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.
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.
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
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
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
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.