Day 3 started, well, early. Stuck in a tepee style tent, my premature waking was frustrating. Unable to go back to sleep despite only 4 hours sleep (9 in the two days) I resigned myself to a silent lie in my sleeping back; if only I could have spent the time sorting my kit or getting ready slowly I’d have been much happier. As it were I turned to social media and my facebook page.
I was surprised at how many people were following what was going on, posting bits of the jigsaw from the various sites reporting on the race onto my timeline. It was fantastic to connect and quickly see what the outside world thought of what was going on. I saw pro photos and articles where I’d been quoted from the previous day; incredible how connected we’ve become.
Our tent had a split in capability. We started getting up, not realising that some were trying to get as much sleep as possible since they were in the top 10. I recognised one of the other chaps as Ian Symington whom I had run with for a bit on the Hardmoor 55 race earlier in the year, before I, ahem, got, ahem, lost. He came second that day and had clearly put it all in as he was in bits at the end. This time around he’d fallen ill on day 2 so he was out of the game; a real shame as he’s a great runner and could have done very well indeed. The split in tent made it awkward to get read without disturbing others. The perils of a ‘grab-a-tent’ approach to camp.
I had a blister forming on my left foot, little toe. It wasn’t something I was worried about as it wasn’t bothering me at all despite being quite big. I also had a small one on the sole of my foot just below the junction of my big toe and the one next to it, again, it wasn’t bothering me, but I thought I’d pop to the doctor and get his advice. The camp doctor was great and as a runner he really understood what we were trying to do and was pragmatic enough to ensure we were back on our feet unless there was a serious risk to our health… with the greatest of respect though he was missing his nurse – a review and quick treatment took over half and hour which left me half ready whilst Denvy and Rob were chomping at the bit.
Denvy was in pain. I knew she was struggling a little, primarily because she had mentioned it in the morning, but I hadn’t realised how much. I told Rob and Denvy to head off and I’d catch them up.
When I finally got started I raced off again; my legs felt great! No muscle soreness (DOMS) and raring to go. It was nice to stretch the legs on the run to Cader Idris. I passed Joe and Steve (two of the originals) and had a few chats along the way.
Alarmingly I caught Denvy and Rob just as the road ended. The ascent to Gau Graig (CP1) was just beginning. Denvy was struggling a little, but keeping pretty good pace – we’d pull each other through. Bad patches come with the territory, but in general one doesn’t expect them until later, thus this was more of a physical issue rather than just running out of steam.
Running out of steam comes in a variety of forms and tends to sneak up on you. In general it’s about fuel, although distance, going out too fast, lack of specific training, etc. can also be factors. The problem with running out of fuel is that the last thing you want to do is eat so it gets worse. Stopping and thinking doesn’t come naturally at this point either so it’s best dealt with by somebody who knows you well telling you straight and forcing you to have a gel or mint cake, etc. to pick up enough to eat properly so you don’t crash again. Once you have been there enough times to recognise this is happening and deal with it yourself, you have also been out enough to not reach that point in the first place – experience in action!
Joe Faulkner caught up without Steve. Sadly he’d had to pull out so Joe approach with Chi, a lecturer of bio-medical science. We ran across the tops of Cader Idris which translates as the ‘Chair of Idris’ – Idris translating as ‘fiery, impetuous lord’ (Idris is the middle name of my youngest son James, albeit probably more applicable for my eldest son Rhys!) CP2 was at Penygadair and then along the ‘Pony path’ past Craig Las to CP3 at Craig-y-llyn. Although I’m not familiar with the original route, I believe there were extra Cader Idris tops in our Dragon.
Denvy asked us to look out for her. By this point I was no longer interested in my position or time, just finishing and enjoying the ride – somebody is quoted as saying, “it’s no longer about where we come, it’s just us Vs Shane” (the event organiser) quite right! We agreed a plan to just stick ahead of the cut offs. We’d hit the first check point with 2 hours and 10 minutes before closure, and the second with 1 hour and 55 minutes in hand; the plan was to stay over an hour ahead.
The trot to Craig-y-llyn suddenly turned into a procession as several groups came through at similar enough pace – including ‘The peloton’. Helene was one of the elite peloton runners and they always moved effortlessly across the terrain. Whilst I was never to become aware of the etiquette of the peloton, the Navigation appeared to be shared by at least three of the people involved and they looked like a very well oiled machine, consistent in a solid pace that was just that bit quicker than everybody else bar Steve Birkinshaw and Rob Baker.
We broadly remained as a group of five until CP3 and split during the descent to the farm at Nant Cawr. I finally realised just how much Denvy was struggling here. We stopped for water and were slow getting going – we crossed to head up the path to the east of Craig yr Aderyn and Denvy started to really struggle. We were very much against the clock as the time between checkpoints was slipping quickly away from us. At CP3 our lead against the cut off had slipped to just 1 hour and 10 minutes. By the time we hit CP4 we only had 1 hour in hand and Denvy was a good 10 minutes behind us. The rate at which we had lost time against the CP closure times was alarming. Rob and I needed to make a decision.
It was a decision neither of us wanted to make, but also one that we both knew what the decision was. Once I had heard how many painkillers Denvy had taken to get this far today it had been clear to me that unless we could keep ahead of the cut offs and have enough in hand for a Nav error, then all three of us faced the possibility of being timed out. That was the last thing Denvy would have wanted.
Rob and I cracked on. We hadn’t discussed it but once we were down to just 1 hour ahead of closures we didn’t take long to voice what had been on my mind for the past 30 minutes since hearing of the painkillers – maybe I made too much of the painkillers, some people that do ultras regularly take them, but my view is that if the pain is so great you have to take painkillers then it’s probably time to quite. I don’t carry them with me when I race. We’d been shipping so much time against each CP it was alarming and we couldn’t keep going on losing so much time.
I felt terrible: I’d left someone behind from the team and no matter how many times I told myself it was a solo event, Denvy would want us to, if the shoe was on the other foot I’d want them to go on, etc. I still felt rotten. Denvy had supported me when I had struggled on the way up Crib Goch yet here I was, jogging away… what a sham.
I thought about what I would do if the shoe was on the other foot; I’d feel relief. We all knew we were against the clock with the boxes closing at set times. Others had fallen foul of this the day before; setting off too late resulting in a time out. In this game one can be over an hour quicker than another competitor, but setting off much later a control may be already closed. Martin and I had almost been caught out by this at the SLMM this year for exactly this reason – just squeaking in to the day 1 camp on time.
Knowing that we were in real danger on the boxes meant I’d have been happier being left behind. The heartbreak of not finishing is something I can dust myself off from, analyse and come back again having learned as many lessons as possible from. Knowing I was in part or in whole the reason for other people’s shattered dreams is not something I would be able to suffer. Perversely this was what made it so hard to leave. What if by really pushing her on, encouraging her, etc. she’d make it? If it weren’t that she was being powered by painkillers I think I’d have tried a lot harder. It was day 3, not day 5. Even if Denvy had got through the day (~50 km to go at this point) she’d have faced the best part of 130km on days 4 & 5. It was the end of the line.
As we dropped to the road a sniper (camera man) was waiting. Rob and I tried to look like we were going well and I hoped Denvy would stop with the camera man and get a lift. The next cut off beckoned as we headed south to the Tarrens.
Chris Hare had joined me earlier in the day on the road, then again as we’d crossed the tops at Cader Idris. He’d done some rabbit hunting and had caught Rob and me up again. As we baked in the incredibly hot sun on the exposed bridle path he pointed out the narrow gauge railway at Talyllyn – the location for ‘Race the train’. I’ve always fancied the race where people literally race the train down the hill – if I ever get there it’ll certainly evoke some memories!
The sun was relentless on the path to Tarrenhendre. We stopped to fill up in every stream and dunk sunhats, but sadly only really managed a fast march, slowly rounding Tan-y-coed to get to the base of the final ascent. Surprisingly (to me at least) we were really catching the people ahead and by the base of the climb we were within a minute or two.
The climb was steep! Tarrenhendre was a bit like a jelly mould shape and the sides were a silent affair; hands pushing down on thighs, just above the knee in an attempt to reduce the total effort and to get every last drop for each step. I was rabbit hunting the team ahead, drifting into my own little world and had caught them by the top.
Rob got to the top and we moved to the CP. A time check showed we had 1 hour 30 on the cut off! Clearly the boxes had been heavily weighted to push people over the first section.
I didn’t remember having too many issues physically before later in the race, but watching my video diaries I complain of shin pain at this point. This was where Rob and Chris both started to have a tough time too. Back to the path and a review of the map dealt us a further psychological blow.
Crystal clear visibility is high on my list of factors that can drastically improve a run in the mountains. There are times though where you just don’t want to know. Cresting the hill we could see for miles. Coupled with this we could see Tarren y Gesail, out next CP. We could also see this was reached by several miles of very run-able ground then a big climb in the wrong direction on an out and back route. It was too much information, the out and back felt pointless and hearts sank.
My shins continues to hurt down the hill from the top of Tarrenhendra and Rob told me he was struggling from the last climb. I grabbed snacks and reminded Rob to eat and drink. We walked and jogged, but mostly walked whilst Chris disappeared from view. Rob stopped to do his shoes and, conscious of the need to push through the low point I asked if it was ok for me to walk on and he could catch me up in a minute, something we’d been doing for the past few days.
Motivation is a very personal thing. I find having a target in front of me is very beneficial – I certainly don’t like the target to get away, but I also try to set marks against which I will catch them or recalculate. Unless of course they are clearly significantly quicker, in which case I hope they are out of my sights as quick as possible (I’ll get them later :)).
Rob didn’t catch up. His head had been down since the last CP and I began to realise just how much the last climb had taken out. I was determined to keep moving and provide him with a target to at least keep sight of and I decided I would not run again until he caught up. We exchanged a few shouts of “alright?”
Steve and Rob passed us on the downhill from the last CP. Steve said he was just hanging in there, but within moments they were gone and out of sight despite the huge vision we had. I started to see people taking incredibly direct routes and checked the contours again… somebody was going terribly wrong!
My stomach growled which was a very bad sign. I was bordering on being sick of cake, but that was the filler… then I remembered I had crisps. I had two packets of crisps. Yes that’s right, a taste sensation times two! Twin bags of perfection! I was so happy I made a video so I wouldn’t lose the moment – ridiculous as it was I was utterly delighted!
Rob still wasn’t catching, but he wasn’t really losing too much either so I kept moving. After 2.5 days I figured he might just want some time to himself and I’d see him on the out and back anyway. I was itching to run, had been for about a km, but we were a team.
Just as I was starting up the hill, the people I’d caught on Tarrenhendre were flying down – I never would have stuck with them as I struggled on the downhill with my shins, but by the time I hit the same spot they had put 35 minutes on me in just 1 hour and 20 minutes. As I hit the ridge another sniper appeared. I made straight for the CP, itching to run the ridge. Instead I drank in the scenery and put more food in. Home run to the drop bag now, no need to ration.
Passing Rob I suggested I waited at the corner before the descent; he said to go on. He was slipping further behind. Caught in a dilemma I reluctantly cracked on and wondered if this was the end. Denvy had been the glue, almost ordering us into the tent on day 1 when we were too tired to argue even if we wanted to – I didn’t.
Hitting the bottom I noticed the camera man sending 3 others what I thought was the wrong way. I questioned it and he insisted. Told us he’d been there all day and it was definitely that way and pointed at the map. My brain should have protested more, but instead it turned a deaf ear to the alarm bells with the help of my fatigue. I should have taken a grid reference, I had it right there with me and there was a clear handrail from a forest line… but forest lines get moved all the time, he’d been there all day… why would he send us the wrong way… I obeyed blindly too tired to make a better decision. 5 minutes later I’m crashing down the side of a very steep hill, furious with the sod that had sent me the wrong way… or was I furious with myself and didn’t want to admit it?
I broke through dense forest to find all the people I’d overtaken steaming through in a peloton…. including Rob! They were motoring, I was delighted. Next thing I now we’re walking, the rest had gone on.
Rob said he was having a bad day so that was it for the day, just got to march it out. This reminded me of the Fellsman. Exactly the same mental cloud had descended upon me and I was unable to shake it for miles. I didn’t want to be with anybody (although Martin and Roger had stuck with me throughout) I just wanted to wallow in my own self pity. I told him I was sure he’s just bonking and that he needed to eat again, passing him shotbloks and other quick fuel. We fell back into a walk as I waited for him to pick up. I needed to see that fight in him, the desire to pick it up even if he physically couldn’t.
We hit the road and I started a jog to give him a target again. He walked, we split, I felt terrible. The fight seemed to have gone and it hadn’t returned in the past 14km. I needed to see that desire to get moving again and hadn’t agonising as it was I felt I had to push on.
So what is the best time to pass through a market town? Well, not only when it’s market day, but also when school has just finished. As I shuffled through the town I had to sound as chirpy as possible with my “’scuse me” to get past haggles of girls spanning the entire pavement. As I passed my dignity was lost as they laughed. “Ha ha! The joke is on you ladies! Don’t you know what I am doing?” I thought… err actually Chris, I doubt they would think anything other than; “what an idiot!” of “why would you want to do that, just take the bus!” I’ll leave it there.
Arriving at the drop bag I was delighted to see Denvy – in good spirits as always despite having to retire. It was like I had a second pit stop crew! Denvy really picked my spirits up as I was feeling pretty low and guilty about leaving Rob. Steve Dubieniec was also there and as sage as ever. Better still he gave me a pack of Space Raiders!
I set off with Brad, funnily enough he had a smile on his face! It was great to get going again and to catch up on things. Just before we entered the forest we were passed by an old man in a ranger rover featuring the most incongruent trucker style silhouetted naked woman on the back – the local Peter Stringfellow?
We hit the track and followed, but didn’t check the contours. We were looking for a left turn but all too late did we realise we’d not actually go onto the path yet. I could feel we were wrong but had path fever.
At the second point that made no sense I took a grid reference and cursed. I quickly devised a new route rather than going back and with a South African now in tow we cracked on. He’d not complete the days until now, didn’t appear to be able to map read and was looking to two people that had just gone wrong as navigation leaders – poor fella!
Whilst I knew where we were and we were making good time to get back on course, it was here that I could have made a mistake that would have seen me DNF. Luckily I picked up on a comment from Brad that we’d just have to go back for about a km. I had no idea what he was talking about until he pointed out the location of the CP! I was all set to head south on Glyndwr’s Way as soon as we hit it, but CP 8 just hadn’t registered with me mentally, so I’d have missed it and failed to finish. I have no illusions about the fact that I owe my DBR finish to Brad – my hero!
By missing a single path I estimate we put an additional 3km and 180m of climb onto an already long day. Running in the opposite direction to other runners is great though as it confuses the hell out of them
Out of all those I passed I was most pleased to see Rob. He’d partnered up with Chris again who had previous recce’d the area. Brad and the South African chap told me to head on so I picked up my pace to make the best of this good spell and good paths. Seeing Rob really moving again was brilliant and I wanted to catch up. Put the band back together!
It took a long time to catch Rob and Chris. I’d only had 2km to make up, so this was good news that it had taken a long time. I also got a phone single to manage a bizarre conversation with Laura.
“ I’ve been having problems with my shin”
“ You’ve got a problem with your Chin!?”
“No Laura, my shin, sh, sh, sh, shin! I’m moving on my legs not my face!”
“ooohhhhh!” <insert hysterical laughter>
It was at this moment I tipped my spirits over the edge by reaching for the space raiders. Not only was I in possession of another packet of crisps, but they were pickled onion flavour. I almost exploded.
It wasn’t too long before we’d started to split again. Chris and I realised Rob was falling off the pace. Eventually it was just Chris and me, but I knew Wendy Dodds and the other people with her would mop up Rob sooner or later. There were several groups, so we carried on to make the most of the light.
The Plynlimon is really fantastic and turned into one of those areas that just keeps on giving. A perfect place for wild camping where isolation and tranquillity are in the description.
The going was tough across the deep tussock covered ground, my feet sinking beyond view every step taken. Frustratingly we missed the trod at the start of the climb to Llyn Lygad Rheidol, although on reflection this meant we had nothing to lose by trying to find the access road leading to the Llyn. This was a winner. We could see below us that Rob had tagged on with three others whilst a larger group had formed around Wendy.
The final climb from the Llyn was perfect. Challenging without being ridiculous and the view was magnificent. The sun was going down and there were neat bumps as far as the eye could see. We reached the summit to a visual feast of a sunset and nobody else in sight.
Despite only being a short distance from camp we took the opportunity to get out our head torches… okay, so this was really a time wasting exercise so as to enjoy the view a bit more. I was also curious as to where the others were. Given our last seen positions they should have been half way up the final climb by now. Still no sign of anybody we descended towards the old mine to the South.
A snake of torches came into view just as we turned up the final track to camp putting roughly 3 km between us. I couldn’t believe quite how much distance we’d put on the groups behind. My attention wasn’t on that thought for long as I was really just hoping that Denvy had grabbed a good tent!
The set up was much better than the night before. Tents were pitched in a huge cattle shed (thankfully without the usual occupants!) and large ground sheets were out so kit sorting was simple – not having to balance things so not to get them wet. All our kit bags were dry bags – in my case a 109 ltr bag which at a push I could probably have got into. Sorting kit was like trying to find a particular tangerine amongst half a dozen in a Christmas stocking. Add soaking grass from dew and a desire to keep kit dry for the week makes a dry ground sheet heaven! Better still Denvy had done us proud – not having to think when I got to camp had made a huge difference. Thank you Denvy!
Whilst I suspect tiredness and calorie deficiency played a significant part, I seemed to have an epic every time I got to camp. The night before the karabiner attached to my dry bag for identification had jammed. A marshal, Mark Palmer and I had tried to loosen the screw gate to no avail. In the end we had to find some pliers to free it open. It did mean I had the opportunity to have a natter with Mark – one of the race favourites – although I was sad to head he’d turned an ankle on day 1 which he tweaked again on day 2 to take him out of the game. A real blow to the competition I think having run against him in the Brecon Ultra. Tonight my epic was finding my drop bag which had all my foot care in it. Not easy in a dimly lit cattle shed with more shadows than, well, a shadowy thing!
By my standards I’d not really been eating well at camp. I’d been managing 1 large mess tin which probably equated to a good standard sized meal, but I’d been struggling through it. In the morning I’d just about been managing a double sausage and egg roll – those of you that have seen me at a hotel breakfast buffet will testify that this is a tiny amount!
My lack of food intake was not because I didn’t like the food; I think I was just too knackered to eat. Not tonight. Three mess tins of a delicious and well spiced curry coupled with rice and naan. I felt a lot better, slowly coming back to life and able to have a bit of banter with the other competitors. Pointing out to the elite runners that their approach was all wrong, since they were clearly missing out on the beautiful sunsets managed to raise a laugh. The irony of finishing in the dark had not been lost. I realised that we were missing out on the camaraderie on camp though as the competitors still in the game had dwindled to just 29 now. Those no longer in the game had a choice as one of the Spanish competitors would explain in his speech at the finish – they can either smile or cry. Increasingly people were choosing to smile.
3 days complete, just shy of 28 hours out on the mountains, 120 Miles covered and 11,260m of ascent and 10,787m of descent and 9 hours sleep, I’ve got growing trench-foot and tomorrow is the wet day! Still feeling good.
Day 3 Video Diary:
Day 3 Official Video:
Day 3 Stats:
- Distance: 71.13km (44.2 miles)
- Ascent: 3665.5m (12,026 ft)
- Descent: 3178.1m (10,427 ft)
- Time taken: 14 hours 04 minutes