Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Keswick AC smash record in 'Billy Bland Challenge'

A team of runners from Keswick AC wiped a massive 50 minutes off the record in the 'Billy Bland Challenge' Bob Graham Relay on Sunday, setting a time of 12 hours 24 minutes to beat the previous mark held by local club Ellenborough AC.

(L-R) Phil Winskill, Mark Lamb, Lee Newton, Dave Birch, Carl Bell, Sam Stead, Peter George, John Battrick, James Appleton, Steve Hebblethwaite (photo athletesinaction.co.uk)
The Billy Bland Challenge is a team relay over the route of the Bob Graham Round, a 66 mile loop over 42 Lakeland fells with over 27,000ft of ascent. The route is split into the 5 traditional 'legs', with a different pair of runners tackling each leg in an attempt to equal Billy Bland's legendary time of 13:53 from 1982.

Keswick's attempt was spearheaded by Steve Hebblethwaite and Mark Lamb. Setting off at 8am from the Moot Hall in Keswick, they stormed round the leg 1 peaks of Skiddaw, Great Calva and Blencathra before arriving at the changeover at Threlkeld in just 2 hours and 10 minutes, a new record for the leg. One of the intricacies of the Billy Bland Challenge is deciding the parings and which leg to place them on. It was clear that these two were well matched, pushing each other the whole way.

Leg 2 saw Sam Stead and Phil Winskill cover 12 peaks on the Helvellyn Range. They enjoyed the best of the day's challenging conditions and arrived at the next changeover at Dunmail Raise in 2 hrs 27 minutes, 17 minutes faster than the previous leg record. 

Leg 3 is arguably the most arduous leg of them all with 13 of the highest tops including Scafell Pike to cover between Dunmail Raise and Wasdale Head. Carl Bell and James Appleton had clearly taken note of the forecast as they sprinted up Steel Fell attempting to beat the incoming rain.
Carl and James sprint up Steel Fell (photo athletesinaction.co.uk)

 They carried this speed all the way to Sca Fell, the final summit of their leg before a small mistake led them on the wrong path on the descent. The team's supporters, who were able to track the runners' progress online via a GPS tracker, watched on helplessly as Carl and James sped towards Burnmoor Tarn. Luckily they noticed their mistake and only 10 minutes were lost and they still managed to hand over at Wasdale Head in 3 hours 10 minutes, another leg record.

When Keswick AC held its breath

By this time, the weather had deteriorated dramatically with heavy rain accompanying low cloud. Fortunately, two of the teams best navigators were up next and Dave Birch and Lee Newton expertly found their way across Leg 4 in atrocious conditions, arriving at Honister in 3hrs 12 minutes in what was undoubtedly the performance of the day.

Thanks to their team-mates efforts, leg 5 runners Peter George and John Battrick had the luxury of 2 hours in which to break the overall record, but they only needed 1 hour 25 minutes to finish the team off in style to rapturous applause at the Moot Hall, with another leg record to boot. Despite the  team's amazing performance, all involved had a new found appreciation for Billy Bland's incredible solo effort of 13:53.

Peter powers towards the Moot Hall (photo athletesinaction.co.uk)

The Billy Bland Challenge; a true test of stamina, navigation, tactics and teamwork. A fitting tribute to a legendary athlete.

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