It’s been described as a ‘Bob Graham Round On Drugs’. Is 78 peaks achievable? Without drugs? I believe so.
It started somewhere underneath England’s highest summit, Scafell Pike. It was June 2007 and I was aged just 19. There we were, just me and my dad; sat in the middle of a scree field -the wrong one as it turned out -cowering from the wind and rain. It was my first attempt at the Bob Graham Round (a 66-mile circuit over 42 of the Lake District’s highest summits including 27,000ft of elevation gain). The weather had defeated us. Right there, right then, it would have been really easy just to say to myself ‘good effort, Adam, let’s leave this long distance fell running lark to those that know what they’re doing.’
To be fair, rewind a couple of months and I’d not known what the Bob Graham Round was. Neither did I have much knowledge of fell or mountain running. I was only running round the route because my dad had originally offered to run with someone else on their round, only for that person to cancel because of injury. Dad was keen not to waste a weekend. I was simply wet behind the ears.
Ultra tough: Approximately 110 miles and the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest almost one-and-a-half times.
Fast forward to May 2015 and I am now less than five weeks away from attempting (on Saturday June 13) one of the biggest ultra running mountain challenges in England – The Lake District 24-Hour Record. Steeped in history and its record books littered with legendary names, it is the ultimate running test over the country’s highest peaks. The challenge is relatively simple -bag as many summits as possible within the 24-hour limit. In reality, it’s brutally difficult. In 1975, Joss Naylor managed 72 tops (100 miles / 37,00 feet). The bar was raised several times after that. Mark McDermott took the record from 72 to 76 peaks with an incredible run in 1998 before current record holder, ultra runner Mark Hartell, raised the bar, topping an incredible 77 peaks (109 miles / 39,000 feet) in 1997. To put this amount of elevation gain in perspective, that is like climbing Mount Everest almost one-and-a-half times. The traditional route roughly follows the Bob Graham Round -with the addition of all the extra miles and summits. It’s been described as a ‘Bob Graham Round On Drugs’. Is 78 peaks achievable? Without drugs? I believe so.
I first started running as a supplement to playing football. Once the final whistle had blown on my Sunday match, I would join my dad for a run in the Peak District hills. I’m a fairly restless soul, so keeping busy has always been imperative! Over the years, running in the mountains has taken me to some amazing places and provided me with memories that will last a lifetime. I have explored hidden valleys, wild moors and exposed ridges, all of which I would likely never have done had it not been for running. I find it hard to explain to work colleagues that feeling we, as runners, as adventurers, get when returning off the hill under the mid-winter moonlight. There is nothing better. It’s at those moments that I’m at my happiest.
Valuable lessons learnt from 2014 attempt at Lake District 24-Hour Record
I remember my first race, a half marathon, and my mother saying to me afterwards ‘well done… you’ll never stick at it’. I think she meant I had a habit of picking new hobbies and then tossing them aside when something else came along. But what she said that day stuck with me. Through the least scientific approach possible I spent the next years running further and higher, pushing my limits more and more. I’m now 27. In that time I’ve experienced good and bad times in the wildest of mountain ranges and met lots of inspirational people. Running really has shaped my life. Above all that it has been fun.
I actually had my first go at the Lake District 24-Hour Record last year (short video below). I got close, very close. Ultimately, however, I was not close enough. Just like Mark, I managed 77 peaks but I was outside his completion time in doing so. This time I want to bag 78 peaks in under 24 hours. I will again start and finish at Braithwaite, near Keswick. If it becomes clear on the day that 78 is not achievable, I will go for 77 and attempt to complete it quicker than Mark (Mark’s completion time was 23hrs 47mins). I will be running for 24 hours non-stop over the highest and roughest ground England has to offer. I can’t wait.
There is no margin for error. I want success but equally I am not afraid of failure.
Others, including the incredible Steve Birkinshaw, have tried to beat Mark’s record but have, like me last year, come up short. I know that this time there will be no time for standing around. I will eat on the move and rely on lots of friends to support me throughout, in terms of feeding me, helping with navigation and offering moral support. My friends all share in my passion for the mountains and adventure. I think they are as excited as me at the prospect of hurtling down Blencathra’s ‘parachute drop’, skipping down the steep rocks of Swirral Edge and finding the summit of Great Gable before darkness falls.
I know everything has to go right on the day. The weather needs to be kind, I need to hit all the routes I have meticulously trained over and I need my body to be both willing and able. There is no margin for error. I have prepared well, better than last year, and was buoyed by my win at the 61-mile Fellsman ultra a fortnight ago. I feel physically and mentally ready to give this challenge absolutely everything. I want success but equally I am not afraid of failure. I am determined to win the mental battle -and do so with a smile on my face. I also fully intend to keep my sense of humour throughout the challenge, after all I am privileged to be even able to have a crack at the record. Plus, I’ve promised too many friends a good day in the big hills now!
* On his 2014 attempt at the record Adam wore inov-8 X-TALON 212 shoes (which is now available in two fits – precision and standard, the latter being wider in the toe box). He will wear the same model of shoe again this year.
* Key criteria (taken from official Lake District 24-Hour Record webpage): In order to break the existing 24-Hour Record, a contender must either traverse the same peaks as the current record holder in a faster time, or traverse the same peaks plus at least one additional peak. For these purposes, a peak must be over 2,000ft (609m) high, be at least 0.25 of a mile away from the nearest other peak on the round and involve at least 250ft (76m) of descent/re-ascent from the nearest other peak. The round must be completed within 24 hours. It must also start and finish in the same place, which does not have to be the Moot Hall in Keswick.