Subs bench : February 2024

Every now and then we like to check in with our injured clubmates. Injury and illness happen to most of us sooner or later, and it’s hard when a big chunk of your life is suddenly unavailable. So here is a brief update of our current crop of not-currently-runners. We miss you and wish you a swift recovery.

Ruth Dorrington

I am injured quite frequently. Some are regular overuse injuries or wear and tear (aka old age). However, I’ve inflicted a fair few ludicrous ones on myself. For example, I have given myself whiplash by running into an overhanging branch with such force I knocked myself off my feet. I have tripped over whilst running and landed on the only protruding rock in a 5-mile radius, cracking a rib, then done the exact same thing somewhere else 6 weeks later.


I’ve also had injuries where the physio/podiatrist/osteopath has called a colleague into the treatment room, saying, “Take a look at this, it’s really weird! What do you think it is?” Never very comforting. Little wonder that I am welcomed so cordially by aforementioned therapists: they must hear a giant mental ker-ching as I walk through the door.

So, have the decades of injuries given me a patient stoicism when confronted with another cycle of rest, recovery and re-hab? Definitely not! Each new injury is the very end of the world. Every person I see out running while I am injured is a stab to my heart. Every missed race is mourned with much weeping and wailing.
However, when I am running, I am truly grateful for every step and celebrate every little milestone!

Dominique Lynch

Why are you on the subs bench?
I’m on the subs bench after taking a tumble during a race and continuing on to the finish line (which was another 10miles!)

It’s the first time I’ve sprained my ankle or had an injury that has prevented me from running. I wouldn’t recommend it at all.

How long have you been out?
I’ve been out for about nine months on and off.

What have you been doing, if anything, to keep mentally and physically fit?
I’ve had lots of physio and have been religiously doing the exercises recommended to me. My ankle is still very stiff and my attempts to get back to running end in soreness for several days after.

I’ve been going on lots of walks and to Pilates classes 2-3 a week. I definitely don’t get the dopamine hit that running gives you but it feels good to be outdoors and move my body.

I think keeping mentally fit has been the hardest part of all. It’s easy to slip into thinking if I’ll ever been back on the hills again or if I do to what capacity.

What do you miss about running, if anything?
Everything but mostly the people from NLFR!

Rose George

Why are you on the subs bench?

I’ve got a stress fracture in my left shin. This is weird as my left leg never usually bothers me. Right glute, right tibial tendon, right everything, but not usually left. I got a twinge in my shin the week before Auld Lang Syne, but thought nothing of it because see above about left leg. I did a ten mile moorland run on the Friday through about five different weather systems and had to take a lot of painkillers. At that point I should have rested but I wanted to run six miles dressed as Melchior with my clubmates at Auld Lang Syne, and stupidly I did. My shin hurt throughout and it hasn’t stopped hurting since.

How long have you been out?

Since January 31, 2023.

What have you been doing, if anything, to keep mentally and physically fit?
I immediately stopped running and haven’t tried since. I thought it was a shin splint (muscle or tendon) but after a couple of weeks with no improvement I went to the physio who was so convinced it was a stress fracture, she only did half an appointment. She gave me some crutches and sent me to Wharfedale minor injuries, where I got an X-ray. This showed no fracture but stress fractures don’t often show on X-rays. The nurse told me that what I thought had been good low-impact stuff (walking a lot and cycling) was entirely the wrong thing to do. Great. I used crutches for a couple of weeks, but then stopped using them and noticed no difference. I’ve iced and elevated, applied comfrey poultices, taken a lot of co-codamol, and try hard to stay fit and not eat like I’m still running 30 miles a week (having just had a custard tart for breakfast). I can swim, though ideally without using my legs (the kicking motion isn’t great), I can cycle on a turbo if it’s on the flat. I’m not supposed to walk excessively, but I’m not very good at heeding that. Yoga is OK as long as I’m careful about not putting too much weight on my left leg. The thought of running is as horrific as the thought of hopping on one leg. I’m going to be out for a while yet.

I’ve dealt with the mental grief in two ways: by marshalling when I can, at park run or at the Trog. That gave me the camaraderie and race atmosphere that I really miss, even if I was only taking numbers and offering sweets. But I am just trying not to think about it because if I do, I miss it horribly. My swimming has improved massively though and I’m pretty chuffed that I can now swim a mile front crawl which I’d never done before. Marginal gains.

What do you miss about running, if anything?
Everything and everyone. The head-clearing of running. The friendships. The social runs on the moors. The moors. The grousing grouse. The glee of night runs with headtorches. The pure joy of running downhill. Scraping mud off my legs with a toothbrush in the shower.

Runners and Riders

4.9 miles, 890ft

Most fell races start mid-morning, which makes organising your pre-race routine pretty straightforward: get up – have breakfast – get stuff together – travel – register – warm up – race. An early afternoon start is a bit trickier. Enjoy a long lie in? Late breakfast?/mid-morning snack?/early lunch? Do something else with the morning first?

Last Sunday’s race, Runners + Riders, started at 2pm. Waking early, I decided to get out and about rather than sit around at home, there’s already quite enough of that at this time of year. Conditions outside looked unpromising, so I packed two extra sets of clothes along with everything else (this proved to be a good decision). With the race being in Appletreewick I thought it would be a chance to have a poke around the old lead mines above Grassington, which I’d read about but not previously visited. I imagined this would be as much about exploring as covering distance so I wasn’t going to expend too much energy before the race.

I’ve never much liked Grassington – too twee and busy – but driving up onto the moor beyond you enter a very different world. I parked the car at the end of the road at Yarnbury and immediately came across the remains of an old mine, the various abandoned debris adding to the general sense of desolation of the open moor. I started loosely following a marked trail that takes you around various holes, derelict buildings and spoil heaps, in the general direction of a chimney on the skyline, which would have been more prominent if it hadn’t been for the sluicing rain and swirling mist. Arriving at the considerable remains of an old smelting mill I came across the most impressive feature, a half-mile long flue – straight as an arrow to the distant chimney – which once took all the smoke and fumes away from the mill. With the whole moor pockmarked with dubious-looking shafts and other hazards I didn’t explore too closely, but it was OK to duck under the base of the chimney, scramble in and look all the way up. At least it got me out of the by-now howling wind for a moment.

With conditions rapidly deteriorating all thoughts now turned to getting back to the relative shelter of the car. Despite having been out for under an hour I was soaked. With still four hours to go until the race I had plenty of time to effect drying out, as well as to linger over an unbeatable £3.50 piping-hot sausage sandwich and coffee offer at the Threshfield Spar. Mid-morning snack it turned out to be. It also gave me the chance to get to Appletreewick nice and early and secure a vital parking space on hard-standing (yes we did help push someone out of the mud later on). Having registered in the barn, the final stage of the drying-out procedure was completed on a faded sofa in front of a roaring log fire, taking in several draughts of healthy wood smoke.

Soon four other members of the NLFR gang arrived – Jonny, Josh, Nick and Harry – and before long we were lining up in the field ready to start (spot 4 of us in the photo below):

Photo by Andy Holden

The race is a joint affair for both runners and cyclists, on a course 4.9 miles long with 890ft of ascent, carefully designed to give all an equal chance. In that respect, much of it is relatively flat for a fell race, although you do get two proper climbs in, one about three-quarters of the way round, the other right at the start. This certainly helps spread the field out quickly:

Photo by Olga Wood

With 170 runners and 30 cyclists, there was plenty of space for everyone. Not like Bingley Harriers’ Harriers v Cyclists in November, where the ratio is more like 50-50 on a tighter course, so the risk of being cut up by the cyclists is much more part of the “fun”. Good hearing and peripheral vision helps!

Apart from those two climbs this was a pretty speedy race, particularly at the end as you zig-zag down the final field to the finish, with the cyclists whizzing past. In the end 168 ran, 31 cycled and 1 e-cycled, thus 200 in total.

NLFR results:

5th: Harry Kingston: 34:09

27th: Dave Middlemas: 38:27

29th: Jonny Coney: 38:41

43th: Josh Day: 41:13

73th: Nick Flower: 44:49

Full results here.

But these are mere numbers, the highlight was yet to come. This race makes me about as happy to part with £10 as is possible, because that gives you the race, a donation to three local charities (including Mountain Rescue), the sofas and the fire, and as much post-race cake, sandwich and hot caffeinated beverages as can be reasonably consumed. Below a picture of a fraction of the spread from a previous year, I was too busy stuffing my face to get the camera out this time.

Many thanks as always to Ted Mason, Wharfedale Harriers and Appletreewick village for organising and hosting this event, a mid-winter classic

These are not just fell runners, these are North Leeds fell runners

Dave Middlemas

The OMM – Jumping in at the Deep End

UPDATE – We did a podcast! Dave Middlemas had a chat with Jonny and Ian about the weekend. You can listen here… but only after you’ve read Jonny’s account below.

by Jonathan Coney

It’s a quiet Monday evening, and I’m just settling down to watch some high quality quiz action in BBC Two’s Only Connect with a brew, waiting for the general knowledge bit of Mastermind to pass the time. 

Then the phone rings, it’s Ian calling for a chat about the OMM, taking place this weekend. What’s the OMM I hear you ask? Well it’s a mountain marathon run in pairs: two days of being in the mountains carrying all your kit for those two days, and camping in between. There are a range of courses: line courses – more like a fell race – where you navigate point to point along the way but the things you visit are probably not a nice summit or obvious feature; and score courses, where you have a time limit to get from the start to the day’s finish, and you visit controls to gain points along the way. This year the OMM was in North Wales, based in the area around Bethesda in Eryri (the region formerly known as Snowdonia).

I’d heard of the OMM and I knew this was Ian’s game: 36 hours or so of running/walking/hobbling/crawling/crying around some mountains in late October. A few mates had done the OMM about five years ago and the stories of shivering in a tent in the snow wearing socks as gloves was enough to put me off. I’d always sort of said I’d give a mountain marathon a go one day – maybe the Saunders mountain marathon in the summer to ease me in, with beer and things at the halfway camp – but not straight to the OMM.

While Ian was (very kindly) giving me a lift to Withins Skyline a fortnight or so before, apparently I’d been less dismissive of the idea of the OMM than everyone else Ian had asked, which meant I was perfect fodder for a weekend’s antics in North Wales. Someone had dropped out, Ian had first dibs on a team place until that night, and he just wanted to be there. Now Ian was being very flattering about my abilities and offering his kit services (we’d all heard about Ian’s kit room but here was a chance to actually see and use it), and maybe by going with an experienced OMM-er I’d avoid some of the pitfalls my mates had experienced a few years back. And I mean, it’s not impossible right? Ian’s being very nice about me, and saying he doesn’t mind at all if I slow him down. And I don’t run well in hot weather, so maybe the OMM is right for me: there is significantly less chance of a drought and a heatwave in October than in July! That place going spare was for the long score, we might as well keep things simple and not change it, fine? That’s 7 hours on Saturday and 6 hours on Sunday, by the way. 

16 minutes till Only Connect starts and I message back.

“Yeah go on then I’m in”

Then regret it a bit.

But I’m committed now.

We meet at Ian’s kit room on Wednesday for a chat about the plan and kit. That plan is to go lightweight. My 25-litre rucksack will do – right, fine?! If you’re sure? That removable backrest – too heavy – bubblewrap will do unless we fancy the soft option of a roll mat. Spare socks are unnecessary as your feet get wet within seconds when you put on your shoes on day 2. Food? It’s an eating competition apparently so I head to Aldi (other supermarkets are available) on the way home from Ian’s to buy *nice things*. Ian would sort the tent and overnight food and he’d come and pick me up on Friday.

Friday evening in Bethesda rolls around a bit too quickly for my liking. I’m a bit of a panicker about big things, and I was treating this as an adventure in my mind which seemed to keep the nerves at bay. We register and pick up our dibber and tracker, and settle down at the event centre for a kip before things start proper the next morning.

Day One

Our start is between 9 and 9:15 am, so we eat and faff a bit in the morning. Extra unnecessary food is left in the van and we weigh our bags one final time, Ian has 4.5 kg (after we remember that we really ought to take the poles for the tent) and mine is 4.7 kg (what can I say, I really wanted to bring jelly babies). We wander the kilometre or so to the start and I wish I had gone to the loo again before leaving but I’m here now. There are lots of folk with more kit and bigger, more bulging rucksacks than the ones we are carrying. Maps are thrust in our hands, Ian dibs in and sets off at pace down a track towards the first control. Whoops what have I let myself in for: seven hours of this and then tomorrow too?

The next hours pass as a bit of a blur, I’m definitely a passenger but try to keep tabs on the map. Ian’s navigating and route planning is impressive to watch, and he’s really supportive of me being slow as we plunge (well he plunges, I stagger) down hills and suffer up steep climbs of the Carneddau. And contouring. Grim, sad, ankle-straining contouring. We bump into Cat, and we have a chat. Cat’s doing the long score too, though perhaps at a more pleasant pace than Ian and me.

Four hours have gone and we find ourselves at the A5 (ed: that’s a motorway not a control point). Our overnight campsite spot is west of here near Ogwen Cottage, a couple of miles or so of flat running away. But instead we cross the A5 and head south up towards the edge of the Glyderau. I suffer a lot here, Ian kindly shares the load and I get a break from carrying kit. This stuff is hard work and we climb into the mist. It starts raining a bit, after we have been lucky with the weather all morning. With an hour to go Ian proposes what I think is a madcap plan to fly down into some cwms (ed: for non-Welsh speakers or Welsh mountain veterans: a cwm is a steep-sided hollow) underneath Y Garn to pick up some high scoring controls and, despite my initial unease, I agree and we gain some more points. In hindsight my proposal of descending via Devil’s Kitchen would have been a very sad affair.

Time was getting tight as we approached the final couple of controls for the day. Our seven hour deadline passes. Our hard-earned points gradually ebb away. Ian loses a fight with some barbed wire. We bag the last control, and descend down to the camp spot. Bit of a mad rush in and we’re only seven minutes late in (a deduction of 14 points; controls are worth between 10 and 50 points each) and learn that we’re currently in first place, which was a bit of a surprise, especially as I had been apologising to Ian for being so slow all day. This later becomes second, still not bad. Apparently running well on day 1 is a good thing as high-scoring teams get an earlier start the next day, so you spend less time being sad at the overnight campsite. 

running the finish line on day 1
Copyright Tom McNally

So after Ian gets patched up from his run-in with the barbed wire, he bumps into some of his mates and we go and pitch our tent nearby them in the bustling field. There’s rain forecast from 6pm pretty much all night, due to stop at some point in the morning, and I’m keen to be as snug as I can be by the time it starts. Dinner and hot chocolate (luxury) gets cooked and devoured, and we admire the fun sheet on the back of the map complete with crossword, wordsearch and some Welsh language practice.

Copyright OMM

Day Two

6am GMT, as just to add to the brain-strain the clocks went back on the Saturday night, and a piper starts up along with a procession around the campsite. Fortunately the rain has stopped. We eat some porridge and get packed up. Our start is at 7:03 am, which means I only have to survive until about 1pm when it will all be over!

Things start well but I get gradually more and more done in, and the grand compromise plan of *one last hill* is accepted: this consists of a gradual flowy descent back to Bethesda in about two hours time, mopping up points along the way. Despite my slowness on the last big climb, we make up some lost time on teams who had overtaken us, through serendipitous helpful trods and Ian’s bob-on bearings. We nab an extra control and make it home with about ten minutes to spare of our six hours.

Copyright Tom McNally

So, we survived. We lost some places from Saturday’s 2nd place to end up in 7th overall. Which was pretty good. I hunched over my lamb kofta and a very sugary cup of tea. 

Thank you very much Ian, for having me along and getting me through! 

Would I do a mountain marathon again? Maybe. We were very lucky with the weather and I was very lucky to have a teammate who knew the ropes, had quality kit and knowledge and could get me through when I was suffering.

I’d say that was probably my most challenging weekend’s running ever, or at least in a very long time.

Copyright OMM

Results and tracking: https://theomm.com/54th-omm-tracking/

Captain Jonathan Coney

The Ben. A race like no other.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to run up Britain’s highest mountain? To ascend effortlessly into the clouds then glide back down, soaring on a wave of support and euphoria? If so, stop reading this and go listen to Finlay Wild’s podcast. He won it again this year, for the 12th time in a row.

For us mere mortals, however, the Ben Nevis race is one of the classic fell races of the year (or hill races, as they’re called north of the border). Simple in its conception, merciless in its execution, the race is a (roughly) 2-hour slog: go up 4,400ft. to the top, go back down 4,400ft. the same way. Easy, right?

I’d not really considered doing the race before and had heard it was hard to get a place, but I’ve Will Hall to thank for both. Back in March this year he rang me urgently, demanding to know which category A races I’d done. I was skiing so didn’t answer the phone. Fortunately, our race captain Johnny did, and provided the info on my behalf (thanks Johnny, you do look after me). Next time I checked my phone, a rather surprising email was waiting, informing me that “your entry to the Ben Nevis race pre-selection has been received.” A few weeks later I got the email I’d been simultaneously awaiting and dreading – “your entry to the Ben Nevis race 2023 is confirmed”. It’s been on the calendar since, written simply as two ominous words. 

“The Ben.”

Naturally, I promptly forgot all about it, lost in the business of house buying, holidays and general work and life grind. It was only when trying to sort a completion date, and flicking over to September, that I saw the two words again. I messaged my brother for training tips. “Just get as much climb in as you can” was his advice, so I went out and did some reps of the Meanwood ridge for good measure. Needless to say, with race day approaching, I was feeling a little unprepared. Two days before the race though, just getting there looked unlikely. A positive COVID test from Will’s girlfriend and upcoming train strikes had combined to thwart my travel arrangements. But on Friday morning, the day before the race, there was good news: a negative test from Maddie, and some unlikely few trains running from York to Edinburgh. I drove over (no trains were running from Leeds to York), winced as I paid for weekend parking, and got on the train up North. The Ben was back on.

Will and I left Edinburgh Saturday morning in his van, making good time up the A82, through stunning Glencoe, and I felt that familiar crackle of pure excitement that arriving in the Highlands gives me. We arrived in Fort William at around 11:30, a full 2 and a half hours before the start, the earliest I’ve ever been! Fortunately, I was with Yorkshire’s chattiest man and around the registration area, we stopped every two minutes to chat with someone else that Will knew (runners from clubs, friends from school, a man he’d met earlier in a toilet in Tyndrum). Meanwhile, I spied a familiar face and svelte frame pinning a number to a yellow and green vest. Yes rather sneakily my brother Tom ‑- now living in Scotland and managing the Ratagan youth hostel but still running for Keswick AC — had also entered. Mum and Dad had even promised to come and watch too, although neither Tom nor I would be the first Day to run it: Uncle Richard had run a blistering 1:44 back in ‘87, and followed it up by running the races in 88, 89 & 90 (it seems he’d stopped after Tom was born).

Wait, isn’t Will a Bogtrotter now? oh aye, there he is in the wrong vest.

Registration included a generous haul, comprising a t-shirt, programme, small bottle of whisky and a voucher for a free post-run massage. It also contained a wristband – to be handed in at the top of the Ben – and a red card, to allow access into the starters’ paddock. It all seemed a little convoluted, but I can only assume some previous skullduggery had necessitated it.

At 2pm sharp, we were marched around the football pitch by the local pipers, then with the bang of the starter’s gun we were off, out on the [98th] Ben Nevis Hill Race. We left the football field and turned on to the road, which was having the desired effect of thinning us out before the climb began in earnest. Up ahead Finlay Wild was already well ahead and heading further out of sight. I glimpsed the yellow and green of Tom up in the lead pack and settled into my own race. It was hot. I began rueing the measly 300ml of water I had taken in my bumbag. A group of lads sitting on the grass beside the road had it right, cheering on with beers and cider. It was – as they say up here – “Taps aff” weather.

Off the road, we turned up onto the steps to begin contouring around the side of Meall an t-Suidhe. At seemingly random points, various runners dove into the braken, up trods and shortcuts to cut off the zig-zags. Crossing a small wooden bridge, we joined the main path from the youth hostel and began the long series of flagstone steps. Somehow, I managed to fall going up these, my Mudclaws slipping on the smooth rock, to a wry comment of “Steady on, save all that for the way back” from a watching spectator. The course has been changed this year, so that runners are not allowed to cut across adjacent to the Red Burn, and instead must continue on a long out and back up the path to the Lochan, then staying on until crossing the burn again. Only then can runners start hacking straight up. I did as told and followed the path, dipped my cap in the burn as I crossed it to cool my hot head, then turned upwards onto the scree.

Pic by Lorne McFarlane (and paid for)

Off the path, I picked my way straight up, with Tom Stapelton of Wharfedale, and an Ilkley Harriers runner beside me, a Yorkshire-based trio among the mass of white and blue local Lochaber runners. “Go on North Leeds!” I heard to my right. “Oh, hello Zoe!” I replied, seeing former black and blue Zoe Barber up above, out in support of her Glasgow-based club Shettleston Harriers. Her boyfriend was up above, battling out for an impressive 3rd, but she was kind enough to remark to me “you’re looking strong!”. I actually felt it too and began pressing on a bit, sticking to the larger rocks where grip was better, rather than the scree path, hopping from rock to rock.

The climb seemed to go on forever, but eventually, the gradient eased, which I knew meant we had about 150m more climb to go – just an Otley Chevin then (I spend a lot of my running calculating things in units of Otley Chevins, or OCs. Some handy conversions: Simon’s Seat: 3 OCs, Scafell Pike: 6 OCs, Ben Nevis: 9 OCs). We were back on the tourist route now and into the clouds, sharing the path with the ordinary walkers, who wore rain macs, over-trousers and weary expressions, the novelty of being overtaken by a sweaty, grizzled runner in vest and short shorts having clearly already worn off. A few were wearing matching t-shirts to commemorate the finishes of personal challenges and possibly felt slightly outshone by the gazelle-like progress of (some of) the runners. Some tourists stepped aside, others didn’t. I just carried on, trying to be polite and managing a “thanks” when I had the spare air.

It was around here, approaching the top, that I started to feel the first pricks of cramp in my leg. Fearing the worst, I gulped my second and final gel. At the summit, I handed in my wristband, grabbed some jelly babies that were on offer, took a deep breath, and prepared for the descent.

Pic by Lorne McFarlane (and paid for)

It’s a cliché about the Ben that the summit is only the half-way point, but one that I still refuse to learn. Quite soon into the descent, I was feeling the effects of my earlier efforts whilst “looking strong”. Actually, the word that flashed through my head begins with f and rhymes with stuck, but I had little choice but to carry on. Unfortunately though, you can’t blag a 4,400 ft. descent and despite my rigorous Meanwood ridge hill reps I just didn’t have the legs.

Down the initial steady part I was OK, if a little slow, and even on the steep, gnarly scree slopes that followed I didn’t have time to think about my legs for fear of stacking it. However once we turned onto the flagstones of the tourist path by the burn, I knew the remainder of the race would be all about survival.

I tried to accelerate into a run, but immediately felt a spasm of cramp in my calf. Counter-balancing this, my groin then cramped. I couldn’t run anymore, instead resorting to a sort of controlled hobble, gently trying to edge faster while keeping the cramp at bay. After the lochan, on the steeper stone steps, I nudged on too far, cramping hard on my right calf, and nearly falling off the side of the steps in the process. I collapsed and had to be given a humiliating cramp-and-calf stretch on the side of the hill by a nearby marshal. I sipped some water he gave me, then hobbled the rest of the race, variously overtaken by faster finishers. Hitting the road again at the end was no respite – in fact worse – and unfortunately here I saw Zoe again, who gave a sympathetic laugh, and also my parents, who clapped spiritedly. The long lap of the football field seemed to go on forever. At the end, I tried to “sprint” past a runner I’d been reeling in, cramped again, was re-overtaken by him, and all but crawled over the line. It was pretty ignominious. 

I lay on the ground cramping for a good 10 minutes. Then eventually, after a river swim and a free sports massage, recovered enough to head back to Will’s van. We convened later in Fort William with his HBT mates and the Shettleston Harriers at the Black Isle Brewery for pizza and beers. Then decamped to the Nevis Centre to watch the awards ceremony (and have another beer). Things get a little hazy after that. We headed back to town to a pub, where a series of random connections occurred. The masseuse who’d sorted my calves was out on the town, so too was Zoe’s boyfriend Daniel, who’d come third. I’m good friends with two of her exes, so that was a slightly odd moment when asked how I knew Zoe. Another chap was cycling over to Skye to meet a mutual friend of Will’s, another turned out to be Alex Sharp’s best man. The strangest connection of them all though was being recognised at the urinals and asked “did you cycle to Vladivostok?” by a guy called Max who’d driven there in a Nissan Micra. We’d eaten at the same cafe in Vladivostok and got to know the owner. His reg plate is on the cafe wall, my cycling jersey is beside it. Small world.

About to start the Double-Day press conference (plus some Wharfie)

Somehow, later I found myself in Roobarb, Fort William’s best (and only?) nightclub. Finlay Wild was there. So too were the Howgill Harriers boys, drinking beer out of the second place cup, with the shield for first team being passed from waist to waist like a boxer’s belt. I just wore my finisher’s medal. In the stumble along the high street I’d lost Will. Later I saw a message from him on my phone:

“What’s the craic?”

“Good for a shit club, where are you?”

“I had an amazing poo in Spoons then came to the van”

Sometimes it’s the little things in life.

A few hours later I joined him and collapsed into his van. The next morning we recovered with a Spoons breakfast, with the rain pouring down outside. My brother joined us for a coffee there too, having come back to pick up his car. He looked worse than me. At least I have one thing I’m better than him at. We parted ways soon after with a hug, then drove back down to Edinburgh, stopping to dip heavy legs in the cool waters of Loch Earn.

I left Will to go to a music festival his girlfriend’s brother was playing at and boarded the train home. Out of the highlands, the sun shone and I trundled down the east coast mainline on the train, admiring the blue waters around Bamburgh castle. I alternately napped, then watched the BBC footage of the Proms which I’d sung in the bank holiday Monday before (Rose – what a shameless plug, you can take that out if you want. Ed: nope). Even better, my car was still there in York, without a parking ticket. It had been a whirlwind 48 hour trip up and down the country and up and down Britain’s highest mountain. The Ben: what a race. Sign me up for next year’s.

Josh Day – 97th – 2:15:03

Will Hall – 105th – 2:16:46

(Tom Day – 27th – 1:56:01)

(Finlay Wild – 1st – 1:something stupid)

–Josh Day

The Dragonsback Race / Ras Cefn Y Ddraig 2023

Firstly, thank you to all of you who wished me well for this race in the long build-up and, sent messages whilst it was happening, it really helped me pull through. Fair warning in advance, this is a relatively long post…but it was a relatively long race, so I hope you’ll forgive me.

It’s 2.30 am, on the morning of the fifth day of ‘the world’s toughest mountain race’, and I’m lying on the floor of a Portaloo, the world still spinning, having been violently sick for the second time, knowing I only have a couple of hours before I need to be readying myself for the hardest day of the week. After some deep long breaths, I reach for the Portaloo handle and haul myself up. “F**k this, you’ve come too far and given too much to this bloody race to have it end on the floor of a toilet.”

Overview

Billed as the world’s toughest mountain race, the Dragonsback Race (DBR) is a six-day, multi-stage race across the mountainous spine of Wales. It starts at Conwy Castle in the north and finishes at Cardiff Castle in the capital. You can read about the inaugural race and how it’s grown to what it is today here.

Headline numbers (route detail here)

Distance: 380km / 236miles

Elevation: 17,400m / 57,000 ft

The ‘why’

I talked a little about this in my recap of volunteering back in 2021. Jess often asked me what my ‘”why” was in the build-up, and I’m not sure I ever managed to convince her with my answer. To be honest, I think it’s a multitude of reasons: to test myself against a truly tough challenge that I could never be sure of completing, and the chance to discover Wales and its epic mountains were probably my two big driving reasons.

Preparation

There is an excellent documentary on Prime about Huw Brassington’s experience of the race back in 2017. He says:

to prepare for this race, it’s more important to run slower for longer, rather than running hard for three hours on a mountain. It’s the time on your feet that pays off. It’s about building slowly, putting the miles in, and building a deeper strength in your muscles.”

The whippersnappers average around eight or nine hours to complete each day. For me, this was all about survival, getting through each day, and prepping my body to give myself a chance.

For me, preparation needed to comprise a lot of time on feet, so as many recces of the course as I could fit in, and multi-day preparation (both in terms of physicality and admin preparation). I signed up for two other races in the year which I thought would help me prepare for the DBR: the Great Lakeland 3 Day (GL3D) in April and the Helvellyn Sky Ultra in July. GL3D proved to be a double-edged sword. It gave me invaluable insight into long back-to-back days out, and the nutrition required to fuel them, but left me with tendonitis around my right knee, to which I lost around eight weeks of training, and meant I was unable to run the Helvellyn race.

I also decided to enlist a coach to help me prepare for the year. I’d been sceptical about using a coach before this, as I thought the main benefit of coaching was for people lacking motivation, and that wasn’t an issue with me. However, having picked up an(other) injury in January, I reached out to Jack Scott to help me manage the training load with specificity for the race. I’d now wholeheartedly recommend a running coach, and certainly Jack: the planning, variety of training, communication, and advice throughout help take a significant weight off your shoulders.

Kit & Support

The DBR isn’t a self-supported race. There is a well-oiled machine run by Ourea Events that transports each day’s camp along the route, providing you with an eight-person tent to sleep in (two per pod), catering for breakfast and dinner, as well as two support points along the day’s route. They will also transport your main bag (60L dry bag which can weigh no more than 15kg) and a day bag (7L weighing no more than 2.5kg). The support points will provide you with water and you will have access to your day bag at one of them, but you are expected to be self-sufficient whilst you’re out on the hills.

The rules are also very clear that you aren’t allowed any external support on the course – bar cheering – so you couldn’t, for instance, have friends or family stationed with water or food out on the mountains. I’m very lucky to have had my long-suffering partner Jess, and her mum Lucy, out on the course all week cheering on as well as other friends en route.

Day One | Conwy Castle to Nant Gwynant, 49km (30.5 miles) | 3800m (12,467ft))

It’s an early start, the 4 a.m. alarm goes off and it’s time to head over to the castle for the 6 a.m. start. It’s dark but not cold. The weather for the day, and the week, looks very hot. I’m pretty good at handling the heat, but admittedly would have preferred it to be around the 15 degrees mark. Instead today is forecasted to top out around 27 degrees. The castle start is fantastic with a Welsh male-voice choir send-off and a stunning sunrise as we top the first peak.

The pace is slow and comfortable, largely dictated by the single track that doesn’t allow for much overtaking until you hit the Carneddau. Once there, the sun is out and the heat is very much noticeable. I try to move through the gears, but realise my heart rate is spiking each time I do. I decided to accept today is going to have to be slower than I’d thought, but I’m confident I’ll be well within the cut-offs and only have the potential to do myself damage otherwise.

As we approach Pen Yr Ole Wen and the first support point at Llyn Ogwen, I take satisfaction in seeing most runners needlessly following the recommended route over Carnedd Daffyd and shout to my friend Trelawny to follow me and contour around it. It saves us time and elevation and gives us a boost as we claim a fair few places.

I consider the descent of Pen Yr Ole Wen, followed by its road section and subsequent climb up Tryfan and Glyder Fawr, to be the hardest quick combination of the entire race. It’s so easy to get carried away on the descent and leave nothing in your legs without realising it until you hit the big climb. I’d recce’d it several times and each time come away with thinking that’s really going to hurt”. And hurt it did. The sun was unrelenting as we made our way up the west face of Tryfan. I’d decided to ignore the arbitrary time I had in my head for how long it should take and instead make sure to sit down and drink any time I felt my heart rate go too high. In hindsight, though the climb took me 20 minutes longer than I would have liked, given the number of runners I caught in the latter third as well as the number of dropouts that occurred between there and the next support point, this was the best decision I made all race. I make the top of Tryfan wondering if this is finally the time I get the line right coming off it (it isn’t) and after a convoluted scramble down, I’m greeted by the lovely sight of Jess and Lucy who climbed up earlier knowing this would be the crux of the day for me.

Buoyed from seeing them, I top out Glyder Fawr and try to get the legs moving again. It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve been up here, and it shows as I find myself debating the right lines. It’s a long steep descent down to Pen Y Pass and the water point and I arrive to see runners lined up against a wall on the side of the road trying to cool down in the shade. It’s boiling by this point, the heat radiating back off the tarmac, and you can see people are starting to wobble. I decide to pop into the café and grab a drink and ice lolly to bring my temperature down, chuckling at the runner in front of me in the queue, who’s growing ever more exasperated at the lack of urgency from the staff on the till. He must have been keen to get back out there and work on his tan.

I start the approach to Crib Goch feeling good, the fizzy drink has worked wonders and I’m feeling strong. Plus, this is the part of the route I’ve looked forward to most, and as we top out and start running along the knife-edge ridge, I can’t help but feel a slight sense of sadness that it’s about to end.

The infamous Crib Goch ridge en route to Yr Wydffa

Coming off Crib Goch I see Kelly, who’s been at a similar pace all day, debating whether it’s possible to contour around Carnedd Ugain. The summit checkpoint from previous races has been moved to where the Pyg Track tops out before Yr Wydffa allowing for a nifty line around. I know it’s doable, having done it before out of curiosity, and shout to ask the marshal overseeing those scrambling up whether many have done it. He replies only 10 so far, which brings a smile to my face, and I nod ahead to Kelly that I’m happy to lead on. We contour round and join the Pyg Track having saved at least 15 minutes and begin the short ascent to the highest point of Wales. By now the heat is finally starting to relent, which I’m very grateful for, but fatigue is setting in. Looking at a map from this stage, you’d think it’s a fairly easy finish from here, but I know from recces this last part of the horseshoe is technical and slow.

I arrive at camp a little after 8 pm, and I’m shown to my tent to meet my fellow tent-mates for the first time. The first two I meet have already DNF’d having been timed out at Pen Y Pass and Ogwen. They aren’t in the best of moods, and I consequently keep the conversation short to avoid dampening my mood. There are a lot of forlorn looks around the camp that evening and on entering the mess tent, I don’t instantly recognise anyone, so decide to plop myself on a bean bag and look at the screen showing the live tracking and results for the day. The results show a significant chunk of the field hasn’t made it through the heat and brutality of the first day. It’s similar weather and dropout rate to when I volunteered, so this doesn’t come as a huge shock, and if anything, I use it as fuel for encouragement that I’m still in the game. I head back to my tent to meet more of my tent-mates who’ve also DNF’d, and climb into my pod where I see my bunkmate for the week – Greg – has now arrived, but is passed out cold.

Day Two | Nant Gwynant to Dolgellau 59km (36.5 miles) | 3400m (11,155ft)

I’m not a great sleeper at the best of times and my 4 a.m. alarm goes off in what feels like the blink of an eye. My watch makes me go through the routine of telling me how poorly I’ve slept and how I shouldn’t train for 60 hours, particularly since I’ve only had about three hours of sleep.

No doubt running on adrenaline, I’m surprised to feel no hint of tiredness. I’m alert, focused, and my legs don’t feel too bad. I’ve recce’d this day recently and feel like I know it well. I also know the cut-offs are as honest as they come for the week, and I plan to attack the front half to make sure I comfortably make the second cut-off at Cwm Bychan. I pack away and ready my kit for the day and take in as much breakfast as I can before handing over my bags and completing the kit check.

The day starts with a road section, largely downhill, which I use to get the legs into a rhythm. Just before we depart the tarmac I’m greeted by the unexpected sight of Jess and Lucy cheering in their dry robes. The nice surprise lifts my spirits, but I keep the greeting short and sweet as I’m in a rhythm and know I need to get moving. Beginning the long approach to Cnicht, I’m climbing well, and catching runners, trying to make hay before the sun shines.

Despite what feels like good progress, I still only split Cnicht three minutes ahead of the guide time to make cut-offs. Iain, a top lad who’s previously completed the Cape Wrath Ultra, notes this out loud. I don’t panic as I knew from recces that this was likely to be the case and that it would be the same for the next couple of tops, but I also knew that that time could be made back on the descent into Maentwrog. The two climbs (Moelwyn Mawr and Bach) are hard work, the wind is so strong it’s harder to move forwards rather than sideways, but I keep myself from complaining as it’s the only thing keeping my body temperature cool.

I descend into Maentwrog with Iain, noting the temperature spiking as we hit the afternoon and become shrouded in ferns that stifle any breeze. Noting how well Iain is moving, I make a point of latching on to him for as long as I can. We pass Russell Bentley who is out cheering just before the support point which is another welcome surprise.

Making a point of not taking too long at the support point, I quickly fill up my water and get a waffle down me before setting off with Iain. We make good headway along the next section and arrive at the midway cut-off with plenty of time to spare. The organisers have allowed 30 minutes grace at this cut-off to allow competitors to cool down (with the day’s final cut-off subsequently extended to 10.30 pm). I’m not too hot and moving well but force myself to take 20 minutes before making the climb up Rhinog Fawr. I know Jess and Lucy are waiting at the top – Jess and I got engaged there in April and despite it being remote and tricky to get to she’s keen to show her mum – and the thought keeps me honest while ascending in the heat. I pause at the top for a quick natter and drink then crack on with the remainder of the Rhinogydd.

A quick natter with Jess on top of Rhinog Fawr

I thoroughly recommend the Rhynogydd for those who like the path less travelled. They’re remote, and wild, with stunning vistas on a clear day. I force myself to take 10 minutes to sort my stomach out on the climb up Rhinog Fach, which means saying farewell to Iain for the day as he motors onwards. I make the time back taking a line off the recommended route before the final top though. A runner smirks as I re-join the path asking if I’ve made a nav error. I bite my tongue to keep from saying how his definition of a nav error and mine clearly differ, but can’t resist a little poke back.

“No, I just didn’t see the sense in adding in that pointless climb.”
The smile quickly left his face. “Well, good if you know it I guess.”
“Indeed,” I reply, making no effort to hide the smirk now on mine.

The steep descent off Diffwys is harsh on the quads, and the long road/cycle path section to camp compounds the damage, but I make it back in relatively good time, still smiling that I’m in the race.

Day Three| Dolgellau to Ceredigion, 70km (43.5 miles) | 3400m (11,155ft)

Day three is the longest and is viewed by many as the crux. Statistically, those who finish day three are more likely than not to finish the entire race. I meet Iain on the climb and stick with him as we climb up Cadair Idris to be presented with a stunning vista.

The early climb up Cadair Idris before the heat kicked in.

There’s another 30 minutes grace today because of the heat which is forecasted to be worse than yesterday with next to no wind. I can certainly feel it as we hit the first support point and take the time to fill up all my water reserves and get as much down me as I can. The climb to the next checkpoint is long and I’m shocked to realise I’ve lost nearly 80 minutes of the buffer I’d built up. I had to move slowly in the heat, but I certainly couldn’t have pushed any harder. I get some food down and give the next section some oomph, still trying to reconcile in my head where the time had gone.

The last checkpoint before the support point at Machynlleth is a steep out and back. Before the sight of it can dampen my spirits, my mate Dave emerges from behind a wall for a brief chat to wish me well. He’d let me know the points he’d be stationed at in the week, based on what he thought would be low morale points, and he couldn’t have placed himself any better. The quick chat gives me enough boost to chip away and get the out and back done before the long-track descent to Machynlleth. The road into the town drags on with the heat baking down, as I turn a corner and spot Jess and Lucy I realise, with my buff wrapped around my hat and neck and my body glistening with sweat, that I must look more akin to a Marathon Des Sables runner than one racing in Wales.

I nip into Greggs and in my calorie-deficit state, ambitiously decide to buy three sausage rolls. I wolf two down at the support point, along with a couple of bottles of fizzy drink, and spend a little time giving my feet some TLC. I start the climb out of the support point and immediately feel sluggish. This was generally the case after leaving support points as I would fill all my water reserves, top up on food, and inevitably leave with my pack 3-4kg or so heavier than when I’d arrived. This, combined with the heat of the day, lack of wind, and my overindulgence in food and water means I hit a wall fast and hard.

The sun’s still baking down, and I have to stop at the top of the penultimate climb to recoup. I chew a Rennie down hoping it’ll help with the feeling of nausea, but it doesn’t do the trick, and my subsequent progress is slow. As I approach Pumlumon Fawr, I see a group of four runners ahead and try, and fail, to close the gap. We’re tussock-bashing at this point and it’s hard work. I spy one of the runners drop down into the valley towards to the river and assume she’s gone to fill up or cool down. However, a few minutes later, I see she’s crested the other side of the valley and evidently found a much more runnable path. I’m in a grump at this point and stubbornly decide to keep up with my tussock bashing, assuming it can’t go on much longer. It does, and watching the runner motor away on the other side only serves to fuel my negative mindset.

There’s a support rescue van stationed at the bottom of the Pumlumon Fawr, and I see the runner ahead, who’s not been moving well, approach it. His body language isn’t right and after chatting with the marshal, he bursts into tears and slumps down, before proceeding into the van. Admittedly I’m shocked, wondering how bad a state he must be in to call it a day at the final climb before the end of day three with just over three miles to go. With that in mind, I put my head down and get to work. The climb is relatively kind, but my mood is still low, partly also due to knowing this will be the first day I finish after sunset, which means less time for camp admin.

Before I’d started on Monday, a friend from work had texted “When you enter the pain cave, grab a shovel and enjoy”. It’s this that comes to mind now, and I mutter the phrase keep digging over and over to the rhythm of my poles. Just before I reach the top, I realise there’s a stunning sunset behind me and immediately my mood is lifted. I get the legs moving again and catch the two runners in front. It’s dusk now and they both get their head torches out. I’m still moving well and stubbornly neglect stopping to do the same, daft I know, but the light means it’s manageable and it’s relatively easy underfoot so I make do with the torch on my watch for the last kilometre. I hit the road just before the finish to see the welcome sight of Jess and Lucy still smiling and full of encouragement.

“Is that the hardest bit done?’”we all start to wonder.

Day Four | Through the Elan Valley, 69km (43 miles) | 2300m (7,546ft)

I’ve seen day four referred to as a “rest day” in relative terms. That is, relative to the days before it and the day ahead of it. After speaking to Ellie, who I volunteered with back in 2021 and who is back volunteering again this year having completed the race last year, I decided to take her advice and switch to some comfier trail shoes for the day, particularly given the stretches of road. I catch up with Kelly, who I ran much of day one with, and admit it’s good to see her carrying on as she’d nearly decided to pack it in at dinner last night.

The day starts with a couple of decent climbs and descents through woodland and dirt track before we hit the first stretch of road. Everyone relishes the chance to get their legs moving properly, particularly along the stretches of downhill. After that, it’s four miles of hard tussock work before we hit the road again. I’m buoyed by the sight of Dave, who says I look in good nick, and put in a burst to close the gap on the group who’d carried on whilst I’d stopped to chat. Feeling like I’m moving well, reinforced by said gap closing, I’m slightly irritated to hear the footfall of another runner behind me who overtakes with ease. Seeing the familiar red pack and green top, the feeling of irritation instantly disappears, as I realise it’s Hugh Chatfield (the race leader) and give him a shout of encouragement which he returns in kind. The speed and work ethic each of the podium runners put in in the heat all week was mind-blowing.

Happy that the legs are still moving and to be rid of tussocks.

After bagging the next couple of peaks, there’s a long downhill stretch into the support point in Elan Village. I arrive shortly after Kelly and take a pew next to her. This is the first day I’ve noticed my feet starting to ache, and given we’re only 20 miles or so in, I make a point of giving them some TLC with the massage ball from my support bag. My mouth has also been giving me grief all morning, with the sensation of feeling burnt and dry, which I assume is a result of excessive sugar intake over the last three days. Much to Kelly’s amusement, I crack out a toothbrush and try seeing if I can brush away the sensation but to no avail.

As is the theme of the week, the big climb out of the support point is hard in the heat. The burnt sensation in my mouth is putting me in a bad mood and I try brushing my teeth again in hope more than expectation. The sensation leaves me not wanting anything sweet, including my Tailwind which is most of the liquid I’ve got on me. Thankfully I’m well hydrated, but also conscious that there aren’t any water sources until the next support point. I’m growing more and more frustrated as I chug away at the long climb, then realise Jess and Lucy have planned to be at the top.

Seeing them is a welcome boost, and I offload some of my grumblings to Jess, who as usual tries her best to spin things positively. Sometimes though, all you need is a whine and a moan, and having done so and waved goodbye, I descend well and end up catching both Kelly and shortly after Pete, whom I’d met on day one and had a good natter with the night before. We all express a reluctance to push on the remaining section, which is mostly road, given we’re not pressed for time and the daunting prospect of day five looming large, and proceed to quick march back to camp. I dig out the last Greggs sausage roll from the day before, which I’d forgotten I’d stashed at the bottom of my pack, and after a moment’s hesitation decide to wolf it down to get me through the last few miles.

Back at camp Kelly and Pete kindly share their painkillers (the high-strength stuff) and talc powder respectively. My feet are hurting a lot, and both are much appreciated. At dinner I make the point of taking in as much lasagne and garlic bread as the kind lady at catering can offer. I overeat if anything and feel a little uncomfortable, but given the distance completed and what lies ahead, that can be no bad thing…right?

Day Five | Into the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park, 70km (43.5 miles) | 3200m (10,499ft)

I wake up sharply and instantly know something isn’t right. I’ve had night sweats most nights, but this feels worse. I put aside my sleeping bag and flip 180 degrees so I’m nearer the cool air of the tent door, which helps a little, but have a nagging feeling of what’s about to happen (I can’t shake the memory of that day-old sausage roll). My stomach churns and I take a big breath, make peace with what’s about to come, and stumble outside towards the toilets. Despite this being the first time our tent has been positioned at the front of the row all week, and consequently nearest the toilet, I don’t make it in time before I keel over and expel a few helpings of lasagne. Following what I can only describe as a minor exorcism in a Portaloo, I make my way back to the tent, drag my sleeping mat and bag into the communal area, and pitch up, waiting for the inevitable second wave of nausea to hit. I glance at my watch and note it’s 1 a.m., still a few more hours until I’m meant to be up.

I’ve forgotten to fish my jacket out of the tent pod and am reluctant to disturb my tent mate a second time, so make do with my day pack as a headrest. I feel every groove and edge of the shoes stored inside, and that combined with condensation in the tent that proceeds to drip on my head each time I threaten to nod off, means I achieve next to no sleep before I need to stumble back to the Portaloos again to be sick.

Returning to the tent, I send a quick text to Jess and Dave to let them know the night isn’t going well and promise to update them at 6 a.m. As my usual wake-up time draws nearer, I pull out the map to evaluate the day ahead and try to figure out how I can get it done. My main concern is I’ve lost all the calories I’d tried to get in last night, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep anything down. I groan inside as I see the first support point of the day isn’t until 39km.

My attention turns to Llandovery, eight or so miles in, and the option of the bakery stop that offers, and tell myself to focus on getting there. I go through the motions of readying my kit and packing for the day, before heading to the medic tent in the hope of getting some anti-sickness tablets. The queue to see a medic is long, with many runners requesting help with taping their feet. I’m conscious of time, as I need to be out by 6 am to have a chance at today, and by some miracle, I notice my appetite start to perk up. Deciding to do away with speaking to a medic, I head to the catering tent and after some kind words of advice from Nicola, who completed the race last year, take her advice in opting for some cereal and a bread roll.

These go down well, and before I know it, I’m standing at the start line with Kelly and Pete. We’re told there will be two 30-minute grace periods today with the temperatures topping out at 30 degrees with little wind. I send Jess and Dave a quick text to say “I’m out the door” and we’re off. Kelly’s not feeling great, and Pete and I inadvertently pull away as we push and attack the first section. I seem to be one of the few who’ve recce’d this, and I’m glad I have, given how the morning’s gone. Knowing when to push and ease off, Pete and I arrive at Llandovery in good time, and I pop into the bakery for a fizzy drink, crisps, and a bread roll. Food in hand we begin the long road section and I’m lifted at the sight of Lucy and Jess. The amazement on Jess’s face that I’m moving, and eating, shows, and the look of belief and “you’ve got this”from Lucy nearly has me in tears.

Pete and I make good headway along the road, Pete sharing one of his mantras from the army – stay on the log – with me, which we repeat back to each other to stay honest. We hit Usk reservoir, half an hour up on the guide time, where a few spectators including Jess and Lucy have parked up to cheer runners on. The next section to Fan Brycheiniog is hard. The heat has really kicked in, my breathing is heavy, and my pace has slowed right down. We manage to stay up on the guide time and descend to what I think is the support point. I’ve run out of water at this point and visibly slump on realising there’s another climb and descent before the support point. Pete gives me a pat on the back and we carry on, meeting Jess and Lucy on the climb which helps lift my spirits. I realise at this point they’re on a mission to see me as much as they can today to help push me through.

Usk Reservoir – working hard with Pete to get the early work done.

We take our time at the support point to make sure we cool down. I also ask for a medic to look at the big toe on my right foot. The toenail is hurting a lot and he makes an incision just below the base of the nail which releases some blood and pressure – I cannot put into words how good this felt – before taping it up. Pete’s ankle isn’t in great shape, and I lend him my spare poles which helps to get him moving with purpose.

The next section to the final cut-off at Storey Arms has some tough climbs and tougher descents and I’m going through a bad patch. Kelly catches up, clearly having rallied well from the morning, and brings with her energy to help keep us going. Cresting Fan Fawr, I jealously watch Pete and Kelly bum-slide down, but my attempt to do the same only serves to cut up my legs and divert sheep poo into unwanted areas, so I resign myself to battering my quads further.

On the descent, we meet a few runners who are unsure of what the new cut-off time is, given the two 30-minute graces, and seem doubtful that we are indeed half an hour up. Despite feeling confident that we’re safe, we push on to the water point to give ourselves more time for a bite and fill up. Dave is waiting at Storey Arms to offer a quick chat and words of encouragement again.

From there we work our way up to Pen Y Fan, generally cheerful in spirits after some coke and Welshcake. The sun is winding its way down and leaving the sky a lovely colour. I’m dreading this next section, there are still some tough descents and climbs plus a long run across the plateau before a steep final descent into the wood. My mood hits a real low on the plateau as night falls and we flick on our torches. There’s no wind in the air and immediately swarms of insects descend on us.

I give Jess a ring just to vent my frustration and see if she can turn my mood around. Finally, we clear the woods to the welcome sight of Lucy and Jess. I give them both a hug and big thanks, acknowledging the effort they’ve put in today to help me get round. As we cross the finish line into camp, Pete lets out a roar in celebration. There’s a realisation that the hard work has been done and, figuratively speaking at least, it’s a downhill procession to Cardiff from here.

Day Six | To Cardiff Castle, 63km (39 miles) | 1300m (4,265ft)

I wake up having possibly had my best night’s sleep all week, albeit still only managing three hours. It had gone well past midnight by the time I’d finished kneading out my calf, which had started complaining towards the end of the day, but being the legend he is, my bunkmate Greg had already laid out my sleeping mat and bag knowing I’d be in late.

I go through the usual ritual of readying my race kit, stuffing food into my day bag, and taping my feet. Since the burnt mouth sensation on day four, I’d grown sick of most of the food I’d packed for the race, with Veloforte chews and mini jammie dodgers the only remaining items that still appealed to me. Thankfully the map showed a few potential shops en route today.

Standing up was near agony which didn’t fill me with encouragement. Most days my feet would start sore, but by the time I’d walked over to the canteen tent, the pain would dissipate enough to make the day ahead seem possible. However, the cumulative damage, which had started building from the backend of day four, had taken its toll, and I hobbled around the camp like the Tinman in The Wizard of Oz.

I’d agreed to meet Pete and Kelly at the start, and we gingerly set off together along the stretch of road out of camp. Jess and Lucy were around the corner to wave us off, and Jess trotted alongside for a few hundred metres dispensing words of enthusiasm and encouragement.

We trudged up the first climb slowly, relying on the kind cut-offs for the day, and with no inclination to run until we reached the top. The views were picturesque, and we were presented with a kind grassy descent to the bike path towards Merthyr Tydfil. We stopped here for a McDonald’s breakfast (three hash browns, one crumpet, a smoothie, and a fruit shoot) and to allow Pete the chance to tend to his feet and ankle. Renewed from the pit stop, we pushed on in the heat to the day’s support point. We took fifteen minutes here to cool down and I decided to take advantage of a quick toilet stop (made quicker by the fact the baking sun had turned the Portaloo into a sauna).

Another refreshment stop in the small town of Nelson (two ice pops, a large pack of giant Skittles, and some crisps) and we were on to the final third of the day. As we crested the climb out of Nelson, Kelly decided she was going to try and push on, looking strong as she made up ground on those in front. I was quite happy hiking the rolling hills as I chatted with Pete. It was obvious he was struggling with his ankle and a little while later, after voicing his desire for me to push on ahead a second time, I decided to heed his advice. The sugar and codeine had kicked in, and the pain in my feet dulled, and so, knowing I would only have two or three hours of this pain-free “bliss”, I kicked the legs into gear.

Making good headway over the next section, I reached the water point and was delighted to see my friend Matt appear out of nowhere. A quick chat over some crips and coke followed by a hug and “see you in Cardiff” and I was back running with renewed vigour. It was now just a matter of ten miles along the river path to the castle.

Despite the pain beginning to return, I made sure to savour and take in these remaining miles. I was very conscious that I could find myself with a niggle or injury post-race, and consequently, these could be the last miles I run for some time. Plus, it was the end of an adventure. One that had started four years ago, with the age-old question “I wonder if I could…”finally building to a crescendo with these final few miles.

Admittedly, these did drag on, and the surrounding park encasing the last few miles towards the castle, though lovely and green, was filled with adolescents smoking and shouting, which made for an odd atmosphere. The effect of the codeine had faded, and my agonising feet had forced me into a walk/run (or fartlek as I liked to think of it) for the last couple of miles. Pulling my phone out, I spied some heartfelt messages of congratulations from friends. Holding back tears, I stowed my poles away for the final time, stuffed my mouth full of Skittles, and broke into one last run.

The finish as you turn into the castle walls has to be one of the best there is. The noise of cheers and the emotion that hits me as cross the finish line is a memory that will last me a lifetime. I sink my head into my hands in disbelief and nearly topple backward on tired legs. Straightening up, I spy Jess, Lucy, Matt, and Dave ahead and jog over to them for hugs and to thank them each in turn.

Dave kindly fetches me some chips and a drink, whilst the others kindly fawn over carrying my various bags and kit over to a spot to sit down. There are further congratulatory hugs and well wishes as I spy fellow finishers I’ve gotten to know over the week. Jess’s brother and his girlfriend have also made the trip across from Bristol to see me though much to their dismay they’d missed me crossing the line. Evidently, the drugs had given me a greater tailwind than anticipated.

Not long after, Jess announces Pete is about to arrive and so we all make our way over to welcome him in. I muster one last jog to cheer him to the line, the emotion evident on his face. Kelly is there too and the three of us embrace one last time.

Kelly and Pete. Two people I count myself lucky to have met.

Finally, it’s time for trophies and “baby dragons”. It all feels surreal shaking Shane’s hand and receiving my baby dragon. Despite what I said to Jess on day five, about not caring about this little figure anymore, it is nice to have this token to take away and look at with fondness and a smile, because it is the embodiment of a dream fulfilled.

Final thoughts

The Dragonsback Race is a brilliant race and a wonderful adventure. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone but also caution that it should not be taken lightly. This may sound obvious, but year-on-year people fall foul of underestimating it. Regardless of whether you’re front or back of the pack, it requires you to invest a lot in every sense: time, effort, and money. It has required sacrifice from myself (well duh), but more notably in my mind from Jess. It’s that support system through training, and in her case during race week, that gives you a chance at pushing through.

I would love to see other North Leeds Fell Runners take on this race. I know there are plenty capable and would be happy to answer any questions if you find yourself asking that same I wonder if I could…” that I did.

You don’t have to recce the course to be successful or finish, though I think you should, but you do have to get in the hours and elevation. The course is brilliant, and discovering new parts of Wales and growing familiar with it has been so fulfilling. It’s not just the brilliance of the course, the volunteers, or the setup that makes the race so rewarding, but the journey you invest in to get you there.

In numbers

Day 1 – 52:44km, 3,857m climbed, 67,974 steps, 5,284 calories, 3hr 3mins sleep recorded, HRV 57ms (overnight avg)

Day 2 – 62.1km, 3,550m climbed, 74,167 steps, 4,892 calories, 4hr 30mins sleep recorded, HRV 19ms (overnight avg)

Day 3 – 72.01km, 3,535m climbed, 95,312 steps, 5,207 calories, no sleep recorded, HRV 39ms (overnight avg)

Day 4 – 69.43km, 2,200m climbed, 88,762 steps, 4,556 calories, no sleep recorded, no nightly HRV recorded

Day 5 – 73.36km, 3,329m climbed, 98,521 steps, 5,139 calories, 3hr 19mins sleep recorded, no nightly HRV recorded

Day 6 – 66.10km, 1,331m climbed, 79,671 steps, 4,093 calories, 2hr 55mins sleep recorded, HRV 40ms (overnight avg)

The week following the race:

Average sleep duration: 5hr 41mins / 7hr 19mins pre-race

Resting HR: 49bpm / 41bpm pre-race

HRV: 49ms overnight avg / 68ms pre-race

Kit list

Orblite 7L Dry Bag (Day bag)

Orblite 79L Dry Bag (Overnight Bag)

Ultimate Direction XXL Pack

Running kit (change of clothes for every day) + camp kit

Running watch (Garmin Fenix 7)

Map and compass

Running poles (Lexi Cross Trail FX Superlite – great as you can adjust the height)

Headtorch x2

Bladder (1.5L), 750ml bottle, 490ml filter flask

Full body waterproof cover (Montane Minimus Lite & Decathalon Waterproof Running Trousers)

Heavier warm jacket weighing 300g+ (Rab VapourRise)

2x running shoes (La Sportiva Akasha 2 & Nike Vapourfly Trail 3 – first pair for the more technical terrain and the latter for when my feet needed comfort)

Sleeping mat (Alpkit Airo 120)

Sleeping bag (Alpkit Pipedream 400)

Portable charger

Massage stick and massage ball

First aid kit

Emergency survival bag

Nutrition

Sugar waffles

Trek protein bars

Supernatural fuel

Veloforte soft chews

KMC gel

Tailwind powder (coca cola flavour – would recommend)

Mini jammy dodgers

Supplements (multivitamin, Calcium magnesium zinc, and vit D, glucosamine and turmeric, omega, and beetroot)

Salt tablets and electrolytes

–Phil Davies

Fat Boys Stanage Struggle

6.2 miles, 1165 feet
Stanage Edge – Hathersage

This is a favourite of mine.  It’s in the beautiful village of Hathersage just outside of Sheffield. I have entered it for many years now.  It’s low key, £7 to enter, fabulous cakes afterwards and all the proceeds go to the local primary school. What more could you want?

As usual I prepped my kit the night before.  I was feeling tired but just had an early night and thought no more of it.  Sunday morning arrived and my throat was like the Doorway to Hell (Google it)… A couple of coffees and some paracetamol and like all of us runners I thought I could run it off….

At the start line I felt the usual tenderness in my limbs of an oncoming chill.  My muscles ached and the doorway to hell was back in my throat.  I told myself, if you manage the first mile you may as well continue.  We set off and started our climb up Stanage Edge. My head was pounding and my body weak however I kept hearing my mother reminding me that her cure for most things was fresh air. If you complained of feeling unwell you had a choice: sweep the garden or go for a walk.
It must have worked because I finished.

It wasn’t pretty and I managed a PW but the the views, course and cakes did not let me down and the scenery was as beautiful as ever.

My takeaway : do better next year…

I do recommend this race: It has good climbs and fantastic downhill sections.

Liz Casey

NIAR 2023 – Faroe Islands Adventure Race

The Faroe Islands were never really on my radar for a place to visit, but after I heard about an adventure race across the remote islands in the North Atlantic I thought this was the perfect opportunity to explore.

The race consisted of 12 continuous stages, including street orienteering, mountain biking, trekking, pack rafting and a cliff jump! The estimated finishing time was about 3.5 days, covering up to 500km and 20,000m of ascent, but for some teams it would take over 5 days.

Prologue – Street-Orienteering (9am Sunday)

The race started with a prologue of street orienteering, we ran around the capital city of Torshavn searching for orienteering flags. Our mixed team of 4 made light work of the narrow lanes and old town houses, emerging from the leg in first place. Not a place that we would remain for long, but it was nice to be leading some of the world’s top teams into the mountain bike stage. 

Leg 1 – MTB (Sunday morning)

Leg 2 – Trek (Sunday evening)

After 7 hours of cycling (and a fair amount of hike-a-bike) and our first of many tunnels, it was time for the BIG trek. 68km (including a short, midnight pack raft). The views were incredible, clouds rolled over the western peaks as we picked our way over ridge lines and through barely touched valleys. Although it wasn’t until we returned here after the race did I noticed a classic view was just behind us. Sometimes it’s good to remember to look up from the map!

The navigation was not particularly challenging, although the misty tops did cause some teams problems, allowing us to stay in touch with a few teams around 6-8th place.

Leg 3 – Packraft (Monday evening)

24 hours later we emerged into a small coastal village where our pack rafts were waiting to be paddled 40km through darkness to another set of islands. In the middle of the night, fatigue started to set in. With the sharp, rocky coast lines, finding a place to get out of our tiny pump up rafts was a challenge. But fortune was upon us – we paddled to a small jetty and found an old boat house suitable for a short 1 hour sleep. 

The next five hours were some of the toughest, mentally, for us as a team. The distant lights on the horizon didn’t appear to get any closer for hours on end. We battled sleepmonsters, boredom and a headwind, until the sun began to rise.

Leg 4,5,6 – Bike, trek, bike (Tuesday morning)

Finally, dry land! Now time for some more cycling over to a cliff jump and a dive to an underwater checkpoint. Much to the amusement of the marshals, teammate Rickie overcame the buoyancy of the wetsuits provided by stripping off, before collecting the 2nd submerged control. 

The next trekking leg was a new one for all of us, we were to navigate the rocky skyline armed with nothing but a 3d carved map! A challenge at the best of times, but with minimal visibility and huge, rugged crags and impassable terrain in almost all directions, this was more about reading the terrain than reading a map. 

Then back to the bikes for a connecting leg (including a 6km underwater tunnel) to take us to the crux of the entire race – the packraft-trek. 

Leg 7 – Packraft/trek (Tuesday night)

Before this race I’d barely heard of pack rafting, let alone practised transitioning from water to trekking, carrying everything – including wetsuits, paddles and PFD. But that’s the beauty of adventure racing – it takes you places you’ve never been before and challenges what you believe to be possible. The organisers cut the first section from the course after the top 3 teams struggled with the currents, so we headed straight for WP3.

The first of 3 mountains was tackled in darkness, making the very steep and rocky descent hard to navigate accurately. After our 2nd (and final) sleep of just 90 minutes in a magical mountain hut that appeared at the perfect time, we were on the move again. We found our route down blocked by the classic steep cliffs of the Faores, but a minor traverse to passable ground soon had us back to the coast and pumping up our rafts again.

Inflate, paddle, deflate, trek.

Inflate, paddle, deflate, trek 

Leg 8-12 – bike, trek, bike (Wednesday evening)

And leg 7 was behind. Before heading back from the distant eastern islands we still had to visit the highest sea cliff in Europe, with a short out and back up a 800m mountain (sadly fully in the clouds and no final view to remember). The organisers had cut the final trek stage to help keep the event on schedule, so all that stood between us and a proper bed was a 100km ride back to the finish line in Torshaven. With a renewed sense of purpose (and 2 late night garage stops) we finished at 1am, 88 hours after we had started. We placed a very respectable 7th place (out of 25 teams). 

The race was a beautiful way to see the incredible country of the Faroes. We were so lucky with the weather, barely a drop of rain during the event. The day we left, the heavens opened and the clouds descended. Visibility was varied throughout our race, but we snatched some unforgettable views. It was the luck of the draw. The organisers did a great job with gaining permissions to access hidden corners of the mountains, again, making this a once in a lifetime experience. My teammates and I are so lucky and grateful to be able to do these things. 

I hope to make another video of the race in the coming months, so you can see more of the experience. And remember, there are 2 videos of previous races if you haven’t seen them yet … https://youtube.com/@furiousfoggy?si=aarnKg1U_dBgrl9p

Moonlighting with the neighbours

A post from new second-claimer Dave Middlemass reposted from his blog here.

I just want to say a big thanks here to everyone at North Leeds Fell Runners, who’ve all been so welcoming at the Tuesday night training sessions I’ve tagged along with this year. I’m pleased to say that (finally) I’ve joined NLFR 2nd claim and look forward to being involved in the club.

I’ve been a 1st claim member of neighbouring club Valley Striders for 8 years now. Valley has a fair sprinkling of fellrunners in its ranks, with the trend amongst members being towards increasingly challenging and exotic fellrunning adventures. There is less though in the way of regular training sessions or meet-ups at local races, so that’s why it’s been nice to try things out with NLFR, where this is more established. Many thanks guys for the warm and relaxed welcome to the club.

As that suggests, I do quite like a local race and it’s been nice to meet some fellow, er, enthusiasts from NLFR at races this summer – Jack Bloor, Coiners, Crow Hill, King’s Challenge, Burnsall and (yesterday) Malham Show included. Just to mention I’m potentially available to offer lifts to races if it’s not too far out of my way (I live in Bradford). Eg last week I gave Jonny a lift to Burnsall from Ilkley train station; in return he paid for the parking, let me beat him in the race by 4 seconds and didn’t mind when I dropped his skyer in the egg-throwing competition – a fair deal all round.

Elsewhere on my blog are write-ups of various races I’ve done and I often like giving good ones a plug. While many were off at the champs race at Sedbergh last weekend, I tried the lower-key Crowden Horseshoe for the first time. I had it in my head this would be a proper Dark Peak bog trot so wouldn’t be too harsh on my legs, still sore from Burnsall the day before. I also wanted to escape the moral dilemma, on the morning of the World Cup final, of having drawn Spain in a sweepstake.

Turned out I reckoned wrong on both counts! The 11am start at Crowden campsite coincided with kick-off in the footy, which was broadcast loud and clear to us over the radio. Once underway, the race route was surprisingly technical, calling for much more twinkled-toed rock avoidance than anticipated. Good job conditions were fine and the long descent back from Black Hill so scenic, helped keep my mind off the aching legs. Went straight from the finish to the river and sat in it for some time, nature’s own ice-bath treatment. Came back to a slightly downbeat campsite, Spain having won the final and I was now, awkwardly, £50 richer. After wrestling with it on the drive home, I donated my winnings to Mountain Rescue. Happy to have done that, after all I might have needed them if that race had been much longer!

Hope to see you on the fells soon.  

Pendle Way on a Midsummer’s Night

45 miles, circa 6000ft ascent

Weather: 21 degrees falling to 18 degrees overnight with 80% humidity

by Rose George & Liz Casey

This run – a midsummer version of the annual winter Pendle Way in a Day – is purposefully held on the shortest night of the year, but only when that happens on a weekend. The next opportunity to do this will be 24th & 25th June 2028 so put it in your calendars.

LIZ

The training started earlier in the year getting tough enough to do the distance and spend such a long time on our feet. During training, aside from the eating, drinking and what to wear on the day, Rose acquired some running poles. On occasion we found it hard to find a solution to carrying these when not in use so they were a) comfortable b) easy to access/store while moving c) didn’t rattle around. Rose announced on event day she had found a solution for all the above.

OMG! Was she right…. A quiver…yes a proper quiver…. I think my excitement at this item of her kit made the whole event so much more fun.

ROSE

I’m not sure whether I spent more time training or googling solutions for carrying running poles. Joke. I definitely spent more time training, for once. Top tip for when you realise you have made a commitment (I still can’t remember why) to run 45 miles overnight: get a coach and a training plan. Both Liz and I had plans drawn up by Run Brave aka Neil Wallace (aka my partner), and amazingly, we both followed them pretty closely. They featured circuit breakers (intervals, then hill climb “circuit breakers” then more intervals), pace management, time on feet and the hardest but probably most useful: the split long run. I did two of these: the first consisted of me running Leg 5 of the Calderdale Way Relay with Martha, on a punishingly hot day, then driving home and making myself run another 6 miles. Of course this was all about increasing mental grit as well as physical endurance. The second had me doing 12 miles in the morning then spending the rest of the day trying not to make myself wimp out of getting out at 8pm and doing another 12 miles. I did it, and really enjoyed it. By the time we got to race day, I had no idea how I was going to stay awake overnight let alone run 45 miles, but I couldn’t have trained much better. Also, I had a quiver. (£14.99 from Decathlon.)

Rose (L) and Katniss (R)

LIZ

The race started at 8pm on Saturday evening from Barley and headed straight up Pendle Hill. As we ascended Rose pulled her poles from her quiver and snapped them into place like cracking a whip and marched up Pendle Hill. All we needed was a bow and we would have been tributes in an episode of the Hunger Games. OK it didn’t quite happen so smoothly and we did not look anything like Katniss Everdeen and it was more of a “would you mind getting my poles out of my quiver please?” We did not care. The quiver provided fun (it actually worked very well too).

ROSE

There were about 80 runners milling about at the start outside Barley Village Hall, which I knew well from doing Tour of Pendle. There was an option to do a 30-mile route but I assumed most of these people were doing the 45. I had spent ages thinking about how much food to bring, as I was really worried that in the early hours the last thing my body would be expecting was food, yet I had to fuel properly and consistently. In hindsight, I had a stupid amount of food. I thought this might be the case when I saw that Liz had only a 5L pack, whereas I had a 10L stuffed to the gills, plus a waistpack. I had gels, powerballs, mint cake, sweets, veg sausages, salted boiled potatoes, a pouch of jelly, blister plasters, electrical tape, garden wire (you never know!), a powerbank (which I ended up needing for both watch and phone), two small bottles of flat coke, full kit plus an extra t-shirt. And toilet paper. I’d originally had a long-sleeve but the forecast was that it would feel like 23 degrees at 2am and be 80 percent humidity. Bye bye long-sleeve.

So I was definitely overloaded but on the other hand I saw at least two runners who had only a tiny bumbag to which my and Liz’s reaction was WTAF? That first mile up Pendle was memorable for three things: Liz first deciding that I was a character from the Hunger Games, the astonishingly blue sky patterned with mackerel clouds, and my god the humidity. I couldn’t see for sweat.

One mile down, 44 to go.

We hadn’t recced as there was little point for an overnight race. We were going to navigate by following people who seemed to know where they were going, looking out for fingerposts with witches on them, Liz’s GPX on her watch and my OS maps app on my phone.

LIZ

As darkness fell the temperature did not seem to follow suit, it was a very warm and humid night. Running overnight was very different to torchlight club runs. The saying ‘still of the night’ was real. All we heard were animal sounds where we disturbed them and randomly a house party in a very remote location. The darkness lasted around 5 hours but it never seemed to get totally dark. We did at one point turn our torches off to view the night sky – I promptly tripped so just gave up on star gazing….

ROSE

Weirdly the thing I’d been most worried about was the easiest: running through the night when my body would usually have been fast asleep. I think I probably bored Liz by occasionally expressing my amazement that it felt so normal. The heat made wearing a buff uncomfortable, but other than that I really enjoyed the night. Liz kept turning to look at groups of headtorches behind us, and they were a comfort, particularly as later we wouldn’t see a soul for miles. She also got a reputation – with me – for having some sixth sense for fingerposts. “There! There’s a fingerpost!” Though perhaps that was just that she could see better, as I’d forgotten to put my racing contacts in. Her second spidey sense was for frogs. A couple of times she exclaimed and I thought something was wrong, but no it was just another lovely speckled frog on the trail, sitting there and not moving just because some hefty human was coming past. Physically I had been fine up until then (about six hours in), but then my knee started hurting. This happened on the Hebden 22 – extremely painful to go downhill, fine to go uphill – and I figured it was my ITB insertion point. I suppose it’s a fatigue-related weakness. So I had to stop to take drugs, fiddle with my pack and finally realise that what had been digging into my back for six hours was my first aid kit. Then I also had to find a quiet spot on a steep bracken slope to have an emergency toilet stop too. You try doing open defecation (about which I have written a book but that didn’t help much) while on a steep gradient in the dark and trying to leave no trace while not keeping your companion waiting too long. Exciting times at 2am.

We really need to work on our selfie skills

We didn’t hang out much with other runners but not because we didn’t want to. Maybe because it was night running? The couple we saw the most was a northern Irish woman and a man called Dave (I know his name because he stopped to take a picture of a bench which had been carved into the name DAVE). They didn’t run uphills or apparently the flat (ultrarunning technique?) so we would shuffle past at a jog, but as soon as we slowed to a walk, whoosh, they would overtake us walking and zoom off. They could walk so fast, it was seriously impressive. We took to calling them the Rocket Walkers (it was the middle of the night, we were knackered, we didn’t have a lot of creativity to hand).

LIZ

Rose noted the sunrise around 3.30am. I put it down to light pollution – I was wrong! Birds began singing, the flies appeared again, and at last there was a cool breeze. It was strange but nice to run through villages at such an early hour when everyone else seems to be sleeping. We encountered a group of young people going ‘somewhere’ with what looked like a festival tent at about 5am then a young man who looked as though he was on a walk of shame (he probably wasn’t but it’s fun thinking he was).

Not the city of Manchester

ROSE

Look over there, Liz, the light is coming. No, she said, there must be a city there. I thought, it must be a big city, but also that I could be wrong, it seemed early for dawn, even after I’d learned from the National Maritime Museum that there are three twilights (twilight is between light and dark and not just an evening thing): astronomical, nautical and civilian. This faint red was hazy, and finally I worked out that it was in the east and convinced Liz it was the sunrise. The gentleness with which the light came back was a delight. It was also a treat to take off our sweaty buffs and head-torches in the middle of yet another field. Liberated! We were both tired now, and on climbs – of which there seemed to be LOADS to the point where I would look ahead and say “oh bloody hell not another hill” and Liz would give me a positive thinking talking-to so I would say instead, “another hill! Cool!” –  I gave Liz one of the poles. Even one pole helped significantly. I knew we were tired, because I’d stopped my every-30-minutes “EAT SOMETHING” instructions to Liz and to me.

LIZ

We finished in 13 hr 50 m. We had had some navigation issues and ran out of water 90 minutes before the end. The Pendle Way is marked by a witch 🧙on fingerposts obviously. And the race organisers ensure that funds from the run are given back to maintaining the Way. The first four checkpoints provided food and drink: one had fairy lights (very pretty in the dark) and at the checkpoint in Laneshawbridge after Wycoller (operated by Roxanne, joint RO with her husband Jamie) there was a whole bloody bar. Rum and whisky! We didn’t partake. Too busy chugging Coke.

ROSE

Running out of water was not strictly our fault. It’s very hard to find people to staff checkpoints overnight, which meant that ideally there would have been water and food at Barnoldswick (9 miles from the finish) but there wasn’t. So the last provisions, in the form of a Tupperware box of goodies and bottles of water left on a bench with a sign asking people not to nick them, were in Earby, still 20 miles from the finish. We both filled our flasks in Earby, but we should have taken an extra bottle each. Probably the worst stretch of the route were the few miles of numbingly boring canal coming into Barnoldswick. Liz disliked the canal so much she stopped running in protest. Then it was up and over Weets and down into Barrowford to find a self-clip with the instructions “a cobbled lane and an iron gate.” We could have gone to find a newsagent at that point, things were starting to open, but we just desperately wanted to finish and we had just over three miles to go. I’d hoped we could do 4 miles an hour and finish in a total of about 11 hours. But I’d also thought the route was 42 miles because that’s what the GPX provided by the race organiser said. No. It was 45 and the 11 hour target receded pretty quickly thanks to navigation, night running, and niggles (mine).

LIZ

I would recommend this run to anyone. It was an amazing and fun experience and given I was in the company of Katniss Everdeen so how could it not be fun? Katniss may well have converted me to the use of poles. Would I do it again? Hmmmmm given the next one is 5 years away we will have to see…. The daytime winter version is on every year.

Never has a glass of orange squash tasted so good

ROSE

I’m so proud of myself for having done this, even if we did it more slowly than I’d hoped, and I was disconcerted to arrive at Barley to be told that we were the last. Though my disconcertedness had to wait because although Jamie, the RO, was offering us a lovely laser-cut wood coaster bearing of course another witch, we said YEAH BUT CAN WE HAVE SOME WATER RIGHT NOW. I can’t remember being as thirsty as I was for that last 90 minutes. At one point we were going through a field and I wondered if I chewed the grass whether I’d get some liquid. There is nothing as overwhelming as thirst and I am determined I will never experience it again if I can help it. Otherwise, it was a fantastic 13.50 hours, Liz was excellent company, as were the frogs. And the reason we were last is only 12 people did the 45-mile route, and plenty who had signed up for it dropped to the 30 instead which explains why we stopped seeing people behind us after Roxanne’s bar: that was the decision point. There were only 3 women in that 12 and we were two of them. (The other was the Rocket Walker.)

I didn’t eat all my food. I’m definitely not taking as much next time.

AFTERMATH

ROSE

I was not at all sleepy during the run and only yawned once. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing. As soon as we set off in the car, I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I’ve felt bone-weary since. So I’ve slept loads. The first night I tried spraying magnesium on my legs but the nettle stings and bramble scratches made that a very bad idea. Don’t do that unless you want to wake your neighbours with your yelps and screeches. The oddest thing is how little hunger I have had. My usual pattern is to do a long run, have no appetite for an hour or so then eat everything. This time has been different: the eating everything part has never materialised. Maybe because we ran through the night and that threw things out of whack, or perhaps because the distance and the time on feet triggered “lac-phe,” a metabolite that is related to exercise and suppresses appetite. Other than that, my chafing subsided, though I found a nasty abrasion from my bra strap that I hadn’t even noticed. When I took my shoes off in Barley car park they were greyish white and looked awful. But they have recovered nicely too. I suppose I’d better start running again.

LIZ

Like Rose I have felt fatigued and not wanted to eat. I managed to sleep for a couple of hours when I got home on Sunday. On Sunday night the magnesium spray took a real beating as my legs would not stop twitching. On Monday I enjoyed one of those nights where you feel you have not moved at all and slept really well. My trench foot had disappeared and my toes had almost forgiven me. Now in Spain for a few weeks, I am ready to go again, however the heat (current highs of 34 and lows of 23) has a different plan. I must remember to drink water and run very early in the day.

Thanks: Jamie and Roxanne and all the doughty volunteers who stayed up all night to feed and minister to us. And to Neil for cycling over to Barley at 5am so he could drive two very tired people home.

Paddy Buckley Round 10-11 June 2023

INTRODUCTION

A couple of weeks after my Paddy Buckley Round on 10th/11th June 2023, I’m feeling alright – a little tired and in the midst of that, really pleased. What a brilliant feeling, I’ve done it! I moved through and over 47 copaon/peaks in Eryri/Snowdonia with a sense most of the time of confidence and pleasure. It was enjoyable hard work. I know the time of 29 hours 24 minutes is slow, but I don’t sense I could have gone much faster.

The Paddy Buckley was devised in 1982 by Paddy Buckley and first run by Wendy Dodds in a time of 25 hours 35 minutes. It comprises 100.5 km (62.4 miles) distance, 47 copaon and 8700m of ascent. It is the Welsh round of ‘The Big Rounds” alongside the Bob Graham (England) and the Charlie Ramsey (Scotland), and takes in the Moelwynion, Carneddau, Glyderau, Yr Wyddfa massif and Nantlle ranges. You can start at any point on the round, and there is no time limit.

BEFORE

Training for my Paddy Buckley commenced in February 2017 with a first foray with Matt, running in the torrential rain from Capel Curig to Llyn Ogwen along the bottom of the cwm (valley) and then back again over the Carneddau. I’ve had in mind many ideas — some derived from my Bob Graham in May 2016 — which I wanted to explore in my Paddy Buckley training. These included:

  • strengthening my feet so I didn’t need insoles anymore
  • sorting out my back
  • doing training and fitness differently
  • managing thoughts and feelings differently and more effectively
  • knowing the mynyddoed / mountains and the route map-free
  • using the Paddy Buckley as an opportunity to start learning Cymraeg (Welsh)
  • starting the actual Round in the morning (hopefully after a good night’s sleep)
  • and however tough it feels, to hold in mind the sense of adventure of it all

Since that first run in 2017, I have spent many days and nights in Eryri, walking and running alone or with friends and family, staying in hostels and cottages, campsites and wild camping. A lot of time moving and being with people: perfect. Over the last 11 months before tapering, my training has included 160 hours and 640km in the mynyddoed, 200 hours and 1730km of general off-road running, 260 hours and 2000km of general walking and cycling, and 160 hours of general conditioning. Although those figures indicate something about the quantity of the preparation, in the end what felt most important to me was the quality of the preparation, and in particular aiming for movement quality.  

I first learnt the route clockwise, but then I had a revelation on Tryfan, in which I realised there was no way I wanted to descend Tryfan in the early hours towards the back of the round. I instead learnt the route anti-clockwise, eventually settling on starting at 8am from Pont Aberglaslyn, which technically put Tryfan about half-way round (and made it an ascent). It also put my night section on the Yr Wyddfa massif with its relatively straightforward navigation.

THE DAY

So, to the actual day. I woke up after a perfect six hours of solid sleep to a hot day with the potential of thunder and rain later in the day (this was the first rain advertised for weeks!). I felt OK and got on with breakfast, warming-up and final faffing. I had in mind a couple of things. One: the first 12 hours were to be “easy” and that all my training was about getting me through the second set of 12 hours. Two: finishing within 24 hours would be a dream and the potential of going over 24 hours was also fine. There was real comfort in these thoughts.

**

Leg 1: Pont Aberglaslyn to Capel Curig

Clock time: 08:03 to 15:39

Cumulative time: 7 hours and 36 minutes

Pacers: John and Dave

I left Pont Aberglaslyn with a nice spring in my step. All was going well ascending Cnicht until both John and Dave were obviously beginning to struggle, I assume because of the heat. After some worried thoughts and then some problem-solving on the move, I made the decision to leave John and some of our supplies in the Rhosydd quarry, and Dave and I made our way round the loop taking in Moelwyn Bach and Moelwyn Mawr. One of my favourite though brief sections on the Paddy Buckley is on an old quarry track above Llyn Stwlan and just under Moelwyn Mawr, which in my opinion is best done in a clockwise direction. It lived up to my expectations.

An hour and half later, we picked up John again at the quarry and made our way to Llyn Conglog. We separated there, with me heading to Allt-fawr, and John and Dave picking up more water, cooling down and then contouring around to meet me at the top of Moel Drumman. John and I left Dave then in order to pick up some speed to get to Capel Curig, but I was a little cautious having experienced some small twinges of cramp. In hindsight, it would have been useful before the Round to have devised some more creative solutions to managing the water over such a long leg on a hot day.

The other disappointment for me was one of my few bits of “anxious navigation” when it came to locating Moel Meirch. I knew exactly where it was and how to get there, which is fine when practicing, but on the day other pressures are of course in play. I ended up taking in an extra small peak in the jumble of features up there, just before Moel Meirch. It only cost a minute or so extra, but I felt disappointment all the same that as soon as I knew I wasn’t quite on track, I hadn’t taken the time to stop, properly orientate myself and navigate in the here and now, rather than desperately trying to remember. The next two and half hours were incident-free, with John consistently giving me food and liquid.

I made to Capel Curig feeling good, a bit thirsty but with no aches or pains. My original intention was not to stop but just pick up supplies and eat on the move. But I knew I needed to stop, if only to re-jig myself after what felt like a difficult start to the Round. The changeover was lovely with family and friends there and getting pampered. Chocolate milk, a tin of fruit, an electrolyte tablet and a dressing for the beginnings of a blister (interesting how I never had any blisters in training). There was another Paddy Buckley Round going on and its crew were waiting for their runner to come in on his final leg. One of his support crew came up with a beaming smile, put his arm around me and said some really encouraging things to me.  With quick goodbyes to everyone, shouts of encouragement being yelled, I left Capel Curing with Ian and Adam, feeling just so excited about the whole adventure.

**

Leg 2 Capel Curig to Llyn Ogwen

Clock time: 15:39 to 20:06 including 10 minutes changeover at the start

Cumulative time: 12 hours and 3 minutes  

Pacers: Adam and Ian

Again all was going fine until half-way up Pen Llithrig Y Wrach when I noticed Adam struggling behind. No need to worry, Ian had already spoken with Adam and got him to contour round to Bwlch Y Tri Marchog, whilst Ian and I continued up Pen Llithrig y Wrach. I continued up Pen yr Helgi Du, whilst Ian sorted out supplies with Adam and then caught me up 10 minutes or so later. I was very pleased to see him. I became conscious of the need to stop thinking about events so far, and I said to myself “the past is the past, and all I’ve got to do right now is focus on now and pick it up a bit”. I had the sense that I could now settle down and try to get on with the business of striding out with a bit of jogging where I could. The heat was draining and I don’t think I got any faster, but I was certainly more focussed.

Ian was brilliant. Whatever I did, he just increased his walking stride length which made me giggle. The only time I saw him run was on the downhills! Getting food down (gels, crunchy oat biscuits, vegan jerky) was becoming interesting now, as I had so little saliva, so I created the delightful technique of chewing, then a mouthful of liquid, creating a slurry and then swallowing it. I had planned to have something to eat every 15 minutes but in the end having something permanently in my hand to nibble on worked better.

It felt fabulous to be coming off Pen yr Ole Wen to be met by Phil and Jess and to run to the car park at Llyn Ogwen. A swift stop, shoulders and legs being massaged by my son Ray, change of blister dressing and socks. Flask of tea, chocolate milk, another electrolyte tablet, and tin of fruit to drink and eat. I also put on my race vest in order to carry some liquid and food, to make it easier for Matt, him being my only pacer and as we were about to go over some particularly tough terrain. It was good to be with Matt. I was reassured because of all the shared experience and knowledge that we have developed over all the time of being and training together in Eryri.

**

Leg 3 Llyn Ogwen to Llanberis

Clock time: 20:06 to 01:55 including 10 minutes changeover at start

Cumulative time: 17 hours and 52 minutes

Pacer: Matt

My son Jackson walked with us halfway up Tryfan carrying my flask of tea and a tin of fruit. A quick recant to Matt of events so far, and then we acknowledged that the rockiest bit of the Round was going to be slower with the rain and darkness setting in. We really had to concentrate the whole way round from Tryfan, over and down Far South Peak, up Glyder Fach, and around Castell y Gwynt to Glyder Fawr. The rocks were so greasy and of course night was falling. If you’re familiar with the terrain of the Glyderau, you’ll know you really don’t want to trip or fall up there! But from Glyder Fawr, the rain stopped and on our way down to Llyn Cwn we could relax for the first time. What a few hours … what a sense of relief!

On our way up Y Garn, Matt commented that he was concerned that we could easily end up just walking the rest of the Round. I reassured him (and myself) that quicker movement would come. It felt like we made good time from there onwards and we got into our usual focussed and yet relaxed style of moving over the mynyddoed. There was just enough residual light in the sky to pick out features. Calculating that Leg 1 was a half hour over our expected time, Leg 2 was an hour and half over and this Leg was likely to be nearly 2 hours over, we calculated that the 24-hour Round was now not do-able and settled in for an estimated 30 hour round. I asked myself: surely 30 hours is enough?! Anyway, it felt like a realistic and achievable aim. We arrived at my favourite bit of Leg 3 on the top of Elidir Fawr. Just for a moment when you’re there, you can sense feeling really high up, tiny, alone and exposed. As we came off Elidir Fach with its Owain Glyndwr flag fluttering, the lights of Llanberis suddenly emerged below, providing a useful sight-line off. We then made our way to the high voltage cable route through the quarry, through the old wheel-houses, inclines and the modern cable housing, down to the car park at Llanberis.

We were greeted by the core support crew of my friend Tom, my wife Di and my sons Jackson and Ray. Everyone else had gone back to the cottage near Llanfrothen to rest up and sleep. The first thing was that we all agreed that 30-hours was feasible. Tom probably saw a momentary flicker of doubt across my face and said “you’ve come here to do the Paddy Buckley, so let’s get you on with it”. More tea, chocolate milk and this time chips, pizza and an onion bhaji from the Llanberis Tandoori take-away, along with a new discovery, a carton of custard. Wow, did the chips, custard and greasy onion bhaji feel good! Hugs from the team were also beginning to feel really important. For the first time, I was beginning to feel the tiredness. Matt had been given new supplies. Di walked with us whilst I continued eating to the Llanberis main bus stop and then Matt and I continued on our way.

**

Leg 4 Llanberis to Pont Cae’r Gors

Clock time: 01.55 to 08:02 including 10 minutes changeover at start

Cumulative time: 23 hours and 59 minutes

Pacer: Matt

We made our way through the estate and out to the foot of Moel Eilio. A new route up the first chunk of Moel Eilio brought us to the fence line which travels to the top. We were accompanied by a beautiful orange half-moon in the east and the sound of skylarks singing. It’s always strange to hear skylarks singing in the dark. There was a dream-like quality as we made our way towards Yr Wyddfa, and a comfortable silence between us:  we only spoke to confirm the copaon. Matt kept producing bits of Cliff bar for me to slowly eat as we moved along. We climbed consistently up another favourite, Bwlch Carreg y Gigfran (the Pass of the Raven Stone) which has a lovely rock formation of one rock appearing to be balancing on top of another. From here we were beginning to notice we were no longer alone. We could see that Yr Wyddfa was full of people and indeed there was a queue to Yr Wyddfa at 5.00am! As we dropped down from Moel Cynghorion to the Snowdon Ranger Path and up Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, we joined this throng, which was strange to say the least, and my social skills and desire to say hello were lacking. I left the greetings to Matt.

My memory on approaching Carneed Ugain was that I was incapable of working out what I was really doing. I couldn’t connect the previous sunny day, the rainy night-time that we’d just emerged from and this new sunny day. I felt pretty confused all round. I was also beginning to experience pain in my legs going downhill, so there was a lot of using my arms whenever I had the chance to lever myself down. Heading south from Yr Wyddfa we lost all the other people and we could see that the lowland was shrouded in mist. It was funny to think of the support team hanging around in that mist down in Pont Cae’r Gors whilst we were in the bright morning light . We made good time down to Craig Wen. Over the years Matt and I have practiced coming off Craig Wen many times, the map just doesn’t do justice to the terrain on the ground. It felt good to confidently and competently make our way down. It took an hour over what it had taken me before, but it was lovely to be greeted by John, Ian and everyone else and to see that the mist had lifted. More tea, chocolate milk, some paracetamol and tins of fruit. Matt emptied some of the rucksack of extras we reckoned we wouldn’t need and was given just enough supplies for the final leg.

**

Leg 5 Pont Cae’r Gors to Pont Aberglaslyn

Clock time: 08:02 to 13:28 including 10 minutes changeover at the start

Cumulative time: 29 hours 24 minutes to complete

Pacer: Matt

Admittedly my memory is not that clear of this leg, I just have a few fragments. I remember thinking “ah … the final leg” and having the sense that I could do this under 30 hours. I was concerned about what the heat might have in store for us but I also knew that we had trained many times before in such heat. I remember Matt at one point saying he was really tired and that he would be quiet for a bit, and that I should just ask if I needed anything. I remember getting the map out a lot more, not necessarily to look at, more as holding a security-blanket (anxious navigation!) in my hand. The thought of making a mistake now was not a good one. I remember at one point saying to Matt I was struggling to co-ordinate my legs and arms. I felt like I had to think about how to run (the last thing I wanted or needed to be doing). I remember that there was no rhyme or reason to my running, it didn’t appear to be related to fluid or food intake or the terrain. I would run for what felt like 10 minutes, feel just great and then suddenly all that would evaporate.

I discovered the delight of the more subtle SIS gels (compared to the full flavour intensity of High 5 gels) redueced into the ‘slurry’ with a crunchy biscuit. This was a perfect blend which went down very easily. I remember the time we moved into the cloud on Moel yr Ogof and experiencing a cooling relief, but literally in those 30 seconds, had managed to come off Ogof slightly differently than usual. This was tiredness taking its toll. Map and compass were definitely needed, and luckily Matt also recognised a familiar wall and we were then back on track. After the steep climb up Moel Hebog, the route off was great. All my pain had magically disappeared, all the familiar landmarks were in place: the three piles of stones, the single upright stone on the edge, the stunted Christmas tree, the grassy shoot down to Cwm Cyd, and then the familiar path over to Bryn Banog. Despite the many times of going over Bryn Banog over the years, I realised in these final moments of my Paddy Buckley, that I didn’t really know which of the three capaon was the defined top.  I made a last and final check of the map for the Round (this time not “anxious navigation” but “thoughtful navigation”) which indicated the actual top, was not the one I usually summitted.  A quick out and back was required.  

So, the final decent down to Coed Aberglaslyn, heading away from the usual Paddy Buckley route, thus avoiding bracken-bashing, and down to a path we named in the past Y Llwybr Suran (the Sorrel Path), famed for its patches of thirst-quenching sorrel. Phil, Jess and Dave met us just above Coed Aberglaslyn, joining us on a fast descent through the woods onto the A498 and then a quick 100m run back to Pont Aberglaslyn.

Man, did I feel good. I was delighted. What an amazing time. I was tired and I had no pain. Fantastic.

Of course, none of this could have been done without other people joining me in training, pacing, being in the support crew and generally being encouraging. A big diolch yn fawr iawn to them.

Upon reflection, I’ve realised there’s an emerging and comforting pattern and consistency to my performance on the big rounds. Fastest time for the Bob Graham, 12:23; me 23:42. Fastest time for the Paddy Buckley, 15:14; me 29:24. So I’m coming in at just under double the fastest times. Fastest time for the Charlie Ramsey, 14:42; me … hey, watch this space.

Alan Hirons

« Older posts