This time last week, I completed the hardest physical challenge of my life so far – The Frog Graham Round – A 40 mile loop in the Lake District, which starts and finishes at the famous Keswick Moot hall. The route has a total of 15,700 feet of ascent and 4 lake swims totalling nearly 4 kilometres.
Not only had I never attempted a distance this far on foot, I’d also never swam further than 1500m in a single day. So to say this was out of my comfort zone, would be a massive understatement!
I decided to join Nigel (Pattison) for this challenge back in February. He had been trying to persuade me for months but it wasn’t until I went up to the lakes with Jess and Ezra for a long weekend that I understood the uniqueness of the challenge. I was in! And straight away began to train.
Training was great, I loved the variety of climbing, running and swimming as well as making sure my legs were as strong as possible in the gym. The longest distance I covered in training was 24 miles broken down into running sections and big climbs with a pool swim bang in the middle. It felt horrible!! I didn’t fuel properly and it shocked me into over preparing for the event by stocking up on every possible energy source I could find – After all, I would be out there for at least 15 hours!
It’s worth mentioning that this is NOT AN ORGANISED EVENT. You just pick the day you fancy doing it, turn up, and start. If completed you must fill in a ratification form with the time you were at each check point, submit to the ‘secretary’, and become a member of the FGR club. This makes planning for the event half the fun. You need to plot the route on a map, go up and physically reccy the area, perfect the route, guess how long it will take you, figure out the logistics of transitions from run to swim and back to run again (bare in mind there are 4 of these) and finally pick a start time.
And away we go
The start time for us (Myself and George Anderson) was 05.00, 1 hour after Nigel. We decided that our projected finish times were roughly an hour different and we would much rather finish together than start together.
Leg 1 is a brutal climb to the summit of Skiddaw (the second highest peak in the Lake district – 931 metres) and back down to Bassenthwaite lake. I felt excited on the way up, the sun was rising and I felt well prepared for the day ahead. We got to the top at 06.10 just as the sun was in full view – it was special! We were at the lake crossing at 07.00 and I was eager to get this swim out the way. I am not a strong swimmer, in fact this time last year 2 lengths would have been about all I could manage without stopping. So a 1000m swim is always a test for me. After 10 minutes of swimming I looked up and it was as if I haven’t gone anywhere, the shore line looked as if it was no closer than when I set off, I had to look back to check the shore wasn’t still a few metres away, I was relieved to see I was nearly half way!
Getting out the lake I had planned to eat a bowl of oats, a bagel and a have a cup of coffee but my stomach was churning. I forced in a few spoonfuls of oats and switched the coffee to tea to not aggravate the dodgy tummy.
The next hour was grim. Low on energy from not eating, stomach churning and feeling like I could Vom at any minute, then we took the bloody wrong turn. Unbeknown to us, the path we took is on the website as a high risk route with risk of death (the locals know it as the suicide route). If you have seen the film Free Solo then you’ll know what I mean when I say it felt like I was climbing El Capitan.
Thankfully we reached where we needed to be, but it felt pretty dicey! At the top I managed to eat, it wasn’t pleasant but it was essential. A slow and gradual descent was exactly what I needed and by the time we were ready for the next climb my stomach had settled. I genuinely had a few moments during that climb when I doubted my ability to finish this route. The discomfort I was in, the tough climb and knowing I still had 30 miles left was weighing heavy on my mind.
The next climb was equally tough but I had my energy back and no longer felt ill. It was a 40 minute slog to the top of Grisdale pike at 800 metres above. It was at the top of here I switched my mindset and everything changed!
The view form the top was STUNNING. But it was our encounter with a local at the top that made the difference. A man, mid 50’s, with a Labrador. We told him what we were doing, the Frog, and he wished us luck and offered to take a photo of us. When he was taking it, he said “make sure you check it as I am partially blind, I can only see half of you.” A little confused we asked him a few questions on his sight and he let us know that he falls over all the time but he didn’t want his sight to stop him getting out and exercising with his Lab. We left him to it but for the next 20 minutes I thought deeply about what a legend that guy was. And at that point, the rest of the 30 miles seemed much more achievable.
My mindset switched. From telling myself to keep going and to try and get through this, to telling myself how lucky I am to be doing this and to embrace every part… The views, the swims, the sore muscles, everything! I then started thinking of my Dad, who passed away from MND 10 years ago, and how if that ever happened to me then I want to know that I got every single ounce of energy out of my body before it gives up for good. I cried a little at the last peak of leg 2. Looking around I could see almost all of the route. Skiddaw, Bassenthwaite lake, Crummock water, Buttermere lake, all the mountains that were still to come and then Keswick in the background. I felt extremely lucky to be doing this. Thankfully, George didn’t notice me sobbing.
Loving every minute
Leg 3 was brutal! Straight out the lake you are into a ridiculous climb to the top of Melbreak, there isn’t a path so you are vertically trudging up a boggy grassy mountain trying to plot a route around the heather. Once you’re down from there it’s an hour climbing to the top of Red pike. Again, my fuelling let me down here. I should have eaten at the bottom and once I was half way up I was hungry. I was in a good rhythm so decided to wait until the top to eat and the final 15 minutes of that climb were seriously tough. At the top I ate a whole bag of trail mix which was 1000 calories and I still felt hungry so just before we started our crazy decent I shoved in a stroop waffle.
The decent is MENTAL. Again theres no path so alot of the time you are edging your way down a boulder field. It’s not for the faint hearted but because of my new mindset of embracing every moment I was LOVING IT! We got to Buttermere lake after 3 hours on leg 3 – Which was only 6.5 miles.
After the crossing we met Nigel for the first time. He looked in a bad way. Slumped into a camping chair out the back of the van with a blanket round him, shivering, eating soup with Sean tying his shoe laces. I feared the worst. He looked done. The plan was to finish together but looking at him here I had serious doubt that Nigel would finish. We sat and chatted for 5 minutes before he set off for leg 4. Me and George had soup and bread and 10 minutes later set off to catch Nigel. We got to him half way up Robinson, the last real mega climb, 45 minutes of very steep ascent (at some points you have to pull yourself up on the fence). Nigel was in great spirits despite him ‘feeling like death’, his calf doing weird spasms and quads cramping up. We stuck together for leg 4 and managed to get down to Derwent water in 3.5 hours which is not bad going.
The swim across Derwent is a mile long, but you have to touch 3 little islands along the way which I was incredibly grateful for. I am definitely the slowest swimmer in the group and we had one extra body swimming with us, Doug, who holds the second fastest time ever for the FGR. He was in the support crew and decided to swim the final part whilst the other two support crew, Roger and Sean, kayaked across with us.
I was conscious that I was slower than them so tried to push the final part of the swim so they wouldn’t be waiting long to run back to Keswick to finish. My shoulder’s were fried when I got out and I have recently seen a video from Roger of me swimming that final part. It’s horrible. I am just thrasing around slapping the water. Looking at my stats on Garmin, I was 20 seconds per 100 metres slower than the previous 3 swims, and this was me trying to push harder, just shows how important both technique and being relaxed are when in the water.
The final 2 mile run back to Keswick was nuts. You run along the main road and a few cars that drove past tooted and waved. We weren’t talking to each other, we were just taking it in. Our first mile was just under 9 minutes and the second was under 8. Turning the corner back to Keswick moot hall was one of the best feelings I have had doing any endurance event. Climbing the stairs and touching the door 16 hours and 27 minutes after we started was surreal. We hugged each other, took a photo, and walked back to the hotel. No medal, no people, nothing. Just us and the support lads.
I face timed Jess and cried again. I don’t even know why. A mix of exhaustion, relief, pride, happiness and gratefulness I guess. But it was a moment that I will remember forever.
Since completing this all I care about is sharing this mindset with people. It is something I have been passionate about anyway – Enjoying exercise and treating it like a privilege, not a chore. But to experience it in this extremity has cemented what I always believed.
When you stop saying to yourself ‘I have to do this’ and start saying ‘I get to do this’ not only will you begin to love being active but you’ll start believing that absolutely anything is possible.
Whatever your boundaries, when you’re next out running, or cycling, or walking, or in a class or the gym, just say to yourself – I am so lucky to be doing this. You’ll go further than ever and feel strength that you didn’t know you had.
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Thank you to Nigel for making me do this, for his training tips, meticulous planning and help in every aspect of this challenge. To George for co piloting with me the whole way around the route. We were perfectly matched for pace (apart from the swim) and it was great to share the experience with you. To the support crew – Roger, who has a luxury VW campervan with facilities to make a hot cup of tea after each swim, kayaks to carry our kit across the lake and great knowledge of where to be and at what time. Doug, who’s experience was so valuable. He kept us motivated and had great words of encouragement the whole way round. Sean, who embraced this challenge like it was his own, you were super helpful at every check point. (We really did make this a 5 star experience).
To Jess for allowing me the time to do this. Training has taken up many hours where I should have been at home helping look after our 9 month old son.
To the man at the top of Grisdale for changing my mindset.
To Dad for always being my inspiration to do these things.