Ladies Bob Graham Record

5th April 2015


In 2012 I broke the Ladies Bob Graham record completing in 18.12 hours. On that attempt the weather deteriorated across Leg 3 on Bowfell, the rope was in the wrong place on Broad Stand, the rocks were very slippery and I felt sick a lot however at the point that the weather came in I was 30 mins up on my 18 hour schedule so was technically on for 17.30 hours. After my Ramsay record Steve Birkinshaw pointed out that I had the 3rd fastest cumulative time for all three rounds which meant that if I did 17.21 on my BG I would be fastest. I had always wanted to have another attempt on reducing the record and that of course gave me a massive target to aim for. All my life I have disliked the heat and even more so since my hysterectomy as I now lack basic body heat control as well. At 17 it was “beach holidays”; at 47 it is as I get too hot on a round or race I physically and mentally struggle. So for my BG re-attempt I wanted cool weather. Choosing Easter would also give me a longer weather window with availability of supporters so that’s the date I went for. The weeks before Easter were stressful with snow then weather fronts disrupting my plans and determination. But I stuck by my forecasts and after changing the day from Friday to Sunday I maximised on the high pressure that came in. My start time of 4am gave me 2 hours of dark at the start and then (if on schedule) an hour at the end.

 When I arrived on Saturday afternoon at the Thornthwaite campsite the weather and mood was good. I relaxed and was in bed at 9pm. I couldn’t sleep; I don’t think I had been able to focus properly because of the uncertainty. I read my book and gave myself a talking to. At 3am I got up. Wearing my Inov-8 short sleeved top with the Inov-8 long sleeved over that. Then a Inov-8 Race Elite windproof and the Rab Spark Waterproof Jacket (for warmth not because of any rain!). As usual I wore my Raidlight shorts and then Inov-8 3/4's  over the shorts. And of course a trusty pair of Inov-8 Mudclaw's on my feet. I was worried about the tendons on the right foot which I had damaged on the Haworth Hobble three weeks previously but with taping and not tying the shoes too tight I couldn’t feel any discomfort. I was at the Moot Hall at 3.30am with Jon Gay, Jasmin Paris and Konrad Rawlik. It was quiet; the only other people being Charmian Heaton (my road support), Steve Wathall, Ben Pritchard (the cameraman) and Nicky (Opentracking). I was keen to be off and sort my pace out. I knew the schedule was going to be tough as I had used my actual 2012 splits for Legs 1 and 2, then I had reduced my actual times from Scafell onwards.

Leg 1 Start Moot Hall 4am

We set off on my watch and ran comfortably up to Skiddaw arriving a couple of minutes up on schedule. I was determined I shouldn’t stress about the schedule but to keep eating as I hoped that would see me through the faster legs later on. I was eating very well and my reccying was paying off as I found every line perfectly. I did eat a fruit salad though which was too sweet and no-one had any crisps to provide any savoury which was my fault. The ground in the valleys was wet but I was encouraged at the lack of snow. The whole leg went very well and we chatted away. I took the long sleeved top off but kept the windproof on. The sun rose slowly and we hardly noticed the views until we reached the summit of Blencathra when we were all blown away by the panorama in front of us. The Helvellyn and Scafell mountain ranges were rising out of a massive cloud inversion and just looked stunning. I touched the summit and ran off down the “parachute drop”. With a bit of zigzagging I found the line down with Jasmin just behind me. When I reached the narrow path at the bottom I can’t think what caught my eye but suddenly I tripped. I managed to put my left hand out to stop myself from falling into the gully. I got up and kept on running but a sharp pain in my hand made me look at it. It was disgusting; a deep cut on my thumb muscle about 1cm deep and 4cm long bleeding a lot. Having seen Ian Charlesworth’s finger swell after he had dislocated it I could see the tell tale signs of immediate swelling. I grabbed my buff from my head and clenched it into my fist hoping to stop the flow of blood. I showed Jasmin and told her to run onto the road crossing at Threlkeld and find the “Very Useful Bag” where I knew I had tape and dressings. 

While at Threlkeld inbetween eating I told Charmian and Steve what I wanted in the way of dressings but then "medic on a bike" arrived; namely Ian Fitzpatrick. I was very pleased to see him! Cutting one piece of kinesiology tape he slapped that across the wound saying he would get some steri strips and see me at Dunmail. I took the padding to hold in my closed fist as it eased the pain too.

Leg 2 Threlkeld to Dunmail

I knew I had lost time at the stop but in the fall my stop watch had stopped. I set it going again and headed off into Leg 2 with Jon Whilock, Daz Fishwick and Lawrence Piercy. It was getting warm although only 8am and I soon took the windproof off. I thought I was climbing ok but on reaching the top there was massive confusion as to whether we were up or down on schedule. Running off was stressful; I was sure we were down but the support were saying we were up. I wanted to get back on track but it was hard to focus. I ran a couple more splits and sorted a system out with my support. I realised that my stopwatch had stopped again but this time had also reset itself to 10am on 01/01/2010 so it was now defunked. I had the other watch which I primarily use as an altimeter but now changed this display to show “Time”. However mentally this was a massive blow to me as I had lost the capability to know the current split time and that is how I monitor my pace. I ran on, trying to eat but stress never helps on that front. I was looking forward to tea or coffee at Sticks Pass to help with the stomach but the support there had no warm drinks. Now I questioned everything; my hand, my lack of split times, the pace, my stomach and so I couldn’t be positive. Too much had gone wrong already. I ate some salt and vinegar hula hoops; washed down with water; thanks to Lawrence . Running off Helvellyn I couldn’t think where to go or which hill was next. I shouted for navigation help and Jon and Ian Winterburn responded. “Why hadn’t I reccied this leg some more?” I thought. This was a record attempt and I should know the way well enough to run on auto-pilot even when under pressure. I berated myself. The split to Fairfield in the increasing heat felt ok and I was encouraged to still be climbing well. I was going to the toilet often which meant my stomach was still processing food well. There was a filming drone on Seat Sandal which was very amusing and I hoped that the guys were getting great footage for the film. Running down to Dunmail I was a bit happier; stomach working ok, legs not too bad, my tape had stayed on my hand and I knew if I could get across Leg 3 reasonably well then I should be able to achieve a good record.

Leg 3 - Dunmail to Wasdale

Dunmail was in clag which was cooling and pleasant. I tried to have a quick stop while eating and adding more tape to the hand but not knowing the split time I was sure I had been longer than 2 minutes. I set off up Steel Fell ready for another leg with Dave Lund, Glen Borril and Stuart Walker. We ascended the cloud inversion as Lee Proctor appeared on the crest. It was good to put name to face but I was conscious I needed to run and so couldn’t chat much! I picked up going across to High Raise and the Langdales and over to Rosset Pike. Willy Kitchen and Paul Fauset had tea and coffee by Angle Tarn which was lovely. Climbing Billy Bland’s Rake I couldn’t use my left hand to steady myself on the rocks nor on route to Bowfell summit. I was beginning to worry about how I was going to get up Broad Stand. We were just about on schedule I thought but making slight errors just didn’t help. I had to concentrate on the rocks and was annoyed at all the small mistakes we were making. My supporters also were taking very unhelpful direct lines across unstable rocks which just had me swearing at the thought of falling again. At Esk Hause I questioned my support about the schedule; they all said I was going well and would feel better across Leg 4 once the sun was going down.  I knew I was too hot and so felt comforted by this. A pat on the back from Tim Rippon helped. Odd bits of snow also proved to be an excellent cooling aid on the back on my neck. On Eel Crag and Broad Crag it was the same; I couldn’t use my left hand so climbing was hard but descending was scary. Scafell Pike was almost covered in snow meaning a detour across the rocks to the summit and then I think I photo bombed a little girls picture as I touched the trig! Down to a clag covered Mickledore we went. I could hear shouting and cries of “She’s coming; get out of the harness” I was guided through the crack by Steve Wathall and helped into the harness. The rocks were slippery and I was so glad I had opted for  a harness. Jim Paxman shouted instructions but I couldn’t use my left hand for climbing at all. I rested my weight on the side of my left hand, pulled my foot as high as I could with my right hand then hauled on the rope with the right hand. Jim was fantastic; shouting orders and making me feel safe. I went on up passed his dog and onto the slabs. I hadn’t thought about the gully being full of snow but it was. I zigzagged back and forth; in the snow kicking steps and driving my fingers in until it was too icy then I climbed out onto the slabs and went up the slabs until they were too wet and slippery, then back into the snow. And all the while hoping someone would come up behind me and help me out. I knew where I was going but had to make lots of detours round snow and unnavigable slabs. I was panting a lot through adrenaline and fear which I knew wasn’t good for me. Reaching the plateau it was still claggy – strange Scafell weather systems – but I knew the way and touching the summit someone said “Joss would be proud of you”; I have no idea who or what the relevance was but it was nice and I replied “thanks”. Running down the path to Wasdale it was pleasantly quiet on my own. I knew I had lost time but it was just me and the mountains. There was no question of not going on; as in 2012; only two legs to go. I was annoyed that someone had not gone on ahead up Scafell as in the plan and kept looking for support in front of me. Stuart Walker then came crashing down behind me so I asked him to run on and find the scree gully as the clag was still swirling round. We descended to Wasdale about 10 minutes down on schedule.

Seeing Amanda Heading there was a big boost. I debated about emptying my shoes of scree and decided to lose more time by changing socks. Maybe in hindsight not a good use of time but I knew I couldn’t run fast if I was running on scree in my shoes. I was still eating well; beans and gels, crisps and coke. Amanda also put some more kinesiology and duct tape over my hand as the corners of the tape were flapping.

Leg 4 - Wasdale to Honister

Running off about 15 minutes down on schedule with Adam Perry, Tim Whittaker, James Pierce and Matt Neale I knew I had to make time up on a leg that was already fast. Climbing Yewbarrow I knew the split was 48 minutes and we did it in less than that. It was hot, I was puffing a lot and sweating which made the tape came off my hand and so I asked who had my clothes bag as there was more tape in there. No-one had it but Adam had the brainwave of using a waterproof mitt which was great. It covered the wound without sticking to it and I wore it to the finish. I tried hard across to Red Pike and we made up a couple of minutes but then nothing. Descending was tricky not using my left hand and also being afraid of falling; I had jabbed my hand a couple of times and it was throbbing. Having done a lot of support I know what supporters say when things aren’t going to plan. They were all wonderful and very encouraging but I just couldn’t do enough to pick up any time across Pillar, Kirkfell and Great Gable especially as we took a dodgy line to Green Gable where we met Max Howard. I couldn’t get my schedule out of my left pocket with the mitt on and without my watch telling me my splits I couldn't work out just how bad it was getting. I knew it was dire when my working watch approached 7pm and it was easy to calculate that I should have left Honister about 19.05 and so I was way behind schedule. I had had enough really. It had been a long day, most of it hard and while everyone else was enjoying the views I was constantly battling time; gaining it then losing it. And now after managing to eat and not be sick I was suddenly projectile sick too. I thought of stopping at Honister "Why go on? How could I not better my 2012 bad weather time?" "What was wrong with me? The weather was perfect". I tried to think of reasons to go on. I remembered my  JustGiving page and all the donations and thought “Well even if I don’t better my old time these people have given money and deserve to see me finish” and then with a smile …“it would also make a rubbish film if I don’t even reach the Moot Hall!” So mind made up, a bit more sick, a bit more running and down into Honister I went descending into clag once again.

Leg 5 Honister to Moot Hall

I ate some soup and beans but it was almost a foregone conclusion that it would come back up. And it did; caught on camera this time! Off I went on Leg 5 – 2 hours to go – with Helen Elmore, Steve Wathall and Nick Cable. Helen is a very close friend and knows me very well. It was a memorable leg; by now I knew what the supporters didn’t know. That 200m up the hill we would climb out of the clag and the views were stupendous. It was wonderful listening to them reveling in it when we got there. The sunset was stunning. Even I was astounded at the views that I had almost become accustomed to!! I asked Helen about sub 18 hours and she said it might be possible. I knew I was running more of the hills than in 2012 but with it getting dark could I run as fast on the downhills I wondered? Headtorch's on for everyone at Robinson but another glitch; mine was not the powerful one I wanted. Nick and Steve found the lines perfectly and Helen showed me the way with her torch so I was in good hands. I thought I was running well but not fast enough to make it in under 18 hours. Helen said “Think of it as Winter Mondays and you have Keith and Ian behind you” which made me smile and try harder. We reached Newlands to Charmian and her applause and kept going. I ran a lot of the hills and we kept checking our watches. Approaching Stair we heard shouting and lots of applause. It was astounding – so many people there clapping and cheering me on. On we ran; in the clag once again. “I must be able to break 18.12” I thought. Helen kept updating me and then at last the road, the roundabout and the Moot Hall!

Running up and touching it I looked at my watch 18.06 it said! I was so happy to have finished and achieved a new record. Just showed how tough the old one was really. I sat and ate chips dipped in gravy while enjoying the celebrations for a while.

Thanks to all my supporters; I had brought easter treats, lemon drizzle cake and beer to share with you all but only managed a quick shower then went to sleep in my van! Many thanks to Charmian Heaton for road support and everyone who I met on and off the hill. It is unbelievable that I did such a close time as in 2012 when the weather was so different; maybe I should go for a bad weather attempt next time; if there is one!