The Peris Horseshoe – The perfect day out?

Originally posted on April 7, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Following a bit of weekend horse trading I found myself in a car with Wayne, Karl and Jayne on our way to Llanberris to tackle the Peris horseshoe. Rewinding the clock slightly I was meant to be in the Lakes the weekend before for a Lakeland 100 recce, but had been asked to support a BG record attempt. Shifting diaries around I was able to swap the weekends, but alas with the conditions in the Lakes as they are, it was called off.

As I’ve said before, I think for any mountain runner with a family the planning of weekends is essential to harmony and guilt free excursions. Thus when a day out is planned one has got to be prepared to get out in any weather/ conditions – the weekend is sacred and days out to play with others broaden the possibilities and change the focus – in short they are gold. The cancellation of such a day means either a hasty re-plan or the option of sacrificing it for the greater good. In this case I’m glad I went with the hasty re-plan.

The weather, in my view, has been fantastic recently. Loads of snow on the tops adds a new dimension; coupled with bluebird weather days it is the perfect combination. Conditions like these are reasonably rare in the UK… well, certainly that they happen to fall on a weekend day that is in the plan. Checking the forecast the night before it had -3 to 0 degrees for 950m and above, clear visibility and not a breath of wind. Time to hastily pack before visitors arrive.


Facebook is a wonderful tool, I’d put up on my status that I was planning a day out and was anybody interested in joining. Braddan and his better half Rach decided this was too good to miss – Rach had not been mountain running before (something I didn’t know at the time) and so had decided that a half Peris was a nice gentle introduction! To be fair Rach did know what she was in for, but massive respect for taking such a beast on as a first foray.

Our plan was reasonably simple but easy to fail. Brad and Rach were to leave early and get a head start. The hope being that we would catch them either after Pen-y-pass or near enough so that Brad could join us for the second half whilst Rach relaxed with a good book. As we arrived I knew it was going to be an epic day. Snowdonia looked like the alps and there were perfect mountain reflections a plenty in the various Llyns.

The route heads up following the Paddy Buckley route through the disused slate quarries to the East of Llanberris. The first checkpoint is Elidir Fawr before traversing around to Y Garn and Glyder Fawr – descending the red spot path to Pen-y-Pass. The second half of the loop starts with the miners track before a steep climb to Y Lliwedd to the start of a spectacular (albeit lung busting and steep) ridge run up to Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon). From the 1085m of Snowdon there is an ear to ear grin inducing descent then a stiff climb up to Moel Cynghorion, rolling straight on down to the valley and up to the join the Snowdon Ranger path and the race to the finish. The full route can be found here:

We took it pretty easy to start with. Nobody was in a rush and we headed off at a nice relaxed pace, all marvelling at the scenery. A more perfect day weather wise is rare and it wasn’t long before I was sweating buckets. I’d opted for an icebreaker on top of a compression top and with the sun high in the sky it was not necessary. We had a few wrong turns in the quarry which didn’t concern us at all, on the day of the race there will be people in front and marshals to ensure we go the same route as everybody else.

We followed the fence line up and realised we were but a few metres from Elidir Fach so added it in before donning microspikes and heading onwards and upwards to Elidir Fawr. The breathtaking scenery continued throughout the day.

Summiting it was clear we were all enjoying ourselves – the tricky underfoot conditions just adding to the spice. It wasn’t perfect microspike territory as often the crust would break resulting in an unwelcome and unexpected drop, but it certainly had me grinning from ear to ear as we traversed around to Y Garn (my favourite UK peak).

It was here we first spotted Brad and Rach tearing down the hill to get ahead. It was clear we were in no rush so I’d hoped the others would be happy to just join as a group for the red spot descent so Brad could join us. We ran like children down to the style before Devil’s Kitchen a feeling of freedom and surrounding  majesty nourishing my soul.

We agreed to join the others rather than pass them and by happy coincidence Wayne arrived at the point where we all came together as he’d parked at the base of Snowdon and walked up the Glyder to meet us. Photos a plenty we all made our way down an approximation of the red spot path (there was no chance of seeing the markers) and stopped in the Pen-y-Pass car park for soup and sandwiches. How civilised – first rate logistics support from Wayne as always.

Jayne decided to stop at the half Peris along with Wayne and Rach – in the end I think this was a very good decision. The conditions were pretty tricky to say the least and whilst it’s easy to be blasé about spending 6 hours out on the fells once you’ve got into it, it’s pretty intimidating and when not use to it can be an injury waiting to happen. Jayne dropping out saved some blushes for Brad who had decided that the wisest approach to a day running across snow is to leave your microspikes in the top drawer at home. That said, this may have been an act of total genius as Rach may not have been so impressed if he was striding on up the hill and she was left skidding everywhere.   Brad had the next best thing we could muster as Jayne was able to pass on my YakTraxs to Bard for the second half.

We got going and it was strictly business. A good pace was set around the miners track until we reached Llyn Llydaw; the base of the climb up Y Lliwedd. Wayne had warned us that everybody he’d seen (festooned with crampons and ice axes) had turned back saying it wasn’t possible to get to the top of Snowdon. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one out of the three of us that thought that made the challenge all the more enjoyable!

On the way up we met a couple of groups all head to toe in all the gear, chopping out steps with their ice axes. Eyes wide as we passed in shorts and t-shirt out for a run. The ridge to Snowdon was as spectacular as it was challenging. It was great to see that everybody we passed had all the correct gear and were loving a real adventure in the mountains. The spikes were holding up for us although we were a lot slower as a result (especially after I started sliding and couldn’t stop on one section… squeaky bum time!)

The cafe was closed when we arrived; entrance blocked by a snow drift as we joined the fight to get a couple of seconds next to the trig point. Snowdon was far more accessible from the Llanberris side and there were a reasonable number of people on the summit plateau. A few incredulous looks and comments were made as we started the grin inducing descent.

The climb up to Moel Cynghorion wiped the grin from our faces, but once at the top it was all but over. The direct line descent to get to the path was a matter of controlled sliding – thrice I had the misfortune to have gathered enough speed that when the crust gave way I somersaulted forward cutting my elbows and knees; ice rash. I felt this was nothing compared to the comedy sun tan lines that had been picked up on the day – especially Karl on his face as the woolly hat he’d been wearing had left him with the running equivalent of goggle marks… I did laugh!

All that was left to do was to trot into Llanberris itself – we went too far along the path, but come race day it should be obvious where people are turning. It’s such an epic day out that I will be using it on my Thursdays out. It’s just about the right distance and easy to manage logistically. It also covers part of the Paddy Buckley round so it’ll be good to know those sections well. We met with the rest of the team and got changed before heading for Pete’s Eats. Pints of tea for all except me, I opted for a local ale and a monster omelette and chips. After all the banter on the run it was Braddan who had the final laugh. We’d both ordered the same food so when Brad’s turned up on an enormous plate I was licking my lips. Moments later mine arrived, minus peas and on a plate half the size! Caught in a dilemma between querying it or just diving in I took the quiet option so here is the big warning – running the Peris Horseshoe may lead to fatigue so great that you accept a smaller dinner… run it at your peril!

Wibbly wobbly Peris track – plenty of detors and bad lines – it’s difficult to see when it’s in snow!

Life after VO2Max testing & Generous people!

Originally posted on March 20, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Getting tested is certainly one of the better things I have done. The data generated has really given me food for thought. The next day I immediately looked to apply some of the lessons I had picked up and discovered I find it incredibly hard to get my heart rate into the zones I should be training at. For me this is a problem, but it’s a temporary one and like all problems, it presents one huge opportunity.

Just the knowledge of what is happening physiologically within me as I run has empowered me. Racing at Llantysilio at the weekend I used my heart rate to convince myself I could maintain the pace and even push harder in places – powerful stuff psychologically. The result had me ahead of Adair on the fells for the first time with ~500m to go. I had 100m on him and was set to record my first victory over him but took a wrong turn following a sign and had to backtrack. I was gutted in many respects, but extremely positive in others. I know Adair wasn’t on peak form, but a win would have been a win, and certainly a sign of progress.

The key for me is that all things are pointing in the right direction and I’m getting confirmation that what I am doing is paying off. Importantly I also know I still have got some distance to grow as a runner. I’m also building a stronger belief around what I can and can’t do – I find this exciting and empowering and can’t wait to get started on my 16 week programme.

So how does one run quicker? Well before my plan came through I had decided that the only way for me is to be somewhere where I can’t subconsciously ease back on the pace whilst my mind tells me I’m pushing hard. The only place for that is the dreaded treadmill!

For me the treadmill has represented everything that is wrong about modern attitudes to exercise. Running on a rubber band going nowhere in a gym when one could be running outside in the fresh air taking in the views and feeling free. However the test made me realise that I can’t fake a pace on a treadmill and that is the key to getting my legs used to higher speeds.

Treadmills are expensive though and having gone part time I just couldn’t afford one decent enough to make it worth while. Sure I could find one on ebay for £100 but it would be terrible and only any good as a clothes stand. Even reconditioned or ex-gym ones are over a grand so I approached my physio Mark Browse at the 10 Bridge clinic and he has generously said I can use his treadmill when he doesn’t have other clients in there. Perfect!

Mark has helped me a lot over the years, fixing my niggles and constantly repairing ankles! As the former head Physio at Liverpool FC he has a perfect balance of practicality and safety when it comes to getting you back out there. More than once has he said, “well, you won’t do any more damage… it’ll hurt, but you won’t do any more damage so it’s up to you” I guess all those years of getting handsomely paid people back out on the pitch before their value drops without risking long term and real value depreciation has enabled him to walk that line. To be fair Browsey also thinks I’m a loony but was only too happy to help me find where the limits are and to push for peak performance. Browsey, I salute you sir!

The next key in the puzzle is to understand how my test results can help me understand the nutrition I need whilst on my ultras. I’m intrigued to see if I can work out on the fly how much I need to consume based upon the heart rate I am running at – knowing from my RQ how much fat and how much carbs I am burning. Further research needed for sure, but in the mean time it’s on with pushing myself to find my limits in a different way; if I can combine an increase in speed with a rock solid psychology then who knows what is possible!

Science proves I’m a quitter!

Originally Posted on March 12, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Yes, it’s now official, I quit too early. Those of you that have read my DBR blog (well done for your dedication!) may think that science has got this one wrong, but the evidence is clear I’m afraid. Let me take a few steps back and explain what the hell I am going on about.

Recently I came across the Endurance Store and Footstrike Science as these are the fantastic people that devised and put on the Lakeland 100. Reading what Marc had to say on his blog really made sense to me. Essentially he breaks runners down into two camps, Bouncers and musclers – the Bouncers make efficient use of the energy they expend running by using more spring from tendons, releasing that energy like a rebounding spring. Musclers simply force themselves around using the brute force of their muscles. If one wants to go faster then they need to work on their technique to improve the bang for their buck; i.e., the transition of energy into forward propulsion.

Marc’s thesis is that there has been a boom in people picking up running in their late twenties/ early thirties; by this time they have missed out on the traditional coaching which sees junior runners focus on speed and gradually increase their distance as they become less able to cut it at the shorter distances. By focusing on technique we will make a bigger difference to our speed and capability than we will if we just bang out the miles. Essentially we should turn the traditional training pyramid on its head; rather than working on base miles and endurance in the winter and moving through to speed as the months progress and we get into race season, we should focus on technique and speed and gradually get longer as the months progress and we get into ultra season (of course the problem here is that there is no season and burn out is common these days as a result as the temptation is always to fit in another race).

I buy into this. When I swam I had a coach to work on my technique and as my technique got to a point where it was excellent the focus was then on training volumes – interesting point, I look back now upon the coaching I had as a swimmer and it just seems so primitive. The focus was really on volume rather than quality. We didn’t really have focused speed work – sports science has moved on a lot in the last 20+ years.

In running, everybody just assumes they can run and have done since they day made it onto two feet so making any change is very difficult. This is one of the reasons why many coaches don’t see much point in focusing on it, and there is certainly no real structure outside of the junior system to cater for this. Sure there are books and even the odd private coach that will teach you how to run in a certain style; e.g., Chi or Pose, but they are prohibitively expensive.

So how can I go about this? Well the lovely people at the endurance store run assessments and then work with people to devise a training plan. Along with the plan there is support, drills and other elements that should help drive towards a better technique. The other element is really about getting people to train in the right zones or intensity; by doing this the body will adapt and technique will improve.

Do I really want to do this? Is this really why I run? These are questions that I have asked myself time and time again recently. Of course I’d like to be quicker, but I run for self-therapy, for meditation, for freedom, for the sheer pleasure and enjoyment of it… won’t a proper strict training schedule ruin all that? Well, yes, maybe it will, but with greater efficiency I’ll be able to enjoy my running a whole lot more; less food required on the mountain, able to go for longer in the mountains and take more in; greater pride and the thrill of being more competitive… so maybe it’s worth it.

This year will bring about some big changes in my life. One of them has begun this week as I have moved to part time at work. It has been clear for a long time that I couldn’t continue as I was since the “cost” of maintaining what I do was simply too high. The impact on me and my family is far more than any reasonable person would expect and was unsustainable. As I said, running is part of my therapy and my down time so moving to a specific training regime may not work for me, but I’ve always believed that if I ask the same questions I should not expect different answers, so I’ve taken the plunge and decided to give it a go.

Ok, so back to today; all booked in but totally disorganised my confused little brain managed to eat at lunch time. 5 minutes later I read: ‘Very important – do not eat within 4 hours of testing’… damn it. I toss the idea of heading to the toilets and making myself sick, but I’m on a conference call at the time so not really the done thing. Call over I get ready and decide I should try to make myself sick. Despite almost achieving this I think better of it but am left with a reflux of piri-piri smoked mackerel. Nice.

I confess as soon as I arrive only to find that my mackerel salad, seeds and dressing + banana really aren’t an issue. Changed and ready to go I strap on the face mask and start off on a 17 minute run. The run is based around a 10K pace. I haven’t run a 10K for about 8 years so the best I can muster is my half marathon PB; at 84 minutes this makes for a 15kph bench mark time. I ran this whilst not on my finest form, but not too bad either; I have also lost about 1 minute per mile in terms of speed since the DBR so I figured this was going to be tough!

Breathing into a full face mask, not sure if I’m going to be able to manage the pace and with a treadmill that is slightly askew to the wall (so I feel like I’m not running straight) I can feel my anxiety. I know this won’t help. However I work through from 11 to 12 to 13 kph and begin to wonder if I can keep this up, sweat dripping from my face. I did of course get to fulfil a Top Gun fantasy for a split second with the mask on

I then get to walk for a couple of minutes before the test starts. I’m told that I’m an excellent fat burner – something I was really chuffed about. I’ve been working on trying to become more efficient at burning fat through training from fast each morning and only eating at the end of my session – nice to know this has paid off.

The test begins and I feel my anxiety rising again. Like the warm up I’m on an incline of 1% only this time I start with 2 minutes at 13kph, then every minute the speed increases by 1kph until I hit 16kph. After that every minute I survive the incline is increase by 1%. I manage to 5% and then half way through I feel myself slipping back off the mill. I surged to get higher up the treadmill again, but soon after I slip bag down again. I’m shouted at to get back up to the top of the mill; I try, I fail and I jump off through feat of slipping off and taking my face out on the giant sanding belt!

I am properly exhausted.

As somebody that only runs one pace metronomically I am really not used to being in that red zone. I always run hard, but I just don’t have any variance in my pace – it was the same when I swam and it’s the same now. I struggle to run slowly and I don’t have any real kick, so add this to the anxiety of having a face mask on and a possible face plant onto the mill and I think this explains my results.

My VO2 Max is just over 63 ml/kg/min. According to this site ( superior (unfortunately the highest it goes) for my age range is anything greater than 49.4 and the highest ever recorded is 97.5 by Oskar Svendsen an 18 year old cyclist. Kilian Jornet (in my opinion the world’s greatest ultra runner and without doubt one of the fittest human being’s on the planet) scores 92.5. In the same article it states that most world class running athletes clock in between 75 and 85…. So not too shabby then! However the key point in Mark’s thesis is about transition, so you can have a fantastically tuned engine, but if the tyres are only at half the optimum pressure then the car will not perform. So what else did the test tell me?

Essentially I am an excellent fat burner, manage my breathing very well and have an excellent lung capacity, I have a consistent mid-foot strike (either mid or forefoot is what I’m after) and excellent cadence ~88 double strikes per min (aiming for between 85 & 90)

… But I am a quitter!

Based upon the data I would have been expected to have gone on for another 30-90 seconds! I’m not going to lie, I find this disappointing, but I also think it tells a very strong story in its own way; for me it shows that I am simply not used to running at or above my top pace, that the other factors; i.e., anxiety, seeing my heart rate so high and the psychological game that plays, plus not being used to running on a treadmill will have contributed to the panic that made me jump off the mill.

I was taken through the results in great depth and got to chat a lot more about the various elements of my running and my goals. I now await the training plan and have already vowed to stick religiously to it. In 16 weeks time I will have real information that will tell me if I have improved or not, hopefully I’ll also be in the form of my life and ready to take on the Lakeland 100 (with more than one pace to offer).

I confess I’ve wanted to do this test ever since I read about VO2max years ago. I’d absolutely recommend it based upon what I’ve learned so far, but the proof will really be in the results and my times over the course of this year. I’ve always cursed myself for running too safely too, always managing to find a reserve from somewhere once I know the end is in sight rather than just running hard and seeing if I blow up or not. I’m excited about the plan and the future possibilities… maybe my days of running safely are over – sometimes you’ve got to just put yourself out there and try something new!

Brecon 45… well, 46 and a bit

Originally Posted on January 16, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Back to where it all began. A year previously this had been my first official ultra. I’d run the Sandstone trail before but I’d never actually raced officially beyond the Marathon distance. The Brecon Ultra had gone extremely well for me and I’d come home in 5th position which had astounded me. I’d also beaten Adair (my running club Nemesis :)) whom I’d only really been close to overtaking once previously. I’d just been firing on all cylinders that day and it had been a true adventure.

Fast forward to 2012 and I planned to finish off the year where I had started. I’d completed so much in the year, more than I ever really thought I would and the Dragon had been slayed. The Dragon had taken a bite out of me though and had left me out of action for over 2 months. I’d been back running for about 1.5 weeks when I toed the line again for another 45 miles. I wasn’t sure if I would complete it – I knew I could if I wanted to, that’s a confidence born from the final days of the DBR; but I didn’t want to head around and complete it but be out of action again.

It was the same ‘three man army’ (our team name) that took to the tow paths, fire roads and trails around Tal-y-bont on Usk and up through the Gap (the dip between the Cribyn and Fan-y-big) on the Taff Trail. This time we split from the start, Adair was coming back from injury and wasn’t sure how he would go, but has been on incredible form this year – he set off with the leaders. Martin and I ran at a brisk but sustainable pace in no mans land; letting the fast boys go at it out of sight.

Visibility was certainly better than the previous year. The surrounding area is just beautiful; especially with the autumnal colours. As we cracked on around Martin kept me going at a faster pace than I would have done on my own. Since returning from the DBR I’d noticed I was just over 1 minute per mile slower than previous (a huge amount). The further we ran without seeing Adair the more my confidence grew that he was really in with a shout this year. Mark Palmer was there, but I just had a really good feeling about Adair.

Slowly but surely we reeled in runners. Martin and I were content at our pace and just kept the pressure on. Once we’d got around the first lap I felt like I was gaining in confidence and wanted to put in a decent performance. For me that meant running every bit I possibly could.

I’m pretty selfish in a race, even when I’m not really racing. I always want to put in a performance I’m happy/ proud of and that can mean different things on different days. As we neared the end of the canal section at the start of the second lap I spotted another person; “We’ve got him” I said as Martin and I focused in on the hunt. Moments later; “Is that Adair?” I was gutted as I realised Martin was right. There in front of us was Adair, moving reasonably well, but not quickly. We slowly ate up the distance between us.

I knew immediately that he must have inflamed his injury and really thought he should stop; there was no possibility of that. Adair refused to call it a day which I still believe would have been the sensible thing, especially as Adair does not really run these sorts of distances as he loves his racing too much. Unles you are Richie Webster, there are only so many ultras you can race in a year. Adair races week in week out with stunning results so wisely he’s stay away from the Ultras whilst he still has his speed. Continuing meant he’d probably put himself out for weeks. That said, I totally respected Adair’s reasons as he had never DNFed before in a race and wasn’t going to start here.

Selfishly I carried on. We split near the top of the first bank of hills (I’m sure they were twice as long as the first time around mind). Martin tried to keep us all together and finish as a team, but it would have meant walking the rest of the way and I needed to see where I was; also I was about ready for some time on my own to reflect on things. I jogged down the hill and jogged to the first feed station then decided to crack on. They weren’t catching, I could no longer see them and I could still run. It’s quite a personal thing running these distances and whilst I’d love to be more like Martin and see them as crazy adventures, I do love to just see what I can do.

The remained of the run was beautiful. The weather cleared further and the view of Pen-y-fan on the way up was superb. I rued the fact that the Cribyn or Pen-y-fan weren’t included in the loop; but I guess it is a beginner friendly ultra and that might push a number of people over the edge. Maybe it should be the first 20 people only or have a slightly separate course as an option to all runners with different prizes and a cut off for going up there… maybe that’s just too much of a headache to manage. Anyway, I got around and loved the section after the gap as I tried not to get my eyes poked out from the overgrown gully – pretending I was in the scene at the start of the epic Last of the Mohicans where they are hunting deer.

I ran all the way in and posted a time which was an hour slower than the previous year. I was chuffed to bits to be fair and it was great to catch up with all the boys, many of whom are coming to La Palma for Transvulcania. One more person has also joined our party for that trip – Duncan Harris will be seeing where he is against the really big boys – it’ll be a star studded line up as it’s the first Sky runner Ultra series race again this year!

The video below is the reason we signed up for Transvulcania… after seeing this we just needed to get out there and check it out!

Back to the Brecon 45 – Fantastic organisation and marshaling by the Likeys and their crew. Lovely, lovely people!

DBR – The Aftermath

Posted on January 6, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

WARNING – This post contains feet pictures.

As soon as we left the camp site I was asleep – poor Laura had to navigate her way around a maze of single car width roads and stay awake to get us back to her Mum and Dad’s house in Abergavenny. When woken I had already started to stiffen up, so it was off to the bath for me trying to make little noise and not fall asleep in the bath in the small hours of the morning.

My body had decided that enough was enough and now it was time to repair. I had a terrible night of sleep due to leg pain and general discomfort. When I woke in the morning needing the toilet I had to crawl to the en-suite and had to be helped back to bed.

I headed off to A&E the next day to see if they would x-ray my legs and to check what I should do with my blisters (I never get them so I didn’t really know how to treat them post event). It was a comedy few hours. My answer to the question; “How have you done this?” was met with, “My god, you know we’ve got buses in Wales!” I left in a wheelchair with both feet mummified and two crutches.

My largest blister had become infected and the other two were drained. The largest blister was fully cut, drained and it felt a whole lot better after that. It took me a few days to be able to move with any sort of consistency and I needed my feet up as much as possible. It was gutting not to be able to take part in the week of fun we had planned with the family.

[Click on the pictures for larger images]

I had 8 sessions of physio which didn’t seem to speed up the recovery which was a good 2 months before I ran again, but despite all this within two days of the finish I found myself craving the next day in the mountains. I really couldn’t have had a better week of running and I just wanted to get out there again. Asked if I would do it again my immediate response of “in a heart beat” was often met with disbelief.

I don’t think it is something that people can really get their heads around. I find it difficult myself and I’ve done it! I’ve had a lot of very kind words said and some great ribbing from the running club. A couple of people out side of running have made comments about my placing – what did they think I was going to do??? Win it? “Never mind, 27th is still good”… are you kidding me? Most of the people didn’t come close to finishing. Finishing was what it was all about for me and if I never do it again then I will still be very happy.

There is the temptation to go back and do it again in 2015 as I know so much more now. I’m certain I can finish as I want to finish; i.e., running the whole way and going on to do the 6th day to the South coast; but “unfinished business” is probably too strong a phrase for how I feel. “it’s be nice to” is closer to the mark.

So what did I learn?

1) If I really want it, then I can complete anything

I’ve been pretty exhausted since the event, just burned out I guess, but I did find myself at the start line of a 46 mile race just 1.5 weeks after coming back from a 2 month lay off. I wasn’t remotely concerned about the finish – my belief that I can finish and endure is made of iron now. I know I can just put one foot in front of the other and make it.

2) Never give up the competition in an ultra

Cast iron belief is worth a lot in ultras, if somebody was 20 miles ahead of me in a race then you’d think you have no chance, but if that race is 100 miles and they still have 40 to go, anything can happen. People fade, leads get chipped away at. I lost several hours on day 3, yet climbed the leader-board. Joe Faulkner steadily chipped away and ended up in 15th despite being 35th on day 1.

3) I need to develop a better mental approach to deal with it when the head goes down

I can take too long to come out of a funk, I’m not the worst, but I’ve had days where I have beaten myself up, told myself I was having a terrible day, but looking back on it I was actually still in touch at that point. Part of this is down to food I think, as I don’t feel I’ve really cracked that yet.

I also think I need to stop apologising for needing my own head space in a race. A responsibility can form in a race when you’ve partnered up, it can be difficult to break that up. Some people love it, others like me need to get away and into our own heads regularly. If I was doing the race again I would start everyday on my own, unless it is somebody I have entered specifically to run with. This is no offence to anybody I ran with, I may very well end up joining up with them later, but I should have started fresh each day for my own sanity (and theirs too no doubt!)

4) I’ll benefit from improving my navigation on the move

It’s just a practice issue which is easily addressed. I also think I could say this for the rest of my life as even the best make mistakes. I need to slow down to go faster and I need to be able to trust my first reading, not keep going back for additional confirmation two seconds later.

5) Training Specificity

  1. a) I’m under no illusion that my shins went because I didn’t do enough long days in the mountains before hand. It’s difficult with a family to get the time out there and Laura was incredibly supportive for me going off to play. I needed to be getting out regularly into proper mountains for 8+ hour days either running or walking.
  2. b) Never stop fell racing – this comes under training as it’s the best speed work you can possibly do. It reminds you that you can run up the hills too, it builds strength in the right muscle groups and if you never run fast… well, you’ll never run fast.

Speed work for me is incredibly difficult as I just can’t do it on my own. Finding a way to get in regular speedwork is vital as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the enjoyment of running. Finding a speedwork partner(s) is vital. Seeing the sunsets was incredible, but getting in earlier would have been too

6) Support is vital and social media is epic.

The messages I received whilst out there on the hill were amazing. Several people followed me and posted on my behalf which I really appreciated. I had a lot of messages on the final day when I was really struggling which gave me a boost at every read.

Most of all I would never have made it to the start line without Laura’s support; she is incredible and I am nothing without her.

7) Wales is one of the most beautiful places on this planet.

8) Some things are worth it.

9) Did I mention how incredible my wife is?

Combined Stats:

  • Distance: 320km (199 miles)
  • Ascent: 15,279m (50,129 ft)
  • Descent: 14,916m (48,937 ft)
  • Time taken: 68 hours 29 minutes

Day 5 – The long walk in

Posted on January 6, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

I had a restless night. I kept waking up with pain in my shins, just unable to get comfy. I had decided last night that I couldn’t drop in camp – not the done thing, plus you never know what you’ll feel like in the morning… I felt the same. Mentally it was all about just taking the next step. Walking around the camp to get food, etc. was very painful and my mood was dark.

Many people assured me I’d be ok – the usual motivational slaps on the back everybody thinks you want, but my replies were along the line of; “Thanks, but I don’t think I’ll even start”. Faces changed as they realised I was serious and then just left me to it. They could all put themselves in my position and really understood how much pain I must be in to even contemplate it at this late stage.

I finally got my act together to leave with Rob. His blisters had been popped and strapped so once he got going he was fine. I was grateful for his company en route to check point one. First things first through, I needed to get off this camp site with my dignity intact!

So much for the mass start Shane had planned. He had no chance of organising that; even up front it sounded ambitious and impractical to try to get more than the top 10 together for a mass start. It was a romatic ideal, but took no consideration of the majority of the runners for which the achievement is just finishing.

Many people had been very vocal the night before stating they were going to head off when they wanted to. So I guess he either realised it was impractical or feared a mutiny, either way, once the first people had gone it was a bit of a free for all. I was still getting my breakfast in when they went and since we hadn’t been told that the mass start wasn’t going to happen it was a small surprise to see some people leave. Once that happened the floodgates opened and all remaining competitors left to applause and cheers from those still on camp – a nice touch!

My goals had more tiers than ever on day 5; first was to make it to the start, second was to take the first step, third was to just make the 100 yards to get off the campsite, then it was checkpoint after checkpoint. We set off and I was trying to get to grips with using sticks. It wasn’t really happening, but I was prepared to try anything. We managed our way up through the wood and broken tracks to finally find CP1. Once in the bag Rob ran off ahead; part of me wanted the company, a lot of me didn’t. I had an emotional day ahead and was in serious agony.

Before I had left camp I had visited the doctor to discuss painkillers. I never pop pills for running as I don’t believe it is worth going that far… except for this. I had no real idea of what was safe and what was the maximum. I’m also permanently medicated with pain modifiers anyway to deal with the daily pain post head injury. I’d started taking Ibuprofen and Co-Codamol in an effort to manage the pain. I only had enough for half the day, but also didn’t want to overdose on the things and didn’t know how well they would all play together.

There was a beautiful moment where the doctor looked in his supply kit and pulled out a painkiller. I could see him going through a mental “Do I?/ Don’t I?” debate. Eventually he said, “I was keeping these in case somebody broke a leg or something like that… oh, take it, just go and finish it!” with that, he pressed it into my hand and turned his head; I felt I was running the race for him at that very moment. I hope I’ll never forget that moment. There was a total understanding of what everything meant and how much I needed to finish. This was what made him such a superb doctor on camp – not because he gave me one strong painkiller for the final day, but the advice and guidance he gave over the course of the event was from a real understanding of what the runners were going through. A top man & a wonderful moment.

I saved the pain killer trying not to take them as soon as I was allowed the next dose. I didn’t know how long I’d be out there so I rationed as much as I could. In truth when I did eventually take it, it didn’t really do much, neither did the co-codamol. The pain was there to stay and I needed to switch off the screaming in my brain if I was going to finish.

Back to the descent post first check point. I was struggling to hold it together. I was struggling to stay on my feet as my legs buckled with every step. Various groups passed me. My lip quivered. A group of three lads that I’d run with on the first day passed me and one said; “Alright?”, I shook my head, managed a squeak of a “No” before bursting into tears. I felt terrible for the other chap as he just didn’t know what to do. The floodgates had finally opened and I could not stop the emotional release. I tried desperately to say, “I’ll be alright, I’m just having a moment”, but in the end I had to just wave him on and give him a thumbs up. I felt guilty all day about laying that on him.

Everybody passed. I fixed on my Navigation and tried to manage the misery. A wrong turn here could mean curtains to my mental state. Putting a brave face on was pointless and I had moments where tears of frustration would come and others where tears of pain would come; but most frequently it was a combination. I was not going to quit but the thought that I might have to was just too much to bear.

It’s been a very difficult few years since the accident. From thinking I was going mad to being told what was going on and then learning to live with the brain injury has been an ultra in itself. My running and the widely perceived lunacy of the type of events I have been doing has been driven in part by me needing to achieve something extraordinary in my life. My career has been stopped at 30 which is more than hard to accept and this has threatened to rob me of my identity (in part it already has taken a big chunk). Psychologically it’s very difficult to cope with and move on.

I’m sure most ultra runners have some kind of demon chasing them or at least something that drives them to cover the distances we do. There are moments out there (though strangely not on the Dragon for me) where I question why on earth I am doing this; that this is the last one, that I just need to return to fell racing and forget all the crazy distance challenges. I question what I am trying to prove, to whom, and why? I look at things I have achieved in life and reflect on why it seemingly isn’t enough and why I have to keep pushing out the boundaries. I still don’t have answers to this, but these feelings meant I could never give up on the DBR. My greatest fear was hitting halfway and the doctor pulling me out or a van coming to pick me up and DNF me. The tears were for that, they were for all the miles I’d trod, for all the training, for the fact I’d been flying and I felt really fresh everywhere except my shins*, for the fact I wasn’t finishing the way I wanted to, that I wasn’t getting to run my beautiful country, for being so close to my limits.

* ok and parts of my feet, but nothing that couldn’t be managed or that would stop me running – blisters are popped, drained, taped and off you go.

The lonely steps gave me so much time to reflect. I decided to call Laura for a bit of morale support. Just as it was connecting I felt myself welling up, and then Joe Faulkner appeared out of nowhere. Looking superb and happy. Shirt off, backpack, shorts, socks and shoes only. My face was probably contorted and he cracked on seeing I was making a call. I was so glad he hadn’t been one minute slower as he’d have passed a blubbering mess and it was something I had to deal with on my own.

It was a difficult conversation; Laura concerned for my well-being, me concerned about finishing. Laura told me I had nothing to prove and that it was incredible that I’d got this far. She said she was coming out to see me and I snapped at her not to give me an easy way out, no option to quit. Her support was so important at that moment. I know I had worried her and I felt terrible for that, but they are only legs, they will heal; a spirit is far harder to heal and that was my focus; my spirit had to stay intact… and it was getting stronger as the miles passed step by step.

I popped into a village shop for some water. The chap behind the counter told me of an incredible race that was coming through. I chuckled inwardly that despite my totally dishevelled state he hadn’t realised I was in it until I turned to leave and he saw the number on my backpack.

I saw nobody down those lonely roads. I just saw all the easy miles I could have put in, the distance I could have covered so easily and yet here I was staggering along. But the miles passed and passed and the Usk Reservoir (today’s drop bag point) was almost upon me.

Walking across the dam wall and seeing Laura walk out to meet me was such an emotional moment. I struggled to hold it together until we hugged, then I sobbed like a baby for 30 seconds that felt like a lifetime. When we finally released each other I felt totally renewed. Everything melted away. Right at that moment I knew I would finish.

I got to the aid station and to my utter surprise there were some others there and I wasn’t last in. I was then offered a choc-ice! I thought this was all some cruel ruse, it couldn’t be true could it? It was! The dropbag crew were just awesome all week. Slick, a very welcome sight, engaged, and the best visible part of the entire event. I don’t just say this because they went and bought choc-ices!

I really put some food in and had a bit of time off my feet. I expect the others to come in but nobody did. I set off 10 minutes or so after the next chap and caught him by the time we reached the mountains. Wooter had been in the checkpoint but left about 20 minutes before me and I wasn’t going to catch him – he was moving slowly by his own standards, but just that bit quicker than me. Seeing him working his way up the mountain was great encouragement though and the competitor in me showed his face again.

I was in excellent spirits now, the pain was there but I felt that little bit invincible. Overtaking the a chap on the way up to Fan Brycheiniog pushed my spirits up further. I realise all the way through the blog I have used the word stunning, and it’s difficult to say which was the most stunning as they are all stunning for different reasons, but the ridge along the Black mountain from Fan Brycheiniog to Carreg Yr Ogof (try saying that when you’re drunk…. or actually, just try saying it!) is spectacular. Looking back down on Llyn y Fan Fach… just pure magic. Perfect running territory, perfect weather, less than perfect legs; a very bitter sweet moment.

The trek to Garreg Lwyd proved more tricky than I hoped. I think I overtook another person around here, but I took a terrible line which left me climbing over rocks. Arriving at the top I was greeted by Laura and none other than Mr. Robert Parry! decked out in shorts, a shirt and a Panama hat Bob ensured spirits remained high. It was just so good to see them both as they accompanied me down to the road. Despite my condition they struggled to keep up and I think that said a lot about my spirit right there. I knew I had it in the bag and my mental game was finally focused.

Pork pie. Fruit platter. Am I dreaming again? No, Charmian had taken it upon herself to add in an extra drop bag stop. Sat in a deck chair with Laura and Bob cracking jokes all the time… did I mention the pork pie!!! Nothing picks me up better than pigs lips and hooves wrapped in pastry.

Carn Pen-y-clogau was taken and I could see the end. I started to run. Roughly 10 Km to the finish and it was rough!  Cutting across to the final check point at Tair Carn Isaf gave me sight of the finish. The end just wasn’t getting any closer, but I took in the last check point in a hobble and headed down a cruel descent towards the final track to the castle.

The final track went on forever and it went down… a lot, then up… a lot. It’s a really tough finish after all that had gone before it. Seeing Rob and Laura on the ramparts was very welcome and I came in to the finish in what I thought at the time was a run. I’ve since seen the video and had that illusion shattered! Felt strange not to see the race director there, but Joe Faulker and Steve Dubbie were there and cheered me in – very touching, but a muted end to the race.

Chilling down I had to get away from the finish line as my body began to shut down. Walking down from the castle to the “banquet” hall was very tough, but I got to cheer in one of the guys. I didn’t know what to feel it was all so muted, painful, massive, special…. the agonising hobble down was all I could focus on.

Walking into the hall I was just thinking about the banquet/ feast we’d been promised. The warmth hit me first then there was literally a roar. The muted ending to the race was all forgiven as the reception I had when I came in through that door was simply incredible. It seemed like it would never stop. To have it come from the other people that had tamed the dragon or at least part of it and really knew what it took to get there was something I hope I will never forget. A feeling I can’t describe. I was beaming from ear to ear.

Data downloaded, pint put in my hand I sat there and just took it all in. I was so glad when the lad that I burst into tears in front of came over to congratulate me and see how I was. I was able to apologise and have a laugh about it with him. Now for the Banquet! Ahem… maybe not. It was a dreadful cold buffet with almost no food by the time I got there… anyway, let’s move on.


I had my blister drained by Mel; she managed a full 2ml out of it as I sipped some champagne that Rob had kindly bought for me (complete with plastic flutes!) Trophies were given out and yet another huge moment of cheers and whoops from the assembled. I’m sure all in that room appreciated the respect from their peers that day. There were some speeches and the Spanish contingent continued to “smile rather than cry” by partying away.

Prize giving over, Joe stated that he was off up to see Wendy finish and most people went up with him. If I thought I could have gone up and down I would have done it, but my legs were good for nothing. I would have so loved to have clapped Wendy in – an incredible achievement to be one of just three “double Dragons”; yes a pensioner, yes an incredible athlete! I am looking forward to seeing her again soon on a start line!

I have a huge respect for all of those that took part and especially for all of those that completed the Dragon. I’ve also got a massive respect for those that for one reason or another failed a day, but got back out there and took on everything else thrown at them to complete as much as they could. Steve Birkinshaw was nothing short of invincible out there. to see him run was really something else. The lines he picked, the efficiency of everything he did; impressive to say the least! Helene was awe-inspiring though. To come forth overall was just incredible.

Certainly some bitter sweet memories for me. What could have been if only my legs hadn’t given in. If only I’d trained slightly differently so that my legs would have been strong enough, if I could have just ran that ridge from Fan Brycheiniog, but these are all inconsequential at the end of the day, especially when offset by the other days, especially day 1 which was easily the best day out in the mountains I have ever had. Either way, it’s done, it’s slain.

Day 5 Video Diary:

Day 5 Official Video:

Day 5 Stats:

  • Distance: 59.2km (36.8 miles)
  • Ascent: 2142.7m (7,030 ft)
  • Descent: 2011.3m (6,599 ft)
  • Time taken: 13 hours 18 minutes

Day 4 – What starts well doesn’t always end well!

Posted on January 1, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

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

Day 3: Things fall apart

Posted on October 7, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

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

2013 approved.

Posted on September 27, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Get in! Race calendar for 2013 approved by the boss.

  • Brecon 45 – 17th nov 2012
  • Tour de Helvellyn 22nd Dec
  • Helsby Half – 20th Jan 2013
  • Dark Mountains – 26th Jan 2013
  • Hardmoor 55 – 23rd March 2013
  • Edale Skyline – Same weekend – damn!
  • Transvulcania – 11th May
  • Welsh 1000m – June?
  • Saunders MM – 6th/ 7th July
  • Lakeland 100 – 26-28th July
  • UTMB – 30th August 2013 (not expected to get in)
  • Brecon 45 Date (TBC)
  • One of the big lakeland races: Wasdale, Borrowdale, Ennerdale Horseshoe
  • Rab Mountain Marathon? Dates for 2013

As many weekday fells as I can find: e.g.

  • Ysgol Dinas Bran (Wed) May
  • Up the beast (Tues) June
  • Hotfoot Up Famau (Wed) June
  • The Druid (Wed) July
  • Green Green Grass Of Home (Wed) July
  • Ponderosa (Wed) Aug
  • Moel Fammau (Mon) Aug

Also looking at doing a round or two, but it’ll depend upon a number of factors. Going to be an epic year again!

I love Laura! Having an understanding wife is essential to this running lark.

Day 2: Who’s afraid of the big bad Rhinogs?

Posted on September 23, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

I woke to the sound of strapping – nothing untoward going on, just Rob taping his feet in preparation for the day. In my state, somewhere between awake and asleep, I did some diagnostics expecting the worse. I rotated my ankles, bent my knees, lifted my legs… I did it all again not believing the results – the same came back, I felt like new! In general, spending  just shy of 14.5 hours out running up, down and across mountains I tend to know about it the next day, but I was raring to go! Result!

Original expectations had been that I would get in each night, snack, wash, dry/ sort my feet, eat, sort my kit for the next day and hit the sack. Arriving in darkness had meant that this didn’t happen. In fact one of my gripes about the set up had come straight to the fore as when we got in we not only had to drag out dry bags in the dark to find a tent, but we then had to go fishing in our bags for our plate/ bowl. Why a large bowl couldn’t have been provided I’ll never know. It certainly made for grouchy people on camp. For non-elite runners (and I suspect many of the elite) being able to pick up a bowl and get food immediately after completion would have been very welcome and would have fed the recovery process immediately.

Back to the morning, we were meant to leave between 6 & 6:30, but didn’t get going until just after 7. Primarily as we were sorting bags and reloading drop bags, etc. faffing basically – unsurprisingly it was me that was last to be ready. I’d managed a double sausage and fried egg bap and chucked in a rehydration powder to my first water bottle. We collected a map each and away we went.

My final day out in the mountains prior to the event had not been a day out in the Rhinogs as hoped because the logistics were a pain, instead I’d headed out on leg 1 of the Paddy Buckley round as it takes in the Moelwyns; albeit in the wrong direction. In the interests of time on the day I had taken a different route down from Cnicht and hitched a lift from the road… this just happened to be the very road I was stood on, so the day started with a degree of familiarity despite the mizzle.

We were moving reasonably well, but as the track became increasingly unfamiliar we took a grid reference from my GPS to confirm location. We’d gone up too far and needed to head directly East. We did and hit the base of the climb perfectly. The top appeared in no time. As we got close enough to see the box a large group appeared including (amongst others) the Spaniards and Mike from the States. Mike had seen and signed up for the race before persuading his friend Brad to sign up. Brad was from Bristol, but had lived out in the States where he’d met Mike. In the competition for man with a permanent smile Brad won hands down – not sure I ever saw him without a smile on his face. A legend and a real gent too. Brad and Dan had started off together but by the drop bag it had become apparent that Dan had underestimated the difficulty of the race (as had so many others) and had taken an injury too. I guess “toughest” is over used in the relatively new world of Ultra running (as Joe Faulkner once said to me; “It was called long distance walking when I started”).

Once again I found myself leading the group on a descent I didn’t know. I’d done it in reverse before and got it quite wrong. The top of Cnicht has a path which I was running and it felt like everybody was tearing after me. I got a bit of path fever which is common when you haven’t had a clear one for a while and over shot the drop point.

Waiting for Denvy and Rob (whom I had thought were right behind me) we had a quick map conference and dropped straight down. Denvy sighed exclaiming; “Is this another one of your crazy descents Chris?” Whilst Rob took to sliding as much as possible on his backside. We dropped so quickly we lost the large group much to my relief – if we’d have come out on a bog I’d have felt even more guilt than if I’d just taken myself there. I felt no guilt in leaving them, they were whooping and hollering all the way down the mountain – we couldn’t see them through the mizzle, but we were in no doubt they were loving the experience!

As it was we found two people who had taken a slightly closer line to the optimum – one speedy chap who had passed us a while back at significant speed (so the line wasn’t so bad afterall!) and the other person turned out to be Wendy Dodds.

For those that don’t know, Wendy is a fell running legend and I don’t use that word lightly. At 61 she was the oldest competitor and was one of the returning four. She won the ladies race along with her running partner Sue Walsh, although Wendy modestly pointed out that they were the only female pair in it. Wendy was incognito as she was wearing a man’s waterproof and told us a bit later she was trying not to get spotted. She was there to race and race hard.

We were cracking on with our own Nav’ I was looking for the small Llyns that would provide a handrail for us and we fell in step with Wendy until we hit the disused Cwmorthin slate quarry. At this point we split again for the ascent to Moelwyn Mawr. Up until that point Wendy went from “trying to hide” to permanent commentary in a flash. I thought I could talk!   Even on the way up Moelwyn Mawr I was looking around for the other groups approaching as I could hear talking – I’m now convinced it was Wendy talking out aloud to herself 30 yards ahead of us!

We hit the summit and the remaining speedsters came past; Nicki Spinks, who had arrived as first lady for day 1, Mark Palmer and some of the others. As we departed Moelwyn Mawr I was surprised to see them all take a a very different route in what felt to me like totally the wrong direction. I figured they knew something I didn’t, but we weren’t quick enough to keep up so we could try to follow and miss the line so we stuck to our chosen route. Much to my surprise, many people were going over Craig Ysgafn as well given that we weren’t doing Moelwyn Bach this seemed like extra climb when we could just descend directly to Llyn Stwlan (Cronfa Reservoir) . We took the direct route down which didn’t look to bad from the top.

“Another one of your crazy descents Chris?” (not sure there was a question mark at the end this time). This one turned out to be just that. It wasn’t that bad, but having relooked at the maps I think the best route was to just cover off the other bump. At one point of the descent I lost my footing, fell forward down the slope (on rocks) bounced and rolled 360 degrees sideways as if I had laid down to roll down the hill. Thankfully I stopped after one rotation and got to stand up to finish the descent. The thought did flash through that it might be curtains for me, but luckily not so it was on with the show!

To my delight several groups followed, or rather, they chose to come down the same way as they wouldn’t have seen us until committed to the descent – so I wasn’t totally barking… well, I just wasn’t the only one at least! We also caught up with people that were 5+ minutes ahead or kept pace with the faster people so I was pleased with the route despite everything.

Wendy appeared again only this time she had lost her map. We offered her Denvy’s map which was unlikely to see the light of day   and she offered to show us the rather tricky to find path down as a thank you. At this point Steve Birkinshaw came flying past which was really something to behold. He looked totally fresh again – the night before he had specifically come to find me and have a chat after we had arrived in which took me a little by surprise, not least because we’d only just found a tent. He’d mentioned how tough he’d found the first day and was interested to see how we’d faired. How many sports do you get that in? Sums up mountain running in the UK for me, the best in the sport appear to have no ego and are genuinely interested in the other taking part. No big “I am”, just another bloke out there loving the fact he gets to share the mountains with other likeminded souls.

Finding the path down would have been difficult and I was very happy to have Wendy at the helm as she had recced it before. We’d decided to take the road rather than the rough ground and after checking out a disused railway only to find it overgrown and unsuitable, we took the long stretch of A470 to Trawsfynydd – what the drivers must have thought I can only hazard a guess!

We were all moving about the same speed and cracked on as a six. Denvy, Rob and I could have pushed on as a three, but although we never discussed it we reigned ourselves in a few times to stay together and enjoy the day as a team. In hindsight we probably lost and gained – lost as we could have moved quicker; gained as in places we would have spent more time if we didn’t hit the line right.

That said, we took a bad line whilst attempting to pass by Bwlch Gwylim on the way to Llyn Cwm Bychan. We went well wide despite Rob spotting the path (probably) and took in a lot of rough, boggy tussocks as a result – if only Yannis had been there

The descent to Llyn Cwm Bychan was magnificent. The Llyn slowly reveals itself and then boom, It’s all there.  Given the rate perfect weather we were having (the Mizzle only lasted until we got off the Moelwyns) I was totally blown away. My only regret is not capturing it on video.

The drop bag crew were fantastic again. I grabbed some soup and refilled my cake stash. We really spent too long there, but time was not at the forefront of our minds.

The group started out and I waited for Rob. Despite a 10 minute head start we caught up quickly on the Roman steps and headed up to Rhinog Fawr.

If you skip to 6:22 on my video diary there is a 360 from the top of Rhinog Fawr; what a stunning area – no wonder it’s Yannis’ favourite part of Wales!

I’m not going to lie, I feared the Rhinogs. I’d heard many tales about how dreadful it is underfoot and missing the path leads to hours of slow movement and despair. I didn’t find it like that at all. I felt we had good paths which were easy to find throughout, but I spent the whole time anticipating the bad news – it was just around the corner wasn’t it?

I’m sure the crystal clear visibility and A1 perfect weather helped (it was blooming hot mind). I know people that have visited the mountains of Snowdonia for over 20 years and haven’t had such good weather – the foreign competitors may be lulled into a false sense of security and return to take on the dragon again only to find disorientating zero visibility, freezing conditions and feel like they would have stayed dryer sitting in the bath; but right then there was nowhere I’d rather be.

Such a spectacular range of mountains, views, terrain and relative desolation cannot be beaten. Fair play to British Columbia, the Argentinean lake district and the Himalayas – they have all blown my mind but in a different way. Their beauty is individual, not to be compared, just enjoyed in that moment.

Up until the race I’d not explored Southern Snowdonia as it’s awkward to manage the logistics. Being out there I felt very privileged to have been shown the secret. I’ll spend the rest of my life returning to the area now; any logistical difficulties are well worth it!

From the top of the Rhinogs the mountains just don’t seem to stop until the sea. Sure there are settlements that can be seen, but I found them to almost disappear like a mirage as my visual cortex filtered them out.

Back to business and the descent from Rhinog Fawr. It seemed a shame not to be taking in Rhinog Fach; tantalisingly close and as we descended the tight gully to the South of Rhinog Fawr’s summit I couldn’t help but be touched by a little disappointment. Day 2 was described as the Moelwyns and the Rhinogs, yet we only did a Moelwyn and a Rhinog. Did it save us a lot? Not in distance really and I guess about an hour in total effort max, although I may be underestimating   Guess I’ll just have to go back and have a go another day!

When a course is printed on a map it feels a shame not to do it, but the game is to get up each morning, get your brief and race the controls that are open. I’ve recently read a series of forum posts by people not involved in the race; throwing stones from their armchairs about how the event is devalued by cutting it short – the fact is that the event was longer in distance and clearly harder judging by the winning times. It smacked of jealousy more than anything else and on reflection I just felt sorry for them – the type of person that complains about the content of a radio or TV show that they don’t listen to/ watch and have no intention of ever listening to/ watching. Sad really.

We came up to Y Llethr (which looked a tad easier to get to from Rhinog Fach but I may be wrong) and the stunning environment just kept on giving. The views from each control were just amazing and kept coming. Seeing the last control (Diffwys) from Y Llethr was particularly spectacular; not just for the 360, but I suspect also because it was the last control. It allowed the sense of achievement to sink in and I could reflect on another magnificent day. I was striding ahead now on the climbs, but those are my finishing legs. I always subconsciously save something back for that point where I know the end is in sight. I had no intentions of splitting from our trio, I was trying to pull things on though by setting a target for everyone else to chase. As a team we all did this across the course of the day – whether that was conscious or not – in this environment it’s too easy to drift off and forget the imperative to keep moving quickly – watching the video back it’s clear the ball is dropped a few times. There is no time to stop and stare!

Finishing in the dark adds a lot of extra time. We were very keen to avoid the dark tonight and get to those hot showers! The end of the day consisted of a mean descent, a forest track to the road, a trail to remove as much main road as possible and then a couple of Km’s on the road to the campsite. We got to the forest track with Wendy and Chris still with us and we started to jog the path. Next thing I remember is somebody saying that Wendy and Chris were no longer with us. We cracked on and since the others were no longer with us we picked up our pace as we raced the daylight.

We just about managed the trail without head torches and didn’t need them on the road. We arrived exhausted but elated again. Again the tent situation was poor. Arriving in the dark and looking at each tent, as you’re tired and hungry, for a small piece of tape whilst dragging two try bags around was bonkers, frustrating and led to more than one sense of humour failure around camp.

Whilst the camp had hot showers it was also a terrible lay out. We had to walk quite a distance to everything and food was in a totally different field. It just didn’t work… but damn that shower was good!

Tent found, feet dried and talc’ed, Wendy and Chris arrived. Denvy asked for her map back… oh dear. Wendy was not happy and felt that we’d just used/ followed her on all the “good lines” and then sprinted off to leave her at the end. This really wasn’t the case or intention and I was really sorry she felt that way. Whilst we certainly benefitted coming down from the Cronfa reservoir and were grateful not to have to find that “path”, we’d just been going at roughly the same pace and it was comforting to have a bigger group that seemed to agree on the navigation. It had been nice to spend the day with others too. I guess we could have covered the road section a lot quicker and we may well have crossed between Trawsfynydd and Bwlch Gwylim quicker through hitting the path earlier, but there was no guarantee that what Rob saw was a path. The rest of the Nav was simple and between Rob, me and the clear visibility we would have been quick and accurate enough. So whilst I’m sorry this feeling existed, I didn’t feel guilty about it (despite being accused of it for the rest of the week :), but that’s a different story) and I’m certain Wendy would have done the same if she could have.

The real story was 2 days down, just shy of 28 hours out on the mountains, 75 Miles covered and 7595m of ascent and 7609m of descent and 5 hours before I was up to take on a “long day”. I couldn’t wait.

Day 2 Stats:

Distance: 57.1km (35.5 miles)

Ascent: 3000m (9842 ft)

Descent: 3063m (10048 ft)

Time taken: 13 hours 26 minutes.

My Video Diary:

Official Video teaser for day 2: