Just over a year ago, my dad, Alistair Patten, died suddenly from a heart attack whilst driving home after a pleasant walk with his wife Marion. He calmly pulled over, parked the car on the grass verge, stopped the engine, said ‘funny do’ and fell silent.
This was a big shock for all of us. His funeral took place on 9th December 2021, which would have been his 88th birthday.
It’s fair to say my dad lived a full life. Sport and the natural environment at the centre of everything. First as a cyclist with the Clarion club in Clitheroe, where he met my mum. Then running with his beloved Clayton le Moors Harriers. He was one of the early fell running and orienteering pioneers. Bob Graham Club member 22.
Dad in his favourite running vest
Together with close friends, Gerry Charnley and Ken Turner, in 1963, they organised the UK’s first orienteering event at Whitewell in the Ribble Valley, the year after I was born. They also collaborated on the first two day mountain marathon, formerly the KIMM, now TheOMM.
Dad helped set up Pendle Forest Orienteers and took part in the very first World Orienteering Championships in Finland in 1966, finishing first Brit, ahead of Olympian and GB team mate, Gordon Pirie.
Dad’s original map of the 1966 World Orienteering Championships in Finland – looks well hard!
He ran 21 consecutive Three Peak Races; climbed all the Scottish Munros; set up the Ribble Way walking route. Dad also organised lots of events too – fell races, road races, orienteering events, even the UK’s very first triathlon, the Ribble Valley Triathlon. One of his road races, the Ribble Valley 10K, is still going strong some 45 years later!
So it’s thanks to dad that my eyes were opened from a young age to sports in general, event organising in particular and the wonders of our natural world. I’ve certainly inherited his love of maps and finding my own way.
Fly fishing was another big passion for my dad – here he is with a whopper salmon
Dad always kept himself busy, preferring the outside world to being indoors. Of course, all these achievements and time away from the family came at a cost. No-one’s perfect. It takes a while coming to terms with all the mixed up emotions a close family bereavement stirs up.
Twenty years ago, when I turned 40, bored with my professional life as an Optometrist, I found myself following in his footsteps.
I’ve always loved the glitz and glamour, the hype, colour, noise and sheer professional spectacle of European mountain trail races such as Sierre-Zinal in Switzerland. So I started the Lakeland Trails events in 2004, here where I live in the Lake District, essentially bringing a new model and the sport of trail running to the UK.
Lakeland Trails in Keswick
Three years ago, in preparation for a pre-Brexit family move to France, after 100 Lakeland Trails events involving over 150,000 competitors, I passed the flag over to our event manager, Phil Blaylock. Satisfied I’d left them in safe hands, we packed our bags for sunnier climes, then … COVID-19, Lockdown and we missed that window of opportunity.
Dad mountaineering in Scotland
Dad passed away over a year ago and my brother Andrew couldn’t travel for the funeral from his home in Australia due to COVID restrictions. He eventually managed to fly back in September 2022 and along with my older sister Suzan, we climbed one of dad’s favourite mountains, Pen-Y-Ghent, for sunrise, spreading his ashes high into the cold morning air.
On the summit of Pen-Y-Ghent for sunrise with my brother Andrew, and sister Suzan
Returning to orienteering five or six years ago was an eye-opener. The sport hasn’t changed much in the 30 years since last competing regularly. Initially, I just wanted to try and inspire Ash with having a go at the map reading ‘survival skills’ of navigation, taking part as a family.
Ash orienteering in Europe in 2018
We lived for a year in France in 2017-18, joining a lovely French club, PSNO. Even my non-running partner Claire enjoyed taking part in the glitzy French orienteering events. Or maybe she just liked wearing the fetching pink and blue maillot festooned with the club’s sponsors?
Returning to the UK, we noticed much more how low-key, niche and off-the-radar the sport actually is. Not as family friendly as the French events. An ageing profile with a dearth of youngsters. Certainly not much glitz and glamour anywhere. Ash and Claire don’t enjoy orienteering much anymore and have pretty much given up.
Our time in France impressed us with how vibrant, young, inclusive and exciting orienteering could be, even using town centres, villages and parkland.
2022 World Masters Orienteering Champion
This year I’ve been honing my own orienteering skills, and was delighted to win Gold in the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Italy during the summer.
I’ve also been thinking a lot, now I’ve got time on my hands. Wondering if a European approach may work here in the UK, on the totally different sport of orienteering? Attempt to bring in some much needed new blood. Try another way. My mantra has always been, ‘make it fun and the kids will come’. It certainly works with Lakeland Trails and Phil is still doing a great job, working hard to keep that flag flying high, the events as popular as ever.
European orienteering, Italian style
Dad left some inheritance money and I could think of no better use than using mine to underwrite something new with his favourite sport of orienteering. My brother Andrew and sisters Suzan and Carole think so too.
A tribute to my dad
It’s been exciting creating something different and unique. I’ve always loved big ideas that inspire others, especially young people. So I’ve come up with a totally new event concept, for those who want to learn some navigation skills in a fun and family friendly environment. A stepping stone into the world of orienteering. Maybe a more achievable option.
Just as Lakeland Trails was set up to encourage normal, everyday people to step off the roads and onto the trails, this new event is going to help people learn to practice navigation skills, so they too can safely step off the trails and into the natural world, the home of our native wild fox. So, I’ve simply called the event Wild Fox Trails.
We’re planning to launch the first event in the Lake District sometime this year.
With luck, we hope to make it a fitting tribute to my dad!
If inspiration is the spark that ignites the fire, then motivation is surely what keeps that fire burning.
That pull to get out when it’s freezing cold, grey and pouring down outside. When you feel knackered after a poor night’s sleep. Despite the time demands of family and work life. The persistence, patience and optimism you need to struggle with an illness or injury.
High on Helvellyn
It’s easy when the sun’s shining, when things go well. Yet how do we keep our motivation going strong when the wheels fall off?
We all have times when things don’t go to plan. When life throws a ‘wild card’ and it’s a struggle to come to terms with a cheese that’s moved. The wind goes out of our sails. Motivation ebbs away.
When I started writing this piece, I was two months into a chronic achilles injury that just wasn’t responding to physio treatment. I couldn’t run a step. Now I’m back running and on the road to recovery. It’s taken almost four months, yet I’ve taken strength from others who have had even greater hardships to overcome.
Covid-19 has been a big one affecting motivation in all of us, especially young people.
Imagine being just 17 or 18 again. You’re motivated, training hard in Lockdown on your own, dreaming of that big moment. Putting in the miles running from home, using a turbo trainer or treadmill indoors. Succeeding in the GB Orienteering Trials, getting picked to represent your country for a major Junior Championship.
Then bang. It’s over.
At the last minute the GB team is pulled from the event. Dreams are shattered. Totally and utterly demoralising. Enough to put out anyone’s fire.
How do you motivate a young person after such a setback?
Remarkable then, that one young woman, Megan Keith, simply switched to a different discipline, winning the recent Under 20’s European Cross Country Championships in Ireland. Another gold medal to add to the World Junior Orienteering Championship gold relay medal she won in Denmark two years ago. What a role model she is!
As we get older and more experienced with life’s ups and downs, it’s easier to rationalise, to see the upside of these hurdles. Being injured for a few months was like that for me. What could I do to keep myself motivated? Maybe start seeing my injury as an opportunity?
Time to change old habits? Try something new? Every day that passes can now go into recharging my motivation batteries. Just thinking how great it’s going to be when the injury has resolved, running pain-free again, helps with motivation.
Running pain free in Hungary, August 2021
It concentrates mind and body overcoming challenges. Doing what it takes. Getting advice and treatment. The dreaded cross training. Strength and conditioning exercises.
No better time to set yourself a lofty goal or two. Enter an event in the distant future – in my case, the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Italy next July and of course, some of the Lakeland Trails events.
Sit down and make a plan. You can drop me a line if you need help or any coaching advice.
I could still go Nordic walking with poles in the mountains and on the Lakeland Trails instead of running, to shouts of ‘where are your skis’? Using poles is great cross training too, taking 25-30% load off your lower limbs, improving upper body strength and keeping stride symmetry, essential when you’re recovering from injury and have a tendency to favour the non injured leg.
The author Nordic walking October’s Ullwater Trail
And who would have thought cycling on a turbo trainer in the dark winter nights could actually be a perverse kind of pleasure? Additional aerobic, impact free, training hours too.
Reading, or listening, to books. Almost any biography written about a famous sporting person will reveal how they overcame their own hardships and challenges, over and over again. My all time favourite amongst these is “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.
Closer to home, taking inspiration from others by remembering success stories from a couple of the runners I have worked with. Witnessing first hand and achieving what was thought impossible, such as Jamie Rennie’s Bob Graham Round back in April.
Jamie Rennie with son Charlie training for the Bob on the Helvellyn ridge
Matt Jenkinson’s zero to hero dream of running the Lakeland 50 and the kind words he sent me afterwards:
“The goal of running the Lakeland 50 was born from frustration at a National lockdown affecting other activities, a need to stay fit following the birth of my son and the realisation that, at nearly 40 years old, I had never trained for any physical activity, or goal, in my life.
It took a lot of work, and a lot of support and advice from Graham, to get me over that line. It felt like every single step during training I’d had to grit my teeth and remind myself of the goal to get through.
Snowing – tough. Can’t be bothered – tough. Too hilly – tough.
When I crossed that line, it seemed like every single minute of grind and effort was released in a wave of relief, excitement, sadness that it was over and personal pride that I had shown I could do this, mentally and physically.
I was a walking contradiction.
I told the lady who met me and my friend at the line that I was never running again, whilst also wondering when the 2022 entries would open again.
Do it. Find a goal, find the right people to support you ,and go for it. You won’t regret it and those emotions at the finish line will stay with you, if not indefinitely, for a very long time. And then you will need a top up!”
Matt Jenkinson, Finisher, Lakeland 50, July 2021 (and 2022 entrant!)
Matt immediately after finishing the Lakeland 50
Reminders that nothing really memorable or worthwhile comes easy in life. We need these setbacks to test our character, to see what we’re made of. We can all look for the gift in adversity.
As the sun sets on another year, there’s no better time to put our motivation in motion right now. Is there?
A couple of days ago, I saw a photo on Facebook that brought back a few memories, as well as a smile to myself. A red-haired bloke grinning like a Cheshire cat, being presented with a piece of paper by none other than ultra running supremo Beth Pascall, in heels.
Jamie with Beth Pascal
It wasn’t just any bit of paper though. This was a hard-earned certificate, proving that Jamie Rennie had completed the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours and was now officially in the BG Club. Beth herself smashed the women’s BG Round record, her time one of the fastest ever, male or female. I guess she ran in studs.
Jamie’s BG certificate
So, I thought I’d ask Jamie a favour. Pen a couple of lines about me helping him with a bit of coaching advice. The idea being to put it on my website somewhere. I like being a bit of a ‘background figure’ with my coaching, although it’s something I’m enjoying doing more of.
When Jamie got back in touch with his reply, I was both humbled and touched by the words he wrote for me. Certainly it’s not just a line or two.
It’s a story in itself. One that may inspire others.
Maybe someone like you?
These are the words Jamie sent me:
“I’m 51 this year and have been running since I was 29. Before that, I played a lot of team sports, but my longest run had been once around the local park where I lived in Leicester – about 2 flat kilometres – and it knackered me!
Jamie training for the Bob with son Charlie
I first tried running properly when my brother decided to lose some weight and get fit back in 1999. I plodded around with him for a few months and gradually got a bit fitter. We entered a couple of road races and really enjoyed them. By 2005 we had graduated from joggers to runners and were looking for a new challenge.
Jamie’s family, Team Rennie, on the summit of Seat Sandal during a training run
The following year we entered the OMM (Original Mountain Marathon) for the first time. Being from Leicester, the highest hill we’d run up was the local high point, Bradgate Park, around 250m above sea level. Not great prep for a mountain marathon!
Recce run on Leg 3 with Charlie, nearing Pike O Stickle
To compensate for this I read Richard Askwith’s new book – Feet in the Clouds, which had been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year. Suddenly, a new world opened up to me! That book first introduced me to the Ultimate Running Challenge – The Bob Graham Round. Just like Richard Askwith, as soon as I read about the BGR, I knew I wanted to do it.
Jamie setting off on his Bob Graham Round, with young WCOC orienteers for company
What followed was a journey into the joys of mountain running that lasted for 10 years. But during that time, despite running each individual leg of the BG several times, and taking part in numerous Mountain Marathons and fell races, I never truly believed that I could do the Bob Graham. It just seemed too big of a challenge, one that would forever stay as a dream rather than reality. In 2016 I got into orienteering, and the BG dream was put to bed.
Early light of dawn during Jamie’s Bob Graham Round
Then, in early 2020, Covid-19 appeared, and all competitive sport was postponed. Luckily, in 2017, my family and I had made the decision to move from Leicester to Cockermouth, so when the pandemic struck we were living on the Lake District’s doorstep. With no orienteering available, I decided to resume my love of mountain running.
Sunrise on High Raise
At the same time, my son Charlie – a promising young orienteer – was being coached by Graham Patten. Graham and I spoke regularly about Charlie’s coaching, but we also talked about my running, and it was during one of these informal chats that he persuaded me to have another look at the BGR.
Jamie digging in on the Langdale Pikes
Graham convinced me that not only was it possible for me to do the Bob Graham, it was also highly likely that I would succeed, and have a great time along the way, both during the training and on the attempt itself. He agreed to write me a training programme in late 2020, with a view to making an attempt on the round in Spring 2021.
The make or break Leg 3 – Jamie finding out what he’s made of
What followed was exactly what Graham had convinced me would happen. A series of specific training runs (some of which Graham accompanied me on himself), weekly zoom calls, advice and coaching tips that not only were highly enjoyable, also gave me the belief that a successful attempt was likely. Something that I never thought would have been possible a few months before.
Jamie descending into Wasdale at the end of Leg 3
Graham’s experience and knowledge of the BGR, long distance running and elite running in general is comprehensive. Training had gone perfectly and we began to think about possible dates for an attempt. In late March, with the programme Graham had designed almost completely fulfilled, we noticed a weather window. The date was set, pacers and supporters organised, and final preparations began.
Leaving Wasdale NT car park, just get up Yewbarrow and you’ll make it!
On the night of April 16th 2021, me and three pacers set out from the Moot Hall at 8pm, cheered on by Graham and a few family members. Conditions were perfect. By Dunmail raise I was just about keeping to the schedule. I met Graham, who was pacing Leg 3 for me, and we set off up Steel Fell at 4.30am. Leg 3 is the most difficult of the BG, and it’s where many attempts fail.
Only 3 summits left – Jamie leaving Honister Pass for the glory leg
Graham’s encouragement and friendly banter throughout Leg 3 made sure I got to Wasdale with the attempt still in good shape. He gave me the belief that if I could get myself up the next hill, Yewbarrow, then I would get back to the Moot Hall in Keswick within 24 hours of leaving there.
Finishing the Bob – now who’d have thought?
And so it proved to be. At 7.15pm, me and a hoard of supporters ran into Keswick to be greeted by friends, family, and of course Graham. There at the start, middle and end of my BG. His advice, coaching, encouragement and friendship were invaluable in my completion of the round. The dream had finally become a reality.”
Jamie Rennie, WCOC
A well-earned pint, the Bob Graham Round completed – never in doubt!
Thanks Jamie, for letting me be a part of your adventure, a really good day out on the fells. Thanks also to everyone involved, especially Jamie’s wife Helen, who had the hardest job of all keeping the show on the road.
Living in the Lake District, I am lucky enough to be able to run from the back door of my house in Kendal and in just a few minutes be on limestone hills with panoramic views of the fells.
I want to share some of this Lakeland inspiration with you, gathering together twelve of my favourite photo memories taken whilst running over the mountains in last few years. There is one photo for each month of the year, with the story behind it too linked up too. I hope you enjoy them.
Fingers crossed, the national Lockdown will soon be lifted. Then everyone will be able to come and enjoy this beautiful part of the world too.
I couldn’t see a thing. Like a blind man, my arms outstretched trying to feel in the darkness, making contact with a wooden gate. I climb over into deep, wet grass. Where the hell is the path? Not the best start to the biggest ultra run of my life.
Minutes before I’d set off from the Moot Hall in Keswick, just after 6am on Thursday 5th October. A kiss for both Claire and Ash, then I jog through the square, weaving around people busy setting up their market stalls. I wore my half eye orienteering reading spectacles with a map in my hand. Over the bridge, turn left, then … pitch black.
I didn’t have my head torch, thinking the dawn light was good enough to see by. I waited in the field for a couple of minutes, letting my eyes adjust to the dark, retracing my steps. More by luck I found the footpath. I started running through the puddles, laughing to myself at such a ridiculous start to this big ultra challenge. Suddenly I get the fright of my life. I’d almost run into another person walking the other way, silent like a ghost. He hadn’t a torch either.
55@55 – Leg 1
Along the tarmac road I realise I need to change my plan. It was far too dark to run through the paths in the woods. My only option was to keep to the lane. I was wearing fell running studs. Not ideal on this hard surface. Originally I’d planned to wear trail shoes for this section, then remembered the steep grassy descent from Dale Head. With all the rain it would be suicidal in anything other than studs. Another decision had been made for me.
Gradually the light improved and I could see my map. The dark bulk of Robinson lay ahead. A relief to finally get off road and hit the trails, water oozing everywhere. Hands on knees, relaxing into the steep climb. A compass bearing through low cloud, a strong north westerly cross wind to the summit cairn.
With the first one of my fifty-five peaks ticked off, I start to find my rhythm to Hindscarth then Dale Head. The first shafts of sunlight appear, some blue sky through the summit clouds. I couldn’t believe I was finally on my way. I’d almost given up hope. The weather had been bad for weeks. It was now or never. I thought back to where the idea had come from. How a freak accident many months ago brought me to where I am now.
The Ski Trip
One moment I’m skiing fast nearing the coffee shops and terraces at the bottom of the ski run. The next, I’m flat on my face, winded, out cold. I could vaguely hear a cheer and hands clapping from the cafes. I thought I’d been shot. Then I realised what had happened as my boots were still hooked over a thick rope that was still moving, my skis scattered. I’d skied under the beginners drag tow rope. With no-one on it, the rope was lying on the rock hard snow and I hadn’t seen it as we were racing down the slope. Claire was laughing her head off, tears were rolling down her cheeks. I could hardly move, the pain in my chest was unbearable and I still couldn’t get any air into my lungs. I wriggled on the ground like the hunted prey that I was, got my boots free and kneeled down first until I could breathe again. I put my skis back on and slowly skied down to a sunny terrace. Claire couldn’t look at me without laughing. The shame of it!
It was February earlier this year and we were out in the Pyrenees for half term holiday, and had found the quiet, friendly, very French ski resort of Mont D’Olmes to be cheap with no queues for lifts and wide slopes perfect for families. As I sipped my expresso, the feelings were coming back to my body and I remembered watching someone else a couple of days before perform exactly the same face plant trick as I’d just done. We skied the rest of the day, although I started suffering more and more as the bruising in my ribs built up. By the time we arrived home three days later the pain was excruciating and Claire drove me to A&E for a thorough check up. Cracked ribs. Strong painkillers, take it easy and I’ll be unable to run for 5-6 weeks.
To think the morning before the ‘Ski Trip’ I’d set off in darkness with my head torch to run up the 2000m summit of Mont Fourcat for sunrise. I ran using micro spikes to negotiate the final exposed ridge on hard, icy neve, feeling euphoric surrounded by spectacular Alpine views. The run was effortless, I was enjoying my current fitness levels, looking forward to running a fast ‘solo’ Bob Graham Round in May.
Now I was grounded. Literally. Even breathing was painful. All winter I’d also been training for night orienteering, after nearly 20 years away from the sport. The British Night Championships were on my doorstep at Great Tower Woods. I would’t be doing them now. Nor the Northern Championships at Bigland the next day. I was gutted.
Positive from negative
I needed to search for something positive to come out of such an unfortunate negative. For the life of me I couldn’t think of anything. Despondency overwhelmed me. I’d been training hard through the cold, dark months, and it had been going very, very well. I’d been knocking off Wainwright summits again in batches of ten or more, and had run more than 80 of them before the ‘Ski Trip’, all at a good pace.
With so much wasted time looming over the next month and a half, it would be an impossible task to then get myself back into a similar shape by May. There was only one solution, abandon the idea of a fast ‘solo’ Bob, and think of something else.
Suddenly the idea came to mind. I switched on my laptop to do some research. As far as I could gather, only three other people have run this round within 24 hours : Paul Murray (23.24) in 1997; George Brass (23.44) in 1998 and Dennis Lucas (23.36) also in 1998.
The thing that really swung it for me was seeing the name of George Brass. He was my godfather, one of my dad’s best friend’s, although he’s sadly no longer with us.
I decided I’d attempt to solo run the 55@55 within 24hrs, in George’s memory, when I reach the ripe old age of 55 myself in late September. This would take in around 75 miles of arduous Lake District terrain, 55 summits, ascending more than the height of Everest from sea level. Now I was happy. I could accept my immobility and get on with recovering from my battered ribs. I’d found a much more difficult and fulfilling challenge to get my teeth stuck into, when I do get back running again. The very idea of running a Bob Graham Round and adding an extra 13 summits along the way had an immediate, audacious appeal. All that night orienteering will come in useful too, as I would plan to start at midnight. The number of hours of daylight would be shortening. I checked which extra summits the other three had done, making outline plans of my own.
Now I’ll have the whole of the rest of spring and summer to fine tune those plans and get myself in shape. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad ski trip after all …
It was a last minute decision to go anti-clockwise. I’d heard the River Caldew between Great Calva and Blencathra was in flood. Going the opposite way round would hopefully give water levels a chance to subside. The knock on affect would be my starting time. I didn’t want to be running the ‘gnarly section’ over the Scafells at night. Leave early, get these peaks out of the way during the daylight hours. It was another forced choice.
Going round the route anti-clockwise was an unknown. My preference has always been clockwise, with Skiddaw and Blencathra at night, early on, whilst I’m fresh. I was confident enough about my orienteering skills. Running solo made it easy to be super flexible too.
For now, I was just happy enough that I had a weather window. I’d trained hard for the last four months with this target in mind. The opportunity was a chance I had to take.
55@55 – Leg 2
I was going well. Taking it easy from Dale Head down the steep wet grass, wondering if Claire would be at Honister Pass. My ‘schedule’ had three hours for this first section and I was an hour ahead already. My tracker, the size of a small matchbox, used OpenTracking software to create a moving dot on a map for her to follow my progress on her mobile phone. The wonders of technology.
They were ready and waiting.
Shoes off, socks off, towel my feet dry. Claire has everything laid out in the van. Clean dry socks, fell running shoes, thermal top, my running pack, a new map. I drink strong fresh coffee answering her questions from our check list. Ash is helping too. Excited at seeing his dad so soon. Running after me to collect the empty water bottle once I’d drained it of the rehydrating drink he’d prepared. Munching on a bacon butty as the climb steepened. Picking out raised patches of ground. My feet getting stuck in anything soft.
I was soon slithering over greasy rocks marking the summit of Grey Knotts. Then another compass bearing to Brandreth. The cloud thinning now, more like a hazy mist. Wind cooling my right cheek. Legs feeling strong. In control.
Alone in the hills. I was enjoying my day out. A pattern was emerging. Between summits, the sky was clear, the cloud broken. I slowed down taking in the majesty of the views all around. On the climbs I’d enter cloud, sometimes thick as pea soup, using a compass bearing, keeping close contact with my map. Another bearing for the descent, coming out of the murk into another world of sunshine.
From Great Gable, I was on familiar territory from my ‘Joss’ run last year, although the ‘scree run’ descent back fired. This morning the scree is solidified from all the recent rain. More like an ice slope than a scree slope. I stop at the col to re-fill my water bottle, adding half a Nuun tablet. I’m eating a sandwich or a muesli bar every hour or so, a mix of jelly babies, cashew nuts and raisins in between.
My new found orienteering skills came into their own going to Kirk Fell. A route I would never have taken a year ago. Contouring round open fell and scree, coming out perfectly near the little tarn with only a small climb to the summit left. I wondered how much time I saved going this way.
Looking Stead was a completely new summit for me, my first ‘extra’ summit from a usual Bob Graham Round. I’d been told by my dad, Alistair, that this was one of the summits Bob included in his original round. No one knows why it got removed, replaced with another. It was a nice feeling, looking down towards Ennerdale, thinking Bob Graham had once stood here too on that iconic first round.
Pillar, bleak as ever, visibility down to a few metres, windy as hell. Greasy rock on the climb to Black Fell, another ‘extra’, taking care descending. The wind blowing me off balance, using my hands for support. Steeple, Scoat Fell then Red Pike. Ticking them all off, feeling my spirits lift along with the cloud.
I glanced up to look for the route up Stirrup Crags. Vertical rock kept my gaze for a moment. The next thing I was spread eagled on the rocky path, twisting my ankle, banging my left knee hard. I got to my feet and looked back. Just one of the stone steps was wet and greasy. I hadn’t seen it, being distracted and paid for my inattention. I thought I’d got away with it. I was a bit sore that’s all. It will be OK.
All 214 Wainwright summits for 4th successive year
The climb was a rock scramble, made more difficult being in shade, a black mould like a veneer over wet surfaces. At the summit, I realised I could have avoided this steep, slow climb. I could have gone my ‘usual’ BG way around, doubling back along the ridge. It was extra summit number four, another first for me. My legs loosened up along the wet ridge run to Yewbarrow. I remember this was my final Wainwright summit of the year. My fourth successive year completing all 214 summits. I shouted out a yay, pumped my arm in the air, although it was anti-climatic. Originally I’d left ten Wainwright summits for this section going clockwise, so I could count them down as the going got tough nearing the end of the 55@55.
Now I just felt a bit foolish. I still had a long way to go. Finishing all the Wainwrights again didn’t seem so important now.
My left achilles felt strange on the steep, stepped descent. Hard to describe, like a tightness as my foot landed. I struggled to make sense of it, took it easy, decided it would just sort itself out.
Running into the National Trust car park in Wasdale, Ash was on the lane taking photos, smiling happily. I gave him a hug, went through the routine, changing socks and shoes, running gear, pack, food. I’d been going only six hours and was way ahead of my schedule. Despite the wet underfoot conditions I was feeling strong and in control. Claire read through my check list. When she read out ‘painkillers?’, I remembered my achilles. I took some ibuprofen, just in case. My pit stops were taking less than ten minutes. We’re a well oiled team. I was soon away, Ash chasing after my empty water bottle.
55@55 – Leg 3
The sun was out now, it was warm climbing Scafell. A long, long drag. Bog and wet tussock taking it’s toll. Behind me, a darkening sky. I could see a rain shower coming my way. It was ferocious when it hit, strong gusts picking me off my feet. Hail stones hammering the side of my face. I’d already got my cagoule on in preparation and kept going into the maelstrom. Two walkers were sheltering behind a boulder. “You’re mad. Why don’t you wait for it to blow over”. I pushed on. If anything the storm built up even more. Leaving the summit I could hardly penetrate into the wind. It was a relief to drop down steeply towards Foxes Tarn and warm up. I stopped to re-fuel and drink, then started down the narrow gorge.
It was like climbing down a waterfall. I faced the slope, trying to pick out hand and foot holds through the fast, cold running water. Every now and again water would find it’s way inside my cagoule, freezing my back, my chest. It was slow work and at the bottom, I took off my cagoule, shaking the water out from inside.
Picking my way through the climb on rubble and rocks to Mickeldore, I warmed up again, the sky now blue, the sun shining. Cold and cloudy amongst crowds sheltering in the lee of the memorial on Scafell Pike. Relief to get to the lower peaks, scrambling over boulders, out of the cloud, down to Esk Hause.
I could run again now and the big climb out of Wasdale had obviously stretched out my achilles. Esk Pike then on towards Bowfell. Another hailstorm, as vicious and sudden as the last one. I get battered and disorientated coming off the summit, trying to find shelter to put on my soaked cagoule. I struggled taking a proper compass bearing and get pushed by the wind, finding myself overlooking some big crags. At least I can get my cagoule on, make sense of the map, running along the ridge in thick cloud, looking for the ‘ramp’, my route down to Hanging Knotts.
I could’t find it. I thought I’d overshot it, so set off down a steep rocky slope, contouring round, looking below. Where is it? The going was tough. Slow work. Scrambling and climbing over rocks, edging round small cliffs. Only when I reach Hanging Knotts, I realised I’d descended too early. I could now clearly see the ramp above me. I’d wasted time, maybe twenty minutes or more. I stopped and ate the last of my sandwiches. I had been eating steadily just to keep up my body temperature. Now I had one muesli bar left. I decided to keep it for emergency only.
The sun tried to come out again. The view down from Rossett Pike was unbelievable. Low light bringing out contours into sharp relief. I was back in a magic wonderland and felt inspired.
A good route through Black Crags, a drink at the stream. Then a long, bog sapping drag up to the Langdale Pikes. This section is a peak bagger’s dream. With my ‘extra’ summits of Loft Crag and Pavey Ark, I was quickly knocking them off my list. Neil Burnett had come to see me and missed me by minutes. He took a photo of me running in the distance. Some very wet, peat bog to pull myself through, then the gentle climb to Thunacor Knotts. More thick cloud, a compass bearing to High Raise, another on the short, soggy downhill run to Sargeant’s Crag. I stopped to eat the last of my food, the emergency muesli bar. I’d worked out I’d now run 30 summits and had only 25 left. I wanted to celebrate.
Only 25 summits left
A wild run on a compass bearing off Sargeant’s Crag, keeping to grass, away from lethal wet rocks. I fell a couple of times. Skidded with my feet flipping high in the air, landing on my bottom. I just rolled over in the grass, my backside a bit wetter, laughing like a child.
Soft conditions slowed me down between Calf Crag and Steel Fell, it was a relief to start descending down to Dunmail Raise. I took it easy, concentrating, looking forward to hot drink and food. I could see our van and there was a welcome party waiting for me too. Ash had company. My friends Chewy, Macca and Nick had all come to see me. Their enthusiasm a welcome distraction after six hours of solitude. Claire was busy plying me with food, pizza, chocolate, hot tea. I changed into warmer gear, dry shoes and socks. Ash was in the van, smiling and ‘helping’. “Is that hat warm enough?” I remember Claire saying. My pack felt much heavier with two sets of head torches and all the extra food.
I’d decided not to take my running poles – the Helvellyn ridge was thick with cloud and I knew I’d be map reading, needing both hands for compass bearings. After ten minutes or so, I set off up Seat Sandal. “Smash it Graham” shouted someone. I’d now been going twelve hours. I thought to myself, “All I needed to do now was keep going. Relax, just enjoy it”.
55@55 – Leg 4
I felt strong going up the climb. Evening light was fading when I reached the summit. On with my head torch. Full power, they don’t come any better than my brother’s AyUp Lights.
A twinge in my left knee as I start descending and I slow to a walk, trying to work out what’s going on. I jog again and the twinge returns, more of an ache than anything. I dismiss it. It’ll work loose.
The climb up Fairfield feels endless in the dark. There’s thick cloud too with a very strong northerly wind. The forecast was for the wind to die down, a clear night with a full moon. I guess that’s not to be and now I’m enjoying the challenge of navigation in the dark. Grateful for all those night orienteering events I’d been to, organised by my Lakeland Orienteering Club.
Surprises in store
Some surprises were in store for me as I turn around at the summit. The wind is so strong I can hardly make headway. It’s freezing cold too. What’s bothering me though is my left knee. It’s now very sore. Painful. I’m unable to run properly, yet I want to run to stay warm. I console myself that I’m moving steadily though, just not as quickly as I’d like.
I slow down, taking it easy on the looser, rocky sections. Using the path, rather than cutting down the steeper grass, as I usually would. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on my knee until it had sorted itself out.
Around Grisedale Tarn I found a fresh spring amongst all the surface water and stopped to get my water bottle out. I knew this was the last place for water on the Helvellyn ridge. I’d planned to drink, then take a full bottle with me.
Shit. It wasn’t there. I must have left it behind in the van when I repacked my running pack at Dunmail.
I quickly thought through scenarios, deciding to drink as much as I can, using my hands to scoop up the ice cold water.
A few minutes later I started off again, my knee if anything feeling worse for the short rest in the cold. I struggled up the steep climb of Dollywagon Pike, although it was sheltered, so I started warming up a little. My knee felt much better going up than down. I was still moving well, feeling strong.
Cresting the summit the full power of the wind took over, penetrating through my clothing, my hat, my gloves, my cagoule. I had maybe one or two metres of visibility in front of me in the thick swirling cloud, the glare from my head torch bouncing back. I love nothing more than challenging conditions for navigating in the mountains. This ticked all those boxes. I kept on my bearing and reached the summit cairn bang on. Two silver plovers took off, flashing away into the dark. I wondered what they might be. Dotterel? Golden Plover? It didn’t matter, they were a welcome sight amongst the gloom and I took seeing them as a good omen.
Right, I told myself. Climb over. Now you can get running, get warmed up.
This is my favourite ridge line in the Lakes, a real runner’s roller coaster, with easy climbs and gradual grassy descents.
I set off and immediately realised running wasn’t going to be an option. A sharp pain seared through my left knee every time I landed my foot. I was only able to painfully limp and shuffle along. I knew I had a lot of time in hand though, so wasn’t unduly concerned at this point. I’ll just keep limping along at a fast walk. Put up with the pain, get the job done.
No problem. Or so I thought.
An ultra run too far?
Gradually, I started to get cold. Very cold. Freezing cold. Hand numbing, feet numbing, head numbing cold. I was still on compass bearings, battling into the teeth of the northerly wind. Despite this, the summits were getting ticked off nicely. High Crags, then Nethermost Pike.
By Helvellyn, I could’t really even walk properly downhill, it was more of a hop and an ouch. The wind was 40-50 mph, thick cloud, hail at times, and pitch dark – the full moon hidden. I was dressed for running, not walking. I was getting hypothermic and making some unconsidered judgements, such as ignoring my compass in zero visibility, thinking it was wrong and going off in a different direction. This wasn’t a good move, and I found myself wandering around in circles trying to find the summit cairn of Stybarrow Dodd, even though at the time I knew I was going downhill!
All I wanted to do was get out of the cold wind. Shelter behind the summit cairn, maybe have a little rest, a recharge, a sleep. That’s when I realised I was suffering from the early stages of hypothermia. The reality of the situation struck home. I had some strong words with myself about survival, took a compass bearing and climbed back up to the summit. From then on I slowed down even more. I still knew I had time to finish, yet the risks were stacking up against me. By Calfhow Pike, I decided it just wasn’t worth it. On Clough Head, my 48th summit, I turned my mobile on and told Claire I was calling it a day, even though I still had seven hours to spare. I just thought it foolish to carry on solo in darkness in such a state and in appalling weather – there will be other times.
It then took me an hour and twenty minutes to hobble down to meet her and Rich Walker, who were looking out for me.
I’ll live to fight another day
So it was a real adventure and I’ve learnt a lot more about myself and my limitations. Many, many lessons that will help with future successes. I’ve no doubt it was the best decision. I’m happy with that, enjoyed every step and gave it my best shot – even testing myself to the outer limits.
I would like to thank everyone for supporting my adventure, and to all those who contributed to the amazing total raised of £1138 for the charity Cancer Care North Lancashire and South Lakeland, via my Justgiving page :
I have included these personal details as they may help others with planning for similar adventures, Bob Graham Rounds or indeed, the 55@55. After all my big personal challenges, including every Lakeland Trails event, I go through all the good, the bad and the ugly from the experience. I find it all helps for the next time.
Fitness – Couldn’t be better, perfectly peaked, 4 months of injury free hard training
Taper – Maybe too much ‘active rest’ waiting for a weather window- nearly 3 weeks
Local Knowledge – Poor, no recce routes of any legs, no extra peaks checked & going ‘blind’
Conditions – Unfavourable, very wet underfoot, flooded River Caldew
Forecast – Too small a weather window, high NW winds Thursday, easing Friday night with clear skies, little wind Friday, weather front in the evening bringing rain
Full Moon – Thursday 5th October plus a couple of days either side
Focus – Not 100%, too busy orienteering at weekends, bagging Wainwrights for training runs instead of recceing legs, insufficient time to do both, switching off, almost having already decided that I would not be able to do it with the poor weather and forecast
Psychology – I didn’t respect the toughness of the challenge enough, thinking a sub 24hrs would be achievable. My mind was on a fast time
Time of year – less daylight hours (11hrs) than nighttime hours (13hrs) = one tough challenge
Not enough attention to detail with course planning, meaning too much time lost finding local knowledge routes ie Bowfell, 20-30mins, Stirrup Edge climb, 5-10mins
Plans changed last minute without consideration of knock on effects of an anti-clockwise round, the main ones being these five :
a) Night stages at the end when most tired, needing to carry the most weight of food & kit
b) Totally unfamiliar with some of the local knowledge routes anti-clockwise (Bowfell)
c) Easy running for the first hour – setting too fast an early pace to avoid the gnarly peaks in darkness, then the Scafell climb a real ball breaker out of Wasdale, poles would have helped enormously on this section
d) The psychological benefits of seeing the sun rise and the day getting easier because of daylight and warmth, along with a lighter pack, not harder and heavier
e) The lack of water on the Dodds, meaning water was only available near Grisedale Tarn and carrying a water bottle would be ESSENTIAL
Insufficient thought about anti-clockwise timings, consideration given to the more convenient timings for my support crew
Inadequate clothing – very cold in the wind from Wasdale, eating everything just to stay warm, then real winter conditions from Dunmail, early stages of hypothermia on Stybarrow Dodd, too cold as not generating heat as unable to run
Kit – Unconsidered kit – poles, water bottle and winter hat were all essential from Dunmail, none of them were brought, I did consider the poles, although with cloud covering the tops, I knew I’d be on compass bearings and therefore unable to use the poles, they’d just be extra weight to carry
Water – The water bottle may have been another factor. I only had some water by Grisedale Tarn on the way to Dollywagon, four cupped hand fulls. As I slowed down because of my knee, I didn’t have another drink for around 4-5 hours. I had no option but to completely forget the importance of it, as I couldn’t carry any water with me. I must have been extremely dehydrated
Poles – would these have helped take some of the weight off my knee BEFORE the injury? Should I have used them for such a long distance regardless?
Wind – Forecasted wind stronger than expected on Thursday, lasted until 3-4am on Friday
Cloud cover until 2-3am on Friday when full moon finally made an appearance
My psychology – at Dunmail, I thought it was already a done deal, with 12 hours to spare, although aware I had to just keep going
Date – Wrong time of year – Apr-May being the preferred dates, October date only if stable Indian summer conditions
Worse Case Scenarios – No consideration of dealing with problems, a laissez faire attitude to : first aid, medications, muscle injury, endurance related trauma (blisters, damaged nails, skin); no back-up plan for failures – massages, pep talks etc
Decision – Final decision was the correct one in the circumstances – too much risk in carrying on, I was an accident waiting to happen
A better decision would have been not to have started in the first place, accepting the conditions, weather forecast, time of year and lack of recceing would all contribute to the potential outcome
I would be dead if I’d taken off paragliding with a similar attitude to this level of circumstances
Lots of lessons learnt from this ultra run. However, despite all these, I thoroughly enjoyed testing myself and was pleased I tried, even more pleased I had the strength of character to make the decision I did. I may have slipped into bad habits, it’s not really my style to do something and set off without making sure the odds are stacked in my favour first. I’ve been doing this with orienteering over the last few months too – no specific training, just taking part. With the 55@55 I was too complacent and the main lesson learnt here is not to allow this to happen again.
I’d planned today’s Wainwright bagging adventure at the end of last week. Second guessing weather maps that showed band after band of fronts passing over the north of England, hoping to hit a possible ridge of high pressure.
I knew it was going to be a lucky one when I stepped outside first thing this morning, feeling the cold air, seeing stars high in the dark sky. It wasn’t 6am yet, and I was on my way to the west coast, peering through fog, the air clearing quickly, then suddenly misting over once again.
Sunrise on the approach to Wasdale, a majestic vista exaggerated by pink and orange early morning light. I kept stopping to take photo after photo.
I parked up near Joss Naylor’s house at Greendale bridge, then set off in the gathering light, past huge round bales of brown bracken, which I guess will be used as animal bedding. On up the trail threading through bracken tinged with gold, taking it easy, enjoying the views opening up. The sun breaks the horizon, reflecting off the underside of dark cloud. Running in paradise.
Views down towards Wast Water from the summit of Middle Fell, and memories come flooding back from the last time I was here, during my Joss Naylor Challenge run in May 2016. On that day I literally threw everything I had into the descent I’d just run up. Happy days.
It’s pretty wet underfoot and a well worn trod takes me through leg sapping bog to the Pots of Ashness, steepening through boulders to the summit plateau, a cairn marking the top of Haycock. Lifting cloud revealing the lonely spire of Steeple with the rounded bulk of Scoat Fell as a backdrop. Ennerdale Water in the far distance glinting silver, as I ran on towards Caw Fell.
A steep downhill and I almost twist my ankle on an unseen rock hidden amongst tussock, then picking my way over mossy boulder scree. I find a faint trod, contouring round the lower slopes of Haycock, joining with the main trail to Seatallan. Again, memories from last year’s ‘Joss’ when I worked hard up this climb, knowing once I reached the top, I would only have one more summit to go. This morning, I was taking things much more leisurely, enjoying my solitude, the views, holding myself back.
With another personal challenge looming I’ve been training hard for the last few months. Now I’m in active rest mode, hoping for another weather window next week, to coincide with a full moon on October 5th. With the Dirty Double Lakeland Trails event shortly afterwards, I don’t have the luxury of time on my side. If anything, I’m fitter than last year, although I’ll need to be, as the 55@55 has only ever been completed by three people before. One of them, my own late godfather, George Brass in 1997. It’s a full Bob Graham Round, with an additional 13 peaks, one for every year of life. Throw in around 75 miles of very wet Lake District terrain climbing and descending nearly 30,000 feet, with more than half the day now in darkness. It will take everything I’ve got to get around in under 24 hours.
Once again, I’ll be running solo with support at the road crossings from my ‘dream team’ Claire and Ash. I’ve been improving my orienteering skills throughout the year in preparation. I’m now comfortable with night navigation, confident map reading on the run.
The descent off Seatallan to the distant small lumps of Buckbarrow, an invitation to run fast. A gentle gradient on soft, grassy trails, winding around knolls and small hills. Today though, I’m having none of it, holding back as much as I can, jogging along in second gear. I reach the top, then down one of my favourite routes, plunging straight off the steep rocky spur, heading straight for Joss’s farmhouse next to Greendale bridge.
The sun has come out and it’s warm by my van. After changing, I call into Joss’s house to say hello. Mary Naylor invites me in, although Joss is out somewhere on the fell. ‘He’s never in’ Mary tells me. The living room is full of photographs, paintings and awards, testament to the living legend of Joss. I leave the house feeling inspired.
Another 5 Wainwright summits today leaving only 10 to go.
I’ve saved these last ten summits as they’re all on Leg 4 of my 55@55 round, so I can count them down as an extra incentive when the going, no doubt, will be getting tough. On Yewbarrow, I’ll have nine to go. Red Crags, eight to go and so on until Grey Knotts, my final Wainwright. That will complete all 214 summits within a year, the fourth successive year that I’ve run them. Of course, after that final summit on Grey Knotts, I’ll still have to three more hours of running to get back to Moot Hall in Keswick via Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson.
There are 214 Wainwright summits in the Lake District, as featured by writer Alfred Wainwright, in his popular Lakeland Guides. In 2014, I ran all 214 Wainwright summits, for the first time, within a calendar year. I enjoyed these running journeys so much, I ran them all again the following year. In 2016, I completed the lot again within 214 days. This will be my fourth consecutive year running all the Wainwright summits and I’m already looking forward to the fifth!
I hope you enjoyed this article? If you want to be kept informed of new blog posts, simply add your email address to subscribe.