Over the space of one month between January and February 2017 Jim Mann pulled off an impressive feat of hill running endurance, completing each of the UK's big three rounds in winter. This is the first time it's ever been done in a single winter season - and only the fifth time in any one season.
On 22nd January Jim set a new record for the winter Ramsay Round, finishing the circuit of 24 Lochaber peaks in 22:23 (see the full report here). On 11th February he followed up with a winter round of the 47 Welsh peaks that make up the Paddy Buckley in a total time of 21:37. Sealing the triple with the classic Lakeland challenge, Jim's winter Bob Graham time of 20:26 is not a record - his own 18:18 still stands from 2013 - but it's still one of the fastest winter times ever recorded.
We've tracked Jim down to talk about the experience of running the big three in the dark and cold of winter, by far the most challenging time of year to take them on.
UKH: How were weather and ground conditions on the Bob Graham?
Jim: The ground was clear of snow but we only had an 8 hour window of lower winds so set off in high wind and finished in gales and rain. Thankfully we made good time so avoided having really bad weather on the higher fells like the Scafell ridge and Great Gable. To fit the weather gap though we had to set off at 6pm which meant a long night and having to do the Scafell ridge in the dark. Huge kudos to Shane and Jeff who had to navigate that leg in thick fog where it was impossible to even keep the main tracks.
What about on the other two?
The Ramsay was pretty kind with not too much snow and light winds until the final section which was a bit more interesting. There were a couple of challenging bits where crampons were needed for ice / frozen snow slopes but it was pretty good for the highlands at that time of year. The Paddy was windy and cold for the first half but deteriorated badly to blizzard and high winds on the Glyders, Tryfan and Carneddau but I had great support and we had built up a really good time buffer so were ok time wise but it was tough going in drifting snow and zero visibility.
What are your thoughts on the definition of ‘winter round’, and how important is truthful and accurate reporting of conditions - in particular when records are being claimed?
I like having a clear definition of winter so dates works as far as I'm concerned. That now seems to be generally accepted. The issue of truthful and accurate reporting of conditions is more difficult as how bad / easy conditions are is very subjective. Any completion in winter is a great achievement as far as I'm concerned especially considering the short daylight hours but its important to me that conditions are properly reflected, which doesn't always happen.
Was a winter triple something you’d been plotting for a while, or was it just luck that it all fell into place this season?
No the Ramsay was very much an opportunistic round with the right weather and support just falling into place - I hadn't even considered it till the Thursday lunch time. The Paddy had been a target for some time and I just couldn't resist trying for the 3 after I had manage the Ramsay and the Paddy. I've done 2 winter bobs before so knew I could do it with the right support and conditions and felt it was a nice way to finish the winter.
Doing them all in the space of a month would be beyond most runners; did you find you recovered OK between rounds, or was it a struggle?
The BG was tough. High winds always take it out of me but I'm pretty sure that the other rounds were still in my legs too. Margarita who coaches me has been fantastic right through. We have done a lot of work over the winter on strength for injury prevention and increased endurance which I think really helped.
Between the three, was it training as normal or did you go easy and do a lot of resting?
No, I have been very careful between the round to follow Margarita's advise to try and recover as best possible. I was able to get a weeks training in between the Ramsay and the Paddy but since then its all been a case of try and recover fast.
Which of the three rounds were you already most familiar with?
It's the first time I have done the Ramsay or Paddy as a round although I have run all the legs supporting other people. The BG was my 4th - 1 summer and 3 winter. I know the Bob very well as its more local to me but it still didn't feel that familiar in the dark and mist on the Scafell ridge.
Which did you find hardest of the three, this time around?
The Bob probably because I was tired and the tiny weather gap meant a lot could go wrong. The Paddy also had its moments because the conditions were so testing.
Do you have a favourite?
That has to be the Ramsay, there are no road crossings and it's big hills in remote terrain. I love the highlands.
How important was the help of support runners and others in your success? I’m thinking in terms of psychological support and pacing, but also the logistics like navigating and carrying stuff for you…
Good support makes a huge difference. It's so much fun to be out there doing something challenging like this with some of your best friends. Even when it gets tough they are upbeat, joking and carrying on for me - it's a great way to spend time. With good supporters things just happen, often that you are unaware of, cars are moved from leg to leg, people get to starts and ends of legs without you knowing how or who has done what. Things go wrong but there is always a solution and so often I am just running along oblivious to there ever having been a problem. A number of my BG supporters did night legs so they could drive to the leg after work, run with me for several hours then drive back and be at work the next day having either not slept or hardly slept. They are really amazing people.
So when you do these big runs, is the attraction more about the personal challenge and achievement, or the element of team endeavour?
Its all of it. They are a special experience. Spending time on the hills with fiends is great. Breaking records is a bonus. Pushing boundaries is a challenge. I get the same excitement and fun from supporting others too though, like Jon Ascroft's Ramsay or that amazing run of rounds Jasmin Paris did last year. They are fun to be part of.
I'd like to thank everyone involved:
Huge thanks to all of the following for their help and support on the 3 rounds (in order of appearance): Jon Ascroft, Graham Nash, Jasmin Paris, Konrad Rawlik, Shane Ohly, Alex McVey, John Ryan, Jon Gay, Andrew Berry, Nic Barber, Carol Morgan, Dave Harrison, Clive King, Liz Barker, Ant Bethell, Jo Zakrzewski, Paul and all at the Siabod Cafe, Bill Williamson, Jonny Mally, Martin Stone, Steve Birkenshaw, James Harris, Jeff Powell-Davies, Mick Allen and Andy Blackett.
Special thanks to Margarita Grigoriadi who has got me in such good shape and helped me manage my recovery and for the support from Hangar 18, Start Fitness, Inov8, & OMM who have all looked after me really well
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