Tag Archive | BGR

BGR Completions – 2020 update

Bob Wightman has just released the figures for Bob Graham Round (BGR) registrations, completions, male/female split, direction of travel, etc. for 2020, which make interesting reading, and that I have commented on before. [https://forum.fellrunner.org.uk/showthread.php?24761-BGR-2019-summary&p=657211#post657211]

I have updated my spreadsheet, and the graphs of several aspects of the data, which are illustrated below with a couple of comments on each.

This first graph shows the data just for completions since 1971. The black line is the actual numbers completing, which was at its highest ever level in 2019, although not surprisingly it was another downturn in 2020. The red line is the trend line which is obviously up (after recovering from the Foot and Mouth blip of 2001) and the blue is the moving mean, also trending upwards.

More recently figures for registrations and completions have been published, allowing analysis of completion percentages. The graph above is of the last 9 years, showing upward trends in registrations and completions (these figures are for males and females combined), but interestingly NOT an increasing percentage actually completing. It invariably hovers either side of 50%. The next two graphs look at the male/female data.

The men’s data pretty much follows the pattern of the total data (there are still many more men than women involved). 2020 shows a dip in all three data sets for the year, after all going up in 2019. The completion rate of 51.32% for men is the third highest since I have been looking at this (the highest was 54.95% in 2019). The male completions, at 78, is the third highest it has ever been in one year.

The women’s completions (red) were the equal lowest in this 9 year period, but that is mostly because the registrations was the second lowest in this period. The percentage lines (green) are at the top of this graph as the numbers are higher than either the registrations or completions, and had previously shown an upward trend, but this year’s percentage of 37.5% completions bring that trend line down. Admittedly from a small sample size.

My original analysis was in an earlier blog [BGR completion rate is 42%], with a follow-up on women’s completions [Women’s completions at BGR]. Both were based on data up to and including 2018.

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

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

ChangeoverBilly’s stop timeGeorge’s stop timeDifference
Dunmail Raise35-2
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]

Writing: some more running stuff

A few more short/medium reads for lockdown time. This lot are fell-running related pieces from my blog, a couple of which were published. Click the highlighted links to read. Hope you find something to enjoy.

Do increasing numbers run on fells – to escape the urban environment?
Connections: A Wainwright, B Graham, H Munro – endurance challenges
Thoughts on maps and navigation – an article from Fellrunner [PDF]
Good game. A BGR from the roadside – supporting a friend’s day on t’fells
Peak performance: Jasmin Paris – on her new BGR record [2 PDFs]
Future of fell/mountain running – will the Africans take over?
Men’s fell race records – what are the oldest ones, and who holds them?
Got them navigation blues – some famous fellrunners (on) getting lost
BGR completion rates is 42.2% – a brief analysis of the recent data
Women’s completions for BGR – a follow-up on women’s completion rate

Weather v BGR completions

Following on from my blog about BGR completions for 2019 (and previous years) I have had look at weather data for the last 10 years to see if one can infer any relationship between weather in the Lakes and BGR completion levels. [NB: I am quite prepared to accept that this analysis shares some pretty dodgy statistical analysis]

Firstly, I made an assumption (extrapolating from the monthly data of completions) that the most significant months of any year would be May to September. I then calculated the average rainfall (in mm) for those months for each year from 2010 to 2019, and plotted this against the numbers of completions for those years. The hypothesis being that wetter years would have lower numbers of completions.

weathereffectIn the resulting graph [above] the orange line is numbers of completions (not % but absolute numbers) and the blue line is rainfall (in mm, as per calculation above). For the hypothesis to be true the high rainfall years would have less completions. It can be seen from the right of the graph that for 2017, 2018 and 2019 this does not follow. 2017 and 2019 are high rainfall – high completions, and 2018 is conversely low rainfall – low completions. For 2010, 2011 and 2012 it varies from fitting the hypothesis for 2012 (high rainfall lower completions – but see 2013 onwards), and sort of fitting for the 2010 (low rainfall, moderately high completions), to no pattern for 2011. For 2013 to 2016 it seems that it is counter-intuitive, in that the completions goes down with low rainfall and up with higher rainfall.

Being not satisfied with this aspect I moved on to look at one year, month by month, to see if the was any inferable weather effect there.

Taking the monthly completions data and monthly actual rainfall data, I plotted the two against each other for the year of 2019.

rainfall2019In the resulting graph [above] the left axis and blue line is rainfall and the right axis and orange line is the number of completions for that month. [The months are numbered from1 to 12 along the bottom axis, representing Jan to Dec] The completions line is a normal curve, showing the normal distribution you would expect of completions data (ie more in summer months and less in winter, peaking this year in June). The rainfall shows three peaks in March, Aug/Sept and Dec. At a stretch you could argue that the March peak drags the completions data lower than it might have been – there is a small downward bulge in the curve for that month. Similarly the August peak also produces a dip in (expected) completions.

At the end of the day it has proved to be not a particularly meaningful analysis. I have made some pretty big assumptions, for instance that rainfall would have an immediate effect on completion numbers, and used a fairly small data set – so will accept any criticisms of my methodology. Looking back, it may have better to plot, say, June/July/August rainfall against the completions data as that might well have a better correlation, as that is when more people plan their rounds. Thoughts or counter suggestions welcomed, through the ‘Comments’ link.

If anyone wants to look further, the data is available. See: here for BGR completions data [this year is the first time by month data has been published), and here for the weather data [which is for the weather station at Newton Rigg, and includes max temp, min temp, and hours of sunshine for each month, going back to 1959].

Credit: Steven Thurgood for the weather station link via Facebook.

Popular blogs/downloads 2019

ICYMI: The last day of the decade is as good a time as any on which to share my most popular blog posts (ie reads) and files (ie downloads) for 2019. Listed, described and linked are the top three in both categories, plus a bonus in each category that looks like it may have been missed by a few.


Jan 28 2019, with 899 reads in 2019

BGR completion rate is 42.2% bgrcompletions

Stats and comment on the completion rates for the Bob Graham Round, including: ‘… a strong trend for more people completing the BGR (solid red line is the linear trend) over time, but also how it fluctuates from year to year.’

June 5 2019, 401 reads in 2019

Bob Graham Night at the KMF 20190518_224959

Report on the Bob Graham Round session at the Keswick Mountain Festival, with a transcription of the Q&A section of the evening, pretty much as it occurred, including Jasmin Paris speaking about professional athletes:  ‘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 be 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.’

Oct 9, 2019, 242 reads in 2019

Long-running running champs DonnellyWMRA

Discussing longevity at the top of the sport (fell running), starting with Colin Donnelly and taking in Billy Bland, John and Kenny Stuart. Including this on Billy Bland, who: ‘… won his first race at 17 years old and his last when he was 50, giving him 33 years of winning.’


Uploaded 21 Nov 2019, 208 downloads in 2019

“I don’t much like the limelight” donnellypart2

A profile of fell runner Colin Donnelly that appeared in two parts in The Fellrunner magazine is reproduced in full as a downloadable PDF file. An in-depth profile of the ‘long-running running champ’. [see above]

Uploaded Feb1 2018, 155 downloads in 2019

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) CFSsnapshot

A case study of four elite athletes who suffered from CFS, who are interviewed on their background and how it affected them, in two cases ending their elite careers.

Uploaded Aug 27 2017, 68 downloads in 2019

In profile: Hugh Symonds hughSprofile

A detailed profile of a champion fell runner that appeared in The Fellrunner back in 2017 – but is still being downloaded frequently. In it he describes meeting Joss Naylor: ‘… who was also doing a reccie. He seemed to be dressed in a sack held together with safety pins.’


Blog: Telling Stories (May 15 2019) – five tales from the hills from five of the finest fell runners, and alround entertaining interviewees. These stories may or may not make the cut into the manuscript of my next book (out in summer 2020).
Download: Memories (Aug 24 2019) – some thoughts from me on not being able to run and some past runs, which was an article published in Like the Wind magazine this year (issue #20).

1 talk, 2 Wilfs, 2 Wainwrights

IMG_0004I had a lightning trip to the Lakes for a talk and a walk last week. The train up went well and I strolled down to Wilfs to set up for my Bob Graham Round (BGR) talk, part of their Slide-Supper series. I always get nervous before giving these talks, so it was great to get the laptop in place and checked out.  Having long-term friend Mike Cambray there in support, and also to meet Richard Davies (technically an ‘internet friend’, I suppose) and Mel Steventon for a chat before we started helped me relax. We all had a fab casserole and rustic bread, and a coffee or tea (or a beer from the next door  Hawkshead beer hall) before getting down to business.

I have revised the talk from the first time I gave it, adding video clips of my friend Neil Walker’s BGR, some very short readings from ‘The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’, and some belting stuff from the ever-quotable BG record holder Billy Bland. The latter were from the excellent ‘Conversation with Billy Bland’ evening that Mel Steventon’s Due North Events had organised in Keswick last month. It was great to see Mel at Wilfs, shyly raising her hand with a few others when I asked who in the audience was perhaps thinking of doing a BGR.

A great quote from Billy Bland I shared concerned how hard he pushed himself, and whether he felt pain when running hard. At the Keswick evening his considered response, when asked this, had been:

I have never felt pain in my life when running, and I mean that …….. I consider I trained hard, but I may have given up easy sometimes. John Wild would run till he was sick. You wouldn’t catch me doing that, I’d just slow down. My strong point was preparing myself for what I was going to do.

IMG_9996One book quote I used was from Jim Mann (the winter BG record holder), who on one day was carrying the GPS tracking device (which transmitted his progress to a map on a website) for Steve Birkinshaw on his all the Wainwrights record effort [whose book launch I had attended in his very room]:

Steve was having a [power] kip on one of the tops, and I was trying to draw a picture on top of the fell by moving around with the tracker. I just needed a 6-7 minutes to get it done, but he work up too soon.

I finished the talk with some thoughts on how  BGR completers, their pacers and their reccies were adding significantly to the path erosion on some of the fells. At the end I commented that it might be good to consider this impact, try to lessen it, which is something the Bob Graham Club are highlighting. I suggested offsetting it by contributing to groups doing footpath repair/improvement work.

One fixthefellssuch group is the excellent organisation Fix the Fells. We took a beanie hat collection of loose change, and with that and some money from my book sales I was able to send a donation of £45 to Fix the Fells. Thanks to all those who contributed. 

The next day Mike and I slipped back down to Wilfs for a filling breakfast whilst waiting and hoping that the weather was about to clear. I am gradually working through bagging the Wainwrights and we highlighted two over Patterdale way that would do nicely for a short day. Arnison Crag and Birks provided a great walk, with superb views of snow-clad summits all round from the latter. Coming off the sharp end of Birks we saw caches of large rocks, which looked liked they had been helicoptered in to do some path improvement there.


That is it for book talks for the moment. The next up are a ‘Conversation with Billy Bland’ with Due North Events in Skipton in May, and a double bill with Joss Naylor at the Buxton Adventure Festival in June [see links to book places].

Other challenges are available …

forblogI have recently become rather obsessed with the Bob Graham Round (BGR). Last week I had my eyes opened to a running event that I now feel tops the BGR (or indeed the other two main rounds in the UK) for the challenge it presents. I already knew of The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), which is a race around Mont Blanc, and has a record time of over 20 hours, but being on the route really brought home what a challenge it must be to race it.

Whilst staying with friends in Chamonix we traversed about 7 miles of the route, pretty much the final run in to the finish in Chamonix. Due to a decrepit knee (mine) and a stressed hip (one of my friends, who has previously walked to the North Pole) we were walking rather than running. As we had managed to bag four days of superb autumnal sunny weather this was actually a bonus, as we were able to take in the scenery at our several rests. The range of the colours of the trees, and the sight of the snow-capped ranges around Mont Blanc itself (which we had been amongst earlier in the week), were just delightful to behold.

forblog2It was very runnable terrain, and with little navigation required on the section we did, which was probably as well as we had managed to leave our map back in the apartment. But it is worth remembering that all runners will do some of the route in the hours of darkness, with the extra challenge that offers, and that we were on one of the easier sections.

There is no real point in making a comparison, but I am going to! The table shows some of the basic details of the UTMB and the three classic UK rounds.

Event Distance (miles) Summits Height gain (feet) Record time
Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc 103 ? 31,000 20 hrs 11 mins
Charlie Ramsay Round 60 24 28,000 18 hrs 23 mins
Paddy Buckley Round 61 47 28,000 17 hrs 42 mins
Bob Graham Round 62 42 27,000 13 hrs 53 mins

It is not unreasonable to suggest that UTMB is the ‘hardest’ of them. If you read Nicky Spinks’ blog she certainly found it so (but then at the end she analysed why it had not gone well), and remember that she is the only person to have done all three UK classic rounds in under 20 hours each. The perceived wisdom is that the Paddy Buckley is harder than the BGR, and the Ramsay Round harder still (partly because of its remoteness – for training on and supporting).

Anyway, enough speculation and back to reality. I would like to go back to witness the UTMB event itself in August 2016. If not that, then maybe the annual Climbing World Cup in Chamonix, which happens in the square just outside our friend’s apartment. But, if you are looking for a challenge, don’t just think BGR but how about the less frequented Buckley or Ramsay rounds. Or strike out abroad for the UTMB, or even better still make up your own challenge.

The Round front coverFurther reading: there is more about the UTMB in Lizzy Hawker’s ‘Runner’, and on The Bob Graham Round in my second book The Round: in Bob Graham’s footsteps’. For more about the Paddy Buckley Round or the Charlie Ramsay Round you will have to wait till I get round to writing a book about them! Actually that is not so, as I do know that a manuscript for a Ramsay Round book is now being worked up by a friend of mine.

There are, of course, details on the web of all these events. This Strava link gives the UTMB route details. A Google search will bring up loads of videos which give a flavour of the UTMB terrain.

Bob, the navigator – thoughts on maps and navigation

Riverdunking“It was towards the end of the Lake District Mountain Trial, one very wet year when it was held in Eskdale. The river I had to cross was higher than normal and I plunged in carrying my map in my hand, as I wanted to start navigating again as soon as possible on the other side. I was tired and the swift current swept my legs from under me mid-crossing. Flinging my arms out to save myself I registered that the map was spiralling upwards and then downwards, to be taken off to retirement in a watery cartograve. Fortunately, when navigating in such circumstances I tend to look ahead and try to ‘learn’ the broad details of what is to come, which I then refine with finer detail as I go on. I had done enough of that to at least have a reasonable idea of where I needed to go to reach the finish of the event.

So, how do YOU navigate? Is it efficient? Do you practice, or do you just do what you have always done, and hope for the best? These thoughts came to me when planning for a recent trip.”

BGmapsThese are the first two paragraphs of an article I recently wrote for The Fellrunner magazine. The article contains my thoughts on navigation and maps (including using newer ones such as Splashmaps and/or a GPS). It also includes some thoughts on the subject from four notable fell runnners – all Bob Graham Round completers and major endurance record holders.

You can read the full article here: bobnavigatorfull