Myth: Billy Bland’s 13-53 Bob Graham Record will never be beaten.
Fact: Kilian Jornet took 1 hr 1 min of it on Sunday on a boiling hot day.
Monday’s Guardian reported the news under the misleading headline above (it is NOT a race), and included this marvellous picture of Carl Bell leading Jornet down what looks like Blencathra’s Halls Fell ridge on leg 1.
I am still getting over the intensity of the occasion, even though I wasn’t there. I spent a great deal of the day (Sun 8 Jul 2018) watching different social media feeds for updates on Jornet’s progress. Judging by this (admittedly filtered view), it was interesting to observe how the mood of the day seem to swing from a certain amount of ‘he won’t do it’ (and even ‘I hope he doesn’t do it’) to one of amazement at the predicted time as the day went on, and the sense of ‘history being made’ as Jornet ran through a Tour de France-like throng to touch the door at the Moot Hall.
The setup: It all started with Kilian Jornet posting a picture of himself ‘on Dale Head’ on Friday, with the rumour-mill taking over from there. [The best posting I saw was ‘what is Kilian Jornet doing in the Lake District?’, to which the very first reply was ‘visiting the Pencil Museum’]
The rumour strengthened and then he was ‘definately doing it’ according to some, with Sunday morning a favoured start time.
The day: So it turned out. Someone in the know confirmed that he had set out at 6am from the Moot Hall, and there was a video clip showing Keswick AC’s Carl Bell as main pacer. They were making great time over the Skiddaw-Blencathra section and arrived at Threlkeld a few minutes up on Billy Bland’s schedule already.
I had reason to contact Billy Bland about another matter, and his wife Ann replied that he had cycled over to Dunmail to ‘see him come flying through’. By now a confirmed pacing list had leaked out through the ether, and it was clear that he had got absolutely top runners supporting him. Jornet gained more time over the Helvellyn range, and there was a photo (courtesy of Danny Richardson) of Billy shaking Jornet’s hand as he started off up Steel Fell – a fine gesture from Billy.
The finish: It is not for me to decribe the round as it unfolded. There are reports out there, and will be more (particularly from Salomon). Search on Google and take your pick. What was amazing was the build-up to the finish. Live video streams were promised. One of the best was grainy phonecam video shot by Matt (?) of CFR of the run-in from Portinscale.
The crowds around the Moot Hall were amazing, and parted like a Tour/Giro mountainside crowd as Carl Bell led Jornet up to the finish (photo from Salomon). A pacer reckoned him at about 7min/miling on the road section. I do wish I been there to see it.
Billy Bland was there atop the steps to meet him, and he sat down with him for this iconic photo of the previous and new record holders (photo Charlotte Mellor). On a video from Wild Ginger Films Billy seems to reach behind himself and produce a bottle of champagne to give Kilian, another fine gesture. I’d love to have heard their first words together. (Photo below Trail Running Magazine)
What was most impressive was that Kilian went off for a shower and shortly came back to talk with people who had come to watch him take on the BG challenge. For 40 mins or so he talked with individuals, signed autographs and patiently sat for photographs (on the bottom step of the Moot Hall).
Background: as the day unfolded, and in subsequent reports, a picture emerged of how Jornet had gone about planning to take the BGR on. He decided to do it only on the Monday beforehand, having recovered well from his recent broken leg, having tested it in winning the Marathon du Mont-Blanc. Being fit, not too tired from other events (due to the layoff), and knowing the conditions were ideal seemed to seal it. Martin Stone was helping coordinate pacers, but was having trouble getting sufficient high quality ones. But Rob Jebb was apparently planning a round himself on the Saturday, but bailed as he thought it to be too hot. He offered several of his pacers to Jornet which completed his team.
The man: Jornet seems to be very aware of the tradition of the BGR and is big on the history of mountain running. He planned as low-key a round as a person of his stature could achieve, with virtually no presence from his sponsor, and certainly no big advance publicity. He acknowledges that he knew about the BGR from back in 2008 when people like Ricky Lighfoot were going out to the Alps. Although he didn’t reccie it all he says it is ‘powerful to discover the mountains’. What he did do was call on Billy Bland to have a chat, and says that the first time he called Billy was out on a bike ride! But they met up on the Friday. His approach and demeanor certainly endeared him to many observers.
Snippets: finally a few other snippets cleaned from watching from afar. One thing that was great was the way the fell running community embraced him and the event. Coordinator Martin Stone had been a pacer on Billy Bland’s record round. One of Jornet’s pacers was Martin Mikkelson-Barron, whose father was also a pacer on Billy’s round, and was there to watch, along with Kenny Stuart, who had paced Billy on his leg 1, which finished right near Kenny’s house.
On a personal level it was rather cool to see that he had got two books to read as part of his prep, and one was my history of fell running ‘It’s a Hill, Get Over it’. The book covers the BGR and I concluded that I would certainly like to see him try for the BGR record.
He has, and the result has certainly caught the wider world’s attention. Apart from the Guardian article (noted above) it has been on the Radio 2 News, and Jornet appeared on the Chris Evans breakfast show this morning. All a bit much for some of the traditionists in the sport, I suspect.
The future: so what next? Will it close the door on any record attempts from UK runners, or spur them on? Apparently Jornet was heard to say that two of his pacers (Carl Bell and Rob Jebb) were capable of running as fast as he had. We will see. Will Jornet be tempted to other UK events, challenges or races? A Ramsay Round for Jornet was mentioned at some point or other.
Talking with him after, Kenny Stuart suggested he have a crack for his Ben Nevis race record (now 34 yrs old), to which Jornet replied ‘I would love to do that’. He also said that his girlfriend, Emelie Forsberg, would love to do the BGR, and in an interview that he would love to have a go at Billy’s Borrowdale fell race record. So, watch this space.
Thanks to everyone for the media, videos and photos, which have been acknowledged where possible. And don’t forget if you want to know more about the man Bob Graham, how the original round happened, and how it developed, together with some of the heroes and innovators, then get hold of my book ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’, available from all good bookshops, and online from Amazon. [It has been described as ‘something very special’ (by Joss Naylor); ‘essential reading’ (Kenny and Pauline Stuart); and ‘unfailingly inspiring’ (Claire Maxted).]