It all dates back to 1932 (actually earlier) when a certain Bob Graham broke the Lakeland Fell record by traversing 42 fells and peaks within a 24-hour period, he ran 23:39. The ‘round’ has since become synonymous with fell runners as a bucket list item to do.
In 1960, Alan Heaton lowered the record to 22:18 and it dropped over the years to 17:45 by Mike Nicholson in 1977. But it was in 1982 when Billy Bland stormed around in 13 hours 53 minutes that set the benchmark that stood the test of time; 36-years to be exact.
Bland’s record has been considered almost untouchable… many have tried, but the difficulty of the route, the distance the elevation gain and loss, the need for a team of helpers to run the legs and of course the weather, all must combine for a perfect storm.
In 2016, Jasmin Paris ran 15:24 and suddenly the ‘impossible’ started to look possible. Read Here
Fell runner’s looked at Paris’s run and realised that Bland’s time was possible. It was something that Bland himself agreed on. He has often stated that the record is there to be broken and he couldn’t understand why nobody had.
The route can be run clockwise or anti-clockwise and starts at the Moot Hall in Keswick.
The summits are as follows:
Threlkeld *road crossing point
Dunmail Raise *road crossing point
Pike O’ Stickle
Wasdale Campsite *road crossing point
Honister Pass *road crossing point
Moot Hall, Keswick
Kilian Jornet has always been interested in the history of running and the Bob Graham Round has certainly been on his radar for some time. However, his Summits of My Life project had most certainly been a priority ever since 2012. But in 2017, this project was complete and he was now open to new possibilities. In September he came to Scotland to race the Glen Coe Skyline, a race that he won. He had considered an attempt at the ‘Bob’ before or after, however, conditions in September were not ideal, so, the project was shelved.
In early 2018, Kilian suffered an accident in a SkiMo race, he broke his leg, this put him out of action for months. However, he dedicated himself to recovery. At times using cycling to keep aerobic fitness and then when allowed by doctors, he returned to the mountains. Not running, just doing big days with the aim of regaining mountain fitness without damaging his fragile leg.
In June, Kilian could see light at the end of the tunnel and he decided, after clearing with medical teams, to return to racing at the Monte Rosa Sky Marathon (here). In all honesty, it was the perfect return event… You see, Kilian has very much based his career around Skyrunning following in the footsteps of Giacometti, Meraldi, Brunod and De Gasperi. The event had not run for 25-years but the Monte Rosa Skymarathon was ‘the’ event that created the sport of Skyrunning. Racing in teams of two, Kilian teamed up with his partner, Emelie Forsberg and the duo created a new part of history… Emelie dictated the pace for the duo and in the process set a new FKT for Alagna-Monte Rosa- Alagna. Kilian was back?
Well, even Kilian was unsure? In his words, “Next week I run the Mont Blanc Marathon, this is a fast running race and I am just not sure how I will feel with such an effort? My leg feels good but this will be a test!”
Mont Blanc Marathon arrived one week later and amongst a world-class field, Kilian won. It was an incredible return and one that confirmed that Kilian as the supreme sportsman that he is.
What was next?
Well, in Monte Rosa, I had discussed the ‘Bob’ with Kilian and he said it was on the cards, and that he just needed the window of opportunity, the weather and the correct people in place.
Cut to early July, just day’s after Mont Blanc Marathon and Kilian arrived in the Lakes. He was on the fells and doing a recce of the route. The weather window was good and with some frantic planning, an attempt was put together.
0600, July 8th. Kilian departed the Moot Hall, Keswick on his first attempt at the Bob Graham Round.
It’s important to clarify and Kilian is the first to acknowledge this, that any record attempt on the ‘Bob’ is not possible without the right people. For clarification, to run an official Bob Graham Round you must have runners with you at all times to help pace, navigate and confirm that you reach the summits. The Bob Graham Round club are very active in helping with this process. It is allowed that these ‘pacers’ can mule for the runner.
Kilian had a line-up of pacers that are world-class, nothing else would do! Let’s face it, if the record was on, he’d need people that could not only navigate the best lines and route, but also be able to keep up! Somewhat intimidating to know that you will need to run with the best mountain runner in the world.
The route is broken down into ‘legs’ and the pacers work on certain legs and are then replaced by fresh runners for the next leg – for the pacers and navigators, it’s like a relay. For Kilian, it’s an all out run as fast as you can loop.
Kilian had stated he was going 13:25.
READ KILIAN’S RACE REPORT HERE
How it unfolded
Early reports came in that he was 6-7 minutes up on the record – I posted this around 10:20am so Kilian had already been going 4-hours.
At 11:23 I posted that Kilian was on leg 3 and had 21-minutes on Billy’s time. It was getting exciting… Temperatures were rising and Kilian had a sting of supporters.
I had reports coming in from friends on the course and I was doing my best to build a picture of Kilian’s progress. I joked that Kilian was moving so fast that by the time I had an update, it was old news.
It soon became clear that the record was not only on, but it may will be obliterated.
Kilian arrived at Dunmail with 4:30 elapsed and this placed him 30-minute UP on Billy’s record.
It was a hot day though, anything could happen…. And what about Kilian’s leg, would it hold up to the relentless fells?
At Harrison Stickle, Kilian arrived at 11:51 am with approximately 5:51 elapsed – the record was really on and excitement started to grow.
Bowfell came at 12:45 with 6:45 elapsed. He was looking fresh and reports confirmed that he was moving well.
The pace was relentless and the support incredible.
Good friend and experienced fell runner, Kim Collison confirmed that Kilian was 34mins UP on the record at Scaffell Pike – history was being written on the Lakeland fells!
Social media became a frenzy of Bob Graham hashtags and by early afternoon, many began to realise history was going to be re-written, a 36-year record was going to fall barring a disaster.
The Moot Hall, Keswick soon became a new meeting point for Sunday night as runners from over the UK made the journey to welcome Kilian home.
Amelia Hunt confirmed that Kilian passed Yewbarrow at 14:00hrs – that placed home approximately 40-minutes up on the record.
Kilian passed Gable at 16:10hrs.
As Kilian entered a network blackout area, a lack of updates left questions on how fast he was going and then suddenly I had a confirmed report that he was approximately 45-minutes ahead of Billy’s record… was this possible? Was it possible that he could be going so fast?
Andy Jackson ran from Grey Knotts with Kilian and confirmed he was flying “Ran from Grey Knotts with Kilian and pacers. He stopped for 2mins for food and drink and pushed on. Had a great team with him: Scoffer, Paul Aitken and Steve Birkenshaw.”
Finally an update came from Honister Slate Mines at 1700 hrs +/-.
Kilian passed Dalehead at 17:26hrs and now sub13 was looking possible!
Kilian arrived at the final summit Robinson at 17:52 – the record was going down and by a big margin!
At 18:20hrs Kilian arrived on the road at Little Town and before we knew it, he was at the Moot Hall.
New record 12:52 (tbc) – 1h 01m quicker than Billy Bland – wow!
IT IS OFF THE SCALE.
In the words of @kilianj
“Thanks Billy, I had better conditions than you, the best pacers and your inspiration to give everything! And even like that it was sooo sooo hard!!! Thanks to Carl, Chris, Martin, Josh, Jebby, Steve, Paul, Andrew, Neil, Paul and all the guys who has been helping out, without you guys it wouldn’t been possible ! Big big thanks to Martin for making it real and such an organization last minute, thanks Shane, Thanks Jordi and thanks all the people cheering on the route. This Bob Graham Round was an amazing experience!” Photo ©timharper shared from Kilian’s IG account.
As I write today, I still struggle to comprehend the speed at which Kilian completed this route and a huge credit must go to the team behind this. Kilian had the ‘best of the best’ to pace and navigate him. Without them this could not have happened. He had perfect weather, maybe a little too hot for some? And the ground conditions were ideal enabling a fast time.
Like I said, it takes a Perfect Storm for a record to happen. But Billy’s record was just beaten, it was elevated to a whole new level. Just think, Billy’s record has stood for 36-years, how long will Kilian’s stand for?
Records are made to be broken and this is one record that elevates Kilian to a whole new level and I think finally, he may well get the respect from many who have said that he is not a ‘runner!’ With this record, he has done something so special, it is a great sporting achievement that should be embraced by all. It’s not fell running, mountain running, ultra running, Skyrunning or any label, it is just running – let’s embrace it for that.
Kilian undertook this FKT attempt in the true spirit of the ‘Bob,’ *it was low-key, without grandeur, without PR, without announcement, without film crews or photographers – it was man agains the fells. It says a great deal about the man and his character, he is a true ambassador for the sport. Post his finish in Keswick, he returned to the steps of the Moot Hall and sat for a hour with the assembled fans to ‘give back’ as he chatted and posed for photos.
Sporting achievements come and go, some truly last the test of time. Billy Bland’s record stood the test of time and now we have a new level. I personally can’t foresee this record being broken for many a year? But in year’s to come, I will be able to look back at July 8 2018 and remember that I witnessed a truly great sporting achievement by a truly great man. The word legend is used a great deal, in Kilian Jornet we have a living legend.
I will be interviewing Kilian on July 10th or 11th and his interview will be on Episode 159 of Talk Ultra podcast (Here). It will also be transcribed and post as word interview on this website.
*It came to light after the event that Lymbus employed a film crew and photographers to document Kilian’s BGR. At the time off writing this was unknown to me and I think to the general public. I still stand by the fact this attempt was low-key and without fanfare. Having now interviewed several of the pacers who helped Kilian on the legs, they have also confirmed that Kilian was ‘in the true spirit’ of the Bob Graham.
‘Travailen’ – To make an arduous journey
It was never going to be easy. Making an arduous journey never is, however, the Drakensberg Traverse has a history and in the opening minutes of this 30-minute visual candy, we are introduced to that history, not only in words but mages.
Ryan and Ryno explain the process of how they met at the Salomon SkyRun years earlier and how a seed was planted, a seed that would grow and blossom into the Drak Traverse.
It’s in the early section of the film that we are treated to an explanation of the challenge through an array of images accompanied by short interviews
Gavin & Lawrie Raubenheimer pioneered the trail in 1999 (104hrs 39min) and established a benchmark (and route) that must include the 6-peaks under self-sufficiency. Previous record holder, Stijn Laenen excitedly discusses the ‘Drak’ and how difficult a speed attempt will be. But ultimately, one of the most important characters is Cobus Van Zyl, a large man with a deep authorative voice. Cobus held the current record which he set with Ryno, but he shows no jealousy, no hint of contempt; in actual fact it is the contrary. Cobus actually becomes involved in the whole process, helping recce the route, plan logistics and during the attempt, Cobus is the ‘pin’ back at HQ following the tracker.
Ryan speaks softly and shows vulnerability throughout the whole film. He may well be a superstar with a list of palmarès to confirm his ascendance in the sport in such a short space of time. However, we see none of that in this film… no previous glories, no back slapping… in actual fact, the back slapping comes from Ryno who almost places Ryan on too high a pedestal.
‘I felt super vulnerable, out of my depth and out of my comfort zone’
Ryan tells us in the middle section of the movie where we are introduced to the extremities that the Drakensberg can throw at anyone. On the third day of a fast-pack attempt; Ryno, Cobus and Ryan are confronted by extreme weather and Ryan pulls the plug amongst snow-covered fields. One has to remember, Ryan is new to running, let alone extreme running and it becomes very clear in these moments, that although Ryan may very well be the vehicle of the film, this attempt would not be possible without the knowledge and experience of Ryno and Cobus. Ryan has no façade, he has no bravado, and he tells it like it is…
‘If things go wrong, I don’t think I’d be capable of looking after myself.’
Footage of the actual record completes the final third of the film and for me; the process of reducing 41hours 49mins of record-breaking time into approximately 11-12 minutes is where the true miracle happens. I know only too well as a photographer how protective I can become of images and moments. Dean Leslie and the crew at The African Attachment work wonders. It’s like a wonderfully crafted piece of music that actually takes instruments away, rather than adding, to make the whole piece larger, greater and more memorable. Switching for arial vistas and close ups; the story is told in a series of bold moments that encompass key moments during the traverse.
‘If I am not ready now, I never will be’
Ryan rushes to prepare in the final moments before the midnight start. At the stroke of 12, they depart into the night. Climbing metal ladders running through the night, head torches are replaced by the arrival of the sun.
Back at base, Cobus and Cindy Van Zyl follow Ryan and Ryno; they monitor each step via trackers.
‘You realize how quickly things can go wrong, how vulnerable they are… if you need to escape, it’s at least 6-hours hard hiking!’
Exhausted by the heat, Ryan and Ryno reach Cleft Peak at 08:39 and run on. Dreaming of milkshakes they become dehydrated and face the demons of trying to refuel at night at Giant’s Pass.
‘If you don’t get your nutrition right you will fail and you will simply stop’
Tired, exhausted and lacking concentration they move on into the night. Trying to sleep is almost impossible. The dawn of a new day shows us the impact of the terrain, the beauty, the magic and the splendor of the traverse. Here words aren’t required and the mix of visual and music takes us to a new level. This is more than a running movie. It’s art.
‘It’s about doing things that make you happy and doing it because you want to.’
Bushman’s Neck Border Post 5:49pm with 205km’s covered, Ryan and Ryno approach a Red Bull arch. It’s the first glimmer of the real world and the brand that made this attempt possible. No crowds, no razzamatazz, just a few friends and family…
‘Just a short run in the Drakensberg Mountains,’ Ryan says to camera.
As the film closes, quite rightly, respect is given to the history of the Drakensberg Traverse via visual snaps:
- Cobus & Ryno
- Andrew Porter (successful solo attempt and record)
- Stijn & Andrew
- Gavin & Lawrie
Travailen is not your usual showboating movie about running. It’s a honest piece. It shows vulnerabilities and how we overcome them. Egos and reputations are dismissed into a collective gathering of skill and experience. It’s a spiritual journey that I am sure will live on within each of those involved.
As a movie it is a visual feast handled with great skill by Dean Leslie and the team at the African Attachment. The blending and fading of subtle music provides a wonderful and balanced atmospheric to the pain and struggle of Ryan and Ryno. For such a tough challenge, the movie is a calm and tranquil homage to a very tough, rugged and gnarly mountain range. The characters involved, maybe it’s the South African accents, blend with the nature providing a wonderful silky smooth experience.
Runner or not, Travailen holds joys and pleasure for all. The film previewed on May 29th at The Labia, Cape Town. The film will be available for public release, however, the date has not yet been made available. I will update as and when appropriate.
READ MY DRAK TRAVERSE INTERVIEW WITH RYAN SANDES HERE
Thanks and credits:
I’d like to thank Ryan Sandes, Ryno Griesel, Kelly Burke, Dean Leslie, Greg Fell, Red Bull and The African Attachment for the opportunity to see an advance copy of Travailen.
What Red Bull have to say:
The visually epic tale of Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel’s Drakensberg Grand Traverse record.
At midnight on Monday, March 24 2014, trail runners Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel set off into the darkness from Witsieshoek car park. Their goal: to complete the 210 kilometreDrakensberg Grand Traverse – the mother of all Drakensberg hikes – faster than anyone had before.
To rightfully claim the title they had to travel on foot, carrying all their own gear without receiving any form of support along the way. It was just them against the mountain elements. Against the clock.
Travailen is the thrillingly visual tale of their attempt. Dean Leslie, Director for Travailen, gives us some insight into the toughest assignment the The African Attachment have ever taken on.
At 00h00 on Monday, 24 March 2014, trailblazers Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel embarked on the ultimate Drakensberg adventure – the Drakensberg Grand Traverse. The two battled the elements and intense fatigue to break the existing record by an incredible 18 hours to complete the traverse in 41 hours and 49 minutes on 25 March 2014.
Spanning parts of the Free State and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces of South Africa, as well as the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, the unmarked route has broken many an adventurers heart with only 3 official records set since the route was first run 15 years ago. The previous Drakensberg Grand Traverse (DGT) record, of 60 hours 29 mins, was set by Griesel and Cobus van Zyl.
A tired, but remarkably upbeat, Ryan Sandes was elated at completing the attempt and achieving a new record. “This attempt started as a seed more than 2 years ago…to have finished it now feels quite surreal. We felt good from the start & knew if the weather held, we would have a great chance of breaking the record. However, until you cross the line, you can’t be too sure. There were a few anxious moments when I tweaked my ankle 2 hours into the attempt & I was worried that it might mean the end so soon. Running through the night was challenging at some of the more technical parts, but it really helped to have Ryno there. He knows the mountain like the back of his hand & it was reassuring to have someone so experienced with me.”
Griesel was equally complimentary of his teammate. “Ryan has got to be the best runner in the world when it comes to these conditions. Running the DGT, as opposed to speed hiking, takes a greater toll on your body than I realised. I became dehydrated during the first day and had a couple of tough hours, but Ryan pushed us through it and kept me going.” When asked how he was feeling, Griesel summed it up in one word: ‘Privileged’. “It was such an incredible experience to see this dream of ours realised after years of planning and to enjoy so much support from friends, family & strangers from around the world.”
In order for the attempt to be official Sandes and Griesel had to start and the Sentinel Car Park and end at the Bushman’s Neck Border Post. As there is no set route for the DGT, one can choose any route to do so as long as one passes eight checkpoints along the way including The Chain Ladders, the Mont-aux-Sources summit at 3282m and the highest of the all the summits (and the highest point in Southern Africa) Thabana Ntlenyana Summit at 3482m.
Both of the athletes cited the sunrise from this summit as something that would stay with them forever. As Griesel said, “The sunrise this morning from Thabana was a special moment and we both stopped for a few seconds to appreciate the view. It was both inspiring & humbling to greet the day from such a vantage point.”
Part of the equipment the athletes carried was a mobile tracking system that tracked their movements across the mountains. This data was fed into an interactive website – http://www.redbull.co.za/draktraverse – that tracked distance, time against previous record and conditions live. The site attracted more than 20 000 visitors from all over the world over the course of the event and users were able to show their support for the athletes by sharing live data from the site.
With his DGT record in the bag, Sandes now has his sights set on Ultra Trial Mount Fuji in April, before he comes back to South Africa to participate in the Wings for Life World Run in Franschhoek in May.
- Post by Kelly Burke
Kathmandu, Sunday 21st April 2013
Runner breaks own 3-day record for 319km Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu mail run.
British female endurance athlete completes journey in 63 hours 8 minutes.
On Saturday evening at 10 minutes past ten, the British endurance athlete Lizzy Hawker, 37, arrived at the locked gates of Rangashala, Nepalâ€™s National Stadium in Kathmandu to complete the 319km journey by foot from Everest Base Camp in Solukhumbu.
In steadily falling rain she was greeted by a handful of press photographers and was awarded a token of congratulations by Nilendra Shrestha, president of the Nepal Amateur Athletics Association who named it a â€œstunning effortâ€.
At 7:02 on Thursday 18th April the internationally renownedÂ endurance athlete began the solo part of her run in the direction of Kathmandu. She reached Jiri on Friday at 6pm where two support runners joined her.
During the journey she rested frequently but slept, in her estimation, for just 4 minutes.
Searching for the trail at 2am on the second night with support runner Upendra Sunuwar.
She was the current world record holder for the â€˜Everest Mailrunâ€™ the journey taken by those carrying letters to and from expeditions at Everest Base Camp before the opening of the Lukla airstrip in 1964. It is a record few have tried to claim.
Her previous record stood at 71 hours 25 minutes, completed in November 2011. She made her first attempt of the run in 2007 with her friend, Steven Pike, which took 74 hours 36 minutes.
The last Nepali runner to hold the record wasÂ Kumar Limbu in 79 hours andÂ 10 minutes set in May 2000.
The route is brutally hilly with more than 10,000m of ascent and nearly 14,000m of descent on a mixture of rocky trails and tarred road.
â€œThe biggest challenge, wondering if would I get to start due to the Lukla flight cancellations,â€ says Hawker. The hardest part on the run was the two hours at the end of the third day without sleep. â€œWhen darkness falls, thatâ€™s when you feel the tiredness,â€ she said.
Her striking impression of the run was â€œthe contrast, from beauty of the mountains and purity of the landscape up there [at Base Camp] to evening rain, traffic and pollution in urban Kathmandu at the end of the journey.â€
Hard times – just two hours from Kathmandu on the busy highway near Bhaktapur.
Being congratulated with a malla by NAAF President Nilendra Shrestha
Hawker, who was named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2013 is well known in the ultra running and trail running worlds.Â She won the 100K world championship in 2006, set a 24-hour world record by running 247km at the Commonwealth Championships in September 2011, and set a course record for women in the 250kmÂ Spartathlon Ultra RaceÂ in Greece last year. She is also five times winner of the 168km North Face Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc, one of the world’s iconic ultra-marathon races.
Earlier this year The North Face sponsored athleteÂ won the Nepalâ€™s 100kmÂ Annapurna 100Â race and will race the multidayÂ Mustang Trail RaceÂ later this month before then going to compete in the 24 hour World Championships in The Netherlands in mid-May.