Blog Graham: Manchester YMCA Harriers' Leapfrog Relay

Intro - Mark

It's nice to try something different every once in a while. For a running club from the heart of Manchester, you don't get much more 'different' than the Frog Graham round. The Frog Graham Round is a 40-ish mile circular route over the Lake District fells, inspired by the classic Bob Graham round, that incorporates four open-water swims across Bassenthwaite, Crummock Water, Buttermere and Derwentwater. The FGR website states that the round is "categorically NOT for novices and anyone considering an attempt should be an experienced off-road runner and very competent open-water swimmer. Seriously."

With four running legs of comparable distance and four swimming sections, the FGR splits neatly into a relay that can be attempted by a team of four, known as the Leapfrog Relay. Steph, being hard as nails, has completed the FGR solo, so when she floated the idea of getting together a YMCA Harriers team to attempt the Leapfrog, we already had a wealth of experience to draw on. Four runners of questionable sanity identified themselves, along with an equally mad support team, and the date was set for 1st July; five years and one day after Steph's solo round. Spreadsheets were drawn up, risks were worried about, and an elderly but almost entirely watertight kayak was borrowed. Sadly Nathaniel had to drop out due to injury, but Phil Facey heroically stepped into the breach, and even more heroically agreed to stay on after it became clear what he'd actually signed up for.

On a grey Friday evening we all arrived in the Lake District, although mostly failed to find each other because it turns out Keswick is quite busy in the middle of the summer. (Who knew?) Some prepared for an early start, while others planned a leisurely warm-up at Whinlatter parkrun, but everyone was due for a big day out.

Steph and Dave outside Moot Hall at the start

Date: 1 July 2023

Start Time: 05:55

Leg 1 - Steph - Moot Hall, Keswick to Beck Wythop

I had chosen Leg 1 for a couple of reasons; I know the way up and down Skiddaw like the back of my hand and the relay was my idea so it would be harsh to ask anyone else to do the 6am start. So, there I was back at Moot Hall with David and this time Katie and Dan from the brilliant support crew. The weather was mild and dull. David and I set off together and as planned, we separated at Latrigg car park for me to continue the route alone. As I climbed the cloud came down and the wind picked up alarmingly. By the time I reached the fork in the path for Skiddaw Little Man, I was completely soaked, had been blown off the path twice, had zero visibility and was seriously considering whether it was wise to continue. I put my head down and pressed on knowing that I only had to endure these conditions for another couple of miles and then I would be over the summit and on my way back down to civilisation. I took a bearing on the summit to ensure I didn't get disorientated and thankfully chose the correct path down. Conditions improved as I descended and soon I was running on a well defined track through Dodd Wood, where I met David, and across the A591. Rowena, Mark and Millie met us at Bassenthwaite church. A quick change into my wetsuit and we were off. Mark paddled the kayak and Millie, being much more hardy than me, swam without a wetsuit! The lake was surprisingly warm but it was super choppy. The swim is east to west; we struggled against a very strong current dragging us south, but finally made land at Beck Wythop. I was very relieved to have finished my leg, very happy to hand over to Mark for Leg 2, and delighted to see the support crew with camper van.

Steph's swim

Leg 2 - Mark - Beck Wythop to Low Ling Crag

After abandoning the kayak on the shores of Bassenthwaite and a Clark Kent-style costume change in a layby on the A66, Leg 2 was on. The leg begins with a dash up the road, followed by the steep ascent of an aptly-named hill called Barf. In the hope of shaving off a bit of time, I'd tried out the direct line up Barf a couple of weeks before; however, it lived up to its reputation as tottering pile of scree with the odd bit of serious scrambling, so on the day I swallowed my pride and stuck to the forestry track. The trail flows beautifully from the summit of Barf to Lord's Seat, then takes a hard left into the swampy forest of Ullister Hill, where I inevitably got lost. In fact, I have to confess that I could only identify the summit with the help of GPS (although in fairness, it's a completely unremarkable patch of swamp only slightly more elevated than the surrounding unremarkable swamp). The experience was so enjoyable that I elected to keep getting lost, and made a weaving and somewhat brambly descent through the forest to Whinlatter to meet the support team, who had been busy scrubbing the kayak free of any traces of invasive pygmyweed.

The Kayak

A blitz through the woods, familiar to veterans of Whinlatter parkrun, is followed by a lung-busting ascent to Grisedale Pike. At this point the wind and rain really decided to join the party, the small wall beside the path providing wholly inadequate shelter. Near the top a stiff gust sent me face-first into the turf and, worse, caused me to drop my entire supply of jelly babies. Once over the climb, the visibility dropped to around 10 metres, but fortunately the undulating ridge south provides an exceptional run along proper beaten paths, taking in Hopegill Head and Sand Hill before a short scramble to Eel Crag. Sheltering behind the trig point for a quick snack, the clouds suddenly lifted and I was treated to the stunning views over Derwent and Buttermere. A short sharp descent down Whiteless Edge leads to the final climb over Rannerdale Knotts and a steep rumble through the corridors of bracken to the beach at Hause Point.

Mark on the run

I would be running the next leg with Phil (who reportedly responded to the news that he would need to run up the side of Mellbreak with an incredulous cry of 'What, up there!?'), and so after another costume change I bundled my running kit into a drybag and shoved it into the kayak. I set off across Crummock Water with Andy swimming and Phil following in the boat. Being fairly new to open-water swimming, this was the choppiest water I had ever swum in, and after inhaling a couple of waves it eventually occurred to me that breathing only on the downwind side might be a good idea.

Mark's swim

We made it about halfway across before Phil had the misfortune to get side-on to the waves during a particularly strong gust, and promptly capsized. This put Andy and I in the unusual situation of needing to rescue our safety boat. With a slightly awkward team effort, we managed to drag the boat to the far side at Low Ling Crag, where a generous walker lent his spare fleece to the mildly hypothermic Phil. In another stroke of luck, Phil had managed to keep most of my running kit safe in the upturned boat, with only a couple of water bottles finding a new home at the bottom of Crummock. All in all, a rather successful swim! Leg 3 awaits.


Leg 3 - Phil - Low Ling Crag to Hassness

To get to the starting point of my leg of the relay I had to get to the other side of Crummock Water, so I started across the water by kayak with 3 kit bags on board - alongside two of my teammates who were swimming across. Unfortunately, I soon found out kayaking is not my forte when all of a sudden the boat capsized in the middle of the lake. It happened so quickly that all I can remember is thinking "oh shit", finding myself upside down underwater, not knowing which way is up. I pulled myself out of the capsized kayak and grabbed two of the three kit bags (the other disappearing to the bottom of the lake). I was then stuck in the middle of the lake, shocked, freezing cold with no buoyancy aid, gasping and grabbing onto the side of the kayak thinking "how the hell did that happen?" and "what the hell do I do next?". Thankfully, due to the amazing resourcefulness and leadership of my teammate Mark, he took charge of the entire situation making sure I was OK and co-ordinating getting everyone and the boat and the kit safely to land.

After finally making it to land after being in the freezing cold water for what seemed like forever, but was apparently only around half an hour, I was totally soaked and frozen through to the bone. The kit I was required to carry for the running leg was totally soaked through, making it mostly useless and very heavy to carry – not a great combination! And all I wanted to do was go home, definitely not start a 10k run, let alone one across brutal terrain with almost 3700ft of elevation…

I tried to get as dry as possible, even though I had no dry clothes to change into – fortunately a super kind stranger that had seen the whole thing lent me his super warm running top. Anything dry was super warm and amazing at this point! All he asked was for me to return it to him at the Wheatsheaf pub later in the day.

Phil's run

Once I had got myself together(-ish) I started the relay leg, climbing the steep ascent through the foliage alongside Mark who was kindly co-ordinating the navigation. I tried to scramble as quickly as possible just to try and warm up if nothing else! It took us over 3 and half hours to cover 10k across the rough terrain (and I'm normally a 36-minute 10km runner!). To be honest, I can't remember much more about the run itself, other than the beautiful scenery all the way round, how cold I felt the entire way, my feet squelching every step, and the most important wonderful memory is Mark's support and navigation was absolutely priceless and amazing. I remember getting to the final descent seeing the lake, feeling very grateful to have made it across the terrain as best as I could without giving up and doing my best to enjoy every step after the wobbly start...

Arriving at Buttermere, the last thing I wanted to do was get back in any lake any time soon! Plus my wetsuit and kit were already soaked through, and basically useless, so I decided to send it all with Andy in the kayak and just swim without it across the lake. Surprisingly the swim was actually OK, the easiest part (thankfully!), and I was very grateful to reach the other side and complete the leg of the relay and hand over to Andy. At last I could just stop, rest and get warm and dry! 🙂

Phil at the finish of his leg

While Andy was running Leg 4, there was just one thing left to do - find the Wheatsheaf pub in Lorton and return the running top to the kind stranger! After an adventurous detour to find the pub there was just one more hurdle - as I was frozen and a bit shocked when he lent me the top, I couldn't actually remember what he looked like. We went into the pub randomly waving around the running top, hoping someone would recognise me, which he did, and was far more joyful to see that I was OK than get his running top back. What a beautiful soul. Mission accomplished, the top was back with its rightful owner 🙂

Leg 4 - Andy - Hassness to Moot Hall, Keswick

After a long and eventful day, starting with a slightly over enthusiastic Whinlatter parkrun as well as swimming with Mark for his swim leg and escorting Phil in the safety boat for his swim, I still had my own leg to come. Setting off slightly later than anticipated meant that it was soon going to start getting dark and I would be finishing my leg after sunset, but fortunately the weather had calmed since earlier in the afternoon.


I enthusiastically set off up a slight incline that very quickly turned into a long steep hill, at which point I realised this wasn't going to be easy going. I soon gave up on running and stomped up the hill as fast as I could, just hoping that it wasn't all going to be like this. After almost an hour the top and my first checkpoint was in sight, the gradient eased and I picked up the pace to finish my first ascent. After this small victory my confidence grew as it looked like the next section was going to be more enjoyable, with undulating ups and downs and I soon made it past checkpoints two and three and I could see the route ahead of me to my final checkpoint. While these sections had their share of climbing, there was nothing like the first ascent and I had an enjoyable trip over to my last checkpoint. Standing at the trig point, I knew I'd done the hard bit, as I could see the mostly downhill path to Derwent Water where the team would be waiting for me. After a rather pleasant winding descent and a surprise encounter with a startled Roe Deer doe I arrived at the beach. I'd managed to finish my run leg in good time and had avoided having to navigate in the dark, but as I struggled into my wetsuit the sun had just started to set and night was beginning to set in. At this point I'd realised that Phil was wearing the life jacket ("it's a buoyancy aid!" — Mark), with paddle in hand and was told he would be joining me in the safety boat. My heart sank like our missing water bottles and as I started to object to this arrangement, it was revealed to be an elaborate joke and to my great relief I was to be accompanied by competent oarsman Mark.

Andy's swim

My swim leg was just over a mile, with 3 island checkpoints breaking up the swim, having to hop across each one. The first swim was the shortest and easiest, but Otterbield Island was home to flocks of nesting seagulls who were not happy to have a surprise guest. After clambering out of the lake without water shoes, I had to painfully tiptoe across the rocks to the other side while ducking the dive bombing protective parents I had disturbed. The second swim to St Herbert's Island was fairly uneventful, but since this was the largest island, I opted to take the path through the trees on softer ground rather than across rocks, as Mark paddled around to meet me. By this point it was quite dark and I struggled to see exactly where my next checkpoint Rampsholme Island was, as it blended in with the far shore now the light had dropped. After going off course once or twice due to the conditions and fatigue I made it onto and over the third island to the final swim section. Now it was almost pitch black but for the last leg I could see the head torches of my teammates on the shore which I could aim for. After a slightly unsettling incidence of cramp in my calf I got close to dry land and was cheered back onto land by the awaiting team.

Going dark...

But I was not finished there, I had a bonus mile and a half run to complete the round and finish back at Moot Hall. I was handed my shoes and basically told to get on with it and everyone would see me at the end. I was not prepared for this as I was half expecting a team victory lap to the finish, however at this point everyone else was dry and warm and done with exertion for the day. I was exhausted and needed pointing in the right direction as my phone and Google Maps were in transit somewhere. Thankfully, David stepped up and offered to guide me on this leg which I was very grateful for. Once we were off the lake and out through the woods it was actually a very simple run down a road into town. We arrived at Moot Hall just before 11pm to be greeted by the team, as well as some bemused looking people who were probably wondering why I was running around in a wetsuit at this time of night. We quickly made our way to the nearest pub for last orders and celebrated with drinks and very much needed bags of crisps, still in my wetsuit with a borrowed jumper to fit in with the normal folk.

Finish Time 22:40

The finish


Although capsizing the kayak was not my finest hour (a combination of traumatic and humiliating…) it did at least turn a more ordinary day out into an adventure. It's amazing that situations like this always bring out the best in people that makes life magical. From the amazing leadership from Mark throughout "the incident" and the run, to appreciating Dan and Katie's amazing camper van that was a brilliant dry, warm refuge after the ordeal, plus appreciation of small things such as Katie's best cheese sandwich ever when I was recovering, the mini road trip with Rowena to get the warm top back to the Wheatsheaf, Steph's amazing support and view on the adventure to brighten everything up – the amazing kindness of my teammates and strangers 🙂

Moving on, in hindsight, as much as I would have preferred "the incident" never happened, I am very grateful I have taken forward as much good from the experience as possible. Ever since that day I have been doing a cold plunge in the mornings, as I figured now I know I can do 30 minutes with zero preparation, I can do 5 minutes every morning - and I really feel like I am getting amazing mental and physical health benefits from the plunge 🙂 plus I definitely made myself more resilient and pragmatic under unexpected situations, which has been a great benefit in so many ways – and of course I have the wonderful memories of the wonderful kindness of so many people 🙂

And what will the next unexpected adventure be??? Who knows, let's see 🙂


I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, the challenge, and the camaraderie of completing it as a team. I'd like to thank everyone on the team and the support crew (David, Dan, Katie, Millie and Rowena) who made the day possible. Mark planned out the logistics and was an exceptional leader who helped ensure the day went relatively smoothly, despite 'the incident'. I'd also like to thank Steph for bringing the idea to the table and I am full of admiration for her solo effort. This was my first Frog Graham, but I will make sure it isn't my last and look forward to completing or supporting another attempt in the future.

The pub