by Simon Barnett
In a similar way that Tony Ruberry felt compelled to put pen to paper in 2008 to capture his viewpoint of the first Tring Running Club Bob Graham Round (BG) after a long absence, I too feel a duty to make a record of a stupefying performance by relatively new member Hugh Chatfield on Saturday 18th June 2022.
The BG has gained prominence in recent years and is now quite widely known. It’s a 66 mile route with 27,000 feet ascent visiting the same 42 peaks as visited by local hotelier Bob Graham within a 24-hour period in 1932, reputedly whilst eating greengages and wearing plimsolls.
Hugh started running with TRC in the autumn making a stand-out debut by being first TRC runner at his first Chiltern League cross country race. He’s no stranger to endurance challenges with an Iron Man triathlon behind him among other events.
Hugh lives on the other side of the county but was attracted to TRC by the prospect of getting out on the fells more with like-minded people. So far it’s looked like a good decision.
Hugh laid down a form marker in the spring by finishing third in the Edale Skyline, with one of the two runners in front being George Foster – currently the fastest English person to have finished the BG. Through the spring Hugh had numerous visits to recce the round and to construct a sensible target time. He settled on 18 hours and had the tricky task of pulling together a team of capable supporters.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Hugh for 18 months, and know that he doesn’t do anything slowly and doesn’t like to be idle. It was no surprise that the day before his round he not only shopped for and prepared an evening meal, but went for a family walk up Walla Crag as well.
A fast schedule has the considerable benefit of minimising or eliminating running through darkness. So a short while before dawn in a deserted Keswick High Street, save for Hugh’s partner and Dad and a couple of sober looking men that walked past, he set off at a fast lick.
The reasons that I’ve not run with Hugh before quickly became obvious as he started opening the gates for me to pass through. I could see something special was unfolding as he broke into a walk at the first significant bit of climb. He was effortless and ruthlessly efficient, long legs striding forwards simply eating up the ground. I was having to jog to keep up and by now, not even ten minutes in was sweating profusely whilst Hugh was clearly very well within his comfort zone.
The full moon illuminated the fells and the breaking dawn soon meant head torches were unnecessary. Large groups of descending walkers wished us well. A spectacular sunrise greeted our approach towards Skiddaw before hitting some cloud with a strong tailwind on the summit ridge.
Hugh eased himself to Threlkeld, where fell-running legend Steve Birkinshaw had got up early to support Hugh on the next leg. And so Hugh’s day continued, and I hope will be captured fully elsewhere. He picked up time along the way, eating away at the schedule leaving his supporters and the dot-watchers wondering just how fast he could go.
There was a little pick-me-up on Leg 3, with Matt Wade, as the leading runners from the Great Lakes fell race started to gradually overtake more or less being on the same route from
Esk Pike as far as Scafell Pike, with many encouraging words and looks of wonderment as Hugh was bucking the trend by carrying his own vest pack and to a large extent being self-sufficient.
It seemed that nothing could get Hugh down. Upon arrival at Wasdale he was in fine form, merrily taking care of his own feet whilst brushing off the fact that a lot of the food he was hankering after was not available thanks to an over-zealous car parking attendant.
Claire Shelley put in a shift on the last Leg and Hugh was accompanied by his partner Millie on her bike blaring out music for the last few road miles, despite having taken a tumble earlier in the day when her chain got stuck.
I’m only sad that I could not be at the Moot Hall in the early evening for Hugh’s triumphant return after an astonishing 17hrs and 17 minutes. Talk about finishing in time for last-orders or before the Keswickian stops frying chips!
There is a special page on the Bob Graham website that marks sub 18hr rounds. Hugh’s name will soon be up there, most likely in the top 20, alongside a stellar who’s who including Killian Jornet, George Foster, Jasmin Paris, Billy Bland, Finlay Wild, Kim Collison, Steve Birkinshaw & Rob Jebb.
I count myself very fortunate to have been able to witness such a fine athletic performance. It’s a day that will no doubt live very long in the memory.