Bob Wightman

BGR Training for Walkers

An alternative route to the BGR is to come to the attempt from a walking background. It is possible to walk the entire route (i.e. no running even downhill) within the 24hrs allowed. Indeed, Bob Graham himself always referred to the round as a “long walk” and it is known that he and his friends used to head out for long fell walks on a regular basis. The resulting “round” being as much a culmination of years of fitness as anything else.

In fact those coming from a long distance walking background are likely to have as good a chance of success as runners. This is because most races are a maximum of four or five hours, even for the slowest competitor. Thus the runner tends not to be used to being out for long periods in the hills whereas the walker may often be out for eight to ten hours. This is ideal training.

As a side note: when out walking in the Lakes I have been able to maintain the 23hr schedule pace even when wearing big boots and carrying a small (15 litre) rucksack. Obviously these times were when I was fresh but even so, allowing for the time of year (November) and the heavier clothing and gear, it does demonstrate that the required pace is not overly difficult to achieve.

The one thing that the walker may not be used to is the constant movement required. No stopping for photos of the view; summit stops; butty breaks; etc. The runner on the other hand will spend his/her four or five hours out on the fells keeping going, eating and drinking on the move. The only stops will be toilet stops.

So the training needs to combine the endurance of the walker with the continuous effort of the runner. It may be noted that the walker will not be used to mid-week training. Unless of course they live in a mountainous area and can get out on the fells after work. Thus some extra activity is called for to help increase leg strength and stamina.

The general plan is to ensure that you are out in the hills for long ( >15 miles) walks for both days of every weekend. The walks should have a good number of climbs rather than just being ridge walks which, whilst getting in the miles, do not exercise the legs as much as the ascents and descents will do.

It is the ascents and, particularly, the descents that take their toll on the Bob Graham. There are over 26,000ft of ascent (and the same amount of descent) to cope with in a single day. So ensuring that you have this in your legs is important.

Race Walking

Beyond a certain steepness of slope it is as quick (and certainly as efficient) to walk, rather than run, uphill. This is no ordinary walk however but is a specific technique often seen in fell races.

The basic idea is that you are assisting the leg muscles in lifting the body by use of your arms and shoulders. The use of ski sticks that are now common among mountain walkers uses a similar principle. The basic idea is to help the legs lift the body weight up the slope.

Of the muscles used in climbing, the Quadriceps and Glutes are the main contributors, although several other muscle groups help. The hands should be placed so that the heel of the hand is above the knee, with the thumb on the inside and the middle finger on the outside. (The index finger doesn't really do much.) The pressure exerted by the hands has to be timed to the rhythm of the walking speed. Leaving the hand there for too long is disadvantageous. The hand when released remains close to, or just resting on, the knee ready for the next move.

The principle is that the force exerted downwards through the lower leg permits the upper half of the body to be levered up momentarily. This divides the strain of lifting the body weight between the legs and the shoulders. This is not a short term strategy, but over a long sustained climb the energy saving are considerable.

One can improve on the basic technique by providing a constant massage to the quadriceps prior to each push: place the hands just above the knee rather than directly on it and as the foot strikes slide the hand firmly down the front of the thigh to the usual position on top of the knee. At this point the raise begins.