> Bob Graham Round: David Atkinson

20th August 2000

00.00 hours Keswick Moot Hall. My pacers for the first section to Threlkeld are Bob Sewell, Adam Bleakman, Jeff Davidson and Peter Reed. Both Bob and Adam have done successful BGR's and it was Adam, my nephew, who inspired me to have a go myself after I had helped pace him on his successful round in July. Also Gordon Dixon had assured me with all my Ironman training/racing I would be strong enough to get around,even with my lack of fell running experience. The past few weekends had been spent training on the route with my pacers from the Viking Scout Unit Derby, Geoff Davis and Bob Sewell. I needed to get my legs into fell running mode as Ironman Triathlon uses totally different muscle groups, especially down hill.

I gave Valerie a kiss and off we went. It was a warm clear night. Bob lead the way, his navigation on this section is faultless. The time flew by as we hit Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra without a hitch. Bob took us through the heather on a path that he had been on many times before. This section had worried me the most but we were on Halls Fell Ridge before we knew it. The descent was slow as the rock was slippy from the light rain that had started to fall.

Peter took a tumble and hurt his knee. This would make him have to retire early in the next section on Clough Head. We arrived at Threlkeld a bit behind schedule. I am always a slow starter so this did not worry me. Valerie and Donna Utterson greeted us with tea and fresh supplies,[this would be the pattern of the day. I would look forward to seeing them so much at the end of each section]. Off we went up Clough Head. Jeff stopped at Threlkeld; the lure of a warm bed got the better of him,and Peter pulled out on the climb troubled by his knee; he must have been bad as he had successfully completed "The Marathon des Sables" earlier this year, not a bloke to shirk a challenge. I was left with Bob, my right hand man for the day. I am sure he would have carried me up the hills if I had asked him to! He ushered me on carrying the supplies and navigating. We rattled the next few summits off with ease but it was now raining quite heavy and I was worried it might be in for the day.

We saw our first people of the day on Helvellyn, two mountain bikers out for a dawn ride! We pushed on through driving rain onto the slopes of Fairfield. I was a bit low but Bob kept my spirits up with his infectious banter. We arrived at Dunmail Raise to a cheery welcome. Bob had been outstanding to get me through this spell.

A quick change and feed and off we went up Steel Fell, my pacers were Anthony Plummer, James Britain, Paul Utterson and Mike McKendry. The rain stopped as we reached the summit and the sun came out. Anthony was lead navigator the others chatted, watered and fed me. The only problem I had was crying with laughter at Paul's countless pranks.

The section went without any hitches we arrived at Broad Stand to the rope party of Tony Smedley, Penny Vale and Adam. I could'nt believe it we had a hail storm on the climb of all places, Tony got us up safely. Paul had never been on a rope before and had a few choice words to say when we climbed further up Scafell.

We decended into Wasdale just a few minutes behind schedule, but I was feeling good. Donna gave me beans, mash and quiche, real food, gorgeous! I was getting tired of PSP22 and H5 bars. Onwards we went this time Geoff Davies was navigator and Anthony as pacer. Geoff and Susan had trodden a path through the heather and bracken that morning. How could I fail with a team like this. I really enjoyed this section, the weather was perfect. I had excellent company and the scenery breathtaking. Geoff stopped me briefly and looked back down Wasdale and said “Its the finest view in lakeland”, I agreed, we smiled and pushed on to Honister. My descent off Grey Knotts was somewhat slower than Anthony's who dropped like a mountain goat to tell the team what I would require. My legs and body felt stiff. I was OK on the ups, but the descents were starting to take thier toll. I could hear shouts of encouragement from Honister - Paul singing the theme from Rocky as he had done on every summit that I'd hit when he was with me on section 3. He's mad in the heed!

Another quick feed and off we went up Dale Head. Geoff, Bob, Adam and James accompanied me for the second time today. By the time we reached the top, we were bang on for the 23:15 schedule. We were all in good spirits, but I began to feel a bit tired going up the last fell – Robinson. Darkness had set in and our head torches were on as we hit summit 42. I kissed the cairn and then focused on the descent. We were on schedule but this descent proved to be my second low point of the day. It was a clear night with stars lighting up the sky and shooting stars falling all around me, but I was oblivious to all this. I felt as stiff as a board as my pacers nursed me down Robinson for what seemed like an eternity. My head torch gave out and without any fuss Geoff gave me his leaving himself the prospect of descending without any light. I was annoyed with myself for loosing so much time. Penny and Anthony had walked up the valley to greet us.

I wasn't going to let my fantastic team down by not going under 24 hours. 55 minutes to do it from Newlands car park. A quick change into road shoes and shorts, I set off determined to get to Keswick in good time. As soon as my feet hit the tarmac, I knew I would do it.

I love this feeling when the body responds at the end of a long event. Its almost spiritual when the body and mind work together in such a way. Adam, Bob James and Geoff, Paul and Jeff, all ran the road section with me. We hammered on to Portinscale, then backed off the pace so we could enjoy the run in. It was great to have Adam along beside me as I had run in with him only a few weeks earlier. The team was as happy as I was and as we hit Keswick high street, Bob encouraged me to go to the front.

My back up team were waiting at the finish, cameras at the ready. I touched the doors of the Moot Hall at 23:39. We had done it! Valerie greeted me with a hug and a kiss. Congratulations were shared all around. We were all ready for a good nights sleep – it had been a long day.

We went back to our base at Bassenthwaite campsite, where I fall asleep with a grin the size of a cheshire cat.

To be a member of the Bob Graham 24 hr Club is a huge honour. To all my helpers on the day I would just like to say “Thank You”. I couldn't have done it without you. The memories on the fells and at the road stops will remain in my head forever. I can only repay the time and effort given by you all by helping others in thier attempts in the future.

In this day of mass commercialisation in sport all I can say is long live the Bob Graham Round where people help one another for no other reason than our love of the outdoor lifestyle and companionship. What could be better than spending 23hrs 39mins with my sort of people in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

My team: Valerie Atkinson, Adam Bleakman, Bob Sewell, Geoff and Susan Davies, Paul and Donna Utterson, Jeff Davidson, Anthony Plummer, James Britain, Penny Vale, Tony Smedley, Peter Reed, Mike and Andrea McKendry, and last but not least my training partner – Nell our Border Collie.

The BGR has a lot to answer for, at that time I considered myself a Triathlete but the round introduced me to a new world of fell races, Mountain Marathons and other adventures in the hills. I now consider myself a “fell runner” and would say to anyone who is thinking of having a go, do it! If I could do it on limited hill work anyone can. As Billy Bland once said “it's nowt more than a lang walk”

David Atkinson

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