Bob Graham Round – schedule and planning

Last summer I completed the Bob Graham Round and in doing so ticked off the “Big Three” the others being the Paddy Buckley and Charlie Ramsay Rounds. What I learned along the way might help others in their planning.


Many people choose to start their Bob Graham attempt in the early evening with six or seven o’clock being popular start times. This doesn’t make sense to me. By that time there’s a good chance that you have been on your feet or at the very least awake for almost 12 hours before you set off on an arduous 24 hour challenge! I chose to set off at 8 am, the idea being to get a decent night’s sleep, get up early and have breakfast then set off. This allowed me to set off fully rested and following my normal body clock. I can understand the psychological benefit of getting the night time section done when you are relatively fresh but the converse to that is that when dawn breaks you still have a long way to go if you’ve set off in the evening. I finished the Bob Graham at around 5 am meaning that I’d been awake for less than 24 hours. Had I done the same time but setting off at 6 pm I’d have been awake for 36 hours!

Start times dictate when and where on the route you are going to be in the dark. For many the evening start is favoured because it means that the relatively straightforward navigation of leg two from Clough Head to Seat Sandal is done in the dark. However none of the legs are particularly difficult to navigate. I was in the dark from Yewbarrow to Robinson and other than missing the best line and spending some time amongst the boulders coming off Great Gable it didn’t feel any harder than navigating leg 2 in the dark. Remember that some people do the BG in winter when there is considerably less daylight!

photo of Bob Graham Round runners

Where do you want to be in the dark? Changeover on the Bob Graham Round

Aiming for a late June attempt means that you will get maximum daylight but it is also worth looking at the phase of the moon as a full moon on a clear night will make the navigation easier. On both the Paddy Buckley and Charlie Ramsay Rounds I set off around midday based on which sections I wanted to do at night, unfortunately the moon didn’t help because both nights were cloudy.


Bad weather is probably the main reason why people fail in their attempt. It is easy to put all your eggs in one basket and go for it regardless but if possible try to be flexible with your start date and time to account for bad weather. I put my Ramsay attempt back a couple of times because the forecast was bad and in the end was rewarded with sun and blue skies. This might not be possible for people with busy work schedules and it means that your support crew have to be flexible too, however a skeleton crew in good weather is better than a big crew in strong winds and heavy rain.


There are plenty of resources available to help plan for the Bob Graham Round including Excel spreadsheets that allow you to calculate split and leg times but you need to tailor these to yourself and your own strengths and weaknesses. For example, depending how comfortable you are on steep descents then you would want to adjust the split time for the section from Scafell down to Wasdale on leg 3. Also bear in mind which section you are going to be covering in the dark and adjust your schedule accordingly. Factor in bad weather which will inevitably slow you down and remember that you will move much more slowly if the rough, rocky ground around Broad Crag and Ill Crag is wet and greasy compared to if it were dry.

It is also worth thinking about how much time you will spend at the end of each leg. Do you really need to stop at Threlkeld? On the Ramsay Round the first leg (clockwise) ends at Loch Treig dam – over 8 hours of running before getting support so I planned not to stop at Threlkeld at all, just pick up a water refill and grab some food. On the day it was absolutely chucking it down and I was soaked so I stopped for long enough to change into a dry baselayer and waterproof but then got going again straight away rather than stopping to eat and drink.

Food and Drink

Along with the often quoted advice not to eat anything you haven’t tried before I’m a strong believer in little and often rather than gorging at the end of each leg. Personally I don’t really like sweet stuff so I used baby food sachets rather than gels and had spicy pot noodle at some changeovers. I’ve been lucky in never feeling sick or not hungry during the rounds so haven’t had the problem of bonking. If you do lose your appetite it is still easier to nibble on things rather than be faced with a big serving at the changeovers.

photo of Paddy Buckley food stop

Bombay Bad Boy!

Recce Recce Recce

It makes sense really that training over the actual route is going to stand you in good stead for your attempt. I see recces as having two main benefits. One is the actual physiological training; getting your body used to the stresses of long hours of ascent and descent over rough ground – and yes the descents are just as important to train for as the climbs. The second is that it allows you to learn the route and practise the navigation and can give you a good idea of how long particular sections will take. During any recces I took split times from summit to summit to compare them to those on the schedule. On clear days it was easy to think that the schedule was generous but in bad weather or bad visibility it is easy to see how time can slip away. This gives you a clearer picture of how realistic your schedule will be given bad conditions and will allow you to tweak the split times in the schedule as you see fit. Remember that if you use a schedule it will be based on someone else’s split times and is only a guide.

I did a lot of the recces for the Bob Graham on my own as I wanted to get a feel for the navigation myself. Personally, during a round I like to know exactly where I am and be involved in the navigation rather than putting that pressure onto someone else.

photo of runner in Scottish mountains

recce day on the Charlie Ramsay Round

Don’t be complacent! The only section of the Bob Graham round that I didn’t recce was from Grey Knotts down to Honister. I had run it several times before (but not for a few years) and thought it would be easy. However in the dark and the rain I wasted time and headed too far west. Not a big deal but worth a few minutes. Similarly on the Paddy Buckley I reccied everything except for a small section from the final summit down to the Capel Curig road thinking that it would be straightforward. In reality I found myself waist deep in heather unable to find the narrow path that was there somewhere! These incidents only accounted for a handful of minutes and if you have time to spare aren’t a big problem but what if you don’t have those minutes to spare?!

photo of runners in fog

recceing in bad weather is great navigation practise!

Back to back recce days allow you make the most out of your trip to the Lake District as well as giving you the training benefit of two (or more) long days out. I’d advise that a long day out covering the route whilst walking is better training than a 3 hour run elsewhere.


Use your recce days to try out the shoes, pack and clothing that you will be wearing on your attempt. Fill your pack with the kit that you intend to carry on the day (you are going to carry your own pack aren’t you!) Work out which pocket you are going to put your food, compass, head torch etc in. Little bits of preparation can save faffing around on the day and every little faff adds time. Think – do you need to take spares of anything? Have you got a spare pair of shoes in the support vehicle in case yours split (don’t wear old shoes!) or give you blisters (don’t wear new shoes!) Have you got a spare torch? Are you planning to use walking poles? If so you need to practise running with them, and not just a few days before!

photo of runner with poles

to pole or not to pole? If so then practise!

On the Ramsay Round I got lucky. I had a fully charged Petzl Nao programmed to last 6 hours on reactive mode. I was confident that this was sufficient to get me through the night. At about 2.30 in the morning the torch flashed a warning and went into reserve mode which is a dim light of around 20 lumens! I was on my own and hadn’t taken a spare. Thankfully I was on a good land rover track and only about 20 minutes from the end of the leg so was able to keep going at a reasonable pace to my support and then borrow a torch for the next leg. If I’d have been descending rough ground this would have been disastrous in terms of losing time or even dangerous – a lucky escape!

I like to mark up my maps with important details such as bearings, elevation and timings which makes navigation much quicker especially when you are getting tired. I also enlarge sections where the navigation is a bit more tricky so that I can see it more clearly. Although the Petzl Nao didn’t last the distance the Reactive setting is really useful when map reading, particularly with a laminated map which reflects the beam and can be dazzling.

Ramsay round map

route notes marked on the Ramsay Round map

I used the official Harvey maps for the planning then added my own notes to the 1:40,000 and 1:25,000 scale maps that I had on computer before laminating them to protect them. I also printed and laminated my target split times for each leg showing both the summit split times and time of day I was due there. This was useful for myself and for waiting support crew.

Bob Graham split times

laminated split times for each leg


Everyone is different in terms of their training history and the amount of miles they have in the bank. A large aerobic endurance base and the ability to deal with steep terrain, both up and down, is the key. Spending time on your feet over similar terrain is the best way to train. Being good at fell races doesn’t necessarily translate to being good at moving briskly over mountainous terrain for 24 hours! My completions came after training for and racing the High Peak Marathon early in the year and so having a long lead in of training over rough ground. Apart from the HPM none of my training runs were much over 20 miles, instead I preferred back to back days of 5, 6 or 7 hours on the route itself. Doing the Wasdale fell race the month before the Bob Graham is useful as both a training run and a recce for leg 4!

photo of Bob Graham route

leg 4 of the Bob Graham round


Everyone is different and what suits one person might not suit another. I’m not claiming that my approach is “the” right way, just that it worked for me. However you go about things, good luck in your attempt!

Sheffield Adventure Film Festival

The Sheffield Adventure Film Festival (SHAFF) takes place from March 17th to 19th 2017 and this year features a varied selection of running films from both here in the UK and overseas. With 14 films being shown over three days there will be something of interest to most runners and particularly those who aspire to tackle longer distances. The films focus on a wide cross section of runners of all abilities, from sponsored athletes to recreational runners. Films to look out for include:


The story of a young woman from small Nepali village who ran away to join the army where she discovered that her tough upbringing had given her a talent for mountain running. The film follows her as she travels to take part in her first year of racing in the International Sky Running Championships and compete against some of the best female distance runners in the world. She then returns to her village to share her story with her family.

Mira – from Nepalese village girl to world recognised mountain runner

Outside Voices

This is an arty black and white film following the slightly crazy American Ultra Runner Jenn Shelton (one of the characters featured in the book Born to Run). Shelton is a straight talking, hard living 31 year old who travels and lives in a small camper van. She likes to party but is also one of America’s top female ultra runners. Look out for the party game that involves running, beer and shotguns!

Outside Voices – follows unconventional American ultra runner Jenn Shelton

Films from closer to home include:

Cape Wrath Ultra

This follows the progress of some of the competitors on the inaugural Cape Wrath Ultra as they tackle 8 days, 400 kilometres and over 11,000 metres of ascent through some of the most remote and beautiful landscapes in Britain.  The film captures stunning scenery from the Scottish Highlands and talks to competitors about their backgrounds, motivation and their feelings and experiences as they take part in the event. It shares the emotional highs and lows, the injuries, exhaustion and elation as the runners make their way from Fort William to Cape Wrath.

Cape Wrath Ultra – 400km through remote north-west Scotland

Run Forever

Run Forever tells the inspirational story of how Yorkshire farmer Nicky Spinks attempted to become only the second person to complete a back to back Bob Graham Round in under 48 hours. The feat of endurance; 132 miles with 54,000 ft of ascent had only been done once before – and that was 37 years previously. Footage of the attempt is mixed with interviews telling of Nicky’s early years, life on the farm with her husband Steve and how she battled to overcome breast cancer.

Run Forever – the story of Nicky Spinks’ back to back Bob Graham Round

Beauties and the Bog

This short film follows 4 young women as they train and prepare to take on the gruelling High Peak Marathon; a 42 mile race through the remotest parts of the Peak District…. overnight in winter.

Beauties and the Bog – 4 women prepare for the High Peak Marathon

So, experienced runners and beginners alike will find something to interest and inspire them at SHAFF 2017

A full list of the films at SHAFF can be found here

Run Forever – Nicky Spinks’ Double Bob Graham Round

In May 2016 Nicky Spinks made fell running history.

Whilst most people are happy to complete the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours Nicky did a “double” (doing it twice) in a time of 45 hours 30 minutes, the fastest time ever!  She beat the previous record – which had stood for over thirty five years – by more than an hour and so became only the second person to do the “double” in under 48 hours.

Nicky Spinks on the Bob Graham Round

Nicky on the Bob Graham Round

As well as her remarkable running achievements Nicky has also battled cancer and her record breaking round marked ten years since her diagnosis.

Her inspirational story is told in a film, Run Forever which premieres at the Kendal Mountain Festival this November before general release. See trailer:

fell running guide

Supporting Mike’s Bob Graham

When club mate, Mike asked for runners to support him on his Bob Graham attempt (approximately 70 miles, 42 Lake District Peaks, over 28,000 ft of climb all in less than 24 hours!) I was happy to help.

He was particularly looking for help on the night leg from Threlkeld to Dunmail raise, approximately 13 miles with nearly 6000 ft of ascent.  I was happy with the physical challenge having covered that sort of distance plenty of times, but what about navigating in the dark whilst trying to maintain a 24 hour pace – would I get him lost and blow his chances?

Mike & Mark, ready for the off

Mike set off from Moot Hall in the centre of Keswick at exactly 7pm hoping to be back before 7pm the next day. I started my watch and waved him and Mark his supporter off on the first leg and went back to camp to pack my bag for the next leg. It was tricky to know what pack to take as I needed to be able to carry my own kit, some safety equipment plus leaving some room for any of Mike’s kit, food and drink that he needed carrying.  Having checked all my kit including new batteries in my head-torch and tried to eat at a time when I would normally be going to bed it was then time to get to the changeover.

It was twilight at Threlkeld and torch lights could be seen descending the ridge off Blencathra as nervous supporters waited for their teams to come off the hill.  Mike arrived just ahead of schedule and managed 10 minutes of feeding and changing kit before we (Mike, Mark, Martha and myself) set off, across the main road towards the hills and on into the night.

The climb up Clough Head is steep and there is no obvious path but I knew to take a line avoiding the scree before turning to reach the top.  Just before the top the cloud came down and visibility dropped – not a good sign for the 12 miles to come.  Thankfully the navigation here isn’t too tricky and we soon picked up the trail leading on to Great Dodd and left the cloud behind.

There is something special about night running: enveloped in your own small pool of light listening to the silence, your senses seemingly more alert, the need to concentrate on your footsteps, the way that the land looms around you with even the smallest hillocks giving the impression of mountains in your peripheral vision.

Night running

The leg was straightforward from here until Dollywagon Pike with good paths meaning that only slight detours had to made to bag the summits allowing us to roll along at a good pace.

After Dollywagon we had to choose the best way to summit Fairfield, the choice being a good descent path and less well trodden route up or a grassy descent to pick up the main, loose scree path to the top.  In daylight I would have chosen the former but in darkness it would have been easy to stray into rocky ground and lose time so we opted for the main path.  This made for a tortuous climb on steep loose scree but led us safely to the summit from where we retraced our steps to a col and the last climb of the leg, Seat Sandal.  The summit was again in cloud and so we ran on a compass bearing westwards, gradually dropping towards the road.  A slight moment of worry when, with the lights of the cars in sight, we found ourselves in deep bracken, our torches illuminating a boulder field below but thankfully a short traverse brought us to a path and a swift downhill run to our waiting support crew with Mike’s fuel of choice – a Pot Noodle!
4 hours 26 minutes of night running and on schedule.

3.15 am Leg 2 / 3 changeover

After the scheduled 10 minutes refuel a new support crew took over to guide Mike on the longest leg to Wasdale.  This included the technical climbing section and he was in the capable hands of Matt and Mike G who were to get him safely up Broad Stand whilst Kirsty and Richard were to do the navigating. The sky was just starting to lighten as they set off and they would soon be able to run without torches. For me it was back to camp for some sleep. 

Dawn, high in the Lakes

After a welcome hot shower I managed a handful of hours sleep and then spent the morning drinking tea and eating.  I wondered how Mike was getting on, the signs were good with only a little low cloud on the highest peaks and it was calm and dry. Then we had a phone call to say that he had struggled a bit on leg 3 and was 30 mins behind his plan. Feeling reasonably fresh I packed a bag and drove to Honister, the changeover for leg 4 / 5. My plan was to reverse leg 5 and meet up around Great Gable.  The weather was colder now with a chilly breeze and as I climbed out past Grey Knotts I could see Gable’s summit in cloud.  On Green Gable the conditions were dramatic, one moment visibility was down so a few hundred metres, the next the cloud lifted to give fantastic views of the valleys below.

Lifting cloud revealing dramatic views

I reached the summit and decided to stay and wait for Mike and his support of Andy and Julia. I had company from spectators and marshals of the Wasdale fell race that was taking place.  Just as I was beginning to worry that something had gone wrong they emerged from the gloom looking tired but pleased to have reached the top.

Emerging from the cloud on Great Gable

The descent of Gable is tricky on tired legs – steep and rocky but after that and a short climb to neighbouring Green Gable it was an easy downhill via Brandreth and Grey Knotts, picking the best grassy lines down to the supporters at Honister where dry socks, flapjack and drink were thrust upon Mike by his crew.  Then the 10 minutes were up and the final leg back to Keswick began.  In theory this is an easy leg, a generally grassy section, 3 hills with 2500 ft of climb leading to roads and a gradual downhill into town.

Mike and Julia leaving Great Gable behind

There was a sense of optimism in the air as the merry crew set off up Dale Head, only a disaster now would prevent Mike from getting round in 24 hours.. wouldn’t it?

Mike and supporters leaving Honister

“Drink Mike, have a jelly baby, want a gel?”  The well meaning support crew were anxious that Mike kept up his energy levels but after 20+ hours of force feeding himself sugar he had had enough. He was tired, he even admitted it.  Luckily Phil insisted and he was able to manage sips of Coke and on autopilot now he continued up and over ticking off Hindscarth and Robinson, the last of the 42 hills.  Matt spotted a quick line leading to the valley and we dropped down quickly, leaving the hills behind and only the run in left to do.

A quick change into road shoes and the famous club vest but Mike was so tired, he was almost falling asleep in the chair as Simon attended to his feet like a father dressing a child! A couple of minutes and we were off, 3 miles of almost flat running and it would be over.

Left foot up, Simon attending to Mike’s footwear

I don’t know if it was the magic of the Dark Peak vest or the background as a 10k runner but suddenly Mike was looking strong, his long legs eating up the road and his sense of humour returned as he teased Dan about not being able to keep up. 
Helen was up front with the map looking for the footpath leading into town and there it was .. with a big fence and a sign saying footpath closed!  but we weren’t in the mood for any detours now so it was around the fence hoping there wasn’t an impasse further along the path.  Suddenly there were cars and pedestrians, the main street into town and the roof of Moot Hall visible 500 metres away.  A swerve through the market traders who were packing away and the glory was Mike’s as he mounted the steps where it had begun 23 hours 45 minutes before.

The final steps
Well done Daddy!