Bob Graham – a long post about a long day

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By Nat Hicks

This post is not to elicit further congratulations, as I have received very many already (thank you), but is part of my journaling process to digest this achievement. I know many of you will enjoy it also. Given the length, I will write separately at a later date about my approach to training. Before we begin I must note that a few years ago I was not a fell runner, just a road runner in London that read Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith and thought “that will never be me”; it is surreal to prove that younger version of myself wrong. I hope through sharing my insights of the day and training you might be able to learn something too (or just enjoy the story). 

We’d rented a house in central Keswick for the week. The night before myself, Neal, Jake, Josh, Guy, Bliss and my Dad talked through some points of detail. This was a supportive yet stressful, obsessive environment; it may have been better for me to be alone and zoned completely out of the task yet. I consumed pasta and a bottle of Maurten 320 at 2100, and was in bed by 2145. Next came 5 hours of restless lying down with eyes closed. Thoughts ranged from excitement visualising my strength in the latter stages to catastrophism. It was one of those “sleeps” where you feel like it would be easier if tomorrow never came. 

I “awoke” at 0300. I’d bought wholemeal cinnamon and raisin bagels for this morning, forgetting that I should be avoiding fibre in favour of simple carbs. I therefore made the switch to 2 small pieces of white toast with jam and another bottle of Maurten 320. Neal, Guy and I walked to Moot Hall at 0345, and after 4 mins of shuffling around set off at 0400. 

Leg 1 – Neal

I’d agreed to follow a 21 hour schedule. I honestly believe that with perfect execution I could go close to 20 hours, and if things didn’t go to plan I’d have a big buffer for the finish. The unknowns to me were the length of time on feet (I’d only run over 50km once – 50 miles in 9.5 hours – and over 12 hours once – leg 3 and 4 last year) and how I’d react to heat (I’d committed 6+ sauna sessions in the last 3 weeks to acclimate). We summited a claggy Skiddaw in 78′, bang on schedule. Despite this I was even more quiet than usual and it was difficult for Neal to get any engagement from me. 

The demons had surfaced. The past 5 hours of catastrophism had continued into leg 1. I missed my dog Peggy. She is a great comfort to me in all aspects of my life. I’d shared every peak of the Bob Graham with her and I was sad she was not with me today. It was if I’d lost my coat of armour. At this point, 90′ in, whilst heading up peak 2 of 42 I seriously debated pulling the plug at Threlkeld. I thought about my support and how I could justify this to them. Dad and Bliss would understand me wanting to terminate this most recent episode of self-flagellation as they are family. I could probably bribe the Southalls. I could tell Stefan and Rick to not leave Glossop. That left only James, who I’ve shared too much with for him to really harbour any animosity. However, if I pulled the plug now I knew I would be too ashamed (this is irrational and personal to me, linked to my overcommitment to others) to come back and try again. The Bob Graham is a bucket list achievement for me – was I ready now, at the age of 31, to say I’ve given up on this life goal? With a perfect weather window and small but perfectly formed support team I couldn’t give this up today.

I am grateful that I discussed with my team that my mental strength and resilience was going to be the greatest barrier to success. I set 4 conditions for abandoning an attempt: (1) dangerous weather, (2) injury, (3) trending above 24 hours, (4) stomach rejection in leg 1 or 2. As none of the conditions were fulfilled, there was not even a case to answer or a discussion to be had. 

I debated whether verbalising my thoughts to Neal was the right decision or not, and then did so on the way up Great Calva. I was overwhelmed with the enormity of what was to come and he told me I had to chunk it down – one peak at a time, one leg at a time – and enjoy the long day ahead. It’s what I needed to hear in that moment.

We went on to summit Blencathra and descend Halls Fell (not the most ideal route, but pretty good – tough to nav in perfect viz!). We arrived into Threlkeld a few minutes up.

When I saw my crew I let the emotion leave me. I knelt to be close to Peggy and cried, hard. My Dad comforted me. I stood back up, didn’t discuss my internal debate, and focused on the matter in hand: a change of top, refuelling on cold pizza, ketones, Red Bull, Maurten 320 and restocking of on-hill nutrition (over 40 gels in one day).

I jogged out of Threlkeld with the Southalls.

Leg 2 – Jake and Josh

The Southalls were the perfect support for me in this moment. We talked about the brutality of UTS and the simple joy of being in the mountains. Mercifully, leg 2 is my domain. Trail-y and runnable in many places, I’ve run this leg 10% quicker than I needed to do today. I PR’d up Clough Head.

Nothing remarkable really happened on leg 2 beyond bumping into the OMM Lite heading up Fairfield. I did notice on this leg that I was feeling empty in my stomach. This feeling had come to me first at 0300 when I felt “lean”. Lean wasn’t what I wanted today; if anything, I wanted a few extra pounds of reserves. I think the combination of 2 days of white, quick release carbs and fuelling only on sports nutrition had given me the perception that whatever I was consuming was going directly into the bloodstream and never actually hitting my stomach. It wasn’t ideal. As with leg 1, as we descended Seat Sandal into Dunmail Raise, I began to feel low again as road support approached.

Leg 3 – Rick and Stefan

As discussed previously, I had advised my crew that the only barrier to success was mentality and execution. That message had obviously landed as there was ruthless positivity at this road crossing. Who could not want to head out with this crew up Steel Fell. We were still up on the schedule. I applied sunscreen, drank ketones and more Maurten, and we packed extra pizza for the journey ahead.

To combat my feelings of emptiness we devised a strategy of eating pizza before gel, creating (at least in my head) a layer of carbs in the stomach for the gel to hit. Even if scientifically this makes no sense, it did to me. Eating the pizza became like a hot dog eating contest; I’d take in mouthfuls of pizza alongside gulps of water to get it down.

My mood had lifted. Stefan reminded me that with every low (mental and physical) there will be a corresponding high, you just have to wait for it. We talked about OCT, life and racing weight.

I had been most nervous about Bowfell on leg 3, because even the right line can feel so wrong. Rick took responsibility for nav here and nailed it. We were rewarded at the top by an accordion player, who proceeded to play the least apt rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter” I have ever experienced on a hot first day of summer. Bowfell was busy due to a flagged 25 mile trail race also taking place. I was jealous they only had 25 miles.

The split between Rossett Pike and Bowfell was only 1′ down on my schedule. By the time we got to Esk Pike (1529) I was only 5′ down overall. This was a good result as the leg 3 schedule is punchy.

I was buoyant. My mindset now switched to “this is not a matter of ‘if’ only ‘what time'”. That’s an incredibly positive way to feel at this stage, but I acknowledged there is a lot of technical terrain to get across injury-free to ensure success, and the ‘what time’ part still required 7-9 hours of mountain running.

It was also at this stage that I understood what I did want to eat. We messaged ahead to obtain Hula Hoops, Lucozade Sport (as I’d opted for water instead of electrolytes since Dunmail), chocolate milk (to line the stomach) and the massage gun.

Following Esk Pike the boulders start, and so did my bonk. Between Esk Pike and departing Wasdale I lost at least 45′. I had worked incredibly hard up Lord’s Rake to move comparatively slowly. 

As I came into Wasdale there was not a thought at all of dropping, my mindset had completely changed. The job was done, it was now just time to grind. James was going to be a massive boost here, as planned, as we understand each other well. More ketones, Red Bull and Lucozade (quite the cocktail) and we were off.

Leg 4 – James and Stefan

Fortunately leg 4 is a beauty of a leg. In my head the only barriers were Yewbarrow (which I hate), Kirk Fell, and the Gables; once over Great Gable, the job is done.

Nothing remarkable to report on this leg besides beautiful views, known music from afar, many wild campers, and good eating (I had no trouble stomaching lots of gel now). We discussed revised timings on this leg and talked about a 22 hour schedule, but in my mind it did not matter; just the finish was important.

After donning head torches on Great Gable and the age old debate of ‘which peak is Grey Knotts’, we descended into Honister. This descent was bruising. I find these long descents into the road crossings a factor which compounds my low mental state.

I recall seeing the lights of Honister late and evidence of an unexpected disco in the YHA. It proved helpful to have an extremely loud, bark-y dog to help you gauge how far out you are.

Despite saying I would run through Honister, we paused here briefly for more ketones and Red Bull, to see my brother and Guy, then picked up Rick again for the final leg.

Leg 5 – James and Rick (and Bliss and Peggy from Little Town)

I enjoy this leg. Dale Head is steady, it’s simple nav and then 10km from Robinson home (it’s actually 11km, d’oh!). I asked Rick if he could find the magical Robin lines to avoid down climbing. He couldn’t, but he found some other good lines just the same. The descent from Robinson was slow, the final drop into the farm track aggressive, but it was done.

The road shuffle now began. The mind mistook tufts of grass in the head torch for rabbits, trains or other objects at times.

I’d been counting down to this moment, being able to run with Bliss and Peggy again, since leg 1. I’d paid my dues (42 peaks) to be with them once again. 

Guy came to drop Bliss and Peggy at Little Town. I changed into Adidas Pro 3 (for comfort rather than speed). I opted not to change socks so as not to disturb the feet underneath. (When back at the house later on I discovered this was a good move; 22 hours in one pair of socks and X-Talons had taken its toll).

Bliss then acted as expected, with support, positivity and pragmatism. We counted down the miles to Portinscale, and then to go, and never stopped to walk. We’d talked about my visualisations of my strength on the road ending and tried to mimic that form and confidence. We came through Portinscale and through the field in low cloud. As we turned into Keswick I knew the job was done and picked up my feet. My Dad, brother and Guy were at Moot Hall to welcome me in at 0250. I climbed the steps to touch the door and squatted to my heels to enjoy the closest thing to a break all day.

It was done.

In all honesty there was no emotion, only the disbelief of achieving a goal I never thought possible for me in my lifetime; a disbelief I continue to feel now.

I am incredibly grateful to Charlotte Anne Bliss, Neal Bann, Jake and Josh Southall, Stefan Bramwell, Rick Steckles, James Barnard and Guy Riddell for their support on the day, and the support and guidance of all members of the club from afar. We have deep experience of completing this Round now that we should be very proud of.

Thank you for reading. This journalling has been cathartic for me, and alongside the pictures, will hopefully help me remember this day for the rest of my life.

Part 2: The “How”

There is so much that I would like to say that I’m not sure what I should say. I will have no doubt missed interesting points in this post, therefore please feel free to discuss below or talk to me about it separately. I’ve settled on publishing only the below, and I hope you enjoy. Note there is not one size that fits all, or a right or a wrong way, this is just the approach I adopted (and that writing these long posts is what happens when you’re on holiday and not allowed to run!).

Before we begin, I think it is important to talk briefly about my (relevant) past. I grew up in Suffolk, moved to London and have focused on flat road running since 2016. Although I have always been keen on adventure spending time hiking the Southern Upland Way in Sixth Form, Duke of Edinburgh award, and West Highland Way in 2017 but do not have a background of fell walking, nor would many in the club consider me a particularly strong climber or descender (despite my proven acumen on the roads). This is important because I don’t come from hilly roots; I did not believe til this year that I could develop the required skills to complete a Bob Graham. 

I’m telling you this because when I first started I found fell running inaccessible. Whilst I am competent in the outdoors, I wasn’t aware of any book or blog post that set out the formula for getting better at this activity, and that’s why I’m committed to sharing as much of my own lived experience as I can. But if you read no further, take from my words only these two points: 

1. There is no book (there is – “Training for the Uphill Athlete” – but it’s hardly a page turner) because there is no secret sauce. To become a better fell runner, 90% of the time you are training just to be a better runner, adding a thin layer of (critical) specificity on the top.

2. If you ever hear “fell running – you’ve either got it or you haven’t“, they are wrong. Fitness can be built and skills can be learnt. Imagine anyone saying you couldn’t learn to speak French or play the piano – it would be perverse; fell running is for everyone.

If you consider this post insane and/or obsessive that’s OK. Know that it is not running per se that brings me such great enjoyment in life, it is the following of a plan to obtain a goal. Prior to running this was weightlifting – I took great joy from following a plan, making small incremental gains and lifting heavier things the next time – running is no different to me. It is incredibly important I believe to love the process far greater than the outcome (and as you’ll have read in my last post about the Bob Graham, the outcome – both preparation for and the event – tend to cause me great mental anguish).

If you’ve read my posts in the past you’ll know that following a frustrating performance at Duddon Long last year (3 June) I sought specific help to convert my proven road fitness into fell speed. Following which I achieved a great performance at Sedbergh Hills in August, regained close to PB marathon fitness at Valencia in December (2:48), took a full week off running then set to focus on the Bob Graham in 2024.

Whilst I will describe several specific aspects of my training and preparation in 2024 please note that, as I’ve said before, my success comes from 8 years of largely unbroken back to back training cycles and not from one 5 month block.

See above Chart “Weekly volume over time” and note: 

  • Volume by time: I track by time rather than mileage as the limiting factor in my training load is the amount of time available; provided I achieve 8+ hours of running a week I’m happy I’ve executed a good week. Across the 24 week block I averaged 8 hours per week. 
  • Tapering: I only had a two week taper (albeit quite severe) running a 5 hour long run two weeks out. I never felt the training volumes in this block were high. The profile of training is different to road running, with me typically running 3 hours Monday to Friday and 6 hours across Saturday and Sunday (in a 9 hour week). This same split is obviously not useful to marathon training. The 3-6 split helped me twofold – (i) easier to fit around work commitments, and (ii) you’ve almost got five days to recover from the hard efforts on the weekend. 
  • Fatigue: my largest weeks of 10.5-11 hours were significantly easier on the body than 8 hours of marathon training, due to the lower speeds, terrain and mental stimulation of being out in the hills. 
  • Weeks of interest: 08-Jan ill so missed Trigger, 05-Feb skiing, 18-Mar Edale Skyline, 08-Apr hamstring niggle, 22-Apr missed Y3P in favour of extra volume, 29-Apr Buxworth
  • Elevation goals: There were no elevation goals in January and February. From March onwards I targeted 12,000ft a week. After doing so in 26-Feb, 04-Mar, 11-Mar and then performing highly at Edale Skyline on 24-Mar there was a concern I was peaking too soon and the elevation backed off. I exceeded 10,000ft a week (a commonly used Bob Graham prep number) in 8 of the 24 weeks.

See above table and note:

  • Doesn’t this look remarkably just like any other running block (three quality sessions a week plus lots of easy running)? 
  • Longest runs: I’ve drawn attention to the longest runs through colour. Note, I exceeded 200 minutes 14 times and my longest run was 5.5 hours.
  • Biggest elevation days: I’ve drawn attention to the biggest elevation days through colour. I considered 5,500-6,000ft the threshold for a long run becoming a “Bob Sim” (discussed below), and achieved this threshold 9 times. My biggest day was approx. 7,000ft. 
  • Key sessions: in the rightmost table I have highlighted key sessions. Whilst I won’t go into the detail of these sessions below, my Strava is open to anyone.
    • FW – flat workout – these are typical road running workouts of lactate threshold miles, tempos, and fartleks, often targeting approx. 5 miles of working volume.
    • HW – hilly workout – these fall into two categories: (i) hill sessions which varied from Hills & 200s (short and sharp efforts) to long hill ladders (e.g. 20 minute 6/10 effort up James Thorn), in all cases these are running efforts, no hiking; and (ii) descent sessions – this is a Billy Bland X Kilian Jornet workout – for example, walk up James Thorn (steep) and then descend, think “flow not force” at a 5/10 effort. Each descent practice drills such as 360’s, closing your eyes, etc; each descent will naturally become faster proving that “familiarity is fast”. Use a hill which is roughly 5 mins down and 10-15 mins up; descend 4 times in an hour.
    • BS – Bob Simulation – again falling into two categories, these were either on the Bob Graham course to recce and complete at a 7/10 effort, or mimicking the same elevation/distance ratio closer to home. For these runs I would execute nutrition as planned, take poles and allow myself to hike. I actually spent far less time in the Lakes than I initially expected choosing the performance gains of no travel stress, comfort of my own bed and improved recovery. I think I only ran 5 times in the Lakes this year.
    • LRNH – long run no hike – similar to prep for Sedbergh Hills, during January and February there was no hiking on hills. This challenged me to find hilly loops on Kinder where I could stack elevation without ever stopping. Running Sandy Heys for the first time was a huge boost. I find this approach to hill running hugely beneficial psychologically too; once you are able to scale back your effort (without lactate or HR spikes) to keep “running” up a gradient, even if it isnt the fastest method, the impact of thinking “this hill will not break me” gave me alot of confidence. Running every hill you can was a piece of advice relayed to me by Neal, from Jules, early in my GDH days.
    • HA – heat acclimation – after a hot spell in early May I considered a hot day could spell disaster for my attempt therefore began heat acclimation. The plan was week 1 – 2 x 20 mins sauna/hot bath, week 2 – 3 x 20 mins, week 3 – 3 x 30 mins. Whilst I only managed 6 sessions, I consider this benefited both my fitness and performance on the day (I didn’t sweat very much and never cramped despite minimal electrolytes). I found that I could mimic the HR elevation of a 30 min sauna in only 10 mins by doing a treadmill workout immediately before. The bleakest workout was coming off an 80 min run into a 20 min hot bath followed by hot shower – brutal but effective (although I would not recommend doing this unless others are in the house with you for safety).

Alongside running I averaged 60 mins a week of yoga or strength and core work. This is too little really but adequate for completion when supplemented by the hill workouts. During the BG attempt I did not suffer from muscle soreness or a collapsing core which indicates I had done just about enough.

The above briefly covers the approach taken to train fitness, strength, skill (descending) and heat. Finally I will touch on nutrition and mentality, which I consider the crucial elements to success.


Following listening to Henriette Albon’s winter BG record being fuelled only on sports nutrition, I was convinced to do the same. I practiced consuming the intended nutrition throughout the training cycle and tried to up my intake as high as possible until GI issues emerged.

  • Carbohydrate – through practice I found my limit to be 80g of carbs per hour. I intended to use gels, drink mix and chews all from Precision Fuel & Hydration (PFH) and Maurten. During the attempt the chews became too powdery to consume and drink mix I left only for road crossings in favour of water. As such, instead I consumed around 1.5 kgs of carbs through PFH gels alone with no issue. As discussed in my previous post I consumed small amounts of pizza alongside, with the small amount of fat helping the stomach (I am not a gastroenterologist but Bliss’ Dad is…).
  • Electrolyte – PFH mix includes 1000mg of electrolyte per litre. I planned to sip this all day but dumped the mix at Dunmail Raise. From Wasdale onwards I got my salts from Hula Hoops and c. 150 ml of Lucozade Sport. 
  • Ketones – described as a gel for the brain, some athletes use Ketones now to simulate ketosis. Despite it being extremely expensive and tasting like battery acid, I also used this pre-run to kick off ketosis and help with mental clarity. It worked for this effort but I would not use frequently.
  • Red Bull – for the last month I reduced caffeine intake significantly and experimented with using Red Bull prior to and during a run. I loved it and really felt like I was flying off it (placebo or not). We decanted into a bidon so it was flat. I consumed maybe 1 can across the whole attempt.


As discussed in my other post the mental aspect was to be the greatest barrier. I addressed this in training through visualisation:

  • During runs – whenever I’d detect negative thoughts about the upcoming attempt I would repeat mantras such as “what if I have the perfect day” (thanks James) and imagine my support saying “I’ve never seen anyone look this strong / dig this deep”. When running strong I’d visualise myself in the latter stages looking that same way. I’ve used this previously with marathon cycles, but will do so more in the future.
  • Outside of running – for the final two weeks each day I would spend 10-20 minutes with eyes closed visualising the entire course from start to finish, imagining myself gliding over rocks and looking strong. I never lost sleep through worry until the very final night of the attempt.

And that’s about it for now.

As prefaced above, despite writing a lot, I will have missed things. Please feel free to discuss with me and I hope you’ve enjoyed.

What’s next: a summer of speed to bring down my 5km time, then Valencia marathon to target London Championship qualification.