Ogwen to Snowdon and Back… via the 3000 footers!

Posted on August 10, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Following on from my last video diary of my day in the mountains I decided this was the most efficient way of recording my exploits. Despite trying to improve my commentary I find that I start every one with “Okay, so..” but these things are a work in progress

I’d hoped to get out for the first time into the Rhinogs, but alas my potential running partner has been suffering with knee and hip issues which look like they will be keeping him out of action for a while longer, and probably mean he’ll need to pull out of the dragon’s back itself. I’m totally gutted for Neil, he’s one of the strongest mountain men I’ve met so far, so it’s never nice to see someone forced away from doing what they love for so long.

For ease of logistics I decided to head to Llyn Ogwen again but this time with a different plan. I decided I’d run the bottom two thirds of the Welsh 3000s and then head back down the PYG track and over the miners track back to the car. It meant an additional valley floor and some mountains I’ve not been up before – Elidir Fawr and Crib Goch; the latter being a notorious knife edge of a peak.

It was a stunning day and as it’s the school holidays there were actually a handful of people around. I was told I was clearly insane to be running up on the Glyders. I met rounds of applause for scree descents and just for looking knackered I think! Anyway, rather than rabbiting on, I’ll let the video do that for me!

I’ve decided to just stick them all together into one long video rather than a series of separate ones. Not sure if that is better or worse – if you’re bothered, let me know!

Oggie 8 Video Blog

Posted on August 10, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Not sure why, but this post seems to have disappeared from my site, never mind, here it is again!

Taking advantage of having a Thursday off I took a trip to Llyn Ogwen and the Oggie 8. These are the eight 3000 footers surrounding Llyn Ogwen. I was introduced to this challenge by the mountain rescue team that are based at the eastern end of the lake itself. As a charity gig they had teams competing to get around all eight. A reasonable challenge in itself the weather was foul so Nick Johnson, Kirk Williams, Andrew Gazzard, Rob Parry, Laura and myself got half way around and decided we were no longer having fun. We dropped out and went back for a free massage – it was definitely the right call!

Anyway, I took a series of videos and they tell their own story of the day – my broken memory is not a problem when I have video to remind me! This was the second attempt as a day trip out not leaving early and ensuring I got back to play with the boys before their bed. The first attempt failed due to some <cough> navigational issues <cough>

Saunders Lakeland Mountain Marathon 2012

Posted on July 24, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Ahh the Saunders. My yearly pilgrimage to the lakes which regularly ends in dropping out. To be fair, in general this has not been at my instigation. I’ve always struggled to find a partner for mountain marathons and thus have desperately tried to blag a friend into doing it. Last year I had a cracking time with Chris Gorbutt, but sadly the undertaking was a touch too much when training has been in Sevenoaks… kinda lacks decent hills. So when I met Martin last year and we tried the Rab I knew at last I had somebody that could not only put up with me for two days, but could also take the distance and hills in his stride… time for the toughest class then eh!

The SLMM classes are named after fells. The toughest two person team class being Scafell. Given that this year the event was taking place in Wasdale we always knew we’d be near the largest mountain in England. In search of a good night of sleep we requested a later start time so we could leave at a reasonable hour rather than head up the night before. Whilst it would have been great to camp, the weather was and had been pretty shocking and by the time we would have got there and pitched the test we’d have had less sleep than staying at home and would have missed our beds… were we too soft for this under taking?

We arrived, ate, faffed, faffed, faffed, did a bit of faffing, then finally went to get started. The weather was stunning so I bought myself an Inov8 rain peak cap – the obvious choice given that moments previous I had been slapping on the factor 30 hoping that it wouldn’t sweat off too quickly! The forecast had been for torrential rain all day, but as the week had progressed the weather front moved through quicker than expected so we just hit it perfectly.

Fatal mistake number 1: Never ask the kit check people where something is unless you have plenty of time. It’s 25 to 10, our start time is 4 minutes to 10 and there is a 20 minute walk to the start. The start is meant to be completed by 10am; i.e., everybody on the fells by then. Kit check people are sunning themselves. “Excuse me can you tell me where the water is please?”, “ahh yes, it’s just around the back… can I see your torch and spare top?” Now I’m all for the kit check usually, the guys are only doing their job by ensuring that people have got the full kit, but some kit check people seem to see it as a power play and delight in being awkward whilst giving you the impression they are doing it just to aggravate you. The lady doing the check then criticised the content of our bags and knew full well it would make us very late for the start. I’ve never been able to stand jobs-worths or power trippers so it was an unfortunate start. Kit check over we were now very late, but we made it on time and were ready to rock.

For those of you that don’t know the format of a Mountain Marathon it is pretty simple. It’s essentially orienteering on a massive scale. Typically held over two days, the competitors must race in teams of two and carry all kit required for the experience. Going through the start box we get given a slip of paper to go with our custom Harveys map (I love these maps!) The slip of paper holds six figure grid references for the check points (CPs) and to help narrow down the location within the 100m square box that a 6 figure grid reference denotes, there is also a clue to the location of the CP; i.e., re-entrant or stream junction, etc.

A few moments spent plotting the CPs and a quick look at how to get to CP1 and we were off up the Black sail pass. Mountain marathons success hinges on the ability of the navigator; after all, if you can’t find the boxes it doesn’t matter how fast you are. It’s critical that the navigator(s) can make good macro route choices and then be quick and precise at micro navigation once the attack point has been reached. An attack point is an easily identified location that you can navigate to and know where you are on the map with absolute accuracy, from there the micro navigation takes over to guide in the final few hundred metres.

The SLMM is not a score class which meant we had to visit the CPs in a particular order. In the more popular classes this mean on a clear day they can turn into a procession. If you do choose to follow others you always have to be careful not to assume that the people you are following are in your class otherwise the day can end in despair. Fortunately for us we didn’t have that option as so few people attempt the Scafell class so since one of my objectives for the weekend was to have a really good test of my navigation skills we were certainly going to get that!

Other objectives for the weekend were just to have fun and finish. Martin and I have no delusions of winning an event like the Saunders – we don’t make enough sacrifices on the comfort side to pack light enough, we’re not quick enough in the fells and navigation is not a strength… apart from that we’re top of the list!

My first route choice was going well and I was confident until I noticed that we were totally on our own. Nobody had followed and nobody was in front and we could see 30 minutes ahead of us. This concerned me. Too many times I have been out in the hills wondering why people could make such an obvious mistake only to find it was me that had made the mistake! Not this time, my Nav’ took us straight to CP1, even if I did have a wobble when a fence appeared (I just hadn’t noticed it on the map).

Just getting to the first CP had been a decent effort. We were sweating cobs by this stage and my hat had come in hand already by keeping the water in and on my head as I took a refreshing cap full of water from each stream. My Nav was precise enough and I tried to ignore the other competitors that were zig-zagging across our trail to take us directly to the saddle between Great Gable and . Surprising some tourists we crossed east of the tarn and up directly to the second CP. Hey, I’m getting good at this.

Now for the long one. The corridor route looked the obvious choice and it lead to Scafell. Knowing this section from the Bob Graham, or at least thinking I did for some reason I saw foxes Tarn and thought, I know where that is, brilliant! Sadly I had not paid enough attention and it wasn’t until we were at the top of Scafell Pike that something wasn’t quite right. I lost my bearings for a minute and panicked a bit as a result it took me 15-20 minutes to re-pinpoint where we needed to be and where visually around us that was.

Now my brain doesn’t work so well I do find myself getting very confused. Like a ball of headphone wire my thoughts get tangled by themselves and if I try to quickly untangle them they just get worse. Not good when you want to be navigating fast and making quick decisions. Martin doesn’t do any navigation so I have nobody to bounce plans off and my earlier snap decision regarding the macro route choice had lead us into a situation where we had to go over Scafell. Not ideal, but at least it gave us the bragging rights J

Up and over we were back on track and hit CP3 without any issues. CP4 was straight forward too as we discussed the finer points of drug cheats and the Olympics – guaranteed to result in strong opinions! As we hit CP4 we met our first competitors. They had clearly been looking around for the CP which I took us straight too so my confidence was pretty high. They had also started off an hour or so before us so we felt pretty good about that too. Heading for CP5 we were a little North and so in the effort to trek a little less height over what looked like boggy ground we headed for clear navigational handrails of a wood and had the joy of a great run-able path to get us there.

At the top of the wood I had us pinpointed on the map, although sadly I hadn’t banked on the wood having been chopped down so we stumbled over all the debris crossed a stream and headed up into the ferns only to find it packed full of gorse! Nightmare. We’d been largely “route 1-ing it”; i.e., just going straight and in the true Onoda* spirit we decided this was the only honourable thing to do. Picking our way through the Gorse wasted time and energy, but at the time we didn’t really have much choice. Dig in, head down and crack on.

We came out a little wide of the mark but easily found CP5 before being treated to a bit of flat ground which we shuffled over pitifully. Three CPs to go and the next two were incorrectly sighted. The first of the two was easy to find due to a fantastic sheepfold, but the next Nav decision and the lack of Altimeter lost us a lot of time that we didn’t have.

CP7 seemed simple, straight over the top until we hit the stream, then follow it down until we get to the junction and it should be there. What I didn’t count on was being too high for the stream. We must have missed it by metres in the end, but when you are convinced you are one place on the map and then find you aren’t but you’re at something similar then you convince yourself you are right. This is what the course designers pray for (as well as the slower and more accurate navigators J). We easily lost 40 minutes on this and more in morale. By the time we found it (at the wrong stream junction, it should have been at the lower stream junction which mean we descended rather than ascended wasting more time… not bitter) we were running out of time to get to camp before it shut!

Looking at the map it was a simple descent then one of the easiest navigational challenges ever seen due to a massive walled field to act as a handrail. It was flat, only a couple of KM and this is what Martin and I are built for… what the map didn’t show us was the diabolical terrain. Huge tussock and bog stood before us. It was a cruel was to finish the day, but probably pretty fitting. Genuinely concerned we battled through as quickly as possible and managed to make it into camp with 15 minutes to spare. Phew!

One thing was for certain… we weren’t going to trouble the leaders! But it wasn’t what we were there for. We had enjoyed an epic random day out on the fells, great company and I’d got to practice my navigation. We’d completed almost all of it with a smile on out faces and… well, just enjoyed every minute of it really!

Camp is always great. Putting up a tent whilst the rain inevitably starts to spit just to panic you is always a nice relaxing experience… especially when you through in random cramping just as you’re getting a tent peg in. We just happened to have picked a spot near some Helsby runners so it was great to lift the spirits and share some stories from the day.

Tent up, hot food in (thanks jet boil! A little heavier, but sooooo quick!), changed into dry clothes and feeling like a new man I went for a walk to stretch the legs and see if I could spot anybody else. A look at the results and the planners route put a smile on my face as my macro choices had not been as bad as I thought. The two lead teams were separated by just over 1 minute which is incredible given the distances and navigation involved. All that was left was to catch up with some likeminded people then off to bed… I didn’t need any rocking!

Day 2.

Despite the queue for the toilets we got away from camp at a reasonable time and had a totally different experience from the get go. We could see other people for a start, although you never know if they are on your course. We started well and I took us a safe route to the first CP without too much trouble. A shin deep stream crossing at the start set the tone for the day, but this wasn’t going to dampen our spirits.

Crossing paths with a couple of other Scafell teams was great for me to build more confidence in my Nav and we really got to kick on. CP3 was cruel as the placing of the box didn’t match the description and it was the most faded box so far so it was camouflaged. Five minutes wasted we cracked on chatting all the way as the tussock/ bog just never ended.

Way off to the higher ground we could see another team who, frankly, looked like they were on motor bikes as they ascended. We resigned ourselves to continuing like we had done the day before and go solo. Much to my delight we hit our attack point with ease so it was then just down to finding a 2 metre high cairn. Following the compass was the order of the day, but when the cairn didn’t appear I started to doubt. Forcing myself to trust the compass I kept going and bingo! It suddenly appeared, along with the motorbike boys in sight.

I have to confess that if it wasn’t for the motor bike boys we’d have gone a far longer and harder route, but there was a clear trod and we made ground. Martin started rabbit hunting and given that neither of us wanted to admit we were knackered and struggling with the pace we eventually caught the motor bike boys. Desperately competitive, the first words were to question us as to where we’d come the day before. It’s a tough class this Scafell one!

Against my worse judgement we took a direct up and over route rather than my navigationally safe route. It was far better and following a pure Onoda* “route one” line, which we just had to put our heads down and push over, we hit the stream and descended to the CP.

At this point I was feeling pretty damn pleased with myself. We’d hit every single CP spot on and the remaining CPs looked navigationally simple in comparison. Ahh… what is it they say about pride coming before a fall?

Parallel errors are what course designers aim for and I walked right into one. Faced with an up and over route along the BG route (but a still climb to get there) or a nice straight downhill run between two large tarns I thought we had it made. Sadly I didn’t take a bearing though and there was a small lump we should have gone over first before descending. Doh!

Buoyed by our success, over confident and blissfully unaware we headed down the valley. I became increasingly alarmed to see nobody was following us and increasingly confused by the view in front of me which didn’t match with the map. Realising we had to climb over the crags I swallowed hard as I realised I’d have to break the news to Martin.

It’s difficult to take on the Nav on your own as any small mistake and extra time spent running be it over scafell, through gorse or over crags only to find that your partner suffers from vertigo places quite a burden. Once over and in the right place I then made a further error which had us lose another 10 minutes by heading too far up stream. Martin is very forgiving, but I could tell he was cheesed off. I did have great news for him though, the only honourable way back to camp was to literally go up and over Yewbarrow. Ridiculous.

Ridiculous as it was we got our heads down and crashed over the screes to the finish. We’d lost about 45 minutes to my Nav errors which were frustrating given the precision earlier in the day – there is a lesson in there somewhere! Dashing back to the car Martin made us supersonic and we were home in time to put the children to bed. A perfect end to a simply fantastic weekend. Very much looking forward to returning to have another crack!

Results: we were 10th team which may sound great but only 11 finished! 24 had signed up, 14 had started out and only 11 finished. Considering it is an elite field I was pretty damn pleased with that. A few tweaks and more Nav practice and we could go well at one of these…. that said I won’t tell you how many hours ahead the winners were!


Hot foot up Famau & Tough team glory

Posted on July 1, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

In the ever running quest to improve my training I have decided that I am simply not getting enough tough climb in. The climb that I do is just too short and in many cases, just not steep enough. My fix is to get one day per week out in the Clwydians or in a fell race.

Last week presented me with the opportunity to race twice with a 40 minute blast for Hot foot up Famau and just over an hour of peer pressure in the Tattenhall Tough Team challenge. I loved them both.

Hot foot up Famau just has nowhere to hide and despite the name, requires a reasonable downhill effort as well as getting up “the gully”. Whilst they half kill me, I love the shorter fell races as they are just all out and you really get to see what you are made of. Inter club rivalry also plays a part and given my absence from racing short distances and the improvement of my main rival Jimmy O’hara, I was more than concerned!

Long races tend to make you slow as you are maintaining a slower pace which is sustainable over the longer distances. At the end of the day if you never run fast, you’ll never run fast. Adair is the best runner at the club and is a reasonable distance ahead of me. I’ve come close once before, but never beaten him on a fell race – there is usually 30 seconds per mile difference. Jimmy and I have always tussled for second place. Most of the time it has been by the skin of my teeth, but I’ve not been beaten by Jimmy yet; we turned up the the race with Jimmy having beaten Adair so I figured I’d have no chance. Added to this one of the Helsby Ladies (Jayne Joy) has also been cranking out stella performances so at the start I was thinking if I could just get in before Jayne did then I’d be chuffed.

Adair and Jimmy really went out hard. Given that I had no thoughts of beating these gents I just ran my own race and tried to stick in the trailing pack. As we headed downhill I found myself caught up. My nemesis (downhill) appeared to be my strength as I blasted past a load of people and then found myself getting frustrated when caught behind a bunch in a narrow section. It was soon over though and I powered up the next hill.

To my surprise, not long after the next hill I overtook Jimmy. It flashed in my mind that he must have gone out too hard, but then I figured he was playing mind games as I reluctantly overtook knowing he’d be on my shoulder for the rest of the run and since I never look back I’d never know! The pressure drives me on though and heading into the next down hill I once again found myself making places up.

Adair was 20 yards in front, but he was running, at this stage I had switched into my fell walk and managed the odd shuffle to try to keep the pressure on Jimmy. The gully had been described to me as hell; after some of the climbs in the BG I actually found it surprisingly pleasant! I also managed to smile long enough to get one of the best running photos of me ever taken! (Thanks Mick Charman!)


Later on one of the Helsby runners told of their experience of  the gully. Upon entering they followed a trail of blood all the way to the top. one of the other competitors had managed to cut a finger and had smeared blood everywhere as they made their way up! If only they had written “Welcome to hell” or just “Help” it would have been genius!

I managed 14th place on the day and came second to Adair who pulled away once we got onto the flatter section – his leg speed is just in a different league… as I was reminded two days later 5 minutes into the Tattenhall Tough Team challenge. It’s a favourite race in the year as it is run in teams of three. We always ensure we stay together, but it’s essentially your last runner home that stops the clock.

The course takes off on the roads out to the sandstone trail then it’s our playground. Back onto the trails we make up some time, especially on the railway line which is an exceptionally steep quarry track which comes complete with a man dressed as the grim reaper offering to stop the pain! Naturally we were marshalled up there in the first place by Elvis… who else!

We set out fast and were 4th team going into the trail section. Coming out of the trail section we had broken one team and passed another, but we just couldn’t hold on once we hit the roads and were slowly taken down by a mixed team. Third overall, the first team to finish as a team and second in the men’s – a great result and fantastic fun to run with Jimmy and Adair. A bottle of win as spoils and a cheeky beer to finish – definitely the way forward. I look forward to both of these again next year.

Freedom!!!! *again*

Posted on June 17, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

So after the incredible run with Caz I felt it would only be right to get out again on the path. Holiday is an interesting term for me these days, conjuring up images of relaxing on the beach or reading a book, taking some well earned rest. The reality is an insight into Laura’s world, a world where it is not possible to have a conversation of more than half a sentence with anybody, there is no quiet time, rather it is a world of fantasy; searching for dinosaur bones on the beach and investigating everything. Looking after the boys is fun, rewarding, but tiring, remarkably anti-social and all consuming.

Given restrictions on time and wanting to fit in with meal schedules, etc. I decided that I wouldn’t spend any of my “up to 2 hours” in the car. Setting off from Broad Haven I headed south through Little Haven and away into the delights of mother nature.

The surf was up and all the rubber people had descended on Broadhaven to make the most of their Friday night, but one lone ranger (that’s me by the way) was out to attain that feeling of being one with the elements using leg power alone. The scenery itself wasn’t a patch on the run I had been on with Caz, but it was still spectacular; especially in the lashing rain and strong gusting wind.

Running along the cliffs is just food for the soul. Through the twists and turns the coastal path reveal more of it’s beauty and to this end it’s generosity is unrivalled; the more you give, the more the path gives back. Just as my stopwatch was indicating I would need to turn around I managed to reach St. Brides which was a nice result as it always feels better to me on a run where a destination is reached.

To give an impression of the weather I got back drenched from head to toe. Mud splattered… well caked up the back of my legs. The wind on the way there had put any ideas of speed out of sight – you know you aren’t going to break any records when the wind means you’re running 2-2.5 minutes per mile slower than your normal pace on the flat! On the return leg a lack of fuel slowed me down a little and I was beaten by my hood repeatedly, but did I care? No! I got to see all the bits of the path that I hadn’t dared on the way there – Looking back on a path a foot wide is never a good plan (unless you have Jedi ankles)

The combination of the wind, the rain, the rugged beauty and the increased sea activity sending spray everywhere was just amazing. In these situations I feel very connected with nature, very free in spirit and just alive! Nothing else matters but the moment, you can try to capture it, try to relive it, but the best thing to do is just live it; be in the moment. I do this safe in the knowledge that whilst the environment won’t necessarily be the same next time, it won’t be long before the feeling is surging through me once again and I will marvel at how lucky I am to experience this freedom.

Trail Porn

Posted on June 17, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

If I was searching for the perfect trail then I found it yesterday. During my odyssey into long distance trail running and long distance mountain running I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer the long distance trails. This is because I just love running and with some of the more challenging mountain courses one simply has to walk too much (unless you are Kilian!) This was confirmed yesterday as I met up with Caz (Carwyn Phillips) for a run in Pembrokeshire. Local knowledge is always a bonus, but the path Caz took me on was nothing short of trail pornography!

Starting out at Pwll Deri we ran just over 11 miles South on the Coastal trail to Porthgain. As we arrived Caz made me close my eyes and not look at the coast line until he had parked at the right angle to make the most of the view. As I opened my eyes I was blown away despite spending half a week down here already. The Prehistoric coastline stretched around with several outcrops separated from the main coastline like little islands. Beautiful green fields full of cows and sheep run right up to the coastal edge and an undulating pencil mark of a trail snakes around hugging the cliffs. With superb weather and a variety of shades in the sky I was already beaming from ear to ear!

The trail winds around the coastline and heads down to beaches with smooth pebble banks and then back up along the cliff edges. Every last millimetre was runable and every view sensational. Add to that fantastic company and bonkers weather – ranging from stunning sun right the way through to torrential rain which soaked us to the skin. At points we could see horrendous rain out to sea whilst seeing every shade of blue from sea to sky. The water clarity is stunning and it is without reservation that I say it is up with the most beautiful places I have seen on this earth!

The trail itself is pretty well worn and has only a few technical sections. In many respects underfoot it is like the trails I have near to my house, but open your eyes and you can’t help but stop to take it in. Just over 11 miles later and I was disappointed to finish. If we’d have put in another 20 or so I would still not have been satisfied. One mile was too many and a thousand would never be enough!

Time to start on the logistics for running the Pembrokeshire coastal path end to end. It’s only just shy of 190 miles… what a few days that would be… any takers?

The alternative Olympic torch relay

Posted on June 7, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Runcorn to Warrington, that classic trail of beauty… erm, wait a minute! What’s going on here, why on earth am I set to run from Runcorn to Warrington via Widnes tomorrow morning I hear you cry! Well it’s my leg for the Endurance Life ‘Real Relay’ – an opportunity to follow in the footstep and tyre tracks of the Olympic flame.

Not to take anything away from the incredible Olympic torch relay (which will see my Uncle Preston take up the honor in the coming weeks and has already seen Helsby Running club’s very own super hero Joe Beswick with torch in hand) but the guy at Endurance life felt that it was a bit of a cheat driving so many of the miles rather than taking them on by foot, so they decided to set up their own challenge to run the entire distance. The Real Relay was born!

Using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to crowdsource runners all over the country they have managed to get runners to take on the challenge and run between the route stops. Runners must follow the routes of the actual torch but where the torch got in a bus or a train they are allowed to make their own route choice.

I figured it was a bit of fun, a fantastic opportunity to get involved in my own way with the games, show my support for Team GB and to be a part of something I think is pretty darn cool.

After a minor panic that it was all going to fall apart before it got to me (there was no runner for the Northwich to Runcorn leg until later this afternoon) it has not only all come good, but a National Sunday Newspaper have caught wind of it and are sending a photographer to document the hand over between the previous chap and me! Yes I know, of all the places they could have picked Runcorn was the obvious first choice due to the incredible architecture… erm… anyway, I’m disturbingly chuffed about this and it will add an extra dimension to a good bit of fun.

I’m guessing putting 10 miles in, holding what looks like a lightsabre with a GPS tracker strapped to the handle, is not ideal preparation for the Welsh 1000m peaks race, but hey – it’s only going to come around once! Follow my progress at http://www.facebook.com/Endurancelife/app_382668701785970

Too much or not enough?

Posted on June 7, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

It’s been a tough 6 weeks since completing the Bob Graham and I’ve been plagued by a fatigue that I’ve just not managed to shift. In hindsight I’ve made a number of mistakes in my preparation, but I can’t change those now so the big question is am I over of under cooked?

In hindsight the Fellsman was a bad idea so quickly after the BGR. Two mountain challenges with over 60 miles in distance each in two week is too much for me. some people are able to just churn out Ultras week in week out and place well – my local hero in that context is Richard Webster who is just a machine! but I think adding the mountains and poor underfoot conditions just beats you in a different way. Combined with my lack of regular access to prolonged climbs and descents meant that the two big ones together just broke me.

Since then I’ve had commitments to people that I felt I couldn’t let down. Carwyn Philips whom I joined for the BGR took on the Meironnydd Round and I supported his first leg. Caz became only the second person to make it around in under 24 hours on just about the hottest day we’ve had – really incredible work. I was not feeling very well but also just didn’t have the leg power – poor support if ever there was any!

This last weekend saw me supporting legs 1 & 2 of the BGR for Andy Robinson who made it around in 23 hour and 37 minutes. Again awesome work, but I lacked any zip and just finished feeling knackered. Some may argue that 7.5 hours of exertion on the BG will do that, but it was something else. My dilema is knowing whether it is because I’m just fatigued or if the time I have taken off and the lack of regular training has meant that I’m hitting these things under cooked.

With the Welsh 1000m peaks race coming up I guess I will find out. I had a torrid day out there last year as I just wasn’t prepared and the heat was incredible. This year I’m prepared, but arguably too knackered so it will be interesting to see how my time fairs against last year. If it’s worse or similar then I need time off, if it’s 30= minutes better I need to train more.

Another factor is putting such big milestone events in as part of the run up has backfired a little psychologically. I felt that knowing that I can and had completed a BG would put me on the start line with the mental strength to take on the Dragon’s back and have the confidence to know I can do it. In reality I feel like I’ve peaked and it’s such an achievement it has taken the wind out of my sails for the DBR. Definitely time to find my focus again and tweak the formula. I plan to enjoy the DBR and make the most of the experience, this doesn’t necessarily mean flat out beast myself everyday, it means enjoy the race and do the best I can… whether the two goals are compatible is a different question for me to answer in September!

Chester half marathon

Posted on May 19, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Firstly, what a great event. Fair play I was pretty cynical about this one as I didn’t think the route looked that inspiring, but it really worked and the organisation was flawless. Anybody out there looking to challenge themselves to a half I don’t think you’ll find many better of the ‘lots of people, t-shit and medal at the end’ type of half. Plenty of drinks stations, loads of marshals, decent support pretty much all of the way around and the best finish!

I don’t usually run the larger more commercial races as I prefer the club runner feel of something like the Helsby four villages – which still remains my favourite half (to be fair I’m not the most experienced half marathon runner) but I think the guys that have taken over this race got it right. You can tell they are runners themselves.

I entered because Laura was running it. She entered because our friend Mikey P had decided to target it and try to get in shape for it. The last time we saw him he was losing weight faster than anything and was clearly loving the running. Ross and Michelle also said they were doing it so we figured it would be a great day out. It was, although out of the five of us only Laura and myself made it to the start line. Injuries for Mikey and Michelle and ineptitude for the Hanson (he forgot to enter).

Having run possibly 8 times since the birth of our second (James) Laura just rocked up. Now don’t get me wrong, Laura had put some miles in, but it was always going to be a challenge given the impact of pregnancy/ child birth has on the body and the exhaustion of looking after the boys doesn’t make training the first thing on the agenda. 5 miles in and she’s in pain. Still toughs it out to a magnificent sub 2 hour time and sprint finish. She never walked a step up the final hill and I couldn’t have been more proud of her on race day. Inspiring stuff!

I had a good day out too. The field isn’t amazingly quick, and I finished hard to take 51st place out of 5000 people – most of whom were running for charity (think Great North Run on a much smaller scale). I’d managed 3 runs since the fellsman all less than an hour so to knock 4 minutes off my PB coming in at 1:24:04 was excellent as far as I was concerned!

I paced myself very well and kept the intensity up which is what the half is all about. I firmly believe that there is no better speed work for Ultras than a half marathon as you can run it hard all the way and it’s about good pacing. Increasing in speed as I went on.

Technicalities aside I will remember this event for the chap that I finally out sprinted to the line. He passed me around mile 5 with the most unusual style I have ever seen. It was like he ran with a hunched back. His head must have dipped half a foot each stride so he bobbed up and down every step. As he passed I thought to myself, “He’ll blow up running like that” but I found myself still behind him 5 miles later so fair play to the man.

I never look back when I run in a race so I thought I’d left him and the others behind as they started to fad in the final 3. A gap had opened up between me and the person in front and in turn a gap had opened up behind me too. No man’s land again! Being totally disorganised I hadn’t looked at the course so I figured we were finishing on the race course where we’d started. Oh no. We headed back up into town past Telfords and then up to the library.

As I ran up the hill to the Bull and Stirrup I still thought we were finishing at the race course so I didn’t really push on, but I knew somebody was reasonably close. Turning onto the top road with 600 metres to go I was totally taken aback by the roar of the crowd. I’d never had that before and I started to sprint as I saw the finish line. To give an impression of how loud the crowd was, I couldn’t hear my father shouting for me which is ridiculous!

Somebody shouted, “you can take him” so I knew it was on. I really put the hammer down hoping to break whoever it was behind me, but with 15-20 yards to go I was overtaken by the loloping man. I gave a wry smile and squeezed out just a little more speed to take the line (the tape had long gone :)). As I turned to shake the guy’s hand I saw he was only standing by virtue of the paramedics either side of him. Eyes gone, clearly no idea where or who he was. An epic finish… I just wish there had been a video of us face on.

Anyway, job done. PB. Will be back next year.

Photos here: http://www.marathon-photos.com/scripts/event.py?event=Sports/CPUK/2012/Chester%20Half%20Marathon&match=2958&name=Chris

My favourite being this one: http://www.marathon-photos.com/scripts/photo.py?event=Sports/CPUK/2012/Chester%20Half%20Marathon&photo=CHEO0555&bib=2958&match=2958

The Fellsman – Exhaustion, Wind and survival!

Posted on May 7, 2012 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

The Fellsman was originally meant to be the final test before an attempt on the BG. Similar in distance but less than half the climb and worse underfoot conditions, The Fellsman is a common stepping stone with a sub 17 hour completion been seen as roughly equivalent to a sub 24 hour BG.

My rather unscheduled but successful BG attempt left me in a questionable condition, but without the mental pressure of the supposed consequences of struggling with the challenge of one of the toughest days out in the UK ultra distance calendar.

My recovery from the BG had seemed a little too good to be true and had me in high spirits. The morning after had me fiercely gripping the banister every time I saw stairs, but by the Thursday I’d felt ready to run and had been cycling into work as normal from the Wednesday. Prior to the Fellsman I’d been out for two short road runs (40 minutes/ 6 miles each) and was building confidence that I could put in a good performance.

Getting a lift from top ultra runner and former Fellsman champion Duncan Harris had resulted in a good chat about the course and I was buoyant about my prospects. The plan was to set off at a good pace then within the first mile I would ratchet it down a peg and find others to talk to. In a perfect workld this would have been Martin (my MM partner and local kindred running spirit) but his feet were still skinless following his incredible performance at the Marathon De Sables.

Even with all the tape in the world (and he did have some serious tape on) it was going to be a tough ask for Martin. His spirits were high though and his talk was of giving it a go from the start. We’d travelled up the night before and slept in a huge sports hall. It had been cold and I’d had a disturbed sleep. As we toed the line the next morning, the wind was fierce and I’d resorted to putting on my jacket to keep warm.

Setting off from Ingleton was the usual drill. Everybody going off too fast and getting caught in the first narrow channel after the sports field. I hate being hemmed in and tripping over the feet of the person in front so I put on a couple of bursts to get some space at the start. I looked around for Martin and slowed up, but I couldn’t see him so figured he was taking a morte sensible approach. I cracked on towards Ingleborough.

Hitting the bottom of the first challenge the wind was insane. Mentally recalling the route I realised that I’d be against the wind for the whole day. I’d not really prepared for that and certainly wasn’t prepared for the sheer strength of the wind. I had a brief chat with Nicky Spinks (current ladies champion and holder of the Lakeland peaks record – 64 in case you’re interested) who said the wind would help us home. I wasn’t convinced though and felt that would be at best the last 10 miles. A poor ratio on a 61 mile race!

I was pleased with how Ingleborough was going and I got chatting to Neil Byrant the recent winner of the super tough Viking Way race – the 147 miles took him just 29 hours and change! The ultra running community isn’t small, but it is well connected through facebook and other social media applications. Since a race gives you plenty of time to find a new best friend the social web is pretty tight and we were quick to find people in common that we knew or knew of.


The summit soon appeared and I was nearly knocked off my feet by the wind. It was going to be a long day! Neil disappeared and I found myself on the steep descent with a chap in a big blue curley wig – it takes all sorts!


I felt good and latched onto a chap who had a pacer – I thought he was joking as I have to say I find this a bit too serious, but he was serious and we chatted for a mile or so before I dropped back – if I was going to survive this thing I needed to pace well and with the Hardmoors experience flashing back at me I felt I was handling that much better.


Hitting the ridge to Whernside was an eye opener… well, more of an eye closer. As Jez Bragg ran past in the opposite direction looking fresh, I was battling the wind that ultimately knocked me over. At one point I genuinely didn’t think I’d make it to the top until Neil came past and proved it was possible! Finally the top appeared and with the wind at my back for a good half mile I was surprised to catch Neil back up. At a rough guess I’d say I was in the top 20-25 at this stage and well within my comfort zone. Neil and I cracked on together again. The descent to Kingsdale was great and I was loving the route. A quick stop for water and homemade flapjacks signalled the start of the trudge up Gragareth. Neil spent less time getting fuel and pulled away. I was quite happy to follow him up the hill.


It was at this point that I realised that I had inadvertently switched off my stop watch for a good 40+ minutes. I had been using this for my food indicator and thus was behind a bit on my food. I had a long fight with a packet of shot bloks and finally got plenty in me. I hit the top and was glad to have the wind at my back after enduring it on my right hand side for the whole climb relentlessly trying to knock me off balance. I knew what was coming though and as I turned back into the wind I knew it would be a torrid few miles into Dent. I just didn’t realise how torrid!

After just a few hundred metres I was back at the wall which was to provide my navigational hand rail to the next check point. I wished I was a dwarf. The wind was unrelenting and even the wall just didn’t provide sufficient protection from this cruel mistress. If only I was 2 foot shorter! All of a sudden I felt empty.

When I’ve been reduced to the survival shuffle in the past I’ve always felt fatigue in my legs, but this time they just felt empty; numb almost. Psychologically I felt defeated by the wind. I saw the day panning out in front got me and at no point was this wind out of the equation or favourable. I failed to break the task ahead down and I sunk myself as a result. I started shipping places and (unsurprisingly) it wasn’t long before Nicky Spinks overtook – I’d held out a lot longer than expected there!

I shovelled food in and waited for the boost that never came. The miles passed, the wind didn’t. The ground got worse and I shuffled along. To my surprise I arrived into Dent with Neil – he’d subconsciously decided that 61 miles wasn’t far enough so had put in some extra miles, or, as he put it to me, he’d got lost.

By the time we hit the next hill Neil was off again. As I crossed the energy sapping tussocks and bogs to Blea Moor. A second wave of people had appeared and were going fast. Whilst not the case underfoot, the environment was beautiful. The view was stunning and to see everybody racing across it was a sight to behold. I tried to focus on this, but negativity forced on by the wind had taken hold and I decided to take a break at Stonehouse and really try to refuel.

Two plates of pasta later I had a faff with my kit only to hear; “What are you doing here?” Looking up I saw Martin clearly enjoying himself, not realising that, “What’s wrong, I thought you’d be miles ahead” wasn’t what I wanted to hear! I was really glad to see Martin though and we set off for Great Knoutberry together, along with his new best mate, Roger.


I’d really hoped this would provide me with the pick me up I needed, but my dark thoughts were refusing to budge and I just couldn’t get my legs moving. I sit here today trying to reflect why and I just can’t put my finger on it. I had great, supportive, positive company. I had just filled up and had been eating pretty well, I’d got plenty to distract me and, with the exception of the wind, great weather and 100% visibility.

Maybe I was destined to wallow. I told myself I need to have the bad days to appreciate the good; I tried restating goals, talking to myself… everything I could think off, but nothing worked. It had turned into a very long day and I was falling behind again. I felt like I was holding the boys up and whilst part of me really appreciated them waiting for me, a larger part wanted them to go on. I knew I was terrible company and the pressure of keeping up is not one I ever like to have.

I perked up a bit as we crossed Fleet moss; ironic given that it is the worst part under foot. I’d had some local knowledge regarding route choice the night before and was determined to practice my navigation so I could salvage something positive from the event. We were following the people in front (which now included Karen Nash, possibly the toughest person I have ever met) but they were drifting away from the route I’d been recommended. I was really pleased that my navigation approach worked and I quickly put us back on the track I’d been told was the best. As I proceeded to find myself thigh deep in bog desperately clinging onto my shoes I wondered if the old chap had known what he was talking about! Still, we hit every collecting feature and had a wonderful handrail so we arrived at out next check point with confidence. Anybody that has travelled over peat bog and marshes will know that is not always the easiest of tasks.

The journey to the next checkpoint at Hell Gap signalled the end of the peat bog for now and was certainly a relief to the feet. A farm track took us to the next road checkpoint with its promise of hot food and night time grouping.

The Fellsman operate a strict policy whereby people are grouped into a team consisting of a minimum of 4 people for the night sections. This ensures safety, but it also means that as an individual your personal race is over as you are then bound by the pace of the slowest team member. Originally I’d harboured hopes of passing these checkpoints quickly enough so as not to be grouped, but very early on I realised this was not going to happen.

Much to my astonishment Duncan was there. He’d been in second place and just a few minutes behind Jez when he’d started to deteriorate. He told us he’d come down with some sort of virus and as he’d gone on he’d ended up feeling it wasn’t safe or worthwhile for him to continue. He’d been at the checkpoint for 2.5 hours and as we left for the final 15 miles we heard he was getting bumped off the bus again due to a number of hyperthermia cases. Bad times.

The Fellsman mandatory kit list is perfectly adequate for the event and nobody should have been hypothermic on the day. My feeling was that people were sleep walking their way into it by pushing on rather than putting on their additional layers as their ability to generate enough heat diminished and the temperature dropped. The other aspect I feel has a bearing is inadequate gloves, but that’s another thing. Ultimately core temperature had spiralled down and even once clothing is put on the damage is done if core temperature hasn’t been maintained. Ok, so we’d had a snow shower, but it wasn’t sustained and that should have been signal enough for people to take action, but I saw a number that didn’t. I think some people learned a hard lesson in mountain craft that day. Granted it’s not something one does consciously and the mind can get a bit clouded after 40 miles, but I’m pretty sure the people that did have to drop out will not be making the same mistake again.

I guess there is always a fear that if you put on your last bits of clothing then you’ve got nothing to add in an emergency, but maintaining the warmth in the first place is critical. The aim in mountain running is to travel as light as possible, but safely. In the UK you’re never too far from a road – it’s not like Canada or Alaska where you could end up days away. This enables the UK mountain runner to stay very light as we work to a principle of moving quickly enough to generate enough heat to stay in the safe zone – depending upon the weather this can be a tightrope, but that’s the risk you take, the critical point is to know when you’re not generating enough heat and to be prepared to drop out if you’ve undercooked the clothing.

I’ve personally found that I calculate what I’ve got ahead, how long before descending, etc. and balance that against the cold feeling in my extremities. If your hands and feet are frozen solid then that calculation is critical and if you’ve got more clothing to put on then you’re already behind the curve if you’ve got this cold.

Naturally this is based upon having adequate protection in the frist place in these areas. You’re feet will be like lumps of wood if you’re travelling through frozen bogs with thin cotton socks on for extended periods of time. In turn frozen feet mean you won’t be able to move fast and continue to generate core heat. I’ve been slowly adding to my glove collection as a result too.

My latest addition to my gloves were a real splash out. A whole £1.50 on some fluorescent liner gloves. These go under my thick power stretch gloves and ultimately under my tuff bags (light Gore-Tex shell mittens) So to see a chap wearing the same liner gloves, but on their own as we came off Great Whernside was a real point of disbelief for me. I asked in astonishment if they were the only gloves he had and he replied: “yeah, and they’re rubbish!” Once I realised he was serious about his dissatisfaction I really had to stop myself shouting, “They are £1.50 liner gloves you fool, what did you expect?” Take decisions like this and you’ll ultimately come unstuck on the mountain.

We were grouped with Dave, the only person I’d managed to overtake post Gargareth that was still in the race. Pretty sure he’d gone out way too quickly and suffered badly as a result. Rodger knew him and he made it clear that whilst he couldn’t run he could walk hard. It was with a chuckle that we pointed out that we wouldn’t be running either! Martin and Roger had passed Dave earlier and had stayed with him for a bit. He’d worked his way through various skin colours from grey to green and had been sick, so we were all impressed with him for making it this far. There was an intensity about Dave and I didn’t know if that was his character or if he was just wired from the effort of getting as far as he had despite the condition he was in.

Night fell and head torches pierced the sky; the wind continued to howl and if anything intensified. The bog and tussocks continued to mark the territory. Within 15 miles to go it was just about keeping moving and staying focused. We’d all put on everything we had at the last checkpoint whilst shovelling as many custard creams down as was humanly possible. We’d been moving like this for the past 19 or so miles so we all knew we could finish as long as we didn’t get lost.

Arriving at the final roadside checkpoint at the base of Great Whernside I got a full look at the boys and I could immediately see that both Roger and Dave were in trouble. I ordered them to get hot tea into them and kept talking to Roger and made sure he knew I was serious that he looked terrible and that he needed to take action if he was to pull himself back from the edge. That was only going to happen if he warmed up and fast. To be honest at that stage I thought it was all over for him.

Dave was in a bad way, to be honest it was incredibly impressive that he had got so far. He’d been to hell and back in a day and his endurance and mental resolve were as strong as iron, but this was the end of the line for him. I asked him if he was going to continue as it really needed to be his decision. He hesitated before saying yes. It was the end of the line and he knew it but feared he was letting us down as we wouldn’t have enough people to continue. Admirable as this was, it was wrong. We’d never put somebody in danger just to finish a race.

We made it clear that his health was more important and besides we’d just get grouped again so he wasn’t letting us down. With that pressure off Dave reluctantly let himself accept the state he was in and make the unbelievably tough but right decision to drop out.  I called for help and somebody was there straight away, wrapping him up like a kitkat in foil and straight into the hyperthermia drill. He wasn’t quite there but was right on the tipping point; to be honest I wouldn’t have continued with him in that state. The whole scene made me proud of a many things: Dave’s spirit and to have shared this race with him, the simply terrific organisation and the calm capability of the marshals, and that it’s the scouting movement that organise such an event – a real testament to the movement worldwide.

Sentiment over Rodger had a minor wobble when he heard that the van would be with Dave in 15 minutes and to be fair, if Martin had called it a day then I’d have probably got in the van too. We all needed to answer the question to give us strength to carry on. I’d picked up since we were grouped but I was still questioning what on earth I was doing. However the three of us didn’t dwell on this again. We were finishing this thing. We were re-grouped with another bunch and were back out in the wind.

It started well, but the group wanted to go faster than my legs and Martin’s feet could go. We were fine until the top of Great Whernside and then we all started running again. I could tell Martin was getting agitated and whilst not showing it he was in agony with his feet. Unbelievably tough to still be in the game at this point!

One guy took the approach of running off ahead and then looking miffed whilst we caught up. It went against everything I’ve been taught in mountain craft and despite the best efforts of a fellow DBR entrant who worked tirelessly to keep everyone together, the team fractured over the remaining 5 miles.

Whilst I can understand people wanting to get a great time, in my view there are a few bits of reality missing from this mindset: (a) none of us were going to get a great time – the conditions saw to that, (b) we’re grouped for safety – once that happens your personal race is over and it becomes a team race. Like it or not, that is the situation, so you either need to be faster earlier on , or happy to be grouped and move at the pace of the slowest.

It’s the sort of situation where you apologise for holding people up, but the behaviour and attitude of some of the “team” was so poor they didn’t deserve it. Without  doubt the worst attitude I’ve experienced and after my frustration passed I just pitied those that were part of that. All my experience in endurance events has been incredibly supportive – competitive as anything I’ve experienced, but supportive and broadly selfless. Sadly this was a stain on that. We were made to feel selfish and as if we were deliberately taking it easy just to slow them up. Whilst the final path was quick and run-able, it was also stony and Martin was in agony.

At the final checkpoint we were able to split for the final 2 miles. It was a huge relief (for all I’m sure). From our point of view we’d finished the beast with our heads held high and as a trio. Whilst I was still struggling with my mindset at the time, my feelings now are of pride for finishing the event and that we worked together to achieve it. For a split second Roger contemplated running out the last 2 miles, but decided to stick together – he and Martin had been together from the start of the race so it was a fitting end for them to finish it together too.

We finished in roughly 17 hours, arriving at the finish line somewhere around 2am. The race director had taken the incredibly tough decision to halt competitors not passed the point where Dave retired by 1:41am. This is the first time in the history of the Fellsman this has happened (and on its 50th running). Such a shame, but absolutely the right decision and despite what some may think, a very brave decision to make too. I tip my hat to the organisers and totally believe they made the right call. Full details why are here: http://www.fellsman.org.uk/doku.php?id=blog:momentous Looks like we weren’t the only people that found it tough out there! Huge respect to Jez Bragg that won the race in 11 hours and change.

I don’t think the enormity of the two weeks had sunk in at the time, but I feel it has now and I’m really positive again – something I thought would take me a long time to rebuild. It was back in days and stronger as a result of the experience. I may even go back and do it again now, but not both within two weeks!

Summing up I guess you could say we had the good the bad and the ugly:

  • The Good – The organisation, the event itself and the triumphant trio
  • The Bad – My mental state for the majority of the event and, without a doubt, the wind!
  • The Ugly – The attitude of certain “team” members from the grouping

I took away some lessons from the whole experience. For what they are worth they were:

1)      Break down the task in advance – I was trying to do this once the wheels had come off, rather than know I’ve got it in sections already… essentially a little more prep’ is required.

2)      More mountain training required (I’m sure I’ve said that before :))

3)      My negative mental spiral killed me. I wasn’t even that far back even once I had been walking for a while. I’m going to search for some psychological tools to change my mindset, although sadly I suspect it comes with experience of being through the tough times in races

4)      I had a visual reinforcement of the need to keep core warm and not to leave it and then try to warm back up – it’s easier to stay warm than to warm up

5)      Don’t do a BG 2 weeks before the Fellsman and then expect to do well