Billy Bland Relay Challenge – Ellenborough AC
The Billy Bland Relay Challenge is based on the five legs of the 24 hour Bob Graham round, starting and finishing at the Moot Hall in Keswick. It covers 66 miles, 28,000 foot of climbing over 42 Lake District Peaks. The team consists of 10 runners split into 5 pairs, each pair running a leg of the challenge. In 1982 Billy Bland completed the Bob Graham round in an astonishing 13 hours 53 minutes and to this day no solo runner has come close to this time.
Ellenborough AC runner Chris Lister put the challenge to the club members and a date was set for Sunday 5th June. The team honed their fitness and route details in the preceding weeks and crossed their fingers for fair weather. Running over the fells is difficult enough but the weather also plays a big part, with wind, rain and mist all hampering any effort to travel quickly over the terrain.
6.00am Sunday with the sun beating down Calum Tinnion and Lee Amor blasted away from the Moot Hall in Keswick to tackle Leg 1, Skiddaw, Great Calva and the magnificent Blencathra. The heat of the day soon became apparent with the lads having to take a dip in a beck to cool down. Bang on pace they hit the tops and seeing two figures hurtling down the rocky and precipitous Halls Fell ridge down to Threlkeld was more than spectacular. Leg 2 runners Scott Keough and Chris Knowles grabbed the baton and took off for Clough Head, quickly summiting the Dodds and Helvellyn, grateful to reach Grisedale Tarn for a well earned dip to cool off hot and battered feet. The steep, rough slog up Fairfield in the ever increasing heat didn’t slow them and they sped off Seat Sandal to the waiting party including Leg 3 pairing Ricky Lightfoot and Richard McGrath. Running alongside Ricky is daunting enough without any added pressure but Richard rose to the challenge quickly disappearing over the Steel Fell ridge with Ricky close behind. They made good time over the fells, including the Langdale Pikes then headed to the highest point of the day, Scafell Pike. With Richard’s mastery at finding the perfect line through the rocky terrain they soon summated neighbouring Scafell. Both excellent descenders they made short work of the 3000 foot drop to Wasdale where Leg 4 runners Chris Lister and Brian Taylor were chomping at the bit. Now around 10 minutes up on the record breaking schedule Chris and Brian kept this trend going over Yewbarrow and Red Pike, Steeple and Pillar. With the bit firmly between their teeth they flew over the rough Western Fells section finally dropping into Honister having gained back more time. Honister is where Mark Walsh and Alan Bowness took over the baton. Now if the other runners could be described as Mountain Goats then these two are our Ellenborough AC greyhounds! Both renowned for their speed they shot up Dalehead, Hindsgarth and the final summit Robinson, soon dropping down to Stair village and the final road miles back to Keswick. These two hit the tarmac and hit it fast, treating it as a 10k road race and in no time sprinting up to the Moot Hall to applause from team mates, family and friends, touching the door 13 hours and 14 minutes after Calum and Lee had set off, knocking a whopping 70 minutes off the previous record and breaking the individual records for Legs 1, 3 and 5 aswell. All the runners had given their all, clearly evident at the end of each leg, drenched in sweat, blistered feet and clearly fatigued.
The relay cannot be compared to a solo effort but Billy’s times are used as a guide and taking into account his 20 minutes of rest which are not needed in a relay, it makes his record time all the more incredible.
As with all team achievements there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that goes unseen, so huge thanks to Chris Lister for organising the runners, schedules and logistics and putting the crazy idea into our heads. Out supporting on the fells were Graeme Fox, Dava Williams, Shaun Atkinson, Alex Roberts, Steven Brown, Paul Johnson, Andy Reid and Gary Thwaite. Thanks also to Nick and Katie Ray for helping with transport.
Many of the runners have completed solo BGs and this new record will stand alongside that honour. All at Elbra are very proud of their achievement.