Race Report - 2022 Bob Graham Round

7/17/2022 08:00:00 PM

The Bob Graham Round. It's an ultra challenge steeped in history. It dates back to 1932, when hotelier Bob Graham first completed the 66 mile loop ascending more than 27,000 feet while summiting 42 peaks or fells in the Lake District in the UK in less than 24 hours. Years later, the round was established as an "official" challenge, inviting runners to become members of the exclusive Bob Graham 24 Hour club if they managed to complete the round in under 24 hours. Only one out of three runners of the 200 runners complete the challenge in time each year and earn the glory of being part of the club. The round begins and ends at Moot Hall in Keswick and runners can choose to complete it in either clockwise or counterclockwise direction at a time and date of their choosing. They are encouraged to announce their intend prior to their attempt with the Bob Graham 24 Hour Club. These days, there are even trackers available to allow friends, family and other interested parties to follow along online as these brave souls attempt the challenge. On July 16, 2022 I had the honor of being one of those brave souls who attempt the BGR. But first, let's rewind a little bit.
When I ran my first Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc in 2015, I struggled mightily once I hit the perceived halfway point in Courmayeur. Thankfully, I joined forces with a few fellow racers that included Olivier Gaillemin, a French guy living in the UK. Our merry band of brothers made it across the finish line in just under 40 hours. Ollie and I continued to stay in touch. When he told me about his plan to attempt the Bob Graham Round in 2020, I was super excited for him as that had been on my bucket list ever since I heard about the challenge, so when he invited me to join him, I immediately replied with "yes!" I didn't want to give him a chance to change his mind. Then Covid happened, borders shut down and international flights were cancelled.
As countries went into lockdown, Ollie (and I) had to postpone the plans for the BGR indefinitely. When a year had passed, Ollie was ready to try again. Unfortunately, international travel between the US and UK was still banned, so I would not be joining him for his attempt. Ultimately, I was glad I wasn't able to join him as he smoked his round in less than 21 hours and would have surely left me behind after just one leg. However, the true gentleman and friend that he is, he promptly promised to organize a support crew on my behalf whenever I was ready to travel to the UK to give the BGR an honest try. Generally, you're either a UK runner with the ability to rally friends and fellow runners to support your attempt or you're an elite runner that has no issues lining up support. I fell into neither category, so I will never be able to thank Ollie enough for creating this opportunity for me. Once I told him that I would be able to attempt the BGR in the summer of 2022, he started to reach out to his friends and fellow Sale Harriers (his local running club) to line up a solid crew of supporters, navigators and pacers for each of the 5 legs of the round. In the end, he managed to convince 15 friends to support this German dude from Alabama that apparently though he had the chops to complete the BGR in under 24 hours. Clearly, I had no idea what I was in for or I may have never attempted the round in the first place, but more about that later.
Once Ollie suggested the best date, time and direction, the real planning began. I cleared my race calendar after July 2022 with the Tahoe 200 in June and the Bob Graham Round in July as my only goal events for the year. I wanted training and focus on these two events alone. After two hours on the hone with Delta, I was finally able to reschedule my flight that had been cancelled two yers earlier. Ollie volunteered to pick me up and put me up at his family's home for the duration of my visit minus the 3 days we would spend at the Hostel in Keswick during my actual attempt.
My training progressed nicely in the months leading up to the Tahoe 200 and I was happy to barely miss my time goal at that event, finishing in the top 20 in just over 75 hours. Now my sole focus would be on the round. With only 4 weeks between the two events, I would focus on recovery and maintenance only. The hay was in the barn, so to speak, so the goal was to feel as fresh as possible and be injury free  at Moot Hall on July 16, 2022 at 6PM local time. 
I landed at Manchester airport in the UK on Thursday around noon and after some initial confusion, Ollie located me wandering around the terminal. We headed to his home, dropped off my luggage and walked to the local supermarket to pick up some supplies for the weekend adventure ahead. Ollie was kind enough to make some burgers for dinner, vegan of course, and after some final planning I headed to bed in hopes to get some sleep before we'd leave for the Lake District the next morning. The idea was to get there on Friday afternoon to be able to meet up for dinner and beers with some of the support crew for a meet and greet.
Leading up to the trip to England, I felt pretty confident that I could complete the round in under 24 hours and I based that confidence purely on my performances and fitness leading into the weekend. However, when I finally met a good part of the crew, I started to get more than just a little worried. Here are all of these amazing people showing up ready to spend their weekend to help a total stranger attempt something as massive as the Bob Graham Round. Considering only one out of three attempts ends in a successful sub 24 hour round, my odds were pretty low, which made it even more intimidating. I didn't want to waste their time, so the pressure was one. Time to go to sleep early to be ready...but first, let's enjoy a couple more local Keswick brews and banter before hading back to our room at the hostel. 
We woke up at a reasonable hour on Saturday morning and after a nice breakfast, I spent most of the day in our room resting on the bunkbed while some of the crew hung out at a cricket match just across from our hostel on the other side of the river. I wasn't really able to sleep, but just keeping my legs up surely had to be a good idea. Around 4:30pm, it was time to get my kit ready, tape my right ankle and lube all the important places. The Bob Graham Round is a very unique challenge with fairly strict and specific rules, but my favorite rule is that muling is allowed. That's right, your pacers and navigators can carry all of your gear.
We all assembled at Moot Hall about 30 minutes prior to my intended start time of 6PM. However, there was another runner going for the round at 6PM, so I decided to delay my start by just about half a minute. We would continued to see that runner and his crew ahead of us for a few hours until they disappeared into the night for good. We would not see them again until much later in the round.
All of the nerves from the day before settled as soon as Duncan, Tom, Fred and I were off. The first fell to summit would be Skiddaw, followed by Great Calva and Blencathra to complete leg 1. I was feeling great, but quickly realized that I was in for one if not the most challenging adventure, yet. By the time we descended Blencathra, I was struggling to see how I could handle 39 more summits. My quads were already burning and hurting and leg 1 was just the warmup. While the various crews on each leg would tell me that the worst was now behind me, I understood that to be lies after being fooled the first couple of times they said it. 
Ollie had worked out a very strict time schedule to keep me on track for a sub 24 hour finish. That included no more than 10 minutes to refuel and reset at each of the 4 transition spots (road crossings) between the 5 legs. Each crew also had the time table with the required summit times in hand, at all times knowing where I was on the sub 24 hour clock. For the first 2 legs, I managed to stay ahead of that schedule, feeling pretty good though I understood that I was in over my head. I had never ever encountered such steep terrain nor had I ever moved off trail at any length of time until that day. However, my luck would soon turn, but not until after Tom, Chris and Dave got me to the end of leg 2. While leg 2 started with some daylight left and finished in the dark, the reverse was the case for leg 3. 
Leg 3 was by far the most challenging leg as it was mostly run in the dark. In addition, 3 of us in our merry group of 5 rolled our ankles at various points of the leg. This was also the only leg with some more challenging weather conditions and some of the trickier summits. While we were never fogged in, we did have mostly wet conditions which slowed my progress a bit as I was not at all experienced running in bog. As a result, I lost all of the time I had banked during the previous 2 legs. Now,  just over midway through the third leg I was nearly 45 minutes behind schedule. There was nothing to do now but to try to pick up my pace. I was extremely thankful for the knowledgable nav guidance by Ed Gamble and the pacing support of his daughter Alice along with Rob and Alex. With their support and encouragement, I was able to make up a few minutes before we dropped into Wasdale, which included some spectacular scree surfing, which had me dumping 2 lbs of rocks out of my shoes even before reaching the bottom of the Scafell descent. 
Once I reached Wasdale, it was time for a serious reset. I needed clean socks and a new tape job on my right ankle before I could even consider continuing on. And then there was the question of time. Was a sub 24 hour finish still possible? I was doubtful and made it clear to Ollie that I had no intention of wasting anyone's time. I did not want my pride to get in the way of calling my attempt when a 24 finish had become impossible. I put my faith in Ollie's hands. If he thought it was still possible, then I would continue. I wanted him to be completely honest. I would trust his judgement. He was confident that it was still possible as long as we left Wasdale and as long as we didn't dilly dally or lalligag around. There as definitely no time for that. The Wasdale stop was the longest by far, but it was necessary. 
Once my feet were taken care of, I was ready to go. This time, Ollie took over navigation and pacing duties along with Richard, Mile and Matt and the first hurdle would be the massive climb up YouBastard, no wait, I think it's called YewBarrow. The sun was now right above us and the day had warmed up significantly. Combine that with my need to continue to make up more time and it explained why I started dry heaving just before completing this initial climb of leg 4. I slowly managed to recover and was able to make better time as we continued. After a 7 hour leg 3, a 5 hour Leg 4 felt almost short:-) I rolled into Honnister Pass feeling pretty good, but heading straight for the bathroom as I knew I only had 10 minutes total to get in and out if this transition spot to keep my chances of a sub 24 hour finish alive. 
At this point, every second counted. It was now Mike, Rob and Elton's turn to take me all the way back Keswick and we had to do so in less than 3 hours to complete the round in time. The plan was to do a quick shoe change once we hit the final 5 mile stretch of road leading back into Keswick to try to move quicker on pavement. Once I completed the final descent and reached the car with Ollie and my Altra Vanish Carbon shoes in hand, I made the split decision to not change shoes and just keep moving. That would turn out to be the deciding factor in my race against the clock.  
With less than 5 miles to go, we still weren't sure that I could make it. Apparently, there were some discrepancies between various parties as to how much ground we still had left to cover before we would reach Moot Hall. I was struggling to run 9 to 10 minute miles and my hope to hit my goal had faded fast over the last 2 miles. It wasn't until we had just over a mile left to go when Ollie waved at us from the side of the road to join us for the final stretch and to inform us that we would indeed make it. When I finally spotted the gable of Mot Hall in the distance, I knew I would make it. I climbed the stairs and tapped the door after 23 hours and 52 minutes of exploring the Lake District and its Cumbrian Mountains.
While I would not dare to try to give a true play by play of each of the 42 summits or any of the memorable features along the Bob Graham Round as I would barely able to name a third of the fells I ascended, I did want to write this report as a thank you note to the fifteen amazing runners that showed up and spent their entire weekend to help a German from Alabama accomplish one of his life goals. The fell running community in the UK is as rich as any trail running community I've ever had the pleasure of meeting and they are one of the friendliest bunch of folks you'll ever meet. I am proud to call them friends and part of my "fell running family". And in case that I haven't been clear, I would have never ever had the opportunity to chase this goal of mine of not for the gracious help of my friend Ollie and his group of friends. I will never ever be able to thank them enough for not only giving me the opportunity to chase this dream, but to carry me through to the finish.











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