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