My journey into the world of ultra fell racing started one night at the Birchall track when my mate Simon said “iʼm going to do a Bob Graham round”. Knowing almost nothing about it my obvious reply was “i want to do that too”. Simon had read the book Feet In The Clouds about the challenge and was hooked.

For me, it was a chance to do something out of the ordinary. The Bob Graham round is a fell running challenge in which the participant has to run a route which picks up 42 lakeland peaks over approximately 70 miles starting and finishing in Keswick; it has to be completed within 24 hours to be successful. We asked around and quite a few local runners also had their eyes on this so we got together to help each other out. We started making trips up to the lakes to recce the route using notes downloaded from the internet and our very poor navigating skills but the only one of us that really got it together was Dale Colclough who completed it in 2006. Simon and i were just too clueless at first but learnʼt so much from Dale that we decided 2007 was going to be our year. I got pretty fit but Simon managed to fracture his Sternum on our 1st major trip in the lakes which meanʼt he missed a vital month of training before June. As we all know Doctors are known for their good sense so obviously decided to go for it anyway.

Massive amounts of planning and stress later we legged it from Moot hall at 7.00 pm on the 1st Fri in June. To complete these sort of challenges you need a crew of amazing individuals to carry your kit, navigate you through thick clag in the pitch dark, lie to you telling you how good you look and try to feed you as you throw up on your shoes. With their help we both made it; being fitter i sort of breezed around with a few minor bad patches. Simon breezed to approx. half way then disintegrated into a sweaty mess. Again being a Doctor he made the correct decision and carried on regardless leaving a trail of bodily fluids most of the way back completing in 23 1/2 hours. Funnily enough i had the easier round but afterwards my body decided it wasnʼt happy, for a few hours most of the stuff in it did itʼs best to get out and after that i was unable to do much except sweat and shake lying in my tent. Simon went the pub. For me it was box ticked back to racing and having a nice time; physically and mentally i was drained. The problem was i was hooked; most of my spare time seemed to be spent tripping up to the lakes to support other folks on BGRʼs. By 2009 iʼd started to feel like i was running better again and spotted an article in a trail mag about the Paddy Buckley round. This is the Welsh version of the BGR which is a bit shorter picking up 47 peaks in snowdonia. The PBR doesnʼt have a time limit so knowing that all i had to do was finish i could use this to raise a bit of money for cancer research.

running into camp Down hill from now

Again lots of planning and training in the welsh mountains. The PBR is not as popular as the BGR and at the time less than 100 people had completed it so there is almost no information about routes etc to be found. Thankfully my navigating had improved so i recceʼd it to pick up the fastest lines possible. My route choice tends to be very aggressive taking very direct routes over challenging terrain, stops it getting dull. Sticking to the 1st Fri in June i was blessed with a good forecast so set off at 7.00 pm from Llanberis. When you attempt a big challenge your crew are vital to success so the trick is to pace it so that you keep together and finish strong. Thats not as much fun though as going like a nutter and killing your support; i got away with it till my 3rd leg, when after starting with 5 support crew by 2/3rdʼs distance i was left with only Dave, no water and a gel. the clag was down and Dave was still recovering from broken ribs. Its was a bit grim but we pressed on. Losing an hour on that leg getting lost left me weakened and as the sun came up and baked me i fell apart; the next 6 hours were a bit grim. Simon told me afterwards he was worried iʼd collapse on the ridgeʼs and fall off. Normally with big carb lowʼs you recover eventually and from Snowden to the finish i picked the pace up and finished feeling strong in 22 1/2 hours. When youʼve completed 2 of the big 3 fell running challenges you get a bit obsessed with the 3rd.

The 3rd for me being the Charlie Ramsay round. The CRR is the Scottish version picking up 24 Monroes over approx 60 miles. Monroes are big and Scotland is wild and wet and a long way away. A couple of friends Bryan and Simon also had the CRR in their sights so we planned a triple round. We all met up to recce early June 2011, i ran approx 30 miles a day over the mountains for 5 days so again felt fit by the time we decided to go for it. The weather forecast had been poor but as the date in early July got closer it improved to give us the best conditions possible. We set off at 10 am on the 1st Sat in July knowing this was not going to be easy. Again pace is important, too fast early is the death of a big round so about 200m after we ran over the bridge at Glen Nevis YHA Simon did his incredible hulk impression, ripped his shirt off and set off up the Ben like a maniac. Off course we followed but left a trail of support crew with food and kit hopelessly trailing behind. As weʼd lost most of the crew for both Simon and myself we begged food off Bryanʼs support who gave us everything they had to keep us going, leaving themselves almost collapsing by the time we made the 1st checkpoint 8 1/2 hrs later. Super tough guys. Bryan and i stayed together for the next leg with Simon 10 minutes behind us, i had a couple of really bad patches lasting for several hours but we all made it to the finish before the 24 hours were up. The highlight of the round was meeting Charlie Ramsay himself on route twice, it made us even more determined to finish. After completing the big 3 i thought my big challenge days were over and started racing mountain marathonʼs with Bryan.

june2007 014 OMM 2015 Tweedsmuir 32

These vary in difficulty and have lots of course options but we always went for the elite course, mainly because running over the mountains for longer means we spend less time at the overnight camp, horrid muddy and cold places. So far weʼve won the OMM elite vets 3 times and had decent placings in the Saunders and GL3D. Anyone who know their fell running history will of heard of the Dragonʼs Back Race. This iconic race took place in 1992 running the length of Wales north to south following the spine of mountains. It was considered so difficult that it was never ran again until Shane Ohly resurrected the race in 2012. Not being able to participate in 2012 i was desperate to have a go in 2015 when he announced he was putting the race on again, the only problem being that you had to qualify to enter. To improve my CV i decided to have a go at the Mark Rigby Round during 2014. The MRR is a 76 mile loop picking up all 18 monroes in the Cairngorms. To make it more interesting its normally ran on sight with no support & alone. Only 6 people had ever done this round, it is a bit low key, making it hard to resist. As i didnʼt fancy driving all the way on my own i mentioned it to Tracy Dean who also couldnʼt resist, anyone who knows Tracy will understand. My friend Jon Gay from Fort William was also keen to have a go so we decided to set off together but run as individuals, not supporting or waiting for each other. We started at 2am early July running anticlockwise in the first weather window we could all make. Conditions were far from perfect but pretty good for Scotland, home of the horizontal rain. The Cairgorms are amazing, we never saw anyone else till 5 pm the next day; some of the highlights were eating the icy snow when we couldnʼt get any decent drinking water, sliding down the snow into the valleys and shouting at heardʼs of deer to scare them off as we ran towards them. There were plenty of low points, my guts playing up as usual and Jon hitting a big low so drinking neat honey to recover. The weather closed in quite badly from 10 pm but we managed to finish in 23 1/2 hours still together. Tracy is the 1st and only lady to complete this challenge. You would think that would be enough but after a couple of days the stiffness had faded and i couldnʼt help but think it may be faster clockwise so 2 weeks later i went back to the Cairngorms and set off at 2 am clockwise.

The weather was pretty rough early on with high winds on the tops and low clag, i even had to put my contact lens back in after it blew out. Fatigue caught up with me and as the weather improved the sun got stronger and i got weaker. Again i had a section where i ran out of water for a few hours and my tummy was so bad i was throwing up as i ran. It cooled off as the evening arrived and i perked up a lot finishing in 23 1/4 hours. The MRR left me with problems with my feet and Achilleʼs on both legs which plagued me as i trained for the Dragons Back in 2015. With plenty of stretching i made the start line for this 5 day ultra marathon in the wild and trackless Welsh mountains. The more difficult and gnarly the terrain and the trickier the navigation the happier i am so its a race that really suits me, i wasnʼt disappointed, it is a right mauling. Unfortunately my guts werenʼt happy for most of it leaving me unable to eat properly losing a stone in weight over the 5 days. I finished 18th completely broken physically and mentally although it was one of the best things Iʼve ever done; an incredible journey meeting some amazing people from all over the world. Highlights were running with the leaders and helping them to navigate the last mountain range, also being in the company of some of my fell running idols.

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To bring it all up to date the latest hijinks was the Joss Naylor challenge which involves running from 48 miles from Pooley Bridge to Greendale Bridge in Wasdale picking up 30 peaks on the way. This is a veterans challenge so as Iʼm a V50 the youngest age group iʼm allowed 12 hours. Iʼd supported on lots of JNC so knew how difficult and fast this is. The 1st section is 16 miles picks up 13 peaks and i took 2 1/2 hours, my race pace, Dunmail is 24 miles and took 4 1/2 hours; from there the mountains get bigger. I had a huge carb low over the 3rd section having to stop several times going up Bowfell but recovered to finish in 11 hours 20 mins, getting to shake Joss Naylorsʼs hand at Greendale Bridge. Big thanks to my superb support crew. All of these races and challenges have been hard with many low points but they have also been the most enjoyable and satisfying things Iʼve ever done. Iʼve met the most amazing people and been to some fantastic places, wild and remote. Lifeʼs for living so go for it.

Jonathan Whilock

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