> Bob Graham Round: Steve Birkinshaw

21st May 2005

I had first attempted the round over 10 years earlier but I gave up with a sore knee just over half way round. This time I was attempting to do it in the other direction (anticlockwise) with a fast time of 18 hours. I was setting off with Morgan Donnelly but with enough supporters so we could split up. I was keen on doing it anti clockwise as I wanted to get the road section and then the rocky section over as soon as possible.

The weather forecast all week had not looked great but with all our supporters assembled we decided to go for it. As we drove to Keswick for a 6am start the heavens opened and we wondered whether it was all a good idea. But we could not back out then, so off we set for a leisurely 5 miles run down the road to the Newlands valley with our first pacer John Deegan. The first 3 hills flew by and we reached Honister pass 10 minutes up on schedule to find our superb support crew of John and Joel Bargett. The weather was getting even worse and we were joined by Nic Davies and Dave Armstrong both looking very cold. The next few summits went well but as we were coming off Great Gable I was going at my own speed down the wet greasy rocks, and about half way down I looked back and the others had vanished. I waited a short while but was getting cold but there was still no sign. I did not really know what to do as there are a variety of different routes down and they could easily have passed me without me seeing. I knew this section really well and the others were expecting to follow me but I knew they had a map and Nic Davies knew the route a bit. So I carried on slowly down to the col and up Kirk Fell. There was still no sign of the others by the time I had reached Kirk Fell and by then I had decided to carry on and probably finish the section to Wasdale by myself. This meant no food or drink for 2 hours. By the time I reached Red Pike I was no longer thinking clearly and I did not think of asking some Bob Graham round people going the other way (who I knew) for some food. I reached Wasdale 25 minutes up on schedule feeling a bit wobbly. Tim Wylie joined me on the next section and my wife Emma fed me as we started the long drag up to Scafell. Emma went back down after 20 minutes and I started struggling up the second half of this climb but the weather had suddenly cleared and it stayed almost perfect from then on. Emma's dad had put a rope down Broad Stand for us to take the shortest route to Scafell Pike. We found the rope but missed Emma's dad. It was great to see lots of familiar faces doing the Old Counties Top race on the next section. There were also lots of people who had come up to see us around the Langdale pikes and the section to Dunmail seemed to fly by.

I was dreading the next section with 3 big climbs before you reach the main Helvellyn ridge. Sure enough I really struggled up Seat Sandal but with the encouragement of Brendan Bolland and Steve Walker on this leg I made reasonable progress. Up Fairfield and then Dollywagon Pike the trekking poles seemed to help climbing on the nice stony tracks. Then it was mainly downhill with the light wind behind all the way to Threlkeld. I felt really good and was running strongly especially downhill. However, I knew there were 3 big climbs to come and I was worried about them. After a bit of a rest in Threlkeld the first climb up Blencathra did not seem too bad and I had a nice chat with my pacer Charlie Stead up this section. I enjoyed the long run down but struggled up Great Calva. It was the last climb up Skiddaw where I completely blew out. It was one of those times when however hard you try you cannot seen to make any progress up the hill. But with the weather turning horrible and it becoming dark I carried on. I knew it was all downhill from the summit of Skiddaw and I would be there soon and I might make it back to Keswick in time for last orders. Eventually we reached the summit cairn and we had a cold run down into Keswick to finish at the Moot Hall in 17 hours 9 minutes. I had missed last orders but all I could do was manage one small sip of the bottle given to me. Morgan finished just 15 minutes behind having been catching me up ever since Wasdale.

[Thanks must go to all the pacers who helped me and those not mentioned who helped Morgan (Lewis Grundy, James Dickinson, Neil Cassidy, Bob1, Bob2 and Geoff Davis). Most thanks of all must go to our families both on the day and for giving us the time off to do the all important training. We changed our shoes and socks regularly and we had these provided by Inov-8.]

Steve Birkinshaw

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