For those that aren’t familiar with the fell running, the Paddy Buckley is one of the big 3 rounds; it is the Snowdonia equivalent of the Bob Graham. It is generally regarded to be tougher than the BG, but by how much is up for debate. To put that into context, the overall record for the Paddy (Tom Higginbottom, 17-42) is nearly 4 hours slower than for the Bob Graham (Billy Bland, 13-53).
On Saturday 3rd June I ran the Paddy Buckley in 18-50, completing my first 24hr round. It was a relatively last minute decision to attempt this summer, but I saw a window of opportunity and as the route is the only of the 3 rounds I know well, it made sense to have a crack at it. I pieced together a 19-30 schedule, starting at 3am from Llanberis.
Leg 1: Llanberis to Llyn Ogwen
(support: Michael Jones, John Parkin, Digby Harris)
Matt dropped me off in Llanberis where we met the others and rations were divvied out. The weather looked optimistic; clear, little wind, not too warm. I can honestly say that this may have been the most enjoyable 3hrs of running I have ever experienced. From snaking up through the dark and eerie slate mines to the breath-taking sunrise over the Glyders, it could not have been a more exhilarating start. I was so excited to be out on this perfectly still morning that the actual running seemed effortless. As we approached Glyder Fawr we were enveloped in clag, but the burning sun coming up in front of us shone through the fog creating an amazing pink haze.
I was mildly concerned that I was quite a way up on schedule and therefore I did my best to temper my effort - I didn’t want to arrive at Ogwen and my support still be in bed. But despite this the dry rock of the Glyder’s and Tryfan made progress quick. On the descent from Tryfan I spent more timing looking at the layby below for signs of life than I did looking at where I was putting my feet. Needless to say, I had a number of falls. We arrived at Ogwen 30 minutes up on schedule. If I had been told before the round that I would run this leg in under 3hrs I would have thought that impossible, a stupid and suicidal pace. I didn’t realised during recce runs quite how much faster you can go without the weight of a pack and on fresh legs. Below Tryfan we found Saul waiting, but no one else had appeared. I was slightly concerned but knew I had only myself to blame for producing a wildly inaccurate schedule. We trotted up the road as slowly as possible and luckily Ant and the Pascall & Bennett road support arrived just before the turn off up Pen Yr Ole Wen.
Leg 2: Llyn Ogwen to Capel Curig
(support: Michael Jones, Ant Bethell, Saul Taylor)
Arm warmers were exchanged for some rice pudding and the dog, and on we went. We ascended Pen Yr Ole Wen via the east of Llyn Ogwen. I understand that some people go up the ‘nose’ via Ogwen Cottage, but the east side is the only way I know, and most likely the fastest. We continued to pick off a few minutes from the schedule for each top. I did worry a bit that I had gone off too fast, but the pace was still very comfortable so I decided to trust my instincts and go by feel. The highest summits were still in clag but navigation remained straight forward. On the descent of Pen Llithrig y Wrach Forest & I each took our own separate route - I lost him (and everyone else!) for 10 minutes but met again at the footbridge where the ground levels out at exactly the same time. We arrived into Capel Curig 47minutes up on schedule. I asked whether my support for the next leg had arrived yet but I was told to ‘be quiet and eat your pasta’.
Leg 3: Capel Curig to Aberglaslyn
(support: Nicky Spinks, Kirsty Hewitson, John Whilock, Rich Watson)
Luckily Kirsty, John & Rich were ready but Nicky pulled up in her van just as we were leaving. I felt incredibly guilty as I didn’t want her to miss us having travelled a long way, plus she was crucial support from a navigation point of view. Luckily she caught us up after just a few minutes. I hadn’t exactly been looking forward to this leg, mainly due to the mental challenge of a series of seemingly never-ending indistinct summits. On legs 1 & 2 I had mainly been up at the front of the group, picking my own route, but now I was happy to have a mental break and follow the others. Although I know this leg reasonably well, with the novelty of NOT having a map in my hand I soon lost track of our progress. At one point I asked Kirsty how many summits were left until the quarries, thinking it must just be a couple as we had been running for hours. She (reluctantly) broke the news that there were still 7 summits left! Eventually we did make it to the quarry to find Matt, my Dad, Flora & Dingo waiting for us. Nicky decided to head straight back to Aberglaslyn so she could be ready to help on leg 4, leaving the rest of us to nip around the Moelwyns and over the dreaded Cnicht (which, surprisingly, was less painful than usual thanks to John’s suburb line). Inevitably I was starting to tire. I always find this time in a race almost comforting, having run this far with the anticipation of the pain to come. I could finally gravitate to the task ahead.
Leg 4: Aberglaslyn to Pont Cae’r Gors
(support: Nicky Spinks, Ant Bethell, Fiona Pascall, Lydia Rosling, Tom Rivett)
Forest led us a way up Bryn Banog that was completely new to me. Before starting the round I thought I would be uncomfortable about this and want to stick to my own lines, but in the state of mind I was in I just wanted to be a follower, and I had every faith in Forest’s route choice. The bracken on this ascent was just starting to sprout, making the going just about as good as it can be on this rough section of the route. Even a couple of weeks later and the vegetation would have delayed our progress. It was quite surreal to have my sister, Lid and Tom with me. Despite being fit and accustomed to being in the mountains, they live in Somerset and are not fell runners. Whilst climbing Bryn Banog Lid & Tom played a wrap from their phone that they had written, intended for my sister’s wedding the following weekend. I couldn’t help thinking that the hardened fell runners among us would have disapproved of our fooling around! None the less the Somerset crew faired incredibly well and hopefully got a flavour of what fell running rounds were about.
With 2/3 of the distance and climbing behind me I was certainly feeling the effects of the last 12hrs of running. In most racing situations looking at your watch gains you very little; you maintain a certain level of exertion and as long as you don’t under or over-do it, the time takes care of itself. The same should be the case for rounds, but because we have a schedule we become addicted to clock watching. Up until this point I had been consistently ahead of my splits, but now I was only just meeting them, and falling behind on some. I did my best to keep up with Forest & Nicky, who were out in front, whilst Tom did a great job keeping me fed and watered. The relief at summiting Y Garn and dropping towards the forest tracks and final changeover point was tempered with the enormity of the challenge that still lay ahead. I arrived at Pont Cae’r Gors 1hr5 ahead of my schedule (and therefore fairly close to record pace, should the splits be achievable). I never thought I was capable of breaking the record and it had never been my intention before I started, but according to my splits the record had been on the cards for most of my round. However, if my schedule had been more balanced perhaps I would never have thought it within reach.
Leg 5: Pont Cae’r Gors to Llanberis
(support: Kirsty Hewitson, Matt Bennett, Digby Harris, Justin Bramall, Tracy Dean)
With a fresh and enthusiastic collection of pacers (and an even more excitable Dingo), I hauled my exhausted legs upwards with the help of the poles I had just picked up, but top speed was little more than a crawl. My suffer score was through the roof (or would have been if I had uploaded this run on to Strava). Climbing Craig Wen we managed to steer Dingo away from the bog containing the rotting sheep in which she had delighted in bathing in on my final recce. We topped out on Craig Wen 3 minutes slower than my splits. Kirsty politely told me I had to get a move on if I wanted to break any record. I knew this, but I just didn’t think I could move any faster. I guess I knew at this point that my splits for this leg probably weren’t realistic, therefore the record was also unrealistic, but I clung on to the hope that my legs might get a new lease of life.
At least I was pleased that my support were enjoying themselves, even if I wasn’t in my best spirits. Ascending the ridge to Snowdon Matt and Justin were joking about what men could and couldn’t do with their left hand … (Matt had recently sustained a shoulder injury whilst mountain biking on a stag do which had rendered him exempt from support duties up until now and also as an excuse not to carry any of my food!). We stopped to add another layer on this ridge for the first time since setting off 16 hours previously. We found an un-opened bottle of orange juice on Crib y Ddysgyl which we shared eagerly (food always tastes better if it isn’t your own!). The tops came and went painfully slowly, but below 1000m visibility remained good. I was slowing more, and on climbing Moel Cynghhorien Kirsty, more bluntly this time, told me I had to get my act together. I knew she was right but on attempting to push just a little bit harder my legs and lungs obstinately objected.
Even in my spent state I was able to appreciate the sunset and that last hour of running. My dad and sister met us on Foel Gron which also boosted my morale somewhat and the final run off felt almost easy; a fast and non-technical, grassy descent in the half light. Running in to Llanberis, surrounded by friends, I felt only happiness and relief.
A lot of people have asked me I think I could have run the Paddy faster. The answer is, on that day, no. In terms of the conditions, support, route choice, nutrition, there is barely anything I could have changed to shave any minutes off. Physically I could have been in better shape. My training had been very average; distinctly less consistent than I’d have liked it to be. If there is any room for improvement it probably lies in that field. For now though I am perfectly content with my round, a near 19hrs I’ll never forget.
Thank you again to all my pacers, and to my dad, Flora, Matt & Fiona for road and quarry support, without whom I couldn’t have got around.