The Frog Graham RoundEDWARD CATOR

Until a few years ago, ultramarathon running (races which are longer than the conventional marathon distance of 26.2 miles) was an extremely niche sport limited to über-fit nutcases and Forrest Gump. However, the number of people attempting ultras has shot up recently. It’s hard to pinpoint the attraction: maybe it’s the crippling loneliness; the excruciating fatigue; perhaps the devastating dehydration — who knows? In any case, I’ve always enjoyed physical challenges, so I decided to leap on the bandwagon. The Frog Graham Round, set in the Lake District, is an ultra with a difference: over the 42-mile self-navigated mountain course, there’s a few miles of swimming spread over four lakes. It’s not a race but an individual challenge which people can attempt at any time and then submit their GPS evidence for ratification.  

The vast majority of people who do the Round have companions who jog along alongside intermittently. The only person mad enough to do this with me, however, was busy herself running the Pennine Way, so, at 3:30AM on September 10th, I duly pitched up to the Keswick Moot Hall start line alone. Before I could begin, the single greatest tragedy of modern times befell me: I had forgotten my Kendal Mint Cake. It was too late to go back. Fighting bitter tears, I set off into the night.  

Even though I’d mapped the route in stages beforehand, everything looked different in the dark. Luckily, my girlfriend had made me a stack of Yorkshire puddings which I nibbled on to keep the doubts at bay, and so after 90 minutes of fumbling my way through thick cloud I reached the summit of the first fell. It was at this point I learned that beyond forgetting my Kendal Mint, I’d also managed to lose my water bottle along the way. I contemplated giving up altogether but figured I hadn’t climbed up Skiddaw at 4am just to go back to bed. And so (bravely or foolishly) I marched on, ‘slaking my thirst at the brook,’ like Frankenstein’s monster. The next minor calamity was about an hour later when the strap on my head-torch detached itself. ‘No matter, I’ll get all the bad bits out of the way in the first couple of hours, and everything else will go well right?’ Well, not quite.

"‘No matter, I’ll get all the bad bits out of the way in the first couple of hours, and everything else will go well right?’ Well, not quite." 

I’d been warned to expect misery at Mellbreak, and misery is what I got. The lack of a tangible path means the hike entails half an hour of crawling up a steep face made of heather and moss. By the time I’d dragged myself up the side my legs had deserted me. A short swim across Buttermere refreshed my senses, but this proved to be my undoing. Racing up Robinson like a rat up an aqueduct, an hour and twenty minutes ahead of schedule, fatigue hit, the weather was closing in, the running wetsuit was chafing dreadfully, my stomach was cramping, and I was drowning in a wave of nausea. For the first time I regretted not having anyone to push me on, as my own motivation was vanishing at a rate of knots.

The end of a gruelling 14 hours, 41 minutes and 25 seconds.EDWARD CATOR

Forcing down a flapjack, I felt slightly better and I knew I was nearly there as I descended Catbells. The final swim of the Round is the longest and involves fully exiting the water and climbing onto each of the three islands as you cross the lake. Each time I hauled myself over the slippery rocks, lost balance and fell back into the water; my tiredness increased, and my shivering got more violent. After what seemed like several years, I finally made it to the other side where my Grandad and a very tasty pint kindly offered by The Round pub were waiting for me. Final time: 14 hours, 41 minutes and 25 seconds, the 14th fastest of the 97 who have ever completed the Round.

So, if you find yourself at a loose end and have 14 hours to spare, why not give ultramarathon running a try? It gets you out and about, it gives you the chance to meet new people and the agonising pain is purely temporary. Marathons are so last year…