Yes, it had to happen! Sooner or later actual racing was going to restart, and Martin Stone, well-known to fell-runners and those using SiEntries, was the man to organise it. This 13-mile race was set up as, I think, a bit of a test event, the first fell race since lockdown, and one to be observed by the FRA and others to check out Covid19 security measures. These involved using essentially a time trial format, six runners going off at a time at five minute intervals: 234 runners, taking all morning to get set off. We could choose our start time, and groups of up to six could ask for the same start to have a bit of a mini-race. No water stations, mask on at the registration and finish, and they asked for not too much hanging around before and after the race.
So, how did it go? Well the whole thing was organised superbly, and no one behaved stupidly, as far as I could see. The only people perhaps not socially-distancing enough were the quite large numbers of the general public also in and around Lowther Castle during the event – quite a few in the cafe courtyard – but the organisers had no control of that.
Race-wise, I set off pretty strongly, but had a taster of how the day would go when I found the long 3-mile climb out of Askham very heavy-going. I put it down to the heat at first (20 degrees at 11:00, then getting hotter), but as I kept taking little walks to get my breath back, it dawned on me that giving blood six days earlier was having an effect: I kept going ‘into the red’ far too easily. Once I realised this I could manage it better, and try and keep my effort (and pulse rate) down on the climbs. But it was much harder work on any sort of gradient than it had been just a week earlier.
I’d expected lots more overtaking, and being overtaken, than in a normal race, where runners essentially self-sort till you end up alone. But, though I did see more people, we were still pretty sparse. Nice route – a bit of everything, including lovely soft grass, some tarmac, some stony hard track, a long drag, a very big hill, a bit of bog … and a plodge through a river!
Very pleased to get back to the castle … took about two and a half hours, which was much longer than I’d expected, but it could have been worse in the circumstances.
A good crack! If this is the new normal for racing, it isn’t bad …
After sacking off Manchester Marathon due to a slight Achilles issue in January, I was looking to revise my springtime race calendar once the ankle allowed me to run again. My first port of call is as always, the club GP fixture list, it offers such a diverse range of events I couldn’t recommend it more to any of our new members looking to do something slightly different, chances are there’s always going to be at least one other strider there. Saying that I’m fairly new to the off road stuff, other than the harrier league, I’d ran in a couple of races over the Christmas period and managed to place 8th at Captain Cook’s on New Year’s Day so I was keen to give road racing a break and have a bash at more fell races.
Bilsdale was next on the agenda, £10 entry, 15 miles and just shy of 4000ft of climb. Lovely.
I have absolutely zero knowledge of the North York Moors so when Fiona B suggested a quick trip down for a recce a few weeks before the race I jumped at it, the only problem with this was that it was the day Thornley got cancelled because of Storm Ciara. The wind was absolutely crazy, on the descents you could lean forward and the gusts would hold you up like a scene from a Michael Jackson video, at least it can’t be any worse than this on race day I thought! However, in the time between our recce and race day, the Lambton Estate HL fixture was rescheduled for the Saturday before Bilsdale. This put me in a bit of a predicament knowing how demanding Bilsdale was going to be and given that the men’s team were joint second in Division 1 and with a big turn out there was potential to top the league. I was never in any doubt that I would participle in Lambton but just how hard I would go, maybe I could take it easy for two laps and push on the final? These thoughts rattled round up until about five minute before the gun when I saw Nina just after finishing the ladies race, she was also doing Bilsdale and I think her exact words were, “it’s a different kind of race tomorrow, it’ll be fine”. Needless to say I went hard from the off…
Arriving at Chopgate village hall early on the Sunday morning for registration, everyone was a bit precautious with the handshakes and congregating in close proximity to each other due to the current climate, but everyone seemed to be grateful that this, unlike so many other events was still going ahead. Having had my kit check complete, picked up my number I had a meander round the car park eyeing up the competition; I’d already done my usual cross-check of last years’ results and this years’ participants, followed by a browse on power of 10 and Strava profiles… In the build-up I was quietly confident that if things went well, I could place quite high in the field. What I’ve learnt in my short tenure in fell racing is that things don’t always go the way you plan.
The start is at the bottom of the first climb, quarter of a mile or so on tarmac before turning off onto a trail and up to the first steepish section. I started off in the lead pack of 4, an easy pace compared to what I’m use to but I knew what lay ahead warranted the slower pace, the pack began to spread out by a few yards and I made an error by following the guy in front instead of looking up at the tracks. By going round instead of straight up a climb I lost a bit of time and two guys from Durham Uni passed me by taking the shorter route, I carried on at the easy pace regardless knowing that from CP1 there was a long stretch of downhill that I could open up my legs and try to regain some of that distance. The looped one way system at CP1 allowed a quick thumbs up to both Michael and Barrie before putting my head down and picking the pace up down towards the road crossing, thankfully the wind wasn’t too bad on this section and I started to slowly reel in the two lads in front. They were just starting the climb up the steps from the road as I was crossing it, this is where the efforts from the XC the day before began to make itself known; from the road to CP2 is a continuous climb up and my legs started to feel it big time. I looked at my watch, 5 miles, wow I was in for a long day if I’m hurting already. I plodded on, not really making time on the lads in front and no one had passed me so at least I was breaking even, passing CP2 and heading round towards The Wainstones where I made another bad call on the route.
During my recce we went straight through the stones and down but pre-race Barrie mentioned there was an easier trail that went round to the left, I did neither and found myself doing a few zigzags/parkour leaps until I found a way out and back onto the route, passing Zoe and the kids spectating. After another climb up to CP3 and the subsequent descent where again, I made another error following the guy in front by bearing left after a gate we started to climb again and when we approached a junction I knew we were in the wrong. I followed the trail on the right to get a better view and down below as expected, I could see a few runners heading towards the scout hut at CP4; I had two options here, either head back to the gate and get on the right route inevitably losing more time or as the crow flies straight down through the bushes, I decided on the latter more fun option. The climb out from CP4 towards the stone seat absolutely killed me, my legs were absolutely screaming by this point and I could have quite happily face planted and slide all the way back down. I opted not pursue with this strategy though and carried on slowly climbing, from the stone seat was pretty uneventful for me heading back down and electing for “the shoot” route towards the stream checkpoint (CP6), from here the route was flagged up to a small road section to keep us pesky runners off someone’s land. This time round the tarmac section seemed so much longer and steeper than what I remembered from our recce.
There was further uncertainty among a few of us on the route to CP7 but no major issues or loss of further time, Jan was marshalling at this checkpoint and she called out I was in 11th, people ahead must have missed this checkpoint as I thought I was further down the pack. Slowly getting to the top of the climb a walker and his grandson stopped to ask me what the race was, welcoming a very quick break for my worn legs I stopped and pretty much had shout over the howling wind for him to hear me. From here it was anyone’s guess at the best route down to CP8, I carried on down the firmer track until I thought it was the best time to veer left through the heather and down to the gate; I’d overshot it by about 200m and ended up on a small track with runners heading towards me, that’s never a good sign but it didn’t look like I had lost too much time by the time I had U-turned at the checkpoint. From here on I was pretty confident of the route and there were no major hiccups in route selection, the biggest challenge now was just getting to the end, I had absolutely no power left in my legs; I’d already had a gel and even tucked into my emergency food supply.
Heading out of Scugdale (CP9) I had a brief chat with another runner who gladly pointed out this was the last climb, once at the top and heading towards CP10 I employed a run/walk strategy with the first signs of cramp in my right quad showing, I didn’t want to push too hard to have to walk the whole way back to Chopgate. The twinges in my quad became slightly more bearable so I gingerly dropped the walk element of the run/walk strategy and plodded on to Cock Howe Cairn, the final check point, I felt a slight wave of relief overcome me as I knew it was all downhill from here. My legs were too far gone by this point to even try and pick up the pace, I had to use all my energy to concentrate where I was putting my feet regardless of hearing the panting of someone behind me, I couldn’t even muster the effort to try and put in a spurt to hold him off and he went flying passed towards the finish. With about 200m to go, from behind, I heard “COME ON GEORGIE!!”, it was Fiona coming in fast and we eventually finished with about 10 seconds between us. She finished first lady, a brilliant performance. I scuttled straight round to my car and chugged a bottle of water and got some warm clothes on before heading into the village hall to have a delightful cheese pasty and piece of red velvet cake to regain some calorific goodness.
Regardless of the pain I was feeling for pretty much 66% of the race, this was a great event in a great location and as long as it doesn’t land on the same weekend as a HL fixture next year I will definitely be back – it has only contributed to my ever growing love for fell racing.
Elvet Striders were able to produce two teams for this years Fell Relays, hosted by Dark Peak Fell Runners. However, for the first time, one team was all ladies!
A cold and misty start to the morning soon cleared for blue skies, against the impressive backdrop of the Ladybower Dam. Accompanied by the theme to ‘Dambusters’, Susan Davis and Graeme Watt led both teams off strongly. Graeme returned an impressive 13th V40, against some of the strongest fell runners in the country. Not far behind, Susan had a good run and had spent her leg picking people off on the climbs, steadily working her way up the field to hand over to leg 2, Elaine and Fiona.
With the reasonable head start that Paul Evans and James Garland had on leg 2, Fiona and Elaine were unable to catch them, but spent the 8 miles of wonderful Peak District running slowly gaining places to hand over to the nav team, Tricia and Nina. Nigel and Geoff, the nav team for the mens leg were off and away by this point, and with plenty experience of this event knew the ropes. Nina and Tricia, having never run together or competed in such an event (route map only provided 500m past the start), rose admirably to the challenge and had a fantastic run.
The final leg for the men was run by Robin, a last minute reserve who kindly dropped everything to run for us, and appeared to have a fantastic time, even when he locked his bike to the dam and threw away the key. Susan Scott, recovering from a baptism of fire at the Langdale Fell Race the week before unfortunately suffered a bad ankle sprain not long into her leg; but after a short rest, got up and carried on and ran into the finish so strongly that none of us realised until she had finished.
Overall, the men’s V40 team was 18th/38 and the women’s was 26th/53, putting both teams into the top half of their categories – not bad for a Durham based club, competing against the Country’s finest, and I think perhaps better than any of us expected. Above all, it was a fantastic day out and great experience for all.
A Navigation leg, run as a pair – Geoff Davies and Nigel Heppell were sent away ahead of the mass start by the combined efforts of Graeme W(leg 1) and James G/Paul E(leg2).The map is only handed to us after we are a few hundred metres into the race and tells us that the course is 11.2km long with 520m ascent through 7 checkpoints.
By the time we return we have recorded 14.7km and 727m … but manage to hold on to 170th place out of 242 teams(Overall, Elvet Men are 18th of 38 teams in the V40 category).
The route we chose comprised trods with loose rocks, interminable gritty uphill tracks, precipitous descents through deep heather; thigh-height stream crossings; ascents so steep you could nibble the bilberries direct from the bush just by leaning forward slightly, headlong downhill charges through tussocky grasses hiding foot-sized holes in the ground;- and then it got harder when we reached the boggy bits! I face-planted a couple of times and felt my life-force draining away more than once.
Pleased to get to the last 1/2mile of steep grass followed by mud into the finish – for the first time I find myself in front of Geoff, and it happens to coincide with the only photo of us –not a true reflection of events at all
And from Nina:
A stunning setting and good weather greeted us at the fell relays. I ran the navigation (third) leg with Tricia, and had so much fun (more than is usual in a race, for sure!).
After pacing round the ‘handover’ pen waiting to spot Fiona and Elaine running in from leg 2, we were suddenly off, with a sharp climb up out of the woods, collect the map, and set off uphill to the first checkpoint.
Tricia and I made a good team, sharing the lead running (or clambering!) and discussing and agreeing on the nav. I had my compass out a couple of times just to be sure the hills were in the right place, but as visibility was superb it wasn’t really needed on the day. The terrain was mixed, and together we found plenty of mud, streams, vegetation – and some runnable bits too.
We made pretty decent progress round the course, with the exception of one route choice between checkpoints where we thought direct was the best bet. In hindsight it wasn’t. We could see a trod on the far hillside, but had to find (fight) our way through a couple of hundred yards of dense, tall bracken to reach it. As we didn’t have our machetes this slowed us down a little, though made the day particularly memorable! Crawling under the bracken as the easiest way up a steep hill is a new one for me.
A brilliant experience, sharing a race with the best fell runners in the country, and with strong, supportive Striders’ teams. Great fun running with Tricia. A special mention to Adrian for ‘hanging around’ in a muddy field and supporting all day – rewarded (as was I) with a pub meal and a couple of pints. Very well done to the hosts – Dark Peak – for ending the legs with a hugely entertaining downhill (whether running or spectating!) and for organising an unforgettable day.
After a scenic cycle ride from the car park in Brampton a few miles away I was met with a carnival atmosphere on a flat green space flanked by an impressive dam.
Since I was running the last leg I had plenty of time to soak in the atmosphere and to watch runners setting off and arriving through a steep muddy path and up the hill at the edge of the green. 2pm arrived and I decided to warm up and gather in the starting pen nervously watching the woods for the arrival of Nigel and Geoff. 3:20 arrived and since Nigel & Geoff hadn’t yet arrived I joined the mass start for leg 4. By this time I was feeling pretty relaxed; over an hour hanging round in the pen chatting to Susan Scott had managed to ebb my pre-race nerves away.
A quick dib of the timing chip and off: Following a short steep muddy bank and gentle jog through the woods the course turned eastwards up a long, steep hike over Pike Low, before dropping straight (and very steeply) down the opposite side, closely following a stone wall pretty much right down to start level to cross a stream before ascending again towards Derwent Edge. The grass tracks quickly gave way to a sea of heather across stunning moorland; with the next mile involving hopping around bouncing over and through the knee deep brush (I still haven’t quite decided the best technique) whilst on a long steady climb. Through this bit one had to keep a bit of an eye on the overall direction as the yellow flags were easy to lose (no navigation required on my leg). The heather eventually gave way and the climb levelled off with the next section being quick running over spongy grass tracks with the odd patch of peaty bog mixed in.
A good mile of this terrain followed before the descent commenced, with a gradual downhill at first before crossing through a gap in a stone wall whereby the path steepened to a fun descent through a fields, steepening a bit more as we approached the woods, and then more again for the immensely fun 45° mud slide back down to the green and finish line area. A quick sprint to the finish line and a very fun, scenic run was over. My Garmin clocked exactly 5 miles and 375 metres elevation gain; a good first-timer leg and a very enjoyable experience!
Having watched Graeme in, we were off, up a short muddy slope through the woods and out into open moorland. A slow run soon turned into a steady hands-on-knees walk as the slope steepened through bracken and heather. The next hour or so was hard work. Muddy tussocky narrow paths, the occasional bog and stream crossing, and short sharp uphills, grabbing on to rocks and heather for extra grip. When we didn’t have our heads down watching where our feet needed to land next, Paul and I had the odd exchange.
Alright, yeh, keep it going, fast walk, no shame in that, Kendal mint cake, no thanks, stunning view, no sign of Elaine and Fiona, phew…..
Between checkpoints 4 and 5 we had our only real route choice. Contour round to the next checkpoint, longer but safer, or a more direct route down into a gully, through a stream and up the other side. We went for the latter, stumbling down through knee-high heather and head-high bracken down a steep ravine before crossing the stream and clambering up onto a runnable track where our pace picked up again. We began the final climb and reached checkpoint 5 having gained a few places. The final mile was the fastest of the 8, it was great to stretch the legs on a gradual downhill path, before descending steeply through heather, open field and woodland, handing over to Geoff and Nigel for leg 3. A great team event, well organised, perfect weather and a very tasty chilli at the end. Who’s up for next year then?!
I wake alone on the floor of the van, my sleeping bag around me in a twisted mess, rain is hammering down on the roof. Where am I? I open my eyes and roll over to look out the window, its daylight, my watch says its 13:00. I feel like I’m 9 again, having successfully wrangled one extra day off sick from school, but mum, knowing full well what I’m up to forces me to stay in bed all day.
I try to remember what’s outside the van and realise I’m in Capel Curig, the meeting point for our Paddy Buckley attempt.
Now I need a wee, I glance over to the bottle in the corner, it’s already perilously full from last night. Perhaps if I fart it’ll take the pressure off for a few more hours? Dangerous game that. I recall a gas fitter friend who admitted going to the loo in his van as he was fed up with cleaning folk’s mucky toilets after he’d carefully used them. I pull the sleeping bag up over my head, try not to think about what’s to come and fall back asleep.
I wake again at 16:30, we’re meeting at 18:00 so I figure it’s time to get up. Half dressed I peer out of the van door into the fresh air and I’m greeted by Graham Thomas, who’s arrived early and instantly comments on how much he still loves my hair, I reply it’s a work in progress but that I think I’m through the awkward phase. He’d planned to run the round but has a few niggles so he’s supporting legs 1 and 3 with his dog Edwin – a Springer-fauve de Bretagne cross. I wonder if he’ll still be tempted to have a crack at it anyway. I put a brew on for us and gobble down my breakfast porridge.
My Dad and twin-sister Faith arrive shortly after, “Can I get a hell yeah?!?” she exclaims and shows me the tick bites she got from a recent trip to Etna complete with lyme-disease rings, “It’s not infectious”, very cool. “We’ve made everyone a stack load of pasties, brownies and flapjack, all vegan”. It sounds delicious right now but I know I’ll struggle to get it down later.
Martin Wilson joins our growing group. Mild-mannered and dependable, he’s our support for legs 1, 2 and 5 – he just asks if I’m ready. I nod and take one last look at my feet – sorry fellas, smother them in Vaseline, inspect my socks for grass seeds and lace up my shoes.
Tim Wiggins, who’s running the round with me arrives with his wife Lee and Nala the dog – who bounds out of the pickup and makes a beeline for Edwin’s breakfast. We briefly say hi, shake hands and give each other a hug, there’ll be time to catch up later. We all pile into two cars and head to Pont Cae’r Gors, our start point for the round at 19:00. The cloud lifts as we drive to Beddgelert revealing towering damp rocky fells on all sides – I try to suppress the nerves.
What the fuck am I doing?
The weather has finally settled down, ex-hurricane Lorenzo fizzled out to nothing. We gather the last of our gear at the start point, switch on the GPS tracker and pose for a quick photo, its 18:50. Too cold to stand here for another 10 minutes, shall we go? Just like that we’re off.
We cross the A4085, jump the gate and start the boggy climb to Craig Wen. Ten strides in and my feet are sodden – welcome to Wales!
We take the first climb easy, admiring the glowing sunset on the nantlle ridge over our shoulder, it’ll be a while before we cross that ground. We chat about how Martin broke his finger during a recent fell race, but pulled it back into place and still ran well. We keep calling Edwin to heel from sheep on the horizon.
One summit down, 46 to go, we’re 15 minutes down on our ambitious 21-hour schedule.
The wind whips the grass tussocks as we run along the ridge towards Yr Aran, the light quickly fades and we put on our head torches. It was great to start in the daylight. A quick summit to Yr Aran and on fresh legs we make easy work of the long slippery descent to the base of the southern ascent of Snowdon via Cribau Tregalan. We briefly lose the trod part way up the climb, a common occurrence on this round less travelled, but Edwin sniffs out the trod up ahead and shows us the way. As we traverse Bwlch Main the conversation shifts to the perils of internet dating, always a popular topic between Graham and I. We cover what makes a successful profile photo, how to secure a date or two and why it is that the best ones are always a little bit bonkers. Tim, being the only married gent in our group of exceptionally eligible bachelors shakes his head in disbelief. Before we know it the rest of the climb passes without drama, we smell the diesel fumes from the cafe generator and the summit of Snowdon looms into view amongst the thin cloud.
We touch the brass-plated trig point in turn and head down the staircase tourist track. Easy running now, our pace quickens. Graham and Edwin cross paths mid-bound, Edwin comes out the worse off. He briefly yelps in pain then resumes his place at the front of our group, “sorry buddy”.
We slow to make sure we hit the junction for Crib y Ddysgl marked by the standing stone, here we pass two lads camping out at what looks like a race checkpoint, they ask and we reply we’re on the round. We’ve already passed them as they shout back to wish us luck. I head in front on the gentle climb to the top, cairn after cairn comes out of the mist in my head torch beam. Then the clag really closes in. I start to doubt my nav and I sense we’re heading downhill. Where is the summit? “It’s still further on”, Tim reassures us, and sure enough it’s the next thing to come into view. We’re still only 15-minutes down on our schedule, good to be holding pace. Graham takes a bearing from the trig and we descend west through the boulder field. I glance back to check that Martin is still with us as he hasn’t spoken for awhile, and of course he’s still there just getting on with it. We cross over the tourist path at the old station platform, then the railway line and continue the westard bearing to pick up the ranger path. The temperature rises quickly as we lose altitude and we make stops to take off sweaty gear and to drink. We make short work of the remaining grassy peaks, I feel very strong but we’re only three hours in and I sense I’m pushing too hard. I ease off the pace and focus on eating and drinking. Chat quietens down now, we’re all thinking about the warm food in Llanberis.
We tick off Moel Eilio and make the ridgeline descent towards the lights of Llanberis. We hadn’t reccied a line through the farmer’s fields to link up with road support, but a bit of off-piste descending through bracken on a compass bearing and Edwin’s trusty nose does us right and we make the road support point 12 minutes down on schedule. The road crew have all the food and drinks out ready for us to devour, winner! It’s 23:00 and as I munch on a pasty my brain suggests now would be a sensible time to lie down and sleep. We leave the Llanberis support crew along with Graham and Edwin after a 15 minute stop, pretty much on schedule. Tim and I agree it’s going to plan – one leg down, four more to go.
We start the climb out of Llanberis along the mine access path, high slate walls line our route, then through the parallel ruins of single story barracks that were once miner’s accommodation. I try to imagine what it must have been like to work here during the peak of slate production.
We reach the bottom of the incline that will take us straight up through the quarries. We discuss how much water we’re carrying between us given the mild temperatures and consider if the high voltage cables within the shallow concrete conduit we’re to clamber over are still live, the warning signs look pretty fresh.
We make steady progress to the top of the incline, as we clamber we’re accompanied by the distinctive clap of slate slabs underfoot and their echo off the big quarry walls, the lights of Llanberis spread out below and we follow the fence line to the access road of the reservoir, taking care to avoid castration as we hurdle the high barbed wire. We head left then follow the straight line trod through heather and boulders to Elidir Fach the first peak on this leg, then traverse the loose slope up towards Elidir Fawr. I’ve pushed hard on this climb, well ahead of our intended pace. Tim and Martin are being sensible and have hung back, sticking to the plan. Their headtorches are easy to spot in the darkness and I wait for them here, my heart thumping against my ribs.
I recall the advice given to me at Moot Hall by Andy Blackett before my Bob Graham, relating to glycogen and heart rate when on a round, essentially keep your heart rate down and don’t thrash your legs, otherwise you’re screwed. I stare at the black horizon and concentrate on getting my heart rate back down, if this is even possible, as Tim and Martin pass by with a few choice words about exactly what it’s like when your legs blow up. Point taken I drop in behind.
We skirt the rocky ridge and the sheltered hollow of Elidir Fawr then zig-zag up the ridge before the grassy climb to Mynydd Perfedd. I let Martin know this one is an out and back, but he comes along anyway. He’s going so well I wonder who’s supporting whom. If Tim and I bail he’ll definitely finish the job!
We pick up the pace on the grassy descent and loose switchback climbs of Foel-goch and Y Garn. I let Tim and Martin know this is a good climb to grab a bite to eat. Tim is leading the way but I can tell he’s going through a rough patch, I try to break the strenuous silence with uplifting conversation, which must be thoroughly annoying and we both know he’s just got to ride this one out. We top out at Y Garn as the clag closes in quickly. I try to figure out the height of the cloud base and look west out into the darkness towards the rocky moonscape of the Glyders and Tryfan, a challenging piece of ground but all that’s between us and the next support point.
It’s now 01:30, 6 1/2 hours in. I take a moment for a deep breath of cool mountain air, to forget the task at hand and to appreciate being in the hills with friends.
We enjoy the easy running down past Devil’s Kitchen to Llyn y Cwn and the loose gully climb to Glyder Fawr. The clag has really closed in now but we find the summit easily, so far so good. We head east from here towards Glyder Fach and pick up a faint path through the boulder field. Our pace slows as judging shape and depth of the boulders becomes more difficult as the wind swirls the mist in our headtorch light. We hit the smooth narrow path before Castell y Gwynt and contour around the southern side. Then it all goes to shit.
I’ve misjudged our distance travelled and feel the need to start to push on north from here, taking a bearing uphill through increasingly larger and angular slabs of rock. We scramble and jump between the slabs and eventually come up against a sheer wall of rock. We find some footholds and make it to the top of the outcrop, only to find it descends as steeply on the other side. We’ve gone wrong somewhere and it seems we are trying to summit the Castell.
I’d done this particular line in the daylight on a previous recce with two lads from Lancashire I met on the trail who were also out for a recce. I followed their nav and we took this exact route and it didn’t end up all too bad. But in the dark and clag mid round it’s all going to hell. We double back on ourselves and try to skirt round the southern flank of the Castell but we end up getting disorientated again and ending back at the sheer wall we just climbed. I can feel the minutes passing and try not to panic. Eventually Tim demands we take a bearing to Glyder Fach and to stick to it. I agree and say that he must ignore my gut feeling to change direction. We head off on the bearing, I tell Tim I don’t think it feels right, he ignores me as per the plan and we make it out of the Castell and eventually find the small rocky summit of Glyder Fach and the easy out and back ascent to the top from the south east. Goodness knows how much time we’ve lost here.
We make the steep loose descent north east and start the climb to Tryfan. We climb over the stone wall in the col of Bwlch Tryfan and begin the ascent of Tryfan. Each time I’ve reccied this ascent I’ve done it a slightly different way, all with success, but this is my first ascent at night. Things go to plan and we top out next to the far southern peak, scramble round to the left and make the final climb up to Adam and Eve. I know the summit well and pick up the descent path, but the clag is thick. We spread out and take our time on this descent. Tim is starting to struggle and I sense he hasn’t really come out of the bad patch he was in earlier. My fannying about on the Glyders won’t have helped matters either.
Eventually we hit the tourist path and make the grassy run in to the checkpoint at Ogwen Cottage, at 05:00, 10 hours in and a whole 02:30 down on the 21 hour schedule but having crossed the toughest terrain on the round in pretty crap conditions. My sister gives me a hug and passes me a bowl of warm soup and bread. “You took a long time, we were worried about you”. I reply that I was worried about us too but that we made it ok.
The plan from here is for Graham to support the next leg to Capel Curig, but there’s been a mix up and he’s nowhere to be seen and isn’t answering his mobile. He would have been here already given that we are properly behind schedule, so it looks like he’s not coming along. Tim and I could really do with some support. I look over to Martin, having just done two legs for us already, loaded up like a packhorse and down for leg 5 later in the day, I get a strong facial expression back but no words – he’s not up for it. I glance over to Tim. He’s already figured out the deal. He’s not looking great and Lee is having a concerned looking discussion with him. I feel he might have had enough, which would leave me to do this leg on my own. I tuck into my soup, head down, I’m planning how to convince my crew to let me head onwards into the night on my own, finesse is not my strong point. I finish my soup and stand to see Tim has put his headtorch on. “You’re coming along then?”, he nods. Lee gives me a concerned look and says to be careful as he didn’t want to go. I say I understand.
We head down the road to begin the ascent of Pen yr Ole Wen. Tim – thank you – you knew they wouldn’t have let me head out alone and so carried on, even though you really didn’t want to. I owe you big time.
We keep the chat up on the long ascent and take things steady. We discuss how far we’re off schedule and how keeping the pace down here right now is the best way forward. We make the summit and head north into the Carneddau. The clag is still down very thick, but we enjoy the first bit of easy running underfoot for the last few hours.
I’m starting to feel very tired and struggling to concentrate. For those that don’t know this round, there are rocks, lots and lots of rocks. The placement of your foot on every stride requires thought.
We start the gradual ascent of Carnedd Dafydd, having been on the go for 11 hours and my poorly adjusted body clock is fighting back. I follow Tim, his head down as a dull shape in the clag as he zig-zags between the ankle-high rocks on what must be a faint trod, and I zig-zag along in his footsteps, the blind leading the blind. Perhaps he’s choosing the most efficient line? We haven’t spoken for at least 30 minutes. Blood sugar is low and both our brains are barely ticking over.
Friends often ask what it’s like to do a round. I explain that you disappear into this magical world where life becomes very simple and you disregard all but the single-minded task of making progress over terrain. Only the rounds are long enough to get to this place and it’s in the days and weeks after that I long to return to this place. This for me is one component that makes the rounds so special and it was at this point that the door to this world opened for me, this is why I come to run these rounds, finally – I’m in. “Mate you’re gonna have to go first, I’m falling asleep here”, I realise I’ve not been pulling my weight and move past Tim to keep us on track.
We keep moving but the ground is relentlessly rough and devoid of any significant features, it feels like an endless rocky conveyor belt. The October night feels equally endless, “It’s getting light now mate, won’t be long until we can up the pace” Tim says, I glance over to the east, it looks deep black to me but with Tim being a navy lad I don’t question it, perhaps he’s referring to nautical twilight? He’s right of course and at long last the terrain gradually expands out in front of us from our dim 5 meter headtorch halo to a well-lit 30 meters in the mist. Now that we can see where we need to be running our spirits and pace lift. Finally the sky starts to lighten and right on cue I need the loo. One of my best in recent times, I feel like a weight has been dropped and I’m lighter on my feet for it.
We make quick work of the run off of Carnedd Llywelyn and the Bwlch Eryl Farchog ridge, it’s at this point that I start to get a pain in the outside of my right knee – it’s typical IT band pain and I know that it’ll be with me until the end. It’s partly masked by my tiredness and the rest of the aching in my legs. I dig out the blob of voltarol from my pack in a small wrap of clingfilm. I pretend it’s making a difference as I rub it on my knee and carry on regardless.
We pass the first group of early morning hikers on the descent from Pen yr Helgi Du, they give us a cheery set of smiles, which is encouraging to see instead of the classic opened mouth stare which usually signals we aren’t looking too chipper. We make the climb to the top of Pen Llithrig y Wrach, the last for this leg. Tim smiles and pats me on the back. I return the gesture. He looks properly done in and I want to be sick. He says he’s had enough now and I point out it’s all downhill to Capel Curig from here.
As we descend I hear the drone of an engine down in the valley. It’s a high revving 4-cylinder motorcycle. I hear the rider drop down a gear going into a corner and the revs build as they exit the bend and set away down the road. This is comforting as it tells me two things – we must be close to Capel Curig; and that the weather is likely to remain settled for at least the next few hours.
Tim picks up the pace as we make the run to Capel Curig. The tiny uphill slope feels like a killer as we stagger into the car park behind the Joe Brown shop to a crowd of support crew.
14 hours in and 3h30m behind schedule. Three legs down, two to go. I see a familiar face. It’s Ewan Brown, a friend from my time in Edinburgh. He’s a local lad, runs for the Scottish hill running team and is an absolute beast of an athlete. I’d let him know I was doing the round this weekend and he was keen to be involved but we hadn’t finalised plans. He must have found my schedule one way or another but I wasn’t expecting to see him here. I give him a nod. I get emotional about the unexpected support and feel my eyes start to fill up with tears.
The plan now is for Patrick Bonnett and Ross, a climbing friend of Graham’s who I’ve just met to support the epic 7 hour leg from here through the Moelwyns to Nantmor. As I sit down to eat Patrick already has his phone out, “Smile for the camera!”, I give him a big cheesy one but can’t help feeling like the dancing monkey in some wicked show. I guess you can’t question folk’s interest in your own selfimposed destruction. Graham has returned from wherever he was at and points out I’m still on track for sub 24 hours if I can smash this one out in 7 hours. Ross and Patrick are raring to go and this lifts my spirits as I give Tim a departing handshake.
We jog along the road to start the long climb up to Moel Siabod. Ross and Patrick are chatting away and asking how the night was. I splutter out a few details about us getting stuck in the Castell and that I’m glad it’s daylight now, they have a spring in their stride but slow up once they see I only have one gear. Patrick is a veteran runner who supported me in my Bob Graham round last year. It’s great to have him here again and I’m pushed on by the fact that he’s kindly made the overnight trip down from Durham amongst his busy work schedule – you can’t mess about when there’s an elder in attendance!
We make use of the climbing time to sort out the food and water for this leg. An extensive menu of goodies is reeled off and I manage to cram in a gel on the way up. I’ve had trouble with my stomach shutting down on long runs and I’m mindful I need to keep eating even though I don’t feel like it. This leg is a long one but we have plenty of food between us. We top out on Moel Siabod just behind schedule for this leg and enjoy the long grass descent.
Ross hasn’t run this leg before but leads up ahead with a gps which I’d loaded up with a track put together from my reccies. We make good time over the next few tops and I’m being pushed on by the undulating terrain and Ross’ pace. I have short spurts of decent pace but then drop back into first gear. I’m being constantly badgered to eat, but I don’t feel up for it. I rummage around in my pack and find half of a slab of dark chocolate that someone must have slipped in there at Capel Curig without me noticing. I make the mental suggestion of it to my stomach and it agrees – I eat the whole lot in one go. My energy immediately lifts along with my vision and balance. I catch Ross up and decide that I haven’t seen him eat in awhile, I ask him if he’s eating ok. He laughs at the fact that I’m worried about him. It might seem like compassion on my part but really I’m just checking he’s able to carry me when the time comes. The weather is remaining still and clear and we make steady progress with ticking off the multitude of little tops that make up this section of the round.
I discuss with Patrick about why these seemly minor lumps of rock have been included in the round, perhaps they are significant in Welsh folklore? Or maybe it’s just to break up the long steady slog through the heather and bog of this section. Perhaps Paddy Buckley thought we’d be missing the rocks by now? My impression was that this section was the hardest to nav and easy to miss some of the smaller tops and so I’d reccied this section of the round a number of times in both directions and even gone to the trouble to rebuild some of the summit cairns, which I was pleased to see were still standing.
We make our way up to Allt-fawr which signals the end of the little tops and onwards to the big tops of the Moelwyns proper to the south of Rhsydd quarry village. Up to now Patrick had been following me, I’d been following Ross who had himself been following the gps track. A perfect setup, until the gps decided to crap itself and die – I don’t blame it, it was an old garmin model I’d had for years and clearly this jaunt was the final straw. I felt like doing the same. But now Ross didn’t know where to go so we had to switch things up.
Much to the delight of Patrick it was time to go oldschool and get the compass out. I think he tried hard to hide his satisfaction that the electronic cheating device had bailed out on us but I spotted it nonetheless. I mostly knew the way from here but given my past nav error and just to be sure Patrick took a bearing, paused for a moment then pointed. And so Ross sprinted off in that direction and I hobbled along behind. Occasionally Patrick would shout from the back. We’d both stop, look around and he’d point in a new direction and we’d set off back in that direction. It was a comical chain of command but it worked well and made a refreshing change to the proceedings.
We made decent pace on the southern loop section of the leg, choosing not to dump some of our gear at the quarry village. Patrick was flagging a bit on the steep grassy climb up to Moel-yr-hydd but he kept pace with us along to Llyn Stwlan reservoir. It was at this point that he decided it’d be best to wait in the col for Ross and I to do the out and back to Moelwyn Bach on our own, with just a map and a compass. What could go wrong? As usual I was happy I knew the way and so we cracked on.
We traversed on the eastern side of the mountain and I remember there being a steep climb up through a grassy gully to pick up the trod. Except the gully wasn’t there and so we carried on contouring round to the east. Ross hadn’t run this section before and so it was all down to me. Had I just screwed up again? The trail looked unfamiliar so I decided we take a bearing west and straight line it up the summit. We scrabbled up the grassy bank and onto a broad rocky top, which also looked unfamiliar. Oops. We traced a few large circles to try to find something familiar but it all looked new to me. We took a look at the map and decided to head north towards ground I should know and after a few minutes we hit the familiar trod to the final climb. When we finally made it back to the col Patrick wondered what we’d been doing on such a simple out and back. We gave him the compass back pretty quick!
Regrouped we set off on the narrow climb up to Craig Ysgarn. This is one of my favourite sections of the round. It feels exposed and deep within the mountains. We continued the climb to Moelwyn Mawr, but I was really starting to flag now. My stomach wasn’t wanting food and I was starting to trip up over the rocks. We made it to the top and decided to take a minute to try and get some food in, I think they could see I couldn’t keep going. I didn’t have anything I fancied in my pack and the usual offered options of gels, crisps and bananas came up short too, until Ross rummaged out a block of Jamaican ginger cake. I used to have it with custard as a kid. My eyes relay the massage to my stomach and the green light is given. But Ross says there’s a problem, he’s not sure if it’s vegan – I tell him not to check and cram it down my throat.
Once again I’ve got some energy and we begin the descent back to the quarry village. A tough section of the round done, but I can sense we are well off the pace. Patrick takes the low level shortcut on the access track to Nantmor leaving Ross and I to tackle the final top of this leg, the aptly named ‘Cnicht’, which I assume is Welsh for ‘the bitch’, along with the 3 mile run out. We cut off of the access track and through to rough grass tussocks, descend to the dam of Llyn Cwm-y-foel and begin the straight ascent up the grassy slope. The ginger cake has filtered through to my legs and I decide I’d rather get it over with quick and bash on ahead and wait once I hit the hiker path. Ross follows quick behind and we top out shortly after. We shake hands, the last one done for this leg and just the run in to do now. Except I’d forgotten how horrendous the descent of Cnicht is.
The trail cuts across the foliation of the slate here, which is of great interest if you’re into your geology, but for everyone else it just means lots of exposed slippery rock. A lot of bum sliding saw done here to make it down and I start to get frustrated at how slowly I’m going. Eventually we hit the landrover track and I’m guessing by now Patrick is already tucking into this soup at Nantmor. Ross leads ahead and I try to keep up with the pace as best I can, my right knee is really pinching now, my feet are swelling and the rim of my sucks are cutting into the front of my shins. We make it to the National Trust car park. 22 hours in and 4h30m down on schedule. It’s 17:00. Four legs down, one to go.
I’m lifted by the energy of the support crew. My sister has convinced Ewan to set up the back of his van with a bed and blanket in case I want to rest. He’s left the side door open and they point to say I can go in there for a rest if I want to. It looks heaven but I know if I get in there I won’t be coming back out again so I politely decline. There’s no doubt between them now that I’ll finish. They ask where I’m sleeping at the end of this, I say it’ll be in the back of the van at Capel Curig and we joke about my van being towed by the police for overstaying with me asleep in the back.
I manage to gobble down some more soup and a handful of brownies. I change my top and socks for the first time as my top half is sodden with sweat and it is starting to rain. Ewan and Martin are ready to go. Ewan has a map and asks where the gps is. I pause and break the news that it didn’t make it. He looks concerned. I assure him that I know this round well having reccied it many times and that he has nothing to worry about… I also note that him being Welsh will do us right.
We cross the old stone bridge in the valley bottom and climb up through the trees on an overgrown and washed out stone path. Martin is in good spirits having had a sleep in the car. Ewan and I catch up having not seen each other for a few years. We ascend to the wall corner on the heather slopes of Bryn Banog and take a bearing to the top which comes easily. I explain that I’m not fussed about the pace but just to make sure that I hit all the tops. I don’t want someone pointing out tomorrow that I missed one. Ewan is happy with the nav being on home terrain and I follow his line, which is more direct that those which I’ve reccied, and takes us across some rough wet ground. I plow on knowing that there’s only so much more of this left. Martin digs out some vegan jelly sweets, I offer them one or two each and then down the rest in a couple of mouthfulls. I also manage to get in two gels and stick another in the front pocket of my jacket for the next climb.
We make the steep rocky ascent up to Moel Hebog which reminds me of the slog up Yewbarrow from Wasdale. We don’t stop at the top and go straight into the steep grassy descent with burning legs. Me knees are aching with every step but I make it down in a respectable pace.
I imagine the route in my mind and count the tops left. There’s 5, out of 47. I ask if we can start counting these down now? Martin and Ewan agree this is a good call. I take a look at my watch I’m just under 24 hours in. Can I make it back in under 26 hours?
We crack on with Ewan doing all the nav. He stuffs the map in his jacket and says he’s knows the rest now. We tick off Moel yr Ogof (4 to go) and Moel Lefn (3 to go). Then I realise that number is too low. I ask Ewan if he can check the map. He checks and counts them off and corrects me, there’s actually 5 left. I ask if we can start the countdown again and cram in another gel!
The rain is coming down hard now and the wind has gotten up. I consider this the last ditch attempt of the powers that be to stop me from completing. I smile to myself and lick up the fresh rain water as it runs past my mouth – bring it on. I’ve passed the 24 hour mark now and the sun beings to set. Into the second night now and I put my headtorch back on. We make Y Gyrn and start the long climb to Trum-y Ddysgl. Ewan is leading the way and my legs feel really strong having finally got some calories in. I ask if this is the last climb, he says we need to visit Mynydd y Ddwy Elor first, a minor top on the slopes of Trum-y Ddysgl, which much to be embarrassment I’d completely overlooked on my reccies, having assumed I’d automatically bagged it on the main climb. Thank goodness someone is still with it as I’d have missed this one.
We make the short detour and get back to the last climb. I double check with Ewan at this is the last one and decide to empty the tank. I give it full gas. It’s a decent climb but is near constant gradient so I figure if I can settle into a rhythm I’ll nail it. Ewan is laughing his ass off at my side “Mate this pace is bonkers!”, Martin shouts that he can’t keep up. I keep going, Ewan points out that a must ignore a trod to the right but I misinterpret his instruction and take a sharp right onto the trod, he yells at me that it’s wrong and I cut back onto the route and then my legs blow up. Ewan shouts for me to keep going and I give it another push but I’ve had it. I slow to a brisk walk and the trod levels off to the gentle climb. The rain is still lashing down and the wind has increased. Martin has caught up and we bring our heads together to shout to each other in the gale.
In the darkness up ahead we can hear the wind blowing up and out of the corrie on the northern face of Trum-y Ddysgl. Ewan dashes on ahead and I’m concerned he’ll overshoot the top. We make the top and briefly stare down into the darkness of the corrie. The wind and the rain persists. Two more tops to go on the nantlle ridge. Ewan leads the way, we follow the narrow hikers path then cut back up slope to the tip of the ridge to reach Mynydd Drws-y-coed. The rock is polished smooth and soaking wet. I look down and point my headtorch at the spot where I want my feet to go. I throw a leg forward and miss the spot I wanted by miles. My foot lands and sticks through so I go with it. Martin in close behind and we make slow progress around and over the rocky ramparts. We come up to traverse along a narrow ledge. Nothing too bad but with a significant exposed drop. Ewan goes first and scampers across. I make note of his route choice as far as I can with my headtorch. He makes it onto easier ground, clearly loving it he chuckles like a madman and dashes off into the darkness without a look back. Great. Martin and I make slower progress and follow the best line I can see along the ridge. We come to another rampart and I hear a shout to my left, Ewan has found the line and is making his way down. I follow with care and when I get to the bottom realise it’s steeply exposed on both sides with only a narrow run out at the bottom of the crag. I make sure Martin gets his footholds on the wet rock and we follow Ewan’s headtorch in the distance.
The ground becomes easier now and we regroup to make the final short climb to Y Garn (the second such named top on the round). The scattered stone cairn comes into view. Ewan has already made it. I clamber up the pile, bend down and kiss the wet rock. 47 done!
We all cheer and take a quick photo. Then I start to feel the cold. I’m soaked now and the exposure is chilling me. I check my watch, we’re over 26 hours now. No bother I got it done.
We make the long descent down the grassy slope and into the forest. Mentally I’ve done it now and this takes me over an hour. We pass through the gate into the forest and the trail levels off onto a gravel fireroad. My legs are killing me and the top of my socks still feel like they are cutting into my shins. I can’t wait to get them off. Martin and Ewan try to lift the pace to a steady run by I’ve had it. We shake hands and slow to a walk. The trail widens and the edges of the trail is littered with leaves and broken twigs. I spot a silver rabbit at the side of the trail, only a few feet away and still in the night, its fur glistening in my torchlight, then another appears soon after, but as I try to focus its features become less clear. I glance over to Martin and Ewan, they haven’t noticed these wee Welsh creatures lining our path. I say nothing. There’s a head torch down the trail and my sister comes up to greet us, “You’ve done it!” she exclaims.
feel like it’s done me to be honest. My Dad smiles, “You’re bloody nuts you lot”. I finished the Paddy Buckley round in 27hrs 23 mins, being the 196th completion since Wendy Dodds in 1982.
I’d like to thank everyone that helped me to finish, including all those who couldn’t be there on theday but pushed me on with my training. We will all be back out on the fells soon.
Max Wilkinson, November 2019 (finally completed during lockdown, May 2020)
‘And now, time for something completely
I’ve just always wanted to say that.
Glencoe Skyline, the abridged version; I did a not-that-long (by ultra standards!) but somewhat hilly run. I had to pass a vetting process to make it to the start line (climbing, scrambling and mountain running experience)
I averaged almost 20 minutes per mile, or 3 mph. There was nearly 600ft/
mile (>100m/km) of ascent, and a distinct lack of ‘runnable’ terrain, unless
you are a mountain goat (I am not). I ate a lot, drank more – mostly from
streams (yes, it’s ok, I survived) and finished 6 seconds under 11 hours,
11th/24 ladies, 78th/142 finishers (180 starters).
33 miles, 16,000 ft. (51 km, 4750m), a grade 3 and a grade 2 scramble.
Some ‘character building’ moments in the rain and fog. The course may be
flagged, but a trail race this is not.
There were outstanding views, lots of rocks and a few bogs. I even saw a
spectre! It seems in this instance my good weather dance worked and saved all
the rain for this week; for those starting the cross country season – I don’t
apologise at all!
And since my original post about this, some ‘frequently asked
No, it isn’t a knife edge and we weren’t at risk of ‘falling off ‘, however yes, you do require climbing experience. The climbing is not technically difficult, but you need to be confident on ‘moderate rock climbs’ with no ropes or rock shoes in any conditions. There are sections where a slip or trip could be serious and you need to be competent here, but more seriously, participants cannot get ‘crag-fast’ (where one becomes too scared to move), which can then become more dangerous for themselves, other participants and those who would need to rescue them.
No, there weren’t queues on the scrambling sections (for those ‘in the
know’, particularly referring to Curved Ridge), at least where I was in the
race there weren’t – but I suspect with only 180 starters and the run over the
WHW at the start (not flat) that few people had to wait. The mountain
safety team were very good at ordering people to wait until the top to
overtake! There were after all a further 25 miles to do so…
Yes, it was hard!
Yes, I found something that tired me out. I even took (nearly) a
week off afterwards.
Yes, it was fantastic and I got lucky with the weather, the race taking
place towards the end of a period of high pressure (an hour or so of rain, some
atmospheric cloud and generally mild). The views were spectacular, all
captured on my internal camera.
Yes, despite some comments of ‘don’t you have any more clothes with
you’, I do feel the cold! But really, it was rather mild. I put a
Buff on at one point (yes, my hat was in my bag!).
No, I might not do it again, I’m not in the habit of doing things twice – but I’ll still be back, and I would absolutely recommend the races (hard sell from someone who thinks £10 is a lot for a fell race!). The event is well organised and the money is spent where you want it – on mountain safety teams, maps, proper catering… I find racing really quite stressful, but rather enjoy setting out the courses and standing around in the rain annoying participants by ringing cowbells and shouting ‘honestly, only a few more hills to go…’
A fabulous, warm, sunny day greeted the runners of this year’s Grisedale Horseshoe. This year it was one of the English Championship counters, with some of the best fell runners in the country taking part. Start and finish in Glenridding, at the parish hall, where my timing dibber was expertly attached to my wrist at registration; after a thorough kit check and receipt of a free buff at the playing school fields in Patterdale.
I had no goals other than to get round as quickly as I could. I think due to the number of runners the ladies were started 10 minutes before the men. We set off along the footpath through Gillside campsite, where I had camped the night before. Knowing what was ahead, I didn’t look at the van sat there in the sunshine.
It was a bit of a slog up the tourist path to the wall, and to Hole-in-the-wall (where the men started to catch me). From there it was focus on running as hard as I could towards Red Tarn, and then a hands-on-knees, heart-pounding, breathless ascent straight up the grass to cp1, Catstycam.
My legs felt ludicrously wobbly as I clambered over the rocks of Swirral Edge to cp2. A change of gear to run as hard as possible across Helvellyn, and over the undulating but generally-downhill terrain past Dollywaggon Pike, to the first serious descent to Grisedale Tarn.
The men setting off after worked well for me – when I could hear them coming to pass me I worked hard to stay in front; when the faster guys did (inevitably) pass me I worked hard to stay with them as long as I could. The steep ups and downs created a more level (see what I did there?) playing field for the men and women, with individual strengths showing.
From the tarn it felt like a long jog/walk up St Sunday Crag and cp4 – my legs starting to feel the climbs. I took a moment to look up (when I could take my eyes off the ground in front) – the views were amazing in every direction, a fantastic day to be up the hills.
But then no time to look, as the descent down Blind Cove to the barn (cp5) near Grisedale Beck was crazily steep. Sliding down the gully (sometimes on my bum) and then running down steep grass. I fell here, I thought quite stylishly. I did a shoulder-butt-360 roll and ended up on my feet, slightly dazed but actually feeling that I had bounced off the soft ground. Thank goodness I had missed the boulders strewn about. I got a few ‘are you oks?’ from other runners, obviously replying with a very confident (but not really felt) ‘yes, I’m great thanks!’.
Barn, cp5. Through the beck, delightfully fresh and cool and only shin height. Forcing myself to run along the valley footpath, knowing what is coming and not daring to look up to the left.
Other Striders have written reports about this race, and I think all sum up, in different ways, how this last climb feels. I keep a running diary, with races (and distances and climbs) written in the back. Part of my prep, as well as recceing, is looking at the feet of climb per mile. Of course terrain and weather etc. make every race different, but I like the climb/distance comparison – for me it usually holds true for pace and how much a race hurts.
This race has the most feet/mile of all the races I’ve attempted so far. This last climb looks small on the map. A few hundred metres. The contours look fairly close, but how hard could it be? After the 8 miles or so just completed in the race, it was…..well, polite words don’t sum it up.
So, left turn. Straight up the bank to cp6, up at the wall. My legs were screaming ‘stop, stop moving’. Breathing was ok and I managed to get a couple of jelly babies down. I took to all-fours – glancing up now and then to make sure I was still going in the right general direction, staring at the grass in front, unable to think, as it would have just been ‘stop’, as I hauled myself up with handfuls of grass, trying to take the burden off my legs. It felt very slow. Torturous. I was feeling every hill and mile that I have never trained, and now regret. I think the only thing that was ok was that everyone around was struggling too – not that I wanted them to be in pain, but if they had all looked ok and waltzed up I would have laid down and cried.
And then….the top. A dead rotten sheep. Marshalls telling me to dib, and to climb the wall. Pointing me in the general direction I needed to go as I saw a vest disappear over the edge of the hill. I obviously looked out of it. Wobbly over the wall stile. And then like a switch has been flicked, glorious downhill – some wonderfully boggy, kind on the feet and with really good grip. My legs suddenly feeling ok again. Focussed, running hard. Back on the tourist path we had ascended a couple of hours before, run past the campsite (no looking at the van now!) and back to the hall.
This one was tough (that final climb was unforgettable, and everyone talked about it as we were eating cake at the hall). A great turn out and we were very lucky with fantastic weather. Well organised and great support from the marshals. I loved all of it, even the painful bits. I got my food right (two gels and some jellies). I didn’t carry water knowing I could drink from streams all the way round (which I did, copiously, without any ill effects).
The sharp end, given the field, was sharp, and very impressive. Those that were out longer had a great day for it. I was very happy with my mid-pack position and time.
Sitting in the sunshine in the afternoon now, showered and happy, glass of cider, by the van (cracking campsite btw). Looking at the hills we had conquered. Feeling tired and very happy.