Steve Parr Round FKT Report

Towards the end of summer Montane Ambassador Howard Dracup pulled off the unimaginable, breaking a course record for the Steve Parr Round which had stood for over 30 years. What makes his achievement all the more remarkable is that the attempt was thrown together in under a week!

I’d first come to hear about the Steve Parr Round earlier in the year when Paul Nelson completed it in July. The challenge is to run approximately 118 miles and 45,000ft of climb in under 48 hours. I thought WOW what an accomplishment! Subconsciously the thought had entered my head that this was something I’d like to achieve one day. I pondered over the elevation gain, the massive distance and the challenging terrain – it’s a serious undertaking!  

Fast forward 7 weeks and I’m just finishing off a training block for a 100 mile mountain race in Snowdonia in the middle of September. Things were going really well. I was feeling fit, strong and had been putting in some serious miles on the Cumbrian fells as I now reside in Kendal. But unfortunately it wasn’t to be. With only 5 days to go until race day and having just come back home from my last elevated run, I received the dreaded email to say the race had been cancelled! 

I was gutted. All the training, all the hard work, all the planning, the lot. It felt pointless. I was taking the race seriously and I think it would have been the hardest I’ve ever done. I let it sink in for 20 minutes and I was still disappointed, but I was already thinking of another alternative to fill the void.  

Do I go for a Bob or a Paddy or a Ramsay Round? Nahhh too short and I hadn’t really trained that way. I contemplated going to Wales and trying to run the route solo and self-supported. I had a suggestion from Paul Wilson who told me that the “Steve Parr Round/Lakes 2500” is one of the toughest challenges out there. He’d sold it to me in a second. The seed was planted. 

But I’d never organised a challenge like this. One where you need road support and pacers and schedules etc. I didn’t know where to start but I knew I better start fast as it was Saturday afternoon and I had to set off the following Friday at the latest.  

I was governed by a specific window of opportunity because my road support (my girlfriend) had booked time off work to come to the race in Wales. Also, considering the training I’d done, if I set off on or around the same day that I should have been racing then theoretically I should be at my fittest. So that was road support sorted, now I had to find a team of support runners! 

I messaged all my running friends and the most common answer I received was “Sorry, I’m helping on a BG on Saturday”, or they had already organised and planned their own personal challenge. I mean it was so last minute and the weather was looking amazing, I shouldn’t have expected anything less.

My prospects weren’t looking very good.  

The most positive response was from ultra-runner John Parkin, who said he could probably help me for about 24 hours, but only if I set off on Thursday evening as he was off work on Friday and then helping with a BG attempt on Saturday night! So, if we started Thursday evening then he could help me until Friday evening, allowing himself a good night’s rest before a Leg on the Bob Graham on Saturday night with another friend.  

“Are you sure?” I asked, but he reassured me that he was really keen to help out so that was that I guess!

By Saturday evening I had two more friends saying that they could more or less help out for 24 hours each and another friend offering 12 hours minimum. I also had a few “maybes”. It was a good base to work on and could make this thing happen, but for the round to be done properly I knew I needed at least two people per leg and ideally not the same two people doing more than two back to back legs each. However, I wasn’t in a position to be picky! I thought “Worst case scenario – I’ll carry my own food, water and kit to fill the gaps where I couldn’t get support”. 

In an ideal world I wanted a 4am start on Friday or Saturday morning. But the way my cards had been dealt I decided to settle on a 9pm start on Thursday evening. John could get to Keswick for 8pm on Thursday, allowing him an hour to relax and catch up and my friend Scott Newburn was free from Friday 5pm until Saturday 5pm. I also had Liam Mills available to help from 9pm on Thursday until sometime on Friday afternoon. 

I now had some kind of solid base planned. And so it was time to actually start looking at the route in finer detail. I hadn’t had chance to properly look at it on a map yet. I had no idea where the road crossings were? How many legs were there going to be? How long was each leg? I needed to figure all this out before I could give anyone a schedule, but I didn’t want to waste any time in gathering more interest in support before I planned my route.  

That was my Saturday pretty much spent, in between spending time with my family as it was also my son’s 14th Birthday. I was tired and my head hurt from all the chronic text messaging. All the questions and answers were the same but from different people. The repetitiveness was draining, but necessary, if I wanted their support. I couldn’t really give anyone much information. More than anything they wanted to know my schedule and I couldn’t give them one yet. So that was Sunday’s job. 

I’d messaged Martin Stone on Saturday letting him know that I was interested in having a go at the round and he said he could email me some documents from past attempts. Between Martin & Paul Wilson I now had enough information to start hatching a plan together.  

I woke on Sunday at about 4am. Brain on overdrive. So I got up and cracked on with putting a schedule together. Once I’d sorted out the legs, distances and locations, I was left with the final piece to the puzzle. How the hell do you put times on a schedule when you haven’t even reccied any of the legs and it’s a 48-hour challenge?! It all seemed like a huge waste of my mental energy trying to surmise where I would be and at what time? 

I knew in my head what kind of pace I had been training at and aimed to finish the race in Wales. I also knew this round had more miles and ascent. So I thought “well I’m going to need to go a bit slower” so I very lamely worked it out on 3mph all the way (without sleep, transition times or problems) and decided on taking a tracker so my runners could see how far ahead or behind I was and adjust their timings accordingly. It was all very roughly strung together. I sent out the schedule to John, Scott, Liam and the other friends who had shown interest. 

Everyone approved and by about Tuesday I had a full support crew with road support and amongst ourselves, we had solved the problem of how to ferry support runners back and forth afterwards to cars etc. It had been quite stressful to organise in such a short space of time and I’d been averaging about 5 hours sleep per night because I couldn’t switch off until I knew that everything had been put in place.

Fast forward to Thursday morning – I slept terribly. I think I was just excited. But I knew I had one last chance to bank some sleep in the afternoon. Luckily, I managed a few hours. We loaded the car and had some dinner. Liam came round and we set off to Moot Hall to meet John. 

There are few rules for the Steve Parr Round. You have to visit Moot Hall and complete a round of 62 Wainwrights over 2500ft. You can start and finish wherever you like, as long as both are in the same place. 48 hours is the target time, but any continuous round will be recorded. You can travel clockwise or anti-clockwise and you can complete the peaks in any order you wish. I’d chosen the traditional route to set off from Moot Hall and go clockwise.

We met outside Wetherspoons in Keswick. There was me, Maggie and my support crew for Leg 1 – Jacob Tonkin, Liam Mills and John Parkin. We set off a few seconds after 9pm. 

LEG 1: With Jacob’s nav expertise of the area he took us out of Keswick and all the way to Threlkeld. The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky and only a gentle breeze. My windproof gillet was off before we’d even left Keswick. We had 3 summits to hit, Skiddaw Low Man, Skiddaw & Blencathra. We found them all with ease, hit nicely with Tonkin’s perfect lines. Descending down Halls Fell Ridge was my favourite part of this leg. I was feeling full of energy, really happy and moving efficiently. We hit Threlkeld about 20 minutes up on schedule. 

Liam & John had run ahead on the approach to Threlkeld to get my next lot of food and water ready, Jacob and I were a little further behind. When I arrived at the SV, I gave Maggie a quick kiss and carried on running leaving John and Liam to quickly refuel & rehydrate themselves. Jacob sadly departed as he had work in the morning.  

LEG 2: We had Great Dodd, Watson Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, Whiteside, Helvellyn Lower Man, Catstye Cam, Helvellyn, Nethermost Pike, Dollywaggon Pike & St Sunday Crag to hit on this one. It was quite a big leg, but a brilliant one! 

The climb from Threlkeld to Great Dodd was a great, big, long, boring, grassy, tussocky climb that seemed to go on forever. It wasn’t hard, it was just really boring! When we finally got to the Dodds, we stopped for a minute and turned our head torches off to look up at the millions of bright stars above us – it was amazing! Such a clear night and worth stopping to admire. 

My favourite part on this leg was the out and back scramble along Swirral Edge in the dark to climb Catstye Cam. Instead of taking the easy paths slightly left or right, I made it fun and ran right down the centre of the ridge. It felt like I was on the back of a Stegosaurus – great fun!  

We left the Helvellyn range and headed over to St Sunday’s Crag. The line off there was fun, but there was no path. “Just think like a sheep” I shouted back at John & Liam, before heading down to Brothers Water, finding my own logical line down amongst the heather, bracken, rocks and crags. I nearly ran into a huge badger on the way! 

As we descended, I felt the temperature plummet with every passing moment. It was freezing. The grass had turned white at the side of the tarmac road on the approach to Brothers Water. I was looking forward to a coffee, which Liam had already ordered for us on the way down. I was around 1 hour up on schedule now and feeling even better than I did on Leg 1. 

We had run into a cloud inversion in the dark. It was freezing. When I reached Maggie I quickly changed my damp tee to a more technical base layer, necked my lukewarm coffee and was greeted by my next pacer Nathanael Ingram, who was loaded up and ready to go. So off we went and let Liam refuel/hydrate and told him to catch us up. Don’t forget that Liam’s now coming onto the third leg carrying my kit, plus his own kit AND then trying to keep up whilst I’m jollying along kit free!  

LEG 3: I was really looking forward to this next section as it was local territory & the sun was soon to be out! Everything was going smoothly. My eating, my drinking, my pace and I was about an hour up on schedule. On this leg we had Rampsgill Head, High Raise, Kidsty Pike, High Street, Mardale Ill Bell, Harter Fell, Thornthwaite Crag and Stoney Cove Pike. Nav cock up number 1 was made here. Somehow we kept on the left-hand side of the river on the climb to Hayeswater (being complacent & nattering) and ended up fighting with knee-deep bog and bracken. So I made the decision to scramble over a wall and find a decent spot to cross the river as I knew there was a nice track to the right hand side. 

We hit Rampsgill Head & High Raise. By now the headtorches were off as it was first light. We saw a family of deer galloping in the horizon, out for a morning play. It was a beautiful sight to see. Especially with the morning colours of the sky, ever changing from pinky orange, to orange, to bright blue. We knew what was in store for us, it was just a matter of time and we were eagerly awaiting it!  

On the way from High Raise to Kidsty Pike it happened!! The sun finally came up and it was the biggest, brightest, ball of fire I’d ever seen! It was amazing. The warmth and the energy of the sun, combined with the excitement of what was going on really got me shifting. 

I was moving along really well now and making good ground. Effectively and efficiently, everything was clicking into place. I bounced over to Harter fell and had the sun on my back on the return. It soothed me but I began to feel a bit sleepy at this point. More coffee at Kirkstone will do the job. Admiring the cloud inversion in the Patterdale valley, I enjoyed the descents down Thornthwaite Crag and Stony Cove Pike to Kirkstone pass and was met by Steve Birkinshaw, who was ready to exchange roles with Liam. 

LEG 4: The sleepy moment had passed and I arrived at Kirkstone feeling pretty fresh. It was around 9.30am and warming up fast so I had a quick change into a vest. Liam had done a fair old shift now so it was time to say thanks and goodbye. I had another coffee as I got changed and before I knew it we are halfway up Red Screes. All I remember on this leg is feeling really talkative and over-enthusiastic. I think Maggie had made that coffee really strong! Poor Steve and Nathanael. 

This section was relatively short, about 6.5 miles. We took on Red Screes, Dove Crag, Hart Crag, Fairfield and Greatrigg Man before dropping off Great Rigg towards the White Swan Pub in Grasmere via Stone Arthur. The panoramic views were amazing!  

To my surprise, I was greeted at the White Swan by Joss Naylor. It would be rude to just carry on running, so I stopped and chatted for a few minutes before he told me to keep moving. Nathanael & Steve finished here and I was joined by John Knapp. We had a few miles of tarmac through to Elter Water before being met by Max Driscoll and Ben Turner. 

On the way up to Wetherlam I began to feel a bit nauseous and had to slow down a little. I thought I was going through a little rough patch, but it turned out it was just the fizz off the Coca Cola! Once I got rid of that I was fine! This was a really good leg with loads of banter – spirits were high and we smashed on through to Cockley Beck. On this leg we summited: Wetherlam, Swirl How, Great Carrs, Brim Fell, Coniston Old Man, Dow Crag and Grey Friar. 

After more or less running continuously through every support point, apart from stopping properly at Grasmere to talk to Joss, I was convinced by Ben, John and Max to have a good pit stop at Cockley Beck because this next section was going to be the toughest. We were getting ready to be going out on my 2nd night without any sleep and crossing some pretty rough ground. I had some pie and coffee and got changed into some 3/4 length tights. We probably stopped for about 15 minutes.  

LEG 5: I was greeted by 3 new runners – Scott Newburn, Andy Fid and Paul Nelson. I felt good and it’s always mentally stimulating to have new people joining the group. It was that time of day where everything seems to have a sprinkling of glitter on it. Cloud free skies and a blazing sun that was starting to drop. I was surrounded by good people and quite literally “living the dream”.  

Ahead we had Long Top, Shelter Crags, Bowfell, Esk Pike, High Raise, Glaramara, Allen Crags, Great End, Ill Crag, Broad Crag, Scafell Pike, Scafell & Lingmell! It was a monstrous leg! As we headed out of Cockley Beck for Long Top, the initial slog up Little Stand was horrible, but once I made it up there I felt much better. I was slowly beginning to fade now (more than what I thought at the time) and as the sun lowered I began to feel tired and sleepy. 

There were quite a few of us now, I’d say about six including myself, as Ben and Max had decided to stay on and short route themselves down to Wasdale whenever they pleased. The climbs seemed to get tougher and tougher and I was diminishing at a rapid pace. As the sun went down, so did my self-confidence. For the first time, I felt a little bit of self-doubt. I just needed to sleep for a little while, but there wasn’t the place as we made our way over the Scafell Massif. The wind had picked up and the temperature had plummeted.

Tim Ripper joined us halfway through this leg. He’d parked in Wasdale and run out to meet us. I’d never met Tim before, it was a nice surprise and it perked me up. I was beating myself up over being so slow. My legs were good but my eyes and brain were shutting down. Everyone was telling me I was moving well but I didn’t feel it. I couldn’t wait to get to the camper to sleep. We agreed I would sleep for 30 mins in Wasdale. 

I was thinking of ways to bail out at this point. Sleep deprivation is a horrible thing. I told the lads on the way down from Lingmell that if they wanted to finish here instead of taking me over to Buttermere then I’d be cool with it. I said I could carry my own stuff under my own steam when I woke up. I heard a reply from Scott;“No it’s fine mate, it’s a brilliant night to be out, we’re good, you don’t get many weekends like this” so that was that! I got to the van, ate half of my pot noodle and hit the deck.  What seemed like 2 mins later the camper van door opened. It was Maggie, “Right Howard, you need to get up. It’s time”. I said I’d only just fallen asleep and that I’d not had enough time, so they gave me 5 more minutes.  

LEG 6: I quickly ate the rest of my pot noodle with a coffee, put my layers back on and we were on our way again! I felt slightly better. Only three more hours until sunrise. I did the math and realised that I’d not had 30 minute sleep. They’d tricked me! The full transition was probably about 30 minutes. I took the climb up to Red Pike nice and slow, all the layers came back off again and we began chipping away at the rest of the tops – Scoat Fell, Steeple, Haycock, Pillar, Kirk Fell, Great Gable, Green Gable & High Stile.

This was one of the best sections. Combine that with the amazing sunrise we just witnessed and you have the perfect morning! I felt better when the sun came up, but only for a little while. I had to have a 5 minute micro nap between Kirk Fell and Great Gable. The 5-minute nap did the trick, I was up and running once again until I was met by High Stile!

On the way down to Buttermere I had been working things out in my head and said that going under the record was well out of the window and I was more than happy to finish the round in a sub 48-hour time. I wanted more sleep. I’d never sleep with all the noise in Buttermere, so I’d decided I was going to more or less keep moving through and have a sleep in the sun on the grass somewhere on Whiteless Breast. But when I arrived at Buttermere I had quite a surprise!  

Martin Stone was there telling me that the record was still in sight! “There’s no way” I said! They had worked out that 2.5 mph is all I needed to do between Buttermere and Moot Hall! “I’ll give it a go” I said, “but I very much doubt I’ll do it!” I don’t think I had a choice to be honest, as my top was taken off me and suncream rubbed on my arms and neck by Maggie and Heather. They put a new T-shirt on me, slapped a cap on my head and sent me on my way before I’d even had a chance to thank, Tim, Scott & Andy! 

I was back with Jacob Tonkin again, young Chris Richards & Dan Armstrong. I felt sick if I over-exerted myself on the climbs, so I had to take it really easy and then make up time on the flats and descents. The craic was high and they literally bullied me over the last few summits of Wandope, Sail, Crag Hill, Grasmoor, Hopegill head & Grisedale Pike. All I could stomach was a combination of banana, water, Coca Cola and some weak blackcurrant cordial mix. They kept telling me there’s only one more climb and then I would be met with another!  

Finally, we were descending Grisedale Pike. It was a stunning day and a perfect visual climax for what had gone on over the last 41 or so hours! Maggie was waiting for me in Braithwaite to run the last section to Moot Hall. I was on the pain train now but knew I had to keep running if I wanted to come in under the record. I kept asking “How many miles is it now?” and 2 miles seemed to be the answer all the way! 

I finally saw Main Street and Moot Hall. It was market day, around 4pm and the place was rammed. Nobody knew what I was doing. I just looked like a tired man running through the street. I looked up to see Tory Miller waving and clapping. Dodging and weaving through people I had to run up the one-way system, which just so happened to be on the wrong side of the steps so I had to go around the back of Moot Hall and then back on myself to get up the steps! 

I finally made it back to where I began on Thursday night at 9pm, 42hrs, 36mins and 07 seconds later! Shaving a mere 19 minutes off Steve Parr’s time of 42hrs, 55mins and 40 seconds. I don’t normally drink, but how could I refuse when a gentleman from “The Round” came out with two huge beers and passed one each to me and Jacob. I said “Cheers!” and gently sat myself down on the steps at the bottom of Moot Hall for 20 minutes chatting to friends, before I began to feel a bit worse for wear and decided that I should probably go home and get some rest!  

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