UPDATE 1pm Sunday May 28: Tom’s Double Bob Graham Round dream came to an end after 29+ hours of running. Exhausted and unwell, he called it a day at Threlkeld with 45 summits bagged and still another 39 remaining. He completed the first of what he had hoped would be two Bob Grahams, covering the iconic 42 peaks and 66 miles (in an anti-clockwise direction) in a time of 22hrs 19mins. Tom, as planned, then turned around at Moot Hall, Keswick (the start and finish of Bob Graham attempts), and began a second round, this time in a clockwise direction. He managed three summits (Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra) before pulling the plug on his attempt at the roadside support station in Threlkeld. Tom forced down some food and slept for an hour at Threlkeld but upon waking up decided he was in no fit state to continue.
Tom had started his attempt strongly but suffered in the Saturday morning heat and humidity. This took its toll on Saturday afternoon when he fell unwell with heatstroke. Struggling to eat and feeling devoid of energy, he determinedly pushed on but his pace continued to slow. During the evening and through the night conditions changed again with cold winds and zero visibility in low-lying cloud making it difficult for Tom and his pacers.
Reflecting on his attempt, Tom said it had proven much tougher than he’d anticipated and that the virus he’d suffered in the week prior had not helped. His support team were understandably disappointed for Tom but many said he is the type of runner who will likely be back to give the Double Bob Graham Round another shot.
Ultra runner Tom Hollins, who won the 2017 Spine Race, is set to tackle the 132-mile Double Bob Graham Round (Lake District, UK), for which Nicky Spinks holds the record time. Nicky became only the second person – and first woman – to complete the epic challenge in under 48 hours when clocking a time of 45hrs 30mins in May 2016. Her story was told in the award-winning film Run Forever. Now 43-year-old Tom is hoping to become the third inductee to one of the most exclusive ultra running clubs in the world. Tom has written the following blog post, looking ahead to his Double Bob Graham Round attempt (which starts 7am on Saturday May 27).
My journey to a Double Bob Graham Round attempt
Prior to becoming a father I’d never really considered off-road running. Every time I laced up a pair of trainers it was to run on a treadmill at the gym or to hit the road for a couple of kilometres. Neither was in any way inspiring.
While raising kids there wasn’t sufficient time to go hillwalking for long distances so instead I started running up the hills above my hometown of Ilkley (Yorkshire, UK) in order to enjoy the views. I never considered myself a ‘fell runner’ – to me they were insane people who were also insanely fit. It wasn’t till I tried running the 23-mile Yorkshire 3 Peaks as part of a charity walk, and then checked my time against the 3 Peaks Fell Race competitors, that I realised my time would have put me halfway up the field.
After that I tried running a couple of fell races, but I had never considered ultra running until a kind patient (I’m an anesthetist) bought me a copy of the book Feet In The Clouds. The story of the Bob Graham Round (an iconic 66-mile circuit over 42 of England’s highest summits including 27,000ft of elevation gain to be completed in less than 24 hours) really caught my imagination. It just seemed such an amazing thing to do and something at the extremes of what I thought possible.
I was immediately hooked and planned an attempt on this coveted Lake District round. It was brutal but I managed it, clocking a time of 22hrs 30mins for a round completed in a clockwise direction (summiting Skiddaw first). I then tried a few more ultra distance races and really enjoyed them. The thing I loved about fell running – being absorbed into your environment and being at one with it – seemed to apply even more the further I ran.
In December 2014, I then completed a midwinter Bob Graham Round in 23hrs 52mins. It was one of the best running experiences of my life. I’d tried to do it on the midwinter day (the day with the shortest period of daylight in the year) in 2012 and 2013 but on the first occasion deep, soft snow made for slow progress and failure, while the second time 100mph winds made it a non-starter.
The day I made it round we battled winds of 70-80mph on the summits, linking arms with my pacers to avoid being blown off and detouring into sheltered areas where possible. It snowed a bucket load, but it never got higher than mid-calf height. It was both amazing and beautiful, and the buzz of getting to Moot Hall just within the time cut-off was incredible. It was all the sweeter because it has taken me three years to achieve.
This year, as much to my surprise as anyone else’s, I came first at The Spine Race (a 268-mile event dubbed ‘Britain’s most brutal race’ which sees runners tackle the entire Pennine Way trail in the depths of winter). I’d previously achieved a couple of wins, but nothing as prestigious as The Spine Race. I’d also never run that far before and had no real expectations of myself, other than to reach the finish line (in a time of 99hrs 25 mins).
In the weeks that followed The Spine Race I began to wonder what else I could achieve when running over extreme distances. I’d noticed Nicky Spinks’ completion of a Double Bob Graham Round (132 miles with around 54,000ft of ascent, twice visiting each of the 42 Bob Graham Round summits, and to be run in less than 48 hours) and thought about whether I could achieve the same.
I knew then – as I still do now – that the next challenge or race I undertook would bring a lot more scrutiny and pressure following what happened on The Spine Race. With that in mind, a Double Bob Graham Round seemed the perfect way to test myself next. No pressure – except what I put on myself – and a chance to enjoy the things I love most about ultra running, namely beautiful scenery and the company of friends who will be my pacers/support team.
To my mind, with good weather, good navigation and no injuries, sub-48 hours should be achievable and beating Nicky’s record time (45hrs 30mins) is possible but that’s a lot of ifs. I don’t want to pressure myself to try and beat Nicky’s record; instead I want to run it the way I want to run it.
A different approach to a Double Bob Graham Round attempt
Reading about Nicky’s successful attempt I can see the advantages of running two loops as she did (Keswick-via-Skiddaw-Yewbarrow and back to Keswick, followed by Keswick-via-Robinson-Yewbarrow and back to Keswick again). For me, I really want to run two full rounds (Keswick to Keswick in one direction followed by Keswick to Keswick in the other direction). This brings additional logistics but it’s definitely how I want to make my attempt.
I will make a morning start in order to give myself – providing I feel good on the day – the chance of running continuously without sleep. I find actually getting to sleep during a race really hard to do, until you are completely exhausted that is! That tends not to happen to me until about 36 hours in. I’m hoping I will be getting close enough to the finish then that I won’t want to stop.
My initial plan was to run two clockwise rounds one after another. That’s the route I already know and I didn’t think I would have time to reccie anything else. However, I soon worked out that in order to get off the most technical underfoot terrain in daylight I would have to start so early in the morning that I wouldn’t sleep well the night before. I thought long and hard about it and have now settled on starting off with an anticlockwise round (summiting Robinson first) as, with a 7am kick-off, this should give me time to get off the most technical ground before darkness falls. Once back at Moot Hall, Keswick, I’ll turn around and do the round again but in a clockwise direction.
None of my running friends have done an anticlockwise Bob Graham Round, which meant that, with a bit of advice sought elsewhere, I began to reccie it on my own. I was hesitant at first but it turned out to be a real blast, plus I’ve made some new friends! Some of the lines and routes I’ve discovered have really refreshed my love of the round. I’ve also realised how much psychologically fresher I will be if I do two different rounds – one anticlockwise and one clockwise. I’ve found myself getting much more excited about the whole project, knowing this is a great way to break up the challenge. Even if I fail the Double, I’ll likely still get in my anticlockwise round – something I’ve never done before and which would be a great achievement in itself.
I know from past races that I’m at my best when I start slow and push on later. Keeping that in mind, I’ll attempt to run sub-24 hours for the first round but make sure I arrive at Moot Hall still feeling fresh for the second loop.
When I previously did my clockwise Bob Graham Round my nemesis was the difficult and potentially dangerous route between Scafell Pike (England’s highest peak) and Scafell (the second highest). It stems back to the first ultra I ever did, the 10Peaks long course, which had gone that same way. I’d been running with a great guy in his 60s who insisted he wanted to go up Broad Stand (a large rock face on Scafell) as he’d been up that way with his dog before. He tried to convince me to follow him but I didn’t fancy it. I’d never been there before and the race organisers had specified it out of bounds.
He went his way, I went mine, and I expected to see him later in the race. When I didn’t I assumed he’d stopped for a rest. It wasn’t until later in the race that I found out he’d fallen from Broad Stand, breaking his back, pelvis and legs. That put me off ever attempting Broad Stand. I’m not much of a climber and it’s taken me at least four reccies on one of the alternative routes (West Wall Traverse) to feel confident enough to use it both ways on the Double Bob Graham Round. I could have got a friend to hang a rope down over Broad Stand and help me up, but that’s not what I want to do.
It’s now a few days before the big weekend. Typically, after peaking my training a few weeks ago, I ran myself down sufficiently enough that I got ill (head and chest cold). That meant a pretty abrupt stop to my running rather than a taper, but I don’t mind. It’s always better to be rested rather than over-trained. I’m praying for good weather but whatever the sky holds I’m looking forward to getting started.
The Double Bob Graham Round in numbers
* 42 Lake District summits, each to be summited twice.
* A total distance of around 132 miles and elevation gain of approximately 54,000ft (almost twice the height of Mt Everest from sea level).
* 2 directions: Starting and finishing in Keswick, Tom will attempt to run an anticlockwise round, turn around in Keswick and do it all again in a clockwise direction.
* Only 2 known runners have gone under 48 hours – Nicky Spinks (45hrs 30mins in 2016) and Roger Baumeister (46hrs 34mins in 1979).
Follow Tom’s Double Bob Graham attempt live and check out his kit
* Tom is set to start his Double Bob Graham Round in our X-TALON 200 shoes. He may stick with these throughout or swap into MUDCLAW shoes. Both have aggressive outsoles with deep cleats that will deliver the best possible grip in soft and muddy conditions, as well as hold firm on all rock and dry ground. He’ll also wear the socks, shorts, tees and jackets from our award-winning apparel range.
* The two photos of Tom in this blog post have been used with the kind permission of Bruce Rollinson/Yorkshire Post.