My 4 year journey to the Bob Graham Round

Toby with a beer

Blog written by Toby Staines
Toby takes over our blog to talk about his journey to the sub 24 hour Bob Graham Round

The Bob Graham Round is a fell running challenge in the Lake District. It is a 66 mile loop of the highest peaks in England with 27500ft of elevation to be completed in under 24 hours in order to gain membership of the Bob Graham Club. This is an account of my second attempt to join this club. My first attempt ended in failure at Wasdale in June 2021.

Shortly before 9pm on Friday 26th May 2023 I left my hotel a short walk from the Moot Hall in Keswick where my round was due to start. I met Tim my pacer and some of the rest of my support team. All of a sudden it was 1 minute to go so it was time to touch the door of the Moot Hall and then I was off. All the stress, worry, training and planning for the last 2 years instantly stopped spinning round my head and all I had to do was run for the 24 hours. As we left Keswick the late evening sun was warm and the sky was clear. Over the next hour it became clear that the tracker I was carrying wasn’t working. A problem I could do little about on the side of Skiddaw. Back down in Keswick thought the team were on it and the issue was resolved. An hour 19 after leaving the Moot Hall we summitted Skiddaw. Peak number 1 ticked off. The next 2 tops (Great Calver & Blencathra) came and went fairly quickly and before I knew it we were heading down to Threlkeld and the first checkpoint. I arrived just a few minutes behind schedule but a well organised team got me feed, socks and top changed and out again with a new pacer, Lee in a mega quick time and leaving Threlkeld just 1 minute behind schedule.

Leg 2 is one of my favourite places to run and leaving Threlkeld heading to Clough Head I had no reason to think tonight would be anything other. But tonight it just seemed different, harder than normal and I was labouring and only 4.5 hours in to my attempt. The peaks kept coming Clough Head and the Dodds although it seemed slow. Then Raise and Whiteside and still feeling not great. Next came Lower Man and then Helvellyn. As we approached the summit of Helvellyn I noticed the sun was up and that almost immediately made me feel better. My enjoyment in this leg returned and it was a pleasure to be out on the most spectacular ridge with one of my best friends. The last four summits on this leg came and went and before I could think we were descending to Dunmail Raise and the next checkpoint. Another super fast change and 2 new pacers in Nicky and Grant, and off again up Steel Fell. Small cracks had started to appear, I couldn’t eat anything to solid now which I planed for but not quite so early in my attempt. But it’s early in the day, around 6.30 the sun’s shining and it feels like we are the only 3 people on the fells and they are just for us. Once we got to the top of Steel Fell we made good progress across the top’s ticking off Calf Crag, Sergeant Man, High Raise, Thunacar Knott, Harrison Stickle, Pike of Stickle and Rossett Pike in quick succession. From here the real climbing begins, up onto Bow Fell and then Esk Pike and then the high plateau. This next section is the most technically challenging section of the whole round and I needed a talking to from Nicky. His words come from a knowing place as he was the only member of my team to have completed the round, so he knew how I was feeling and what I needed to know/ hear. First came Great End, Ill Crag, Broard Crag and Scafell Pike. All these tops are covered in boulders and extremely hard work. Then to the last peak on this leg Scafell. This involves a scramble up Lords Rake and the Westwall traverse then the long descent into Wasdale. I was so pleased to get here and see my support crew. Many of them had been with me 2 years ago when I called it a day at this point and were really excited to see I was still in good shape and most importantly not green. Another quick change of shoes, clothes and pacers and I was off back into the hills.

Leg 4 was paced and navigated by Katie and support by Paul. The first climb up Yewbarrow is brutally steep and by now it’s the middle of the day and very warm. This climb took almost an hour and was the first point I experienced Katie’s tough love. The next few peaks are a bit of a blur I was dragged round by Katie and being forced to eat by Paul. These tops were Red Pike, Steeple, Pillar and Kirk Fell. From this point it was up Great Gable which felt really slow and extremely hard. At this point as I was struggling Katie started reading messages of support from my coach and other athletes that she looks after. This was a massive lift and the belief that I could actually get round slowly started to return. We were 18 minutes down on schedule but hadn’t lost any time on Great Gable and that was the last technical summit done. The last 3 summits on this leg came fairly quickly after Great Gable and that was Green Gable, Brandreth and Grey Knotts all ticked off. We headed down into Honister where I didn’t stop and by doing that got back 15 minutes making me just 2 minutes down on 23 schedule. Paul left me and Katie at Honister and I picked up Liam. For the last 3 peaks. With just Dale Head, Hindscarth and Robinson left to do we made good time to the top of Dale Head and then Hindscarth. The climb from Hindscarth to Robinson is steep and felt very long although it’s only about 600 metres in length. At the summit we stopped for a picture and for the first time I started to think that I am going to do this and for a moment was quite emotional. Katie and her tough love reminded me that we still had a way to go and needed to get a move on. That snapped me back to reality and we started the final descent to Little Town. From here it was a 7k road run back to Keswick. We we’re met in Little town by most of the support crew and Katie’s uncle Pete (an existing member of the Bob Graham Club). Katie left me here. Lee and Liam ran with me back to Keswick where 23 hours and 26 minutes after leaving I returned to the Moot Hall to many people cheering and lots of applause, knowing that I’d finally finished something that has taken 4 years to complete with a lot of hard work and sacrifice from everyone involved not just me. From this point on the evening becomes a bit of a blur and an emotional roller coaster ride.

I just need to finish my Bob Graham Round report with a few thank yous. Firstly to Royston Runners for your support and messages of luck from afar. My whole support team on and off the hills. You were all amazing thank you for your unwavering belief in me especially those of you who were with me for my first attempt, you must have been questioning if I could actually do it. Nicky his wife Kate and their kids, they came and joined a group of people that they had never met all to support me. Michelle Maxwell at Maxwell Coaching, I’m sure I haven’t been the easiest person to coach but I couldn’t have done this without you and your support. Finally my wife Vyckie. She has put up with me banging on about this for 4 years. Family holidays have centered around me training/ reccing for this, she deserves a medal.

Toby with a beer