Kilian and Finlay both have super fast times on this course (12:52, :59). Kilian went out super hot on the first leg and ended up cratering on leg 4 and having a eight minute sit at Grey Knotts and a three minute sit ten minutes later at Honister. Further, Finlay was able to split Leg 5 10? 12? Minutes faster than Kilian, so I knew faster there was also possible. I felt best strategy was to run Leg 1 eight minutes slower than Kilian, hold even on his splits all the way to Grey Knotts and then steal the time there, Honister, and possibly leg 5.
Original plan was to do this on the first good window past 10 September. I wanted to increase my recovery time since the Tranter (July 28) and get better on the course. I told all my support this. Last week, I ran like 24 hours, 46k gain and 105 miles. But Sunday I woke up and checked the forecast and saw how dry it was going to be. I called the government weather forecasting office and they cautioned me as to how unsettled and wet the weather looked for the rest of the month. I made the decision to go for it. I had already recruited some 30 people who were interested in pacing the Bob, but only a couple were availbile for Friday. Fortunately, some folks took pity on me and put out the word in a bunch of different athletic club group chats and we ended up getting a great crew. I would have been better off with a better taper, long run on Saturday was about 6 hours, but I think it’s so key to maximize conditions here. I think one of the most important factors is having clouds overhead/heat training. 52 degrees on the summits is obviously not hot, but when you are down low and the sun is baking you and you aren’t head acclimated cause you live in England, it’s going to be an issue. I was waiting to get an expensive spa membership so I could use the sauna, but on Sunday I sprung for it and got a 25 minute session in Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. Not sure how much of a difference it made, some studies indicate three sessions is enough to get substantial physical adaptations.
Having never run any of the legs for time, I was unsure how possible it was for me to touch Kilian’s leg 1 split during just a one leg TT (2:05-2:07 for 13 miles 5500 ft climbing). Race day my eight minute slower splits felt smooth and very easy coming out of Keswick up to the summit of Skiddaw. I kept accidentally pushing the pace and Nic kept reeling us back in. Summited Skiddaw and then dropped down to the dirt track before Great Calva. We hit the dirt track 40 seconds back on my target splits (after what I felt was a good descent) and I just freaked. We split the climb up GC 2 minutes faster than Kilian, despite the climb only being ten minutes or so. So fast we even dropped Mark Lamb, a super fast local which horrified me once I realized it. I was worried Billy and I had gone way too hot so we pulled the pace way back up to Blencathra. Leg 1 ended up being way boggier than expected, despite at least a week since the last heavy rain. I’d seen this bog dry after about five days without rain, but I think that period was dryer and hotter and enabled much better drying of the soil. Coming down Blencathra, Billy and I took some rather shit lines but it prevented me from hammering my quads too hard. I related to Billy my concern about Andy and Steve keeping up on the next leg, based on us dropping 75% of the pacers on Leg 1, and he agreed to carry on (despite not having food or water prepared for the next leg).
We picked up Andy at Threlkeld and started pushing up to Clough Head. Steve had left about ten minutes earlier and was already almost up CH. Andy found some great lines up the grass and bog low on CH and we were soon at the top. Despite that, we had split the bit from Threlkeld to CH 1:40 slower than Kilian. At this point, I had yet to match a single Kilian split and was very concerned, so I chopped Andy and Billy to skip the next two summits and went up with just Steve to Great Dodd, hoping to hammer and match the split. We ended up splitting it 3:00 faster than Kilian, similar to GC, but the pace felt controlled. From here to Wasdale (Leg 3) we really dominated and I think gained on Kilian almost every split. We continued leap frogging pacers to prevent burnout and pushed on. Lisa Bergerud met us at Sticks Pass with water and the pacers pushed ahead to get a fill up. Jon Tombs met us at Grisedale Tarn for the same. Andy pushed ahead up Fairfield and Billy and I followed. Billy I think was a bit unsure as to where the route went and thought we traversed Fairfield (to Great Rigg?) and he skirted the summit and headed down the ridge in the wrong direction. He actually asked Andy and I “Can I skirt this way?” and we looked and he actually had found a great line to the summit that avoided some rock. We led and he followed, skirting and then continuing past the summit. Eventually he was found, I think. I dropped back down to the tarn and pushed down to Dunmail with Steve. Got a quick soaking of ice water and then pushed up Steel Fell.
This was low point one of the day, but in comparison to Red Pike this was just a miniature speed bump. The climb up Steel Fell is brutal, steep, sustained, and unrelenting, and was in full sun without any wind. At the summit I felt OK, but pushing through the maze of wet bog and grass from there, over Calf, and up to Sergeant Man I began to rapidly fade. Matt was absolutely essential here, he had all these incredible lines through the bogs. His lines would prove absolutely essential on Legs 3, end of 4, and the fell bit of 5. Further, we ran out of water (this would be a theme of the day, I drastically underestimated how much water I would use). Matt pushed out Jack to find water and meet us beyond High Raise, I figured we would never see him again but he handily beat us with all bottles filled. He did this a couple of times. Thunacar and Harrison passed ok, but at Pike of Stickle things turned and we cruised easily all the way to Wasdale. I popped in some ear buds, turned up the worst music I had, and just ran directly in Matt’s footsteps and with Sam close behind. Highlight of the day, just so smooth. Zero brain activity. The sun got mercifully stuck behind the clouds and remained there until Wasdale. Paul Wilson met us with water and refilled the pacers. I had never climbed Broad Stand and was a little concerned about on sighting it, but it was easy. Chris Evans was there with a rope, but I almost could have gotten away without it. I lost almost two minutes on Kilian on this 11 minute climb, but I think I was just enjoying the scrambling and change of pace. Descent to Wasdale was relentless and pounding as expected and the pacers absolutely amazed me with their ability to scree surf. The last thing Sam told me was that I would have another low point, I agreed but just never would have fathomed the depths I would end up going to.
Matt Atkinson, Jacob Tonkin, Phil Winskill (Latter half)
Picked up Gavin at Wasdale and begin the horrific climb up Yewbarrow. We were joined by Noah and his father, which ended up being alot of fun and a great addition. The climb is like 2000 ft of 25-30% grass straight up out of the valley. A bit hot and in the sun also. We made it to the summit well enough where Doni was waiting (preforming a handstand). Despite the fact Kilian had spent three minutes in aid at Wasdale, I lost 1:30 on him to the summit of Yewbarrow. We dropped down to col before Red Pike and began what I knew was to be a horrendous climb. It was hot and just so sustained. At one point, my ears began to ring to the point I could barely hear and my vision faded between gray and black. I stopped and pissed and my urine was extremely dark. I quickly consumed a liter of water but then my pacers were dry. Noah and his dad had a liter of electrolyte mix but I was a little hesitant to consume so many electrolytes and possibly put myself in a position for hyponatremia (Googling this now I may not know how this actually works). I consumed all the electrolyte mix and then 500 mL of juice which Noah had which was unbelievably good. I am definitely going to use juice mixed with water in the future (it was like mango orange). I immediately felt better and by the time we were heading up Pillar I was back to Leg 3 feeling. At the base of Kirk Fell we met Tombs who gave us much needed water. Base of Great Gable we ran into Matt, I didn’t know he would come back out and I almost started crying. He took us up and over to Green Gable where we met Jacob Tonkin and Phil Winskill. Rolled with them over to Grey Knotts, which felt amazing to pass without stopping, gaining a free seven minutes. Likewise Honister, where we picked up three free minutes.
Leg 4 team
I think everyone, minus Noah and his dad, whose car was at Wasdale, continued onto Leg 5. Climb up Dalehead was long and I was dreading it since Red Pike, but it passed well. Jonny tried to drive me on a bit faster, but I just had nothing left. Doni was great here, giving me little pep talks and encouraging me along. Once I got to Robinson it was a relief, but I was a bit concerned about the rowdy downhill to the valley. Matt took us on some absolutely whacky lines that ended up being fantastic, stuff I had never seen in my map study. We hit the asphalt and cruised the first 3/4 of a mile or so in fell shoes and then met the support crew which helped me into my Alphafly’s. The upper doesn’t stretch at all and my socks were wet so this transition took far longer than I wanted, probably twice as long as Finlay’s (:45 vs 1:30), but so happy I did it. The shoes just made the ending so pleasant and fun and fast. Ran the road back to Keswick, trying to straight line between the sides of the road finding the shortest path. We had picked up additional runners on Robinson and again on the road, and had probably 15 people at this point. Billy Bland even joined on his bicycle. While I ran on blind corners the pacers ran ahead to slow traffic and block me, which I was very touched by. Sprinted it in to a big crowd in the city center. After I was just so physically wasted, I couldn’t stop crying. Just so much pain and mental exhaustion. I think having unlimited access to food and water and little pressure to navigate yourself, you can just push so so hard.
I’d be very curious what would happen if Kilian and I had an equal taper and both onsighted it with the same conditions. Kilian had hotter conditions than me, but the bogs were almost entirely dry. The heat is a major factor here, as nearly every second of the course is not shaded and one just bakes in the sun. Further, he had won Marathon du Mont Blanc the weekend before. He scouted the course during the week and then raced on Sunday. I had a heavy week the week before, but did have a five day taper. I probably ran the course three times before racing it and had two months of experience with the intricacies of fell racing and running the Bob specifically. I think these micro route finding and movement tactics have a big impact on one’s ability to select lines and to move efficiently. I think Kilian largely succumbed to the incredible pace he executed leg 1 at, an error that was heavily compounded by the hot conditions and led to his demise on leg 4.
An enormous thank you to everyone who helped, I’m sure I forgot some. There were also multiple people who reached out to me after the Tranter and were stoked to pace, but had other obligations on Friday and were unable to make it.
Specifically, thank you to Martin Stone. Martin probably put in a solid 50 hours at least towards this effort, between recruiting people, helping analyze historic efforts, acquiring trackers and support, and driving all over Cumbria and supporting me at every road crossing. He was absolutely essential. Whether he likes it or not, I think he’s established himself as the essential ingredient to a successful speed attempt (Aiding Bland, Jornet, Wild, and me).
PC: Steve Ashworth Media
Title credit: Sophie Sheep ‼️‼️‼️