I'd do Anything for Bob -My day as a support runner. By Ian Hawley
Bob Graham Round Stats:
5 Legs Total (I supported two of these legs)
66 miles (I ran 31 Miles of this)
27,000 ft. ascent (I completed 11,656 ft. of this)
24 hours to complete (I ran for 10:19:56 of this)
Tick followed tock, followed tick followed tock is all I can focus on as the clock slowly creeps towards the inevitable. Having driven 3 hours on the evening of Friday 7th August to the Lake District, at 2300hrs, I found a lay-by to rest my weary eyes. I crawled into the back seat of my car and into my sleeping bag, with the dawning realisation that a Ford Focus is not designed for a person of 6' 3” to sleep in, slapped me round the face like a nightclub catfight.
After two and a half hours, my alarm screamed out bringing an end to the battle that I inevitably lost. I rose from my slumber, crawled out of the car and proceeded to get dressed at the roadside. My body felt stiff, a stark reminder of the last couple of hours in the car. I kept thinking this would all be worth it once I get running. A couple of pastries and a flask of tea later, I started to complete the rest of my journey to Threlkeld and the start of leg 2 on the Bob Graham Round. Car parked, one last kit check, I locked the car and start walking to the meeting point. A hedgehog shuffles across the road in front of me making me realise just how alone I am, at this hour, in this quiet village. It's 3am and I am looking for a person I have never met before, or even spoken too.
I stand in a lay-by next to an industrial unit, it's pitch black, there is no one around. I glance over towards the summit of Clough Head, the first summit on leg 2 and it's shrouded in mist. The butterflies in my stomach are suddenly disturbed and with that I dig my map out of my pocket to remind myself of the route I am about to navigate this stranger through.
The task of a Bob Graham support runner can be a thankless one. Sacrificing your time and effort to help someone achieve what could be a lifelong dream perhaps a once in a lifetime shot. If you support successfully the Bob Graham aspirant is often so focussed at their checkpoint they don't have the time to thank you properly before they are off again on the next leg. Every minute, sometimes seconds count on the Bob. But, as a support runner, there are fine margins which can have devastating effects later on in their round attempt. A navigational error can crush their mental spirit at the wrong moment. Pacing them too slow can mean they never quite make up the time, or even pacing them slightly too fast can mean they burn out later on in the round. Focussing too much on yourself and not their needs for food/water can mean a lack of energy when they need it most. Any of these factors can bring their once in a lifetime shot to a crushing end in a devastating fashion. All of these factors race through my mind as I stand and wait, alone.
I stand looking towards the summit of Blencathra, for some sign that runners are about to arrive. I suddenly notice two white lights dancing around above the treeline like firefly's. I check the tracker on my phone and it has to be them. I keep watching as the lights grow bigger, the distant sound of chatter starts to creep into my ears. This has to be them! The lights drop into the tree line and out of sight, I stand up and ready myself to run, to introduce myself as they can only be seconds away. They turn a corner and are soon upon my waiting point. We cover a short distance to the actual support point and the aspirant runner dives for his chair and starts devouring food and coffee. I dive for the departing support runner and make sure I get vital supplies, re-fill them, and check how he is doing after the first fourteen miles.
Within 5 minutes we are on our way in a team of three. Introductions take place within the first hundred metres, strategy decided within the second hundred metres. With that, we settle into our stride as we tackle our first summit of Clough Head in the dark.
I settle into the navigation as my memory kicks in and I start to remember all the little trods that are to be found. Clough Head is made on schedule and as we check the time, we are reminded that sunrise is not far away. As we make our way south to Great Dodd we glance to our left and are reminded of why we run in the mountains. The sunrise is stunning, captivating us with it's beauty as it takes hold of the world and brings it to life. We have to remind ourselves to run as we slowly fall into a trance staring out over the landscape. With that we summit hop our way south through leg 2 with little or no fuss. How can we when we have such wonders to take our minds off the running and hills.
We hit Dunmail 10 minutes up on schedule after another sixteen miles for the aspirant runner to be met with amazing bacon and avocado cobs. Process is repeated, we re-fill, refuel and are on our way again after a short ten minutes respite. Steel Fell is our next challenge and this feels like a vertical wall.
Leg 3 is the crux leg for any Bob Graham aspirant, it's long, there is a lot of ascent, the terrain is difficult and the navigation can be tough. Today it's like a cauldron too. It must be touching 25 degrees and we have to make the most of any water point. With a local guy navigating now we hit every little trod and path which helps keep the aspirant on top of his schedule, all I have to do is make sure he has enough food to keep his energy levels up. But encroaching on 30 miles for the day myself I too am starting to feel the effects of this on my body.
As we drop into Wasdale for the end of leg 3, I reflect back on a long day in the hills for myself. First of all, it's great to be back out in the mountains after lock down. Mentally, I have missed this. This taste of adventure and uncertainty, the mountains make you humble and put you back in your place. I've also been inspired by the aspirant runner. There is something inspirational observing someone else push themselves through adversity and knowing that you have played a big part in that. And as I hand over the supplies that I've been carrying, the aspirant runner consumes food and water, changes and is gone. I make my way back to my car and the long drive home.
Back at home I keep an eye on the tracker and he completes the round successfully and on schedule. A sweeping sense of pride, and pleasure, consumes me as I reflect back on the day once more. I find my thumb hovering over the smartphone, the facebook app and the Bob Graham page. A headline grabs my attention “looking for support runners”, a smile creeps across my face...