Category Archives: Fell

Montane Dragon’s Back Race 2021, Wales, Monday, September 6, 2021

236 miles, 17,000 m ascent

Elaine Bisson

The Dragon’s Back Race
Rad Cefn Y Ddraig
‘The World’s Toughest Mountain Race’
6th – 11th September 2021
236 miles, 57,000ft, 6 days

As for so many others, this last year has been exceptionally challenging. To say things have not gone to plan would be an understatement. The one thing that keeps me on the brighter side is my running. Even a 20 minute bolt up and back along the busy main road sets me right. What I really love and have grown to need is a weekly escape to my favourite place. To the hills, especially the beautiful Lakeland fells. I tend to go alone, to choose the paths few people will visit. It does me the world of good and through lockdown it was the thing I missed and needed the most. If I have trouble sleeping I choose a route in the Lakes and try to visualise everything on it. It doesn’t take me long to fall asleep. They’re my grounding, the places I visit to escape the madness, whether that’s in my head or in my being, it’s where I go to feel truly alive and to be at peace.

So when the opportunity to race again opened up I knew I had to enter something good, something challenging, something huge! Something to make up for all that I’d missed. And so I entered the Dragon’s Back Race. Between entering and racing I was supposed to race the Winter Spine. It was all consuming, with a good few delays in the start dates until finally they hung up their hats and cancelled the 2021 event. So for me all my eggs now hung in the dragon basket.

I love running, I also love numbers and planning. I spent a good while reviewing previous training patterns and settling on a new training plan that would take me through to September. It consisted of a few training blocks, building up to a few months of pretty hard and long endurance days on the fells, the DBR specificity blocks. I racked up the biggest training weeks I’d ever done, perfectly mimicking the dragons back mile:elevation gain ratio. This meant long days going up and down Lakeland fells to get maximum elevation so I didn’t have to go crackers on the diminutive hills of Durham or on my incline treadmill. 

As usual I know it’s coming, I happily train, ticking off the challenges. I collect my gear and start to make an ever increasing pile. I make lists and notes and try to think of all eventualities and try to overcome the problems I may encounter before I do. I like to be organised, I thrive on it. 

I did all this to keep my mind busy. Honestly, life has thrown some of the most horrendous curve balls at me. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but perhaps it made me stronger and even more desperate to succeed. However, because of all that had happened, I never believed I would get to the start line, never mind the finish.

 

As September reared its head I became increasingly anxious, particularly of Crib Goch. I’d hoped to go down with Fiona to recce that and a few other sections I’d read were trickier. However life got in the way and we couldn’t. At the last minute I booked into a RAW guided tour. I spent the Saturday on the Carneddau and the Sunday on the Snowdon horseshoe for their guided recce. A major confidence boost as this was the hardest, rockiest terrain and the section that I’d been terrified of.

I also managed to convince my family of a last minute trip to Wales. With mammoth amounts of running kit packed and maps the length of Wales, I’d intended to recce the tricky sections. In reality the kit was barely touched. The house was within a few miles of the Carneddau and instead of spending days driving…most of the route is quite inaccessible with little for my teenage kids to do, I resolved to get the hills in my legs whilst still having a family holiday. It would mean that all of the terrain after day 1 would be a surprise. Not ideal, but life never is.

A few weeks before I raced at the Lakeland 100, I was 15th overall, 2nd female and bagged a PB of 5 hours. I knew I could easily get a PB but planned to keep the pace comfortable as it wasn’t my ‘A race’ and I didn’t want anything scuppering the DBR. I was over the moon with the result and this gave me a massive boost and confidence in the training I’d been doing. Afterwards I’d got one tiny blister and apart from that recovery was a dream. Tapering was welcome for a change after the heavy weeks, it gave me plenty of time to sort and resort and resort my bags….

Allowed camp bag:15kg, 59l
Daily drop bag: 2.5kg, 10l

Anyone who knows me, knows I pack, even for days on the fells, probably twice as much as everyone else, so to have these limits on my weekly supply was awful. It was almost the hardest part of the challenge for me. I weighed everything meticulously, thought I’d managed it then realised I hadn’t taken into account the actual drop bag weight. Anyway you get the gist!

Eventually everything was sorted into neat mesh bags, camp kit separated into sleeping, clothing, eating, washing, first aid. Daily kit bags packed…new clothes, fuel for each day separated into use from the start and to go in the drop bag, all of this allowing me very minimal effort whilst out and knackered.

So the day finally came. I was quite sad, I’ve never left my family for more than a couple of days and even then have had regular phone calls with them. Most of the camps wouldn’t have reception and so there would be no chance to speak.

After a long drive I arrived at Conwy. Imposter syndrome reared its head. There were lots of burly, loud men talking about previous big challenges. I felt completely out of my depth. I had to lug my bags to registration (17.5kg of camp kit plus my daily running bag kit), I’m quite small and not very strong so this made me feel even worse as men dawdled past barely struggling to lift their bags.

In the queue for registration I chatted to Steve Birkinshaw who had navigated on my BG and said a quick hello to Jen and Marcus Scotney (I’d met them both on John Kelly’s FKT attempts).

I’d arranged to share my tent compartment with my friend Juhana. We’d met through Scott, a great guy I’d run a few of the L100 recces with. They’d then come up to help on Mark’s BG and I’d navigated on Juhana’s a few months ago. He stopped to chat but at that point I was in such a panic I wasn’t really thinking straight. After dropping off my bags (and having to remove 200g of recovery fuel…they were strict!) I decided to hide and try to calm myself down. Much to my surprise Anna Troup came across. If you’ve ever crossed paths with her, even when she’s knackered, you’ll know she is one of the happiest, most positive people. She really settled my nerves. The briefing went on until quite late and I didn’t arrive at my hotel until 8. I had my last shower for a few days, gobbled up some pot pasta meals and tried my best to sleep. Sleep was fretful, I tried my Lakeland routes but kept jumping to Wales and panicking that I didn’t know any of them! Each hour I’d jump up thinking I’d missed my alarm.

 

Day 1

Conwy Castle to Nant Gwynant
30.5 m, 12,467ft
And so it begins…

It was a beautiful morning with clear skies. The forecast was for good visibility, no rain, little wind and HOT. I didn’t mind so much as this meant the rocks on Tryfan and Crib Goch would be dry…the two bits I was most eager to put behind me!

I went through the castle gates, had one last toilet visit to a normal toilet! (portaloos or outside pees would be the order for the next week) then lined up near to the start line. A familiar voice welcomed me and I turned to see Juhana. He exudes a calmness which is just what I needed. Kim Collison chatted too (another fell legend and Juhana’s coach who I’d met on Juhana’s BG).

My nerves increased until finally we were off along the city walls and then I immediately felt more relaxed. Too late to turn back! We weren’t timed until outside these to avoid a mad rush and accidents on the steps. Chris Brookman, who I’d run half of the Spine Challenger with and had finished joint 3rd, caught me up. We chatted excitedly about the week ahead. Juhana had said he was taking the first two days easy, I wondered if I’d manage his easy but it wasn’t long…despite him stopping for photos, for him to disappear ahead.

I’d recced the whole of day 1 except the Glyders. I had a really good run into Ogwen car park.

Fiona was there cheering me in (she was volunteering at the event) The incredible heat going up the long slog to Tryfan slowed my progress. It is however a great route up, involving clambering and scrambling up rocks which is a nice contrast to the morning’s running. We formed a little group on the way down, the previous time I’d gone it was misty and I’d ended up hitting some sheer drops and had to go back over my steps to find the better way. Initially there are huge boulders to jump between. Then you hit a path to contour round and eventually hit the scree towards the Glyders.

I know from previous experience not to bolt down hills and trash my quads so my descents were particularly slow (I had another 5 days of huge climbs) my uphills are always pretty fast, I really enjoy them and a few of the men cursed me as again I passed on the scree ascent to Glyder Fawr.

 

There was no checkpoint here and I fell in with Darren who I was to spend a good few miles with over the coming week. He knew the way and we expertly arrived at Glyder Fach. I left him on the grassy descent to catch another runner who was suffering badly with cramp. I tried unsuccessfully to find my salt tablets and he was keen to run with me, well to be chivvied along, being local he vowed he knew the best line. I did slow to help him but I was eager not to overcook the first day and to enjoy the experience. This was all unknown territory and I had no clue how my body would react after one day of running let alone 6.

At Pen y Pass I stopped to buy a Coke which was absolute heaven and I sipped this until I reached the ascent to Crib Goch. It’s not my favourite place but on reflection I think I really enjoyed it. It’s a huge scramble all the way to the top. At the top I lay down to catch my breath and calm my nerves, again the traverse isn’t my favourite but actually I managed reasonably well until I reached the final pinnacle. On my guided recce we’d descended a gully and scampered round some rock. There were no steep drops and I’d been relieved to avoid the pinnacle. However the mountain rescue man wouldn’t let me do that as he thought it was more dangerous, so with a lot of encouragement I found myself scrambling up the pinnacle.

Finally I reached the col before Carnedd Ugain, hurrah I’d done it! Here, there is even more scrambling which I really enjoyed. I reached Snowdon (with no queue!) hot and happy knowing I was on the home straight of day 1.

Onto Y Lliwedd where I’d thought there was a checkpoint. A group of teenagers were huddled on the summit and I was convinced they were hiding the checkpoint. I proceeded to move their bags then to check my map only to realise they weren’t having me on at all! 

As I descended towards the last peak of the day I passed a group huddled by some rocks. Soon after a mountain rescue helicopter started hovering over and someone was airlifted off the mountain. In my eagerness to get to the end I hadn’t realised anyone was injured in the group, and I certainly didn’t know it was Steve. He’d suffered a heart arrhythmia. Thankfully he’s home safe. It’s always a chilling sight to see and reminds you to take each step with care.

On to Gallt y Wenallt, the last summit of the day, a lovely grassy traverse then a steep drop to finally catch sight of the day 1 camp, then an unnerving steep descent through head high bracken to reach the finish.

I loved day 1, I’d overcome a few personal challenges. Visibility was glorious, I was 2nd female and ready for food! On arrival we were taken with our drop bags to the tent, no 51! I was relieved to see Juhana hadn’t changed his mind and was still happy to share. Unfortunately Kim had to pull out with an injury. We were all gutted, it would have been wonderful to see him race and to share tent stories with a legend like him. 

I set out my camp things then went to bathe in the cold river. On arrival I unfortunately disturbed a naked man! I would learn to give clear warning of my arrival in future.

Food for me was chips and soup with cake and ice cream. All of the meals were beautiful but with cauliflower and beans…ordinarily I’d wolf them down but didn’t want to risk the consequences of copious amounts of beans! So one of my targets for the day was to arrive before the chips and soup were taken off the menu! I drank lots of tea then went to sort my kit for the next day. Time seemed to fly by.

By 9 I was tucked up ready for sleep. With 8 people sharing a tent not much sleep was had. The others would arrive at close to 10, and it would be very late before all was quiet…apart from the intermittent banging of portaloo doors. They’d then rise just before 4:30 to be first in the breakfast queue and to start their days at the earliest opportunity, 6am.

On our timing sheets we’d been advised of when to leave according to the time of that day’s run. I decided I could give myself until 7, a lot earlier than the sheet suggested (8). 

367 started day 1
249 finished
31/249
2nd female
10:49:12

Day 2

Nant Gwynant to Dolgellau
36.5 m, 11,155ft
A day of surviving the 30 degree heat

I left the camp just after 7, hoping to avoid some of the day’s expected heat. It was a lovely start through little lanes and tracks then on up to Cnicht. Much fun was had bum sledging down the side of Cnicht on a lovely mossy slope. A bit of a weave through boggy jocks’ heads to climb onto the Moelwyns. These are lovely mountains but as I passed a group who were devastated that by their calculations they wouldn’t hit the checkpoint before cut-off, I pressed ahead in a mad rush. Could I possibly have messed up on the second day??? I didn’t much enjoy the day until I’d finally reached the support point well within the final cut off for the day’s running. Then there was a climb up onto the Rhinogs which I’d been looking forward to, however the heat was incredible and every step was a huge effort. 

On the way up the Roman Steps I remember slipping and having that awful second where I thought I’d smash my head then thinking, ‘Oh good, if I’m unconscious that’s a fairly good excuse not to run any further!’

I’d spent the day soaking my head and body in streams, bog water, anything really to bring my core temperature down. I really started to suffer up the Rhinogs. Thankfully I started running with Darren again and we both encouraged each other on to the end of a very tiring day.

The scenery was spectacular, amongst the best of the days but marred by the sun bearing down on us and draining all of our energy. By the time we reached the last peak of the day, Diffwys, the sun was setting and it started to cool, only then could I pick up my pace back to camp. 

On the road I caught up with Juhana. I was quite confused as I hadn’t been aware of him passing me. Later he was to tell me about our conversation on Diffwys…I was clearly so knackered and demoralised I wasn’t really with it

Arriving back at camp I curled up in a ball on the tent floor absolutely beaten, ‘having a moment?’ Is how Juhana described it!

The saving grace for this day, which I would rank as the hardest fell day I’ve ever had was the hot shower in the campsite. ‘Hot shower, hot showers!!!’ I repeated excitedly on the way! These sorted me out, along with soupy, cheesy chips and sticky toffee pudding with ice cream. 

The man who sorted the tea and coffee asked me daily from now on, ‘still competitive?’ I thought he’d meant still top 3 until I realised just how many people were being timed out. This became his daily chatter, that and laughing about my soupy, cheesy chips concoction. 

There was just time to sort myself out for the next day in the darkness. Whilst washing my bowl and filling my bottles I watched as one man just made the cut off for the day (22:00 at camp), the next was 20 seconds over and was timed out. It was very emotional. We’d all suffered that day and to have seconds between finishing was heartbreaking.

Returning to my bed I fell fast asleep, this would be my last good sleep until I got home.

26/125
2nd female
12:27:18

Day 3

Dolgellau to Ceredigion
43.5 m, 11,155ft
My best day!

Realising my timing mistake of the previous day, I resolved to leave camp at 6:30 each day. I’d get up at 5, sneak out of our compartment as Juhana would stay in for another half hour. I’d arrive back to change and tape my feet before I’d wait for just enough daylight to not need my head torch. Then I’d hand in my overnight bag, have my drop bag weighed and daily kit check and off I’d go. Map checked, checkpoints remembered.

 

This was without a doubt my favourite of all of the days, visibility was good and there was a cool breeze (getting quite strong on Cadair Idris) but welcome nonetheless. Cadair Idris was an absolute highlight, it’s a beautiful mountain.

 

From there we traversed fells to enter a forest with some lovely shade. Machynlleth Co-op beckoned. Lovely Nick offered to stop to buy me something so that I wouldn’t lose time on the First Lady! Ice lollies, coke and lemonade were purchased with extra for the next day!

I loved the mixture of terrain, it was absolutely stunning. I also had lots of good company along the route, again I saw a lot of Chris.

By day 3 it seemed I’d set off and catch people at certain points along the trail. There was a man, Keith #298, who I’d always catch 3 miles from the end. It was a good game!

Unfortunately for me I think I was Juhana’s target, I’d always try to run as fast as I could but he’d catch me earlier and earlier as the week progressed. 

From now on our nights would become increasingly disturbed by snore monsters…sleep became a fabled thing and lying in bed to rest was just as important!

17/120
2nd female
11:48:14

Day 4

Through the Elan Valley
43miles, 7,546 ft
A day of soggy bog feet with the lure of a pub at the finish

There was much chatter in the camp the previous night of thunderstorms threatening to reduce the course. Luckily this didn’t happen.

It was a lovely start through forest, initially with boggy baby’s’ heads, then a wonderful steep muddy descent to reach wide forest tracks.

Climbing up to Drygarn Fawr with its two beautifully huge cairns, I got really excited when I spotted the biggest rainbow I’d ever seen. Suffice to say I really enjoyed this boggy running that reminded me of my home turf along the Pennine Way.

 

My favourite memory of the whole race was nearing the end of day 4. I dropped into a valley by myself, horses were grazing, there was a huge eagle that kept swooping above my head. The clouds broke and sunbeams shone down onto where the camp was. It was absolutely glorious and a wonderful sight at the end of the day.

Even better was my much earlier finish of 5pm and a pub within spitting distance. We all raided it and sat as if in heaven with pints of Coke and pulled pork sandwiches. It was quite an amusing sight, a bunch of smelly runners sitting in the pub with a bunch of nearly naked runners washing in the river by the pub garden. Juhana thought it would be a good calendar photo, I’m not sure who for!

22/145
2nd female
10:29:17

People could choose to leave or to stay on and do/attempt a full day or a short course even though they were no longer competitive in the event. This did become slightly confusing and at times soul destroying as fresh faces caught and passed us on the trails. I think a big DNF sticker would have been nice to see for us still battling full days!

Day 5

Into the Brecon Beacons National Park
43.5 m, 10,499ft
SAS survival 

This was a new day 5 for the now extended 6 day Dragon’s Back race. Initially I was excited to be running through the Brecon Beacons. However, this was the day I really felt like I was in an SAS survival camp. 

A beautiful mizzly start heading up through forest. I got quite stressed in the forest worried I’d miss a turning. I was so relieved to find the first checkpoint hidden in the mist. I spent the morning running with Nick which was fun. 

Passing through Llandovery there was a long queue at the patisserie for those doing the short course. I did wonder to myself whether I was missing a treat continuing in the madness! Heading up some tracks, I foolishly took someone’s advice against my own better judgement and ended up off track, not for long and never to happen again!

 

I loved the climbs across the Fans. They are very like the Northern Lakes fell terrain, good steep long grassy climbs, grassy descents.

I felt great and enjoyed lots of good company along the way. I stopped for a delicious bacon roll and coke at the burger van near the Storey Arms, then it all seemed to unravel. 

On my way up Pen Y Fan my shin started hurting. This then had a domino effect and I started catastrophizing and wondering if I’d ever make it to Cardiff Castle. There was an evil little traverse across to the final Cairn. The man in front dropped to his knees in dismay when he realised we almost went back on ourselves.

I loved the final descent though, there was a beautiful little trail alongside that night’s shower facilities!

However, I was broken by the end of the day. It was long with significant climbs over some of the most awkward terrain. I needed a cuddle, I realised just how much I need hugs! Coming into camp I couldn’t hold back my tears and thankfully was scooped up by Fiona! 

21/107
2nd female
12:26:13

Day 6

To Cardiff Castle
39m, 4,265ft
The end is in sight, everything hurts. 

There was an excitement in camp, a feeling that we could get to the finish if only we were sensible. I went from breakfast to the medics’ tent to get my shin taped up. I’d been fretting that this now minor injury may impede my progress enough to stop me reaching the finish. The medic was lovely and reassured me that although it was likely to be painful I could make it. 

I’d not looked forward to this day’s running, I like to see lots of contours and on the map there was a severe lack of contours and a considerable amount of grey blocky areas (towns). In reality the route is quite beautiful although obviously lower level. All the volunteers claim it’s downhill, I’d beg to differ! 

I was really emotional by today. When the end is in sight the pressure is on and you’re aware of every niggle or twinge that might stop you in your tracks and force you to return to try all over again. It turns out one of the men I had been sharing a lot of the trails with had matching shin tape, although the medic had told him it was possible stress fracture. He increasingly adopted a funny gait through the morning and was loaded up to the eye balls with pain killers. He battled through and finished. Of those few remaining, we weren’t going to let anything get in the way of us reaching Cardiff, we’d been through so much to come away empty handed and then have to return.

At Merthyr Tydfil we joined the parkrun which was quite amusing, seeing people belt round 5k when we’d been running the length of Wales with Cardiff now in our sights but still 24 miles away. It was here too that I spotted the first road sign to Cardiff with 24 miles written on it; the whoops could probably be heard from the castle walls! 

Unfortunately my joy and excitement faded as the day progressed and the pain in my shin increased. At Nelson I stopped for a Mars Bar drink to perk me up.

At one of the summit trigs I burst into tears when Cardiff came into sight for the first time. I don’t think I’ve ever been such an emotional bombshell as I was this week. 

All of the checkpoint staff were super efficient, eager to boot us all to the finish! 

Darren passed me, and promised some lovely parks ahead. 

Katie and Zoe caught me up in the last park, I was struggling with the pain, but with company the finish line felt easier.

It was quite a moment when eventually we saw the castle and entered the finishing tunnel, banners flapping in my face. It was incredible, I remember saying I can’t believe I did it, I really did it. The noise was unbelievable, so many people. I had one focus and that was the ‘finish’ dibber. Only then could I stop. The feeling of dibbing for the final time was amazing. I was slightly overwhelmed with the wall of photographers at the finish, eager to escape and process what I’d managed to do.

30/138
2nd female
8:53:14

Shane Ohley, race director, saw me sneak past and came to congratulate me on second place. He then started to walk me round to the camp and bar! Thankfully Juhana had come to watch me come in and gave me the biggest hug, a surge of relief through my body. It had been one hell of an experience, one hell of a journey to reach the Castle.

We sat in the sunshine and drank the best shandy and tucked into chips. Quietly letting the realisation of what we’d done sink in. Having freshened up finally in a lovely warm shower we spent the evening watching the daily videos, trying to spot ourselves in photos. Trying desperately to process what we’d achieved, where we’d been, everything was such a blur. We tucked into our final camp meal from our bowls and raided the bar. Then we were presented with our baby dragons, 90 of the 367 that started. It was a brilliant end to a remarkable journey. 

Elaine Bisson #394
21st / 90 full course finishers. Baby dragon winners!
2nd female out of only 7 female finishers (37 started)
66:53:28

The End

I was sad to leave the following morning. To sit on the bus cradling my dragon as we drove past the many hills and valleys we’d traversed that week. Arriving back at Conwy felt like the start was a lifetime ago.

 

My highlights amongst the incredible landscape were the people I shared much of my journey with, it was lovely to see Chris again and meet so many others. I’m so glad that Fiona was there. I never realised how much I need hugs until that week! 

Juhana’s being there made my experience a million times better. I loved and looked forward to his company…not so when he flew past on the hills but certainly at the end of each day. I’m ever grateful that he put up with me in the confines of the tent. 

Anna Troup and her daughter also appeared on route 2-3 times each day. They were there to support her husband but their encouragement was second to none, it was a welcome sight indeed. Thanks Anna!

The Dragon Mail we opened during dinner was absolutely wonderful. A few tears were shed, particularly on those hard days. 

There’s nothing I like more than being outside in the wilderness. Pushing myself. Getting back to basics. To remove all the worries of life and focus only on moving from one camp to another. 

Simplicity. 

It’s odd when you come home. You’ve been on this adventure and you’ve somehow changed, you’ve grown to appreciate the world in a different way. A warm shower might be the best invention ever but I can happily do without the rest of life’s pressures, and I now find I miss the cold streams! The bed you longed for is now under the thin sheets separating you from the stars. With the sound of the wind rustling the layers, an owl hooting, a babbling brook…not so much the snores of a tired dragon tamer but heyho! The days that you hope for are to battle the elements, the childhood spirit of splashing in puddles, charging down hills, skidding on your bum down what you hope is a grassy slope with no hidden rocks. Nature is the best playground, however old you may be! 

Arriving back in camp to share stories, the highs, the lows. To watch the sunset, to gaze up at the stars and wonder what tomorrow will bring. To wake knackered and look around at the emptying breakfast tables to beaten drawn faces, proud that you’re one of the few still there fighting. The tired, blackened eyes wondering if they’ll make another day but still determined to try. I’ve loved it, every single bit. 

It has been the most wonderful and challenging adventure. I’ve shared the trails with so many extraordinary characters, their positivity and strength inspirational. Friendships forged out on the fells are among my strongest. I have made memories that I will treasure forever. I really hope that I can find an experience that will rival this but I fear it will be hard to beat.

Results

Pos.NameCat.Cat. Pos.OverallDaily Results
1stSimon RobertsM1st45:42:111: 07:25:14 (1st)
2: 08:52:11 (1st)
3: 08:41:43 (1st)
4: 07:17:00 (2nd)
5: 07:52:30 (1st)
6: 05:33:33 (1st)
7thKatie MillsF1st61:12:541: 09:58:06 (15th)
2: 11:19:20 (10th)
3: 11:13:30 (10th)
4: 09:14:36 (7th)
5: 11:25:43 (10th)
6: 08:01:39 (11th)
9thAlastair HubbardMV1st61:35:471: 09:17:40 (6th)
2: 11:17:53 (8th)
3: 10:56:27 (8th)
4: 09:51:33 (13th)
5: 12:05:57 (16th)
6: 08:06:17 (12th)
21stElaine BissonF2nd66:53:281: 10:49:12 (31st)
2: 12:27:18 (26th)
3: 11:48:14 (17th)
4: 10:29:17 (22nd)
5: 12:26:13 (21st)
6: 08:53:14 (30th)
69thPatrizia StrandmanFV1st81:53:101: 12:07:24 (76th=)
2: 14:08:49 (74th)
3: 14:27:17 (79th)
4: 13:24:40 (109th)
5: 15:38:29 (98th)
6: 12:06:31 (117th)

A total of 90 competitors finished the race, out of 367 starters.

Full results can be found here: https://www.dragonsbackrace.com/2021-results

Historical Race Stats

2012

Starters 82, 32 finishers

Finishing Rate 39%

2015

Starters 142, 65 finishers

Finishing Rate 45%

2017

Starters 223, 127 finishers

Finishing Rate 56%

2019

Starters 406, 251 finishers

Finishing Rate 62%

2021

Starters 367, 90 finishers

Finishing Rate 24%
The heat on days one and two meant only 125 were still racing by the start of day 3

Daily Timings!

4:20

‘Wake’ as tent mates make an early start.

5:00

Get up, sneak out, have breakfast, chat to some other bleary eyed racers as I proclaim I need more coffee.

5:30

Sneak back in the tent. Pack up sleeping kit, get changed, half an hour taping feet, wait until enough sunlight to not need a headtorch.

6:25

Lug bags, hand in camp bag, get drop bag weighed, get kit check.

6:30

Be on my way.

18:00 – 19:00

Sometime around this time, arrive back at camp. Dib finish, wait expectantly to make sure no checkpoints were missed. Escorted to the tent, explained what amazing facilities await me. Where the freezing hot tub is tonight. Lie on the tent floor and sometimes cry!

19:15

Wash in the river, change into warm camp clothes, set out bed.

19:30

Get food, get more food, get lots of drinks. Watch the screen and the moving dots. Eat some more. Read dragon mail.

20:00

Sort kit and bag for morning, brush teeth.

21:00

Get into bed. Try my best to block out the sound of snoring until it all happens again!

Photos Credits

Thanks to the following for the photographs appearing in this report.

My Bib Number

No Limits Photography

Fiona Brannan

(Visited 192 times, 9 visits today)

Pete Bland Kentmere Horseshoe fell race 2021, Sunday, August 1, 2021

AM / 12.3m / 3300ft

Nina Mason

A few months ago I entered a handful of fell races, determined to get ‘hill fit’ again. I have read a bit about the Kentmere Horseshoe, it has got history, and it looked a great route from a valley I have not previously explored.

Mum came with me on the day, and she did a decent walk, pretty much the route of the race, though dropping back down the valley just before Kentmere Pike. The weather was forecast cooler, but we got sunshine and heat again. I shouldn’t complain, but I do, I find these conditions tough to run in.

This year the race was part of the fell running championships. Plus, it was Pete Bland’s memorial race, following his death in November, so a huge entry of 600. He had organised the race for many years, and there was a very moving speech before the start. (He was a lot more than RO, and the Fellrunner magazine had done a great tribute supplement about him earlier this year).

The race started in two waves, women first then the men 15 minutes later. It starts, inevitably, with a long climb. Up Buck Crag, round Yoke, and to the first checkpoint on Ill Bell. Then a fast trod up to High Street (CP2). From there to Kentmere Pike (CP3) it undulates a bit, but lots of good running, and then a good couple of miles downhill to the finish.

Except for the first climb, much of this race is very runnable – lots of grassy trods, and some flattish or undulating sections once up on the tops. This made the race pretty fast, with the winning time 1hr22! Because of the split start, the first men caught me 50mins into my run, flying past, then a steady flow kept passing me until Kentmere Pike, when paces started to even out.

As for my run – urgh. I never felt like I got into my running. A late banana? Like the Grinch, were my shoes too tight? Was I weary after a long run out last weekend? Whatever it was, my head didn’t feel in the right place, and my competitive edge never really appeared. I lost places in the women’s race where I would usually battle harder, and even on the downhill I didn’t feel physically comfortable. What a waste, as downhill is the best bit for me! My mum made all the effort to climb to the halfway point to be rewarded with ‘I feel like sh*t’, and when asked about the views I hung my head in shame – all I had seen was my feet. I feel sure I could have picked up a few places if I had felt more on form, not like me at all.

But I cheered up enough to enjoy some  post-race chat with friends from other clubs, and the sun shining on the finish and the event field. The route is fabulous, the race organisation was great (as expected), and the fell-running spirit much in evidence – competitive, but always supportive. Kentmere is a beautiful village and valley, and I am determined to go back both for my own outings and to tackle the race again.

Results

PosNameClubCategoryTime
1stJacob AdkinKeswick ACMSEN01:22:20
7thHannah HorsburghKeswick ACWSEN01:29:30
309thNina MasonElvet StridersW4502:15:13

478 Finishers, 3 DNFs

External Links

Full Results can be found on SportIdent.

Race Organiser’s website: www.kentmerehorseshoe.org.uk

(Visited 101 times, 1 visits today)

Lowther Lakeland Fell and Trail Run, Near Penrith, Sunday, August 9, 2020

Shaun Roberts

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 …

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Bilsdale Fell Race, North York Moors, Sunday, March 15, 2020

Georgie Hebdon

Striders ready to go.

Ouch, that was a toughy…

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.

Tough Going.

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.

(Visited 84 times, 1 visits today)

Captain Cooks 2020, Great Ayton, Wednesday, January 1, 2020

BS / 8km / 318m

results
PosbibNametimecat/pos
130Harry Holmes (Matlock AC)30.37MO/1
829Georgie Hebdon33.23MO/5
17100Graeme Watt35.05M40/2
32120Michael Littlewood36.16M45/2
4036Barrie Kirtley37.14MO/24
414Ewan Barlow37.20MU23/5
4499Mark Warner37.36M40/8
47121Lindsay McEwan37.48M45/7
55369Georgia Campbell (Jarrow and Hebburn)38.08FO/1
61158Allan Renwick38.43M50/2
8620Juan Corbacho Anton40.06MO/35
10890Robin Parsons41.19M40/22
109463Nina Mason41.20F45/1
110105Michael Barlow41.23M45/17
155186Robert Thirkell44.01M55/11
175438Louise Warner44.53F40/4
273201Shaun Roberts50.11M60/16
28710Callum Askew50.46MO/7
301163Malcolm Sygrove51.39M50/27
322499Jan Young52.59F65/3
342474Camilla Lauren-Maatta53.55F50/7
356443Stephanie Barlow54.49F45/16
370178Tim Matthews56.03M55/39
37543Emil Maatta56.26MO/8
449296David Shipman76.08M60/26
(Visited 24 times, 1 visits today)

2019 Fell Relay Championships, Saturday, October 19, 2019

Fiona Brannan

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.

2019 Fell Relay Championships Start

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British Fell Relay Championships (leg 3 – navigation leg), Peak District, Saturday, October 19, 2019

Nigel Heppell and Nina Mason

Photo Courtesy Beau Dog Photography

From Nigel:


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

Nigel beating Geoff

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.

Nina and Tricia

Website: https://britishfellrelays2019.org.uk/

(Visited 102 times, 1 visits today)

British Fell Relay Championships (leg 4), Peak District, Saturday, October 19, 2019

Robin Parsons

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!

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British Fell Relay Championships (Leg 2), Peak District, Saturday, October 19, 2019

James Garland and Paul Evans

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?!

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Paddy Buckley Round, Wales, Friday, October 4, 2019

Max Wilkinson

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.

The start of the Paddy

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)

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