George Foster and Billy Bland: two great BGR times. Some thoughts on their splits

When I saw George Foster had done an brilliant time to record the second fastest Bob Graham Round (BGR) to Kilian Jornet, and had taken 9 minutes off Billy Bland’s 1982 time of 13-53, I was intrigued to know how he had done it, and where in fact he had made that time within the round. I decided to dig into it a bit and see what I could find. [Update: Title and intro edited]

Photo: http://www.fellicionado.com/

The BGR is nominally broken into 5 legs, with a road crossing where support can be received (if required) at the junction of each of the legs. Knowing that Billy Bland had stopped for a total of 21-minutes at these 4 road crossings on his round, I formed a hypothesis that George could have gained his 9 minutes on Billy all within that 21-minute window. Having access to a full set of splits for both Billy and George’s rounds allowed me to test that hypothesis.

LEG SPLITS: In both cases the split times have been recorded for each leg, and also broken down into each summit to summit sub-section of the route, and for the stops at the road changeovers. This allows one to see the mode of approach of both athletes with regard to stopping en route, and in fact in running the event. A quite remarkable picture emerges.

The following two tables show the accumulated running time for each leg for both runners, and the breakdown of the stoppage times at the changeovers. In the first table the columns show: the leg number, Billy’s cumulative time for running that leg, George’s cumulative time for running that leg, and the difference between the two (-ve is Billy faster, +ve is George faster). Note the stoppage time is NOT included in any of the legs, but accounted for separately (in Table 2).

Leg numberBilly’s timeGeorge’s timeDifference
12-132-20-7
22-412-39+2
33-433-430
43-093-02+7
51-461-48-2
TOTAL13-3213-320

In this table the times at each changeover and the differences are shown.

ChangeoverBilly’s stop timeGeorge’s stop timeDifference
Threlkeld30+3
Dunmail Raise35-2
Wasdale26-4
Honister131+12
TOTAL2112+9 minutes

So, there you have it. According to the splits – Billy ran faster on legs 1 and 5, George ran faster on legs 2 and 4, and on leg 3 (the longest) they took exactly the same amount of time. The cumulative effect is that they both had an exactly equal running time of 13-32. Furthermore, George had two stops longer than Billy, and Billy two longer than George. But crucially George gained that vital 9 minutes overall on account of his whistling through Honister with a mere 1-minute stoppage time.

It might be of interest to revisit Billy’s round to see what that 13-minute stop at Honister was about. Here is how he told it to me when researching ‘All or nothing at all: the life of Billy Bland’*:

Billy adds: ‘Martin was there on Kirk Fell and I heard him or Joss say, “he is gonna get under 14 hours”. I don’t know whether I was supposed to hear, but I did, and subconsciously we must have just picked up the pace a little. Then coming off Grey Knotts I just ran out of petrol and had to sit down. I was looking at Honister a few hundred yards away and I needed to be down there, but I had gone all dizzy. Changing the pace is definitely something you shouldn’t do, because you will bring on a bad patch. We then spent 13 minutes at Honister sorting me out. I refuelled and off we went again.’

SUMMIT SPLITS: Another way of comparing the two runs is to analyse the individual summit splits. Given that it has already been established that they were both travelling at the same average speed when on the move, it comes as no surprise that of the 43 splits (42 summits plus the run-in to the Moot Hall) that they have a very even spread of fastest splits between them. Billy was fastest over 17 summits and on the long run in to the Moot Hall, whilst George was fastest over 17 summits, and on 8 they were equal. Table 1 (above) shows that the two legs with most difference were Leg 1 with Billy running 7 mins faster, and Leg 4 with George also running 7 minutes faster. These may be explained by a) Billy seeming to start very fast, such that we was faster on all three summits of the leg and the run down to Threlkeld; and b) by Billy having a bad time on the early part of Leg 4, losing a lot of time over Yewbarrow and Red Pike (this was where he had the famous ‘Naylor shake’ from Joss to (allegedly) sort him out of his what might loosely be termed ‘lethargy’. This is how I described the shake situation in the book:

Billy took the story up. ‘Yep, Joss was there too and you [Martin] went to Sail Pass. I got to the top of Yewbarrow and Joss says, “I’ll just give your legs a shake out”. This has become known as the Naylor Shake, which you may have heard about. It is supposed to shake the lactic acid out. There was nowt wrong with my legs, but he wanted to do it anyway!’ You need to imagine Billy Bland lying on his back with his legs in the air for Joss to give them a good shakeout.

The other three legs (2, 3 and 5) were all evenly split and show very little deviation from the average pace for either of them, and also a pretty even distribution of fastest summits between them.

VIRTUAL RACE-OFF: Another way of looking at it is to imagine that they were racing directly against each other. Setting up a virtual race-off with both setting off at the same time gives this resulting ding-dong battle. Billy would be virtually ahead right through to Bowfell, then George would take over to Scafell, Billy slipping ahead till Red Pike (George overtaking him somewhere between Yewbarrow and Red Pike), and George staying ahead all the way to the finish, apart from Billy sneaking ahead for one summit (Brandreth) before losing time on his ‘bonk’ going into Honister.

All of that takes no account of Billy’s stops on the way round (within the legs) – or indeed the time he spent sitting on his arse looking at Honister from the descent of Grey Knotts (see above). Billy claims that he:

‘also met various people on the route, Pete Parkins at Ore Gap, and I remember having sandwiches and coffee with him. Not for a long time, just a minute or so. That was the manner that it was done in. Not like now when people think they can’t stop, I don’t go for that at all.’

I don’t know about George, just noting how Billy went about his BGR. There are also imponderables like the differences in weather conditions, and the change in paths (arguably) making navigation easier. But I do hope you can see why I suggest that George actual ran no faster than Billy.

NOTE: All of this is a bit of fun and no way am I taking anything away from George’s fantastic achievement, which I hope he will be writing up some time soon for us to get his view of the his day on the fells.

* Book details (inc ‘View Inside’): ‘All or Nothing at All: the life of Billy Bland [Sandstone Press, 2020]

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2 responses to “George Foster and Billy Bland: two great BGR times. Some thoughts on their splits”

  1. Joseph Ritson says :

    A fine effort and a brilliant day out for the BGR history. It’s obviously been excellently prepared to decide on the limited changeover time. He has obviously been in top physical and mental form for the challenge this year and able to concentrate on this one effort with so few races and other challenges to go for this year.

    • stevechilton says :

      Indeed. Didn’t comment on the prep and lockdown, but it has had a massive impact on people doing rounds and linear challenges. Ally Beavan has a book (Broken) coming out shortly on some of these fastest times and long challenges that have been done this strange year.

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