The Frog Graham Round is a 42-mile run/swim event including approx. 3 miles of swimming across 4 different lakes: it basically involves running over some fells, swimming across a lake, then running over some more fells and repeating. The Round has been going since 2005 and takes its name as a play on the more famous Bob Graham Round: to date it has 119 succesful completers, of which I was the 97th. Like the Bob Graham there is no set starting time: it’s entirely self-navigated and anyone can attempt the challenge at any time by sending in a GPS file to be ratified.
I’ve been coming to the Lake District with my family every summer since I was three and, since we always stay in Keswick, I know the North-Western Fells (where the FGR is based) like the back of my hand: when someone mentioned the Round to me, it just sounded perfect. Admittedly I had no ultramarathon experience and, in all honesty, hadn’t done as much serious training as I should have done beyond recces of route sections. Nevertheless, I duly pitched up to the Keswick Moot Hall starting point at 3:30AM. Before I could begin, however, the single greatest tragedy of modern times befell me: I realised I had forgotten my Kendal Mint Cake. It was
too late to go back and get it so, fighting back the bitter tears, I set off alone into the night.
In the dark, everything looked different to the recces and I was stopping to second-guess myself at every
turning. Luckily my girlfriend had made me a stack of Yorkshire puddings which I nibbled on to keep the doubts at bay. As I ascended Skiddaw I found to my utter amazement that visibility in a cloud in the dark was even worse than visibility outside a cloud in the dark, but I eventually found my way to the summit. Time for a well-earned drink says I, reaching into my rucksack side pocket. The zip was open. The water bottle was gone.
For a moment I considered going back to look for it, but quickly decided that this would be the worst idea since Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. I then contemplated giving up altogether, but figured I hadn’t climbed up a mountain at 4 in the morning just to go back to bed. And so (bravely or foolishly, depending on your valuing of human life) I forged on, “slaking my thirst at the brook” like Frankenstein’s monster. The next minor calamity was as I came down through Dodd Wood, when the strap on my headtorch decided to detach itself. ‘No matter’, I thought: ‘I’ll get
all the bad bits out of the way in the first couple of hours, and everything else will go well’. Right…
In fairness, things did begin to pick up. I had been a little apprehensive about the first swim across Bassenthwaite in the dark, but in fact it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the whole Round. As I was about to
set off, dawn broke over Skiddaw and provided a beautiful backdrop. My luck kept improving, as I picked up a 250ml
plastic bottle I found on the road and refilled it at each stream I passed. Probably because I was half-frozen, the steep climb up Barf wasn’t as bad as I remembered from the Recce: I was 15 minutes ahead of schedule, and feeling good through Whinlatter Forest and up Grisedale Pike. Aside from a spot of rain on Eel Crag the next couple of hours were fairly uneventful, but then it was down to Crummock and the infamous Leg 3.
As with so many others before me, Mellbreak was the real heartbreaker: a sheer scramble up near-vertical moss from the bottom to the top. By the time I had hauled myself up the side and onto the dreary summit, my legs felt like they were each dragging a Mk I Matilda Tank behind them. The path down to Scale Beck and up again to Red Pike seemed to go on forever, and by the time I reached High Stile I was feeling rather worse for wear. Just at that moment, however, I bumped into Madeline and her husband, who were walking a Round in
the opposite direction. We only chatted briefly, but it was just enough to raise my spirits when I badly needed it.
After the short swim across Buttermere I was feeling refreshed, but this proved to be my undoing. I raced up Robinson like a rat up an aqueduct, an hour and twenty minutes ahead of schedule, but fatigue hit me like a tonne of bricks as I turned onto the ridge at the top. This was far worse than I’d been feeling before. The weather was closing in, the running wetsuit I’d borrowed and had been wearing all day was chafing dreadfully, my stomach was cramping and I was drowning in a wave of nausea. I’d also forgotten just how long it was to Dale Head, and I earned a few concerned glances from passers-by as I staggered along. For the first time I regretted not having anyone to push me on, as my own motivation was vanishing at a rate of knots. Maiden Moor must be the single longest fell in existence, and to this day I’m still convinced I somehow ended up on a treadmill. It was like a low-budget cartoon, with the same scenery reappearing after each ascent.
After forcing down a flapjack, I felt slightly better. Catbells is a family favourite, and it felt good to be on home ground as I came down to Derwent Water. This is by far the longest swim of the round at a little over a mile but, to complete the round, it is obligatory to completely exit the water at each of three small islands. The swim itself was fine, but dragging myself onto each of the islands proved to be a nightmare. Each time I hauled myself over the slippery rocks, each time I lost my balance and fell back into the water, my tiredness increased and my shivering got more violent. After what seemed like several years, I finally made it to the other side where my Grandad had been watching for me. The path back to Keswick was mercifully short and I even managed to enjoy the last few moments, reflecting on the distance that now lay behind me.
Up the steps to Moot Hall where my Mum and Nana were waiting, and a very tasty pint kindly offered by The Round pub. Final time: 14 hours, 41 minutes and 25 seconds: at time of writing, the 18th fastest.
Overall, a terrific challenge in beautiful scenery: would 10/10 recommend to anyone else who fancies a madcap day out.