On Sunday 30th June 2019 Penrith-based running club Eden Runners took on the ‘Billy Bland Challenge’ with a Men’s Senior Team entry. The challenge involves running the Bob Graham Round as a 5 leg, 10+ person relay team with the aim of beating Billy Bland’s original solo record time.
The Bob Graham round consists of a 66-mile circuit of the Lake District covering 42 of the highest peaks and accumulating 28,000 feet of ascent. Billy Bland completed his record in 1982 with an incredible time of 13:58. This was only beaten in 2018 by Spanish athlete Killian Jornet in a time of 12:52. The female record is held by Jasmin Paris in 15:24.
As the challenge, originated by Dallam RC, must be completed in the month of June, any error would have meant waiting a whole year for another opportunity – so the pressure was on.
Leg 1 – 12.28 miles, 1562m elevation, 3 summits
Following the recent heatwave, thick low cloud drew in, with drizzle, fog and strong winds gusting to 35 mph expected all day. In stark contrast to the humid 24oC the day previous, it was now forecast to feel like -1oC directly in the wind.
Leg 1 began at dawn (4am) at the iconic Moot Hall with runners Derek Hurton (also Eden Juniors Coach including to athlete Eve Pannone who makes her British Mountain Running Debut this year) and Stuart Stoddart – both Vet50 athletes. Despite thick clag clinging to the summits of Skiddaw and Blencathra, and a boggy trod up the Mungrisedale Common, the duo made an incredible start to the attempt. After utilising a Doddick descent, rather than Halls Fell Ridge, they came in at an impressive time of 2:33 securing the fastest ever mens’ vet time for Leg 1.
Leg 2 – 12.87 miles, 1835m elevation, 12 summits
The baton was then symbolically passed to Derek’s son, Noah Hurton, former Eden Junior, and his running partner, Danny Jones to tackle leg 2. Battling a crosswind for much of the duration, they made excellent progress before thick clag made the navigation a testing challenge at Nethermost Pike. Despite this, they battled hard, coming into Dunmail at 09:23am in a 3rd fastest recorded men’s team leg time of 2:50.
Leg 3 – 15.20 miles, 2024m elevation, 13 summits
Jack Eyre, Eden Juniors Coach and Eden Runners’ Fell Coach, and Charlie Lowther (V40) then tackled the notoriously difficult leg 3. Fighting a persistent gusty headwind for the duration, and with poor visibility, they dug deep the whole way in challenging conditions. Aided at Broad Stand by Sean Ruane and Steve Hartley who had positioned safety ropes for use on the quickest ascent line, they finished in 3:27 and in the process, beat both Billy’s time (18 mins) and Killian’s time (2 mins).
Leg 4 – 10.26 miles, 1477m elevation, 11 summits
With dreams of a Billy-beating round now feeling possible, Scott Morley, Eden Juniors Coach and Eden Runners’ Fell Coach, continued onto leg 4 with partners Jonny Kent and Ben Jackson.
Despite a preferred wind direction, the navigational challenges continued and the trio each took tumbles on the wet, slippery and greasy rocks. Buoyed on by the team-challenge of a relay, they flew down the grassy bank above Honister Slate Mine to loud support.
Concluding L4 in a staggering time of 2:43 it earned them the accolade of 2nd fastest mens’ team leg time and beating both Billy’s time (37 mins) and Killian’s time (14 mins) in the process.
Leg 5 – 10.53 miles, 709m elevation, 3 summits
The youngest member of the team, 18-year-old former Eden Junior Joshua Liddle, was then joined by Michael Parkin to finish the round on leg 5. The fastest of the legs with the smallest ascent it poses a unique challenge from the 10km stretch of concluding road. Helped by family support at Little Town, they made a speedy shoe change for an exceptionally fast leg time. Sprinting into the Moot Hall to a huge roar of support they brought their leg in in 1:29: the 3rd fastest mens’ team leg 5 time and beating both Billy’s time (24 mins) and Killian’s time (19 mins) to secure a Billy-beating round.
Finishing at 17:02pm the final challenge time was a successful 13 hours and 2 minutes. Beating Billy Bland’s time by 56 minutes and missing Killian Jornet’s current record by only 10. Eden Runners’ nudged ahead of West Cumbria’s Ellenborough AC to claim the 3rd fastest men’s team time behind Keswick AC 12:24 (2nd) and Helm Hill 12:21 (1st).
Reflecting on the achievement, Shaun Silson, Eden Runners’ Chair said of the event, “This is a tremendous achievement. The team exceeded their own expectations and have done something very special. Everyone in Eden Runners is very proud of this special group of people and their outstanding performance.”
Eden Runners would like to extend their thanks to all those who supported, organised and provided logistics, as well as to Traybakes Ltd who remain the unanimous fell-runners fuel of choice, and who’s flapjack provided the perfect post-race pick-up.