29 year old Kilian Jornet has pretty much seen and achieved it all. Born and raised in the mountains of Spain, he was climbing and running up some of Spain’s highest peaks whilst still in school. Well known and respected for his superhuman speed records up some of the worlds most iconic peaks, he currently holds the ‘Fastest Known Times’ for ascents of Mont Blanc, The Matterhorn, Denali, Kilimanjaro and Everest. It was just this summer he summited Everest, twice in a week, and without the aid of ropes or supplementary oxygen. He followed that up with his fourth successive Hardrock 100m Colorado victory, despite dislocating his shoulder at mile 13.
But later this year he plans to take on a different challenge, a personal project. It’s not a race, there’s no entry fee or crowds to encourage you. It’s unheard of outside the UK, the highest peak he will climb doesn’t even reach 1000m and the record has stood since 1982. Can Kilian Jornet be the man to break the 35 year old record and join the prestigious Bob Graham Round Club?
The Bob Graham Round (BGR) is a non stop run, starting and finishing in Keswick at the heart of the UK’s Lake District National Park. You have to run across 42 fells (a word originating from the rural reaches of Northern England, meaning hill or mountain), covering 74 miles (119km) and with a total elevation gain of 8,700 meters (28,543ft). The set route takes you up and down hills, in to bogs, over boulder fields, through moor land, across the ridges of some of the most exposed areas of the country and to the summits of the highest peaks in England. And don’t forget the unpredictable weather; thick mist, howling winds and driving rain.
To be entered in to this exclusive running club the round must be completed within 24 hours.
When asked about his attempt by ukclimbing.com, Kilian had this to say:
The BGR is a monument in the history of fell running and of mountain running in general. People running in the mountains for fun or a sporty challenge was (sic) born mostly in UK, and these rounds are part of the history of the sport. Am I going for the record? I will try to run as fast as I can during the round; afterwards we will see the time.
First completed way back in 1932 by Bob Graham, a 42 year old hotelier of Keswick, Cumberland (now Cumbria), the 42 peak round has become the ultimate testing ground for the supremely fit. Each summer around one hundred of the fittest and most highly tuned ultra distance runners attempt to complete the round, with only 1 in 3 returning within the allotted 24 hours. The current course record was set by Billy Bland in 1982 with a time of 13:53.
The Lake District National Park is a mountainous region located in the North West of England. Very popular amongst tourists, it is famous for it’s lakes and fells and is home to the highest peak in England, Scafell Pike at 978m (3,209ft). Located entirely in the county of Cumbria, the park has a total area of 912sq miles and not only does it contain the highest peaks in England but also the deepest and longest bodies of water. It’s vast and natural beauty inspired writers such as William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, who both lived in the area. In 2017 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Fell running is deep rooted in the way of life in The Lake District, with accounts of running there dating back to the 11th century, and organised fell runs taking place in the 19th century. Local hero, and former World Champion trail runner Ricky Lightfoot, described it best to Strava:
Fell running is basically a mountain race – taking the quickest route possible to the summit and back through a number of checkpoints. Sometimes there’s a path, sometimes there isn’t. You might need to use navigation to find your way between points. For every race, you need to take a map and a compass and usually full body cover (pants, jacket, gloves, hat) – even in summer. If you don’t – and they sometimes do a random kit check – you’ll be disqualified.
Last summer, Jasmin Paris smashed the female record, running the round in 15:24. And with Kilian’s Salomon team mate Ricky Lightfoot also planning an assault on the Bob Graham Round record this summer, will this be the year that the mens record is finally broken?