12 tips for Kílian Jornet for his Bob Graham Round attempt.
Some of you may have heard of Kílian Jornet. He’s the guy who ran up Everest twice earlier this year and he also came 2nd at the iconic Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. Not content with that, he's planning to try to become the fastest person to run the infamous Bob Graham Round to finish off his season!
The Bob Graham is one of the iconic British endurance challenges. London Marathon co-founder Chris Brasher described anyone who completes it as being part of ‘the most exclusive club in the world’.
A sub 20 hour Bob Graham Round was my main sporting target for this year. I got around in 18 hours and 34 minutes back in June and it was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying challenges I’ve ever done.
What follows aren't really tips for Kílian - he seems to know what he’s doing already. The aim of this article is to help you decide whether to have a go yourself and to help give you the best chance of getting around...
General fitness is not your limiting factor.
If you’re reading this then you’re probably already fit enough to do the Bob Graham Round. On paper, it shouldn’t be too tricky, you just need to keep moving pretty slowly (3mph or so) in the right direction and get your hydration, nutrition, kit and support right. Oh and get lucky with the weather.
Most people fail because they don’t get these other bits right. The BG is a unique event, so you need to get specific in your preparation. So remember the 7Ps - Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
The Bob Graham Round is not an individual event
The tradition and ethics of this challenge are well summarised here. As you’ll see, you need someone with you at each of the 42 peaks and you'll need road support too. So it’s time to get your ‘BG crew’ together!
I called upon 3 Lewes-based running mates Lewis Sida, Rick Curtis and Colin Bennett to cover off the legs and my dad and his mate as the road support. I then had some incredibly well-timed additional support - in the form of a can of coke and a bacon sandwich - from Nick Dale, a friend of a friend who I’d never even met before, on the hardest section of Leg 3 and some awesome belaying from Julie McColough on Broad Stand. Huge thanks to them all for their legendary support.
Learn to navigate in the hills
The first thing to do is get the Harvey's Map - it's awesome. 1:40,000 scale takes a bit of getting used to but it's worth it if you want to do any Mountain Marathons as most use that scale.
You need to be able to navigate for the BG. So, if you can’t then get along to your local orienteering club and learn.
I had my map tucked into my shorts and had marked up all the target leg times and some key bearings.
Get to know the route
As best as you can at least, it's tricky if, like me, you live miles away. Ideally you’d recce the whole route with the runners who are supporting you, but I couldn’t.
Lewis and I did Legs 3 and 4 together and then he recced most of Legs 1 and 2 separately without me and then supported me on both those legs. Rick had never even been to the Lakes before but did a sterling job on Leg 3, Colin knew Leg 4 quite well and then Leg 5 was unrecced.
Prepare for the terrain
There's a fair bit of climbing and descending (c. 26,000 ft) and it's also pretty rocky on Legs 3 and 4, so you need to prepare for this.
This sounds obvious, but for most people this calls for a major shift in emphasis in your training from miles (on the road) to vertical ascent and descent (on rough ground).
The equivalent of 50 miles/week as a base marathon volume is probably 10,000 ft of climbing. I think I managed this most weeks and peaked at 22,000 ft a few weeks out.
The descending on rough ground is key too. If you mostly run on the road you’re going to need to really work on this. Each of the 5 Legs has a pretty different feel to it but it's Legs 3 and 4 that are the crucial legs and these are the ones to check out first…
If the weather forecast is bad, don’t go
That's unless you're uber-confident that you can get round within 24 hours or you're a really good navigator and don’t care about your precise time (as wind and low cloud will add at least an hour or two...).
For a bad weather Round check out this from Ricky Lightfoot. I went with 15 mph winds as the key 'no-go' metric. Given how tricky it is to get a support team together, I’d suggest that you have a target date and at least one alternative. This may mean you need a bigger pool of supporters to call upon. We got super lucky and saw good weather on the target weekend.
Go as close to Midsummer as possible
Kílian seems to be ignoring this one! There have been some really quick times e.g. Jasmin Paris’s 15:24 in the Spring, but these have been with great local support on the navigation. Jasmin beasted me on the tougher ground on Legs 3 and 4.
If you haven’t got this local support then it helps to be able to see where you’re going.
I started at 4am on Sat 17th June and therefore didn’t need a head torch at all…
Get your kit right
Given the ascent and descent, I’d strongly recommend getting some sticks and then getting used to using them. I went for Black Diamond Z-poles - they rule. Effective use of sticks takes c.10% off the legs and that makes a big difference over 20 hours or so.
Ideally your support runners carry all your kit, but that wasn’t possible for us so I used an Inov-8 Race Elite Vest, which I also rate really highly.
I ran in Inov-8 212s for Legs 1 and 2, a really battered pair of Inov-8 Roclite 285s for 3 and 4 (I wish they still made them) and then the 212s for the mountain half of Leg 5 and my Saucony Kinvaras for the road section.
I used my Garmin Fenix3 and had Leg time, Time of Day, Pace and HR on the main field and Elevation, Lap Distance, Heading and Compass Heading (all good for navigation) as my second field. To ensure the battery lasted, I had it on UltraTrac mostly but switched across to GPS as needed. (And, yes, that 5.05 pace on Strava was accurate, we were flying down the road).
Get your hydration and nutrition strategies nailed
I preloaded with PH 1000 and also drank that the whole way around, using pre-filled bottles at the road crossings and topping up from some streams along the way. I also carried SweatSalt capsules as a backup, but didn’t need them in the end.
Flat Coke ruled later on and I had a coffee at the 3 to 4 and 4 to 5 road crossings. I went for no caffeine in the build up and first two legs but I should have had some at the start of Leg 3 - one of the few mistakes I made on the day.
Nutrition is pretty personal but I aimed to get c. 80g of carb down per hour (I’m about 80kgs), mostly through bars when moving and some ‘proper’ food at the stops. I carried gels too but saw them more as emergency rations rather than for base fuelling.
Get someone to belay Broad Stand
Or go around via Foxes Tarn. There's quite a bit of exposed scrambling on the Round but you’re unlikely to die, unless you fall from Broad Stand. It's the quickest route between Scafell Pike and Scafell and, once you know where the holds are, the short rock climbing crux is quite easy. But you’re pretty tired by this point. We checked it out on our recce and probably could have made it up unroped, but decided not to risk it and then went around Foxes Tarn. If you do just go for Foxes Tarn it’s probably no more than 10 minutes slower...
Don’t just take my word for it, watch this. There are some other useful home-truths in there too…
Find a good place to stay
The YHA in Keswick is a great place to stay the night before and that’s where Kilian stays so if you’re quick you may be able to join him...
Mike Ellicock lives in Lewes with his very understanding wife and 3 daughters. He was involved in PH at the very beginning but now runs a charity, National Numeracy. He used to be a GB oarsman and holds the Guinness World Record for a Marathon when carrying 20lbs (2:56). He ran 2h31 at Berlin last year and has came in the top 10 in the OMM Elite class. He's planning a BG Double attempt in midsummer 2019! If you're serious about an attempt, we can put you in touch...