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Paddy Buckley Round

May 4th 2008
Overall Time: 18 Hours 10 Minutes 25 Seconds

I’m a list writer. It’s the only way things get done , so every Christmas / new year when we retreat to the NW Highlands for a couple of weeks I write a list of things I really want to do in the coming year. Every year the Paddy Buckley round is on the top of the list but every year there seems to be something else that crops up . The problem is , these days, there’s simply not enough weekends to do all the things you want to do. Fitting Adventure , Fell and Bike races into a calendar that already has quite a heavy weekend work commitment is not easy and requires much pre-planning to arrange days –off etc. Still, 2008 was going to be different I assured myself. I didn’t want to end up in Scotland at Christmas once again next year wishing I’d had a crack at the PB round and having to put it down on yet another list for next year!!

In the early part of the year we try to plan races and holidays for the year and end up with quite a full diary as a result. Last year , when the Great Lakeland Challenge came to Snowdonia I jumped at the chance to do something like this on our local mountains. I enjoyed the laid-back nature of the event and also the fact that it was three long runs over the hills ( not around them ! ). So, I once again entered the event for 2008 as a way of further exploring the Lakes. As time went on the list came back out and reminded me of my promise to have a go. Looking at other dates it seemed unlikely to find another slot  to do the round. So, reluctantly I e-mailed Joe Faulkner and made my excuses. I’m sure he probably thought I was jibbing out as he’d vowed to make the GL3D harder this year with 100 miles over 3 days!! The PB round might well turn out to be a “soft” option after all!

Planning for the PB I vowed to keep it simple but things tend to snowball as you realise that to do a good time you’re going to need help and lots of it. Luckily for me I live in Snowdonia and know the hills and nearly all of the route very well having run all sections many times beforehand. I made efforts after work to get out and find the absolute best route up and off certain hills. Otherwise, in terms of specific training I did very little different to normal. Long runs, long bike rides, long adventure races and most recently the Highlander mountain marathon (Torridon hills rather good for extra leg strength!).

In terms of setting a schedule pace I must admit to being slightly baffled by the Formula Icon in Excel so I battled away for  a while and when things got too much I e-mailed Steve Birkinshaw to ask if I’d be able to have a copy of his 18 hour schedule from last years attempt. He supplied me with a copy of his predicted and actual times for his round which started in Llanberis. Paddy Buckley himself sent the schedules for Anne Stentiford and Helene Diamantides which were the 2nd and 3rd fastest recorded times (19.19 and 20.08 respectively).

I wanted to set off with this 18 hour schedule pace in mind and would adjust times after the first leg (starting in Capel Curig the first leg is roughly 1/3 of the entire route so I’d have a pretty good idea how things were going). Start times would be influenced by the darkness so I opted for a 4am start which gave me 1 hour to get up Siabod and down the other side to the hit the tricky little hills just as it got light. This would mean that at the other end of the day if I stayed on schedule for a 10pm finish (record time) I’d probably make the final descent in the dark off Pen Llthrig yr Wrach.

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Lining up support for the attempt was relatively easy as my parents were visiting for the weekend and were happy to do the road support throughout the day, (a brilliant choice as they are super organised). My good friend Tim Higginbottom was to pace me on the first and last legs (and provide excellent back-up support in between). Seb Phillips (brother-in-law) would accompany me over the Snowdon range and then James Mcqueen would take me over the Glyderau. So, the only leg that I was without pacer was Leg 2 (Bryn Banog, Hebog etc). I was lucky to get good hill support on this and other sections which meant that I didn’t have to carry too much water or food for the leg. It was quite amazing how many friends/work colleagues offered to come out and support on the day. Also, in terms of verifying the route I recorded the route on a GPS set carried throughout the run (recording accurate times / splits for each peak). At this stage I could see why some opted for the solo / unsupported rounds as the idea of keeping it simple had been slightly lost in the complicated logistics involving now huge numbers of people.

General tactics for the round were simple. Treat it as a long stage in a long Adventure race. Eat loads, Drink all the time and keep going! So, transitions would be quick (2 – 3 minutes), there would be no hot food or drink , minimal changing of clothes and contrary to advice or previous rounds – try to get ahead of schedule ! Although there were lots of options considered for food, in the end I adopted a staple diet of Bananas and Energy Gels. Each transition included Protein Drink, Dioralyte, Ibuprofen & Electrolyte drink. On all but the first 2 legs I ran with lightweight poles, ( until I snapped one on the Glyders), which makes a huge difference to how battered your thighs get on those long steep descents, ( but also of great use on the uphills).

With everything in place the only thing to do was sit back and watch the increasingly worrying weather forecast ! As the Bank Holiday weekend approached there were some concerning statements on the Met Office Snowdonia forecast. Gales on the Saturday with a very active Cold Front on Sunday but improving later in the day, (no doubt just as I finished!). In the run-up to the weekend there was much rain which I feared would only add to the man-eating bogs of Leg 1 . Still, with everyone primed for a 4 am departure on Sunday 4th it was very much a case of getting on with it.

2am is early to be eating a cooked breakfast but I forced it down on top of last night’s pasta and feeling sick and sluggish for the first leg would be ok – might keep the pace regulated a bit. Tim Higginbottom drove me to the start where I was met by Dave Say, (Work Colleague / friend / Bob Graham round finisher ),  who was to act as Hill support throughout the day and independent Timekeeper.  Arriving at the Pinnacle Café slightly early we were all amazed to be looking at the outline of hills – couldn’t quite believe it was clear as the forecast had predicted major hill fog . Somewhere by Bryn Engan rave music boomed into the still night and as 4am came the clock started and I started off on the short road section to Moel Siabod , the first of 47!

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As with any race you know on the first climb how your legs feel and I felt strong- glad to have taken a couple of proper rest days. I scampered up Siabod and off down that cracking ridge to meet Tim H who would guide me expertly over the entire leg. He’d covered the leg the previous day with our wives who were also doing the round spread over a sensible 2 ½ days. So, the sneaky lines were firmly etched in his mind and bar a couple of unavoidable bogs we had great lines up and down those indistinct hills & tops on the way to the real peaks of the Moelwyns. Dave met us in Rhosydd quarry , quick refuel before heading off for a circuit of the Moewlyns and then again before making for Cnicht and (all bar a run out to Abergalslyn) the end of Leg 1.

A rapid transition meant that I was on my way out again at 9 am. Pilar, my wife, works at Aberglaslyn Hall and had flagged a decent route out through the grounds and onto the hill. I caught her and Jenny between Bryn Banog and Hebog and I caught up on their stories from the previous day. Along the ridge lurks the heathery Gyrn. I’d found the PB route / track in a recce run and as I reached the summit I whistled to Mark and Becky waiting down at Bwlch yr Ddwy Elor ( Pass of the 2 coffins in Welsh – hopefully not needed today! ). Thankfully they’d got there in time as I was ahead of my schedule. Full water bottles & more Gels not to mention fierce encouragement  before popping out to the nondescript “summit” of Mynydd Bwlch yr Ddwy Elor and onwards to the Nantlle Ridge and a final descent off Y Garn timed perfectly to coincide with the annual race ( very useful to follow the flagged descent on grass to the stream and then into Beddgelert Forest beyond ). Transition 2 at Pont Cae’r Gors was memorable for the fact that I managed to empty an entire bottle of protein drink down my front . Five minutes later and joined by Seb I set off into the lowering cloud on Craig Wen.

Already 22 minutes ahead of schedule I felt happy to be on the familiar hills and even started to think that it was quite straightforward from here. A couple of short climbs on the way to the South ridge of Snowdon and the weather did a dramatic u-turn. That cold front that was promised for mid-morning now seemingly descended from nowhere and , accompanied by torrential rain, consumed us in thick cotton-wool like fog. No problems finding Snowdon, even in this weather , but tricky running down the track against the endless flow of walkers intent on making it to the top regardless of the weather. Even with local knowledge it was compass bearing- and -go off the summit of Carnedd Ugain to locate the bouldery track that leads to some of the best grassy running in Snowdonia, Moel Eilio ridge. Bryan & Catharine popped out of the mists on Cynghorion to thrust bananas and drinks at me and over the other side of the hill there was Dave with yet more.

Glad to be coming off the ridge in wet but now brightening weather I gathered my thoughts for another rapid pit-stop in Llanberis. Priority was to get a dry top & new jacket , loads of drink in and get out sharpish for the direct slog up through the quarries onto the Glyderau. There was a real buzz due to the numbers gathered there but also the fact that I’d chipped away at the schedule and now stood 1 hour ahead. I knew about the timings for the next two sections though – I knew they were tight and with tiring legs I would still need to give it everything to complete within sight of 18 hours.

1 hour later and running off Elidir Fawr the weather cleared and the rock dried and earlier worries of finishing this thing in the torrential rain all but dissipated. I made steady progress along the rocky range accompanied by James Mcqueen . A long , hot grind up Glyder Fawr and a tumble on the way to Glyder Fach slowed us down a little but Naomi and Andy’s refreshment stall ( with radio playing ) gave a real kick as we took off for the final horrid climbs and descents of Tryfan. Dropping into the Ogwen valley I saw a large crowd assembled , basking in the late evening sun.  My time gain had been dramatically chopped but this team of supporters were going to give it all they had for the final leg. Accompanied by Tim Higginbottom, Pete, Ruth, Richard, Anna & Harry I couldn’t wish to be in better company or safer hands for reaching the finish in good time. Richard ran like a dog back and forth while Anna never seemed to stop talking, all the while Tim picked the sneaky lines minimising unnecessary climbing.

I may have been on a time schedule but I still found moments to wonder at the most amazing views opening up as we climbed higher onto the ridge. The Carneddau succumb quite easily once you’re up and I found myself quite quickly on the last climb up Pen Llithrig yr wrach. I sensed that the on-board computer (Tim) had done his calculations and that we were now in a hurry to get off this hill. As we climbed Tim furnished me with a super-bright head torch and told me what I needed to do in descent ( basically a fell-race descent and sprint out on the road would put me damn close one way or the other ! Well, how hard could that be after 17 ½ hours ? )

The line taken first left then hard right was perfect, no rock. As we hit the fence at the foot of the hill the pace quickened until we were lurching down with impressive speed. I watched Richard’s heels like a hawk – copying his every move. Jumping streams and threading our way through bogs and bridges we eventually hit the road. Convincing myself that it’d be only a couple more minutes I upped the pace once more. At the final bend I heard Catharine, my mother-in-law, shout encouragement and this gave me the final kick to the finish outside the Pinnacle cafe. I reached the step, stopped my watch with everyone waiting  for the finishing time. 18 hours 10 minutes and 25 seconds.

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As I write this five days after the run I still find it hard to believe that it was 18 hours 10. With Mark Hartell’s record of 18:10 it was very much the time to chase though and I’d not have put that enormous effort into the final descent if it wasn’t for his time . I was slightly disappointed to have been so far ahead but end up only equalling the time but at least I know how to play things next time round! One good thing is that I can at least cross one thing off that list next Christmas!

Chris Near, Eryri Harriers


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