30 May 2017

Porridge and bananas help a Lancaster scientist complete the gruelling Bob Graham Round - running 66 miles, up 42 Lakeland peaks within 24 hours

For Dr Crispin Halsall, an environmental chemist from Lancaster University’s Environment Centre, completing the iconic fell run was a “rite of passage”.

“I've had the challenge in my sights for the last year but felt wary about an attempt as it is such a big undertaking. I didn’t want to put friends and family through it in case I didn’t make the challenge”, Cris explained.

But he did make it and there was a party atmosphere as family and friends lined the streets in Keswick to cheer Cris on as he completed the race with just 15 minutes to spare.

The Bob Graham Round is one of the UK’s top mountain challenges: it takes in all the highest peaks in the Lake District National Park, just an hour’s journey from Lancaster University. 

Two members of the Bowland fell running club ran with Cris on each of the five legs of the challenge, to witness his arrival at each summit, and to help navigate and to carry snacks and drinks.

“I ate about 15 snickers bars, about ten boiled eggs, and lots of sugary food. Friends and family provided porridge and bananas at both of the road stops which was incredibly comforting - they were the secret of my success, slow burn carbs that kept me going.”

Although climbing 8,230 m (27,000 feet) - nearly the height of Everest  - might seem tough, running downhill was the hardest, particularly the last few descents. The most challenging moment was when Cris hit low cloud and hailstones when running up Bowfell. He may be used to the cold, having researched pollution in the Arctic, but that moment marked the low point of Cris’s run.

“Visibility was down to about 10 metres which meant we had to stick to walkers’ paths, rather than following the straightest route, which added to the distance. Then we made a navigational error, and eventually realised we were going in wrong direction. The rain was hammering down and it was the first time I felt cold and I just thought, I am never going to make the time up.”

But his running companions encouraged him on and he completed the race in 23 hours and 45 minutes.

“It feels like a huge achievement: it brings in skills of navigation and understanding the environment as well as physical endurance,” said a sore but elated Cris a few days later.

“The spirit and ethos of the Round is something I really believe in: respecting the environment and promoting the Lake District. You cannot buy membership, you can only gain it by completing the challenge.

“They won’t accept commercial sponsorship, there is no entrance fee, they don’t make a profit, unlike many endurance events.”

The run is named after Bob Graham (1889–1966), a Keswick guest-house owner, who in June 1932 broke the Lakeland Fell record by traversing 42 fells within a 24-hour period. Since then, another 2055 people have completed the challenge, alongside a support crew who help navigate and witness them conquering each summit.

Cris now becomes a member of this exclusive group. He follows in the footsteps of four other runners from the Lancaster Environment Centre. They are:

  • Dr Mike Kelly, 1974 (member no. 26)
  • Professor Harry Pinkerton, 1985 (no.347)
  • Professor Nick Hewitt, 1986 (no.423)
  • Dr Brian Davidson, who did it twice in 1998 & 2005 but isn’t a member because he ran solo with no-one to witness and verify his achievement.
  • Geoff Clarke, 2012 (no. 1715)

Other staff across the University who have completed the challenge include Ken Turner, 1980 (no. 143), Sandra Wilkinson, 1985 (no. 365), Roger Grinyer, 1985 (no. 369), Dr Robert Crawshaw, 1986, (no.422), Professor Charles Alderson, 1988 (no. 563).


Cris believes that the ethos of the Round - a love and care for the environment plus good teamwork - fits well with the values of the Lancaster Environment Centre.  Now he’s a member of the club, he has a duty to encourage and support others to attempt the challenge, so he is sizing up his colleagues and wondering who could be next.