Tom Hollins: Double Bob Graham
Running non-stop for over 2 days and nights, Montane Athlete Tom Hollins successfully completed a double ‘Bob Graham Relay’
I had attempted a double Bob Graham last year – a shot at Nicky Spink’s record that didn’t go according to plan. I had fixed to the last weekend in May, with a large group of friends supporting, however 3 weeks before the event I got a head cold which I hadn’t fully shifted. The weather on the day was roasting hot, followed by thunderstorms in the evening. Given the heat and the head cold I should have postponed but I didn’t want to let my friends down and I knew they would have difficulty all arranging to come for another date. So, I set off. Due to my preoccupation with Nicky’s record I broke my own first rule and instead of starting slow and finishing fast I set off too fast given the conditions. I completed a 22hrs19 first round – despite slowing down enormously over the last 2 legs – but was unable to eat anything much during those legs, and ran out of steam at Threlkeld after the first leg of the clockwise round.
I still wanted to double but I knew I would have to do it differently next time. Being flexible on the date seemed to be key. Initially I just asked which friends would be free over the May weekends and said I would pick a date closer to the time and see who was available. Then I noticed the increasing number of posts on the Bob Graham facebook page about erosion on the route. I started to wonder if I could do a solo double round which would decrease the amount of footfall. I then put that together with my desire to be flexible and realised that if all I needed was road support I had maximum options. The more I thought the more I liked the idea of the challenge. It also took the pressure off to beat Nicky’s time, although I still very much wanted to complete in under 48hrs, and thought I would be good for that.
Training went well and I was feeling fit when I started to taper at the beginning of May. I still had a little niggle of tendonitis from The Montane Spine Race but that wasn’t slowing me down. Sara and I enlisted the help of Andrea Cassidy and Jess for road support. Jess has run the Fellsman 29 times and completed the Northern Traverse at the start of May. Andrea makes the best bacon and eggs on the planet and loves to support others events. With all that experience with me I was feeling pretty confident.
I set off on Friday 18th May at 0645 starting with an anticlockwise round on a 22hr30 schedule. I felt great out of the Moot Hall and kept to time during the first 3 legs. The weather was amazing. Beautiful views always keep my head fresh. I had also been doing a lot of work with poles since The Spine and had got pretty handy with them. So arriving at Dunmail prior to leg 4 my legs were feeling pretty fresh too. I had a great time on leg 4. I kept going as I had been doing, eating and drinking nicely and now enjoying the moonlight. My pace felt good. As I was solo I wasn’t concentrating on the timings on the hills as I had too much navigation and eating to do! However I had paced myself perfectly by instinct on the first 3 legs so no reason to think any different now. I came down into Threlkeld pretty pleased with myself. No nav errors in the dark and still feeling good. Jess told me I had lost 30 minutes. I was confused. I felt good and nothing had changed. I thought maybe I had got the leg timings wrong. I considered sleeping but didn’t feel tired. I said I would see what happened on the next leg. On leg 5 I could tell I was slowing a bit but I didn’t think that much. I saw several clockwise rounds on coming the opposite way and we all said hello to each other and cheered each other on. That felt good. Hopefully I would make up the time I lost on the previous leg. As soon as I got to the top of Skiddaw I knew that wasn’t going to happen. The sun was already well up and I knew the run in wasn’t short. When I did eventually get down I had lost just over another hour. I had completed the first round in 24hrs 10 minutes.
I sat in Jess camper in Keswick feeling pretty dejected and also quite humiliated. My fastest time for a solo bob before was just over 18 hours and if you’d asked me I would have said I could go under that when I set off. I had told quite a few people I was planning on doing 2 rounds in under 48hrs. Now I hadn’t managed 1 in 24. I seriously considered not setting off again and in all honesty if it had just been me and Sara I think I might have caffled. Jess and Andrea had come a long way to support me though and I didn’t want them to have done that for nothing. Plus, I still felt good. Perhaps I could still do under 48? I had the hearty breakfast I had been looking forward to and set off back up Skiddaw for the clockwise round.
Skiddaw added insult to injury. I was starting to breathe hard. There were a couple of guys out in walking gear heading for the summit. They were looking at me like I was nuts. I had just set off from Keswick like them. I was wearing running gear like I was planning on trotting up but I was sweating like a pig and they were moving faster than me. Worse than that they kept stopping for water breaks and to look at the view and then setting off and overtaking me again. After the 3rd time of them doing this I decided I was going to have to stop a second and review my options. There was no value in continuously believing I was going to go faster when I was continuously slowing down. I took a look at myself. Legs good. Eating and drinking tick. Head not tired. Then I looked at the poles in my hands. If I was going to carry on I really needed to put them away as I was seriously in danger of assaulting the 2 walkers with them and they seemed far to nice to have to put up with that. Besides I had run for years without poles. Maybe they were holding me back. I set off again. I felt half as tired and moved twice as fast. I realised I had never used poles for that distance before and my upper body had fatigued way before my legs making my running form with poles a mess. I was not yet at the summit of Skiddaw and already 30 minutes down on 24hr pace at this point. I coasted round the rest of the leg keeping to 24hr pace and arrived at Threlkeld with a bit more of a smile on my face. It was pretty hot down there though. The probability of less than 48hrs was slim. How much did I want this?
Sara had arranged a party at Threlkeld, and there were a few friends there to say hello. I was under strict instructions from everyone that I was carrying on. Arctic John even said he had arranged with his kids to meet me at the top of Seat Sandal and I didn’t want them to be disappointed. He knows I’m a sucker for keeping the kids happy so off I went, with him on strict instructions he could say hello on Seat Sandal but no offering assistance. Back up on the tops there was a nice cool breeze. A few others had started to have the same idea as John and I was starting to get cheered along by people I hadn’t met but had heard of the challenge I was doing. That was a great boost to morale, and I stopped worrying about the pace and settled into enjoying the occasion instead. I met John on the top of Seat Sandal with his kids all cheering me on. Was a great moment. John, as instructed, then duly followed me down and offered no advice as to the route. However he did at this point offer significant unintentional motivational assistance as he was descending whilst carrying his youngest and keeping pace with me. I didn’t want to be responsible for them both face planting so I put a spurt on and got back to Dunmail, again feeling pretty great.
At Dunmail I realised that I had been going for over 30 hours and that I would now be in darkness for the most difficult part of the round from Bowfell to Wasdale. I knew I had to sleep in order to be safe. I gave Sara instructions to give me 30 minutes and despite the fact every car going past felt like it was inside the camper with me I fell to sleep immediately and was woken what felt like 2 seconds later when 30 minutes had passed. That sleep was a good call. The run to rossett pike was beautiful, with an amazing sunset. But then I was in the dark with one mass of indistinguishable rocks after another. Finding the summits on Bowfell, Great End, Ill crag and Broad Crag was a nightmare. Fortunately the bit I was dreading most – going from Scafell Pike to Scafell via the west wall traverse was pretty straightforward. I just kept hugging the wall on the traverse and stayed well away from the drop. Once I got to Wasdale I said to Jess that I wasn’t going back out into the dark without another sleep. Don’t worry he said. That leg took you so long that sun up is now only 30 minutes away!
I took another 30 minutes and set off. I was really starting to enjoy myself now, and the weather was perfect. The views were amazing and the temperature lower than it had been. I kept stopping to admire the lakes. Now I knew I must be getting tired. I knew I would finish but time seemed to no longer be an objective. I sauntered down into Honister and then back out after some bacon and eggs. Amazing. Thank you Andrea. Nothing could stop me now.
Up and out over the last few hills I realised I had now done over 80 peaks. My smile was getting broader and everyone saying hello was really pushing me along. I felt great, untill I hit the road. Now it was hot again, and I really felt tired. I kept nearly feeling asleep on my feet. Another runner stopped because he was worried about me ‘That really isn’t the straightest line you are taking you know. You’re staggering all over the shop’. That woke me back up. I hadn’t done 84 peaks to then get run over by a car coming in to Keswick. I pushed on and when I saw the moot hall approaching I really put a sprint on, feeling amazing again. I touched the door. It was done. Jess and Andrea said they still had another day available if I fancied another round. I looked at them, and to my surprise, seriously thought about it. Then I knew it was just the adrenaline and excitement of finishing taking over my brain. ‘Go to bed’ the sensible side of my brain said to itself. I did. And when I opened my eyes again it was about 15 hours later. I was still smiling though.