Beth Pascall on her Bob Graham Record Interview

© Sam Bénard

On 24th July, Beth Pascall broke the fastest known female time on the Bob Graham in the Lake District. Beth clocked in at 14:34:26, taking 50 minutes off Jasmin Paris's previous record of 15:24. Beth's was not only a women's record, but the 4th fastest time recorded on the Round.

"For me the Bob Graham wasn't just about the route, it was about going for a prestigious record" - Beth Pascall  © Sam Bénard
"For me the Bob Graham wasn't just about the route, it was about going for a prestigious record" - Beth Pascall
© Sam Bénard

The Bob Graham consists of traversing 42 Lake District fells inside a 24-hour period. It covers a distance roughly of 66 miles and 28,500 feet of ascent. Since Bob Graham's initial round in 1932, the challenge of a Bob Graham Round has become popular among the British fell-running community and even worldwide - in 2018, Kilian Jornet broke the overall record with a time of 12:52.

Jean Dawes was the first recorded women's record in 1977, with a time of 23:27. The record shifted substantially until Helene Diamantides run under the 20-hour mark in 1989, with a time of 19:11. Over twenty-five years later, Nicky Spinks ran a time of 18:06, before Jasmin Paris took the women's FKT to a new level, running the Round in 15:24 in 2016.

Beth has been posting impressive results for years now. In 2017, she ran the 2nd fastest Paddy Buckley. In the 2018 edition of the UTMB and the 2019 Western States 100, she placed fourth. Together with Damian Hall, she holds the FKT for the Cape Wrath Trail.

We caught up with Beth and asked her about her Bob Graham motivation, preparation and how the record attempt unfolded:

Can you tell us a bit about your background in fell running?

I've only ever done a handful of fell races and I wouldn't really describe myself as a fell runner. I came 2nd to Jasmin Paris in the Dragon's Back Race in 2015 and ran the 2nd fastest Paddy Buckley round time (2nd to Jasmin!) in 2017, but since then I have focused on trail running. I've had some good results at some of the biggest international trail races recently but for most people that doesn't necessarily translate into running well on the fells.

Watch the trailer for the documentary about Beth and Damian Hall's FKT on the Cape Wrath Trail below:

Was the Bob Graham always the plan for this summer, or a backup plan for obvious reasons?

I have always wanted to do a Bob Graham Round but had no specific plans to do it this year - racing has always taken priority. It was back in March that I made the decision to do it - as soon as it became apparent that there'd be no racing for the foreseeable future, it was the obvious thing to do. There wasn't any other record that was meaningful or prestigious enough to motivate me to train hard whilst the rest of the world turned upside down.

How effectively were you able to train throughout lockdown without visiting the Lakes? Can you elaborate on what this involved?

I trained hard during the lockdown months but it was difficult to do much specific training. I chased vert through doing 1km loops of a hill in my local woods - I'd do up to 4 hours of these loops. I admit that my motivation for the Bob Graham did dwindle slightly. It was so boring! As soon as I could get back to the fells I spent as much time as possible on the route.

Could you tell me about your expectations before setting off? Presumably, your schedule was to attempt to beat Jasmin's time?

When I started training for the Bob Graham I always presumed I'd be going for the 2nd fastest women's time. In the few weeks before my attempt, I ran all the legs (not consecutively!) at record pace, and it didn't feel too fast. It was only then that I started to consider the record within reach. I set off on a 15hr23 schedule, thinking I'd have to have the run of my life to get that time.

How did everything unfold? With a time like yours, were you constantly gaining on your scheduled time? Were there any low points?

When I topped out on Skiddaw 6 minutes under record pace I was surprised and somewhat concerned. I thought I'd gone off too hard and spent the next 6 hours or so trying to hold myself back. I was convinced I was going to blow up and have to slow down. I was fairly consistently chipping away at the splits the whole way through. It was only mid-way through leg 4 that I actually felt confident I was going to get the record. I had a little cramp in my quads in the latter stages, but I wouldn't say I had any major low points.

Beth running to the finish at Moot Hall, Keswick  © Sam Bénard
Beth running to the finish at Moot Hall, Keswick
© Sam Bénard

A huge part of a Bob Graham like this is the logistics – did you have a team around you? And how important were they to your success?

I had a fantastic group of support runners who were completely invaluable. Many of them were roped in at the last minute, had taken the day off work or made other sacrifices to be there. I was really touched. Without their expert knowledge of the route and them lugging my food around for me, there is no way the day would have unfolded as it did.

Did you take much inspiration from previous/other record holders? There is quite a list of names associated with the BG from Jasmin Paris and Nicky Spinks, to Billy Bland and Kilian Jornet. What can you learn from their rounds?

Absolutely. If these people hadn't already set the standard so high the Bob Graham wouldn't be what it is today. For me the Bob Graham wasn't just about the route, it was about going for a prestigious record. If Jasmin hadn't run the time she did in 2016, I wouldn't have had the same level of motivation or self-discipline, or have been able to push myself as hard.

How does breaking a record on a round compare to winning a race? Are they similar in terms of mentality?

Comparing the two is really interesting. In many ways running for a record is more straightforward; there are no tactics involved and you know exactly the pace you have to run at. If a round is going well it is great fun - there isn't the stress of looking over your shoulder wondering if someone is going to overtake you. Also, the people you are running with are actively trying to help you, rather than compete against you, which makes the whole experience very enjoyable.

How does it feel to be amongst those names and to have done it so convincingly? 50 minutes is a brilliant amount of time to take off!

I still don't think it has sunk in. I have been completely overwhelmed by the response of the running community and the wider public. As something that started out as a personal challenge, I wasn't expecting it to mean this much to me. Perhaps this is because of the circumstances we are in. So far this year everything seems to have gone wrong, but now something has finally gone right.

I've got to ask, although don't necessarily expect a response... What's next?

Correct - I have something in the pipeline. But as with the Bob Graham, I'd prefer to keep it under the radar!

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Well, that has got me suitably psyched to get back to form and finish off the BG. This year was supposed to be 'the year', but the burst appendix/sepsis/peritonitis I had earlier in the year scuppered that (and everything else) quite significantly.

12 Aug, 2020

Beth's was the 4th fastest time: Kilian Jornet - 12:52, Billy Bland - 13:53, Rob Jebb - 14:30 then Beth.

13 Aug, 2020

You’re quite right - we were using a few different running sites as sources, who all reported 5th fastest. It looks like Mark Hartell was the 5th fastest with 14:54 in 1999.

I’ve adjusted the article accordingly - thanks.

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