By Mark Whelan
Friday 14th June 2019 I arrived in Keswick having travelled up with Steve Hennessey who had offered to drive. We’d got a couple of hours to kill, so we had a potter around the many outdoor shops to bag a bargain…there were none!
We’d parked the car at the back of Fitz Park and at 6:00pm I found myself changed in to my running gear and ready to go. At this point I spotted Mick Wren, who along with Ade and me would be supporting Col on his Leg 1 BGR. For those newer GVS members who don’t know Mick, he used to live in Tring, Hertfordshire, but found GVS over 10 years ago when he was bed and breakfasting in Whaley Bridge, whilst commuting into Manchester for work. He now lives in The Lakes and offers self-catering accommodation from his former 17th Century Farmstead at Caldbeck (check out http://highgreenrigghouse.co.uk/ ).
On the way from Fitz Park to the start I needed to call off at the loo. Mick did too, so off we went to the public toilets behind the main street. I begrudged paying but Mick insisted, so I coughed up my 50p. Both of us needed cubicles; he took the left and I took the right. I won’t go in to too much detail, but I can honestly say I’ve never heard a noise like it, so much so that I said to Mick, “if that’s what being vegan does to you, then I’ll remain a carnivore!” Mick said something about pulses and then made the comment “there are a few downsides!”
Col has been planning his Bob Graham for the past year and his preparation had been meticulous. His target for the round was 22 hrs and he had worked out the timings for each leg and each section within each leg to achieve this. The leg 1 time was very generous and was based on 24 hrs; the intention to ease into the day and not get carried away too early. The start time was 6:30pm and along with Ade, Mick and me, there were a number of others who’d gathered at Moot Hall to wish Col well and cheer him on his way. At 6:27pm there was no sign of Col and I was getting a little worried that he wasn’t going to turn up! Fortunately 2 minutes later he appeared. With a sigh of relief, best wishes exchanged and a nod to that meticulous planning we set off.
The Bob Graham Round (or the BGR) traverses 42 Lakeland Peaks, amassing 27,000ft of climb and, depending on the choice of route, covers a distance of approximately 74 miles. It was with some surprise that after less than a mile Colin informed us that he had been struggling over the past week with a bad hip and wasn’t sure he could get around. Mick told him that “not getting round was not an option”; the rest of us ignored Col and onwards we went.
The round was actually scheduled for the week before, but the inclement weather led to a cancellation. The decision to do that proved a good choice as the forecast for the next 24 hours was perfect, with pleasant temperatures and light winds forecast. The ascent up Skiddaw was steady. Col was out in front with Ade, whilst Mick and I were several metres behind; this was to become the theme for the rest of the leg. Mick had recce’d a trod on the approach to the top of Skiddaw which cut the corner and took a more direct route to the trig; he picked it up without fault. These small deviations don’t actually save much time, but mentally they are very uplifting and provide a boost. As we approached the trig I informed the others that I would record the time as this was my designated role for the leg (Target Time: 1:18 Actual Time 1:22). I then informed them that I would take a photograph. Mick said “good idea”. This was to prove a mistake. I took my pack off and bent down to get my phone out of a pocket. When I stood back up, all three had run off the summit and were already halfway down Blake Hill having crossed the stile heading for Great Calva!
The next 20 minutes was a game of chase for me. The terrain over Candleaves Bog, as the name suggests, is a tricky one. It’s like wading through treacle and is strength sapping at the best of times. I was finding it particular hard going chasing them, Col was already 250 metres ahead and skipping over the terrain with ease.
I eventually regained contact with Mick and then just about caught Ade and Col who had slowed to let us catch them as they approached the top of Great Calva (Target Time: 0:51 Actual Time 0:52). There was no hanging about and no time for chit chat. Straight over the fence, across the stones and on the path that descended into Mungrisdale Common. I was feeling the pace and within minutes I was off the back with Mick. Col and Ade once again soon became figures in the distance. We tried to make ground, but is just wasn’t happening. We reached Blackhazel Beck and crossed (up to our thighs) ready to make the long climb to the top of Blencathra. At this point Mick posed the question of whether we should try to catch Col and Ade or continue at our own pace. It didn’t take long to decide on the latter! It’s a monotonous climb, it just keeping going at a gradient that you should be able to run, but just can’t.
For the next 40 minutes we trudged along and chatted about all things running and more. Mick pointed out where his house and cottages were, and how he ventured out this way on his long runs in preparation for the Lakeland 100 that he was taking part in later the following month. He recounted a story of a family who had recently stayed in one of his cottages and had attempted a long walk to Skiddaw House. They weren’t very well equipped, had no sense of direction and soon got lost. They called Mick and described where they were, he then used his local knowledge to talk them off the hill and get them back on track; all ended well and in Mick’s own words it was “just part of the service!”
We chatted about Steve Hennessey’s successful Joss Naylor last year and his subsequent illness, which he had now thankfully overcome. Mick went in to the detail of his own medical issues and how he coped with them on a day to day basis. I won’t go into detail here, but I cringed, he said “you get used to it!” I talked about how I would like to do a Lakeland 100, a Joss or a BGR one day. Mick told me “I should”, I know I won’t!
This is the thing with running in groups, especially long runs and long challenges like the Joss or the BGR. It’s a shared experience and you spend a lot of time together, meaning you get to learn more about each other. The result is amazing friendships, amazing experiences and memories that last for ever. If you’ve not experienced this, you really ought to.
As we approached the Scree below Blencathra, Mick took a more direct route that contoured below Blue Screes and onto Atkinson Pike. It’s not one that he’d previously recced, but he had an inkling, that it might save some time. I followed him, but couldn’t keep pace. I think the route choice was good as Mick made ground on Ade and Col and got to the top of Blencathra soon after them. I was 3 or 4 minutes behind and by the time I got there Colin had already started his descent off Hall’s Fell (Target Time: 1:10 Actual Time 1:11).
It was getting late and there was a chilling wind on the top, so I took 5 minutes to put on a windproof and have something to eat (real food, a sausage roll). Both Ade and Mick waited and we set off down Hall’s Fell together. Several weeks earlier I had recce’d this decent with Col and Mick. On that day Col took us a more direct route before deciding it was too dangerous and traversed around Blencathra ridge back onto Hall’s Fell. Mick didn’t fancy that and nor did I so we continued down the scree on what we thought would be the lesser of two evils; how wrong we were! About a third of the way down we split up; Mick fancied a line on the right, and I fancied a line to the left. The next 45 minutes are a bit of a blur, other than falling on my backside a lot, slipping down the scree and blaspheming Col (who by now was probably having a pint in the pub), I’d blocked out most memories. Overall the descent took us both well over an hour and is one we vowed we’d never do again.
The descent was much kinder to us this time and we maintained a steady pace down Hall’s Fell. As we reached the bottom in the dark we were met by Steve Hennessey and then Chris and Dave Bowen who sorted us out with refreshments. It was about 10:00pm by the time we arrived at the end and Col was long gone on his Leg 2 journey.
The rest of the day went well for Col as he managed to complete his BGR within 24hrs. It was around 23½ hrs, so a little down on his target, but with the hip injury, warm weather, bad visibility on leg 2 & 3 and the challenge itself, it’s a fantastic achievement as far as I’m concerned. Well done Col.
The sad news that followed…
By the time you are reading this you will have heard that Mick Wren sadly passed away whilst out running on the 20th July. This was just 6 weeks after the Bob Graham and came as a complete shock to everyone. I understand he was on his way to support another Bob Graham attempt on Skiddaw when he died, something that makes me feel very emotional given my last 2 runs with Mick were over the same route.
Mick was such a giant when it came to running. It’s easy to forget some of his achievements, such as the successful completion of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, Lakeland 100, Joss Naylor round and many more. When you step back and think about these, they are truly amazing.
I’ll remember Mick for lots of reasons; here are few. The day he turned up for a GVS run in a pair of 3inch green racing shorts that left nothing to the imagination; he took some stick from us all that night, but he just laughed it off and turned up regular thereafter wearing them.
That iconic picture of Mick at the Lakeland 100 where he was using a branch as a make shift walking stick…a dead ringer for Gandalf. Refuelling on the climb up Great Gable with a Peperami before successfully finishing his Joss Naylor round, where he went on the meet the man himself; a great day for Mick.
Of course the main memories will be those long days out running and the shared experiences we’ve had. I’m reading the book – The Americas: by Levison Wood at the moment and read this extract the other night.
“You can be in hell, but as long as you’re with someone you trust and you enjoy their company, then it’s bearable, and sometimes even fun. Likewise, you can be in the most beautiful place on earth, but if you don’t have anyone to share it with, then it loses its magic. Luckily, I was here in this extraordinary place with a good companion”.
That just about sums up the experiences I had with Mick. Some magical moments and great memories
RIP Mick…The Peperami Kid!