Seat Sandal where we checked the whereabouts of the downward trod with a guy who told us we could not miss it because it “was like a motorway”. In reality the faint trod did become a bit of a path but I was unaware of any service stations in the area.

Paul and Robin were waiting as expected at Dunmail Raise. We quickly handed over to them and off they went. Overall the run was great in fabulous conditions that would have been hard to improve. Peter’s company was great as always and he was as patient as ever with my slower pace.

Leg Three: Paul and Robin

There was a big posse at Dunmail raise waiting for ‘Adam’ who was attempting to get the record for the most peaks in 24 hours (78 I think). His Dad told us that Rob Jebb was one of his pacers, so we knew he was serious.

Once we took the baton/timer off Peter and Charlie we marched briskly up to Steel Fell trying to keep to our friend Elise’s BG schedule. We did alright until the pass at Far Easedale where we hit the beck much higher up than we expected. After studying the route notes, a photograph of the route, a map, and a compass, we decided to leave the path where it followed a  gully well to the left of the beck and struck off to the right straight up a steep hillside. It’s a shame that we didn’t spot the bit in the route notes that said to follow the path “at one point heading up a subsidiary gully well to the left” since we lost a lot of time trying to guess which of the many peaklets was Sergeant Man!

Adam and his crowd went past near the peak so we chased them around the next few tops and they got us back on schedule (hurray for Adam!).

Sadly, he went down into Langdale to grab a few more peaks on the far side on his way to Bow Fell, so we were on our own again. Fortunately we’d reccied the next bit with Peter so managed not to get lost again for a while. We were even praised by Adam’s Dad at a spring beneath Bow Fell for “knowing all the shortcuts” (Thanks, Peter!).

Once we were on the main road towards Scafell Pike, we met dozens of other groups (10 peakers and triathlon runners) and slowed down over the rocky ground up there. By the time we got to Scafell Pike, we were in thick cloud, and were already about 10 minutes behind our plan. We lost even more time navigating (successfully!) down to Mickledore. We’d been offered the chance to use Adam’s ladder on Broad Stand which I was quite excited by. However, even though we could see the ladder, neither of us knew how to get to it, so we decided to use Lord’s Rake after all and arrived safely but slowly at Scafell.

We quickly came out of the cloud on our way down towards Wasdale, and legged it down to the changeover a mere hour and a half slower than the previous year!

We even got to see Adam again at the changeover, he was still on target for his record, and had bagged about 20 more peaks than us since he’d first passed us! I bet we had more fun though!

Leg Four: Peat and Richard H

After the long drive round to Wasdale and spotting Paul, then Robin descending from the cloud on Scafell, it was a bit of a shock to actually start. An 18.58 start also guaranteed a finish in the dark, so time was of the essence.

And Peat didn’t disappoint,  setting a cracking pace up the steep front of Yewbarrow, summiting in 38 minutes, and showing 20th of 254 runners on Strava, but still 17 seconds behind Paul Cotton’s time of last year!

After skirting round Stirrup Crag, Red Pike was also taken in our stride, 40 minutes, passing the first of several campers we’d see, at Dore Head. Then on into the mists of Little Scoat Fell in the hunt for Steeple, with a couple of minutes lost as we dropped to a low style rather than taking the higher one. Steeple itself was clear and a great place to be at 8.40 on a midsummer’s evening.

After a slippy descent over the rocks of Scoat Fell it was straight forward to Pillar in 28 mins, where two campers had their Go-Pros set up filming the sunset…beautiful, but I’d rather have seen it from Gable! A lakes 10 Peaks dibber on the summit cairn showed we weren’t the first runners to be there today either. The long run down to Black Sail pass was a relief, one of the few actual running section on the leg.

The scramble up Kirk seemed much easier than when we reccied it, but the thick mist on the summit was not so good.  We hit the summit at 9.52, exactly sunset time according to my Garmin, and a fair way to go.  At this stage we were still on for about 4.45 for the leg, but would go backwards from here.

The compass came out for the first time as we set off in the gloom, helping us to correct our not bad, but not right line and passed the closing 10 peaks checkpoint at Beck Head, it sounded like the marshals had had a tough day with some fairly shell shocked competitors.

The light was fading fast as we scrambled up the rocky ascent of Gable, a 45 minute leg and another five on the summit digging out our head torches and an extra layer. Finding the way off Gable was tricky in near darkness but the head torches were no help, think driving on main beam in thick fog! We took what I think would be called a ‘direct route’ down to Windy Gap and on up to Green Gable in pitch dark with torches now on giving us a princely 10 -15m visibility.

We hit the summit easily enough, but the went to the second summit and came off a little to the west.  Navigation was OK but disconcerting on the featureless ground.  We aimed to come off to the west rather than risk ending up on Base Brown. We dropped until we hit a stream, corrected and carried on down.  After a 2 minute error going round a small crag and then struggling to find a way off it we had a spooky moment…as the land flattened and we reckoned we were 50m short of the tarns in the col we looked round to see six very bright lights emerging from the mist, bobbing down the hill. We stopped.

Then the fist runner appeared ‘where you lads heading?’ He asked.

‘Brandreth, you?’

‘Base Brown, lakes 24 hr record attempt’

‘Good luck’

So one of us was wrong, and I was pretty sure it was them, a minute later we hit the right side of the tarn exactly where we intended and unfortunately then knew they were wrong and we were right.  Tough night for a record attempt.

Climbed to Brandreth and hit the Wainwright summit, then along the plateau to Grey Knotts, slowly and haemorrhaging time now, happy to be following the fence that would take us to Honister.

Both being in trail shoes for the possible Leg 5 run, the grass being very wet and visibility being poor, we had long decided to go down the fence, but the path was tougher and slower than we expected.  It was good to hear voices rising from the carpark, then the mist cleared with the lights of the hostel not far below.  Tim met us as we finished in 5.18 to be met by Peter and Jan as well.  Quarter past midnight and quite an adventure in the end, we’d lost 30 mins from Kirk to Honister.

The quarry car park was busy and the 6 lights soon reappeared, having taken Base Brown and our two tops in little longer than we’d done just the two…but they called it a night at Honister, too far off the pace I think.  An exciting end to another Hurriers BBC outing.

Leg 5: Jan and Vikki

With some trepidation, I agreed to take part in Leg 5 of the challenge. I can’t even remember whose idea it was in the first place, but I was persuaded by the fact that some proper runners would be carrying the tracker device, and the WAGs would just be doing it for fun! So after spending the day pottering, painting, reading and fuelling (Vikki painted her nails a gorgeous cerise), Peter, Tim and Charlie waved us off from the Honister Pass at 5.20pm, making sure that we at least started in the right direction. North I believe!

“Isn’t Vikki taking a coat?” was a question we’d heard a few times before setting off. By the time we’d made it to the top of Dale Head, posed for photographs next to the cairn, asked for directions (yes, really!!) and set off towards Hindscarth, it may have been a decision she regretted. The rain was hammering down sideways, turning bare legs a bright shade of pink, but the path was easy to follow, especially as we were overtaken by a group of proper runners who knew where they were going.

I’m convinced we went too far North to the summit of Hindscarth, as the second cairn we reached was definitely lower than the first, but not wanting to risk disqualification for failing to follow the prescribed route, we dutifully followed a fellow runner who subsequently disappeared into the heavy clagg that had descended before we could follow him up Robinson. I imagine he was trying to run away from us.

Nevertheless, we made it up the diagonal slog towards the top of Robinson, again unsure of the exact top, but reassured by a team supporting a Bob Graham guy, who unsurprisingly didn’t say much. Feeling good and strong, and knowing it was all downhill from here, I checked the map and confidently identified Crummock Water as Derwent Water and almost led us off the mountain in entirely the wrong direction. In my defence, these lakes do all look a bit the same and my glasses were quite steamed up, and Vikki told me she couldn’t read a map……

We followed the Bob Graham guy along the path heading down in a Keswick direction, but before long we had become totally unstuck. The steep rocky path got steeper and steeper, and we got slower and slower until we were lowering ourselves down slippery wet vertical slabs of rock. My legs were not just wobbly, but definitely shaking by then and at one point I have to admit I froze. Vikki gallantly took the lead and talked me down and I gratefully followed onto a grassy saddle with a definite path leading down to Scope Beck and the valley bottom.

How on earth anybody gets down that grassy path vertically I do not know. I guess my road shoes didn’t help, but rather than waiting to fall flat on my arse, I opted for the scuttling crab technique going down on all fours (five if you count the arse)and looked back to see Vikki doing exactly the same! I wish I’d got my phone out to film her at that point, but I couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculous we must have looked to any proper runners, and how Vikki’s glorious nails would have a fair amount of sheep shit embedded under them by now.

Fear, exhilaration, and a fit of the giggles had worn us out by then, and although it was good not to have any further descent, it had taken its toll on our energy levels. Rather than stay on the road all the way back to Keswick, we opted for the scenic route after passing the chapel and turning right on the road through Little Town. We followed a glorious undulating path through meadows and fields which would have been far more enjoyable if it wasn’t for the chafing caused by wet shorts and underwear (ouch), and navigated our way through Skelgill Bunk Barn, through woods, fields and paths with only a little bit of dithering over map-reading on my part. Narrowly avoiding climbing Catbells by mistake, (don’t ask, we were very tired by then) we were greeted with the heady sight of the Pencil Museum at Keswick, and we knew we were only minutes away from the cheering crowds at Moot Hall. If only we had been a bit quicker, there would have been a band there to greet us, but some strangers wished us well and Charlie and Sarah were ready with Snickers bars, crisps and good cheer, ready to take us back to Rosthwaite. At 3.48 hours to cover 11.97 miles, we hadn’t broken any records but we’ve made it an easy target to beat next time!

In the end

Our cunning plan was about as good as one of Baldrick’s. We completed the round in a total of 25 hours and 20 minutes. Oh well. We all had a good time doing it and we’ll be back again next year!

Leg Runners Time Total
1 Richard Law, Tim Brooks and Steve Grimley 4:10 4:10
2 Peter Bowles and Charlie Boyce 5:05 9:15
3 Paul Cotton and Robin Gray 6:59 16:14
4 Peat Fitzpatrick and Richard Henderson 5:18 21:32
5 Jan Fitzpatrick and Vikki Holbrook 3:48 25:20