Born with congenital heart defects, Adam Briggs has undergone more than 60 surgeries, including a heart transplant. Despite this, the 34-year-old has never been afraid to chase his ultra running dream. For several years now his goal has been to complete the iconic Bob Graham Round in the Lake District – a 66-mile circuit over England’s highest peaks that includes around 27,000ft of gruelling ascent. This weekend (May 12-13) he will attempt to turn that dream into a reality.
Adam says: “The Bob Graham Round is a huge challenge for people without physical disabilities, let alone a heart transplant recipient. My main problem is speed; I’m not quick, nor am I built to be quick. The transplanted heart doesn’t react the same as a person’s own heart, owing to the nerves from the brain not being connected, so it doesn’t know to speed up when I’m slogging up a big hill or trying to run fast. In that respect I’m even slower going uphill, as once again it can’t be told to pump harder and my legs feel like lead weights full of lactic acid. Downhill I’m good. Brain off, fall forwards and let gravity do its job!
‘I reckon I can go sub-30 hours… The pure aim is to finish’
“Then there’s my stomach. It’s held together on long training runs so far, but it does have a mind of its own, especially with a little stress thrown in. Thirdly, there’s pressure, which I put myself under plenty of.
“Because of all this I’m foregoing the 24-hour limit which a runner needs to go under to be officially recognised as a Bob Graham Round finisher. I reckon I can go sub-30 hours, and that’s good enough for me. If you disagree and don’t agree that it counts as a finish then keep your thoughts to yourself, or undergo a heart transplant and then try a sub-24 attempt. The pure aim is to finish. My long runs (around 20 miles in length with 7,500ft/8,000ft of ascent) have been coming in at 22-hour Bob Graham Round pace, but they haven’t been as frequent as I would have liked.
“I had a rough start to 2017, missing 6 weeks with a heavy chest and the worst cough I can remember having. Despite that, I’ve still managed to pump around 400,000ft of vertical into my training throughout 2016 and from the second half of February until now. I also struggled a couple of months last year, barely hitting 10k due to illness and general fatigue. And now I’m finding myself out of mojo for the big days out.
“Make no mistake about how tough the training has been though – I have not taken it lightly. I’ve been out on legs that hate me, I’ve been damn near hypothermic running in absolutely horrendous conditions. I’ve also been out on glorious days where I’ve not needed even needed a T-shirt, drank from mountain streams and stared in disbelief at the views before me. But its hard work, even on the good days. My body doesn’t heal or recover like a normal person, and that’s tough to deal with sometimes.
‘It’s a stupid question, but one that constantly goes through my mind’
“Probably the hardest part though, is the constant question that goes through my mind: ‘With all my training, imagine how fast I might be if I was normal?’ I know it’s a stupid question because we’ll never know, but it’s infuriating putting in all this hard work and still being the slowest in the group, when I might have been the fastest! Is what I’ve done enough? Most would probably say yes. I would say, ‘I don’t feel like it’s enough.’ But finishing is the goal. I’ve dreamt about finishing, even dreamt a time of 22:49, but thats doubtful! The funds I can raise for the Childrens Heart Unit Fund are the goal too (you can donate on my JustGiving page). If I finish I will be ecstatic and probably an absolute emotional wreck, but I can’t promise that I’ll finish. I can promise that I’ll go out and give 110% of myself.”
* Related link: Nicky Spinks and the film Run Forever, following the inspirational cancer survivor’s successful attempt of a Double Bob Graham Round in 2016.