A Past Attempt
I had attempted the Paddy Buckley round with my dad’s support 7 weeks earlier. It was an eventful but unsuccessful attempt. On a hot day, I was not feeling great from the start. No pop in my legs. When I gained my first summit, Y Garn, on the Nantlle Ridge. I was in thick morning cloud. The Nantlle ridge was slippery with mist and dew. A few summits later, at Trum y Ddysgl, I broke out above the clouds, emerging into deep blue morning sky. A blanket of white cloud under my feet, as far as the eye could see, with a few peaks cheeky enough to just pop their heads over. And then Wyddfa, standing proud and looking down on me. I reached for my camera, then thought better of it, keeping the view for myself.
I started to warm up very quickly, and then overheat. It became a hot day, with little to no breeze. I had set a schedule to break the overall record. I was ahead at 10 miles, still ahead at 20. But then I hit Siabod. Everything went wrong very quickly. Dizzy spells and weak. I had to walk up the very runnable hill for the first time ever.
I reached Capel Curig, the halfway point, only 15-20min behind record pace. After drinking as much flat Coke as I could, eating a slice of cold pizza and a packet of crisps, I tried to gee myself up. “It will pass”.
Never Quit in Camp
As John Kelly, the last man to complete the Barkley Marathons, has said, “never quit in camp”. If you are truly finished, you can quit on the mountain. Camp plays tricks on your mind, makes you too comfortable, whispers seductive thoughts of quitting into your ears. “Oh how easy it would be, if you just stop now.”
I set off again. As soon as I got off the road and hit the hillside I was immediately reduced to a walk. My temples were pounding. I could not cajole my legs to run. The next hill was the hardest for me on the whole round, Pen Llithrig yr Wrach, I didn’t want it to defeat me. I got to the top, but before I reached the next summit, I phoned my dad and called it a day. All that was left was the slow trail of shame back to the roadside.
Sitting by the van for a while, I was disappointed, but still totally out of it. I had been kidding myself. I wasn’t ready.
I learnt a lot of lessons from that day;
- The Sports Direct bum bags are shit and will not get the job done. Their bottles don’t hold enough water and are too hard to drink from, fill up, and access. Also, the bum bag feels uncomfortable and pisses me off when running
- I did not drink enough for the hot weather
- The world doesn’t owe you shit. I have the speed, but not the endurance. After a very big block of marathon training, 13 weeks of 100+ mile weeks, I got a back injury, which wiped me out for around a month. And I thought the world owed me a favour, and all the fitness would still be there. And it wasn’t
- The day before the attempt I was coaching kids, doing a bit of running, demonstrating, playing games, with a hotly contested tug-o-war battle at the end, that was a bad idea
- The mountain moves are there. My body is moving well over the rough stuff
- Philip helping at each road section, as well as half way up the Moelwynion, helps a lot and works well. Is much quicker/ easier than carrying all the food yourself and filling water at streams
Preparing to attack The Paddy Buckley Round again
I made a concerted effort to put a month of hard, specific training in, and come back and try again.
This went really well. 4 x100 mile weeks with more recces, as well as Strava records up Tryfan and Pen Llithrig yr Wrach.
I was very kindly gifted an excellent Ultimate Direction hydration pack and bum bag from the guys at Beta Run. These make life on the hill so much easier, great fit, without any bouncing around, and easy to access everything.
Waiting for a Window
After the month block was over, I then had to wait for a rain free day. There was no point hitting the rocks when they were wet. It slows you down immensely, as well as being more dangerous when trying to move at speed.
It proceeded to rain every day for three weeks. I was very frustrated. It was a hard and unique position to be in, I had to question the merit of every run I did. Trying to keep lean and fast, without getting overly tired. I was checking the weather apps every single day. Days would look good, then the rain clouds would sweep in again. I spent no time on the hills, just had to trust my fitness. I also spent a good 20min, every night, running through the whole route in my head, counting every one of the 47 summits as I went.
The prodigious Dragon’s Back Race was fast approaching, I was running out of time. There was one more weather window, Tuesday. I ordered the tracker. My dad came up early on Sunday and we sorted out the kit and ran over all the details, the food, time schedule etc. Then, late on Sunday night, the forecasts changed and it looked like Monday might be OK. I spoke with my dad at 8pm, and we decided to go for it. I had just had my dinner, a very low-carb chicken salad. That was not going to cut it. But I was stuffed. I threw it all up in the toilet, washed my teeth and made myself some pasta.
The Paddy Buckley Round – Solo Record, Take Two
Finally getting underway at 5am on Monday morning, the amount of nervous energy running through my neural pathways was ridiculous. The aim was 16hrs20. The overall speed record set by Kim Collison earlier in the year. Accompanied and supported. I was so excited to get going, after all the waiting. As a coach, I am often telling my athletes to slow down, and I get annoyed when they tell me they can’t. Of course you can, it’s your bloody body, control it!
But here I was, really struggling to slow down. I would consciously force myself to, then I would forget, the adrenaline would take over, and I would find myself ripping along the forest trails again.
I finished the first leg in 2hrs20. Philip had only just got there. I was 25min ahead of record schedule. Way too quick, but, as often happens with these things, I felt fine. Philip told me the tracker wasn’t working. I switched it off and on again (classic), then spent the next 10 miles having an imaginary argument with the tracking company.
Onto the Second Leg
The next leg over the Moelwynion, everything good. The weather was perfect. Philip met me at the quarry, the tracker had started working again. I managed to reel myself in, still relaxed and under control. I met my dad at the halfway point, the point where I had crumbled 7 weeks earlier. This time I was quicker and fresher, the training had worked.
The gears did start to grind down over the Carneddau, that climb to Pen Llithrig y Wrach always gets me. When I reached Philip at Ogwen, 2 thirds of the way through the Round, I was slightly behind record schedule for the first time. I had started to feel a bit jaded, but, with ultra running, you are never going to feel good the whole way. I was eating and drinking well, so I expected it to pass.
The Sledgehammer Hits
Instead, as I started the climb up Tryfan, a sledgehammer came from nowhere and smacked me over the head. I had set a record up Tryfan of 25min earlier in the month. This time it took me 44min. I know the rocks really well, but suddenly it felt like I’d never been here before. This was a bad place to hit the wall. Steep, unforgiving terrain, where a slip could be very bad. I had to really slow down to concentrate. How had this happened? I was sure I had taken on enough fuel.
Stumbling all over the Glyderau plateau, I wasted time climbing up on rocks that I thought were Glyder Fach, I only realise my error when the actual summit of Glyder Fach appeared later. I was a big mess. Headphones normally held but the music just sounded like fuzz. I knocked back a caffeine gel and just started breaking it down to one song at a time. Keep moving through this song. Now this one.
The Paddy Buckley Round is An Awfully Big Adventure
The day before, I had spent more time and attention on my kids than usual. I have learnt that any demons will come up to bite you on rounds like this. So I always miss my kids, and feel guilty for leaving them, even though I’m only gone for a day and they really couldn’t care less. Anyway, on the Sunday, to mitigate this, we sat down together to watch Peter Pan. And so, in this delirium, up on the hills, random lines from the film kept popping into my head. Some of them were useless gibberish; “second star on the right then straight on till morning”. But one stuck;
“To live would be an awfully big adventure.”
As I waded my way through this nightmare parallel universe, where everything was black, everything was a hole of pain, and I couldn’t string a single sentence together, all I could think about was getting one foot in front of the other. Keep moving. Moving is living. This was the line I hung onto.
Making it Count
This whole thing was becoming too hard. The record was slipping ever further away. I had to make it mean something. I had promised Jim I would build a 3D jigsaw Triceratops with him on this Monday. And I had put him to bed holding onto that promise. Then I left at 4am in the morning to do the round, breaking my promise. I can’t remember having broken a promise to Jim before. So I had to make it worth it. I needed a good enough reason to break my promise to my little boy. And my little girl, every night when I kiss her goodnight, she says she is so proud of me for being a runner. The definition of ‘runner’ is something I have to earn every day. And regardless of what it means to anyone else, today, to me, it meant finishing this thing.
I was gradually, step by step, making it mean something. Getting further away from thoughts of quitting. Don’t go home until you have finished. If it means I’m out here all night. I kept eating the gels, kept drinking. The longest, strangest two hours of my life, everything real but hazy.
Breaking out of the haze
I remember the exact moment when I broke out of Never Never Land. I looked up at Eilidir Fawr in the twilight. My vision finally cleared, only now, it seemed clearer than ever. The colours more lucid, it suddenly became the most beautiful mountain I had ever seen, and I ran all the way up it.
I knew that when I got to Philip at Llanberis, I was going to finish. He had seen my pace drop massively on the tracker so was wondering if I would quit. It was no longer on my mind. The next hill, Moel Eilio, is eminently runnable. But I couldn’t run up it. Something had happened to my ascent, and, to my shame, I could not run up another hill that day. After 20 double steps of running, I’d resort to walking again. It carried on. I did the sums in my head. This was the final leg, Wyddfa. 10 miles, 9 summits. I have run it before in 3hrs. On this day, if I ran/walked it in 4 hours, I would finish the round with a time of 17hrs50. That was worth having.
“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out;
it’s the pebble in your shoe” – Muhammed Ali
After running down the slate quarry of Llanberis, I found on my way up Eilio, I had more than just one pebble, but a shitload of slate chippings in both shoes. They were driving me nuts. I had to sit down at the top to empty them all out, upon replacing my shoes I then realised the little fuckers were inside my socks too. Stop again. This whole palaver took 5 minutes. 5 minutes I would never get back.
Just Me and the Mountain
I summitted Wyddfa slowly and painfully but it was late at night, the stars were out, I was the only one here, I was tired, but it felt pretty thrilling. Once again, as always happens on these long solo efforts, my ego was stripped away, it was just me and the mountain. I have always threatened to be able to descend Wyddfa rapidly, but conditions always seem to make a liar out of me. This time, it was dark, I kept missing the shortcut lines, and the attention to detail that is required to descend at full speed was just not possible by the light of a headtorch.
I had a list of the fastest times in my head, that slipped away one by one. I would not beat Damian Hall’s previous overall record of the Paddy Buckley Round, I would not beat Math Robert’s debut, but I could still sneak inside the top 5 if I came inside 17hrs42.
The Finish of the Paddy Buckley Round
The moon was a big, beautiful, orange bowl and I let myself enjoy these last few miles. There was no path on the decent, just reeds as tall as your head. I hit trail for the last time and enjoyed the last few hundred meters by running as fast as I could.
Nina and Philip were there at the finish, 17hrs41min58sec. A solo record.
The next morning, everything hurt, we went for a big fry up with the kids, I tried to do the Triceratops jigsaw with Jim, but couldn’t make head nor horn of it. Philip pushed me out of the way, to the relief of everyone. As I lay on the sofa, El was dancing, Jim and my dad did the jigsaw, and I dozed off, and there wasn’t a person in the world I would swap places with.
The attempt started at 5am from Coed Beddgelert and ran anti-clockwise (the unconventional direction). I was alone on the mountains (solo), but met my dad at each road section and in Rhosydd Quarry for snacks and fluids (supported). I was wearing a tracker throughout (link here), and completed the Paddy Buckley round in a time of 17hrs 41min 58 seconds. According to the Completions Log (link here), this is the solo record at the time of writing.
I didn’t write a report on this particular adventure at the time. I had a very short two weeks before the Dragon’s Back Race (report here). A fell running camp, lots of packing and sourcing, and trying to recuperate, took up all my time.
I have recently emailed Paddy Buckley himself to request ratification of my solo record.
For this round I wore the VJ iRock, which are amazing on every surface. I used the Ultimate Direction Race Vest 5.0, the perfect piece of kit for this round. Fit is snug, no bouncing, and everything is easy to access without looking. Also, for a mountain runner, you might be surprised to hear that I do a lot of my training on a treadmill, but they are a great tool that I would recommend to anyone. I use the NoblePro E8i
Thanks loads to Philip and Nina for the support, and of course, thanks to you, dear reader, for suffering along with me.