My first DNF, but…

Originally posted on July 29, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

I find myself writing about the inevitable. Anybody who participates in endurance sport long enough knows there is nothing more certain than a DNF… for us it joins the infamy of death and taxes1. I’ve always wondered what would bring it about and always assumed it would be injury, illness or a course just finally beating me, but I don’t feel that it was any one of these. No doubt there will be some readers of this blog that will think I’m kidding myself, that I just don’t want to admit that I couldn’t continue, but I just don’t believe that is the case – if it were I’d feel regret at stopping, I would agonise over the what ifs, how I could have done that little bit more, how I should have crawled if I had to. Right now I couldn’t feel more serene!

So what happened? Well, things were going well. My plan had been to try and get down from the Black Sail pass without needing to use my torch; I did that and didn’t need to put my torch on until the descent from Scarth Gap pass. I was running well and competing. I hit Buttermere to find Charlie Sproson had stayed up a little later than he’d planned so I had a nice boost there and Andy Burton threw on his running gear and ran with me to Addacomb beck which was fantastic. The night recce I had done with Braddan had really paid off as the three guys I was running (including Matty Brennan) with who had shot off from Buttermere weren’t 100% on the route so I caught them up and started to lead the way.

All sounds good, but I’d been plagued from the start with a stomach of discontent. I’d been suffering from diarrhea since the previous Sunday and whilst it looked like it might be clearing up on the Wednesday evening it certainly didn’t. Metres after Andy turned around to return to his check point duties I found myself frantically searching for some cover. Dead of night, head torch blazing, other runners behind with equally dazzling wide beamed head torches… it wasn’t an easy job, but I found cover and lost 10 minutes to nature. I’d hoped the stomach cramps that had plagued me all the way around would go, but they didn’t and I felt totally drained as I climbed up between Sail and Causey Pike.

On my own I decided to put my stereo on to get things going again, the moon had come out and it was particularly spectacular. I cracked on and slowly but surely started to regain my feet. I was running well and I was quite happy. Matty had been struggling since Boot. Great on the down hills but suffering everywhere else. We’d been on elastic since the start, either running together or me going ahead on the uphill knowing Matty would catch on the down, I’d then have to catch up and thus we were working really well. I finally caught him up nearing Braithwaite and we trotted in together for an extended stop. It was party food time, jelly, pork pies, crisps, sausage rolls, etc.

We left and headed to Keswick together putting in roughly 8 minute miles all the way to the start of the first climb on the Bob Graham. I settled into a pace, said something to Matty but had no reply. He was some distance behind me so I figured he’d catch up. I felt great and ran almost all the way to the car park after the initial steep section. I maintained this pretty much all the way around to Blencathra where I had to stop for another 10 minutes to answer the call of nature. Explosive.

I chugged away to Dockray playing head torch games – I’d done the same around to Blencathra partly for the fun of playing tactics against the other runners (amusing to me as I wasn’t not on the bleeding edge of competition) but mainly because the moonlight was so bright it was just beautifully peaceful to run with what nature provided. I found myself in Dockray being asked if I was Chris and did I know Kirk! One of the chaps on the checkpoint recognised me from a kayaking trip about 5 years previous. Small world… but of course everybody knows Kirk so it was an easy question to ask J

The three people in front that got 10 minutes on my back at Blencathra were working really well together, I was on my own with an inspired selection of music, but it’s far from the same. I was losing them to the night. Coming around the side of Ullswater on Gowbarrow Park, I passed the memorial seat and turned to see the most incredible sunrise I have ever seen. The red was magical, the sky almost clear save for a few early clouds that were to burn off. I literally out aloud said “Wow” as soon as I saw it, my breath taken only to have it taken again in shock as a hand landed on my shoulder. Another chap had caught me up and scared the life out of me! Still, I chuckled about it and watched as over the course of the next 60 or so seconds the sun appeared as a slither of flame then showed itself in all its glory. Really magical and energising.

I ran reasonably well into the 59 mile mark to be reunited with my drop bag at Dalemain. I was really starting to chaff and whilst the wonderful checkpoint people fussed over me I exclaimed that I was about to get naked. Drying off and new pants & shorts were very, very welcome. My previous set were soaked with sweat and the combination of water and salt were taking their toll. I found my lanacane applied and headed onto Pooley bridge just outside of the top 10.

The solitude and the chaffing continued to Howton. I made a mistake here and whilst I’d planned to fill up my bottles (I’d been managing my fluids well up until then) I didn’t in my confusion and just headed back out again moments behind the Greek pair as they had a quick checkpoint turn around. I caught them further down the road and we headed up High Kop together. Separated again by the descent to Haweswater I was regularly applying the lanacane to Mardale head and an excellent checkpoint support crew from the Delamere Spartans.

I went up the Gatescarth path well, but this is where the route really falls apart for me. I must caveat this and state that there is a real loyalty towards the Lakeland 100 and 50 and people do love the course. For me it just doesn’t work.  It’s a great genuine circumnavigation of the Lakes, but I personally really don’t like the route – to the point where had I recced it before entering I wouldn’t have entered. It’s a very clever route, it minimises climb but still gets 22,500ft in, minimises risk, there are few places if any on the course that aren’t easily accessible by rescue services (much of which a 4×4 can get to or very close), easy to navigate and it makes it easy to set up checkpoints. However it is horrendous underfoot for a huge amount of it and for me as a mountain runner I found it pretty bland as it is just motorway sized rough rocky paths for much of it. Yes you can look around at the fantastic sights (and I did!) and in good weather (which we had) the views are difficult to rival, plenty of people love it, but it is just not really my thing… which is good to know as there is so much choice out there that I need help to narrow it down and get to the essence of what I want to do. Learning point for me then!

I cannot describe just how terrible the paths are underfoot. Baby head sized rocks and loose stones. It destroys ankles, it’s exceptionally difficult to run, mentally exhausting and, well… it’s just not enjoyable. That’s the essence of it, for me that kind of terrain (which the course is to a greater or lesser extent for 60+% because it uses bridleway so extensively) is not fun to run on and after so much of it, totally detracts from the overall event. This is not a rant or throwing blame, it’s just my preference and why it doesn’t work for me – I’m sure there are plenty out there that would think the idea of running across the Carneddau in missle is hell, but for me it’s freedom and a happy enjoyable adventurous place.

I run long because I love it, not for some kind of masochistic fantasy. It was so rough underfoot that, for me, it became about enduring, not endurance.

Smoothie at Kentmere CP was fantastic, but even that couldn’t lift my spirits or mood as I knew I had the same hell to endure to get over to Ambleside. On my way up in the blistering heat I started to question what I was doing. This is pretty common for me; in fact I have in the past purposely gone there to remind myself of my motivation. This time I was surprised to come back with nothing on the personal front. Yes I felt guilty towards those that had put their faith in me through sponsorship and that kept me going on, but I was curious to find nothing else.

It’s difficult to explain really, I wasn’t in a real funk of negativity, in fact I was starting to feel very positive about it. I realised that I had nothing to prove to myself or others and I have always questioned if that is what drives me on. I think since the Dragon’s back this has changed in me. I knew I could finish the Lakeland 100 if I wanted to, but for once I made a sensible, clear decision without any ego getting in the way. There were contributing factors that make up the whole picture and some people will think I’m mad given where I was in the field: When I dropped out I was in 15th place, 90 miles in, had done all the hard bits and had 15 miles most of which was pretty flat and almost all is nice run-able path. The key factors were:

1) I’d had the runs since Sunday and they continued to provide stomach issues and the runs on the way around, it was draining in more ways than one and it felt wrong to keep scaring people by suddenly appearing from behind a bush in the middle of the night

2) Chaffing where the sun don’t shine, I was very sore from Dalemain so spent the next 30 miles packing as much lanacane between the cheeks as possible

3) Just not enjoying it – I run long because I love it, not for some kind of masochistic fantasy. For me, it became about enduring, not endurance.

I saw the family at Troutbeck which was a real boost for me although I don’t think I showed that. This is my only regret of the event, that I couldn’t change my face right then, that I didn’t stop and get down to the river to see the dam Rhys had built. I spent the time between there and Ambleside wondering what I’d gain and if it was really worth rubbing for 15 more miles which would equate to 3-4+ hours and not being able to sit down for a week. I did feel a responsibility to those that sponsored me, but equally I felt I had nothing to prove and that continuing just for the sake of finishing was not the right choice.

Rhys’ dam aside, I’ve absolutely no regrets, like I said, I’d done all the hard bits knew I could finish but had done enough for the sense of achievement. Continuing on would have just ruined it and derived little satisfaction to recompense. Again, to many that will sound odd, to the ultra runners that live by the mantra: ”Never, never, never, give up” and other such “motivational” phrases, but in my clarity of self discovery I could be more content – maybe because for the first time I made a good decision with my head rather than one with my ego.

I’ll reflect further, but it feels like the Dragon’s Back taught me that I no longer need to do things just to prove it to myself or others – I’ve conquered my Everest so whilst I’ll still push myself and still compete like crazy, it won’t be for the sake of it any more.

Knowing this is a great thing to come away with. Like I said earlier, I take part in these crazy races because I enjoy them, yes I suffer, yes I push myself, yes I go beyond the rational, but I love them… maybe not in the moment, but I know I will at the end. Given the course I realised that I just wasn’t enjoying it and didn’t need to continue even though it was predominately good paths to the finish, but it wasn’t about that for me.

The Lakeland 100 (like all of my other races) are about self fulfilment and discovery. When I get to the nub of it that is what they are about. I did fulfil myself on this run, but it also went beyond that and that lead to the self discovery. This race taught me quite a bit in the end. For me all these races present a lesson of some sort about myself. Sometimes it’s about what my body does, others it’s deeper and teaches me what matters to me, going to the extreme gives me that clarity. This time I realised it isn’t about completion and proving something without enjoyment. I loved every minute, even the excruciatingly painful ones, of the DBR and I guess that was a major factor in me wanting to and eventually completing it. So whilst I started with a plan based around getting a good first quarter in and then completing, it turned into a contentment of having had enough and real clarity of thought. As a result it was surprisingly fulfilling, not what I expected from my first DNF.

PS – Thanks to all that made it possible and thanks to all my sponsors. I will be mailing you all soon directly and will be happy to repay any sponsorship due to my choice not to finish. I know the websites make you pay up front as a “donation” rather than a “sponsorship for completion” so I’ll be happy to cover any made as the latter of the two.

PPS – DNF = Did Not Finish

PPPS – Physically I am in pretty reasonable shape. Sudocreme is my best friend and has worked wonders. My left ankle is a cankle as it is pretty swolen and painful to walk on. My right is swollen too but not as much. The soles of my feet are painful as the rough ground did its best to remove the skin. Other than that I could head out for a run today so a pretty good result.

PPPPS – Fantastic wins by Stuart Mills (awesome and gutsy run to win the 100), Ben Abdelnoor (50 record breaker!) and Lizzie Wraith (Ladies 100 winner and record destroyer!)

  1. Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Benjamin Franklinin a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789


Lakeland 100 – Pre-race thoughts

Originally posted on July 26, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

I write this from Kendal on the morning of the longest race I’ve ever done (in one go), the Lakeland 100 or the Ultra Tour of the Lake District (UTLD) is a 105 mile jaunt around the Lake District… and it is pretty much around all of it. Describing the course to anybody leaves me breathless although despite the altitude gain statistic of 22,500ft, it is quite remarkable just how much flat they have managed to keep on the course (this is not a complaint :)).

To date, almost all my long runs have contained a fair bit of climbing since my preferred habitat it I the mountains, but UTLD is different in that it makes use of as much bridleway and disused railway tracks as possible – much of which you can drive a 4×4 up. Thus it’s a bit different from the narrow sheep trods or wild open fell land that I’m used to. If anything I think this gives me a bit of a disadvantage as I’m not that quick so technical open fell suits me, but the L100 does also present a different challenge in that most of these paths see a lot of action over the years so they are “repaired” in a way that minimises erosion – great thing for the path, but very bad for my poor feet! Underfoot will probably be my biggest nemesis.

22,500 ft of climb is not small; it’s roughly Kilimanjaro and Snowdon combined, however, spread out over 100 miles when compared with something like the Bob Graham (~28,500ft over 66 miles) it is pretty flat… but I can’t forget it covers an extra 40 miles – essentially I’ve little doubt that the accumulation will balance everything out. Reading the various forum posts it is clear that many people attempting UTLD this weekend are trail rather than fell runners, so for them this really is an ultimate challenge and something really different… there will be a few curses at the bumps in the way, of that there is no doubt.

I’ve fully recce’d the course which I think is a first. It’ll be interesting to see if this is a blessing or a curse. My final recce was last Thursday were I introduced myself to the part of the course I am now convinced is the toughest. Thursday was baking hot and I was heavily sweating within moments of setting off from Mardale Head at the base of Haweswater, but it was the conditions underfoot that took their toll between here and Ambleside. It consists of “baby’s head” sized rocks coupled with loose stone and a steep path, so running at any real speed is broadly out of the question whether going up or down. The fact that I’ll already have done ~70 miles by this stage means I’m trying not to think about it right now – and that’s the key, don’t think about the next stage until you’re on it, break down the challenge into little stages and enjoy suddenly appearing at a checkpoint. The fact that I’ve recced the route means it’s less of a surprise when I appear at a checkpoint and that will be interesting to deal with psychologically – is it closer or further away than I remembered, etc.

So how am I feeling pre-race and what has my prep been like? Well, I’ve been on a taper for the past 3 weeks… ok, 6 weeks… ok, maybe more. Anyway, I’m not convinced my build up has well timed (started too early) and thus I’ve got a little weary and allowed life to get in the way. One time I will get this right! I’ve also been ill since last Sunday which, whilst better, still continues. Let’s just say I’ll be at my lightest when I get to the start line! I just hope that I don’t spend the whole time looking for cover or worrying whether or not to release that “danger fart”.

I’m confident I’ll finish unless I take a significant injury. Call it complacency but since the DBR I’ve not feared a race – not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, but it does allow me to put my energy into the race. The biggest obsticals I foresee are:

  1. The conditions underfoot – I’d rather be on open fell land as on these rocks my feet will take a battering
  2. The heat – with our fabulous recent heat wave and naturally high humidity it will be very difficult to cool down and I suspect it’ll be a major factor in the success rate for the event this year. I have prepared though and have invested in some S!Caps which are favoured in the States for electrolyte replacement
  3. My recent illness – I just hope it doesn’t plague my journey and enjoyment of the event
  4. The distance – I’d be lying if I said otherwise

On the flip side I do have quite a bit going for me:

  1. Experience – the DBR, Transvulcania and other events have taught me a great deal about how to manage my race
  2. Bullet proof psyche – I know that I will finish unless I have a particularly nasty injury
  3. Pretty good condition – illness aside I’ve been running well and although my extended taper means I haven’t been banging out the miles and that will tell in the latter stages, I am in pretty good shape


I’ve been asked this a lot and the honest truth is I just don’t know. So my Gold would be sub 24, my Silver would be Sub 26 and my bronze Sub 28 – I’ll not lie, anything over 30 hours will have me disappointed at my time, but no doubt very happy that I finished!

Nathan Trail Mix 4 – Review

Originally posted on June 15, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Summary: Stable, well made good sized minimal storage hydration belt. Perfect for long training runs, fell races or fair weather ultras.


Weight: ~360g

Capacity: 4 * 300 ml bottles + what is listed as a “large dimensional pocket with a power stretch mesh pocket. I reckon it’s about 1 litre + a mobile phone/

Function/ Purpose:

I ended up buying this in a rush in an effort to reduce the covered surface area on my back. Usually I run long with the fantastic Salomon S-Lab 12 ltr Skin pack (trying saying that after a few drinks!) but I felt it was overkill for the kit I needed to carry for Transvulcania, heavy and I’d have sweated harder with it on. I have a cracking bum bag (Inov8 Race Pac 3) but it’s not suitable for much more than a fell race and it forces both hands to be sacrificed to water bottles. So essentially I convinced myself another pack was essential. Enter the Nathan Trail Mix 4.

I already own a Nathan hand held which is great. Solid bottle, cracking flow and no leakage, so when looking I was confident Nathan would be a winner. The belt itself can be shortened and your setting will hardly move as the role of excess elasticated belt is held in place by two Velcro straps and the buckle itself – essentially the belt can only slip so much before the excess meets the buckle.

I find it pretty easy to lock it in place around my pelvis rather than starting there and ending up pulling on my stomach having worked its way upwards. This is the first pack I’ve found to do this and it makes a huge difference to my comfort and performance – pulling against the stomach no matter how lightly has a restriction on performance as consciously or subconsciously breathing is affected and shallow breathing affects speed, perceived effort and general comfort. Huge tick in the box as far as I am concerned.

The Buckle has rotational play in it, is very heavy duty and easy to manage with cold/ wet/ tired fingers.

The bottles are great – flow is superb, really comfortable in the hand, easy to access with a single hand and with four of them totalling 1.2 litres they give great flexibility for filling some with plain water, some with electrolytes, etc.

I did lose a bottle on my first run. A pounding downhill and full bottle combined to dislodge the bottle (nothing an extra ½ hour of retracing my steps didn’t solve). As a result I’ve fashioned my own retention solution with some 5mm bungee cord (Shown below) and have had no problems since.

The pack itself is very small, but this forces you to stick to the essentials and in reality it’s amazing how much stuff one can fit in. The main pocket is split neatly by an unobtrusive Velcro divider which wastes no space if you just want 1 big pocket. Behind the divider is an ID tag and key hook. It’s a perfect size for a standard Pertex (or a Montane minimus jacket), some extra food, a camera, compass and whistle – although you wouldn’t really want to stick in this combination as your compass wouldn’t be true for very long!

On the outer part of the bag there is a further pocket created using a power stretch mesh and strong Velcro lid. It’s plenty big enough for a smart phone or 4 big gels even when the other pocket it full.

Real world usage:

I used this for Transvulcania and fitted the following in without any issue:

  • Hydration system (type camelback or waist belt with the minimum capacity of 1 litre)
  • Headlamp
  • Red light for back position
  • Thermal blanket
  • Mobile phone with the number provided at the registration
  • Plenty of food – at least 10 gels, some electrolyte tabs and an energy bar
  • Canon Ixus camera

The downside was having so many bottles to fill, but it was minor compared to the benefits of low surface area, staying on my pelvis and large fluid capacity. I hardly noticed I was wearing it – a relief since I’d only been for a 90 minute run before hand with it. As your bottles get uneven you can notice the change in stability, but it’s pretty minor and very manageable.

I’ve also used this for the Welsh 1000m peaks race where the kit list is:

  • Map
  • Food
  • Whistle
  • compass
  • Waterproof garments, to cover trunk and limbs to wrist and ankles

To achieve this I ditched a bottle and tied my waterproof jacket into the empty water cage. I trapped the map between my back and the pack and it stayed in place – this shows just how well the pack moves with the body and you certainly notice the elasticated belt. I’ll confess I did regularly check the map was in place and on the particularly steep downhill I just chose to hold it. Lining up to a race knowing you are as light as possible and knowing people are wondering how on earth you got all your kit in such a small bag does give you a psychological advantage.

Overall: I’m over the moon with my purchase. I paid £20 all in for it and it is well worth that. Retail is something around £40. I’d still buy it for that price knowing what I know now, although I probably wouldn’t have done so up front. That said, you get 4 very high quality leak free water bottles, given the costs of these alone it’s not bad value at the retail compared to a number of other brands/ similar gear. It really fits that gap for races or days out where you can really go stripped down – I’ll also now be using it for all fell races as it is so much more stable than anything else I have ever used. ditch the bottles or take a cheeky one with you for a longer or unusually hot race.

Transvulcania 2013 – Epic and eventful!

Originally posted on June 15, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

With so many incredible races around the world to chose from the challenges for distance runners never end. Take the Bob Graham for example, the same run can vary from a hot crystal clear day (rare) to zero visibility, strong to insane winds, torrential rain and subzero temperatures (time to call it off). The world is a natural playground full of mountains to climb, deserts to cross and conditions to thrive or risk death. These days you name it and somebody has put a race around/ up and over it; who says we are sensation seekers!

The trip to Transvulcania started when I saw this YouTube video after last year’s race.

I immediately posted it to Facebook stating it should be on the list. With normal friends this would have been fine, but Tin Wilcock picked up on it and next thing I know I’m in Croydon away on business phoning Laura to see if a trip would be authorised through fear that the race would sell out!

Fast forward to 5am Friday 10th May and I find myself sharing a cab with Tin and Sam Robson to the airport. Armed with hand luggage, a cardboard box, 2 bin liners and a roll of parcel tape we met with local ultra legend Richie Webster and manufactured our shared hold luggage. Not realising we only had a 6kg hand luggage limit we frantically had to ditch weight before the bags were weighed and then put it all back in on the sly. Yep it’s sneaky and against the rules, but it found us on the plane with no extra charges.

Friday we spent travelling and registering only to find that (a) we didn’t have a seat on the bus, and (b) our Spanish was not good enough. It had been a planes, trains and automobiles day (albeit taxi, plane, hire car, plane, hire car) faffing aside we got to bed with about five hours before wake up.

Walking down to the lighthouse at Fuencaliente there was no doubt this was going to be a special event. I’ve never experienced a big European razzmatazz style event, in the UK it’s usually turn up in a field and somebody says; “off you go then”. Here we found warm up compares and music, a remote controlled flying camera to take in the enormous crowd of 1600 runners ready to take on the 83KM course along with a bit of pushing and shoving. The results from the flying camera can be seen between 3:18 and 4:20 here:

My plan was pretty straightforward, I’m terrible for nervous energy and adrenaline surges at the sound of the gun so getting as close to the front as possible for the first climb as the narrow tracks would make it very difficult and risky to pass was critical to me having a good day and conserving energy.

I also wanted to get as much of the course completed before the sun came up as I knew heat would be the biggest enemy of the day.

Headlamp beams illuminate the start from Fuencaliente lighthouse. Transvulcania 2012 © Transvulcania/La Palma

Knowing heat would be an issue I’d dashed out a rush order for a batman style utility belt arriving on the Wednesday I’d had time for one run with it before the race… it’s good to try new kit on the day though right? Luckily I’d made the right decision and the Nathan Trail Mix 4 and my Nathan hand held was all I needed. My Review is here, but in summary it was stable enough to be comfortable, lightweight, low surface area and everything was easy to access – recommended kit!

We were off! (see previous YouTube link) Adrenaline surge and the usual frantic running around people (why go to the front if you are not going to go out fast?) on and off the trail probably using up far too much energy, but it made for a lot of fun. The surface was a nightmare to run on; black volcanic sand and mini football sized sharp volcanic rocks just sap energy but I sound found a rhythm. All i had to do was keep going on the incline (average 10%) to 2000m and I’d have the main climb and almost ¼ of the overall distance in the bag.

The first village the race hits is just over 7KM in and the streets of Los Canarios are lined with people – Tour de France style. It’s fantastic how proud the people are of their island’s race and how they cheer on the runners – it’s no exaggeration to say they genuinely make you feel like a super human and look upon you with heartfelt admiration… inspiring stuff! I never tired of hearing “Venga, venga, venga” despite that nagging feeling in my mind that Venga may be a reference to the Venga boys! The other shouts of “ánimo!” were also constant (I translated this in my mind to “Animal!” as for some reason that motivated me well).

Sam overtook me at the village and was cracking on. I was happy in my rhythm and not looking to push myself to the red just to keep up. Good sign that my ego was firmly in check! Sam has been putting in a load of impressive performances – the last being a second place snatched from the jaws of victory through a series of navigational errors during the 147 mile Viking way. He’s been going out hard and, whilst I feel I’ve got my fell racing speed back, I’d not run really long for quite some time.

I necked a drink and cracked on surrounded by people that either have money to burn (£120 on a pair of shorts anyone?) or were sponsored. Whilst the Spanish economy is struggling, the ultra runners certainly are not! It was hard not to put a huge smile on my face as we broke into the woods. The sand and soft moving ground was still underfoot, but the trees made a change from the moonscape and provided cooling properties.

The sun rise was beautiful and energising. Golden rays penetrated the trees and the sweat started to increase. I realised that I’d forgotten to tape my nipples – a huge error when only running in a vest. I started to panic a bit as rubbing is one of the few things that can take me out of the game.

The incline was runnable in most places and I was picking off runners – the fells certainly helped in this respect, if only I was a little further on in the season and had not been out so long post Dragon’s back. I found I was taking big chunks out of people on the downs and the flats until I finally saw some medicos and stopped for some tape. Charades ensued – note to self, save yourself 5 minutes and 50 places by knowing the word for tape in Spanish.

Checkpoint 2 done and I still hadn’t drained the 1.2 litres I started with in my belt. At the time I wasn’t too worried as it had been dark for most of the time. I filled my handbottle with a zero tab and a homemade powder (Maltodextrin and Fructose 2:1) and 2 of my belt bottles (300ml each) before finishing the first big climb. 2 hours 40 minutes into the race and I’m feeling good.

Ahh, descent at last, I’m flying past people and I think I’ve finally taken back the places I lost getting tape. The paths begin to roll and there are some fantastic single track sections. The views last for miles and it’s mostly in the shade. Every couple of minutes I pass a random spectator encouraging me to speed on, but my mind is on my feet and the sand I can feel in my shoe. Do I stop and empty or risk a blister? The first rule of long distance events is to manage any rubbing as soon as it is identified or, preferably, before! Muscular aches/ fatigues, bonking, etc. are all things that can be managed, but the most seemingly innocuous of rubs can take you out of a race as you just can’t take the pain; It’s why boxers target any open wounds. I stop, loose countless places again, but at least my feet are free from the irritant and a quiet confidence returns as my mind relaxes again.

Up ahead I can hear the next aid station, it’s probably 1KM away in the end, but what a ride! The path has varied from great runnable downhill single track to wide, steep, sandy uphill but coming into that aid station is the memory that will linger. Beautiful single track, overtaking people, anticipation of the baying crowd set up Tour de France style along the edges and then the reality of all those elements intensified through the realisation it’s for you was just epic. (7:03-7:45 on the YouTube video gives you a taste as do these:

***Video to be uploaded***

For me it was worth everything just to run into El Pilar. What a highlight.

I raced through El Pilar, grabbing a couple of powerbars and some fruit, encouraged by the crowd I didn’t stop for fluid as I still had plenty. Mistake. Firstly I was to find that powerbars are truly disgusting. Secondly I’m just not drinking enough. Charging out onto the wide dusty path I felt the adrenaline subside and the heat take it’s place. As the sun punished me I was left taking stock of my food and fluids. I’d planned to take enough food to get me to the aid stations and a few spare gels, but I’d assumed powerbars would be edible. I also knew I’d made a mistake by not forcing myself to drink. Too late, done now, move on.

From El Pilar to the Observatories at Roque de los Muchachos I started to struggle. I knew I didn’t have the miles in my legs to keep going with real strength and the heat was beginning to get to me. The paths go up and down on steep switchbacks, but it’s mostly up as the shade is slowly stripped away. My GPS was also showing that I was less than 2/5thinto the run. Something I now know not to be true (for some reason all our GPS readings came out very short). Psychologically I dipped thinking I had more to go than I did, combined with the expectation of how I would feel not matching how I actually felt.

Richie Webster is a true Ultra veteran having run almost every race I’ve heard of and a truck load that I haven’t. His experience really counts and one trick I’ll take away is that he carries with him a laminated course profile. If I’d have had this I’d have known I was closer to the 25 mile mark rather than 20 miles, but I’d also have known where each future aid station was. All I remembered was that they were about every 8KM apart.

I was drinking much better now, but it was too late. A big group of middle packers passed me and I struggled to respond or even keep up. I then made another mistake at a check point where despite stopping for a couple of minutes and taking on fuel I didn’t double check I had everything before I left. In my head I’d filled all bottles, in reality I’d just filled my hand bottle. Luckily they put on an extra aid station 5KM later which I reached pretty quickly. The fear of running out of water still haunting me and preventing me from draining what I had. My downhill was still good though and I would catch up/ overtake countless people on these sections. Knowing there was a big long downhill coming meant I stabilised psychologically and just dug in. I can churn out miles and it’s really all about constant forward motion – that’s what I did.

When I race I never take a stereo – I prefer the sounds of the race and the natural environment; the bird song, the creaking of trees, the sound of my progress through long grass, the silence. Most races I’ll get chatting to somebody for a period then find my own space again – a conversation helps the miles fly past. Here I felt really quite alone; there were no audible natural sounds, no birdsong, conversation was sparse/ none existent when I craved it and… well, I found myself wishing I had my stereo as I slogged out the mid-section. I even resorted to singing to myself (in my head mind, I’m not a loony). I guess the lack of English speakers surprised me and my interaction of “mucho calor”, “Si, Si” wasn’t cutting it – if I ran it again or a race like it I’d take an emergency stereo to help with any tough miles; it was just the lack of natural sounds  I found really eerie – It took me a while to put my finger on it but I think that was it.

I finally arrived at the observatories. There was a classic series of false summits and “it’s just around this corner” thoughts as the sound from the aid station travelled for miles. I ran the final switchbacks (showing off to the crowd… ego still in check?) much to the rapture of one particularly vocal spectator. My Spanish is limited but I picked up that I was the only person foolish enough to still be running at this stage.

Mentally I was ready for the downhill. I’d spent the last 30 minutes on the bring of cramp and still hadn’t had a wee yet. Considering how much I felt I was drinking now this unnerved me and the constant mini cramp episodes when in a certain position told me all I needed to know. Flashbacks of the agony I felt whilst climbing Trefan on the DBR haunted me but I managed to put that experience to good use and kept it at bay.

This is the major checkpoint en route. Food ranged from fruit to pasta and the drinks from water to coke to powerade (why drink something blue I thought as I finished my bright green drink – the irony). I tried to cool off and many people had stopped for an extended break here. As I had an improvised shower and dunked my buffs (full one for my neck and 2* ½ buffs around my wrists) my temperature did come down but not for long. I faffed around, torn between sitting down and cracking on. I triple checked my water position and how far to the next aid station then headed out.

My expectations of immediate downhill were shattered as the path continued to climb, eventually the descent began. I’d thought this would be the time to make some places up but my legs weren’t working properly and certain positions triggered the cramp. Oh dear! Out of nowhere all the people that have been poor descenders had suddenly turned into gazelles, skipping past me – how did that happen?

My temperature was soon up again. I drank my electrolytes and tried to enjoy the down, but with the temperature soaring with every meter of altitude lost I was struggling.

Every now and then I’d pass somebody in a worse state than me, but they were few and far between. This section did have some very runable gradient and usually I’d have made some real time here. It wasn’t as technical as I’d expected and the forest surroundings were very welcome – without this shade it would have felt like I was descending into Hades.

I’m inadvertently making this run sound horrific – it wasn’t, I loved it, it was just very hard to really run despite it being runable in most sections. A lack of acclimatisation and simply being too white to be there was the real problem, the other part was failing to keep on top of my fluids – the trail is beautiful and I’d recommend a visit and trek to anyone! The race organisation, atmosphere, marshals, medics, etc were absolutely first rate. I couldn’t fault it at all – it’s definitely a race to do!

I finally reached the aid station at Torre Forestal de El Time and having decided a long time ago that the race was over for me and it was now all about enjoyment, I stopped to cool off. I must have been there 20-30 minutes just sat there in the shade getting dunked in water every now and then. Several causalities came and when in this time – a Spanish lady arrived with double vision which was a shame as she had been going really well, but any race like this is not about doing well for a period, it’s about finishing well overall. Many people ran better than me at the DBR, but they didn’t manage the overall race and thus didn’t finish. In that case it’s about knowing that you’ve got to get up every day and do it all again. All of these races are experience and you learn more from a fail than a finish, but it is nice to finish! Does this make me run too safe and within myself? Probably, but I don’t fear a DNF, I don’t think it is an embarrassment or anything like that. Frankly there is enough machismo in ultras as it is. People are out there doing amazing things; e.g., running 50 miles, yet the conversation will quickly turn to 100 miles and beyond, or not needing water/ food for super human distances or people taking a ridiculous event and doubling it or more. At the end of the day there is always someone, somewhere doing something crazier than you, so the trick is to get over it, not get involved and find what you enjoy.

Back to the race. Whilst I was at the Torre Forestal de El Time aid station I saw a bloke being stretchered off to an ambulance. He looked British but no words of English were spoken so I didn’t feel right to approach him. I’d had a friend request on Facebook just before the event by Ant Bethell and we’d agreed to try to all meet up for a beer after the race as he was going out on his own. Seeing this guy had nagged at me, for some reason I was convinced it was him, but it just didn’t feel like the right time to ask as he was being put in the back of an ambulance, in my mind it would go something like:

“Erm, excused me, are you Ant Bethell?”

“Why yes I am, but I’m a bit busy right now”

“Quite right, sorry. Toodle pip!”

I left it. Turned out it was him – a real shame as he had spent almost all of the race in the top 50 (given that there were something in the region of 50 elite runners this was no mean feat! The heat had got him and chronic cramp had set in).

Time to get going, I couldn’t sit here all day, but the going was slow! Keeping the cramp at bay meant I couldn’t put my legs in certain positions required for downhill movement. At one point I cramped, yelping out and scaring the life out of the guy in front. It was just about survival now.

I’d got running again when a bloke collapsed 20 yards in front of me. He got back up with the help of four Spaniards and I’d figured I’d leave them to it until I got closer and could see he was an English speaker. He was Canadian and I took him on. A Belgian guy with fantastic English also stopped so we helped him to the next road crossing and the medicos.

It was such a sad sight. He was determined to keep going and we couldn’t get him to stop. I suspect he won’t remember any of it and was just on auto pilot. In his mind he was so close to the end and just wanted to finish. He was desperately trying not to cry which he just about managed but I almost didn’t. Flashbacks to day 5 of the DBR put me in his position emotionally in an instant. Exhaustion removes any mental defences against extreme emotion, but I just about managed to pull myself together. The Belgian chap kept telling me to go on and I know a crowd is not wanted so once he was with the medicos I cracked on. Happy knowing he was safe and my explanations of ‘Calor’ had surely helped

The very final section down to the beach was a cruel set of steep switchbacks. With a good set of legs it would have been ok-ish, but on tired legs it was torture – it went on forever and the heat just intensified with every step. It was worth it for the final aid station though – loud music, incredibly attentive and helpful marshals and shade! I had been contemplating a detour for a dip in the sea all the way down, but there was a young boy who was delighting in pouring water over anybody who wanted it.

I made another long stop to try to cool down, probably 15+ minutes just enjoying the atmosphere before finally setting off again. My legs felt fresher and I started taking places; gaining upwards of half a mile on some people before hitting the incredibly steep cobble switchbacks to the finish. At one point near the top a family had a hose running and from 20 yards above our heads we had a tremendous cold shower. Never has this been so welcome!

Shortly after the shower the road pretty much levelled off. Leaving about a mile to the finish. Closing in on the finish the streets side cafes were full of people drinking in the sun and cheering on the runners. Shouts of “ánimo, ánimo” and “Venga, venga, venga” intensified. I took another place down this road before entering the final corners begging for the end. The red carpet finish was great – high fives everywhere and a feeling of having really achieved something. Managing to keep the cramp at bay, finishing strong rather than walking it out and having really enjoyed it – despite the struggles. I confess I crossed the line with my arms in the air as if I’d won – there were cameras about and besides I was saluting the crowd as much as anything else.

The finish was decked out with cold paddling pools, showers, masseurs and medicos. Massage I think!

I tried to get my shoes off. Folded in half at the waist, having to immediately straight ever 2 seconds as some part of my legs cramped making comedy viewing for the spectators. After several attempts I got them off, showered my legs and got in line. I saw Sam just as I got on the table. He’d finished in 11:03:35 (158th) See his race report here. In the end this was just 14 minutes ahead of me rather than the several hours I’d expected. Seriously surprised given my torrid middle to end – we agreed to catch up later as my masseur was ready to go.

The first attempt… ok, the first touch and my foot spasmed into cramp. I gritted my teeth and tried desperately to translate cramp into Spanish. My toes were locked in different directions so it was pretty obvious. She tried again, the agonising cramps immediately started again and her actions of stretching the foot to stop the cramp caused cramp in my shin, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her. After the third time she disappeared off to the medico tent. I was asked to stand and immediately my whole left leg spasmed. I was there, teeth gritted, whilst they casually discussed what to do. I pointed to my leg which was quite literally dancing – the muscles were contracting involuntarily back and forth as per this video from Ant Bethell I’d never seen anything like it before. I was told I would go on a drip and a stretcher was wheeled over. I felt a total fool.

I passed Sam – his shock apparent and his concern touching, but I just felt like a total idiot for getting into that state. As I lay waiting for an IV my legs went through wave after wave. I gripped the drip stand and gritted my teeth trying not to scream. To my surprise the tent was full with a number of local (ish) runners taking up the beds. I apologised to the medico who casually replied; “Don’t worry, it’s normal” brushing it off as if they expected to treat every runner.

Fair play, the Medicos were fantastic. After it was determined that I had no allergies and that I was not sikh (felt a little random given my shaved head!) I got a bag of saline and a bag of muscle relaxant – combined with 3.5 plates of the finishers Paella and some cola it’s the best recovery package on the market! Next day I could have run again. Bonkers.

Turned out it had been eventful for both Sam and Tin too with Richie the only one to escape unscathed. Sam had similar cramp issues and had fallen over as a result a couple of times on the way down cracking his knees at one point. Tin ran off a cliff (I’m not joking!) after slipping on volcanic dust, thankfully bouncing to within an inch or two of safety – his knee bleeding badly it looked worse than it was but mixed with his Union Jack rock tape (strapping for his knee) resulted in plenty of extra shouts and gasps at the ‘crazy English’ running the race. He also provided the best story having lost his hat early on in the race. Running without a hat, his head had boiled. Near the observatories a camera man in front stumbled and Tin helped him. Turned out he was a Channel 4 camera man. To cut a long story short Tin agreed to stop and have an interview in return for the bloke’s cap. After babbling incoherently for a bit the chap asked him if he could describe what it was like to be a part of the race. The camera recorded as Tin replied; “It’s like running up a volcano… and it’s f***ing hot!” The camera stopped, Tin got his hat. Despite summing it up in what has taken me almost 4500 words to do, I doubt it will make the show!

Race Stats:

Distance: 83.3 km (51.8 mi)

Cumulative elevation gain of 4415 meters, and elevation loss of 4110 meters

Position: 179

Time: 11:17:14

Paddy Buckley Record

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

Sadly not for me, but happily I got to be a part of a new Ladies record this weekend. The incredible Nicky Spinks now holds both the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley records following a round in just 19 hours and 2 minutes.

At 3am on Sunday morning I set off with Karl Steinegger (a very talented young fell runner who just gets better every time I see him), Rob Woodall (Long distance fell supremo and holder of the Paddy Buckley extended tops record) and most importantly Nicky Spinks as she attempted to break the Paddy Buckley record. We started out on Leg 1; The longest of the lot from Capel Curig to Nantmor. I was very pleased that Karl was on board as I feared that I wouldn’t be able to keep up and didn’t want to let Nicky down.

The route starts with a stiff climb to Moel Siabod then takes in the bogs and multiple peaks to the quarry at the base of Foel Ddu near Blaenau Ffestiniog where we met Wayne (Karl’s dad and former Helsby runner – the first person to complete a BG for Helsby) for his usual incredible standard of logistical support (it was like walking into a café/ sweet shop!)

Foel Ddu was next on the way to the Moelwyns before looping back to Nantmor via Cnicht. Conditions were perfect, I just wasn’t perfectly dressed for it! I’d expected it to be cold so wore full length skins and an ice breaker. I was soaked to the skin by the end! Thankfully I managed to keep up despite going up to my thighs twice in bogs and doing mini sprints back and forth to Nicky when she needed food or water (Rob and I let Karl do most of them… good training for him :)).

The highlights have to be the sunrise crossing the tops towards the quarries and the view from the top of Moelwyn Bach The peace and tranquillity up there was astounding and the sights brought back memories of the Dragon’s back. I confess to being left for dead on the climb up Cnicht with only Karl just managing to keep up. If I could consistently climb like Nicky I’d be in a totally different league, she’s just a machine when it comes to the steep stuff! I did manage to catch up well before the road though and just in time to supply a well needed gel and banana. The section was finished in roughly 5 hours and 36 minutes which was just incredible and well up on the record breaking schedule she had set herself.

Watching my phone for text updates throughout the day built the excitement as Nicky neared a sub 19 hour finish. The clock just beat her to that, but she comfortably took the record by 17 minutes, finishing in 19 hours and 2 minutes. Phenomenal. A real honour to be a part of it.

I was back just in time to shower and head to Rhys’ school fete. He took part in the fancy dress toddle (it wasn’t a race… honest) and he came second to a princess (it wouldn’t have been the done thing to beat a princess) who was a foot taller than him…. But it wasn’t a race… no, no. Not a race at all. 🙂

A tale of two 20s and a move to the Darkside

Originally posted on April 28, 2013 by Chris Baynham-Hughes

Avid readers of this blog (you know who you are… Mum!) will have noticed my change in tack this year. Last year my training pretty much consisted of getting out and running 10 miles for ~5 mornings per week. Aiming for the 50 miles per week and getting out, switching off on the trails worked well for me but I definitely hit a plateau performance wise and had a tough decision to make: Continue to just run to switch off from daily world and to quieten the confusion in my head, or to try something new in an attempt to break through to a new level.

The VO2 max test was a firm step towards breaking through to the next level. It came with a more scientific set of training sessions which were designed to help me achieve the following:

  • multiple gears – at the time I had one speed, it wasn’t slow, but it wasn’t fast either; I had no kick and was definitely a plodder*
  • Increase default speed – If I’m going to plod then I might as well plod quicker!
  • Improve my technique – less so from the plan, but various parts and the approach should help me work on key elements

* see Marc Laithwaite’s excellent blog for the details here

The plan pretty much breaks down into five sessions per week and, depending upon the race I have planned and how important it is to me, I’ll either include a race or I’ll substitute a session for a race. The five sessions are broadly:

  • 2* Treadmill session
  • 1* Interval session
  • 2* base run

The Base runs alternate weekly and are best performed as close to back to back as possible. One week they will be 2* 1 hour or 2*1.5 hour, the next week it will be significantly longer; e.g., this week it was supposed to be 2*4 hours and they build up to 1*8 hours + 1*6 hours.

The Interval sessions vary from warm up + 4*5 minute efforts with a recovery between each one to the same format, but 3*7 minutes or 2*11 minutes.

The treadmill runs are a pyramid and increase in difficulty each week. They are based upon your 10K pace, mine is set at 15kph for now. The format for week 1 was:

Session 1:

  • Warm up (4-6 mins at 10k – 4kph, then every minute increase by 1kph until at 10 k pace)
  • 5* (40 seconds @ 10k pace + 2kph, 20 seconds active recovery – 1% incline)
  • 2 minute walk
  • 5* (30 seconds @ 10k pace + 3kph, 30 seconds active recovery – 1% incline)
  • 2 minute walk
  • 5* (20 seconds @ 10k pace + 4kph, 40 seconds active recovery – 3% incline)
  • 2 minute walk
  • 5* (30 seconds @ 10k pace + 3kph, 30 seconds active recovery – 1% incline)
  • 2 minute walk
  • 5* (40 seconds @ 10k pace + 2kph, 20 seconds active recovery – 1% incline)
  • 2 minute walk
  • Collapse

Session 2:

  • Warm up (4-6 mins at 10k – 4kph, then every minute increase by 1kph until at 10 k pace)
  • 5* (20 seconds @ 10k pace + 4kph, 40 seconds active recovery – 3% incline)
  • 2 minute walk
  • 5* (30 seconds @ 10k pace + 3kph, 30 seconds active recovery – 1% incline)
  • 2 minute walk
  • 5* (40 seconds @ 10k pace + 2kph, 20 seconds active recovery – 1% incline)
  • 2 minute walk
  • 5* (30 seconds @ 10k pace + 3kph, 30 seconds active recovery – 1% incline)
  • 2 minute walk
  • 5* (20 seconds @ 10k pace + 4kph, 40 seconds active recovery – 3% incline)
  • 2 minute walk
  • collapse

After that it gets harder, with increases in the kph differences and increases in the incline.

With the exception of the treadmill sessions these are meant to be performed at specific effort levels which one can tell by looking at their HR monitor.

Since getting the plan I’ve been trying to follow it religiously. The first issue I came up against was that I simply couldn’t get my heart rate into the zones prescribed. Trying to get my heart rate to go 160 is something I find incredibly difficult. So getting into a zone of 165-171 is pretty much impossible. I also noticed that my HR monitor was giving me dodgy readings. I would have little dips, so I concluded that it must be my HR monitor rather than my ability to work hard enough.

I’ve found out a lot about HR monitors since, how the Polar straps are much better (more sensitive) than the Gramin ones and how you can make a Franken-strap from a Garmin softstrap and a Polar Soft strap – simply buy both, take the transmitting unit from the Garmin strap (comes off via press studs), take a stanley knife to the rubber surrounding the press studs on the polar strap and hey-presto, a soft, very comfortable HR strap which gives accurate readings. Happy to post pictures and more detailed guidance if people want to know how to do it. Once you’ve forked out once, new straps are ~£15 on Amazon as you keep the central Garmin unit and just put it on the new straps. Result. Of course, none of this has changed the underlying problem – whilst I was getting dips in my HR incorrectly, the zones I can get into have not changed.

I found this discouraging and I was also struggling with the constant beep of my watch or the need to check where I was. I was feeling the benefit, but the sessions were becoming more pressured and I was moving away from the reason why I run. I took the executive decision to switch to a perceived effort model. Now I realise this has huge flaws vs. the HR model, but for now it makes sense. I’ve put the perceived effort to be 1 notch above where it should be and I run much harder than I would have previously. The result is a better quality, enjoyable session which doesn’t feel like a chore. Any programme of training needs to be something one can make peace with and sometimes getting to the real end point requires the additional stepping stone.

Some of you out there may wonder what a mountain lover like myself is doing on a treadmill. I too have catcalled about the use of treadmills – why on earth would anybody want to get on one when they could just go out, no matter what the elements are doing – get out and feel alive!

The first time I actually understood the use of a treadmill was when a top marathon runner (sub 2:35 PB) explained he did almost all of his training on one – proves my point I thought, road running doesn’t float my boat either, so makes sense that the mentality is the same… then he explained; you see you can’t fake the pace on a treadmill. You can’t subconsciously ease off, adjust for the distance and back off a bit – do that and you end up falling off and having the largest sanding belt mark you’ll ever experience on your face.

Having stuck to the 2 sessions per week thanks to Mark Browse’s (10 Bridge clinic) generosity (see previous post) I’ve actually found I love the session and have seen real benefits from them. I definitely plan to continue to do them and this is how I have moved to the darkside. As of Tuesday I will actually own a treadmill (gotta love ebay for a bargain) This enables me to do the sessions when I want and also allows Laura to pop out if she wishes as I can babysit at the same time. I’m also seeing differences in my technique as the motion is pure repetition. All other elements are removed so one can concentrate on their technique. By locking in the feeling of good technique it makes it easier to transition to the trails. All in all, it’s not quite the devil’s work that I thought it was.

So back to the subject of this blog post, a tale of two twenties. This weekend saw most of Laura’s ex-uni house mates down for the weekend. So how on earth was I going to fit in two four hour runs? I compromised and planned to run the Peris Horseshoe on the Thursday and then run 6-9 am on the Saturday. Tin came out with me on the Thursday and had warned me to flog my legs in advance as he’d be doing that on the bike. With only 2 weeks to go to Transvulcania I figured that made sense anyway.

Monday saw me finally break the hour barrier by 20 seconds on my new morning run. Lots of climbing and top quality trails. Intensity all the way, but a good substitute for the interval session – the efforts are shorter (they are the hills) time wise, but more intense and more frequent over the hour duration. On the Tuesday I got most of the way through my treadmill session before an unfortunate incident with a territorial personal trainer that doesn’t understand the word patronise, but that’s a whole different story. Wednesday was a 4 mile border league race which had me under 6 minute miles average for the first time in a long long time (5:56). Hence I felt I was ready for a longer and slower day, albeit with plenty of climb. My estimation was that the 20 miles would take us 5-5.5 hours followed by a day off and then a cheeky 20 miles on the Sandstone trail.

The reality was a little different. Firstly things look different in the snow. Secondly, complacency isn’t good in the mountains. Thirdly, when you can only see 15-20 feet it’s easy to get disorientated! At the top of Elider Fawr the rocky stumble was in very poor visibility and a world away from the snow covered top I’d encountered a few weeks earlier. As we came off the top I felt we were descending too much too soon and thus thought we were on our way to the road and Crib Goch. A quick turn sorted that out and we hit the trail again – phew! A good 40 minutes later we got to the fence line… hang on, there isn’t a fence line on the Eastern flank!

The GPS track is a tale of comedy and woe. A spider of loops and criss crosses over the long peak of Elider Fawr. I pride myself on knowing where I’m pointing but this time I was put in my place as we’d actually been going around in circles. We’d been getting progressively wetter and colder and we had to stop to put on more gear. We managed to get out of the wind and re-group mentally. Second time around we got straight off and followed exactly where we’d been 50+ minutes earlier and skirted around the ridge to Y Garn, running faster to generate some heat.

It was no big deal, Martin and I both wanted to catch up and test kit configurations out pre-Transvulcania, so the purpose of the day was less about speed of traverse or recce of route, but it was frustrating and embarrassing. As such to do it again would just be careless. Coming off the top of Y Garn it started to look a bit unusual. Coming off a top I thought it would be impossible to get wrong I checked the GPS track. I navigated us around to the GPS and we continued our descent. It finally looked familiar again, only it looked a bit too familiar.

Since I don’t use my GPS as a guide I’d inadvertently followed the wrong end of the track and was going back the way we’d came. Up and over again we found our path. A quick double check with some walkers confirmed we weren’t on our way down to Llyn Ogwen (my original fear which had resulted in us not picking up the path correctly first time) and we were off to Glyder Fawr.

Now finding the red spot path has never been simple in my book. So we stuttered our way down until finally picking up the path and arriving at Pen-y-Pass a full hour behind the schedule we’d set in the snow a few weeks previous. Shocking!

The second half went smoothly and we soon got to the ridge line and the top of Snowdon. Nothing to see we had some home made ginger bread men I’d made with Rhys (my 3 year old) the weekend before and called it a day – opting for the path that follows the rail line rather than the proper route back. We arrived 7 hours after we’d started and didn’t even have time for a monster omelette and chips (hopefully with peas too this time) at Pete’s eats. Still, cracking day out, outstanding and amusing company and confirmed kit choice for Transvulcania. Mission accomplished.

Friday I spent stiffening up (leg wise) whilst sat behind a desk so as I started off I knew my second 20 of the week was going to be a struggle. So what was the real difference between the two? Well  as I left the sun was coming up, there was hardly a cloud in the sky and peace had descended everywhere. I made my way along the Sandstone trail and started to get a bit of speed going. I bumped into Jeff along the way and spent 1.5 hours getting to know him and the miles flew by. Three hours later I had a good 20 miles under my belt (fuelled by 600ml of water before leaving and about 100ml on the trail, no food). I felt I could have run another 10 or more if I had wanted to… just one of those great days. I won’t lie, the ascents gave my thighs a reminder of the Thursday, but it certainly loosened them up. A nice end to a good training week!

Back to it tomorrow and time to pack for the first major race of the year. I have no expectations of performance, just want to enjoy the razzmatazz of a big European style race, drink in the incredible views, catch up with other ultra running friends and generally get as far away from the confusion and inputs of everyday life. If Laura and the boys were coming too it’d be perfection wrapped up into one neat little package!

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!