Monday, 24 August 2015

Facing my fears - a challenge of a lifetime - the Bob Graham Round

Since Daniel was born life has been crazy.  It always seems like there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done.  To train for my running races whilst being a working parent of two small children means I have had to become an expert in time management.
 Recently somebody made the following comment to me, "Paul must be giving you too much time off to train."  I laughed it off at the time as it was clearly meant as a joke, but the comment has remained in my thoughts weeks later. In all honestly I could write an entire essay (with distinctly feminist overtones) about my considered response to the comment, but my time management skills don't extend that far at the moment.
Training around work and family is difficult, but if it is something you really want, then you find a way (within the personal restrictions of your life situation).  I make sure not to impinge on family time or on Paul's training time.  I also make sure that the events I am racing mean something to me, and that will fit into my life.  With that in mind I have recently let it be known what my plans for 2016 are.  I already said I was planning on entering the Lakeland 100 (if I am fast enough on September 1st!) but I am planning on a 2nd Lake District adventure in 2016; the Bob Graham Round!!   I am going to combine my training for these to hopefully help me achieve something amazing next year.  It will be my biggest ever running challenge by a country mile.

A mountain to climb...

So what's it all about?

The Bob Graham Round is often described as the grand-daddy of UK ultra distance fell running. This is what it says on the Bob Graham Club web-page:

First done way back in 1932 by Bob Graham, hotelier of Keswick, Cumberland, at the age of 42, the 42 Peak Round has become a testing ground for the supremely fit. Each summer around 100 of the most highly tuned ultra-distance fell runners will attempt the 27,000 ft of ascent within the allotted 24 hours. Only one in three will return to the Keswick Moot Hall before the clock runs down. Most of the rest will be back again ...!
Have you got what it takes?

Depending on what routes you choose between summits the distance can vary between 66 and 72 miles with obvious variations upwards of 27, 000 feet of ascent and the same of descent.

The 2014 Stats.

Here is a short summary of this year's attempts and successes
  • There were 144 registrations (19 ladies) with 57 successful rounds (6 ladies).
  • There were 56 successful clockwise rounds (6 ladies) and 1 successful anticlockwise round (0 ladies).
  • Fastest times were 18:47 for the men and 22:46 for the ladies.
  • The average age of successful contenders was 39yrs 4months.
  • The age of successful contenders ranged from 27 to 53.
The table below shows the number of previous attempts made by each successful contender.
Notable completions this year included the first two rounds by Americans: Scott Jurek and Ricky Gates were successful in April

As you can see just from looking at the success rate, this is a challenge not to be undertaken lightly.  The BGR is not a race though.  It's is a personal challenge in the purest sense.  There is no bib number, no finishers medal, no race t-shirt. There is a biennial dinner you can attend and receive a certificate if you succeed.  But really what you get is the satisfaction of pushing yourself to your absolute limit and seeing if it is good enough to get your name on a rather exclusive list.  It is like many things in fell running - understated, simple, running for the sake of challenging yourself against the stunning landscape in which it is set.

Beyond the straight-forward enormity of the task, there is an added element for me.  I never saw myself as a person who would even contemplate a BGR attempt.  I'm terrified of heights! The first time Paul attempted to take me across Mickledore I froze with fear, collapsed to the ground, full on panic attack ensued as I was literally clinging for my life to the grass on the ground. #dramaqueen I recall afterwards joking about how I would never attempt a Bob Graham Round, to which Paul replied "that wasn't even one of the scary bits!" So that was that.

Mickledore down in the bottom of the picture ahead of the ascent options of Scafell. Photo courtesy of

Fast forward to the start of 2015. After spending some time in the Lake District and rediscovering my love of the area and the being in the fells a small seed was planted in my brain. I already knew that the Lakeland 100 was in my 2016 plans and I started wondering if it would be possible to combine the two challanges. So I started doing some local fell races, including the British Champs race at Durisdeer (and managed not to finish last!) to see how I felt.  Then I arranged a recce run of part of Leg 3 with Susan and Howard, and my mind was made up.  In all honesty it was made up back in July when I was running the Lakeland 50.  I was just so in love with where I was and how the fells made me feel that I just wanted more! Greedy I know ;-)

We didn't manage to climb the correct route up Bowfell - as it wasn't completely safe to do so when we got to that part of the route due to the clag. I was really disappointed but at the same time seriously relieved.  That climb is one of the crunch points of the route (of the parts that I know so far).  I had been really nervous about doing the climb but ready to suck it up once we got there.  But I was annoyed with myself for being so easily dissuaded from doing the climb and as I repeatedly looked at it when it peaked out through the clag I could almost feel the mountain laughing at it's victory over me.

Bowfell summit

 We summited from another route and we continued to Scafell Pike before needing to head for home but that climb is still on my mind, despite a really successful and thoroughly enjoyable day out in the fells with lots of navigation practice.

So I have a huge task ahead me with many months of fell and ultra training to try and fit into my already busy life, but because this is a challenge I feel passionate about then I am willing to make the sacrifices needed to give it my all (eg. no social life and stupidly early alarm clocks!).

I am even going to have the opportunity to learn from the absolute best when I get to spend time with fell running legend Nicky Spinks later this year! Holy cow, I'm going to be completely starstruck for the second time this year!!

Nicky is the ladies record holder for the BGR - 18 hours and 6 minutes. Here is the link to the video of her record breaking run: 

Find your passion and find a way.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Lakeland 50 - stay positive, run smart, suffer well, stay in the moment.

It's only one week since the Lakeland 50 but by now you've probably read as many blogs about the race as there are miles to be run so I will try not to make this report as long as the race itself.

Where's your head at?

2015 has been a chaotic and trying year for us in one way or another. And having done my utmost to be fully committed to train and race the Highland Fling back in April, running then had to take a bit of a back-seat.  I was still keeping up a regular schedule of training but there were no major mileages, with only 4 or 5 runs over 20 miles.  This didn't stress me too much as I had mileage earlier in the year I hoped to rely on. The key difference in training, other than reduced mileage, was my hill training. Hills, hills and more hills; or as much as I can given where I live - you've got to work with what's available after all.

So having not put in the full-on training before the race I was feeling completely and totally relaxed going into the race. Even if I was to have a 'theoretical bad day at the office', it was just one days' work and not the seeming waste of months and months of training. I felt no pressure, no weight on my shoulders, and no real expectations. It was really weird not feeling sick with nerves for the two weeks before the race. Weird but refreshing.

Friday Night Fun

I had such fun doing the Lakeland 1.  Last year Annabel ran with her dad.  This year she ran with me, whilst I carried (for the most part) Daniel. Apart from a wee tumble (as per...) Annabel loved her race. Daniel was bemused by the whole thing, but was quite happy to get his first non-nursery medal round his neck - trying to figure out how to get it on or off provided hours of fun.  Ah to be young again #simplepleasures

Race Day

By starting the day by saving someone else's day (the forgotten bra incident!) I had a good feeling it was going to be a good one. The race briefing was special. Worth the entry money alone. Marc Laithwaite really knows how to inspire and encourage you to do your best. There was such a buzz of excitement as we all squashed ourselves into the school hall.

Briefing selfie

 I avoided taking the bus up to the start of the race. Bus on Lake District roads + me = vomit central! So probably best for all concerned that I opted to go by car.

Feet prep and general mingling done and it was time for the off.
Thanks to Susan Graham for the photos

The Story of the Race

I'll keep it brief: ahem.... the Dalemain Loop was my least favourite - legs needed to warm up, grass was long, it was all a bit 'busy'. Got back to Dalemain sooner than expected and got kisses from hubby, Annabel and Daniel which was lovely.  I wouldn't see them again until Coniston as agreed.

Thanks to Paul for the photo

I got into a nice happy groove along to Howtown.  I had no idea of my pace or time as I ran.  My plan was only to look at my Garmin at the checkpoints to to have an idea of how things were going in general, and also so that I would know when 'bedtime' was.  I had a rough idea of the 13 hour schedule as this was my gold target (if I really had one) for the race (I had been told to add 2 hours to my Fling time by a number of people and given the hills and the terrain I thought this seemed reasonable).
Oh my word, did you look up and check out the views across Ullswater on this section?  If you didn't then man did you lose out! It was breathtaking.  Sometimes we can get so caught up in a race that we don't look up and see where we are running, and how lucky we are to have such awe-inspiring landscapes to call our playground.

Fusedale is dreaded by many runners.  I wasn't all that scared by it.  Yes, it's a huge climb, doubly huge actually - sneaky false summit - you rascal! But, if you just keep your heart-rate steady and work your way up, save the legs as there's plenty more race to come, you'll get there. For many of us middle-of-the-pack runners you don't really get to chose to go faster anyway - you're in the climbing train with very few points where you can get off.  I actually only actively overtook 1 runner as he was just freaking me out a bit - he seemed very unsteady on his feet on the terrain and he was much bigger than me, and I was slightly concerned he'd tumble on top of me.

Thanks to Jen for the photo

Weirdly I had my only major low point of the race going down from High Kop to Low Kop but seeing the lovely Jen and very noisy Sherlock the dog was all it took to lift my spirits again.  I felt a bit hot on the run alongside Haweswater but other than that I felt like things were going ok. On arriving at Mardale Head I was a few minutes down on the 13 hour schedule, and the checkpoint was so busy with runners that by the time I started my climb up the Gatesgarth Pass I was feeling slightly negative again, but with a gratifyingly strong climb I was feeling on top of the world again by the time I started the descent on the other side.

From here, I felt like I was flying. That's not to say that I didn't walk ;-) but I felt strong and I felt happy and I was loving every single minute. Ahead of schedule at Kentmere (and finally some banana! Get in!) and I was raring to go up the Garburn Pass. It's one of my least favourite parts of the race - just because of all the bl**dy rocks but I was in a good frame of mind as I started. I'll tell you something though, I was silently cursing many an expletive by the top - not because the climb was getting to me, but the incessant clickety clack of somebody's racing poles right behind me, the whole *insert swearing word* way to the *insert swearing word* top!!  Now I have nothing against using the poles - it's in the rules, so it's fine by me (and I am considering them for the 100 next year), but that constant click, clack, click, clack darn near drove me mad.  Can they not come with silencers on or something? Argh!!

Ascent is over, poles are lifted, let's go. I remember from my recce runs that I can get a phone signal about half way down towards Troutbeck and I knew that it was now roughly about bedtime so I got out my phone and called Paul so I could goodnight to the kids. Dammit, I should have tried harder to get away from those racing poles up the climb as I literally just missed them going to sleep. Instead I got a quick blether with Paul.  And lo and behold Jen appeared again, with Sherlock, and Marcus was there too.  Didn't expect to see him (as he was racing) but he was in good spirits so all seemed good.

Thanks to Jen for the photo
Time flew by as I rounded the next hill to Ambleside.  I had been passing runners since I left Mardale Head and I picked off a couple more here. Running through Ambleside I felt awesome.  The atmosphere was brilliant and loads of people were out cheering on the runners.  I felt almost embarrassed by the attention, it's not like I'm one of the fast guys and gals, but that's one of the things I love about ultras, everyone gets the same appreciation and admiration.

Arriving in Ambleside I made a total idiot of myself waving my hands about and jumping like a looney-tune when I was surprised by my friends the two Jo's who had made the journey down to the Lakes just to surprise me and the other Dumfries runners on the route. It was magic.  Those girls are awesome.  One Jo ran her first ultra in June at the Ultimate Trails 55k and the other Jo will be running Glen Ogle 33 as her first ultra later this year. They rock!

Thanks Jo for the photo
About a mile after leaving Ambleside, you know, after you've got to the top of the hill, I had one of those heart wrenching moments Marc had mentioned in the briefing. I couldn't remember dibbing in in Ambleside!!  Feckety feck! I felt sick.  I could remember getting hugs, I could remember spending far too long inside the checkpoint because I couldn't find the water (too many people inside!), I could remember ginger cake, but I couldn't remember dibbing in!! I thought I was going to have to run all the way back down, look like a moron in front of the gathered crowds and then run all the way back up the bl**dy hill!  Are you kidding me?!
Thank god I was running with a lovely chap called Sean at the top of the hill as he reminded me that a clown had directed me where to dib in and this was done before I even went inside. Crisis averted! What a sense of relief.  I felt a spring in my step again.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this section;  getting the first view of the Langdale Pikes, running alongside the river, through Elterwater, past where I got married, through Chapel Stile and gradually watching the Langdale Pikes grow bigger and bigger in front of me.  I was so happy that I got to run along here in daylight, with the sun gentling setting casting a magical light across the valley. Warm fuzzy feelings abound.

Arriving at the Langdale checkpoint I thought momentarily that I saw Caroline, who is also from Dumfries. I shook the notion off very quickly because there's no way I should be seeing her today, she's a way faster runner than I am. I quickly forgot about seeing her and concentrated on getting in and out of the checkpoint.  I had another brief chat with Mundy who I had run with or seen a checkpoints a couple of times already. She had been feeling really positive too so that was nice to be around.

I soon got my second glimpse of Caroline. This was unexpected, and unfortunately unpleasant because the reason I came across her was that she was one of two runners stuck in a field further along the valley being prevented from going any further by a protective mother cow. The cow seemed agitated but not totally pissed off so I felt fairly calm (that'd be the farmer's daughter in me). After a few minutes the situation resolved itself and we all we able to make our way across the field and over the stile.  A couple of the other runners seemed a little upset about the incident but I was just glad to be making my way back along the route.  At Ambleside I had been 20 minutes ahead of schedule and at Langdale I was 40 minutes ahead.  I was on a roll.
At this point I knew baring disaster I would easily finish inside 13 hours and now I just wanted to get as far as I could before darkness set in.  Passing Blea Tarn with Caroline the light was magical. We were moving as fast as possible to make sure we were at least at the road before we needed headtorches. Up the next climb I told Caroline to go on ahead but she was really struggling with her stomach and with the onset of darkness I pulled ahead.  I had absolutely no stomach issues during the race - I'm so glad I discovered Tailwind as it seems to really work for me. I use the naked flavour.  it's tastes a bit weird to start but it really works.  I had left off switching on my headtorch for as long as possible as mine is not as strong as pretty much every other runner on the course (I had brought the emergency headtorch rather than the good one - oops).  It was like mine was dimmed headlights whilst everyone else was on fullbeam. It made the rocks on the route all 'jumpy', altered my perception of distances, and cast shadows all over the place whenever I ran past anyone with a better one.

Through Tilberthwaite in double quick time and I climbed up the stairway to heaven, happy to see that there were other runners ahead.  This was the part I was dreading.  Oh to be a faster runner and get to do this final section in daylight - so much easier and so much faster!  The climb up the ravine I had dreaded but it really wasn't too bad with the extra lights around. But by the time we got to the cairn there was only me and one other runner, and he decided to wait on more runners as he wasn't confident on this final section with this darkness. I rounded the corner on my own.  Great! Not a headtorch in sight.  I now had to figure out my way across this section, with trails that were somewhat indistinguishable in the pitch dark, on my own, with no light in the distance to guide me. Exactly what I didn't want. But no point getting upset.  Just walk it out.  Look for the marker features you picked out in the recce runs and you'll get there.  It took longer than I'd hoped.  It started raining - well it wouldn't be the Lakes if there wasn't a bit of rain. But then out of the darkness there came light.  Lots of lights.  I had reached the top of the final descent.

It was disappointing not to be able to hammer it down here. I have the second fastest time on this descent on Strava, 2nd only (by 5 seconds) to the very awesome Beth Pascal! That's my little Strava claim to fame ;-)  I love a technical downhill trail.  I'm not the best at fellrunning downhills (far from it!!) but technical trails, well I'm not too shabby at those and I love them. It was even harder than I had anticipated working my way down, trying to pick out the trail with my thoroughly underwhelming headtorch, but I still managed to not only catch runners (that I hadn't been able to see for the previous mile across the top) but I passed them.  Yup, still got it, even after 48 miles ;-)

I hit the miner's road and I glanced at my Garmin for the first time outside of a checkpoint. Holy cow, it was only a few minutes past 12 hours into the race!  I was going to nail this!  I legged it down the road, only stopping to walk across the cattle-grid - didn't want to fall and break something now! Running again and in no time the light of the village were here. My legs were motoring as I flew into the village.  A fleeting panicky moment passed my mind - would Paul and the kids have made it here in time as they weren't expecting me inside 13 hours? Past the pub and I heard people shouting "Go Vicky!"  I wondered who on earth it was but didn't stop to look, I was totally focused on the finish line. (I found out later it was Debs who had run a fantastic race and finished 2nd.) Round the last corner to more cheers and applause.  I didn't expect to see so many people, it was nearly midnight, but i appreciated every single one of them.  I was brimming with pride and elation as I came in sight of the school and saw to my delight Paul and the kids waiting there to see me finish.  I don't think I have ever felt so proud or so happy when I have crossed a finish line.  It was super special and I will never forget it.
Me and my girl at the finish #superproud

I was so pleased with how my entire race had gone.  Given the circumstances I reckon I pulled off a blinder. Paul told me afterwards he thought it was my best ever race performance.  I just went from strength to strength throughout the race, always ahead of predicted times (even if the race notification texts) and never at any point getting any major low points physically or mentally.  That's not to say it didn't hurt.  It was crazy painful but I was just in such a happy place that I just suffered really well.

I need to try and bag all the good points of this race and take them into all my future races:
1) stay positive
2) run smart
3) suffer well
4) stay in the moment (pinched that one from Marc)

Four key skills for any ultra runner:  I just wish I had mastered them sooner.

The stats!

Keep your eyes on the prize

Team Hart labels

I got more great news during the night having found out via the tracker that my club mate  (and often my long suffering training partner (when our schedules match)) had also smashed her 16 hour target for the race.  I knew the race would test her but I really felt that she had the capability to complete the race.  I'm so pleased that she too had a positive race experience and came away from the race with a smile just as big as my own.


A special extra thank you needs to go to Susan Graham. Having done the race a couple of times herself she was back this year to help marshal at Buttermere. Once her shift was done she came to wish us all luck at the start, and then just kept appearing with her camera along the route. I love her passion and enthusiasm for the race, and for the outdoors in general. She's quite awesome you know.

And Marc, Saturday 25th July 2015 will definitely go down as one of the "good old days."