Sunday, 14 October 2007

The party's over.

It was the BGR dinner last night, and Alison and I are now hungover and knackered. It was a late finish, crawling up from the bar and into bed at about 3am. It was a superb evening - with plenty of ale, dancing and catching up. The certificate is already framed and up in the house!

Selwyn Wright, the BGR club chairman, did a great job in putting the round into some sort of historical context. He also superbly summarised the effortthe BGR needs, as well as highlighting the sacrifice of those with whom you share your life. He managed to make the BGR maintain its daunting aspect, despite the fact we'd all done it. I was worried that a room full of BGR'ers would somehow belittle the achievement, but not a bit of it. The atmosphere was convivial, appreciative, well humoured and friendly with not a hint of elitism. The guy who got round in 23:55 got a bigger cheer than the guy who made it round in 17 hours. We all knew that the 23:55 guy would have been pushing to the wire whereas most of the rest of us would have known it was in the bag for varying amounts of time. I loved that reaction.

It was great to see Simon Neville again (and Gerti and Barbara of course!). Simon's round was the single best training and learning session i did before doing my own 5 weeks later. He showed mental strength, control and judgement when making up the time he lost to Wasdale. I admire him for that and it was a pleasure to share in the experience again. It was also a great chance to discuss his amazing prepartion, specifically his tower-block training regime - bourne from the fact he lives in London and does not have Moel Famau on his doorstep.

It just goes to show - where there's a will, there's a hill.

Simon's networking skills were also a joy to behold - here's a guy that lives down south but knew far more people in the room than I. I have encountered a number of people at races since the BGR who i promised i would catch up with at the meal, but couldn't remember any of them from Adam (apart from Geoff Briggs, who it's always a pleasure to see). One slight thing I thought would have been better for me was if i knew more people.

But next time, in 2009, i will. Dave Sykes, Paul Miller, Pete Taylor and Jamie Dowdall will have all got round by then (of that i have no doubt) and i'll be there to celebrate with them. I can;t wait for that. I was a touch jealous of the Maccs, Dark Peaks and Keswicks of this world who have BGRers a plenty to make up a real party at this event. What it would be for Tattenhall to join that clan...

But we had a great time. The ceilidh was superb and we really got stuck in. It was good to fleetingly meet the legend that is Fred Rogerson too - a dignified and revered presence for sure. It was such a pleasure to drink in the atmosphere of pride and celebration.

Enough time and reflection has now passed for my BGR to settle in and for the dinner to draw a line under it. In doing so though, I felt such immense pride. It was good to be able to show my gratitude to Alison for her support by dancing all night and getting all the drinks in (two things i generally avoid doing). It was a perfect way to close the experience off.

It's been hard to let go, and I've had a number of false starts in trying to do so. It's almost been like mourning. I'll never forget it, but now the focus is forward. Forward to supporting other attempts, forward to getting faster and fitter for racing rather than rounds and forward to deciding upon life's next big challenge.

This will be the last entry to this blog. It's been a terrific source of therapy for me and a means of getting some good advice (as well as some unexpected and very much appreciated support and compliments, including from strangers at last night's dinner!). I would recommend writing a blog to anyone who is building up to any kind of event. It provides a great souveneir, but also helps you to learn as you prepare. It is also a motivating factor - knowing you will write it on a Monday meant you had another reason for getting out during the previous week.

More than anything else though, it helps you make the most of the whole experience, which is something that i didn't think this blog would do when i set about writing it.

Thanks to everyone who has read this. I hope you enjoyed it or at least found some of it useful.


Friday, 21 September 2007

Time to move on

Three months ago tomorrow I had the most memorable day of my life. Unlike when I got married, when the day passed with such a blur, the BGR seems etched in such detail on my mind. Straight afterwards, the memories of it were random flashes of the event. Now, it all seems to have slotted into perspective and I can remember it all so vividly. It feels like I'm over it now and I am content in a job well done. Physically also, I feel recovered.

I did not manage the post BGR weeks so well. I tried to take advantage of the fitness I had so painstakingly built. However, all I could manage was a summer of very indifferent and tired running. It was clear that, as Ian Lancaster said to me during the BGR, I'd reached a point where all I was good at was doing big rounds. Borrowdale and Sedbergh were OK, but not so great, nothing like the shift in performance year on year as I saw at the Three Peaks in April. I had some very poor runs on short races and still lack the basic speed I had during the spring.

A month ago I was in serious danger of ceasing to enjoy running. Dave Knott, erstwhile coach and mentor, said I was burnt out and likened my gloomy frame of mind to grieving - with the BGR being the departed soul! He was right.

So, I decided to cut down to 2 or 3 runs a week and stop coaching at the club. I also decided to do some new events to keep things interesting. This has worked and I feel much better. By running once or twice during the week and once at the weekend, I'm not racing tired, preoccupied with how worn out I am, nor am I concerned about how fit I am. It's great! I have lost some fitness, but am still OK. I have done the Lakeland Mountain Trial and the splendid 30 mile Open to Offas under no pressure and have really enjoyed broadening my horizons a bit.

This last month of pressure free, enjoyment filled running has been the tonic I needed to respectfully put the BGR to bed. Next month's BGR dinner will close it off completely, and I'll be able to move onto the next challenge.

It's becoming clear to me that the BGR taught me things about myself beyond my abilities and limitations as a runner. I learned about how I like to live my life. I was never happier than during those months when I was training hard, getting stronger and focussing on a goal. Without it, I’ve simply existed hand to mouth. Work is not a sufficient replacement. I find my job frustrating and hard work, but not especially challenging. I’ve been thinking about a career change, but deep down I know that is not the answer. Provided that work pays me enough and keeps me interested and secure, I need to develop my non-work life by adding a goal. I'd like to replicate that feeling I had all through the spring and early summer.

But what to do next?

There is an obvious choice - Paddy Buckley.

Another 24 hour round! This time closer to home so easier to train and recce. Also, I would love to be able to claim all three classic rounds (the other being the Scottish Ramsey). I also believe the BGR will provide good experience and confidence. I also like this idea because it will be more of a discovery trip. I always knew the BGR fells well, but not so with Snowdonia. What better way to get to know these hills than to do the PBR? Alison would need some convincing, but I now know that I can use the Tattenhall railway and Moel Famau to get the '000's feet of climbing in during the week without too much disruption at home. Additionally, the Welsh hills are so much closer, so I can do some big days out without having to stay away overnight. Also, it's clear that I am happier when doing something like this, rather than a moody arse. She'll go for that I’m sure. OK I’m not sure!

There are also less obvious choices but are not necessarily less appealing...

Sub 3 hour marathon. I know, road running. However, i;ve been reasonably close. I like the feeling of speed you get when training for a road run. It's real contrast to what I’ve been doing. I liked the discipline of training for a marathon more than I thought I would. Homewise, this is also less disruptive. It's worth thinking about and would be a real feather in my cap. It is motivating enough and would slot well into a winter on the roads.

Perhaps I could go for a sub 3, and then move into a Paddy Buckley?!

Other ideas I’ve had focus on deriving new challenges, such as running the Antonine Wall in Scotland or a solo tilt at the Welsh Castles, but I wouldn’t mind getting some of the established challenges under my belt first, otherwise I'll just be itching to do them.

I've also thought about creating a new round, perhaps destined to become a classic alongside the Ramsey, Paddy Buckley and Bob Graham. Something in the Peak District or Yorkshire Dales could surely be worked out that has 60-odd miles and 25,000+ feet ascent? Not sure the Mark Smith round sounds catchy enough, so I might have to change my name if i do this. Oh, the vanity!

I'll decide for sure what's next after the BGR dinner, but now it's enough to recognise that I now find myself looking towards the future more often than I look back to the BGR. That tells me for sure that it is time to move on.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Postscript - Recovery and Reflection

A month has passed and it's only now that I feel sufficiently removed from the BGR to be able to adequately reflect on it. Up to now, the round has been replaying itself at random times and in random sequence, all in a surprising amount of detail. I often recall that wet and tough leg 4 - Nick, Steve and Sarah helping me into my waterproof trousers on Scoat Fell, Rich and Greg handing me cups of tea at Black Sail and going wrong on Pillar. I remember in detail both the excitement and tenderness of Alison, Liz and Cath during the road stops and the bewilderment on the faces of Rowly and Grez - two of my best and most longstanding friends who aren't fellrunners and have never seen me like this. Grez's face at Honister was more of a picture than mine. I still shudder with excitement when I remember how good I felt on leg one - how alive I felt. Romping down Blencathra in that sunset feeling the way I did was me at my absolute prime. I also recall those closing miles with embarrassment now. How can I have been so tetchy with people I think so much of?! Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson on leg five felt like a party was going on all around me. Leg 2 comes alive as a really fun leg with easy and relaxed company. Leg 3 immediately recoils thoughts of being in safe and expert hands.

Lately, I've found thinking about the whole thing as an event a bit easier. More than anything, I feel very content. I loved having this as a goal in my life and part of me is sad that it is gone, but a greater part of me is very relaxed and at ease. It's a great source of confidence that I know I can rise to challenges that previously seemed insurmountable and the preserve of other, stronger, more talented people.

I've been really keen to run, surprisingly. 8 days after then BGR I ran the Llyn Alwen trail race - a nice, undulating 11km run. I finished a creditable 24th from about 150 runners - I was amazed I could run at all! We went off to Crete for a week where I did no exercise apart from a couple of easy walks. After that, I ran regularly with the club. I was miles off the pace during speedwork and took ages to recover in the third week after the BGR. The following week I ran the Green Green Grass of home, 6 mile/1600' local fell race where I did much of my training. I ran quite poorly, having no speed and finishing 27th from 65, quite low down for me, with many people ahead of me that have been behind me all year. I felt good towards the end of this race and would have prospered had it been half as long again! Just goes to prove that my endurance is OK but my speed is not. One month after the BGR I did the Gritstone Tryal and was 5th - although the field was not strong. I was leading at one point (running into a tree did not help my cause!). That was a 13 mile race, and I felt better as time went on. One month has passed, but I still can't say that I've fully recovered. But I've recovered enough to enjoy racing - I just have to swallow my pride a bit when I'm beaten by people who I was so recently some way ahead of.

Borrowdale beckons on Saturday, 5 weeks after the BGR. My hope is that it goes well and my immediate aim to is return to competitive fell racing again. I'd love to get somewhere near four hours.... Generally though, this year's aim has been met.

People have asked me what the next challenge is. Right now I don't know. The Lakes are very dear to me, more so than many other mountain areas, and so I'm not sure I can get as worked up for the Paddy Buckley or the Ramsey. We'll see but they are obvious challenges to think about. First thing's first, let's have a good summer of racing (I've missed racing quite a lot, part of the sacrifice you should make for the BGR) and enjoy the BG meal in October! Alison can't wait to be a BGR-wag!

One possible next step is to write a guide to the BGR. So much information is swimming around on various forums, websites etc. There does not seem to be a single publication that describes the route. This could be an enjoyable undertaking, but part of the fun is gathering this information for yourself and I wouldn't want to ruin it for anyone. Still, it's a thought...

I've really enjoyed writing this blog. It's progress and development has, to some degree, mirrored my own. It started as a very matter of fact record of what I was doing and how it felt, and ended up becoming more and more introspective, whilst staying true to it's 'training log' roots.

I think that's what happened to me too. When I decided to start training for the BGR, it was all about miles, feet of ascent and getting some good physical training in. As the training went on, it was more about getting used to being tired, being out for a long time and coping in all weathers - which is really training the mind. My preoccupation started with 'how much can I do' and ended up being 'how am I feeling'; much like that of the blog. The key to success on the BGR is preparation, and so much of this is about preparing your mind.

If anyone reading this decides to do it, my one piece of advice to remember to enjoy every aspect of it. Enjoy the build up and don't wish it away. Enjoy the company you'll have in training and on the day. Enjoy getting things wrong and learning lessons on the way. Enjoy being knackered. Enjoy getting stronger. Enjoy dragging yourself out for a training session you are not in the mood to do. Enjoy putting the jigsaw pieces of your plan together. Enjoy buying new kit for the event. Enjoy getting to know the route. Enjoy not quite being able to explain to your workmates what is it you are contemplating. Enjoy hating the taper beforehand. Enjoy standing at the Moot Hall, scared stiff and with minutes to go. If you do all that, you will enjoy the BGR and you will succeed.

I'll finish by thanking everyone who helped and encouraged me. Your affect on me is impossible to express, as is the extent of my gratitude.


Monday, 9 July 2007

Mark's BGR - 29th/30th June 2007

The night before...

Technically, my BGR started at 6.55 on Friday evening (29th June), but really, it felt underway when I arrived at the hut on Dunmail Raise the evening before. Up to that point, the BGR was something I was preparing for. When I arrived at the hut, unlocked it, lit the boiler and unpacked everything I immediately felt better. Being sure we had the hut was the last critical thing left to sort. Now I was there in the hut, it had arrived.

The preceding couple of weeks were horrible - all that waiting, not running much, worrying too much when you do run and the general basic pain-in-the-arse type behaviour that must have grated on everyone who knows me, works with me, lives with me. All of a sudden, I felt better and was on a mission.

I'd have felt better still during my solitary vigil at the hut on Thursday night if hadn't have been absolutely pouring down outside. I sorted out gear, food and clothes for tomorrow's round, did the crossword and checked out the hut (i.e. grabbed the best bunk). This activity was punctuated by my stepping outside to vainly look for a break in the weather. It didn't come all evening and my mood darkened in sync with the clouds overhead.

I decided on a solitary night up there before folks arrived on Friday so I could get everything together and to be sure I was first there. It was a good idea. I was nervous and would have been crap company. It also meant I was in control, could get an early night and have a lie in.

The hut was great - I would recommend it to anyone doing a BGR as their HQ.

It is the large solitary dwelling on Dunmail Raise, 600 yards from the BGR road crossing at Dunmail. It is right by the lay-by that BGR recce'ers will know well. It belongs to Achille Ratti and is perfect. It sleeps 38, has 4 dorms so various 'shifts' need not disturb each other (e.g. those doing the night leg can get back and go to bed without disturbing those resting in advance of a daytime leg) and a huge communal kitchen and dining area. Thanks very much for Jen for securing our exclusive use of it.
(It's a fact worth knowing that you can only get mobile reception in the front dorms and by the steps leading down to the lay-by!

D-Day Dawns...

I awoke to a better day: some blue, some grey, some white. The tops looked clear. The forecast however did not. At best, it looked like I had decent conditions until 8am Saturday, 13 hours into the round. Then it suggested very poor conditions for the rest of the day.
I decided I would make hay while the sun shone and go out quickly on a 21/22 hour schedule, or at least, to be well inside the 23.5 hour schedule I was aiming for. I decided not to tell my leg one pacers this. This was because a 21/22 hour pace is quite easy when you are fresh. I didn't want to tell them that i was aiming to 'go out fast' because they might have pushed too hard. I decided i would set the pace for the first 2 legs and aim to be an hour up on the 23.5 schedule at Dunmail. I felt better still because I had a plan, but was still very nervous about the weather coming in.
I toyed with a 6pm start rather than a 7pm start. This would mean one less hour to hang around, but also would increase my chances of getting clear of Broad Stand (a small rock climb en route) before the weather came in. Given the support I had lined up and what it might take to change things, I left it as it was. With hindsight, I wish I would have moved the start to 5 or 6pm as this would have resulted in a much faster round, but felt duty bound to leave it. This shows one of the few advantages of having a smaller, nimbler set up re support, although I wouldn't change my support crew for the world.

As Friday progressed, people started arriving. First my long suffering wife, then Pete and Jen, Rowly and the trickle became a steady flow of willing helpers. As the numbers swelled and even the pacers became nervous, I felt pressured - I could not let these people down by simply giving up. If I were to fail, then it would have to be because I fell off something or something fell off me. Pressure gradually built into determination and I felt readier than ever.

And so to Keswick...
Keswick, 6pm and the sky looked great - perfect. Shit, I thought, why aren't I up there now!?! We loitered around the car park and counted time, which of course seemed to be going backwards. Greg and Caroline arrived, virtually direct from Melbourne - the stray Aussies returned just in time to see me off. What a superb feeling that was. To see such good and long lost friends at this time was making this whole day feel as though it was going to work out.

After several trips to the loo, I decided I could wait no longer and we would have to go to the Moot Hall and the start line. As we walked across the car park, a happy looking group ran across the car park: the 6:30 group from Macc. I wished them luck, and meant it. I also envied them - they were underway and I was quietly bricking it. I wasn't the only one - the faces of my friends betrayed their own apprehension (although they may have simply been mulling over where to go for dinner once I was out of the way.)

We discovered another group all ready to set sail at 7pm on the same schedule. This was a shame as I wanted clear air and no distractions. Balls to it I said, we would now start at 6.55 and give both groups some space. A quick annoucement to pacers and support alike to tweak everything on their hymn sheets by 5 mins and we were soon to be off. How decisive! It sounds silly, but that made me feel in control and ready. As I lined up with Pete, Andrew and Simon for leg one in the evening sun - everything felt right.

Leg One - Keswick to Threlkeld. 15 Miles, 5300' ascent.
My covert fast start didn't feel fast. This was good. We jogged merrily through Fitz Park and marvelled at the weather. Paul appeared and took a photo as we crossed the bridge; I mentally subtitled it "Before".

We took to the slopes of Latrigg and walked the ups. It felt faintly stupid to walk up such runnable slopes, but we all knew it was the right thing to do. Noone suggested we do any uphill running.

My pacers all got right into the habit of feeding and watering me. As we plodded up Jenkin Hill on Skiddaw, the first climb of any significance, the view south opened up and we were all agog. It was stunning.

For me though, it had an entirely different siginificance going well beyond the aesthetic. I could see the whole round and relearned in an instant that the BGR is a bloody long way. Someone asked how far the BGR was. I swept my arm in a huge southern arc and said, "that far". I gave Robinson, peak 42, a quick glance and realised I had slowed down a touch. I was starting to cower. This would not do and so we ran the gradual rise behind Skiddaw Little Man towards the final climb. Simon advised that we were 'well up' on schedule, to which I did not react. I needed a peak to calm my nerves; the fellrunning equivalent of Dot Cotton needing a fag. Getting up Skiddaw would set me off fine, and so it did. Arrival there in 71 mins, 14 up on schedule and at a canter made me feel much better.

Onwards to Calva, and some heathery fun. The perfect conditions meant locating that tricky trod over Hare Crag was easy. We took a great line to that, cutting a corner off and saving a minute or two. My GPS chirped at our arrival at the tiny cairn which sent us over Hare Crag and to the beck. No dramas and very high spirits accompanied us Calva as Simon's local knowledge guided us expertly on the best possible line. We were making such good time that Paul, our offical BGR photographer didn't make it round on his bike in time to catch us before we started this climb, but his long lens reeled us in as we climbed (see us at bottom left of picture).
I've always felt that the 51 mins the 23.5 schedule allows for the journey from Skiaddaw to Calva is very generous and must be something to do with the fact that many people do this leg at night. It came as no surprise to me that we got up there in 39 mins and at an easy pace. Knowing that the heathery slope on Calva has claimed many a knee or ankle, we picked our way down easily from the south summit and headed on a line just left (east) of Mungrisedale Common's summit (perhaps I could include it and claim a 43 peak round?!). We met Paul at the bottom on the 4x4 track. Although we knew we were going well, it was terrific to hear someone else say it! We were the best part of half an hour up.
One more climb and leg one is done! Blencathra was bathed in rosy sunlight as we plodded up its sprawling northern slopes. Passing the summit of the common 150 yards to the east, we found and used the track towards Foule Crag. Simon's local knowledge came in handy again as he took further up it than i have ever been before traversing a slightly rising line to the summit. It was a superb line. He knew the precise boulder at which to turn off the track - handy! I had already made up the time i was hoping to gather on leg one and didn't even think about the pace on this climb, yet we made another 8 minutes up on this section.
Just Hall's Fell, and 31 mins of descending to get down to the first road crossing. I was exicted - I was looking forward to seeing everyone and hearing the various whoops and congratulation that we were so far up and feeling good. Simon said he had a really unusual line of the summit, but i didn't want to take any chances on the round and would rather keep things simple coming off this rocky top. So we followed the ridge and he dropped almost immediately towards the gill on the right (west). He appeared soon after some distance ahead - proving his route was bloody quick! I will look into this for future supporting of other attempts!
We descended with such ease and joy - I've seldom felt so alive. The sun was setting but still up, so no worries about coming down this tricky ridge in the dark. The ground was dry and we felt fresh. We arrived in Threlkeld about 40 mins up on schedule and extremely confident.

This was this Tattenhall BGR support crew's virgin road stop - but they were like pros. Chair was out, jacket to hand, new socks ready, towel handy, rice pud and tea done to a turn and lots of similing. Superb.

Leg Two - Threlkeld to Dunmail Raise. 15 miles, 5900' ascent

Jamie (aka NotonurHelly on the FRA Forum) and Dave Sykes were also primed and ready at Threlkeld. They were already pratting about when I got there so I knew this was going to be a fun, entertaining night leg. The sky looked clear, which is all you can ask for a night leg. Who knows, perhaps I could nick another half hour on this leg, but it was really about taking it easy and hoping I could nibble away at the schedule without breaking a sweat

(By the way, all the 3D gimmicky images show the actual line I took).

Jamie (who I had only met hours before), Dave and I made good steady progress as the darkness fell. We made up 10 mins on Clough Head before I slowed things down and kept to schedule as far as Helvellyn. This was made easier by repeated games of 'Who am I?'. How Jamie got Trevor McDonald by ascertaining that he was 'on the telly' and 'probably a nice bloke' I'll never know. The man has powers. I'm not even sure we got anywhere near 'black' and 'newsreader'.
The recces came in useful on this leg, simply through shaving corners off here and there and generally having the courage and confidence to leave the path in the dark to favour a slightly quicker line. Thanks to our efforts on leg one, we had residual sunlight for that first cold climb up the north flank of Clough Head. We didn't don headtorches until Calfhow Pike - which is pretty good going. The effort level was low and yet we nibbled away the odd minute or two from the schedule - it was all very satisfying. As we moved across the Dodds, a pink moon rose almost obviating the need for headtorches. It's hard to remember ever feeling as satisfied as this on the whole round.
Better still, we could see some lights ahead. Earlier, Paul have ventured that he and Carole were going to place themselves atop Helvellyn to capture our arrival there. Sure enough, there he was at some unnatural hour with an unnaturally large flashgun! How nice to see someone here! We grabbed at bananas and water and sped off towards Nethermost with renewed vigour - wihilst Paul and Carole, already with a hour or two's plod behind them, made off back down to the valley having seen us for all of 1 or 2 minutes.

Now this is taking his role as BGR photographer to the extreme, and who am I to argue!

The rest of this leg went well. We took good lines off Nethermost and Dollywaggon, areas I have often found confusing in the past despite the proliferation of paths and cairns (perhaps that is the problem). The sting in the tail on this leg are those two climbs up Fairfield and Seat Sandal. We chose the 'out and back' route up Fairfield and in doing so, crossed paths with the 6.30 group during our ascent (and their descent) of Fairfield. Spirits were high, both groups were going well!

As we climbed Fairfield, we noticed the pinkish moon reflecting in Coniston Water to the south. It was stunning. There was as yet no sign on the sunrise meaning we were well up on schedule, something like 80 mins. I still felt as though I'd just set off - things were augering well.

We actually lost 2 mins on the FF section, possibly due to a very deliberate descent of Dollywaggon Pike. This was the first stretch where we were down, but I didn't panic. No point. I could already feel myself and the round itself moving into a different phase. As we climbed Seat Sandal and leg 2 was drawing to a close, I realised that big central leg was upon us and I was soon to be really tested. Confidence turned to a purposeful urgency. I was less flippant but felt just as good. I withdrew a touch from the banter and realised as I approached the headtorches looking up at us from Dunmail Raise that the real work was to come.

Leg 3 - Dunmail Raise to Wasdale. 16 miles, 6300' ascent

The road support at Dunmail was just 600 yards from the hut and a warm bed, but that thought only crossed my mind when I realised that the leg 3 supporters were being dragged from theirs prematurely due to my early arrival almost one and a half hours ahead of schedule. It was still dark, although a hint of dawn tinged the eastern horizon.

Alison was planning on sleeping through this one and reuniting with me at Wasdale, but she joined Cath and Liz at Dunmail as she could not sleep - a nice surprise.

I could see the leg 3 posse, real experts, were up and looking ready to move. Ian and Simon, BGRs, Ramsey rounds and race wins amongst their CVs were ready with their boundless energy, judgement and advice. Pete, joining again after leg 1's exploits, was to witness a change in pace for sure and James, Simon's eldest, was joining us for the experience as far as Esk Hause where his mum would await. I suspect this means another BG to support in many years to come - he's just 14 now! He looked in rude health!

After much needed and appreciated tea and rice pud, we were off on that grind up Steel Fell. I felt good here but reigned it in. I worried that the pace was too slow in the company of these super-quick guys. That worry probably accounted for the nearest i came to a bad patch - a real attack of nerves as we passed over Calf Crag and ditched the headtorches for our climb up Sergeant Man. Ian noticed almost immediately that something was up, even though we were moving inside the 23.5hr pace. I said that my legs were just starting to feel a little tired - his response, typically reassuring, was something along the lines of, 'of course they are, you've been going 9 hours'.

We still had good weather, in fact the Langdales and the run over to Rossett Pike were done in the company of a gorgeous morning. Nothing nasty looked like it was brewing in the west - perhaps the forecast was wrong as rain was due in an hour or so? That would be wonderful, I'd breeze round at this rate...

Rossett Pike came and went, and we had a welcome sighting of Paul, Carole and camera at Rossett Gill at @5.30 in the morning!

I felt good here, really good. 11 hours in and I was comfortable, well ahead of time and satisifed that if the weather came in now, my plan of making hay while the sun shone had worked. The nature of the company had changed from companionship to full-on support. Ian and Simon were feeding and watering me constantly and Peter was acting as packhorse - or so it seemed to me. I felt happy that I'd chosen this team for this crucial leg, and very grateful - something i was to feel even more within the next few hours...

As we climbed Bowfell, I felt little raindrop. It seemed weird, the sky was clear? As soon as we summitted Bowfell, we realised its bulk had been hiding the bad weather, and we could see a black-grey wall coming towards us. The forecast we spot on. Soon, it enveloped the Scafells, and the comparativly puny Langdales of recent memory were shrouding up.

The rain didn't come right away, but it was in the post. We got through to Esk Hause still on schedule for leg 3 and well inside overall, and dropped James with Sue. How nice to see her and how surreal be up there at this daft time (@0630).

I started to feel nervous and almost sick that the bad weather was finally here. As we came off Great End, to another audience with Paul and Carole, we drifted into the clag and into Ill Crag.

Here, the benefit of getting out in all weathers pays you back. I had recced this section across the Scafells, but only ever in good weather. We found Ill Crag no problem but I took an awful line off, almost heading into Eskdale. I realised what was afoot and overcompensated and returned to the main path back towards Great End! We were back on track but it cost us ten minuites. Broad Crag and Scafell Pike were easy enough, but we dawdled a touch getting off the Pike (cairns everywhere, which is the right track!?) and found ourselves not much later at a greasy and lonely Broad Stand. If only I had set off at 6pm!!

We had a plan for Broad Stand, which was for Jen Taylor (Pete the packhorse's wife), who had gamely wild camped in Eskdale the previous evening, to walk up and set up the belay. As she approached from above, she found that the intervening ground was too slippery and she didn't feel safe. As it happens, she came across the guys doing the 'double BG' attempt who informed her that a rope was already in place. I'm very glad that Jen stayed put and didn't risk her neck to come and placate us.

We arrived at the pitch and despite having done some climbing in the past, I got nervous. We found the rope but couldn't trust it until we could get it checked. This is where having Ian and Pete, two good climbers, was so very useful. Ian free climbed the pitch in the greasy murk and checked the rope. Having established it was OK, Pete tied me on a bowline and I climbed up. I thought it was easy until my foot fell out of the crack I'd lodged it in. As I was about to have another go, Pete just made me stand on this thankfully broad shoulders and I climbed the rest of it with ease. Ian expertly handled the rope and Simon and Pete followed up soon after. Ian had quite rightly took his time before allowing us up (time for half a tub of rice pudding, leaving Simon to have to carry an awkward cargo of a half eaten pot) but this, and getting four of us up there cost us about 20 mins on the schedule. We were still 45 mins up.

We saw that someone had marked the way out of Broad Stand towards Scafell's summit with very small patches of white powder - a practice that some have subsequently kicked off about on the FRA forum. I didn't give it much thought at the time but we used the marks to pick our way up the hill, despite knowing the way anyhow.

We soon met Jen, waiting well above the main crags. It was great to see her. We left her with her husband Pete, whose pacing duties were now over. He'd been great, running leg 1 and most of leg 3 - good experience for his probably much faster round next year.

Simon, Ian and I moved onto Scafell and took the path down to the valley. We dropped quickly out of the clag, ran down the quick and enjoyable scree run and were feeling good. It was good to be off that rocky stuff and almost running free again. Halfway down what is the single biggest descent of the round, I tripped and fell, banging my knee in the process. It was one of those you think nothing of normally, but I could feel it start to swell slightly as I ran down. I decided not to say anything unless it impeded me. People can worry too much and dent your confidence even when they are trying to help. I didn't want that to happen.

Arrival at Wasdale came quickly, with a good and seemingly effortless descent off Scafell. It was a real turning point - I was 14 hours in, 40 mins up on schedule and feeling confident. The weather, so crucial to these events, was on the turn, a turn for the even worse...

Leg 4 - Wasdale to Honister. 13 miles, 6200' ascent.

Over the recent few days and weeks, leg 4 is what I was dreading most. Barring accidents, bad luck or a severe underestimation of the task in hand, leg four is likely to be the leg where doomed attempts are most likely to come to grief. It's a route littered with thrown-in BGR towels.

It's a tough leg in its own right but more so for being at a critical point in the round. It's not as far as leg three, but has about the same amount of climbing and two-thirds of it is on rough and steep ground. I was dreading it.
I set off from Wasdale in light rain and feeling optimistic. My legs felt good, but I was aware and deeply respectful of the climb that was facing me: Yewbarrow. I wouldn't be surprised if it ranked top in 'bits you were dreading' when it comes to BGRs. I knew there was plenty more to come, but knowing that was behind me was something I was looking forward to.
Nick Holmes and Steve and Sarah Hammond - good friends and equally good runners and pacers joined me on this leg. I'd previously recced it with Nick, and the Hammonds had supported Simon on his BGR on this leg so I'd chosen pacers wisely. I also knew that this crew would get me through any bad patches, which I was expecting.
I wanted to do Yewbarrow within myself but without losing time. I wanted to hit the 50 min target in the 23.5 hour schedule without really working. This was all about pace judgement and would be a good test of how I was doing. I wanted the schedule times to still feel manageable, and this was the tester. To my absolute delight, we reached the cairn dead on 50 mins, and at an easy effort rate. The climb was made easier by the chatter and encouragement from my supporters. We then made up a few mins on Red Pike and again on Steeple and for the first time on the whole round I began to feel like I was going to make it. This was a turning point, so much so that the weather gods thought they would make it interesting...
It was at this point that the rain, wind and clag got nasty. Conditions became abominable. We moved well and kept the faith and were inside schedule on Pillar also, 10 mins up for the leg! I was euphoric, inwardly at least. I was obviously tiring as I withdrew more and more into myself but the rate of climbing was still going well. It was on that climb up to Pillar, which was made difficult by the wind tearing through Wind Gap (!), that I realised that the 10,000' per week maxim was worth adhereing to. If you can climb well enough and jog the descents, you'll make it.
The summit of Pillar was wild. We started seeing walkers on the hills - strange after having hours to ourselves. The wind and terrible conditions played a hand in one of the few mistakes we made on the round. We went off Pillar towards Pillar Rock on an improving track, but only descended about 100' before we realised that this was not right. We climbed back up with no panic and took the right line off. Total cost = 10 mins. We'd wiped out what we had gained on this leg so far but were still 40 mins up overall.
We dropped to Black Sail where Richard B and Greg were waiting with more food and some warm tea. This was part of my plan to avoid a bad patch. Many people have a terrible time on Kirk Fell, and so I wanted something there to look forward to. Many attempts flounder there and I was determined mine would not be one of them. We arrived slightly later than they had planned (people were getting used to me being ahead of schedule!) and we had a short break of about 10 mins with them as we ate and drank - investing some time here in the ability to do the rest of the round.

We moved on, but i felt sluggish. Not bad, but not as good. Inevitable I suppose. What was good was that there was no panic - I still felt in control. We dropped 15-20 mins on Kirk Fell due to the break and the pace, but made 5 mins back on Gable. That's when I knew I was ok - I was still making time up when I was moving, even in the awful wind and rain. Brilliant.

That climb up Gable was nowhere near as hard as I thought it was going to be. My support were wonderful, each slipping into complementary and yet unrehearsed roles. Steve navigated and set the pace. Nick fed me. Sarah walked just in front of me, allowing me to simply put my feet where hers had been. Greg and Rich were the entertainment. I was thrilled to see them. Greg was still in the throws of jet lag having come over from Australia, and hadn't touched a fell in almost 2 years. Now here he was in just about as bad conditions an English summer can throw at you and he was loving it. I felt very humbled by what everyone was doing.

Green Gable was bizarre - we were blown up the hill! I was happy now as I knew it marked the end of the rough ground for the whole round and arriving there anywhere near the schedule was a portent to success. We were doing fine, and I allowed myself some optimism. We dropped out of the clag as we approached Brandreth and my pace quickened. I started joining in conversations I had previously withdrawn from over Kirk Fell and Gable and I started thinking about Honister and Alison and tea and victory. Most of all, I thought about my friends right here with me on the hillside and those that had helped so far. It was a strange time to reflect given there were 3 or 4 hours of running left to do, but I arrived at Honister happy, tired and pre-occupied.

I was also wet. We all were.

Still, my minimum target for Honsiter was to be leaving there with three hours to go. I had over four to play with and really thought that things were well placed, despite the fact it continued to hammer it down.

I thought Honsiter was odd though. I felt bouyed and in good shape, but understandably tired after 20 hours on the go. My support crew had last seen me at Wasdale where I was a little damp but going well. Now they were faced with this soaking wet, gaunt figure and I could detect little expressions of worry where there had previously been confidence. I don't think anyone thought I was going to fail, but I could see doubts in one or two people. I decided to just stick to my routine - eat, drink tea, eat a bit more, get changed and get going. My inlaws appeared, out of nowhere, and for a while I thought I was in the twilight zone. They had driven over from Newcastle to see me. They looked quite shocked when they saw how soaked and knackered I was.

Leg 5 - Honister to Keswick. 12 miles, 2400' ascent.

I needed to get going before other people's well intentioned nervousness allowed any demons to set in. I actually felt a bit stroppy and just got up and went before the 15 mins were up. My leg 4 crew carried on, but this time Richard Kenworthy joined us and was in charge of keeping me moving and sustained over leg 5. He did a great job. It's easy to look at time in the bank and get complacent. Rich was having none of it. He didn't force me to eat or drink anything, but was a constant presence that ensured I did not forget. With his banter and encouragement, I was up Dale Head in scheduled time and it felt really easy. Now I felt good. A quick pee and Hindscarth was under our belts with 4 mins to spare. Running off Hindscarth towards the trod up to the final peak of Robinson, I wanted to sprint! I suddently felt amazing and duly plodded up there making up 5 minutes in the process.

It felt in the bag now.

I gave the summit cairn, my 42nd of the run, a little triumphant peck before heading off down that ridge. I was warned that my legs might not like the rock step and that I might need help getting down it - pah! No drama. Scrambled down it without a pause. Then a moment of hilarity. I really needed a crap - my first and only of the whole round. I'm known at the running club for the frequency of my alfresco dumps (I needed to go twice during a four mile fell race just the previous week!) and yet had held off until the final peak. If anyone was running a book and which peak I'd crap on first, Skiddaw would have been amongst the favourites.

I dropped off the ridge line and did what I needed to do and tried not to notice how much I was chaffing. The tops of my legs and groin was red raw and really sore. Contast this with no blisters on my feet at all. All very unsavoury, but it's part of the experience without which this blog would be incomplete!

We dropped down off the main ridge early and followed the valley route in towards Newlands Chapel. Still raining hard, we got a brighter sky and a stunning rainbow beckoning us towards the end. It was a magical sight. Sat behind it was Skiddaw, masked by a translucent veil of cloud that betrayed a heavy shower. Looking at peak one from peak forty two was, on some distant level, satisfying, as was the rainbow and the brightening sky. But my mind was more focussed on the matter in hand, i.e. getting to the road head, getting some road shoes on and getting this thing done. I was still on a mission and would not scupper it now by spending valuable time enjoying my surroundings! I know, silly isn't it.

I was delighted to find that my wife and some friends from Tattenhall Runners were waiting for me on the track before the road head. I was wet through and feeling the weight of my waterproof. Rather than greet her with a kiss or anything like that, the first thing i did when I saw Alison was give a wet cagoule to carry. Poor thing!

I wasn't great company as I was not looking forward to the road run. We arrived at Newlands in due course, and my spirits, despite almost having this sewn up, were low.

This was for a number of reasons. I was wet and the chaffing was really sore. I was tired and knew the road section was going to be a bore. If I had have been with-it enough, I'd have probably realised that the main reason I was down was because it was almost over and I was having a brilliant day out on the hills. You'd have had a job convincing me of that at the time though.

Arrival at the road head and off came the fell shoes for the last time (Innov8 Mudrocs if you're interested). I dried my feet and Sue Ellis, who presided over things in her caring yet authoritive way, asked around for some talc. All that was available camed from Lauren's private stash, some expensive girly stuff which she was loth to sacrifice for my minging plates of meat. As Sue dusted my feet, they felt wondeful, like new feet. I cheered up a bit and took a swig of tea. Cold! Oh dear, the strop returned and I huffily asked if I could have a warm tea. Honestly! Well, I could hear the activity and concern - they were obviously worried about me as they should have told me to bog off. I didn't plan to have a drink, just to stop and change shoes - but the extra time in hand (1hr 25mins to go) allowed for a longer stop.

Once I got going, I relaxed. The road crew probably did too. They had been magnificent, all day and night. The fellrunners were wonderful too, but their support was provided by fellrunning, something they like to do. Road support involves driving, waiting, preparing food and drinks, getting cold and wet, seeing an increasingly tired and withdrawn (and stroppy) contender for a few minutes at a time before packing up and doing it again; stuff they wouldn't choose to do. It's done out of friendship and support, and I felt pride, and a little guilt at my cold tea strop as we left for the final phase - the road run.

I hoped this would feel like a victory lap, but my poor legs were not able to cope with tarmac. I'd rather have climbed a 43rd peak than done that road section. My quads were screaming. I could barely register a shuffle. Andrew, stalwart from leg one, ran by my side as various others ran together ahead, chatting, enjoying themselves and all that. This was perfect - they provided at atmosphere and left me to it, whilst Andrew stayed with me, offering support and making it all seem to go just that bit more quickly. He was a real brick and I was very grateful. Cath pulled alongside me at one point, walking as I shuffled, and asked how the legs were feeling. I couldn't bear to rip her head off, she'd been a great mate over the last few months and provided wonderful road support on the round. I counted to ten and calmly added that my quads felt like they had serrated kitchen knives inserted into them, each tipped with a dose of particularly sting inducing acid. Being a wordy type, she congratulated me on the metaphor and sidled off, insisting that I relate that desciption in this blog. Here it is Cath!

Quite suddenly I was just about home. Paul appeared again and took some snaps at Portinscale bridge and before I knew it, I was in Keswick. What followed is a bit of a haze. I ran straight across the mini roundabout near the supermarket without caring about traffic, only to find Andrew directing it!!

Hilarious! Watch out - 12 minute miler coming through!

The Moot Hall appeared and I just lapped it all up. I could see loads of people, champagne and, weirdly, party poppers being set off at me. People were clapping, it was great! Pete jokingly tried to stop me touching the Moot Hall, but a stroppy shout of MOVE! put paid to that. Sorry Pete.

Before i could plan for it, the Moot Hall was in touching distance and after 23 hours and 32 minutes, it was over.

My initial feelings were divided between relief and gratitude, but i found myself unable to express either. I was overcome.

I just wanted to sit down. I found a bench and put my head in my hands - just about suppressing a sob. I was in another world, one based on survival where one could only focus on a small number of things. I could not take all of this in. I was not happy, euphoric or satisfied. Quite simply, I was tired, wet and cold. I had to change that, it's all I wanted. Sucessfully completing the BGR had registered, but in a somehow detached way.

So many people were there and I wanted to thank them all so much. I couldn't though. I had an animal craving to get inside and get changed into dry warm clothes. My inlaws appeared and tried to give me a gift, which they had wrapped up. I was out of it and could not understand what they were giving me. Alison stepped in and swept me away. I couldn't even appreciate kindness at this point - I needed to get inside.

Somehow, we ended up in a pub and I was alone. Those that had dumped me there were variously getting me a drink, telling the others where we were and getting my warm clothes. I had about 2 minutes alone where I sat in a pub and just glazed over. That would have been a great image - perhaps the only one missing from this well catalogued day. I was spent.

Rowly arrived with my bag. I hastened to the loos and got changed and soon felt like a new man. When I got back, more of our crowd were there and the hugs and kisses started. After about 15 mins of otherworldlyness, I returned to Earth and cracked a smile.

Just about a week later, it's still there.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007


A more comprehensive report will follow when i have some photos to post. The fact that people have actually been reading this blog means that i'm going to post something special, a real report of the day that i'll treasure. But i couldn't wait any longer to post something as the blog was sitting there without the simple glorious fact that I've done the Bob Graham Round.

The round itself was magical, more so as it was part of a stupendous weekend surrounded by wonderful people and what for me is the finest countryside in the world - my favuorite place on earth. It was a round of two halves, defined utterly by the weather. I had either end of the spectrum (insofar as you can in summer), from perfect skies and a cool breeze to heavy rain and a howling, ferocious wind. There was little in between, making for really testing conditions for 16 of the 23 and bit hours!

I'll provide a leg by leg account when the "BGR official photographer" Paul has provided some photos. I really can't wait to see them. I'll probably need some more days to let it all sink in too before i can write something coherent and interesting because now, on Tuesday, 3 days later, my mind is still addled and i'm still getting used to the fact that it's over.

What is clear in my mind are various highlights of the day, the most obvious of which is finishing. It felt sooo satsfying. It felt exhausting to a whole new degree and it was remarkably humbling to see how many people were pleased for me, proud of me and to realise at that point how many people had got cold, wet, tired and sleep deprived so that this moment could happen. I was truly overwhelmed in such a way that i have never experienced and probably never will. As the various bottles of champagne (a real surprise!) and party poppers rained over me, all i wanted to do was sit. I found a bench and put my head in my hands, trying to hold back a tear or two. I just about hung on, but there was a couple of wobbly moments! Alison didn;t even try to hold back! Tears of joy and a mantra of "I can't beleive he's done it" whilst hugging everyone made me realise how lucky i am. From that last few yards when i felt like an olympic gold medalist to the first few moments after finishing, life was as sweet as it can get.

Then i noticed it was still raining, like it had been for the last 16 hours. Then i realised that I was cold. All i wanted was to get indoors. I wanted to thank everyone individually, but not right now, i needed a warm dry place and a change of clothes and was almost crazed. A pub did the job, and only then did the satisfaction start to seep out. About 15 mins after finishing, i managed a smile.

Now i'm back at work, and i still feel as pre-occupied as i did in the days before the round. Everyone at work is being lovely and saying well done, and laughing at my John Wayne swagger/limp. Doing normal life type things like work is helping to bring the achivement home. I described the round to someone in very exact terms without trying to big it up and even that brought looks of incredulity (which you would have to be soulless to not find even a little satisfying). It's not why i did the round, but it's nice when that happens. The pre-occupation is the reliving of the day. It's so self-indulgent to go back over the various climbs, decents, jokes, good patches, doubts, slips, slight nav errors, rest stops, meetings with other groups, comments you received on the way etc etc. It's great!

As the working day progressed, i found that the pre-occupation gave way to an increasing sense of deep-seated satisfaction. I feel now how I expected to feel straight afterwards. I am starting to feel like a very happy bunny.

I'm also a very tired bunny. I've slept for 10 hours a night solidly since the round and am still wavering a bit during the day. Encouragingly, the legs feel OK, just a twinge on the knee. I hurt less after three days now that I did after the London Marathon last year! The hideous chaffing around the, erm, groin and the dead big toenails don't smart as much as they did - I'm tired but i'm slowly recovering. I also feel somewhat run down. A couple of mouth ulcers have appeared, making eating awkward, which is an arse as all i want to do is eat. I lost 6lbs over the weekend, and i'm a skinny sod without an obvious 6lbs to lose. I'm craving junk (had pies and chips for lunch yesterday!) and water, despite not being dehydrated during the round. It's all a bit weird, but not altogether unpleasant. It's strangely satisfying knowing that you feel the way you do because you did something you consider to be amazing.

Time will tell for sure whether this achivement affects my confidence or state of mind. From a running and althletic point of view though it has already made me feel much better in myself. I always considered myself rather a skinny runt; a bit of a scrawny git. I'm probably skinnier and scrawnier now than ever but would also say i was physcally and mentally strong, not expcetional, but strong. That's a word i would have never used to describe myself as i'm unusually thin and pigeon chested, despite being tall, which does not do much for your own body image. Age (and a good looking wife!) has generally eroded that as a cause of worry, but i think the BGR has all but wiped it out completely. That's something i would not have predicted, but it's how i feel.

After just 3 days, i also feel lost. I've nothing to do, no need to dash from work to Moel Famau. I am really looking forward to getting the fell shoes back on though, although next week will see a fabulous week in Crete ease away the last of the niggles.

I'm going to make the most of this fitness and confidence though and will do Borrowdale, and this time get under four hours. Too soon? Well time will tell, but who cares - the main goal has been met and i;ve learned it pays to be ambitious. I'm even tempted to trot round the Hotfoot up Famau tomorrow, although that would be silly, wouldn't it?!

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Weds 27 June - Wet weather beckons...

Just had a look at the mwis forecast and it does not look great. But it does not look terminal either. It looks like the start will be fine, through Friday evening and (thankfully!) through the night. It seems as though it will be clear and cool which will allow for good progress.

As Saturday progresses though it will get wet. The timings are all a bit vague according to the various sources although these will become clearer as the day approaches and the forecasts become confident. It looks like there is a low coming in over Wales and the SW, with the Lakes sitting on the northern fringe of the bad weather. Sunday looks horrible.

This all means that the weather will be at its worst during the hardest part of the round, i.e. leg 4 from Wasdale and onwards.

So, what to do?!?!

Much of the advice I've received about strategy and effort centres around two key themes:

- Don't go off too quickly
- Make the most of the best conditions

It appears that these are, for this weekend at least, in direct contradiction of each other. A faster start means making hay whilst the sun (and moon) shines, but might this mean exploding towards the end, when the rain comes. Going off steadily, as I planned to, will mean I'm better set to last the course, but it'll mean hitting the rain earlier in the round.

I could also start an hour earlier to make a bit more of the finer weather? This depends upon the availability of support, both road and fell. I can;t mess so many people about, but this could be an option. Doing this means getting in touch with my supporters and warning them, which means deciding soon.

It's not so much rain that slows you down, it's lack of visibility. The GPS will help but the fact is it is harder to keep your spirits up when it's murky and wet. It is arguable that these weather conditions have reduced my chances.

But the BGR was not supposed to be easy. It's time to draw upon some facts and experiences. I ran, alone and with a rucksack, on some stretches of the BGR in far worse weather than is forecast and kept to schedule. This time, i have helpers, nothing to carry and I'll be more determined. Also, it's only rain. If you're going to test yourself in the hills, you'll get wet. You've been wet plenty of times and pushed on well. Don't worry :)

The answer to this soliloquy is to keep things simple.

I'm going to start at the appointed time. All the stress of rearranging everything will outweigh the benefit of that extra dry hour.

I am going to try and make up time on legs 1,2 and 3. Not too much, but i need to get as much 'in the bank' as i can before Wasdale without wearing myself out - quite a balancing act. I'll take shorter than planned food stops at Threlkeld and Dunmail (10 mins each if i can) and aim to pull out between 30 mins and an hour on the 23.5hr schedule before Wasdale. I'd rather not be behind schedule when the rain comes, but if i am, i'll push hard to make it up.

This means that leg 4 will feel harder and my leg 4 and 5 pacers will have to work to keep me going. For me, the crux of the whole round has always been leg 4. It's always the bit i've been a little afraid of. The fact that the rain will arrive then truly sets this up as a test of mind and body.

I can cope with this and am ready (but it wouldn't break my heart to see an improved forecast tomorrow!).

Monday, 25 June 2007

w/c 25th June - Excited, hopeful, determined, daunted

Everyone has a bit of their brain which, if I was a brain scientist, would be referred to as 'The Cheese Factory'. It's this part of my brain (operating in the opposite side of my head to the bits responsible for style, coolness, judgement and taste) that keeps playing "The Final Countdown" by 80's-soft-rock-hairfest Europe during moments of contemplation or worse, sleep. The Final Countdown, honestly.

Clearly my Cheese Factory is well developed and working well, but even at it's maximum output (when a verse sneaks in after the chorus before I stub it out) it cannot compare to what the rest of my brain is doing, which is something like, WHOOOOOOOA, or, SHIT-SHIT-SHIT-AARRRGH.

Suffice to say, I've been nervous. I've been nervous about failing. I've been nervous about the weather (73 flood alerts currently on the go. 73!). I've been nervous about letting lots of people down that have come to help me and so want me to succeed. I became more nervous when hearing that so many people have succeeded over the last few weekends (well done to you all) and I've been nervous that this is making those that know me think that it's even more of a foregone conclusion. It's not.

My hope and intention is that all this nervousness (and the Cheese Factory) will give way to confidence and determination. I'm sure it will once I'm on the hill and plugging steadily up Skiddaw.

This past week has been awful. Work has been bad, but is better now, thankfully. I've been pre-occupied and irritable and have been off the ball at work and at home. I've lurched from positive vibes to dauntedness and fear on a sixpence, with the pace of change familiar to the manically depressed. To be blunt - I've been a right pain in the arse.

On Saturday, I ventured out for my last pre BGR run - a 9 mile, 3100' ascent run on the Clywdian Hills route. This is a run that I can cruise round in about 100 mins now with no major effort, running all the climbs (bar the gully, which is so rough as to render running impractial) and not stopping once. This time, my heart was pounding and I had to take some rest. My legs felt strong, but i could not catch my breath. I felt like i was having palpatations! I'd had a very busy and stressful day at work on the Friday, very little tea in the evening and lost some sleep (Europe again). I was never going to run well that morning. I did not feel at all well.

It was an important run though. Some very strange things happened during it. I'm not big on fate or on moments of blinding realisation and self-discovery, but a couple of things happened which have meant that this week leaves me feeling really confident and excited.

Firstly, I was not going so well but instinctly knew i would be OK. That's really important. It was a reaction, not a decision. I knew I'd be alright. I realised that I'd done the training, body and mind. I came to know that if I don't get round, it's not through lack of training.

But it wasn't a totting up of feet of ascent and miles that made me realise this. Instead, I realised that all my training runs moved me onwards, even the ones that went poorly. I'd had some great days out and some rotten days out (which were still great days out, a seemingly nonsensical sentiment most fellrunners nod and smile wryly at). All these runs make you physically stronger, but some teach you something about yourself. I came to realise that I'd done enough 'hard yards' to account for a complete training schedule.

I genuinely felt bad on Saturday, ill in fact, but plugged on. This was automatic. I thought back and realised that this automation had been hard won. I backed myself without really knowing it. I'd done loads of training runs like this (in fact I'd simply done loads of training runs full stop), i.e. tough runs that didn't feel good.

The other weird thing that happened during that Saturday run was (don't laugh) that I heard a loudspeaker playing Chariots of Fire as I was resting atop the gully on Moel Famau. Seriously! There was a Race For Life going on down in the valley and the wind was carrying the noise up the hill. Fate? Naaaaah, although the Cheese Factory is trying to convince me otherwise.

There are loads of reasons for bad training days, and I now realise you need to sample them all to truly test yourself. Sometimes it's your guts (remember that run with Steve, Sarah, Nick and Pete when you felt sick for the first 90 mins after that fry-up!), sometimes the weather (that run on Leg 3 in January in 90 mph winds and horizontal rain will live with me for a while), sometimes it's illness (racing the Edale Skyline after a week of diarrhoea was not a good idea, esp in those conditions, but i did not bin it, unlike many other runners) and sometimes it's your mood and state of mind, an obstacle which is accounted for by Saturday's run. I wouldn't have ever predicted it, but my last run was the cherry on the top. I hadn't yet been out for a run when i felt like i shouldn't be there. I;ve really enjoyed the training, even wet days in the Lakes, hailstorms in Snowdonia (whilst wearing obscenely short shorts) and messy, peaty tromps across the high Pennines. I didn't enjoy Saturday, but that, in hindsight, was just what I needed.

Saturday's run capped off the most enjoyable period of training I've ever done. Between January and start of the taper 2 weeks ago I averaged about 10,000 per week. I've done one 19 hour day, one 11 hour day, three 10 hour days and probably about 15-20 tough runs of 4 to 6 hours. I've done 40 ascents of the Tattenhall railway in 5 sessions and run to the 1850' summit of Moel Famau 35 times.

There have been many shining highlights. My run at the Yorkshire 3 Peaks was just so enjoyable. it was a breakthrough run for me, well under 4 hours when I didn't dare hope I had improved that much. The Welsh 3000's was great, both times. The incomplete, wet day had it's lessons (take warm gloves - always) and the successful round was great because I had no fear and ran well to the end. I also felt that way during the Fellsman, which i thought a special event. Those latter runs are how I want to approach the BGR - that feeling of quiet confidence and enjoyment.

There have been few opaque lowlights; just two in fact. The week of illness in February was just horrible, including the Skyline when i felt out of gas with 5 miles to go. Toughed it out in the snow to get round in a shade over 4 hours (miles slower than lastyear) but cannot claim it as enjoyable. The other lowlight has been (is!) the taper. Is it too much? Have I lost fitness? The Final Countdown blaring out of the Cheese Factory. It's a crap time for you and the loved ones around you.

All this reflection has made me realise that I'm ready. The taper really does crank up the expectation. The nervousness is now subsiding into excitement. Never was a Christmas awaited with as much anticipation as this!

All that remains is for me to eat lots and drink more, get a massage (8am tomorrow!), sleep plenty, pack my things, get up there and get round. And get round I will.