Sunday, 9 June 2013

Bob Graham Support

Phil sorting water at midnight
Well, a successful round, Dan and Alastair both got around in sub 23. On the way back, Alastair mentioned that he might like to see a blog about the experience from the support side of things.
So I thought I shall oblige him.

From back when the BG was first mooted, my name was down as a pacer/helper. I made it clear that I'd do whatever they wanted me to do in order to help them get around. Dan was the original man with the plan, writing out spreadsheets, recceing and generally sorting out the organising. Alastair, Andy and Paul were also running it, though the organisation was Dans thing.

As such, my role was always going to be a pacer on leg 4, though at other times I was also pacing on leg 1. Or 2. or 3, maybe 5 as well. It ended with me on 2, 4 and 5, and with a 10pm start (curiously an unfashionable time on which to begin a BG attempt), I had a little bit of time in the evening to try and get my head down before getting on out to Threkeld for 1am to wait for the guys to come down off Blencathra.
Thelkeld stop

Lynne and I had organised ourselves pretty well, with me running, and her driving to various support places, we had different clothes and food in various bags. Not quite as specific as the actual contenders, but just as precise and exacting.

After getting my head down (though not necessarily sleeping), I was up at quarter past midnight, meeting Phil in the kitchen, as the only place with enough light for us to organise ourselves, bags, lights, spare water for the changeover, and then pack the car and over to the Stop.
We sat there in the dark in Thelkeld, looking up at the hill, seeing a line of impressively bright lights advancing down toward us. Once they dropped out of sight behind the trees we got out of the car, and readied ourselves. When the guys arrived water bottles were filled, food eaten and a quick change of socks, and off we trotted.
At this stage it was all quite civilised. Ensuring that we weren't talking as we went through the small roads in Thelkeld, and then having a good chinwag on the way up to the Dodds. Although it was dark, there was a sliver of light across the Eastern sky as we climbed up Clough Head, a steep, slow climb. With everyone well fed and watered, there wasn't much to do as a pacer. I wasn't there for navigational assistance, mostly as sustanance and moral support. Dan was feeling a little dodgy, perhaps from lack of sleep, maybe from
Running through the dawn
over feeding at this point, but as the sky lightened, little by little, his spirits improved, and, as it happened, never dropped for the rest of the day.

Across the Dodds we never really had any issues, apart from the fact it was a beautiful dawn, and we had to make sure we didn't stop to look at it for too long. It was a glorious morning to be out. As it came light I got the guys to drop their torches so that that I could stop and pack them away in my bag without them having to stop and faff for too long, I did so, and caught them up before too long.
Ensuring that they were all eating and drinking enough was a constant battle, not because they may have been feeling hungry, but for the future of the run, making sure that they never ended up running on empty.
running off with orders...
Off Dollywagon it was decided that one of us would peel off down toward Dunmail with breakfast requests for the road crossing. I offered the run off to Steve, who had been running since leg 1, and phil, who was also going to be doing leg 2, but they both declined, so I took down orders and the news they were 20 mins or so up on schedule, and ran off down to the road. Alastair had a minor issue as his Platypus water bladder decided to leak - or explode. Whichever it did, his back, rucksac and shorts were soaked with water. We have the same sack, so I said I'd empty mine out and have it ready for him to dump his stuff in at the stop.

It was at this point that Paul, one of the contenders, decided to pull out, so we placed him on the path down, and once I had run down to the road to the support crew, I ran back up to help guide him off.

The road support and leg 3 runners were all ready for the action. After a period of getting things together and sitting in a glorious morning waiting for something to happen, squinting up to the skyline, a shout went up- silhouettes! Contenders and pacers peeled off the hill and down to the waiting supporters, chairs, coffee, tea, sausage sandwiches, and lots of banter.
Dan covered himself in sunscreen, hats were got, waterproofs dumped, and weight conserved in the rucksacks. Lynne and I counted down the amount of time that they had been there, giving 5 minute shoutouts to
make sure they didn't get too comfortable, and start losing time just through sitting around. We decanted Alastairs stuff into my bag, and I took his to dry, and use for me on the next leg.
Before long, everyone was up and out, over the stile and up the hill, leaving the rest of us to pack away various food, chairs, tables, washing up and making sure everything was packed away in good time.

Getting ready for the off to wasdale
In the car and back to base, to pick up some clean gear, jump in another car and start out to get to Wasdale. We didn't need to start out early because we were expecting a super speedy time over leg 3, but rather so that we could
get a decent parking place for the van and the support gear. I was a bit tired, and dosed slightly on the way there. Once at Wasdale, the day had turned out beautifully, we got a decent space in the
Pit stop ready for action at Wasdale
carpark in a shady area, set up "camp", more tables, chairs, food, drink, blankets on the floor, and then settle down to wait.
I got my head down for a while, snoozing a little, and just generally not being on my feet. I figured that I needed to be as fresh as possible as I'd need to carry a lot of water for the next stage- and of course a litre of water weighs a kilogram. The contenders would need to carry their own, but should any of them run out
of liquid, there really isn't much chance to pick up any across the tops, so taking our own was certainly the best option.

During our wait, we saw the Pennine BG attempt come through, Hanno looked like he was going strong, and came across to give us a sweaty hug, before powering on over to Yewbarrow.
We knew the guys were about 20 mins up on their schedule, and Phil came took a shortcut down off Scafell Pike with lunch orders and news for us, as the rest of the guys carried on up over Scafell. He gave the orders while sitting in a stream, and generally cooled himself off, having run 2 consecutive legs in support. The crew had run out of water on leg 3, and some of the pacers had to take a detour to look for a source from which to fill up water bottles.
The climb up Yewbarrow
That settled it, I stuck another bottle in my bag.

Soon enough, the guys came pounding off the hill, looking forward to tea and food, and once more, the team support crew sprang into action, boiling water, handing out food, getting requests for things for the next leg, and generally ensuring that everything will run smoothly. We had a time caller, and before long, I was the proud owner of another bottle of water, everyone was oiled up with more sunscreen, and we were saying our goodbyes to the supporters at Wasdale.
Straight onto Yewbarrow. The climb was horrendous. It goes on forever, and by this time Alastair, Dan and Andy had been going for about 12 hours straight. Running on all terrain, leg 3 having been particularly horrible underfoot, so they were going well, up and up, with the constant watch of Great Gable over our right shoulder... waiting for us to complete the horseshoe and standing as a gate keeper to the end of the leg, and beginning of the last.
the wheels fall off

The pace was being kept to a steady trot, and funnily enough the time gains were all being made on the
uphills, the straights and downhills were bang on target, right the way through the day. All were going strongly, until, suddenly, on the way up to Red Pike, Andy dropped to his knees, and was fairly violently ill.
The rest of the team were ok, and carried on for a short time, while I stayed with Andy.
What followed was an attempt to get Andy back on his feet by any and all means, progress slowed, and slowed the others too. The sun was relentless, and inbetween the short gusts of wind, the midges flocked to us.
Up toward Red Pike, slowly, losing time, with Andy unsure of whether he was ill with heatstroke, or just having his body rebelling against him. Alastair had gone on ahead, and Dan had hung back with Andy. We were doing all we could to cajole Andy to his feet, but he was having none of it, and told Dan to go on.
The decision was made and I accompanied Dan on the way over to Steeple as Andy A and Julien stayed with Andy.

Dan, enjoying the day out
Dan was really gutted to leave Andy, but we dug in and got on with it. By now Alastair was about 10 mins ahead, 10 up on schedule, and we were pretty much bang on as we hit Steeple. Across and back, we saw that Andy was now at least on his feet, and the others were with him, and we carried on apace over toward the looming monster of Great Gable. Ahead of us was Alastair and Andy Fox (yes, I know, 3 Andy's on the same leg, confusion in the retelling...) who were going strongly, but we could tell we were slowly gaining on them over the peaks. Dan was keeping it together, and never showed a moment of weakness or a hint of slowing down. Although we were now only just on the cusp of being on schedule (a 23:18), we ploughed on, and true to form, gained time back on the uphill sections.
The looming head of Great Gable
It was just at Kirk Fell that we caught Andy Fox and Alastair, with Al looking a little rough on the descent, and was very grateful for a tab of ibuprofen, and was running a lot more smoothly as we approached the flanks of the Gable.

To be honest, the scramble up really wasn't as bad as we thought it might be. Keeping a steady and even pace we climbed it as a tight knit group, taking in the fantastic view down the various valleys that lead to the Gable.
The run off was not a run in the slightest. Underfoot was the same as it had been for a good few miles. Sharp, unforgiving rock, with no pattern, rhyme or reason, it was the best we could do to keep up a semi-fast walk. Although it is said that the Bob Graham is nothing more than a walk, it is equally obvious that to keep up a meaningful tempo across all types of ground is very difficult indeed, especially as the miles and metres accumulate in your legs.

Down off Great Gable, I felt like I was really starting to have to coax a bit more than the rest of the way.
Alastair, looking strong up to the summit of Great Gable
Encouraging whoever I was with to not stop running, to make sure they had taken on fluid and food. By this point we knew that barring some silly incident, it was in the bag, which meant that ensuring there was no silly incident all the more important.
Honister support crew
As a 4 we descended Green Gable, but Dan had to stop for a pit stop, and Alastair and Andy Fox continued on.
I sat and admired the view, and we continued on through the magnificent countryside. Up and over the last 2 peaks of the leg with little trouble, they seemed a whole lot less of a deal than I remember from a recce a couple of weeks ago, and a last plunge down into Honister, to a crowd of cheering support crew. I still
Alastair coming into Honister
hadn't decided whether I was going to carry on with leg 5, but as we rocked into the support area, decked out with food, drink, chairs etc, I replenished the bottles that had been used up on the last leg, and found that I was really feeling pretty good.
Dan and I coming into Honister
Along with that, Andy Fox, who had also done 2 legs said he was going on, so I thought I might as well go too. I'd not consumed as much food as I thought I would, and just made sure that I had enough electrolyte to get me to the end.

Leg 5 was crowded with pacers, 11 or so by my count, so it wasn't essential for me to be there. They left in a massive, enthusiastic bunch as
Alastair and Dan took off up the hill. I hung about for a couple of minutes, chatting with the support crew and making sure everything I had was shipshape, and then set off up the hill after them. I caught them way before the top of the hill, and I slipped back into my role of supporter, offering encouragement, cajoling whoever was at the back to carry on going, and that they were nearly there.
I have no idea if this was useful to Al or Dan, but I wasn't going to shut up unless they told me to.

Me, catching up with the rest
The final leg off the hills was beautiful, and I was very glad I had the opportunity to reflect on the day and the setting without having to worry about doing the whole challenge. Route finding off was quite fun, but by this time, Dan was back flying and it was Alastairs turn to really feel the fatigue. Blisters, soles of feet on fire, and legs feeling like lead, I ran with him off the hill, forbidding him to stop on pain of being fed excessively sugary snacks to blast him off the hill with. Running on ahead at points to open gates, I worked in tandem with Linds to get him down to the road as fast as possible
where a car was waiting with road shoes. A quick change, and we were off. The guys were taking no
prisoners at this point, with the chance of a sub 23 hour round on the cards, they pounded on down the road at quite a speed. Dan leading out and pulling ahead on the flats and downs, but walking the uphills, and Alastair going at a constant pace no matter the gradient. I ran with him administering water occasionally, and ensuring he wasn't slowing down. Dan and the rest of the pacers
A gaggle of Glossopdaler on Leg 5
disappeared off into the distance, and it was just me, Al and Linds. None of us really knew the way into Keswick, so Linds ran on ahead to ensure she could see the route the others were taking so that we didn't lose ourselves.

I gave Alastair the countdown of 20 mins to go for a sub 22. "does that mean we can make it?" he asked me.
"I have no idea. Lets have a go". And that was what he needed. The pace picked up again, we crossed the bridge, and Keswick was around the corner. Bang, job done.
Dan was sitting at the steps of Moot hall as Alastair pounded up the street to the cheers of a lot of people, running up the steps and finishing his round.
Dan, rocking up to the Moot hall

A very happy Alastair
Mission Accomplished.
I felt remarkably well for having just run 55km and climbed 4000m, nothing in comparison to Al and Dan,
but not an inconsiderable day in the hills.
It was a fantastic day out, the kind of day you dream of when faced with clag and rubbish in the winter, fighting to get through the rain and sleet. It was wonderful to share it with a few friends, in the sun, in the hills, with a couple of beers at the end.
Andy Fox, pacer extrodinaire, and Hannah, background mastermind

A well deserved beer
Caity and me, mission over

And the obligatory fish and chips, trying to make sure Phil didn't nick any. 
And all the better for helping them get through an epic challenge.
Well done guys. All credit to you. I hope my constant chatting, cajoling, nagging didn't annoy you too much.

1 comment:

  1. I have been involved in two rounds one success and one finishing at Newlands, both in amazing conditions and both fanastic days out.