One Finger One Thumb Keep Moving

Posted on April 26, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Some things just stick in your head and go onto repeat. When running I have regularly found myself repeating something as if my brain has shut down to its bare functioning needs – the messages firing my muscles and a verse or snippet of a song. As any parent of young children will know, when in the car one loses autonomy over what music is played – catching yourself singing ‘the wheels on the bus’ or ‘twinkle twinkle’ can sometimes be distressing. Throughout my Bob Graham attempt I failed to shake, “one finger one thumb, keep moving”. I was a prisoner to nursery rhymes!

The most eagle eyed readers amongst you will be wondering how I can be talking about a BG attempt when it’s 6 weeks away and I’ve not completed my final stepping stone: The Fellsman. Well this weekend’s recce of legs 3, 4 & 5 turned into an attempt. A call to Wayne in the week to see if Karl was interested in coming out for a run had resulted in an agreement to give it a go, so Thursday lunch I found myself tagged onto an attempt by Carwyn Phillips. I also found myself in the exceptionally capable hands of Wynn Cliff and her support set up. To cut a long story short, less than 48 hours later at 1:59 am I had my hand on the door of the Moot Hall in Keswick next to a man I’d only met 90 minutes earlier about to embark on the largest thing I have ever attempted!

Leg 1 went well. The combination of powerful head torches and expert supporters meant that one of my key problems was under control – pace. The pace we set odd at was very comfortable. As soon as we started going up, everybody walked. As a fell runner I still find this off and I think it’s fair to say that the BG is as much of a walking challenge as it is anything else. This puts me at a disadvantage as the need to be able to switch to speed hiking is just not in me yet.

Getting leg 1 over with in the dark is the best way, for me it’s the worst of the five, so at least the dark adds a little spice. The conditions were cold and my hands were numb in no time at all. Forecast for 0 degrees above 750 I reckon that was about right. With the exception of two thigh deep falls into bog between Skidaw and Great Clava, the leg went smoothly and the parachute descent off Blencathra was simply outstanding. Looking over the edge where it starts, I was tempted to think it is a navigational error, but as the screes appear it quickly becomes a “why haven’t I been this way before” route. Top marks to Tom Phillips for showing us this magnificent route and Derek Hurton (the shiny-man) and Steve Cliff for support on this leg.

We ran into Threkeld and our first road support to find a well oiled machine. Chairs to sit in, porridge and bananas to eat, water bottles refilled whilst we ate and a new posse of support. Absolutely first class. Caz and I were feeling good and going well. Our huge support team made short work of getting acquainted as we ascended Clough Head.

Dawn broke and we headed into some mild clag. We moved through the peaks with efficiency but no real visibility. Again I failed to put on my thicker gloves so my hands froze and my descending was shown up as a problem. #One finger one thumb keep moving#. As we came down from Dolly Wagon a gap opened up before the ascent of the only peak I’d not recce’d – Fairfield. I’d pulled this back by the top, but the descent down to start the ascent to Seat Sandal meant it opened up again. Whilst visually it seemed a large gap, it was less than a minute and I sat down to a bacon buttie (yes!!! A hot bacon butty!!!) at Dunmail raise with Caz.

Dunmail was epic. Not only was I being fed bacon butties (I will never forget the smiling face poking out of the camper van asking if I wanted a second bacon buttie – it would have been rude to say no :)) but everybody turned up. Andy Robinson had come up to lend a hand, Wayne and Karl appeared too on their way to an English Fell championship race – it was superb! It’s easy to want to stay at the road crossings as the support is so good. It’s like a party in your honour. However nobody gives you that opportunity and we’re soon booted out of the chair with two new support runners/ navigators.

The walk up Steel Fell is steep and can easily take your breath away. The natural inclination upon meeting new people who have given up part of their weekend to support your journey through the hills is to want to chat. #One finger on thumb one arm, keep moving#. At Dunmail you also have everybody watching you from the base so you need to put on a show too… it’s an interesting balance.

I had a variety of niggles which I needed to sort out and had failed to do so at the crossing due to the party in our honour. I started to have a faff and fell behind. My outstanding support runner and navigator Captain Neil Talbot was incredibly patient and let me get on with it. A pilot with the RAF, Neil was up to help his friend Caz and ended up with me instead – I confess to feeling rather guilty about this, but I struggled to make the gap back up. Never more than a minute behind, but it was like being on a piece of elastic.

Neil’s knowledge of the route was better than anyone I’ve met so far, although the clag had lifted so this was the first time I’d been around where I could see! I’m pretty sure Neil could have done it blindfolded. Upon chatting to Neil he confessed that an ultimate aim of his was to be able to go out pretty much anywhere in the UK without a map and to this end he was out in the mountains most weekends. Having mentally mapped North Wales he was now working on the lake district – a life long project!

Successful BG attempts are heavily depended upon the weather. If you’re facing 40 mph winds, zero visibility and snow/ hail/ rain/ hot sunshine, then it’s a tad more difficult than if it’s clear visibility and a still day. We were lucky: minimal adverse wind (from nature, I did suffer all the way around from a grumbling stomach and terrible “danger” wind) clearing visibility and nothing less than 80 yards any anytime coupled with mild/ cold temperatures. All in all I couldn’t have had a better opportunity to complete the round, especially considering the incredible support that had been assembled.

Leg 3 flew by. Once I’d finished faffing, Neil and I chatted our way through the whole leg. It wasn’t until the Stickles that I really caught Caz though #One finger on thumb one arm one leg, keep moving# and it was all going well for both of us until the ascent up to Rossett Pike where Caz had a bit of a moment. Briefly checking to see he was ok, Bill gave us the signal to move on. We thought he was just bonking so knew it wasn’t good to crowd him and that he just needed to eat. It wasn’t until we got back that we found out Caz suffers from aortic fibrillation and a bonk combined with a heart flutter had set alarm bells ringing. Thankfully he recovered and there was no need for an emergency evac’ from the mountain – phew!

Not knowing the full extent at the time we cracked on and I was suddenly acutely aware that I was feeling good. I had not had a bad patch and was eating well. My legs, etc felt fine despite putting in a decent week (not realising I was going to make an attempt) including a raft of core exercises which had hammered my lower back. This dull fatigue in my lower back was to plague me all the way around, but as these things go it was minor. #One finger on thumb one arm one leg one nod of the head, keep moving# Diagnostics over I was happy and growing in confidence. I may not have been able to pick up the pace, but I was still going well within time.

We picked up time on almost every peak to peak split. Knowing you’re putting time in the bank to cover for bad patches builds a lot of confidence. Where I was losing out was the downhill – still not capable of switching off mentally (to downhill well you must disengage the brain and thus the brakes) I was braking with my quads and adding to their fatigue. Then again the splits were good so who cared, I was beginning to believe I’d get around.

When the challenge is so long, you have to break it up into sections. On the BG, even the sections need to be broken down into sections. Just focusing on the end is asking for fail as it’s too enormous.

I began to get quite confused as to where I was on leg 3. Having only recced it when there is poor visibility and splashes of horizontal hail; it kinda looks different when it is clear. The vista is totally breath taking and I do think that one of the great shames of the BG is that people can concentrate so much on getting round that they forget to appreciate just what an incredible route it is. Once we hit Scafell Pike I knew where I was and the Broad stand question popped up.

Broad stand is the quickest way up Scafell IF you can climb. My favoured route was to try Lord’s rake as there is only 10 minutes in it; not being a climber, not having safety ropes and having been on the move for over 10 hours with less than 3 hours of sleep, meant that 10 minutes could easily disappear along with a more serious accident. Luckily for me the conditions meant that Broad Stand was not an inviting proposition: Lords rake it is then!

Not having done Lords rake before, but understanding it to be quicker than foxes Tarn, I was keen to give it a go. It’s a narrow, steep, chimney of scree between the most magnificent crags and turned out to be a real highlight for me. #One finger on thumb one arm one leg one nod of the head stand up, keep moving# It felt pretty extreme and was so rugged and beautiful it has to be experienced firsthand. It was back down to business once we hit the summit though and whilst we’d all been together at the summit; it wasn’t long before I was a few minutes behind Caz again owing to the long descent off Scafell into Wasdale.

After a rather luxurious break in the National Trust car park, which featured some delicious butternut squash soup, we said goodbye to Bill and were off with Rob Woodall and Andrew in tow (yeah right, I think it was me that was in tow!) Yewbarrow is a steep exit from Wasdale and climbs over 600 metres in less than a mile. #One finger on thumb one arm one leg one nod of the head stand up sit down, keep moving#So whilst I felt a little guilty not responding to every comment/ question from Andrew, I’m sure he understood!

Section 4 is truly spectacular. Having only done it in snow and varied visibility, I’d not really seen a lot of it, although I was confident for 90% of the Navigation. I made sure I took a much better line off Yewbarrow on the way to Red Pike, but I was slowing down a bit and the support team prepared to split. Since Caz and I had been on the elastic band since the start of leg 3 I was never really worried and Red Pike and Steeple were taken in together. Caz moved away at Pillar and my slow descending meant I was not able to catch him before the ascent of Kirk Fell. #One finger on thumb one arm one leg one nod of the head stand up sit down, keep moving, we’ll all be merry and bright#

The battle was also won at this stage – barring injury we had enough time for a sight seeing walk rather than a BG. I didn’t walk, but I did take in a lot more of the sights and enjoyed the day now that the tension was off. I’d been concerned about leg 4 initially because it was where the bulk of the time was shaved off the 23 hour schedule to make it a 22 hour schedule. I needn’t have worried though as it was plenty of time.

I had built the summit of Great Gable up to be my pressure valve. Knowing that as long as I was on time by there and up on the 23 hour schedule then I would have done it. We arrived with hours to spare on top of that and I had an extra 30 seconds on the summit for photos. By this stage Caz was out of sight, but Rob and Andrew kept me firmly on track fuelled by Lemon

shortbread and crisps!

I think I sat down for a good 2-3 seconds a couple of times along the way between Gable and Honister as I was running out of steam. The stew at Honister and the impending darkness saw that turn around – Ok, and the possibility of hitting a time. I set myself the goal of going under 21 hours at Honister and the red mist came down to achieve it.

Sadly I had a minor sense of humour failure on leg 5. The combination of a lack of sleep, physical fatigue and the mental release of having this long held goal in the bag but the captivity of wanting to finish well left me hyper-sensitive to others. I suddenly wanted space and lots of it! #One finger on thumb one arm one leg one nod of the head stand up sit down, keep moving, we’ll all be merry and bright, we’ll all beeeee merrrrrryy and briiiiiiiigghhht!# I was desperate to establish a good rhythm and to really churn it out, so I got a bit snappy to anybody in my path. It felt like people were walking into me in the way that humans do when close together… that kinda magnetic effect.

The problem with releasing mentally is that the adrenaline dissipates and you’re left to do it alone. I got slightly disorientated between Dale head and Hindscarth and I started barking at the team to pick up the pace – in reality I’m sure they were all just moving at the pace they thought I’d be comfortable with and I suspect my “faster” was only fractionally quicker. We got going though and ticked off Hindscarth and Robinson – both with head torches on.

The descent off Robinson was a nightmare in the dark. Trying to find the path to avoid the crags was down to Alan who did a superb job on the Navigation. We were aided by Steve Cliff who had set himself up as a lighthouse to direct us to the screes which I’d been really looking forward to. Sadly these turned into horrible screes where the rocks were just so large that they wouldn’t allow a slick/ smooth passage. I was losing patience falling on my backside.

Once we were down it was a run through past the farm houses and straight into Keswick. This was the second bit I’d not recced and given my fatigue the 3 miles (I’m sure it’s more!) went on forever. Andy had to re-start me a couple of times after I’d started to walk on upwards slopes – my mind telling me I was still going up where the reality was that I was walking on the flat – scandalous!

My sub 20:30 time I’d thought about when starting the road run had shifted to a sub 20:45 as we neared Keswick – still up on the sub 21 that I’d set at Honister though. So as Alan stopped a bemused looking BMW driver at the round about with a few hundred metres to go so I didn’t have to stop I was very grateful to the Moot Hall for finally revealing itself.

I arrived to cheers from the support team and Caz and bemused looks from people on their night out. Coming in early definitely has its benefits and I was able to give a small token of thanks at the end… a round in the pub! There were hugs and congratulations before all that though and time to stop those feet from moving. Getting served was a nightmare and there were no seats, but we were congratulated by a few randoms outside the pub that looked at us as if we were bonkers.

Unsurprisingly to anybody that has been out to the pub with me, I fell asleep on the way home (impressed it wasn’t in the pub this time!) A nice bath and a bit of food later and it was off to bed for me. Wynn’s hospitality knew no bounds and resulted in two breakfasts before I headed home. I only managed 5 hours sleep for some reason and woke up to a sore body. Muscular sore though which I can deal with. A week on and I’m raring to go for the Fellsman (my final stepping stone for the Bob Graham :)).

I felt like I could have happily gone for a run on the Thursday night physically, but the bigger toll on me has been the sleep deprivation. As I write over a week on I’m still not convinced it has sunk in and I’m only starting to get back to normal sleep wise. So many things have turned out differently from my expectations, but I guess I’d built up the Bob Graham to be something in my mind and how I would do it, that I was bound to be left a bit empty after completing it. In some respects I feel as though I ticked it off rather than fully savoured and experienced it. This is nonsense of course, but when big goals are reached I think it is natural to ask what is next as you free up the mental space. One thing is for sure, I’m de-cluttering my mental goals now and my eyes are firmly on the DBR. The Fellsman this weekend looks superb and I’m planning on really enjoying it and testing my Navigation skills/ route choice. I’m heading out there with a previous winner (Duncan Harris) and MDS super hero (and Mountain marathon partner) Martin Wilcock who is currently trying to fix his feet by rubbing in a lotion which is formulated for Greyhounds after being offered a last minute place in the Fellsman. The man is a machine that can’t be stopped! Awesome.

This post can only really end one way as I think my thoughts on the BG will have to wait a bit longer for my brain to process. I’d like to end by thanking everybody involved in making this happen. I know I have missed some people, but I’ll add them in as I get their names. I’d also like to give a massive thank you to Carwyn Phillips – a supremely genuine and free spirited soul who was generous enough to let me tag on to his day. What a legend!

Huge thanks to all involved in the day:

Leg 1: Tom Phillips, Derek Hurton and Steve Cliff

Leg 2: Alan Duncan, Ray Vose, Ian Cookson, Neil Sheperd, (plus two)

Leg 3: Neil Talbott, David Waide, Bill Williamson

Leg 4: Andrew Tibbets, Rob Woodall & Neil Talbott Leg

5: Alan Duncan, Andy Robinson & Andrew Tibbets

Road support: Wynn Cliff, Rachel Phillips, Jean Williamson

Photos – Rob Woodall & Neil Tallbott. Video – Bill Williamson

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