vancouver’s Jeff Pelletier has hit new heights with his foray into fell running, becoming the fastest of only two Canadians to complete the brutal 106-km Bob Graham Round in England’s Lake District.
Named after the Keswick guest-house owner who, in 1932, broke the Lakeland Fell record by linking 42 fells within 24 hours, the Bob Graham Round involves 8,200 meters of ascent over terrain that is notoriously challenging to navigate—in weather that is infamously damp and foggy. To be recognized, the route must be completed within 24 hours.
Pelletier’s successful attempt to complete the course—which started at 8 pm on July 1 and concluded 21 hours and 57 minutes later—was a perfect storm of sorts. It happened at a time when the filmmaker was able to work remotely while training for the run, beginning on Canada Day—a fitting time for a Canadian to set an FKT—and came on the heels of his 42nd birthday (Graham first conquered the course’s 42 fells at age 42, and it has become a popular age for runners to tackle the Bob Graham Round).
Thrown into the mix was a more literal storm: Pelletier told canadian running that the course lived up to its reputation for terribly wet and cold weather. “The biggest challenge tends to be navigation in poor weather, which was certainly the case for me,” he said.
He said that, unlike previous races, such as last year’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc—which he documented in a film—there were no markers to point his way along the course. “Navigation is the runner’s responsibility,” he said, adding that considering how big a challenge it poses, it’s not surprising only two Canadians have completed the Bob Graham Round. The other, Kirk Mauthnerran it in 2016 in 23 hours and 53 minutes.
Neither were there any aid stations. To help him in his attempt at it, Pelletier relied on an 11-member team of pacers and crew headed up by his partner Audrée Lafreniere. “There was no shortage of people offering to help. It really is a community based around the idea of reciprocation,” he said.
In addition to helping Pelletier succeed in his run, his support crew also acted as witnesses, helping to meet the stringent documentation requirements for the attempt to be ratified by the Bob Graham 24-Hour Club.
Pelletier said he expects his run will be ratified by the fall, when the club holds a banquet to honor its members. “I won’t be able to attend it, unfortunately, but I expect that I’ll at least have a certificate sent to me, which I will proudly display at home.”
Inspired to run the Bob Graham Round after Spanish ultrarunning superstar Kilian Jornet set the record in 12 hours and 52 minutes in 2018—a time American Jack Kuenzle bested by 29 minutes last year—Pelletier hopes his run, as well as a documentary he is making about training for and finishing Bob Graham Round, will inspire others to snatch the Canadian title from him.
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“It’s a pretty soft time and my Canadian record could get broken pretty quickly,” he said. “But my goal really is to inspire other Canadians, and maybe other North Americans, whether it’s with the Bob Graham or a different challenge, to explore the fells for themselves.”