Couch to 30km mountain run – the journey of the fattest man on the fells! – Graham Roberts

Couch to 30km mountain run – the journey of the fattest man on the fells! – Graham Roberts

At the start of 2016, the only target I had was a sub 30 at parkrun. For someone of 16 stone, who had only started running a few months prior to that, I was proud when I achieved that goal on the 9th of January this year. On my 35th birthday no less.
Not long after this, I started to think about running 10km and on the 14th of January I ran the distance for the first time ever.
I then entered the Jackals 10km, which was to be run over the moors in my home town, Darwen and the Fleetwood 10km, which was a flat, fast road race, both polar opposite 10km events! It was upon running these two races around the same time, I discovered my love of trail and fell running.
One thing I do specifically remember saying around this time, was that 10km was the maximum distance for me. Half marathon, definitely the full marathon distance, did not appeal to me in the slightest.
I continued with parkruns, gradually getting down to 25 minutes exactly (I cheated and ran Lytham for a couple of weeks!) whilst lining up a few local fell races, and I even got to run the Worden Park fun run with my 3-year-old son which was a major proud dad moment to see his happy face with his medal!

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Then something happened… I am not sure what it was, but I suspect it was the lack of sleep following the birth of our second child just a few days earlier.
In my sleep deprived state of mind, on the 1st of June 2016, I signed up to a race advertised as “classic 22(ish) miles route taking in four of the Lake Districts most scenic valleys and their adjoining passes. It is a circular route which starts and finishes at Rosthwaite Village Hall in Borrowdale, at the southern end of Derwent Water”
I had no desire to run that distance. I hadn’t walked any of the Lakeland fells, let alone run up there. And with a newborn in home, I had no time to train for that kind of event… what had I signed up to?!
From this moment on, all training and races where all centered around this event. parkruns went by the wayside, I have lost my pace I built up because I wanted to run at a speed I felt I could maintain in this event, and it has caused untold strain on things at home trying to balance work, life and training. I honestly cannot thank my wife enough for letting me out as often as she did.
So, how do you train for such an event? Well, definitely in retrospect, (as I sit here typing the following day withering in agony!) you need to live and work in the Lake District. As much as I went running over the Pennines and over some of Bowland too, it is impossible to replicate the Lakeland Fells, certainly that route anyway, but I am talking from a novice’s viewpoint and perhaps others with more experience know of areas where it can be replicated.
But those long, winding ascents like Black Sail, and the scramble descents down Black Sail and Scarth Gap do not exist around here. We tried, but knew we had to get up to the Lakes and try out the route.
So, with this in mind we (that is myself and Andy Martin, a colleague and now fellow Red Rose runner) decided to do a part recce. The plan was to run the first two passes (Syn Head and Black Sail), and then come off the race route and across Windy Gap and Arron slack back to Syn Head tarn, down to Seathwaite and the car. Sounds simple, and looked simple on the map too, that is the map we left in the car, and hadn’t thought about the possibility of fog…

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It was during this recce I learnt a couple of valuable lessons for budding fell runners. Always have a map and compass and always have an idea about what you are doing. A grown man in his 30’s with a beard pretending to be Bear Grylls, shivering and on the verge of crying for his mum is not a good look. That was me during our first recce when lost in the fog!
After this first recce in July, I was ready to withdraw from the event. We spent almost 9 hours out on the fells, completely drained and it was the worst experience of my life! I did not want a repeat of that.
But after a few days of reflection, I had changed my mind. Our mistake that day was going off the race route and taking a ‘shorter’ detour back to the car. We ended up going back to the actual race route, which was easier to navigate in fog.
We did one more recce, which was the final pass, the Honister Miners pass. We did this from Gatesgarth farm, the 3rd of 4 check points on race day. So we tackled this on fresh legs, but on race day, we already had 20km of running in our legs and on fresh legs it was tough enough! But there was a saving grace, we knew that once we hit the bothy at the slate mine, it was all down hill back to the finish. We just had to get there on race day…
The weather was also a lot kinder during this recce

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After that, it was countdown to race day. And pretty much every day I had the song ‘I will survive’ playing over and over in my head and in my sleep, that had become more sole objective – survival!
I wasn’t bothered about time or placing (although no one really wants to come last). I just wanted to finish.
The forecast leading up to race day was awful, it changed between showers and rain. Either way, full kit was needed as part of the kit requirements so I’d have everything I needed.
Race day upon us – it was the quickest 4-month period I have ever known and the older you get, the faster the years go by, but that was warp speed.
With all the training, I had not achieved anywhere near the distance. I had put on weight, not lost any. I was just getting over the flu and still lacking a full nights sleep since May. Confidence was low, expectation minimal but at least Red Rose had some excellent representatives in the way of Andy Martin and Andy Hale. Both fantastic runners on and off the fells!

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It is fellow club runners like both Andy’s, and many others I have been on training runs and fell races with that get those negative thoughts out of your head and inspire you to get out there and do it. I thank each and every one of you!
We set off at 9:30am from Rosthwaite. My plan was to slowly jog the first 5km to the first climb as a warm up, then walk up the ascent to Syn Head. I wasn’t too far off my desired pace, and at this point both Andy’s were long out of sight. I climbed the first ascent and hit the first check point behind my desired target, but I was happy.
From here, it was a fairly technical descent to Wasdale, with some scrambling down, needing hands to get down the rocks. As it levelled out, I caught a rock and kicked it forward with my right foot, this was just before 10k in, and it was the first case of cramp I suffered. My left calf seized up and I had to slow right down, thankfully it passed pretty quickly, but now I could feel every twitch in each calf.
I made the 2nd check point at Wasdale, and this was the first place the Red Rose vest met a friendly race. I do not know her name, but she knew Jenny Fairclough well from Sweatshop runs. I lost her and her friend early on whilst starting the second pass, Black Sail. This was awful. I knew it was tough, but when we did the recce, it didn’t seem as tough. I now know why. We could not see where we were heading during the recce but race day was different. You could see the endless climbs and fellow runners meandering around the bends, all climbing upwards towards what looked like an impossible summit between the fells. I could have given up at this stage if it was easy to get back to the start, thankfully it wasn’t from there.
This is where I met up with another person who was familiar with the Red Rose family who knows Pita and Ray well, and apparently has convinced them to enter the Lakeland 100. He was telling me when he did that earlier this year, he was running up Black Sail at 11.00pm in the evening with another 85 miles to go. Good luck to Pita and Ray running that next year!
Black Sail really did kill me off. Scarth Gap was the easiest of the four passes but I was gone heading over Scarth Gap, and coming down I couldn’t get the strength to get past those who went past me.
I planned to hit the Gatesgarth checkpoint, refuel and catch them up. Luckily I caught a few just before and made sure I set off before them, that seemed to work but there was one obstacle between me and the finish – that Honister Miners pass. But somehow, I was feeling better.
I trudged along the first 1km which was relatively flat, and then took the climb nice and easy with plenty of rest stops. I checked Strava (after the event!), and I covered 1km in just under 30 minutes! Eventually though I had done it, I had done the final climb and it was all plain sailing or so it should have been…
I knew where to go from here. It was down hill or flat and I could pick up the pace but suddenly my thighs had different ideas, cramp started just above both knees. It was agony coming down to the Honister mine for the final check point, but I struggled through and keeping a few ahead in sight.
Final check point done, and stupidly I made my only mistake with the route. I went through an early gate and hit the Honister Pass road too early. I panicked because using the road was a disqualification so I went down the grassy, boggy side back to the track which was a bad idea. I slipped in the bog, my left leg caught behind me and I cramped up all over, but mainly in my hamstring, it was unbearable. I thought it was race over as I could not get back up. It then subsided and I got back up to my feet with a wry smile and I continued the final descent.
It was the final few kilometers, I caught a few others up and managed to finish over the line in just over 6 hours and 30 minutes. Andy Martin was waiting with a pint of lager for me, after he finished in an impressive 4hrs 30 mins with Andy Hale not too far behind him.
That was it. I had done it. I have no idea how I managed to drag my overweight carcass around that route, but I did. And I didn’t come last.
And there is one thing I know for sure, I want to do it again next year but this time with better training and the target of taking an hour off that time or maybe a bit better, and finish in time to enjoy a beer with both Andy’s and maybe some others from Red Rose. It was a great event and would be great to have a few other red vests there next year!

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For now, it is time for a bit of a rest and to start getting back into parkrun and try to break that 25 minute mark before the year’s out. Then to start training for the 2017 Lakeland Four Passes event!

4 thoughts on “Couch to 30km mountain run – the journey of the fattest man on the fells! – Graham Roberts

  1. Kev

    Well done mate great achievement and a great write up of your journey so far again well done to you and the rest of red rose

  2. June Dewhurst

    Graham I’ve read all your blog with great admiration for all you’ve achieved and with a new baby! Terrific grit and determination. Well done xxx

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