So, the Bob Graham Round has been ticked off, what to do next?
Actually, although I have been giving a little thought to that question, I have been giving a lot more thought to how I managed to do the Bob Graham at all, because I never really thought of myself as an endurance athlete.
I had the best possible help, I arranged that help with the sole intention of maximising my chances of success. The logistical side of a BGR wasnt the bit I enjoyed the most, it was a bit of a pain in the arse at times, but luckily, everyone who offered to help me came good, sparing any necessary last minute plan changes or people/leg switching. Although I always wanted to do the BG with minimal support, learning the route like the back of my hand then going for it one day with a couple of pals and perhaps someone to drive out to Wasdale with fresh food, I simply never got around to learning it as well as I would have needed to. And I found myself still making glaring errors on supposedly simple bits (like going wrong off Skiddaw just one week before my round). So instead of my simple plan, or not even doing a Bob at all, I opted instead for a huge plan, involving some 15 to 20 folk. A plan which would see me taken round those 65 miles without ever needing to give a thought to a map or compass. I only wanted to do this once so doing everything I could to ensure success seemed the best way to attack it.
The plan worked - brilliantly. Not just with navigating to the summits via the best route/lines, but also the best micro choices across ground within those lines - aiming for a 20 metre long grassy section to allow running rather than rock hopping, doubling back slightly from a rocky top to give a preferable off toward the next one. All these little things add up second by second and at the end of the day they count for minutes
The only thing nobody could help me do was run. They could show me the best way, they could encourage me, they could keep me well stocked with food and drinks, and they did all those things wonderfully. But I had to run the distance and ascend the climbs under my own steam. And somehow I did it.
I didn't just do it though, I nailed it. Nailed to the wall with a six inch iron clout and bloody big hammer. And it'll stay nailed there for the rest of my life.
I am immensely proud of what I did on 1st June 2013. I completed the BGR within the time allowed so I get to join the club, an achievement to be proud of. (I always hoped to beat my target time by at least 16 minutes to get a sub 21hr round), and I ended up with a sub 20hr round, a time not many people manage, so again, proudly done.
But what I'm most proud of is the way I tackled the whole thing. From the to-be-endured endless winter days of deep snow. To the repeated journeys to the lakes week after week including midweek after work in the dark. To the decision to carry on and see it through after the worst of those winter runs when I bailed out and thought it was all too big a thing for me to ever manage. Then on the day itself for the way I used the knowledge and experience of those bad days to allow me to not only endure the bad spells but to push hard through them, safe in the knowledge that not only would the they end soon , but that they were nothing to do with my legs and that I could, and certainly should keep pressing hard on 'the pedals.'
The most amazing thing though, and which I am also proud of is how I somehow showed strength all day long. How I was still climbing so well in my 15th and 16th hours, how I managed to run so fast up to the Moot Hall 19 hours 43 minutes after I had last been there, how I took the initiative to set the pace up Yewbarrow rather than just follow and accept someone else's idea of how hard to climb. How I got on with everything so quickly at the stops - only really staying long enough to cover the essentials and being the one to say ' right we go in 2 minutes' every time.
The physical side is the bit I am struggling to rationalise. I was never a long distance athlete. On a bike I loved to race 10 and 25 mile TTs. Over 50 miles, at a push I could still put in a decent pace, but 100miles? - pathetic! Road racing - 45-60 miles - really enjoyed them - rode strongly - made myself known among the bunch. 80 mile road races? Too far, never enjoyed, always got dropped and either quit at end of lap of came home in the ever growing back group.
But now I can run for 65 miles and come home in what , if it were a competition, would be a very competitive time? I can race over Scafell Pike in a marathon taking 4.5 hours, beating 100+ people and really, with only mainly International athletes, past and present beating me? I won the Lakes 50 outright? How come?
I think it probably a combination of several things.
The first two on that list take time. I suppose I have been running marathons for almost 10 years now, and longer distances since 2009 (when I ran 40 miles for fun), the Lakes 50 since 2010, and Bob Graham style days out since 2007. So perhaps basic hill strength, and running long are now ingrained in my bones. I also think that including one faster road run and one speed session within my weekly BGR training/routine since Christmas helped my body maintain the muscle fibres that otherwise may have been replaced with much slower ones had I only ever trained long and slow in the hills.
Determination - when it matters, I try. I push through and I don't give up. Not so much actually matters nowadays though, I races less often and I've accepted that my PBs are all to remain in the past. Even some races are unimportant and I have no qualms at all or regrets about the marathons I have started but failed to complete.
That final one is key. Enjoyment. I enjoy every minute I spend running - on the track, with Plucky on the country or city roads, and especially in the hills of Cumbria. In fact , in the hills I dont need to be running at all, I can enjoy a day of walking, chatting, taking photos, playing with Scamp, or like the other week just sitting down quietly on top of Blencathra (other mountains are available), looking at the view and thinking.
Handily, I enjoy running very hard, climbing big hills very hard, speeding down the other side as quick as I can to then run up another and another. Perhaps theres the key element - What do in my spare time is what I enjoy doing the most, I do it often and in turn that makes me fitter and able to do it more often still and for longer. Having a number on my back or a stopwatch ticking makes little difference, its still basically just brilliant fun in gorgeous surroundings.
Is/was my BGR as big a thing as my marathon debut and PB in 2004? That was a huge day in my life. A day I will remember forever and also one on which I surpassed all expectations. I think I need to wait until the BGR is a few years ago until I decide which is better. Or probably I'll not bother at all -two great days in my life (among plenty of others) are just that. TWO great days - no need to have a favourite.
One day I will have to accept I can no longer do what I used to do when I was younger. Perhaps I am already slowing down and approaching that day.... Doesn't feel like it at the moment though - I'm 44 and I'm having the time of my life - I'm still discovering what my body can do - still discovering and finding my way around my beloved Cumbrian mountains - still looking for new challenges - still feeling 24 not 44.
The Bob Graham Round was probably quite hard, but all I can remember is it being a brilliant day out with great friends.