How to get a Frog out of a Calf Tear

Natalie Hawkrigg

Did you know that there is a ‘Frog’ inside a calf tear? Well, there was one in mine.

In May 2019, I was taking part in a team orienteering relay with my son Ruben. It was a Scottish championship relay and we were doing really well. We were in first place as Ruben came running in to tag my hand to go. As I tagged and turned to leave I felt a sudden severe pain in the back of my left calf like I had been hit with an axe. I knew straight away it was a torn calf muscle. I recognized it instantly as exactly the same pain as previous time when I tore a calf in the Hodgsons Brothers Fell Relay 2 years previously. I also knew instantly it was bad news and would take months to heal.  But what should I do there and then? There was a moments hesitation ‘Should I pull out?’, but I quickly shelved the sensible option and set off, with a determination to finish. I just couldn’t let my team mates down. I did finish, and we ended up in third place, but I was taken off the event field in an ambulance because I could not walk. 

So what does a runner do when they can’t run? They swim. I started rehabbing my calf by swimming at my closest pool, which happens to be Greystoke outdoor pool. Swimming was something I used to do everyday when I was younger and lived in Australia. I even swam for my university team, but I hadn’t swam properly for years. I soon started getting hooked to the meditative laps of the pool early in the morning and then slowly but surely I returned to running as my calf healed. Yet the swimming was a new obsession now and I kept going. 

One day I was swimming when the idea of doing the ‘Frog Graham’ popped into my head. I guess it was something that had previously caught my interest but I hadn’t really considered it seriously. Then coincidently a friend of my husbands sent me a link to Dan Duxbury’s ‘Chasing The Frog’ video and challenged me to do it. So that was the start of it. It had to be done. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_laODHvWOc

What it really meant was that for me it was the start of becoming obsessed with the wind speed and temperature of the Lakes. I started reccing the lake swims, gaining my confidence in open water. Whilst I am a confident swimmer in pools, I can sometimes panic in open water. I knew that the lakes would have to be calm for me to do it, which meant a wind speed of 10 mph or less. I soon realised that I would also need kayak or swim support on the lakes, just to clinch my confidence in the water. So, I emailed my friends with kayaks and got together a ‘on-call’ support team, so that I could go when the conditions were good. I also had the goal of making it a zero-cost round. I told myself I wasn’t allowed to buy any fancy equipment or gear in order to do it. The most important thing was to make sure I was familiar with the biosecurity requirements, and make sure that I stuck to the ‘Frog’ rules. I digested the information on the Frog Graham website. www.thefroggrahamround.co.uk

My personal ambition on the day of the Frog was to ‘get the best possible time for me’. I wasn’t going to chase any records. I purposely made sure I did not look at any female record times. I knew Wendy Dodd’s completion time and so I put together a detailed schedule with splits for each summit and swims based loosely around Wendy’s schedule and my own known split times for certain run sections. I emailed the schedule to my friends who immediately bounced back with comments such as ‘You will be close to the female record if you do that?’ So, I adjusted my original times thinking it was too fast. My aim was to stick to a schedule so that my kayak supporters would not be kept waiting too long. After all they had other things they needed to get too!

Starting at 4 am at the Moot Hall it was quiet but as I trotted in to get ready for the off there was a lone runner just leaving the Moot Hall. I wondered if it might be someone else doing the Frog but I soon forgot about him. My friend Clare Regan came to see me off. I would do the same for her, and it was much appreciated not to be alone. I carried a Tom-tom watch to track my route but I had no idea how long the battery would last. 

I felt great on the way up Skiddaw. My legs felt strong and I was keeping my splits in my mind. Just below Jenkins Hill I caught up with the lone runner – it was Steve Breeze, West Cumberland Orienteer. He was on a solo-unsupported Frog attempt. We stayed together for the summit of Skiddaw sharing our plans and missions. Steve’s approach was to complete and take as much time as needed, all his gear in a large pack, whereas I was just carrying a small bum-bag on this leg knowing my kayak support had everything down at Bassenthwaite lake waiting for me. Again he tried to tell me what the female record was but I refused to hear it.

Steve and I parted in the descent to Bass, but I saw him briefly again as I was ready to enter the water at Bassenthwaite. My expert swim-run friend Rob Kenning was there ready waiting for me. Bass was like a millpond, like swimming in a chocolate bath. I got cramp in my legs which was a real surprise as I had never had cramp in any of my training lake swims. The cramp soon passed, but it made me ask Clare to bring my swim-buoy to Crummock water so I could avoid using my legs on my subsequent swims. That worked well, I never got cramp again.

My Mum was waiting on the opposite side of Bass and I remember my Mum and Clare massaging my campy legs as they yanked my wetsuit off me. I did not use that wetsuit again on my round in any of the other lakes (for biosecurity reasons), and I changed my shoes here as well (as I had swam in my shoes for speed and warmth). I only used a full wetsuit on the Bassenthwaite swim. On Crummock I swam in a home made tunic that I made by cutting the shorts, arms and legs out of one of my son’s old wetsuits. In Buttermere I swam in my run clothes and on Derwentwater I used my tunic again). My swim hat (to protect weed getting in my hair) and goggles were rinsed after the Bassenthwaite swim by my support friends. The kayak on Bassenthwaite was not used again on any of the other Lakes.

I was pleased to see Claire Dickinson waiting for me on Barf as I pulled up to the summit, I was already ahead of my schedule but she was there in good time, though I surprised her popping up from a different direction than she had anticipated. She ran all the way to Hopegill Head with me and then turned around. The Whinlatter and Coledale fells were shrouded in a warm hazy mist so navigation was crucial, but as I dropped down to Whiteless Pike the day started to clear and Crummock was in sight. I was loving it.

Cumberland Fell Runner Jenny Chatterley and loyal friend Clare Regan swam with me on Crummock with Robin Regan in kayak. I felt honored to have their support and expertise. Robin was amazing with focusing me on what I needed to carry on the next leg, and kept my transitions on track. 

Poor Jenny had to endure the longest and smelliest leg. As I was ascending Mellbreak I kept thinking I could smell a rotting sheep, but it was only until I got closer to Red Pike that I realised that the rotting sheep could not be everywhere and that it was me that was stinking! My urine had got onto my swim costume after a hasty piss, and had started to stink as I sweated. I will always remember saying to Jenny ‘Gosh, so sorry about the smell’ and her polite reply of ‘Don’t worry about it’.

Coming off High Stile we were in blanket mist again and we took a wrong line thinking we were on the last cairn, but in fact we were not at the last cairn and we were heading down to far in a Northly direction. We quickly corrected with a sneaky traverse and we were back on track. I was so relieved to get to Buttermere simply to get in the water and get relief from the smell. I shocked Robin by refusing to put on my swim tunic, just diving in and started swimming. 

A complete change of clothes on Buttermere beach had me feeling fresh. The briefest of hugs and exchange of words with Angela Wilson who was doing the hardest job of the day and looking after my kids, and I was off. Chris Curtis was my companion and support on this final run leg and he was completely brilliant. He kept me on track and urged me to pick up my pace just when it was needed. We arrived at Derwentwater exactly on schedule.

I absolutely loved the Derwentwater swim. The family team of Ella, John and Helen Horne were my kayak support the whole way, as I swam and stumbled across the three islands. I will never forget surprizing the family of campers on Herbert Island as I did my traverse through the tree’s.  Arriving at Calf bay we had a debate as to whether Helen could accompany me on the run back to the Moot Hall, which was not planned and would leave John and Ella alone to kayak back to Hawes end on their own. Helen won the toss and we were soon on our way, feeling relaxed and catching up on news as we ran.  The round was in the bag now and I didn’t feel I needed to rush. We jogged into the busy Moot Hall and found some space near the steps and someone remembered to check my finishing time. (My Tom-tom had run out of battery at Crummock).  Some perplexed looks amongst my friends as I thought I had done the round in 14hrs something (having lost track and got confused somewhere along the line) but in fact it was 13h 19mins. Someone was brave and ventured to guess that it might well be new ladies fastest time. This was a lovely surprise, that topped off a perfect day out in the fells and swimming the lakes. 

The biggest relief of getting the Frog done was that I could now stop obsessing about wind speeds and lake temperatures, but I will miss those lake swims as winter takes it’s icy grip. My deepest respect to those who have done the round in winter, and those who do it fully unsupported like Steve Breeze who also completed the round the same day as me, and later recounts that he sat and had a full picnic lunch on Mellbreak , quite a contrast to my constant eating on the move.

There is plenty of scope to do a much faster female round. I was sticking to a schedule which helped me get a good time,  but there are faster running lines, descents, time saving tips  and much faster female swimmers and runners out there. I don’t think I will hold the fastest female time for very long but nice to have it while it lasts.

PS. A final plea to anyone who decides to attempt the round – there is a risk that the round will cease to exist if the Lake District National Park Authority feel there is any risk to biosecurity, so please make sure that this is your top most priority before setting out on any attempt, and follow the recommendations on the Frog Graham website.

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