Time to set my own pace again. Leaving camp feeling fresh after double breakfast and leisurely organisation, I’d decided to put some solo miles in. I kept my wits about me to start with as it would have been quite easy to go wrong early doors, losing any hard earned time and, of course, looking foolish!
Once out of the farm and over the initial hump, I was on forest tracks and fire roads for several miles. I’d opted to shut myself off for this section and run well whilst I was fully fuelled and feeling good. To shut off I’d opted for some nostalgia in the form of some club classic circa 1995 and my first year at Uni.
Memories flooded in, people came into my sights and were quickly hunted down. I was flying. Despite losing an hour or two through various decisions the day before I’d managed to climb the field slightly and it looked like I as set for a very good day in the office.
To say I was loving it would be the master of the understatement. It felt free, easy and familiar despite the new surroundings. It wasn’t long before people that had left a good 20 minutes before me were in my wake – me grinning like a loon, checking nobody was in sight before getting my hands in the air reminiscing nights in the Student Union and clubs of Newcastle.
It felt like my morning run physically, aided by the sensory uplift of a new trail and the complexity of hitting the right path in the labyrinth of fire roads. Passing Joe and Chi around 2 hours in I was still going well, averaging between 10.5 and 12.5 kph. I said something about making the most of it whilst I could then immediately turned the corner and went wrong. Brilliant.
Both errors were minor and lost me a minute or two max before breaking out of the forest. The peloton appeared and I stepped aside to let them pass. Whilst I expected them to disappear I found myself at the back getting frustrated at breaks in my rhythm as I stopped myself clipping the heals – I knew it wouldn’t last though and in wanting to maintain my own pace I stopped to get water before the road.
The road threw up two surprises, firstly I’d caught up with Nicky Spinks and Tim, although I had no idea when they had set off (and as soon as we hit the rough stuff they disappeared ahead – so impressive to watch!); secondly I’d caught Rob who had set off 45 minutes before me. To catch up such a large amount of time in less than 2.5 hours really surprised me, but confirmed what I already knew… I was having a great day!
Heading up onto the moors of the Elan Valley I switched on. The terrain was characterised by deep heather (shin to knee in many places) and thin easily missed trods. I was going my own way, but had my sights on an efficient looking pair up ahead. Too far ahead not to concentrate on finding the right trod for myself, but it provided confidence not to be triple checking the map – trying to hold a map still (as far as your eyes are concerned) whilst running over deep heather is not something I have mastered!
I never caught the pair, they were moving efficiently as what appeared to be a well oiled Mountain Marathon style partnership. I am certain one of the two was Simon Ellis from Tattenhall – a nicer bloke you will not meet! Whoever they were, they slowly started to widen the gap as I concentrated on putting some fuel in the tank.
I hit no-man’s land again, nobody in hunting sight ahead; checking behind me I saw Rob had upped his pace and was chasing my down. This went on for roughly 6+ miles across the desolate ground. My shins were playing up again and the pain was really cutting through every so often, forcing me to buckle my legs. In fell running it’s a reasonably common sight when another runner places their foot badly.
At this point there is one of two outcomes; a bad twist or a very relieved runner – even if they take a face plant in the dirt to avoid the twist. The thought of weeks away from your passion means that the ankle is more precious than the face! The only way to get away with a roll rather than a twist is to remove all weight from the ankle immediately, throw your body weight to the opposing side and try to get a quick step in. If you’re lucky it’s just a minor roll and you run it off.
I hit a short road section before the climb to CP4. A random van came past and stopped up ahead, slid the doors open to reveal jelly babies! I stopped for a few moments to fill up; feeling the effects of my early pace and the steepness of the road. It was perfect timing for me as I was starting to bonk a little, although the wonderful gentlemen didn’t get many words out of me in return for their sweet bounty. Steve came past and politely refused the jelly babies, light heartedly suggesting it would count as outside help & disqualification.
I was struggling to get going. My shins were increasingly painful and the pain was not going away. I noticed the shift and it was significant. The road peaked and I winced with every few steps, not only from the shin pain and impact of the descending asphalt, but also for the loss of heigh, knowing I’d have to gain it all back again.
Rob joined me between the road and the top of Esgair Penygarreg. Chi also appeared from a slightly different approach and we hit CP4 within 30 seconds of each other. Chi must have been having a great patch as he was out of sight before Rob and I were comfortable of where we were going. Burnt heather and interlacing tracks darted everywhere making what looked simple on the map into a maze.
Together Rob and I had a ‘mare over this section with wrong choice after wrong choice. We lost a huge amount of time and I was now in very real pain at every step. I’m not sure how much we lost, but I’d not be surprised if it was over 45 minutes. I was frustrated by that, but (a) I did it to myself & (b) I was now in enough pain that I was more concerned about that than the hard work that I’d put in to gain so much time in the morning.
Finally we arrived at the bag drop. Despite everything it felt it had appeared earlier and easier than previous days; I’m not sure if that was me getting used to the distances, or that today had just been easier climb and distance wise. At that moment I didn’t care, I just needed to get off those legs.
The heat was still insane for the time of year and I was craving some soup. Looking back I was behaving like I had bonked, rather than facing up to the shin pain – assuming it would go away and that I was just low on energy. There was no soup but the resourceful pit crew came up with a soup-perb (sorry) alternative… soy sauce and hot water – never thought about it before; it’s genius!
We spent too long at the drop bag point. I was hoping for a miracle shin wise and surely sitting down for five more minutes would bring that miracle? Wendy came in and today’s comedy accusation was that I had left Rob (to die) in the Pumlumon the day before. It appeared that without her group coming along to the rescue it would have been curtains for the ex-para who was equipped with a map, warm emergency clothing and food, was a couple of miles from several farms and even had a GPS distress tracker beacon! At first I was mildly mortified, but quickly slipped into a bit of banter that really helped lighten the mood. Thanks to Wendy I was ready to go, chuckling as I left.
Setting off we took the faster road. Wendy decided road was hell (she has a point) and went through the hills. Rob was really suffering with blisters so we made a comedy paring. I managed to get a bit of signal and a few messages out as we headed across the Caban-Coch reservoir; another lift to the spirit to see the support out there for me.
Much of the remaining miles were relatively desolate. Large expanses of moorland, few people in sight either way. Charlie Spronson passed us in fine spirits, but the laughs soon faded and the pain returned. Rob was getting a lot worse as his blisters grew and I was struggling.
Crossing betweek Abergwesyn and the final road section near Esgair Garn was soul destroying yet strangly energising. The deep mud/ bog just sapped out energy, whilst the surrounding valley lifted spirits.
The apparent ‘Pavlov’s dog’ like conditioning I have when I know the end is in sight kicked in across this section. I wanted to move faster and felt I could, but I wasn’t leaving Rob. I pushed on during the final road section, we moved in silence, me looking for phone signal to call Laura.
I was desperate to get moving and just get to camp but Rob’s feet made that impossible. I had effectively accepted the pain by this stage, but just a few miles later the show was probably on the other foot as the pain intensified and brown down my mental defences.
The camp couldn’t come soon enough. It was dark and once again I just longed for something to take all the effort away. A nice bath, somebody to dry my feet, not having to balance my clothes or kneel in cramp inducing positions so as to ensure I have dry clothes for the final day. No queue at the food van…. somebody to feed me…. I felt pitiful.
For the first time I thought about dropping. It had become a war of attrition and for a while I was mentally on the causality list. I was at camp, I couldn’t give up now. I hobbled and generally felt sorry for myself around camp. I was barely able to mutter a word of thanks when Claire Maxted from trail running magazine insisted I jumped past her in the food queue.
I sat spooning in food, or at least trying to as the food that evening was impossible to eat with a spork! I can’t even tell you what it was; my eyes dead as I shovelled in 3 portions. I started to revive, those surrounding me in similar states. Wouter Hamelinck and I had a thoroughly deep and meaningful exchange without either of us uttering a word. The dragon had extracted something on that day.
Thoughts that I couldn’t continue still waged a war in my head; they were winning. I went to the medical tent where Mel sent me to stand in the ice cold river for 10 minutes. I returned to see my place in the queue for the terrific Bowen treatment had been taken. Mel took one look at my trench foot and emptied the talc’ to the protests of the doctor; “that’s got to last for everyone!”, “Yes, but I’ve never seen tench foot this bad before!”. Summed it all up really.
I crawled into bed with a firm belief it was all over. The only chink of light was that I was in camp and maybe it’d be slightly better after a night of sleep. 5-6 hours before I was up again. Time for the body to repair? No. Time for the mind to repair? Let’s hope so!
Day 4 Video Diary:
Day 4 Official Video:
Day 4 Stats:
- Distance: 68.7km (42.7 miles)
- Ascent: 1873.6m (6,147 ft)
- Descent: 2116.8m (6,945 ft)
- Time taken: 13 hours 15 minutes