Tod Graham Round PB
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done the Tod Graham Round. As far as ‘rounds’ go, it’s pretty short at around 17-18 miles but for a South Pennine fell route it boasts a fairly hefty amount of climbing at somewhere around 1500m. I’ve written an article about the round for the spring fellrunner magazine which talks a little bit about route details and why I designed it, but I think it’s a great training route for an AL type fell races and has been a huge help for me.
The last time I ran the round was with my good Friend Anthony Lee (current MV40 Record Holder at 2:59:58) on my birthday last November. I’d had a really strong run but was only managing to chip off a minute or 2 each time I ran the round. I was edging closer and closer to sub 3:30, but it was beginning to feel like I may have started to reach my limits and working on marginal gains. However, I’ve been working with a coach (Dave@fellrunningguide.co.uk) to see if I could improve my speed and endurance. With the lack of any racing or competition over the last 12 months, I’ve had it in my head that I’ve become a bit of a plodder and lost any speed that I had.
I’d penned in another race effort time trial run at the Tod Graham at the end of March / start of April. With the weather forecast looking reasonably ok during the week leading up to my attempt I began working on a precise schedule based on previous runs and using the Naismith’s rule, which gave me a schedule of 3:26, which felt achievable. I’d noticed on Strava that Karl Gray had recce’d the route the weekend before, so offered a trade; If he would help pace me round I would show him all the best lines. The morning of the run he agreed to help me and brought along Gavin Mulholland for extra help. I’d never actually met Karl and Gav but having just recently joined Calder Valley, I was incredibly encouraged by the willingness of these top runners to come and help a Joe average fell runner like me.
We met at the town hall at 9:30 and set off a few minutes later. Running up the first hill to the Stones Lane checkpoint I found myself about 30 seconds up on schedule. I started to worry I’d set off too quickly as I was breathing fairly heavily and slurring my words already. I guess there was a little inferiority complex going on but I held on and it’s not the first time I’ve felt like that at the start of a run like this. I find I always need about 45 mins to feel my way in and settle into the pace. Karl stopped for the 1st of many comfort breaks while I began the fast descent to the road crossing at Gauxholme with Gav on my tail.Read More
Crossing the road and starting the climb up to Inchfield pasture I decided to ease off slightly and powerhike for a while. Karl had caught us up and hung back with me whilst Gav trotted up the paved section with ease. Once I was confident I’d found the right point to cut off across the moor, the pace began to pick up a little again, or at least it felt that way. I’ve still never found the perfect route but it was dry with minimal tussocks for a while before hitting some bog at the bottom of the steep climb up to the trig point at Trough Edge End. I’d started to settle into the pace and although it felt fast I began to feel relaxed and settled. I don’t really check my heart rate on races but I decided to have a couple of checks here and there to make sure I wasn’t over exerting myself. On the final pull up I realised I was most likely ahead of my splits again and deposited a healthy balance of 3 minutes in the bank.
I touched the trig and immediately started legging it down towards Ramsden clough reservoir. Having practiced jumping over walls and gates recently (sad I know!), I decided to see if this would pay off, leaping over 2 large gates in quick succession and shooting off towards the 3rd checkpoint. I figured I should probably work on any advantage I can get, so the ability to leap over fences effectively made me feel quite smug and gave me a few seconds to get ahead of Karl and Gav. I made up an extra minute on that descent so it must have helped, although I’d find out later on that its not quite as effective when the legs have taken a bit of a pounding! We found a perfect trod down the re-entrant at Ramsden clough reservoir which marks the 3rd checkpoint. With every minute I banked I kept thinking I’d ease off on the next climb, but that all ended up being a little hypothetical.
The climb up to Ramsden hill was fairly uneventful and just a case of settling into the pace and powerhiking up the climb. Linking up with the turnslack race trod, we were up on our toes again and running over the plateau. As always. I lost the trod that heads down to cranberry dam so it was just a case of keep traversing across the hill to the right and down. I always seem to think I’m going too far right but its still never far enough and I never quite hit the stile dead on. Running down to the stream crossing at the bottom of noon hill I took the first of several tumbles, sliding on my arse with the usual overly dramatic effect. I swear I was not trying to take a few minutes lying down. At the start of the climb I’d made another minute up and was now 6 minutes up and cruising.
Considering I was showing Karl my best lines, I never actually found a good line up noon hill and it was actually he who showed me an absolute banger of a line. If you’ve ever been up noon hill you’ll know that it is a tussocky hellhole. I usually take a line up to the right of a gulley and just accept that there are some tussocks to deal with, but Karl led us straight up the gulley and it turns out that you can sidestep around the tussocks, almost avoiding them completely. I think it adds a few extra metres of climbing maybe but its much cleaner and easier going. I made up yet another minute on my schedule and was now really starting to think I’d probably end up having to pay it all back later on. But what’s done is done and now I just had to keep going and see what happens.
I said to the guys that I was going to ease up on the descent towards Walsden and use some of that time I’d banked to recover. Gav was very complementary on my descending and suggested I just keep the pace up on the descent and then recover on the climbs, which made sense really. I tend to do a lot more powerhiking on the climbs and although It may not always be the fastest, I can keep a good consistent effort going and use the time to get some in food in me. We ran some good lines down to Walsden and were 8 minutes up at the road crossing. On the way down I nearly went headfirst over a gate as I cockily tried to leap over it and caught my trailing foot. Stupid!
I was adamant I would take it a little easier on the next climb up to Warland reservoir as it’s quite a long and runnable climb so quite easy to overegg it. On the way up we chatted about racing and whether the guys would be running or powerhiking up the hills during something like this. I was quite pleasantly surprised that it sounds as though it’s pretty similar at the front of a race as it is a little further back, just a bit faster. I don’t think I made up any more time at this point but made the climb quicker than ever and maintained the buffer we’d built.
We ran across the flagstones to Gaddings dam, which I found a little tough as the wind had picked up and flat running isn’t my greatest strength. At this point I just decided to try not to lose any time and just kept a fairly consistent pace but had a very brief bad patch as my stomach started to feel a little off momentarily. A great descent was coming up so I could open up again and build that buffer some more. During the descent off Gaddings dam I lost my footing and nearly took a tumble at speed before planting my back foot and somehow pulling off a great save to prevent a nasty fall. I can’t really describe it but it was a pretty weird little dance move I had to pull off the prevent the fall. Fortunately, that bad patch didn’t last as it was far too early and could have been a problem and I felt great again as we descended.
By the time we reached the road crossing near the shell garage we were around 12 minutes up on schedule. Things were looking great but for me this is the point where the route really gets tough. You’re faced with 2 pretty big climbs for Bridestones and then Flower Scar. For someone who is typically fairly unorganised, I’d set up a little feed station in my car at the bottom of the Bridestones climb on Stansfield Road. I opened the boot and switch supplies within about 20 seconds and we were on our way, ham and mayo wrap in hand. We settled into a hard powerhike whilst I tried to take little bites of my wrap. Half hour later that wrap was still only half eaten. At the effort I was up against it was becoming tricky to eat. I grit my teeth and pushed on but made some chit chat to try and distract myself.
We reached the trig point, having maintained that 12 minute buffer and dropped down between the boulders and made our way off the hill. I ballsed up the line a little here, thinking that I’d taken the wrong trod somewhere. Turns out the trod was fine and I took us on an unnecessary tussocky detour, resulting in a bloody leg as we climbed a barbed wire fence. After this we made our way down past a farm house on a paved road on the Calderdale Way. As we chatted I didn’t account for the drainage ditches that are periodically positioned on the lane and took a mighty tumble as my foot dropped down a ditch. Before I realised I’d fallen I was back on my feet again as I styled it out with a perfect action man roll! Weird how the body just went into auto pilot and put me back on track straight away. I was just happy to not have snapped, sprained or even hurt my ankle at all in that fall. Could have been really nasty.
We took my sneakiest line down a wooded gulley into Lydgate and then started the climb up to Flower Scar. I like to use the descent route at Lydgate from the flower scar fell race for the climb as its more gradual and runnable and easier to get a consistent pace on. All other routes are really steep at this stage when I’m at the crux of the round and things are getting really intense so I’m just looking to keep things consistent at this stage. Karl and Gav really started cracking the whip here. I was still a little chatty but starting to slow slightly. According to these guys I was now talking too much and obviously not trying hard enough so it was time to shut up and get a move on. Karl was gradually having to drop back more and more as I began to struggle. “get your hands on your knees”…”keep driving them legs”. He wasn’t going to let me ease up. When the gradient would ease he wasn’t letting me walk and I found myself running again, against all my bodily instincts. The final haul up to the top of flower scar was really tough as I felt like I was going to throw up throughout. I desperately wanted to sit down on the slope for a few minutes and just chill out but there is no way that they were going to let that happen. I’d built up an even bigger time buffer by this point, so please just let me take it easy! I demanded to take at least a few deep breaths at the summit though. I’d have taken longer but they started heading back down the hill. I best get moving again.
The road descent back to the town hall is always a tough prospect. You’ve done all the hills and now you have a couple of miles to tap out on the road. I mentioned that I could probably walk back now and still get a pb but I got shouted at for that comment. The guys kept the pace relentless so I just decided to get on with it and stick with them. There’s a grim little false flat on the road through sourhall which I always think is one of the worst climbs on the round! I settled into a comfortable pace and in the end it flew by pretty quick. Initially Karl and Gav were going to peel off through centre vale park to save their studs. I was gutted when they changed their minds as I was looking forward to a bit of respite! Every time I would slow down Karl would demand that I push for a sub 3:15 and when I looked at the watch it was looking possible but I couldn’t faff about. I had a quick rush of confidence and flew past them both before realising it was unsustainable and just held my pace again. I don’t think it was the fastest I’ve done the road section in but I kept a solid pace considering my hamstrings were started to feel early signs of cramp. Fortunately it never fully materialised.
Anyway, in the end I finished in 3:13:16. This was far beyond my expectation and 19 minutes faster than my previous PB in November 2020. I never thought I’d be able to achieve a time anywhere near this and need to give a shout out to my coach Dave who must be doing something right.
A big thanks to Karl and Gavin for their help during this run, it was a pleasure to run with them and I don’t think I would have achieved this time without their help, particularly during those latter stages. It was a really nice warm welcome to the club to have those guys selflessly giving up their time to help me get a massive personal best on my favourite route. Social distancing wasn’t much of an issue, particularly near the end when those guys were at least 10-20m socially distanced from me most of the time barely even breaking a sweat.
Hopefully more of you may be inspired to give the route a go yourselves. I’m sure it’s nowhere near as tough, but with Ennerdale coming up in June it might make for a good local training route for those of you taking on this Lakeland classic. I also have a few other routes up on www.southpenninefellchallenges.co.uk, however my web design skills are somewhat to be desired!
See link here for route maps with checkpoints.