Bob Graham Night at the KMF
Billy Bland, Jasmin Paris, Steve Birkinshaw, Martin Stone and I regaled the Theatre by the Lake crowd at the Bob Graham Night, as part of the Keswick Mountain Festival. After Martin introduced proceedings, I talked about the history of the Bob Graham Round (BGR), then interviewed Billy Bland on stage. Steve Birkinshaw talked about his Wainwrights round, and Jasmin about women on the BGR. After the break and a showing of a short film on Kilian Jornet’s new BGR record, we all took to the stage as a panel to answer questions from the audience. The following is a transcription of the Q&A section of the evening, pretty much as it occurred.
Questions in italics, answers follow – with credit to speaker when more than 1 response. Qs were addressed to all panel, unless stated in the Q line:
Steve B – Atrial fibrillation: Have you managed to reverse that or are you still running with it?
Strangely yes. I didn’t know to start with what it was. I went to the doctor and they put me in hospital for the night. As the fatigue has got better so the fibrillation has got better as well. I still occasional get it if I am out for like a 5-hour run on the fells. But mostly it has gone.
What is the age of the oldest person to have done the BGR? Is there any hope for me?
Martin: It is Ken Taylor, who was 72. That was last year. He was my old mountain marathon partner. The amazing thing about Ken Taylor is that he had stomach cancer. He had just won the v60 fell championship and on the very last race he felt absolutely dreadful and went and had some checks done. They found he had a growth the size of a golf ball in his stomach. So, he had his stomach removed. This was nearly 10 years ago now. He was stitched back together, and he had to learn how to digest food again. He started fell running again and found by managing his energy levels he was able to do the long races. He had been keen on races all those years and then thought it was about time he got around to doing the BGR. HE cruised round in under 22 hours I think it was. Phenomenal.
Is eating fruit cake still the way to go, or what is your nutrition plan?
Billy: I haven’t a clue. [laughter] We just did what we thought was right. If we were doing everything wrong then we were quite good, weren’t we? If we had known everything they know now we might have been a laal bit better.
Jasmin: I just eat normal food. I would go for fruit cake over a gel any day.
Steve C: In the really long endurance events it is really what you can get down and what you can eat. I remember talking to Nicky Spinks about this and she said really struggled to find things that were palatable under pressure that didn’t make her feel ill. I think the magic food in her case was rice pudding.
How important is equipment and could you imagine running as fast with the equipment of 30+ years ago that Billy had?
Jasmin: I feel that one of the joys of running is that all you need is a pair of shoes and off you go. I don’t really think the kit makes that much difference. I like the freedom of running. Shoes need to have good grip mind. Shorts and t-shirt are fine.
Steve B: I pretty much agree with Jasmin. Things like waterproofs are loads better than they were 30 years ago. Lightweight ones are a step up. Mountain marathon tents are loads better than they were.
Martin: there didn’t used to be these vests they wear now. You generally had to have stuff in a bumbag or a day sack but had to get them out. Now it is easier.
Steve B: I am still old school. I take water from becks as I go past. If you have vest it is more difficult to put a top on and off. I did an ultra last summer and I think I was the only person wearing a bumbag rather than a fancy vest.
Billy: when I see people starting fell races carrying water, I think ohoh! Use the streams, that is where the water comes from anyway. Water is quite heavy too, isn’t it?
Martin – did you ask Jasmin to pace Kilian, and if you didn’t, why not? [laughter]
Martin: I did ask Jasmin, yeh.
Jasmin: he did ask me, but I can’t remember why I wasn’t available. I might have been nervous about keeping up, but I could have asked to be on the last leg. It would have been amazing to be there at such a historical moment.
Jasmin – Did being a new mum help with your Spine race effort?
I think it did, yeh. It was a real bonus because I was used to sleeping less. By then I was back at work and my daughter was still waking up every three hours through the night. I was training at 4 or 5am in the morning. I wasn’t getting as much sleep anyway, so it may not have been as much of a shock as it was for other competitors.
Jasmin – how did you prepare for the Spine race, and did you feel well prepared?
Previously I had never focussed my training for just one race, I just kind of ran a lot because I love doing it. For three months I trained specifically for the Spine race. I built up the mileage to 100 miles a week by the end, which some may say is nothing. I did back to back long days with a pack, so I got used to that. In the race I carried about 5.5 kilos in my pack. I was also doing some speed sessions and hill work too. I had done multi-day races before, but never one where sleep deprivation comes into it.
Billy – how many times did you run 100 miles a week?
Maybe a couple that is all. I did 1,000 miles by March each year but not at 100 miles a week.
What impact do you all think Richard Askwith’s book has had on the Bob Graham Round?
Steve C: can I answer as an author who has tried to write a book after that. I had issues with the FRA, the governing body, who said “after Askwith we don’t want anyone else to write a book about it”. The governing body was a bit insular about its own sport. At one level it was an issue for some people in the sport, and at another level it brought a lot of people into the possibility of doing that sort of thing. It depends on your point of view. If you look at the numbers on that chart (of completions) I showed (earlier) it went up significantly in the years following the book.
Jasmin: it is interesting that more recently Jonny Muir has written a book about the Ramsay Round and it will be interesting to see if that affects numbers there. It has nowhere near the numbers doing it as the Bob Graham does.
Martin: the FRA went through a period, quite a large number of years, where it was important they felt to not grow the sport in terms of total numbers involved. That was because of issues with landowners and the size of race fields. They had a publicity officer and the job was to put the cap on publicity. At the time I understood some of the reasons for this, but I think his book has had a massive impact.
Jasmin – what is next?
Running for Great Britain in the World Trail Champs in Portugal. I had some thoughts about some non-race things I might do this year, but I am not sure on that. The whole media thing after the Spine Race has been incredible but also a bit overwhelming. I am almost ready to sink into obscurity. I am not really chasing things at the moment. In August I am doing a multi-day race with Konrad and I have told him that for the next couple of months if our daughter wakes up in the night, he is dealing with it. [laughter]
Billy – did you taper at all before big race like Ennerdale or Borrowdale?
No. I would do the [carbo] diet, depleting myself on the Sunday with a long run. Then I would still run on the Monday and the Tuesday and try to run on the Wednesday. I just ran every day, like. I ran because I like it. That is what my body was used to. I don’t think I would benefit from a day off. I honestly don’t. If you don’t have days off your body gets used to recovering quickly. Yes, you have to get to bed and have a good night’s sleep. And the refuel with good food. I think that people that have lots of days off will not move to the next level. That is how I saw it anyway.
What does it mean to be a professional fell runner?
Billy: well, when I first started as a teenager there was Keswick, Ambleside and Grasmere Sports. I was just a valley lad who didn’t venture far. So that was all there was really. If you were lucky enough to be in the prizes you might get a fiver or a tenner. If you think we could make a living at it then you can just forget it. We all had to work as well.
Jasmin: I think that now you can get sponsored and that involves doing social media stuff. But you have to be winning events really. Personally, I like to free of all that. I am not tied into any contract. We do it because we love being in the hills and doing the running. If you want to benefit financially you will be tied down to a contract.
Steve B – at what point did 214 Wainwrights become a good idea? [laughter]
Ot was definitely not a good idea by halfway through, when I was in pain. Someone suggested it when I was trying to do the Lakeland 24 hours. I thought, yeh. It is a good way to see the whole Lake District in a week. [laughter] It appealed to me.
Steve B [from Jasmin] – would you do it again if you knew the problems you would have afterwards?
I would do it again. Knowing how I have struggled afterwards I would still do it. It is a memory that will live for ever. It would have been better if my feet hadn’t played up so much, but there is always something that is going to wrong. As you know the pain goes away in time. All I have got now is good memories of that week. Paul Tierney is having a go at the Wainwrights shortly and I have advised him and will be supporting him on the first leg.
Are there any techniques for getting through the hard times on endurance events?
Steve B: for me I focus on short term things. So, on the Wainwrights I was in agony on very downhill, but I knew the climb would be fine. So, I would think just get to the bottom of the hill and don’t think too far ahead.
Jasmin: I would agree that breaking it down helps. The more you do these things the more you realise that you will always go through bad patches. If you go through a patch and come out the other side, you get more confidence that you can succeed. It is better to keep on going than to sit down and try to recover. Keep moving and keep eating, if you can. The first night on the Spine was the hardest because my body hadn’t clicked that I was running a race without sleep. But I was doing really well in the race so that really helped.
Billy: If it happened in a race you can feel it coming and you usually know what is causing it. On the BGR I had a bad patch, got fed and away I went again. But, I haven’t done stuff like these two have. I am too damn soft to take part in that sort of stuff! [laughter]