Geoff's 50 at 50: or, The Bob Graham Round - So Good I did it Twice!

Geoff Davis

What better way to mark my 50th birthday than to do the BG again only this time add a few peaks in to make it up to 50 (from 42). I looked at some existing 50 at 50 schedules and recced the extra peaks only to find that they added too much onto the 'basic' BG for me to contemplate. However, I was not going to be deterred, so during the course of training (mainly with Paul Hainsworth), and with the aid of some creative thinking and helpful suggestions, I came up with eight extra 'do able' peaks to add to Bob Graham's 42.

I intended to attempt the round four days after my 50th birthday, however, my birthday dawned with a violent thunderstorm and it didn't seem to stop raining for the rest of the week. This caused me to delay my start time by 24 hours. The resulting logistical problems led to a bit of a headache and didn't make for a relaxing build up. Nonetheless, after about 50 phone calls and with the co-operation of my 30 or so supporters, to whom I am very grateful, everything was sorted.

The day of my attempt dawned wet and mild with no breeze. By the time Susan and I left for the start, after a hearty breakfast kindly provided by Jenny, the rain had stopped and Keswick market square was starting to dry up when we arrived at 06.30. On the first leg to Honister I was to be accompanied by six club mates from Northumberland Fell Runners (NFR). On the stroke of 7 we were away and I felt good on the roads to Newlands. After a few mutterings that "this is just like Paul Hainsworth's" I settled into my Bob Graham Shuffle as we approached Robinson (a briskish pace requiring minimal effort). It was misty on top and soon only Chris and Karen were with me as we descended the first peak. Chris waited for the others as Karen and I headed for Hindscarth, which was quickly bagged, and we re-joined the team as they approached Dale Head. Steph had bravely volunteered to carry all the heavy kit (so she tells me) and had 'soloed' the North Wall of Robinson with a minimum of fuss. This was the first of many acts above and beyond the call of duty performed on the day by my support team - thanks to you all!

A quick descent to Honister saw us arrive at 09.05 16 minutes ahead of my 23.5 hour schedule. I was quickly fed and watered by my excellent road crew made up from the core of Elvet Striders' championship winning women's cross country team led by their Captain Susan. Peter M and Steph completed their pacing duties at Honister and I was joined by two NFR stalwarts, and old friends, David Atkinson and John Dallinson, as well as three friends from Todmorden Harriers (Mandy Goth, Kath Brierley & Phil Hodgson) all of whom had completed successful BGs as well as many other feats on the fells. John led the way up Grey Knotts dressed in his sans culottes and funny hat and we continued to make up time across Brandreth and the Gables. We were soon descending Great Gable on the route I had asked John to take which he stuck to in spite of me trying to tell him he had gone wrong.

I seemed to be climbing well and John had trouble getting in front of me to lead the way across Kirk Fell. Phil seemed to be sticking to me like glue and we chatted about camper vans, of all things, as we descended Kirk Fell Crag. I was grateful for the loan of Phil's 'cag' as we came off the 'extra' peak of Looking Stead accompanied by a sudden downpour that stayed with us for about half an hour, although this was the only rain I can remember during the whole round. Mandy G re-appeared here and remarked on the rain. I was very grateful for Mandy's company on this leg. She is a very brave woman having, among other things, completed the BG last July after a number of attempts over the years and has run the Ben Nevis race more times than any other woman - I was in excellent company.

John continued to pick a good line through the mist although he was probably fed up with me asking him not to get too far ahead. This route selection and support from Kath and my other pacers, meeting my constant demands for food, drink, clothing etc, ensured I was able to continue to make up time on this leg. But John saved the best for last leading the finest line of descent I have ever taken off Yewbarrow (and I've been down it a few times) resulting in my quickest descent ever - thanks John.

On arrival at 12.53 I was 49 minutes up at Wasdale and the support crew went immediately into action with Susan ensuring all my needs were catered for. Karen continued her wonderful support by massaging my legs until my own personal masseuse (Valerie Artkinson) arrived to take over. John, Mandy G, Kath, Karen and Peter R bowed out here, Phil and Dave carried on, and I was joined by Paul Appleby and two of my closest BG companions Bob Sewell and Paul Hainsworth.

The ascent up Sca Fell started well and I felt quite strong with Bob and Paul A sticking close and offering encouragement. But just over half way up things went a bit pear shaped when first one thigh then the other ceased up with cramp. My Vastus medialis muscles became the size, colour and consistency of cricket balls. I stopped, tried to stretch, but this made things worse, so I sat down. Paul H arrived and provided some massage. Fortunately I had anticipated cramp problems around this point in the round and had some salty food with me which I ate. After a tentative re-start I began to get going again and the cramp never returned. On reaching Sca Fell summit I was pleased to find that no time had be lost from the schedule.

Paul H led the way across to Deep Gill and invited me to jump in first - which I did with nervous anticipation. The gully was wet and loose but I got down it fairly quickly slithering unceremoniously onto Lord's Rake. Only later did I discover that one of my pacers had been struck on the head by a dislodged rock and narrowly missed being hit by a larger one.

Paul H and Phil picked great lines across Broad and Ill Crags and we started to make up time again. Paul showed admirable restraint when I asked him to find me some grass to run on across the rocky plateau. We approached a misty Esk Hause to hear shouts and see waving arms. The support crew was here in force. Mandy D, Louise and Valerie provided hot drinks, pie and massage. Louise's sacrifice in giving up her pie was greatly appreciated.

Onwards across Esk Pike and Bow Fell in the clag with Paul H and Phil leading the way. A perfect line off Bow Fell saw us arrive on Rossett Pike almost one hour up to be greeted by Bob's cheery countenance. The mist had lifted now and conditions onto the Langdales were quite pleasant as Paul A in particular stuck with me and fed me gels, bars and drink on request. In his eagerness to select the best line Paul H seemed to be getting a bit far ahead coming off Sergeant Man. I shouted to him (or asked Phil to shout) to stay closer so I could follow the line he was taking. When I caught up to him we had a Karrimor moment (ie a brief, frank exchange of views) and then pressed on. I think I had reached the point where I needed a bit of 'edge' to keep me going. This was definitely the case on the final two legs - but more of that anon.

The Wasdale-Dunmail leg is generally regarded as the toughest and I was very grateful to Paul H, Phil, Bob, Paul A and Dave for the perfect navigation, their assistance on Sca Fell and the quick and efficient provision of food and drink throughout the leg. As a result I arrived at Dunmail just over an hour ahead of schedule and in a confident frame of mind. From the top of Steel Fell Dunmail looked like a car park as there were so many people there to support and help. This change over needed to be particularly slick as I planned on a full change of clothes and shoes as well as eating and drinking. Susan had it all arranged. Mandy D and Amanda manned the tea bar while Louise provided her personal security service ensuring I was able to concentrate on getting changed and fed.

My team for the fells changed completely at Dunmail. John Crummett, another Todmorden friend, took over the navigation on a section I knew he knew like the back of his hand. John has also completed the BG - twenty years ago and his BG Club number is 167 - respect. I also had four pacers on this section, two of whom had been with me on my original BG, Kevin and Linda Bray plus Stewart Gardner, whose BG I had assisted on in 2002, and a relative new comer to the BG game Will Horsley. I was to be very grateful for their support on what was to prove a very tough leg for me.

I set off from Dunmail feeling fine. It was dry and calm but quite humid. I wasn't far up Seat Sandal when the sweat started to bucket out of me and with it seemed to go my energy. Compared to my previous ascents I felt like I was crawling up the hill although I only lost 4 minutes on this ascent. Fairfield proved just as hard and Stewart's attempt to sow the seed of a football conversation fell on stony ground of which there was plenty around us. Dollywagon wasn't quite as hard and things eased a bit as I traversed the less steep ground of Nethermost, Helvellyn, Raise etc. John's navigation was spot on, as expected, as was everybody's support.

When it got dark I asked for my favourite Maglite torch which I (mistakenly) thought Susan had given to Will. Rucksacks were turned inside out and I performed a quick body search of Will but the thing couldn't be found. Another bit of 'edge' to spur me on. I borrowed Stewart's excellent light weight torch and we pressed on.

The night was kind - just a bit of mist but no rain, very little wind and a lovely red sky behind Skiddaw. When we finally arrived at the top of Clough Head I was feeling tired and knew I would be slow descending. I lost a few minutes getting to Threlkeld and was feeling fairly grim. Steve Walker asked how I was when I arrived at 01.23 and I'm afraid I gave him a one word answer and it wasn't "fine".

Once again Susan swung into action and everything I needed was there to hand. Kevin and Will were continuing with me on the last leg and Steven was joining to help with pacing. My old sparing partner from Elvet Striders, Paul O'Hara, was taking over the navigation for this crucial leg. Paul had agreed to do this after my desperate phone call to him on Friday afternoon. I shall be eternally grateful to Paul for helping in my hour(s) of need.

When we set off to climb Blencathra I still had just under 5.5 hours to complete the round although I wasn't confident I would make it. I was slow going up Blencathra as I was so tired and there was a thick mist that coated the rocks in a thin film of water. Kevin, Will and Steve provided admirable support and encouragement as Paul searched for the best line. We finally made it to the top and headed off without delay onto easier ground and out of the mist.

Dawn was coming up as we descended from Mungrisedale Common and I resolved to give it everything up the final two major climbs of Great Calva and Skiddaw. Paul kept 2-3 paces ahead of me going up Calva (to annoy me he said later) and I resolved not to stop for anything - which I didn't. I could hear the laboured breathing of my pacers behind me so I knew I must be going fairly quick. While descending Calva Paul suggested I might run a bit faster (thus applying more edge to the already broken chamber pot). He laughed when I snapped back that I was already doing my best.

I decided that if I could reach Skiddaw by 05.30 than I would complete the round in under 24 hours. By now it was a beautiful morning - sunny and cool making me even more determined to get up Skiddaw quickly. Kevin tried to encourage me and Will and Steve seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of gels to keep me going. I reached Skiddaw summit at 05.25 and knew it was in the bag. It all seemed to change from that moment as if a huge burden was lifted and I became my usual friendly, chatty self again (from Hyde back to Jekyll). The final peak of Skiddaw Little Man proved no problem and we stopped for a group photo on that 50th top.

I jogged easily down Jenkin Hill chatting mainly to Paul as I hadn't seen him for a few months. Just before the bridge over the A.66 Jenny was waiting to check that the breakfast she had prepared the previous morning had done its work and a few moments later Susan and Linda appeared looking mighty relieved and joining the now happy band for the final run in across Fitz Park and into the market place. I hit the door of the Moot Hall at 06.35 as hard as could. I'd done it - and one minute quicker than the last time!

Phew! I was very pleased, glad it was all over and delighted I didn't have to come back in July and attempt it again. What a great weekend and what a great team I had helping me to achieve this very personal goal. I had 30 people who were either with me on the fells or supporting at the road crossings - an incredible number and I owe each and every one of you a great deal - thank you. As you would expect it has been Susan who provided most support on the day, during the build up and now during the recovery process - she receives an extra special thank you.