This was my second attempt at the Paddy Buckley round, having aborted half way round five weeks prior due to really bad weather, and I wanted to give it one last go this summer while I was still fit and psyched. The route is 62 miles over 47 peaks in Snowdonia, North Wales. It covers over 8500m of ascent (28,000 ft) and has only been done by about 130 people.
Leg1: Capel Curig to Nantmor (6:05)
I started at 11 am on Saturday 15th August 2015 from Capel Curig with David (who I met for the first time) and Will (who had been having a go on our last attempt and will be doing it solo soon with an overnight bivy). The weather was sunny with a pleasant fresh breeze and all went to plan up Moel Siabod and then over the grassy, bog-hopping rolling terrain before the Croser quarries and the half-way point of the first leg, just over 3 hours in. Experience had taught me to break this long leg into two legs and the same was done with food and water and runners. Mary and Heather were waiting for us after some yoga and snoozing and the large team of us speeded along to Moelwyn Bach and up and down and up to Moelwyn Mawr and then across to the formidable Cnicht, and the long descent into the first support station at Nantmor half an hour ahead of schedule.
I believe that leg 1 at over 6 hours long is designed to give your support crew time to have some fun in Snowdonia and not worry about you for a while. A few went rock climbing, others for a bike ride or a walk and Ed managed to descend the route I would go up later (the -24% inclines in the Llanberis quarries) on his mountain bike in under 2 minutes (go to Strava if you want to see the times). Since I was carrying a tracker, they could keep an eye on where I was very easily which made the support less of a guessing game for when they needed to be ready and the base of the Bowline Climbing club hut nearby made it comfortable for the support team.
Leg 2: Nantmor to Pont Cae’r Gors (3:45)
Heather and David stayed with me and I was joined by Max and Shane for the scenic leg 2 over Moel Hebog and the Nantle ridge. The path through the woods and at the foothills of Bryn Banog was really overgrown and Max led the way through waist-high bracken to emerge in the easier-going steep ground to the summit. The remote feel to the next dip before the steep Moel Hebog is continued in all the small dips between the next three main summits before the ridge leading to Y Garn and it is a wonderful landscape with views to the sea on one side and Snowdon on the other. This and the Glydders leg are my favourites in terms of location and keeping you occupied with the ups and downs, everyone always comments on what a lovely run it is and how you get so many types of terrain in quite a short distance. Along the rocky terrain of the final ridge and then down into the forestry paths, the only smooth running of the whole day and we were at the Pont Cae’r Gors changeover still half an hour up on schedule and feeling fine and cheerful.
The road support team, Ed and Paul always had a bowl of pasta and bolognaise sauce, a cup of tea or coffee and a recovery drink ready at each road stop and sometimes I managed some noodles as well. I had realised I could eat a lot in those 10 minute changeovers so I made the most of it as eating on the hill was becoming harder as the day progressed and I only had a craving for savoury so pizza slices and hula hoops were the favourites. Leaving people on this leg feels more emotional as they wave you off as you know you run off into the dark and you see fewer people at the next 2 changeovers.
Leg 3: Pont Cae’r Gors to Llanberis (4:42)
A complete change of support runners in the form of Mary, Mark and Dick made the prospect of the first night adventure not seem too daunting. We made our way along the rough terrain and a tiny miners trod to the top of Craig Wen which is marked by a fence and then followed it along and down to the pull up to Y Aran. This was a major turning point for me as this was where we had to turn back on the last attempt and it was amazing how much easier it was with no wind and rain and a clear sky. The Paddy Buckley round is hard enough as it is, add ferocious winds and a downpour and it is just so much harder so these thoughts made me fly up Snowdon and get to the top in good time. By now it had turned into a chilly night and we had hats and gloves and an extra layer but it was downhill from here! We met a solo Welsh 3000er finisher just coming off of Crib Goch on Crib y Ddysgl, a congratulations was exchanged and we took a bearing off and onto the Snowdon Ranger path until our turn off for Moel Cynghorion. By now we were looking up every now and then to see if we could catch the meteor shower that was scheduled for just after midnight. Each one of us at some point saw what looked like a shooting star, all the stars were out in the clear night and despite it being the first time I had done this section at night not in a raging storm where you couldn’t hear people speak, we moved along quietly, letting the views and experience seep in with the silhouettes of the mountains and the lights in the valley making it very peaceful. Somewhere along the way on the easy running terrain and short sharp climbs on the way to Moel Eilio the tiredness set in and by the time we had descended to Paul’s flashing beacon of a head torch by the farm at the top of Llanberis, it started to feel hard and I had dropped to 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
Leg 4: Llanberis to Ogwen (5:18)
I had to keep my feet elevated at the Llanberis bus stop changeover, it felt so good to weary feet and after the food, sock change and far too short a break I was forced to get up and go. Oh, it was hard running along the road to the start of the slate steps in the woods. Mark stayed on and Robin and Chris started fresh on this leg and were far too chirpy and chatty for me as we moved up the slate workings but within a few minutes I started to feel better and I enjoyed the company. At least this long climb is divided into short vertical stages and finding the next ascent line with your head torch light is a fun challenge as you swerve up the steps the miners used to take to work and then up these infamous concrete inclines. The last climb after you cross the mountain road twice felt like it went on forever and I felt like I needed to make excuses why I was going so slowly but actually we topped out on schedule-amazing! I thought maybe as you tire you just feel awful but don’t necessarily slow down. Scaling the Elidir Fawr ridge and to the summit felt great and the run down and along before Mynydd Perfedd as well. I seemed to slow again on the descent towards Foel Goch and in general was finding it hard to keep a pace up on the runnable bits. Just so it didn’t become too easy for Robin and Chris, my request for mini cheddars meant that a whole bag had to be emptied to find them and I got a long way ahead on the Y Garn climb which when you feel you are trailing behind can give you a psychological boost.
Back together and to the tarn at the top of the Devil’s staircase, a pink ray was hovering over the mountains and you knew the sun would be up soon. It took until reaching the pile of rocks that is the summit of Glydder Fawr for us to ditch the head torches at last at 5 am. The light and the quality of the air on top of the rock-strewn Glydders summit plateau was superb but I was finding the rock-hopping a lot harder and slow-going than usual but the scramble up Glydder Fach woke me up a bit as it is nice to use your arms for a change. My worst descent of the whole round is the steep stripped scree run gulley to the side of Bristly ridge and even with my poles it felt hard and as I got to the col between Bristly ridge and Tryffan, due to the look on my face and the wobble in my gait, the support crew decided a caffeine gel was in order. The scramble up Tryffan wasn’t too bad nor the first lower off the west face but once we gained the path that is made of big rocky block steps, each step down was becoming hard. I looked over at the formidable shape of Pen yr Ole Wen over the other side of the valley and even though that was the last hard climb, it felt too much for me, I thought I was finished. My legs didn’t actually hurt, I was just exhausted and I sat down on the path while Chris coaxed me with some rather fantastic Tangfastic sweets and a couple of minutes later after being convinced that I needed to get to the van to see how I felt then, I was back running again. I had actually kept to schedule until Glydder Fach but lost a lot after that.
Leg 5: Ogwen to Capel Curig (3:21)
I looked and felt destroyed as I entered my van at the transition at Ogwen. Ed comforted me in the shelter of the van and reminded me of other times I have been destroyed and recovered. No one hurried me. I could see my new supporters, Geoff and Simon raring to go but not looking worried about my state. As I opened the van door wider, a few caring faces peered in and told me they knew I could do it, so gulping down more pasta and coffee I pushed myself out for the last leg and was goaded up the scramble of Pen yr Ole Wen by tangerine segments. Mark and Chris stayed on and there was a lot of joking going on on this last leg, apologies to Simon if I didn’t get all the jokes. The running along the Cardeddau was slow-going but I was beginning to unstiffen and run a bit more, especially after Carnedd Llewelyn when you turn back in the direction of home and take on a really nice ridge line over the last smaller hills.
With 1 hour 22 to go until the 24 mark I mentioned it was a shame I couldn’t make the 24 hours anymore but the response from Geoff and Chris was that they thought I could still make it if we got a move on. Half way along the ridge we saw a figure in the distance and everyone guessed it well in advance that it must be Mary and I knew I had to look shipshape and be prepared to be pushed. That’s when it all turned into a race against the clock but not in a frantic way, Geoff still had time to take touch-and-run summit photos. I thought there was no way of turning it around given my bad patch earlier but a few people had other ideas and actually I had picked up the pace without noticing. An apple crumble flavoured gel was the first to appear and then other gels were handed to me on the dash back in relay baton style. I touched the last summit with 32 minutes to go and we sprinted off like it was a 5 mile fell race as the descent was scheduled at 40 minutes. I couldn’t believe I could bounce down the open grassland, followed by a narrow path, negotiating the odd down-climb or jump. There was laughter and screams of “Come on Zoë”; it was contagious. At the wooden bridges over the bogs as it levels out we had to do a few hop, skip and jumps and nearly ended up in a four man pile-up when one of the bog jumps was longer than expected.
As the road came into view and spectators cheered us onto the final 800m the 24 hours passed but they joined us and we absolutely sprinted down the road into Capel Curig. I was smiling and grimacing at the same time, carried along by the elation of actually finishing. Cars on the road didn’t know what was going on, seeing a crazed pack of runners taking up the road but my ever-strong support team made sure I wasn’t run over. I touched the pillar of the Pinnacle café at 24 hours, 2 minutes and 32 seconds. So happy; what an adventure and what a treat to at last stop!
Thanks so much to the team who got me through this- it was a huge team effort and a great day out and I am sure we will have many more memorable days together in the hills. Thanks to my long-suffering husband, Ed who encouraged me though all the training and believed I could do it and who I looked forward to seeing in the yellow support van. Thanks to Paul (PP) who was a pro at setting up mini road support villages and kept it relaxed. Thanks to all the runners on the day (David, Will, Mary, Heather, Max, Shane, Dick, Mark, Robin, Chris, Simon and Geoff) and those on my last attempt and those I had many great days training with over the last year. Special thanks to the Bowline Climbing club who got me into this mountain running lark and provided the bulk of the support on this round and Pennine Fell runners who now push me on and provide me with ever new challenges and thanks to Mary who has been my mountain buddy for the last nearly 20 years and inspired me to do it. Thanks to Kath and Julie who were at most of the road stops and to my cyber fans who watched the tracker and the updates and encouraged me on from home.